I am very sad to report that my old friend Frank Berto passed away last Sunday at the age of 90. He was the leading authority on the history and development of derailleur gears and the author of various books and numerous articles on cycle technology and its history. For more see: https://www.bikebiz.com/cycling-journalist-frank-berto-dies-aged-90/ and https://www.legacy.com/obituaries/marinij/obituary.aspx?n=frank-berto&pid=194780657
I am sad to report that ex-Raleigh employee Alan Reed died recently following a fall. He started working for the company straight from school in 1943 and I had the great pleasure of meeting him about 10 years ago, when I was researching my book Raleigh: past and presence of an iconic bicycle brand. His reminiscences and several photos that he provided feature in that volume. He also appears briefly in the oft-repeated BBC4 documentary about Raleigh entitled Pedalling Dreams, which was produced by Testimony Films. My wife and I regularly exchanged Christmas cards with Alan and his wife Sheila, who survives him. Shelia’s uncle was Lord Mayor of Nottingham and accompanied Viscount Montgomery at the opening of Raleigh’s No. 2 factory in 1957.
Alan started at Raleigh when he was just 14 years old and two years later he was reaming out the bottom brackets of military folding bicycles. He later worked in the export department for some years and spent the rest of his working life in various roles as part of ‘the Raleigh family’. His enthusiasm and pride in his work was striking. He was particularly proud of meeting distinguished visitors to the factory: he met Princess Margaret when she visited in 1976 and chatted with Prince Charles during a works visit three years later.
Alan’s daughter Jane Alsop tells me that the funeral service will be held on Monday the 16th September 2019 at 12:30 at the Trent Valley Crematorium, Derby Road, Aston-on-Trent, Derby, DE72 2AF. This will be followed by a wake at the Harrington Arms, 392 Tamworth Road, Long Eaton, Nottingham NG10 3AU.
Donations, if desired, should be made to either Blind Veterans UK or Children’s Air Ambulance will be collected on the day or can be forwarded to the funeral directors. All enquiries to Kinton and Daughter, Family Funeral Directors, Castle Donington, 01332 390861.
It was a pleasure knowing Alan and we offer our condolences to his family and friends.
David Gordon Wilson, one of the most inspirational writers on cycle technology, died 2 May 2019. Although best known in the cycling world as the author of the influential book Bicycling Science and as the father of the modern recumbent bicycle, he was deeply involved in other areas of engineering, including turbine design. David held some 60 patents and designed the pump used in the world’s first artificial heart. He was also greatly concerned with matters of public health and ecology, proposing an early fossil-fuel tax and actively campaigning against smoking.
Born in Warwickshire, England in 1928, David lived most of his life in Massachusetts, USA, where he became a professor emeritus at MIT. He was a great inspiration to me, ever since I read the first edition of Bicycling Science, published in 1978. Shortly before his death, David finished the fourth edition, to be published by MIT Press in 2020.
I never met him but we corresponded occasionally and he was always happy to share his knowledge, wisdom and enthusiasm. He was particularly supportive when Professor Hans-Erhard Lessing and I were working on Bicycle Design: an illustrated history, a companion volume to his Bicycling Science.
For the Boston Globe’s obituary of this great man, click on this link: David Gordon Wilson, MIT professor and father of modern recumbent bicycles, dies at 91 – The Boston Globe
Planning the tour
Following the success of our 1966 continental cycle tour, Martin Taylor and I decided to try something a bit more ambitious in summer 1967. We had lost contact with our erstwhile cycling companion Tom McLoughlin, who had left our school to study elsewhere. However, our good friend and classmate Gerard McGlynn was keen to join us, so once again we were a team of three.
Our hometown was Reading, in the Thames Valley, 40 miles west of London. Reading in those days was noted for producing the ‘4Bs’ – biscuits, beer, bulbs and boxes. The biscuits were made by Huntley & Palmers (where two of my next-door neighbours worked), the beer was made by Courage (where my father worked), the bulbs were grown by Suttons (our school buildings included a former Sutton family mansion), and the (tin) boxes were made by Huntley, Boorne and Stevens, originally to put the biscuits in. The broadcaster Chris Tarrant’s father was a director of the company.
We were all in the Upper Sixth (year 13) of Presentation College, an independent Catholic grammar school on the Bath Road in Reading, run by the Presentation Brothers. They were an Irish religious order, jokingly referred to in later years as the provisional wing of the Christian Brothers.
Presentation College (usually shortened to ‘Pres’) was established in Reading during the 1930s, partly at the behest of Dr George Murphy-O’Connor from Cork, the father of Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, who attended the preparatory section of the school and eventually became head of the Catholic church in England and Wales. Cormac’s mother Ellen was an acquaintance of my mother and occasionally visited our house when we were kids. Mrs Murphy-O’Connor was very posh, whereas we were aspiring semi-detached suburban, so we had to be on our best behaviour when she visited.
Although Pres was an independent school, it had bilateral agreements with the surrounding education authorities. Consequently almost all the pupils were kids whose parents had average or even low incomes, and who therefore paid little or nothing in fees because most of us had passed the dreaded 11-plus selection exam, taken in the finally year of primary school (year 6). To put it simply, if you were a boy from a Catholic family who passed the 11-plus and lived within 15 miles of Reading, you usually ended up at Pres. The school had its strengths and weakness but our year did achieve the highest General Certificate of Education Ordinary Level results in the county of Berkshire, with an average of something like 10 passes per pupil. The A-level results were quite another matter and probably best forgotten.
Anyway, Martin, Gerard and I were finishing our seven year sentence at Presentation College in the summer of 1967. The plan was to escape to Europe as soon after the end of our General Certificate of Education Advanced Level exams as possible. I use the word ‘escape’ advisedly, as the last two years at the school had been a little like living in a concentration camp. The headmaster, Brother Fidelis Clifford, alias Fagin, alias Trug, particularly hated our year and, despite the availability of a splendid new school block, he kept us in army-style wooden huts (cold in winter, hot in summer), some distance from the main school buildings. He so hated us that he only appointed one prefect from our year, instead making younger kids prefects over us. Consequently, on our last day, some of us removed the screws from the window hinges, so that next time the windows were opened, they would fall into the playground outside.
(Less intentional damage resulted from the free third of a pint of milk that all schoolchildren received daily before ‘Margaret Thatcher – Milk Snatcher’ stopped it. As our hut was so far from the rest of the school, we didn’t take the empties back after the mid-morning break. Instead, we just opened the ceiling hatch and chucked the bottles into the loft. If only half of our empties from our two years in the hut ended up in the loft, that would have been some 6,000 bottles, and an insulation board ceiling is not designed to take that sort of load. Rumour has it that the whole lot came down some time after we left the school.)
But how were we going to make our escape abroad? On Steve McQueen motorcycles, as used in the 1963 film The Great Escape? Not quite. Martin still had his drop handlebar ‘boy racer’ bike (with derailleur gears that occasionally derailed) and I had my trusty Moulton Speed, with its robust 16-inch wheels, dual suspension, 4-speed Sturmey-Archer hub gears and big carrier racks fore and aft (which carried the newspapers I delivered to raise the money to pay for the tour). Gerard, our new recruit, had a much more sober machine – a 3-speed Raleigh Boulevard Tourist. Despite its name, it was a sit-up-and-beg heavy roadster, complete with full chaincase. It bore the time-honoured Raleigh ‘All-Steel Bicycle’ decal but Gerard nicknamed it the ‘All-Lead Bicycle’, due to its weight. He was new to cycle touring, having previously used his bike mostly to get to school and around town. Nonetheless, Gerard – astride his venerable mount – was to prove himself quite capable as a cycle tourist.
That year, Martin and I tried to raise some money from sources other than our own savings. We didn’t have much luck with commercial firms, although Dunlop did give us a map. But Martin discovered that we might be able to get a grant from the Scout Association. He and I were both Senior Scouts and Martin discovered that there was a new award called the Senior Independent Explorer Belt, which was supported by financial grants. The aim was to promote adventure and self-reliance in an international context. Our aim was to hybridise our cycling tour with doing whatever was necessary to gain the Senior Independent Explorer Belt and the grant that came with it. As Gerard was not a scout, he was not part of the expedition as far as the Scout Association was concerned. In fact, they knew nothing of his presence on the expedition.
To apply for the award, we had to prepare a brief and submit it for approval. Martin and I then had to discuss the proposal with a senior chap in the scouting movement who lived in a big house in Headley, Hampshire, about 4 miles south-east of Newbury. (We persuaded my Dad to drive us there.) The meeting led to some modification of the brief to meet the objectives of the award. Soon, though, we received approval and the promise of a modest but useful boost to our funds. Our proposal aimed at a better understanding of aspects of life in West Germany. It included modules focussing on:
– the housing problem in the Rhineland,
– goods traffic on the Rhine and the customs tariffs applied to it,
– juvenile delinquency in West Germany,
– bridges across the Rhine,
– devising and conducting an opinion poll in German, French and English on the Common Market and attitudes to Britain joining it.
Bearing in mind that none of us spoke German and that our schoolboy French was rudimentary, gaining the Senior Independent Explorer Belt was going to be interesting but challenging.
Day 1: Monday 3 July 1967 – Reading to London by bike, London to Dover by train (44 miles of cycling)
For our 1966 expedition, we had cycled all the way from Reading to Dover and then caught the overnight ferry to Ostend. This time we found a combined train and ferry ticket that cost about the same as we had paid the previous year merely for the ferry. Normally there would have been a sting in the tail, as British Railways typically charged a child’s fare for the bike. But as this was an international journey, the bike was merely charged a small registration fee, as it would have been in Belgium. So this discounted fare saved us about 85 miles of cycling for very little extra cost.
We set out from the western suburbs of Reading and only had to cycle 44 miles to the station in London, which I think was Victoria. As in 1966, we cycled straight up the old Bath Road (the A4), to London, traffic being only a tenth the volume it is today. The journey was so dull and uneventful that I can remember nothing much about it. I guess we probably set off from home in the afternoon, as the train from Victoria would not have departed until the evening (maybe 8.00pm or later) and it would only take us about four hours to cycle to the station.
Day 2: Tuesday 4 July 1967 – Dover to Ostend by ferry, Ostend to Brussels by bike (80 miles of cycling)
Shortly after midnight, the ferry pulled out of Dover. This was still in the pre- Roll-On, Roll-Off era and the ferry was a packet boat of the Belgian Marine. The cars went into a hatch in the side and were turned on a turntable to face fore and aft. As Gerard recalls, I was quite alarmed when they put our bikes in a hessian net sling and dropped them into the hold!
The three of us had managed to get good seating inside and at first we tried listening quietly to the DJ John Peel on my small transistor radio. Peel was presenting his famously esoteric Perfumed Garden music show (mixing progressive and psychedelic rock with blues and folk music) on the pirate station Radio London. However, it was not quiet enough and a steward politely asked me to turn it off, which I did.
The crossing took about four hours, during which we dozed intermittently. Like many of the passengers, to save money we had not booked berths, so we had to make do with wherever we could curl up.
Dawn was breaking over the Flemish countryside as our ferry docked at Ostend. We picked up our bicycles from the station and set off down the Torhoutsteenweg (literally ‘stone road to Torhout’) for Brussels. We had hardly slept all night but we still managed to cycle the 80 odd miles to Brussels.
It was for the most part a repeat of the similar journey we had made the previous year, apart from Gerard and his roadster replacing Tom and his fragile lightweight. The Flemish terrain was fairly flat, the wind was behind us and the weather was pleasantly sunny. I remember riding along in the mid morning, somewhere between Bruges and Ghent, with the transistor radio on my front bag, tuned to the great Tommy Vance. Known as ‘the man with the golden larynx’, Vance, who was from Oxfordshire but who had worked as a DJ in the USA, had recently joined Radio London (‘Big L’) out in the North Sea after stints at Radio Luxembourg and Radio Caroline. But in less than six weeks, Radio London would be gone, forced off the air by the Marine Broadcasting Offences Act.
Towards the end of that long ride to Brussels, we were getting pretty tired but the free cups of coffee given us by a Flemish cafe proprietor gave us a boost and we were in the Belgian capital by 6 o’clock in the evening. For overnight accommodation, we made for the Chaussée du Wavre (Wavre Straat in Flemish) and the seminary of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, where we had stayed for two nights the previous year, free of charge. Once again, we were welcomed by the teaching staff. We ate a hearty supper and turned in fairly early. After all, we had been on the road for more than 12 hours and had not had much sleep the night before. As previously, we had a dormitory to ourselves, the seminarians (student priests) being away on summer vacation.
Day 3: Wednesday 5 July 1967 – Brussels
The next day we spent in Brussels, (scoffing strawberries, which were dirt cheap) a city which since World War 2 had taken on a new role as an unofficial European capital. Much of the old town had been demolished or rebuilt but it still had the most complete mediaeval square in Europe. We giggled at the nearby Manneken Pis, the small but famous fountain statue of a little boy urinating in the street, who has his own extensive wardrobe of various costumes and uniforms. There was also the huge Palais de Justice and St Gudule’s cathedral but for us possibly the most exciting structure in Brussels was the Atomium, which Martin and I had visited the previous year. You have to see it in real life to appreciate its immense three dimensional form. It was less than ten years old at this time and its lift was the fastest in the world. From the top there was a great view over the surrounding countryside.
Day 4: Thursday 6 July – Brussels to Geleen (71 miles of cycling)
After two nights at the seminary, we bid our farewells to our priestly hosts. When we had stayed there the previous summer, they had refused any payment, despite feeding us and providing overnight accommodation. This time they accepted roughly the same as a youth hostel would charge, which was still very reasonable.
Our next major objective was to get to Cologne, which would take two days. We passed through the attractive Flemish city of Leuven (Louvain), famous for its university, and then through the pretty little town of Diest, where we had spent a night the previous year. On entering Limburg province, we found ourselves in an industrial area in decline. In the early 20th century, the ancient city of Hasselt had become the centre of one of Europe’s biggest coal mining operations. But within a decade of our visit, the last mine had closed. However, probably because of the recession in the area, the prices in bars in this region were remarkably low and I remember downing a ridiculously cheap vermouth (a Martini or Cinzano) on our way through. Vermouth was outside my normal range of experience, being something drunk by James Bond rather than schoolboys from suburban Reading.
The whole of this stage of the journey the terrain was flat and the weather was pleasantly warm and dry. I was the navigator and I had my trusty Kümmerley & Frey map of Benelux. It was now early evening and we had cycled the best part of 70 miles as we approached the small village of Mechelen-aan-de-Maas. This is where, in January 1940, a Messerschmitt BF 108 carrying German plans for invasion of Belgium and the Netherlands crashed. The pilot and passenger were arrested by two Belgian border guards who arrived on bicycles.
On the map, it looked to me as if there was a bridge there across the River Maas, which separates Belgium from the Netherlands. Today, Mechelen-aan-de-Maas has grown and there really is a bridge, carrying the E314 dual carriageway, but back then there was just a small human-powered ferry on a cable, big enough to carry maybe a dozen people. It was a bit like a rural scene painted by John Constable and we had to ask around to find the ferryman. Eventually he appeared and, for a small fee, he conveyed us and our bikes safely across the river Maas and the unmarked border between Belgium and the Netherlands.
Mechelen-aan-de-Maas, never to be confused with the grand Flemish city of Mechelen (aka Malines or Mechlin), seemed to be the most rural backwater in Belgium. It was therefore a shock, as we scrambled with our bikes up the bank on the other side of the Maas, to discover the difference in the Netherlands. We found ourselves in a neat Dutch suburb, about three miles from the centre of the city of Geleen, with carefully trimmed grass, street lamps and curbed roadways. It also dawned on us that we had just crossed an international frontier without passing through any kind of control. However, that was the least of our worries at the time. After cycling all day, we just wanted to find overnight accommodation and have something to eat.
We soon found a Dutch campsite and booked in for the night. This year, having had problems with youth hostels and having discovered how good the German campsites were compared with the dire English ones, we had brought full camping gear with us. I wasn’t intending to spend another night risking hypothermia in an open barn on a windy German plain!
We also brought loads of food with us, as the xenophobic British press was always telling us how dreadfully expensive food was in Europe compared with the UK. So we had brought lots of packet soups and instant mashed potato, which we often mixed together to make a rather successful and flavoursome meal, when nothing else could be got. Gerard brought along a rather unusual and temperamental portable gas stove which enabled us to boil water for soup, mashed potato and hot drinks.
And then there were the pilchards. At that time, Glenryck brand South African tinned pilchards were so cheap in the UK, that my parents bought them for the cat. They were, nonetheless, pretty good to eat even if you were human. So the rear bag on the back of my Moulton contained a substantial batch of tinned pilchards, which lasted us as far as the Rhine.
Day 5: Friday 7th July – Geleen to Cologne (58 miles of cycling)
On Friday morning, we struck camp and soon got on the road. The weather remained pleasantly warm and dry. The Netherlands are only a few miles wide at this point and we soon reached the German border. This time there was a customs post and we were surprised to see a middle-aged local woman on a moped having her luggage searched. We Brits, however, showed our passports and were waved through. It seemed a bit odd that we chaps from outside the Common Market were given easier access than a local person living in a supposedly free trade area. Maybe she was a notorious drug-smuggling granny?
The journey to Cologne (Köln) was uneventful and less stressful than when we had cycled in that part of Germany the previous year. For much of the way we travelled parallel to our 1966 route but a few miles further north, passing through Jülich. The fairly flat landscape was similar, with farming in the foreground and open cast mining machinery in the middle distance.
We had an enjoyable experience on the outskirts of Cologne when we stopped at a tavern for liquid refreshments and were treated to three beers and bratwurst and chips by an elderly German. Apparently, he and his mates thought we were Dutch. The kind old chap kept proposing the toast ‘God save the King!’ in German. That tavern was one of the places where Martin and I sought responses to our opinion poll for the Senior Independent Explorer Belt.
After all that drinking, it’s amazing that we got into the city in one piece, without getting a wheel trapped in a tramline or suffering some similar mishap. But we did and we spent that night in the annex of the main Cologne youth hostel.
Day 6: Saturday 8th July 1967 – Cologne
Next morning we were given our marching orders by the warden. The hostel was completely booked up by school parties, he said. When we found that the other nearby hostel, Köln-Deutz on the opposite (east) side of the Rhine, was similarly booked up, we were really disheartened. However, we ended up using the pleasant municipal campsite and from there we toured the city.
In those days, Cologne was the fourth city of West Germany. It was mostly modern, as the town had been flattened during the war. Aerial photographs taken soon after the bombing make the city look almost as if it had been hit by an atom bomb. Cologne’s main glory is its cathedral which grows on you but is rather disappointing at first. We spent about an hour listening to a cleric playing the organ, mainly Bach we think. (By the way, that cathedral is freezing in winter, as I discovered many years later – thank the Lord for glühwein!)
While in the city, as part of our Senior Independent Explorer Belt research, we sought information from the Tourist Information Office about the housing problem and juvenile delinquency in Germany.
Day 7: Sunday 9th July 1967 – Cologne to Bonn (20 miles of cycling)
Next morning we cycled down the road along the west bank of the Rhine to Bonn, an easy flat and short journey to the centre of the city. However, the Bonn hostel was (and still is) on the Venusberg, a hill on the southern outskirts of Bonn, about three miles from the city centre. It was quite a flog getting to it and I recall us pushing our bikes in the midday heat up the steeper part of the hill through an area of allotment gardens. The views were nice when you got there and, if you had been driven up in a luxury coach, it would have been a pleasant journey. But on a hot summer’s day, pushing a heavily laden bike a long way up from the Rhine valley wasn’t such an appealing idea.
This time the youth hostel was not full of school children but of adults, mostly travelling by coach or car, some of whom, from their opulent appearance, could easily have afforded hotel rooms. In those days, British youth hostels did not even allow moped riders to use them, let alone motorists or coach parties. British hostels were for self-propelled hikers and cyclists. But not so in West Germany, home of the hostelling movement. This difference reflected the fact that Richard Schirrmann, co-founder of the youth hostelling movement, was a teacher who was specifically concerned with providing accommodation for school groups.
We did spend one night at the Bonn hostel but after this we gave up youth hostelling as just too much hassle. In fact, in the 50 years since that day, I have only ever spent one night in a youth hostel. (That was Wooler in Northumberland, England’s most northerly hostel, and it was fine.)
In those days, Bonn was the provisional capital of the German Federal Republic (West Germany). John Le Carré famously described Bonn, in the title of one of his spy thrillers, as A Small Town in Germany. It’s a pleasant place and we visited Beethoven’s birthplace and the Münster church. I believe that, in the 1990s, an arsonist set fire to Beethoven’s birthplace but, on an Oxford-Bonn twinning trip a few years ago, I was pleased to see that they have made a good job of restoring it and making it more interesting.
Day 8: Monday 10th July 1967 – Bonn to Koblenz (42 miles of cycling)
Our next stop was at Koblenz, which we reached a few hours after leaving Bonn. On a tour like this, it’s easy to forget which day of the week it is but I always remember that this was a Monday morning and some of the time it rained, though not excessively. In fact, it was the first rainfall that I can recall from the tour. The ride was easy, as we continued to follow the flat road along the west bank of the Rhine.
In West Germany, we mostly used the excellent road maps published by the Aral petrol company. The covers of these maps showed Germany as it was in 1939, including East Germany and the Polish provinces. (So too did the weather forecast on West German TV.) But the maps themselves only covered West Germany and sheets 4 and 6 covered all our riding in that country. They each cost 50 pfennig (half a Deutschmark) and I still have them, marked up with our route. There were more than 11 Deutschmarks to the British pound at that time and, so these maps were very inexpensive. My Kümmerly & Frey map of Benelux cost about ten times as much.
By lunch time, we had reached Koblenz and we booked in at the Rhine-Moselle campsite on the north bank of the Moselle. It was sunny and warm by then and we got ourselves some lunch. I think it was then that we made the mistake of buying a cheap bottle of wine. Rather than invest in a nice local Riesling (this being a time when drinking Blue Nun or Black Tower Riesling was the height of sophistication for most Brits), we bought a bottle of very cheap red Algerian plonk. Even our untutored teenaged palates told us this was a mistake. We should have bought a decent bottle of local Moselle, despite the higher price.
But not everything about the Moselle was lovely. We went for a swim in it, which was delightful until we detected a threatening presence approaching. Like something from a mash-up of Jaws and a malfunctioning sewage works, an impressively large Teutonic turd floated straight at us. I could have sworn that it leered at us. You’ve never seen teenagers get out of a river quicker. That put the end to river swimming for that holiday.
Day 9: Tuesday 11th July 1967 – Koblenz
My Collins pocket guide book described Koblenz as a very pleasant old wine town at the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle and I wouldn’t argue with that. The name Koblenz derives from the Latin word ‘confluens’ meaning (you guessed it) ‘confluence’. The headland or spit enclosed by the river junction, and just across the Moselle from the camping site, is called the Deutsches Eck, meaning German Corner.
In 1897, an immense nationalistic monument was erected on the Deutsches Eck. With an overall height of more than 120 feet, it was topped by a huge statue of Kaiser Wilhelm I on a horse. In World War 2, it was badly damaged by American shellfire and subsequently dismantled. So when we were there in 1967, there was nothing much to see of it apart from the plinth. However, in 1993, following German reunification, a replica was installed. I saw it in 2012, when visiting my German friend and co-author Professor Hans-Erhard Lessing, who lives just round the corner from it. I was staying with the good Professor because we were working on a book for MIT Press. As my introduction to Koblenz in 1967 was by bike, it was rather fitting that our book was Bicycle Design: an illustrated history!
Overlooking the Deutsches Eck, on a mountain on the east bank of the Rhine, is the massive Ehrenbreitstein fortress. It was built in the early 19th century as a replacement for an older fortress destroyed by the French. In 1967, it was best reached by chairlift which ran up the mountainside but did not cross the Rhine. (On my 2012 visit, I was able to travel in a large and luxurious cable car, all the way from the Deutsches Eck, across the Rhine, to the fortress – very civilised when compared to the chairlift, which was not for the nervous.) I remember in 1967 being greatly impressed by a huge wooden refectory table in the fortress which had bowls (or rather, bowl-shaped depressions) carved into its surface. Try putting that in the dishwasher!
By this time, our supplies of tinned pilchards had run out, so we were increasingly dependent on various types of cheap German sausage, such as Bratwurst and Bockwurst, often bought from roadside stalls, supplemented by bread, chips and the occasional cake. I wasn’t complaining.
While in Koblenz, as part of our Senior Independent Explorer Belt research, we sought more information from the local Tourist Information Office about the housing problem and juvenile delinquency in West Germany.
Day 10: Wednesday 12th July 1967 – Koblenz to Bingen
(43 miles of cycling)
After an enjoyable two days at the Rhine-Moselle camping site, with weather that could not have been finer, we continued our journey up the Rhine, continuing to follow the nice and fairly flat road on the west bank. Our next major objective was the city of Mainz, which would take two days to reach at a comfortable pace, bearing in mind the heat.
We travelled along the most picturesque part of the Rhine valley, with its vineyards and romantic castles on either bank. We stopped for lunch by the famous Lorelei rock, where, according to folklore, a siren’s singing was said to lure hapless sailors to destruction. It was here that we first tasted grape juice, a most refreshing drink.
It was possibly on this stage of the journey that Gerard’s Raleigh roadster sit-up-and-beg did exactly that. Most of his luggage was in two large pannier bags, well to the rear of his machine. I think he was using the two huge canvass ex-army motorcycle panniers that I had bought from an army surplus shop for my own old Raleigh several years earlier, before I switched to the Moulton bicycle, with its superior and better-balance luggage carrying arrangements. What happened was this: the three of us lads were sat at a set of red traffic lights, waiting for them to change. When they turned green, Gerard manfully put his foot down on the pedal so hard that the torque made the bike do a wheelie. The panniers put so much weight behind the rear axle, and Gerard’s stance was so upright, that the front wheel took off as the bike tried to roll backwards. Fortunately he survived the indignity.
So too, did Martin, when I absentmindedly ran into the back of his bike when he stopped at a junction. I failed to brake and the front carrier rack of my Moulton, caught on Martin’s rear tyre, pushing him forward and at the same time lifting my front wheel off the ground. Fortunately, Martin’s flexible plastic Bluemels mudguards survived a bit of concertina-ing!
We spent the night at a campsite beside the Rhine, near Bingen. It was opposite the town of Rudesheim, famous for its Riesling wines and I remember the lights of the town twinkling as dusk fell. Our campsite was very close to the ruins of the Hindenburg railway bridge, which was destroyed by the German army in 1945 to impede the advancing American forces. On the subject of bridges, all along the Rhine I was sketching significant bridges and making notes about them, as part of our Senior Independent Explorer Belt project.
The Rhinelanders were particularly kind, Gerard recalls. They had had a drought: there wasn’t a blade of grass on the campsite and the ground was very hard and dusty. But the attendant went off and cut some hay to put under our ground sheets, which was greatly appreciated. I remember being amazed at how easily I fell asleep that night, despite the lack of any form of mattress.
Day 11: Thursday 13th July 1967 – Bingen to Mainz (18 miles of cycling)
The following day we completed the ride to Mainz. It was a good job that it was only another 18 miles, as the temperature was 90 degrees Fahrenheit, as we would have said in those pre-metric days. That’s 32 Celsius, which is not at all uncommon for that part of Germany in summer but way too hot for most Brits after a few days.
We camped in a part of Mainz on the north side of the Rhine, most of Mainz being on the south side. (The Rhine in Germany mostly runs more of less south to north, so it’s generally safe to speak of the west and east banks of the Rhine; but between Bingen and Mainz, the river flows more or less east to west, so here the banks are described as north and south.)
Sadly, this was the day on which British racing cyclist Tom Simpson died on Mont Ventoux in Provence, from a combination of heat exhaustion, alcohol and amphetamines, whilst taking part in the Tour de France.
Day 12: Friday 14th July 1967 – Mainz
Mainz is an interesting town with a long history. Printing with moveable type in Europe started here and we visited an interesting museum that incorporated Gutenberg’s original workshop and a printing museum. The Cathedral is a very complete example of Rhenish Romanesque architecture and also well worth a visit.
We found the citadel rather disappointing when compared to Koblenz’s Ehrenbreitstein but not so the wine cellars of Kupferberg’s, the original makers of Sekt, the German version of champagne. We were shown round the pleasantly cool mediaeval and Roman cellars, cut into many various levels of a mountainside, and at the end given a glass a Sekt each.
At the Gutenberg museum, as part of our Senior Independent Explorer Belt research, Martin and I obtained further information about the housing problem and juvenile delinquency.
We noticed the remarkable number and quality of the shops in Mainz and came to the conclusion that to some extent it had become the shopping centre for the famous old spa town of Wiesbaden across the river, with its large American population. Fifty years later, there are still some 19,000 Americans, mostly connected with the US armed forces, living in the city.
The proximity of Wiesbaden to our campsite may have explained the unusual but not unpleasant quality of the drinking water on tap there, which tasted as if it had minerals in it. The water came out of the tap a milky white and if you left it you got a white mineral sediment. As Gerard puts it, it certainly did the old bowels a lot of good.
We were now firmly within the American zone of West Germany. This was the descendant of the American occupation zone following World War 2, like the British zone further north. Being in the American zone meant that we got good reception of the American Forces Network (AFN) on my trusty transistor radio. It’s hard to convey to younger folk how exciting hearing American radio was for us Brits back in 1967. Suffice to say that even some of the British newspapers used to list AFN’s programmes in those days, because you could receive them at night in the UK, as they bounced off the ionosphere, and quite a lot of British people listened in. The public service announcements on AFN were sometimes quite amusing. One that Gerard recalls was a Batman skit, intended to encourage American service people and their families to protect the dollar by limiting their expenditure in West Germany. Thus we heard Robin exclaim, ‘Holy Gold Flow, Batman!’
Yes, AFN was very slick and rather exciting. They had hip American DJs playing the latest transatlantic sounds and there were audio versions of American TV series, such as Gunsmoke (or, as it was inexplicably renamed in the UK, Gun Law). It was also interesting to hear the news from a different perspective.
Even the station identifications were super-slick, delivered in that unique American presenter style, whereby every word has a START, a MIDDLE and an END:
‘This is the American Forces Network, Europe.
At the sound of the last tone, it will be sixteen hundred hours, Central European Time.
Pip, pip, pip, pip, pip, piiiiiiip.’
Yes, AFN even had an extended final pip in their time signal, something the BBC did not adopt until some years later. It was like the last vestige of post-war rationing – even our pips were skinny compared to Yankee pips.
Day 13: Saturday 15th July 1967 – Mainz to Heidelberg
(55 miles of cycling)
We had been worried about how far we would be able to go when we finally left Mainz in view of the excessive heat of the last few days. We need not have worried. The day we were to leave, it rained all morning and we were stuck in our tiny tents. Around lunchtime it cleared and we were able to pack and leave. It was a beautifully cool afternoon and our only problem was that we had run out of cash and the German banks were shut, it being a Saturday afternoon. Actually, not being able to buy food was quite a big problem.
The terrain was flat because, although we were no longer in the narrow and picturesque part of the Rhine valley, we were now at the northern end of the Upper Rhine Plain, a rift valley about 220 miles long and averaging more than 30 miles wide. We continued following the river as far south as Mannheim.
In those days, many of us would have heard the phrase ‘Diet of Worms’ in our European history lessons and probably had a fit of the giggles. However, the Diet of Worms was not a dietary challenge on I’m a celebrity – get me out of here. In this context, ‘diet’ means an assembly or parliament. The one held at Worms Cathedral in 1521 was convened for the trial of the Protestant reformer Martin Luther, who had started his reformation movement in 1517. (As I write this, in 2017, the 500th anniversary of Luther’s reformation is being commemorated.) As our route passed through Worms, we visited the cathedral to see the sight of Luther’s trial.
At one point, as we cycled south, we saw a house under construction with what looked like a bush fixed to the roof. This turned out to be a ‘richtbaum’, a decorated tree-like wreath forming the centrepiece of a topping-out ceremony. Once the walls and roof timbers are erected, Germans often have a traditional topping out celebration featuring a richtbaum.
We passed through Ludwigshafen and, on the other side of the Rhine, the city of Mannheim. We were quite unaware that this was where, almost exactly 150 years earlier, Karl Drais had announced to the world his invention of the grandfather of all bicycles, the ‘laufmaschine’ (running machine), also known as a draisine or hobby horse. It was the first steerable machine with two wheels in line which you sat astride and balanced. Not at all an intuitive idea. There was no drive system – you just scooted along like on a kid’s balance bike. Mannheim is unusual for a German city inasmuch that it is built on a grid plan.
It was probably somewhere round there that we had a near miss with an American tank – not the kind of machine cyclists should mix with. I guess the locals were used to Americans charging around the countryside in tanks but we certainly were not prepared for that.
Although in 1967 we were unaware of Drais’s wonderful breakthrough invention, almost exactly 50 years later my wife and I attended the International Cycling History Conference at Mannheim’s wonderful Technoseum (a regional science museum that makes London’s look rather provincial) where the delegates celebrated the draisine and debated its creation story.
At Mannheim, the River Neckar flows into the Rhine. Our destination, Heidelberg, is on the Neckar, so we turned towards the south-east and followed the Neckar towards the city. One thing was puzzling: all the photos we had seen of Heidelberg showed it surrounded by mountains but, even when we were quite close to the city, we were still on the flat Rhine-Neckar plain. It transpired that Heidelberg is right on the abrupt junction between the plain and the mountains, so the eastern end of the city is surrounded by mountains, whereas the western end is on the flat plain.
Just before we reached Heidelberg, we stopped at a cafe. It was about 7.00pm and we were tired and hungry. But, as you may recall, we had no cash, because the banks were closed by the time the rain stopped and we were able to leave the campsite. So we were looking disconsolate and scraping together our small change; maybe we had enough for one sausage between three? Suddenly, a friendly middle-aged German chap came over to our table and introduced himself. He was Paul Nachtwachter (which translates as Nightwatchman) and I think he was an ethnic German who had been expelled from the German Polish provinces after World War 2. He spoke English and treated us to a light meal, which was very much appreciated. He also warned us about pick-pockets and thieves in Heidelberg. He was right about thieves in the city but in our case, it wasn’t the our pockets they were picking – more on that later!
Refreshed by the meal bought by the kind German, we soon finished our journey and booked into a campsite on the eastern outskirts of Heidelberg, beside the River Neckar.
Days 14 to 16: Sunday 16th July to Tuesday 18th July 1967 – Heidelberg
One of the ‘must see’ sights in the city is the Heidelberger Schloss (Heidelberg Castle). Partly ruined and perched on a mountainside overlooking the city and the Neckar valley, the immense and impressive building complex is well worth a visit. Some parts date back to the 13th century, though it also owes much to the Renaissance. The castle was adapted and extended for Elizabeth Stuart, the so-called Winter Queen of Bohemia, who married Frederick V of the Rhine Palatinate. Being a Stuart, she had strong British origins and connections: she was the second child of James I of England, sister of Charles I, a granddaughter of Mary Queen of Scots and grandmother of George I.
There is a funicular railway to save you the effort of the long and steep climb but that costs money. So, we locked our bikes up in the High Street and walked up to the Schloss. (We did use the funicular a day or two later, for a longer climb.)
An hour or two later, having visited the Schloss, we returned to our bikes. At first, all seemed fine: three bikes, each with the customary two wheels. But when Gerard lifted the handlebars of his Raleigh Boulevard Tourist roadster, the front wheel fell out. It then became clear that it was not his front wheel. Someone had walked up the High Street with a defective metric format wheel, knelt down and unbolted Gerard’s imperial format wheel, swapped the wheels over and sauntered off, bold as brass, with Gerard’s wheel.
We reported the theft to the Polizei who were helpful. However, the defective front wheel did not fit Gerard’s bike and so we had to move the bike without a front wheel. It’s really tricky if you have to move a bike in that condition any great distance. As it was a Sunday, the local bike shop was closed, so we left the bike at the police station overnight.
On Monday morning we returned to the police station and a policeman took us to the nearest bike shop. We left the bike there to have a new wheel fitted, pointing out that we just wanted a wheel and that we didn’t want to spend a lot, as we didn’t have much money. It was suggested that the bike shop proprietor might be able to obtain a suitable imperial format wheel from the PX store at the nearby American military base, the Patrick Henry Village.
A day or two later, the bike was ready. But when we went to pick it up, the bill was about £5. That was a lot more than we expected – about £85 in today’s money. The proprietor had fitted a metric wheel (plus tyre and inner tube, of course) and then had to fit a new front brake, as the original British one would not fit.
We spoke no German and the bike shop proprietor and his wife spoke no English. So we got the Tourist Information Office to help us. A very helpful young man from the tourist office, who spoke good English, visited the bike shop with us and tried to mediate. It ended up with Gerard refusing to pay the £5 and the furious bike shop proprietor removing the wheel and brake and hurling the bike into the street, while his wife berated us loudly about how badly we had treated her husband.
The young chap from the tourist office then led us back to his office, which was quite a distance away at the opposite end of town to our campsite. This involved more tricky manhandling of a one-wheeled bike through busy streets. At the tourist office, he tried phoning various bike shops but nobody had the right wheel. So Gerard decided that he would be prepared to risk fitting a metric format wheel without a front brake.
By scanning the phone book, our helpful tourism fellow found a suitable shop for us and told us how to get there by public transport. We left the bike with him and took a tram to a huge bike shop in a northern suburb of Heidelberg. We were taken down to a big basement workshop, which had a long row of wheels hanging up. Gerard chose a wheel and selected a matching Dunlop tyre. The friendly mechanic then rapidly fitted the inner tube and tyre to the rim, pumping the tyre up with compressed air. He charged a mere £2 or so and I remember us commenting at the time that his German was easier to understand than some dialects we had encountered.
Then it was back to the tourist office, where we fitted the wheel. Finally, Gerard was able to ride his bike again – but only with a rear brake.
During our time in Heidelberg, we did manage to do some sightseeing, in between visiting the police station, tourist office and bike shops. We visited the Jesuit church with its fine baroque interior but could not get into the main Protestant church was locked. We saw the university buildings, as immortalised in the operetta and film The Student Prince. And we took the funicular railway up the Königstuhl (King’s Chair) mountain.
On the Königstuhl is a concrete TV tower, which in those days was owned by the city of Heidelberg and which doubled as a water tower. It has a splendid observation deck, accessed via a lift, from which we had a 360 degree view of area, including the flat Rhine-Neckar plain, the contrasting Odenwald hills and, just where they meet, Heidelberg on the Neckar. Although I don’t have a good head for heights, I felt completely secure on that observation platform, which was solid concrete with a good high parapet. Today the mast belongs to the regional public broadcaster Südwestrundfunk (SWR). The public are no longer allowed access because of ‘safety concerns’. A big shame.
Whilst in Heidelberg, I invested in a Camping Gas Bleuet stove. Gerard’s butane stove, which was of an unusual make for which cartridges were difficult to obtain, was getting unreliable. By way of contrast, butane cartridges for the classically robust Bleuet could be found everywhere. So I bit the bullet and spent £2 on one. It was still working when I got rid of it, as surplus to requirements, half a century later.
Day 17: Wednesday 19th July 1967 – Heidelberg to Gernsbach
(55 miles of cycling)
After four nights in Heidelberg (which, because of the wheel theft, was longer than we had planned) it was time to move on. Our next destination was the Schwarzwald or Black Forest. From Heidelberg, we had a fairly easy ride, through the eastern outskirts of Karlsruhe (birthplace of Karl Drais, inventor of the draisine) to the small town of Gernsbach, 5 miles east of Baden-Baden, where we camped on the edge of the Black Forest. Gernsbach is on the small River Murg, a tributary of the Rhine.
On 28 July 1817, Karl Drais rode his machine from Gernsbach to Baden-Baden. Back in 1967, I had never heard of Drais but it is amusing to think that the inventor of the bicycle was riding his machine in Gernsbach almost exactly 150 years before we passed through on our bikes.
The campsite was away from the town. The cafe had a jukebox and we were keen to hear the latest British and American hits. However, each time one came on, the barman shot round to the machine and turned the volume down, which did not impress us. Equally unimpressive was the beer. It was so unpleasant that the name is etched into my memory – Alpirsbacher. Maybe it was a bad batch, or maybe that nasty barman put a shot of washing up liquid in it, but it had an unpleasant soapy taste. So much so that we ended up pouring it out of the cafe window, not something that impecunious schoolboys tend to do without good reason. I see that the Alpirsbacher brand is still going strong, so it can’t be all bad.
Day 18: Thursday 20th July 1967 – Gernsbach to Freudenstadt
(29 miles of cycling)
Today we had one of our stiffer rides. It was only 29 miles but the road up the Murg valley rises about 2,000 feet before reaching Freudenstadt, our destination, and in many places the road surface left much to be desired.
Much of the time it rained and once it was so hard that we had to stop for half an hour. The steep uphill road ran through the Black Forest, with pine trees everywhere. We saw the strange sight of clouds rising off the ground on the opposite side of the valley and forming convection currents between the valley walls. It was like something out of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. The atmosphere was beguiling yet threatening at the same time. I wouldn’t have been surprised if Rumpelstiltskin had stepped out of the bushes to confront us.
At one stage, the relatively low bottom gear of my Moulton enabled me to continue cycling at walking pace while Martin and Gerard pushed their bikes uphill alongside me. The Moulton had a Sturmey-Archer FW 4-speed hub and most of the time I only used the top three gears. However, when cruising along on the flat I sometimes founding myself switching back and forth between top and third gear: I’d have appreciated something midway between the two.
By the time we reached Freudenstadt, the weather was much better. We stayed three nights in the campsite just outside the town. Freudenstadt is a peaceful little health resort on a high plateau in the north-east of the Black Forest. In the 19th and early 20th centuries it had an international reputation and was visited by royalty and celebrities from around the world.
The town was badly damaged by French bombing and shelling during World War 2 and 600 buildings were destroyed. We saw no evidence of this, as the town had been almost completely rebuilt. Apparently, hundreds of local women were raped by Moroccan troops of the French army. We knew nothing of those dreadful events at the time.
Day 19: Friday 21st July 1967 – Freudenstadt
We spent this day exploring the town and its immediate surroundings. The weather was superb and it was enjoyable just to wander around and soak up the atmosphere. The town is said to have the largest market place in Germany and I remember colonnades where you could walk in a pleasantly breezy atmosphere protected from the sun and rain. I recall seeing a German lady walking in one of those colonnades during a shower: she still had her umbrella up, despite being under cover, which amused me. It was here that we saw a woman in a car bottle-feeding a baby chimpanzee, and we all fell about laughing, which unfortunately upset the woman!
We found the Lutheran Evangelical church particularly interesting. It has two naves at right angles to each other, with the minister addressing both congregations from an altar and pulpit on the splay. Apparently the two naves were constructed so that males would use one and females the other. Both sexes could see the minister but not each other!
We bought some cheap rum in the town. That evening, we took it with us for a walk in the Black Forest near the campsite as the sun went down. The atmosphere amongst the mountains and pine trees at dusk was very impressive, the rum less so. In fact, it tasted so bad I began to wonder if we hadn’t accidentally bought rum shampoo.
By the way, the piano instrumental A Walk in the Black Forest, by Horst Jankowski, reached number 3 in the UK singles chart just two years before our promenade in the Schwarzwald.
Day 20: Saturday 22th July 1967 – Freudenstadt, with excursion to Kniebis (8 miles of cycling)
A few miles west of Freudenstadt is another cure resort called Kniebis. In the blazing sun it was difficult to appreciate that in the winter Kniebis is also a winter sports resort. It seems that these days, the cure resort aspect of the local economy has more or less ceased. It’s winter sports that keeps the village alive.
The village gets its name from the Kniebis mountain ridge, which is more than 3,000 feet above sea level. We cycled there, which involved a long climb of maybe 500 feet over 4 or 5 miles, and had a most enjoyable picnic lunch. It was a Saturday, the weather was very pleasant and we sat on a grassy hillside, looking down on forests, meadows and scattered farm buildings.
The picnic comprised fresh bread, tomatoes and Limburger cheese. It was my first experience of Limburger, which originates not from the Black Forest, nor even from the German city of Limburg, but from the former Duchy of Limburg, which is now divided between Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. In fact, we cycled through it earlier in the tour. Some people absolutely hate Limburger but I loved it and that picnic remains one of my strongest and happiest memories of the holiday.
Afterwards, we coasted back to Freudenstadt, which was pretty much downhill all the way.
Day 21: Sunday 23th July 1967 – Freudenstadt to Strasbourg
(41 miles of cycling)
On the Sunday, we left Freudenstadt heading for Strasbourg. We first had to repeat the uphill climb to Kniebis. Then, just past the village, we crossed the watershed and there then followed fifteen miles of downhill riding with breath-taking views for the first five miles or so. Gerard, having only a rear brake, proceeded cautiously, accompanied by Martin. However, I could not resist the fast descent and the heavily laden Moulton was ideal for this, the suspension giving it excellent road holding and the rigid carrier racks ensuring that there was no wobble induced by the heavy luggage. At one stage, I overtook two women who driving along in a British-registered Triumph Herald car, enjoying the view.
After this thrilling descent, the Black Forest abruptly ended and we were once again on the flat Rhine plain, only 18 miles from Strasbourg. In fact we could see the cathedral away in the distance. I stopped to buy a Mars bar from a roadside shop and was happily consuming it by the time Martin and Gerard caught up with me. (We discovered that Mars bars, at least in those days, varied slightly from country to country, the proportions of caramel, nougat and chocolate differing subtly.)
We headed for the Rhine, passing through Kehl, effectively a German suburb of Strasbourg, before crossing the river by bridge into Strasbourg itself and France. We found a campsite, pitched the tents and then started to explore the city.
Day 22: Monday 24th July 1967 – Strasbourg (plus overnight train to Bruges)
We spent an enjoyable two days in the city of Strasbourg, formal seat of the European Parliament. The New York Times once described Strasbourg as ‘too German for France, too French for Germany’. The city certainly has an interestingly chequered history of occupation by Germany and France. Historically, Strasbourg was German speaking and we heard the local German dialect being spoken in a shop that we visited near the old defensive works on the local canal system.
There are plenty of picturesque black and white half-timbered Alsatian buildings in the old parts of the town. Strasbourg cathedral is also impressive. Like Antwerp cathedral, which Martin and I visited on our cycle tour the previous year, it was originally intended to have two spires but only one got built, leaving a capped-off tower base on the right-hand side of the main facade.
At the end of the second day, we started our journey home by catching an overnight train to Bruges in Belgium, where we were to spend a day or so before returning home. The train left Strasbourg about midnight and beforehand we killed time by watching a film in a cinema near the station. Our bikes had gone ahead of us, on an earlier train.
I remember standing on the platform, waiting for our train, and listening to the old BBC Light Programme on my transistor radio. The signal, which in those days was on 1500 metres long wave, from the Droitwich transmitter in the English Midlands, came in remarkably well.
Martin was always very diligent with our work for the Senior Independent Explorer Belt project. On the train, he sat up for a while, developing our reports, while Gerard and I tried to sleep. Needless to say, we did not have sleeping berths or even couchettes, just ordinary train seats.
Day 23: Tuesday 25th July 1967 – Bruges
Arriving at Bruges at 9.15 in the morning, we found that our bikes were missing. However, the Belgian official at the main station was very helpful. At first, he could not trace our steeds and asked us to return later, after he had made enquiries. But as we were walking towards the town centre, he caught up with us on his bike and explained what had happened. The French had sent our bikes to the wrong station in Bruges. Apparently, they assumed that the bikes were going straight to England, so they had sent them to Zeebrugge, the port of Bruges. Consequently, we had to visit the customs office at Zeebrugge to pick up our bikes. Once we had done that, we were able to find a campsite and pitch the tents for the night.
This incident did not upset our plans much. Bruges is a marvellous place, as interesting as any of the other places we visited, if not more so. (I never tire of it and must have been there about 15 times since the 1960s.) We went up the famous carillon belfry of the cloth hall, saw the town hall and its paintings, the various churches, the picturesque beguinage (a medieval religious community for lay people, rather than monks or nuns), the Minnewater or ‘Lake of Love’ (once part of the harbour of Bruges) and the Groeninge Museum. Today it is hard to imagine that, in mediaeval times, Bruges was one of the four most important towns of Europe. When we went there, it had a population of only 50,000.
Day 24: Wednesday 26 July 1967 – Bruges. In the evening, Bruges to Ostend by bike (15 miles of cycling) then overnight ferry to Dover
Around 5.30 in the afternoon of our second day in Bruges, we left for Ostend. Gerard was a little concerned at what his father’s reaction would be to the discovery that Gerard had been riding around since the Heidelberg wheel theft without a front brake. Fortunately, we passed a bike shop that was still open. At that time, bicycle components were relatively cheap in Belgium. So Gerard bought a front calliper brake that would work with his new metric wheel. We fitted the brake by the roadside and carried on to Ostend, where we spent the evening before leaving for England.
At Ostend station, where we deposited our bikes and luggage, a small group of fellow cyclists realised we were English and commiserated on the recent death of Tom Simpson. When stopping for a drink in Belgian bars, we had been impressed by how well the Tour de France was covered live by French TV, something which was not then seen on the UK. But what British TV did have that month was the first regularly scheduled colour TV broadcasts in Europe. Test transmissions had been going on in Britain and some other European countries for years. We saw Braun TVs in the windows of German shops with colour test transmissions. But just two days before we set out on this tour, the BBC started its colour TV service on BBC2, with live coverage of tennis from Wimbledon.
Now our tour was nearing its end and we walked around Ostend that evening killing time. We found a large double-fronted TV shop on the seafront and, despite the fact it was about 8 o’clock in the evening, the owner was standing in the doorway. He was a nice old chap who spoke fluent English and we got chatting. He explained how he was probably the first person in Belgium to have TV, having bought a British kit soon after the end of World War 2. He built the TV from the kit and set it up in his attic, pointing an aerial towards London. Eventually, he managed to get occasional reception, despite being well outside the official service area. This was much to the amazement of his friends and family, who initially thought he was a bit mad.
That evening, he had about a dozen TVs running in his shop windows, each receiving a different channel. (At this time, European countries would only have between one and four TV channels each.) Each TV had a little sign on it, indicating the channel. He had Dutch channels, Belgian channels (Walloon and Flemish), French channels and the three British channels. This was quite amazing at the time. Gerard recalls that the BBC was showing The Forsyte Saga, a hugely popular drama series.
We then found a nice cake shop and lurked outside, looking hungry, as closing time approached. Lo and behold, at about five minutes to 9 o’clock, we were invited in and given lots of cakes, which were either free or for a nominal sum.
We then proceeded to the station and boarded the overnight ferry to Dover.
Day 25: Thursday 27th July 1967 – Dover to London by train, London to Reading by bike (44 miles of cycling).
The journey back home from Dover was the exact reverse of how we got to Dover three and a half weeks earlier. After a night dozing in various corners of the passenger ferry, we arrived in the early morning at Dover and took the train to London. From Victoria Station, we cycled the 44 miles home, thus ending the tour which had taken us more than 1,000 miles, of which more than 600 were by bike.
25 days, 24 nights – 2 in seminary, 2 in hostels, 3 on ferries or train, 17 camping.
Approximately 623 miles by bike plus some local mileage in the places where we stayed.
Average mileage per cycling day: 43 miles, plus some local mileage around locations we stayed in.
Total cost of holiday: approximately £42 (equivalent to £700 at 2017 prices).
Soon after we got home, Martin and I completed our project for the Senior Independent Explorer Belt. We submitted it and we passed, becoming the first Senior Scouts in Berkshire to win the award. We were invited to Baden-Powell House in South Kensington, London, where we were presented with our belts, with their specially cast buckles marked with the Scout logo and the points of the compass (I still have mine). We were also each given a very nice Primus butane stove. Mine lasted for many years, though not as long as the more utilitarian Camping Gaz Bleuet stove that I bought in Heidelberg.
When Martin went to university, I lost touch with him but Gerard and I continued to travel abroad together nearly every year until I got married in 1974. (He was my best man!) We hitchhiked and later travelled by minibus and car.
In the late 1970s, Martin got in touch with me. My wife and I visited him and his wife at their house in Goring-on-Thames. But they didn’t live there long and again we lost contact.
Decades passed: then, in the 2000s, Martin once more made contact. He was deeply involved in oil exploration and spent much of his time working in countries with names ending in ‘stan’. When not doing that, he lived in Essen with his German partner and enjoyed Scottish dancing. He came to our house and we had a very convivial lunch at a nearby pub. He had a bike in the back of his car and was still a keen cyclist. Sadly, soon after that, Martin died, quite unexpectedly. Meanwhile, Gerard and I are still good friends – may it ever remain so!
50 years later
This summer (2017) marked the bicentenary of Karl Drais inventing the draisine, the precursor of all bicycles. Because he launched it in Mannheim, the 2017 International Cycling History Conference was held there and I attended with my wife, Rosemary. It was only a month or so short of 50 years since I cycled through Mannheim on that 1967 tour, completely ignorant of Drais and his wonderful invention.
At the end of the conference, there was a coach trip to Heidelberg. Once again, I visited the scene of the crime, where Gerard’s front wheel was stolen. He kept his Raleigh Boulevard Tourist, complete with its non-standard metric front wheel, for more than 40 years, though he rarely rode it. Maybe today it is still out there somewhere!
24 July 2017
With many thanks to Gerard McGlynn for reviewing this story and adding his recollections.
NEW! Three part exclusive interview with John Emery on the V-CC YouTube channel. John trained with Tom Simpson in Ghent in the 1960s, won numerous races and was involved in the early days of the Moulton at the factory and as a test rider.
The picture shows John (left) in April 2017 with Tony Hadland just after recording the interviews. The bike is a 1960s Moulton Mini Automatic that John has recently been restoring.
I’ve worked on a previous production with the team who made this new film. They are talented people who put a lot of effort into getting things right. If you are into mountain biking, cycle history or just enjoy cycling, you are sure to like this film. Watch the trailer here: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/mtbuntold
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Gary Fisher: US MTB pioneer