CMG's UK Survival Guide


With the missus across the Thames from the houses of Parliament

LONDON

If you’re getting a cheap flight chances are that you’ll end up in London via either Gatwick or Heathrow. Now I used to hate London. I lived there for a year back in the late eighties and found it to be grey, run down with piss-stinking alleyways and angry punks who missed the seventies.

The Natural History museum in London

But it’s changed a lot since then and London is worth spending a couple of days of your trip in, especially if you want to acclimatize first before getting a bike and going touring. So here’s my recommendations of things to see and do in the capital:

1)   Museums

At time of writing all the major museums in London were still free. There’s something for every taste but I found that the Natural History and Imperial War museums were the best. I tried to be a little cultured and visited the Tate Modern but three badly drawn circles and a dead cat just didn’t do it for me. A much better culture fix can be had at the V&A or Tate Britain.

2)   Places of Interest

If you like to get high then the London Eye is a massive wheel that will take you on a 30 minute trip for the not insignificant fund of around 20 Pounds. We got there on a holiday and the line up circled the earth four times. You can pay a double rate to bypass the commoners but when I calculated that that added up to ten pints per person I thought the pub might be a better bet.

Docked in the centre of London is Sir Francis Drake's Golden Hinde ... well a replica anyway.

The Golden Hinde and the Globe are very close together and offer a trip back to Elizabethan times (the first one). The Hinde is a recreation of Sir Francis Drake’s pirate ship and the Globe is a recreation of Shakespeare’s first theatre.

The latter shows plays and offers standing room at the front with the peasants for a mere five Pounds but you’ll get wet if it rains and it’s not what you want to do after a whole day of sightseeing. I managed 30 minutes of Hamlet before I needed to retire to a comfy pub but for that price it’s a great experience – even if you don’t know what the hell’s going on up on stage.

Failing that then they also offer regular tours, which we also partook of and got us a ten minute glimpse of the play that was being performed that day, which was an added bonus.

3)  Parks

London is blessed with some great parks. If the weather’s cooperating and the beer’s putting forth a good argument for a bit of a lie down then stagger yee to a park and lieth thee down and watch the pasty white maidens passeth by. Hyde Park was one of my favourites and it was also right outside the hotel.

4)   Pubs

Mmmhhh beer. Enjoying a cool pint on a warm night in London

One morning I took a little walk through Islington to find a coffee and passed seven gorgeous pubs before I found a coffee place. It’s the opposite of Canada and I’ll add that the pubs are better too. Anyway, find a pub, go in, order a pint of whatever they have on a hand pulled pump (that way you’ll get a real pint) and sit back and enjoy.

I found that this process could be repeated throughout the day giving a good buzz with which to see London through. Hey, you’re on holiday, enjoy it.

5)   Food

Did you hear the joke abut heaven and hell? In heaven the Italians cook, the Germans administer and the English make jokes. In hell the Italians administer, the Germans make jokes and the English cook. Well, hell ain’t so bad anymore because English food is really very good — especially in London — be it pub grub or a good curry. In a week expect to come back with gut of bucket proportions.

THE RIDE

Getting a ride

The Multistrada proved to be the perfect companion on this trip

Unless you’re a jet-setting international moto-journalist type then you’ll actually have to rent a bike as opposed to getting a ‘tester’. The bigger cities all offer rental outlets for bikes but they’re not super cheap (about 400 Pounds a week for a 600) but then they never are. You’ll also need to bring riding gear but you can minimize your luggage by wearing your jacket and boots (I use hiking boots so I can multi-use) and most airlines will let you bring your helmet as carry on).

Keep Left

Everyone's heard of Harrods right? Note which side of the road everyone is driving on ...

This is probably the thing that freaks out most North Americans at the prospect of riding in the UK. And it should be something that you’re very aware of. In practice I find when you’re with traffic it’s not an issue, but when you’re up in some more remote country it’s very easy to default to the right, especially at T-junctions. Putting a sticker on the clocks or tank saying “KEEP LEFT” works quite well as a constant reminder.

Oh, and don’t think it’s all-good when you get home. I once rode a 10 km stretch of twisty blind cornered road on the left side shortly after I got back from a UK trip. I stopped thinking about which side to ride when I got home but I’d been so aware of it the week before that the left became my default! Again, this happened right after a T-junction. Luckily the road was empty that day, but it gives me cold sweats every time I think about it.

Where to go

Baaaaa! Keep an eye out for sheep up north, especially on the roads over the tops of the hills

Unless you like riding in traffic then I’d recommend that you try and get away for the south. Of course, you may be picking up and dropping off that bike in London in which case you should try your hand a lane splitting. Yes, it looks like a good way to die, but wait till some dispatch rider zooms by then follow for a few seconds. Fun eh? Very good, shame we can’t do it back home.

Being a Yorkshire man I have a bias to the Yorkshire Dales and Moors, but they are pretty bloody lovely. Sadly, they’ve become a lot more touristy than in my day and you can get stuck in slow moving traffic at weekends and holidays which sucks.

April is springtime and the weather is usually pretty good.

However, you can get some fantastic riding in Wales and the Lake District too but if you want to really get away from the masses and be gobsmacked by the roads and country then get thee up to Scotland. The Highlands are the most famous parts (and deservedly so) but I’ve found some amazing stuff in the border regions in the south, so be sure to not bypass these in your rush north.

GENERAL INFO

Best time to visit

We left Halifax, N.S. aiport in mid April as a last gasp of a winter blizzard moved in only to land in a sunny London with temperatures up in the mid to high twenties (though admittedly this is rather unusual).

I personally find late April/May to be the best time to visit as it’s getting warm, the tourists haven’t invaded and it can still be a little grim back home, so the green landscape is a welcome break

Accommodations

Our hotel was right above a tube station too (very handy)

We found a great four star hotel in London (Lancaster Gate) for about $200 a night. It’s still not cheap but it’s London and this was pretty central too. Otherwise, a lot of pubs offer rooms and make for an ideal stopping point at the end of a day’s ride. Check out Trip Advisor, which I find to be pretty accurate at getting a good hotel.

Exchange rate

For the longest time it cost $2.40 to get a single Pound. At time of writing it was $1.57, so the price of the UK has effectively dropped big time. Still, I find that if a single dollar bought a Pound you’d have about equal pricing, but 1.57 certainly dulls the pain (the beer helps too).

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