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2015: Marking Twenty Years of Travels in the Round PDF Printable Version E-mail


2015:  Marking Twenty Years of Travels in the Round

Barry and Margaret Williamson
Greek Peloponnese
January 2016

On Saturday 25 March 1995 we closed the front door on our house in Huddersfield, started the engine on our Four Winds motorhome and began a life on the road that continues to this day. A life of circles, small and large, intersecting and overlapping, some completed, some still open-ended.

If we had to summarise these 20 years of travel in a few words, we would turn to the British-American poet T S Eliot:

We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.

What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.

Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.

It is only in the world of objects that we have time and space and selves.

As a comment on this last quotation, we increasingly meet people living entirely in a social world, devoid of contact with a physical reality. Their life is a construct and a simulation given to them, along with a role to play within it. These are versions of reality devised, promulgated and maintained by many forms of wide ranging and intrusive media, including an almost complete distortion of the original use and purpose of the internet. Lives lived in fragments, lacking purpose and coherence. Too many fit the lines of Simon & Garfunkel's Sound of Silence: 'People talking without speaking, people hearing without listening '

It is always a relief for us to meet a fellow traveller living in the physical world that we inhabit, a world as free of delusion as is possible in the 21st century.

Within these 20 years we have travelled by motorhome and bicycle, supplemented by a motorbike, vans, caravans, hire cars, ferries and aeroplanes. Major circles for us in these 20 years have included:

  • Three round-the-world journeys, each taking one year, the first entirely by bicycle.
  • A 4,641-mile (7425 km) 5-month bicycle ride making a complete circuit of each of New Zealand's two Islands, forming a figure of eight.
  • A 3,700-mile motorhome circuit of Turkey, following its Aegean and Mediterranean coasts to the Syrian border, then crossing the Tigris and Euphrates and returning along the Black Sea coast from the Georgian border to Bulgaria.
  • A 60-day 6,000-mile (9600 km) circuit of the American West, in an RV hired out of Los Angeles.
  • A 300-mile (480 km) Easter bicycle tour of Israel and the Palestinian Territories (circling the Sea of Galilee on Margaret's birthday), arriving and departing by ferry between Cyprus and Haifa.
  • North India: 2,680 miles (4300 km) in a self-drive hire car out of Delhi, including Amritsa, Jammu, Kashmir, Dharmsala, Manali, Shimla, Jaipur, Agra, Kanpur, Allahabad, Varanasi and Lucknow.
  • South India: 2,740 miles (4380 km) in a self-drive hire car out of Madras/Chennai, including Pondicherry, Rameswaram, Madurai, Trivandrum, Cochin, Kodaikanal, Ooty and Mysore.
  • Thailand: 3,700 miles (5930 km) in a self-drive hire car out of Bangkok, based on a complete circuit of the north of Thailand with side trips to Cambodia, Laos, Burma and Hong Kong, leaving Thailand into Malaysia.
  • South Africa: 3,000 miles (4800 km) in a self-drive hire car out of Cape Town, including a long sweep through the Great Karoo (the semi-arid desert plateau that covers one third of the country) returning via East London, Port Elizabeth and the southernmost point of the African continent and the Cape of Good Hope.

Other return journeys have been made by cycling out from the UK and returning by ferry or aeroplane from Tromso (Norway), Istanbul (Turkey reached by cycling through every East European country), Vienna (cycling as far as the Russian border in eastern Slovakia and back to Austria via Budapest) and Barcelona (Spain).

Continents have been crossed by bicycle on linear journeys, flying into one side and out the other: Vancouver to Toronto (3,160 miles or 5050 km), Perth to Brisbane (3,050 miles or 4880 km), Los Angeles to Miami and Key West (3,618 miles or 5790 km).

2015 was a year in which to inscribe another Great Circle, making full use of the Carado T377 motorhome, bought in July 2014 from Brownhills of Newark. Starting and ending the year in the Greek Peloponnese, we described a clockwise circular route through 26 European countries, driving 14,722 miles (23550 km) and staying in 142 places. 23 of those places and 2,075 of those miles (3320 km) were within the Arctic Circle, each place and each mile made magical in that far northern light of July and August.

The 26 countries in 2015 were (in order): Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, Germany, France, (ferry) Ireland, Northern Ireland, (ferry) Scotland, England, Wales, England, (ferry) Netherlands, Germany, (ferry) Sweden, Norway, Finland, (ferry) Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece.

The 5 ferries were: Cherbourg (France) to Rosslare (Ireland). Larne (Northern Ireland) to Cairnryan (Scotland). Hull (England) to Rotterdam (Netherlands). Sassnitz (East Germany) to Trelleborg (Sweden). Helsinki (Finland) to Tallinn (Estonia).

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Our route out of Greece at the beginning of the year - north through Macedonia and Serbia, then west through Croatia, Slovenia and Austria into Germany - was one later to be followed by many of the 844,000 migrants who sailed from Turkey to land in the Greek Dodecanese Islands during 2015. Still they come. Unlike them, we didn't want to settle in Germany, a country we reserve for cycling on its wonderful network of long-distance cycle paths. Instead, we continued west through France to Cherbourg for a ferry to Rosslare in the southeast corner of the Republic of Ireland.

This was the third time in recent years that we have returned to the UK via Ireland; this time we continued into Northern Ireland for a ferry from Larne (north of Belfast) to Cairnryan on the southwest coast of Scotland. This gave us the opportunity to meet up again with old friend and fellow motorhomer, Dan, for a few days together on the dock at Troon.  Another circle followed, this time an anticlockwise journey round the coast of Scotland, including Duncansby Head in the far northeast and Cape Wrath in the far northwest.

After time circling in Northern England and Wales on a 2-week car tour with Bec and Kev (see below), while our bicycles were serviced by their maker, Paul Hewitt in Leyland, and the motorhome was serviced by its dealer, Brownhills of Newark, we sailed overnight from Hull to Europort Rotterdam. The summer began well with some cycling in the Netherlands and Germany, Europe's best countries by far for the long-distance rider.

Taking a ferry from Germany to Sweden, we motorhomed the full length of that country from its southernmost point on the Baltic coast at Smygehamn, crossing the Arctic Circle near the Sami capital of Jokkmokk and on to Sweden's northernmost point on the border with Finland and Norway at Kilpisjarvi. Entering Norway near Alta, we drove east across the top of Europe until stopped at the Russian frontier. Turning south, we followed Finland's border with Russia down to Helsinki and a ferry to Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. Heading south now, through Latvia and Lithuania, we reached Poland and followed its eastern borders (with Belarus and the Ukraine), revisiting the WW2 Extermination Camps of Treblinka, Majdanek, Sobibor and Belzec along the River Bug.

The now-familiar autumn journey continued through eastern Slovakia, Hungary and Romania, pausing only for a few days at Camping Veliko Tarnovo in the north and Camping Sakar Hills in southeast Bulgaria, to visit friends old and new. We were particularly happy to meet recent arrivals Martin and Kate Weaver, fascinated as we were by Martin's esoteric accomplishments as rock musician and archaeologist.   

From this far corner where Greece meets Bulgaria and Turkey, a corner now guarded against the influx of migrants from the Middle East, it's a long drive across to the Greek Peloponnese (about as far as Land's End to John O'Groats). But here we are for our winter hibernation on the south-facing shore of the Messinian Peninsula, with the distant presence of Libya lurking over the horizon.

Within our motorhoming Great Circle of 2015, two smaller circles were inscribed by car, accompanied by two young(er) Australian friends. We have known Rebecca and Kevin since we first met them on 2 September 1997 in Alexandroupolis, near the Greek border with Turkey and Bulgaria.

We met again in 2002 at their home in the high and remote tropical rain forest of northern Queensland, inland of Cairns. This was during our complete circuit of their continent in the pop-top Toyota HiAce van we bought and sold in Brisbane. Our third meeting was in June 2005 on our motorhome journey from Perth to Brisbane via Tasmania and Cairns; by which time they were putting the finishing touches to the programming that produced our MagBazTravels website. We immediately started filling its pages, using a laptop that we'd bought in Johor Bahru on the morning after our 20th-floor hotel room swayed to the after-shocks from the disastrous Tsunami of 26 December 2004.

In June 2015, our first tour with Bec & Kev (to give them their Australian names) was a 2-week, 1,234 mile (1970 km) circuit of North Wales, Lancashire and Yorkshire, starting and finishing in Newark, using a hire car and B&B's. The second round trip was a 15-day, 1,240- mile (1980 km) tour of the Greek Peloponnese in October/November, starting and ending in Nafplio. Again, we used a hire car and stayed in guesthouses and hotels.

Within all these circles travelled over 20 years, there were more circles to be closed and begun as we made new and renewed connections with places and people along the way. A constant fascination is to return to a place or a friend after years away, arriving with an eye refreshed by travels and able to re-interpret what changes there have been. Always, there are new places and new people along the way, starting new circles or linking to old ones.

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A Highlight of the 20 years: At the summit of Europe's highest paved road, the Cime de la Bonette at 9,246 ft (2802 m) in the French Alpes-Maritimes. This was a 24 km climb of 5,240 ft (1590 m) from Jausiers in the valley of Barcelonnette.