In 1977 Magnus and I decided to tour Europe. We had left school and needed to find work to finance the trip. We both got jobs at a local meat processing factory (Lawsons of Dyce). It wasn’t the worst job I’ve ever had but it came close. We initially applied for jobs as cleaners, which were full time posts not summer jobs and we put down all our exam results from school. The manager called us into his office and asked why, with all these qualifications we were applying for jobs as cleaners, we really didn’t expect this. He decided the post of cleaner was not for us and gave us jobs in other areas, I was put on supplying the bacon for the packing lines and I think Magnus worked in the sausage section. We worked all the overtime we could to save as much money for the trip which was the only reason I think I could stand working there, I knew I would leave soon.
When we’d saved enough we bought a small two man ridge tent and we were all set. Magnus’ father gave us a lift to the ferry terminal in Hull where we caught the overnight ferry to Zeebrugge in Belgium. We had no beds, just what they called couchetes (a large reclining chair) but we spent so long in the bar that night we didn’t even get one of then and ended up sleeping on the floor, after we’d eventually found where the blankets were stored. The North sea was pretty rough that night and all I can remember is hearing the engines as the ship rose and fell, needless to say I don’t think either of us got much sleep that night.
We arrived in Belgium the next morning a little worse for wear with no real plan other than cycle as far from the port as possible. We cycled through Brugge, on through Gent towards Brussels finally coming to a stop in a farming area with field of maize somewhere near Geraardsbergen. I seem to remember just camping at the side of the road, we we simply knackered and needed to get some sleep.
Our plan, such as it was was just to cycle all day and stop at a camp site towards the end of the day. This was sometimes problematic as we had as we had only one road map and didn’t know where the sites were. So occasionally we come to a site at around 15:00 and have to decide whether we’d find another site further on before night fall or stay there, some days we cycled till very late, too late. We had a couple more stops in Belgium near Namur and Rochefort before heading into Luxembourg staying for a couple of nights just outside the city.
Our stops were just over the German border near Saarlouis then over into France near Phalsburg then back into Germany near Freiburg then over the mountains to Lake Konstanz. We stayed in Lonstanz for a couple of nights then headed off towards Luzern via Zurich. For most of the trip we’d managed to stay off the main highways but for some reason not in Zurich and before we knew it we were riding straight through the centre on what was in effect a motorway. Just before entering a long, very log tunnel I saw a sign saying ‘no cycling’ but it was too late, we were committed and spent the next 10mins riding through a 6 lane tunnel with cars travelling at over 60mph. Quite frankly I was shitting myself and got off the road as soon as we could on the other side.
We spent five days in total in Luzern, not that we liked it that much but the weather was really bad and each morning we awoke to rain and decided to stay. Whilst we wre there we visited a local attraction, a cable car up a mountain called
Pilatus. Although the weather was pretty bad we took a chance that the top of the mountain was above the clouds…it wasn’t. In fact it was a total grey-out up there you could hardly see 10 feet in front of you but some tourist still took photographs though !! There was ‘traditional’ Swiss music at the top with guys in lederhossen playing alpine horns, the whole show, it was straight off a chocolate wrapper. On the way down we caught the cable car with one of the alpine horn players who it turned out was in the middle of his national service in the Swiss Army, (I didn’t ask if he had a knife!) I didn’t even realise Switzerland had an Army, let alone a Navy, yes a Navy.
After Switzerland we headed back into France on our way to Paris with a few stops along the way. We didn’t want to cycle all the way into Paris and found a really nice camp site at Neuilly-sur-Marne a short want from the Metro station into the centre. We spend 4 night in Paris and did all the usual stuff, Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Monmarte, Pigalle. My biggest regret of this trip is that I have no photographs at all, neither of us had brought a camera.
After Paris we headed North to the coast and stayed at what I can only describe as the camp site from Hell. Magnus got food poisoning from a can of ravioli and the toilets ! well they remain to this day the worst I have ever seen. I felt sorry for Magnus having to use them so much, I felt OK and I could barely bring myself to use them. We spent two nights there and left before Magnus was better, I think I forced him to leave, poor guy. He did however get his revenge as a day or so later I got the food poisoning…not nice I can tell you, having to go to the toilet so often and forcing ourselves onto our bike.
The next few days were spent just riding up the coast towards Rotterdam where we intended to catch the ferry back to Hull. We spent five nights outside Rotterdam near Rockanje. In retrospect I can think of a few places that would have been nicer to spend that much time at. The only thing I remember about Rotterdam is the fast, clean and efficient rail link into the city. It’s pretty boring place as it was totally rebuilt after the war.
On our ride along the coast Magnus had been having trouble with his gears and by the time we landed in Hull I think he only had about three left that worked. The plan was to ride home from Hull to Aberdeen. We spent the first night back in a field somewhere near Scotch Corner, but the next day Magnus had had enough of his bike problems and was down to only one working gear. He decided to ditch his bike in a lay-bye and hitch-hike home. Years later we found out his bike was actually worth quite a bit of money and toyed with the idea of going back to look for it, but never did.
Magnus headed off carrying his panniers and handlebars (which he quite liked) and stuck out his thumb, I wouldn’t see him again till Aberdeen. I set off in the wrong frame of mind, I felt as if the holiday was over and all that was left was to get home as quickly as possible. I don’t think I fully appreciated the splendid countryside in the Yorkshire Dales, the hills were both magnificent and a real pain at the same time. I just kept cycling only stopping once or twice to eat. That night I got as far as Jedburgh. In fact I went past Jedburgh but decided to go back as it was getting late and I knew there was a youth hostel there so I’d get a bed for the night. Ferniehirst Castle is no longer used as a hostel but it was a really nice place to stay.
The next day I headed off with the sole intent of getting home that day and just kept going as long as I could, stopping briefly in Arbroath for fish and chips and finally calling it a day just outside Montrose as I couldn’t see the road. The battery in my light was almost dead and it was getting rather dangerous. Exhausted I pitched the tent (stupidly) at the side of the road which in those days was the main N-S road from Aberdeen. I awoke, very early with the tent being blown about by the trucks as they thundered by, as I said a stupid place to pitch a tent. After breakfast of a tin of baked beans I set off and eventually reached Aberdeen I think around 15:00. I rode past Magnus’ house and popped in to see if he’d arrived, turned out he’d only beaten me by about three hours. I went up to my mum’s and spent the next two hours soaking in a warm bath….what a trip around 1740 miles in total.