Anyone (well, almost anyone…) who has ever embarked upon a long cycle journey will recognise that there is a flaw in the process. It comes at the very end of your travels – perhaps even a few weeks or months after the end – when it dawns upon you that you no longer have a big cycling ‘thing’ towards which you can look forward. I replaced my doomed trip to Japan (scuppered by COVID) with a cycle around the UK in 2020 and, more recently, a trip to the Outer Hebrides in 2021. But I now find myself back at square one and I’ll be honest; I’ve been struggling to answer that all important question ‘where next?‘
I would love one day to cycle the length of Japan but as things stand, with COVID far from over and with inter-continental travel remaining very elusive, I’m reluctant to put my heart and soul into replanning a trip that could quite easily need to be cancelled, again, nearer the time. What’s more, one of the main reasons to visit Japan in 2020 was to be there at the time of the Olympics. With that event having now taken place, albeit 12 months later than expected, my enthusiasm has waned. Organising a trip to the four capitals of the UK in 2020 didn’t require Olympian feats of planning and, although I made a great fuss about it with the podcasts, neither did the cycle along the Hebridean Way in August of this year.
Since returning from Scotland a couple of months ago, I have been tossing around ideas in my mind. High up on the list of requirements is that any trip for 2022 needs to be worthy of having a book written about it. It’s now over six years since I cycled from Tarifa in Spain to Nordkapp in Norway and over four years since the resulting book was published. I’m keen to write more books – there would certainly have been one about Japan – but if you are in the business of writing non-fiction books, you need some decent source material; if those books happen to be travelogues, you need to go somewhere to do something that might be of interest to your readers. But where?
Those of you who follow my Twitter account – @CyclingEurope – may have spotted a few speculative maps tossed out in recent months. They are the product of me, sitting at the computer, trawling the Internet, attempting to be inspired by a particular place, person or historical event event.
That kind of thing. I even spent a few moments reflecting upon the wisdom of attempting to cycle to all the capitals of modern-day Europe in honour of Maximilian J. St. George having dome something similar* (almost…) back at the start of the 20th Century:
(* Full details in episodes 021 and 035 of The Cycling Europe Podcast)
His job in 1908 was much easier as many of the capitals that exist today – as shown on the map above – had yet to be elevated to the status of ‘capital city’. At least I can say that I ticked off Edinburgh, Belfast, Cardiff ad London through my efforts in 2020.
None of these routes fill me with enthusiasm. So what did fill me with enthusiasm when I embarked on the previous long-distance journeys? It’s a good question and the answers are surprisingly simple. Geography and the EuroVelo routes. All three of the previous long-distance cycles in Europe have been a combination of both; usually the idea of cycling from one extreme point to another and following a vague route inspired by one or more of the EuroVelos. It was also the case with Japan – the northernmost point to the southernmost point – without, of course, a EuroVelo to help me along the way.
Over the course of the last ten years or so I’ve either cycled along or crossed the majority of these routes albeit some unknowingly at the time. There is, however, one route that, although I did cycle along it for a short period of time in 2015, would take me to a part of Europe that I’ve never previously explored, on or off a bike. That route is EuroVelo 10: The Baltic Cycle Route. The section of the route that I travelled along in 2015 was when I cycled through Denmark but when I pedalled off along the coast north of Copenhagen, the EuroVelo 15 continued its journey east through southern Sweden to Finland, Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, back into Russia (Kaliningrad), Poland and Germany before completing the loop back in Denmark. It ticks the box of having a neat start and finish point (basically, wherever you choose) and has ‘geography’ written all over it circling, as it does, one of Europe’s great seas.
Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:
OK, I admit it. It’s not quite the entire loop of the EuroVelo 15 but I have always treated the EuroVelo routes as inspirational guidelines rather than strict instructions. Back in 2010 I missed out most of the Belgian part of the EuroVelo 5; in 2013 the EuroVelo 8 was ignored on many occasions, notably in Provence and then as I cycled across the Spanish interior to get to my destination before the end of August. Even in 2015 I hopped back and forth between the EuroVelos 1 and 3 with reckless abandon.
This interpretation of the EuroVelo 15 would see me start by adopting the route of the EuroVelo 12 – the North Sea Cycle Route from Rotterdam to Esbjerg in Jutland before following one of the Danish national routes – route 6 – to hook up with the EuroVelo 10 in Copenhagen. Once on the route, I would travel to at least Stockholm before taking a ferry. The Gulf of Bothnia is an option – there is a ferry further north or I could cycle around the whole thing – but the Aland archipelago between Sweden and Finland would be fun (as well as a useful short cut…). There’s a similar decision to make upon arrival in Helsinki and, with little wish to cycle through Russia at the present time, the ferry to Tallinn would be too tempting. Cycling through Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania would allow me to experience first hand the reported joys of cycling through the Baltic States. This was something that was discussed in episode 032 of The Cycling Europe Podcast…
…as the segment of EuroVelo 10 that passes through the Baltic States was one of the highlighted cycles in the book Ride: Cycle The World. Read this:
What’s not to like?
Well, as far as Kaliningrad which is the enclave of Russia to the north of Poland. Aside from it being Russia and me not fancying being locked up in a gulag as a British passport holder (admittedly the chances of this are not high but…), I read that getting a visa as a British citizen is not easy. Is it worth the hassle for just a few days of cycling? In the case of Kaliningrad, perhaps just one day of cycling. Anyway, the city of Klaipeda in Lithuania is conveniently linked to Kiel in Germany by a ferry which (almost) brings me back to where I started. There are two other options. If I fancied overdosing on ferries, I could ping pong back to Sweden and then return to the southern coast of the Baltic at Gdansk in Poland to continue the journey along the coast in the direction of Germany. Alternatively, I could circumnavigate the border of Lithuania and cycle into Poland via the back door before heading back to the coast. I think at that stage of the journey, the ferry back to Kiel might be too tempting… A short ride to Hamburg would see me within a few train journeys (and one ferry) of being back at my front door in Yorkshire.
Does that sound like a plan worthy of a book? Thoughts welcome.
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