…chugg chugg as we climbed the steep hill that would put us in striking distance of our next City. We tried to guess which tractor was behind us. “Definitely a John Deere,” said Matthew confidently. “Could be a Massey Fergie though?” I saidtentatively. I had received a crash course in recognising tractors by their sound and colour the first week of our trip, on the Cornish roads, but for me it was still hit and miss while Matt got it right most of the time. The chugg chugg chugg continued for another kilometre as we pedalled onwards and upwards. Eventually, with our T shirts dripping with sweat, we pulled over at the top of the hill. Two massive John Deere’s pulling farm machinery chugged past, followed by a car, then another car, then another one. “One, two, three….”counted Stuart while the kids waved to the drivers in the convoy. “Seventy one, seventy two, seventy three…” the last one crawled by. Unusually, each had waved back enthusiastically at us as they passed. “Seventy three of them! Oh dear. I think they might be under the impression that we were holding them up and we stopped here to let them go ahead. They’re not going to be waving when they find themselves stuck behind the John Deere’s and still going at ten miles an hour for the rest of their trip into Ludlow.” I said, trying to be charitable, but unable to conceal a smile.
Fittingly, I had picked up a leaflet at breakfast in the our Youth Hostel about Ludlow, the city we were heading for. It is the UK’s first Cittaslow, or “Slow City”. The publicity describes going slow as the route to a new quality in life. It’s based on the ideals of the Slow Food Movement, but for us it was a legitimate reason to pedal like snails and hold up the traffic, something we had been doing for the last three weeks anyway. But as we headed into town and got our usual reception of tooting drivers, vans cutting us up and pedestrians jay walking in front of us, we weren’t sure that everyone else had been briefed about going slow.
We stopped for lunch by the castle and a family came over for a chat. They’d just returned from New Zealand after four years and were finding the UK difficult to handle. “So much traffic, so many people. Kiwi life is so much slower,” they said. It turned out they had just moved to the next village to us in Cumbria. We gave them our number. “Perhaps we should get together for a coffee after we get to John O Groats. No idea when that might be,” Stuart grinned. “We’re just pedalling slowly on.”
We got on the bikes and cycled away. “You should do it the other way round,” shouted a pedestrian reading our flag. “If you go from John O Groats to Lands End, it’s downhill all the way.”