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Ely, Chatteris, St Ives, Papworth General, and St Neots, Sunday 14 June, 2015

Photo_14-06-2015_13_36_48[1]“I may as well be in Ely or St Ives” For What is Chatteris

What’s Chatteris if you’re not there?” For What is Chatteris

I left my heart in Papworth General

Sampling Alessi in St Neots” Our Tune

Waking with mild hangovers, and to the scent of still-damp cycle-wear, we set off into the drizzle towards the fens.   The morning’s ride is far more enjoyable than the typical biscuit tour fare. Instead of murderous A-roads or bleak post-industrial landscapes, we bowl along riverside cycle paths and quiet flat roads with lines of poplars on the horizon. We both have the strange sensation that we’re not in England, but one of those civilised continental countries where travel by bicycle is a by and large pleasant experience.

Photo_14-06-2015_12_48_53[1]Our route along the Ouse takes us to the day’s first destination, Ely. Stopping for Double Deckers next to the spectacular cathedral (no gargoyles resembling Bob Todd by the way) we reflect that Chatteris is going to have to perform well to deserve its ‘Envy of the Fens’ status. On the way out of town, we pass next to Oliver Cromwell’s house. He’s not there, but we stop for a quick snog with the puritans standing guard outside.

Expectations are high as Chatteris nears. This is the Big One – the most famous destination immortalised by HMHB, unless you count Trumpton (and that was already immortal anyway). It’s fair to say that we’re a bit disappointed on our arrival: any decent market town with quintessence should have a proper sign bearing a coat of arms and details of a twin in Bavaria, but – nothing.  However, like its town hall band’s CD, Chatteris is a grower. We can’t find a chandler’s but there is indeed at least one good butcher’s and a first class cake shop. The smooth and commendable one-way system is in evidence, and we witness no drive-by shoutings, let alone either of us being knocked on the bonce.


One-way system: smooth and commendable

Confident that we’re in a town with low car crime, and lower gun crime, we leave our bikes in the courtyard of the Golden Lion, whose proprietor points us the way of the Old Bakery Tea Room for lunch. They’ve just been proudly celebrating their 10th anniversary – the bunting’s up, and during our main course, the vicar pops by to congratulate them. As we eat our apple crumble and watch a procession of tractors pass by, we decide that Chatteris is doing fine for quintessence, whether you’re there or not. You can keep your Ely and your St Ives.

Bidding farewell to clean streets and award-winning swings, we push on through St Ives towards Papworth Everard (which sounds like a character in a long and difficult satirical novel) towards the day’s third destination. Instead of the sensible option of cycling through the village, we follow the roadsigns to the hospital that take us onto the motorway-like A-1198, where I’m very nearly flattened by a boy racer with little regard for lane etiquette.

Leaving our heartsPhoto_14-06-2015_16_42_33[1] at Papworth General, we begin the last leg of our weekend tour, pushing on through the well-kept villages of Yelling and Toseland into St Neot’s.   The station is deserted and there’s no information about trains back to London, but what’s a timetable if your journey’s infinite?

Diss, the Wensum and Swaffham, Saturday 13 June 2015


“Godzilla eats Diss” – Let’s Not

“On Reaching the Wensum”

“I wanna fly my biplane low over Swaffham” On Reaching the Wensum

Though our map of destinations bagged is starting to look healthier (not too far off the half-way point now) a cursory glance reveals that we’ve previously neglected the East of England. This weekend we firmly aim to set that straight – our bags are packed and we’re leaving in a minute.

We begin our East Anglian odyssey at Bury St Edmunds (henceforth referred to as Bury Noel Edmunds or BNE) to see the band play at the Apex. It’s the first HMHB gig we’ve been to for over a year and it’s good to spot a few familiar faces, although due to a stop-off for burgers on the way to the venue, we just miss Chris Rand, mastermind behind the legendary HMHB lyrics site.

Photo_13-06-2015_13_44_51[2]In the wake of the death of Christopher Lee, Blackwell et al come on stage to the strains of ‘Sumer is Icumen In’, prompting the more cinema-literate audience members to shout out quotes from ‘The Wicker Man’. Nick chides me for being baffled by all of these, as well as failing to identify Joy Division’s ‘Shadowplay’ during the encore.

Between songs there are musings on the East of England Tank Museum in (“It’s not like there are tank museums in the North, West or the South of England”); the pros and cons of wearing two jumpers at a Dead Kennedys gig; and a frisbee-share arrangement with Duncan Welch from school. We learn that Welch is yet to return the frisbee.

The following morning we leave BNE by the A-141, riding straight into the torrential downpour predicted by Blackwell, who’d seen the weather forecast on Countryfile. It’s no fun – all white vans speeding past, and overshoes filling up with lukewarm rainwater. After we bag Diss, things start looking up, with the rain easing off, and the roads becoming more bucolic – you can barely move for signs promising asparagus next left.

On reaching the Wensum, we bear west towards Photo_13-06-2015_17_55_25[1]the day’s final destination.  We’re disappointed at the lack of a decent sign to provide photographic evidence of our arrival (something along the lines of “Welcome to Swaffham, home to low-flying bi-planes” would have been nice) but decide that the ‘Swaffham Kebab & Pizza House’ will suffice.

Striking our usual winsome poses, we’re taken aback when a disgruntled junior employee with a vaguely threatening manner marches across the road and asks us why we we’re taking photographs of his establishment.  We decide against explaining the Biscuit Tour, or pointing out to him that we’re not in Belarus, North Korea or any other regime with a poor human rights record, but in East Anglia, where freedom of the press is generally respected, and instead mumble something about needing to show we’re in Swaffham. He scuttles away moodily, saying nothing, and we reflect on the possibility that we might just have been mistaken for lycra-clad immigration officers. Sadly this episode of bizarre paranoia means we’re unable to recommend a visit to the Swaffham Kebab & Pizza House. Heaven knows what they’ll do if they ever find out they’re on Google Streetview.

Rye and Camber Sands, 26 April 2015

‘Like Jennifer in Rye’ (Nove on the Sly)The Fall

‘Yeah that was me, down at Camber Sands’ (Lark Descending)

One of the many rewards of devoting your life to cycling to places mentioned in Half Man Half Biscuit songs is that you see a much underexplored side of Britain. A short train ride from our native London, with its Gok Wan acolytes, fair-trade cocaine, jog-proof I-pods and Ken Hom wok sets, is a world of forlorn seaside towns, massive crackling pylons next to caravans (static, naturally), and disused military installations.

Like HMHB, the Fall seem drawn to these kinds of landscapes, and so we kick off our tour of the Sussex-Kent coastline at their gig in Hastings.   Playing under a banner that says ‘DEDICATION NOT MEDICATION – YOU DECIDE!’ (we vote for medication ) Mark E Smith and his terrified minions put in a decent shift , deigning to perform ‘Theme from Sparta FC’ as an encore.

Back at our accommodation (run by a lovely Armenian couple who are relaxed about us leaving our bikes in the way of the fire extinguisher) I dream of being transported to Mars, albeit a Mars where there are a lot of noisy seagulls. Their screeching is eventually replaced by the sounds of the young couple having energetic sex in the room next to mine.

Steve in CamberThe B and B turns out to provide only the first ‘B’ of the traditional B and B offering, so we have breakfast at the Indian restaurant next-door, to the accompaniment of some jaunty 80s hits, which prompts some animated debate about whether Starship had dropped the Jefferson before they recorded ‘We Built This City’. The day’s cycling starts off with some steep climbing out of Hastings into Fairlight, before following the coastline to the day’s two destinations: Rye, and the Pontin’s holiday camp at Camber Sands.

With May 7th a couple of weeks away, many of the citizens of Sussex and Kent have made their political views clear. Based on a detailed analysis of the posters and placards we cycle past, we can confidently predict that the outcome of the 2015 General Election will be:

UKIP – 524 seatsNick and David in Rye

Conservatives – 103 seats

Labour – 23 seats

Others – None

Cycling-wise there’s not much to report, other than the usual slow progress, confusion about routes, missed turnings, and fury with errant GPS devices. Mostly, it’s cold, damp and windy. It’s tempting to say it’s a miserable day, but you may like a bit of drizzle, so we’ll stick to the facts.

We lose one of our number in the Rye area, but reunite in a pub in New Romney, where we’re befriended by a rave era casualty who spends a good half hour shouting “Fuck off you Chelsea Scum!” at the TV, before realising Chelsea aren’t playing yet. Over pints of lime and soda we decide that Deal and Broadstairs can wait for another day – one when it’s not raining and Arsenal aren’t playing Chelsea.   We luck out at the Swan Hotel in Hythe, where we’re just in time for the game and a lukewarm Sunday roast.  Our train home is from Sandling, which is just a couple of miles away, and two letters short of being a dead wading bird, so an apt place to end another tour.

Redcar, Monday 6 April 2015

“AfterNorth Yorks Moors going through the hell of being a pop star / Street parties in Redcar”

Mars Ultras, You’ll Never Make the Station

Waking late on the morning of Easter Sunday we wonder what we were thinking by planning a 70 mile ride after going to a nightclub with young people in it.     The decision to cut short the day’s route is not a difficult one, so instead of dragging our dehydrated bodies on our bikes up the East Coast, we get the train from Cottingham to Scarborough. We feel a bit shame-faced as we stare out of the window watching Driffield, Nafferton and Seamer pass by, but assure each other that we haven’t broken any rules and can always do Filey another day.

The ride from Scarborough to Robin Hood’s Bay is challenging enough as it is. We start off on the cinder path along the old railway line , but this being Britain, the National Cycle Route isn’t fit to cycle on, so we instead take the hillier route along the A171.  As we move northwards, things get tougher, largely because we have to contend with fast-moving Bank Holiday traffic as well as the climb onto the North Yorks Moors.

Robin Hoods BayEventually, we’re on the steep descent into Robin Hood’s Bay, the picturesque village that marks the end of the Coast to Coast Walk, and is home to friend of the Biscuit Tour, Eliza Carthy. We spend the evening at Ye Dolphin, where we encounter a large group of braying public school types who’ve been to a wedding. They announce in loud voices that the pub quiz taking place that evening sounds jolly fun, and come up with hilarious team names (“Quiz Quiztoffersen, Quiz on my Face, etc, etc. etc”). We’re no class warriors, but we’re also not ones to duck a challenge (cycling to Filey excepted) so stick around to take them on. Sadly, the quiz is an interminable affair, with inaudible questions and an undue emphasis on motor sports. The previous evening’s exertions starting to take their toll, we don’t stay the course through to the declaration of the results, so never find out if the quality of our comprehensive school education has triumphed over Bullingdon.

The next morning, fog lies heavy over the hills, so it’s on with the lights as we continue northwards; we pass through some beautiful scenery – moors to the west and coast to the East – but can’t see any of it. As we near journey’s end, Nick is slowed by some persistent back pain. I suggest that he try a spot of roadside yoga, and particularly recommend the ‘Cat-Cow’, pose by getting down on all fours and gently flexing his spine from a rounded position to an arched one. This gets the response it deserves “I’m not fucking doing that – we’re near Middlesbrough.”

DespiteRedcar Steve some difficult climbing we’re in Redcar, our final destination and apparently scene of many a Dawes childhood daytrip, by lunchtime. We’re just in time for the train to Darlington, where we have some time to kill before heading home, so we evaluate the weekend’s achievements over a meal at the Royal Thai and a couple of pints at the Greyhound next door. For someone who won’t do yoga near Middlesbrough, Dawes lacks any self-consciousness about his jukebox choices, opting for ‘Like a Virgin’ and ‘I Feel Love’ to entertain the Darlingtonians trying to have a quiet pint on Easter Monday.

Goole, Saturday 4 April, 2015

“Twin town said we just weren’t cool, So now we got a suicide pact with Goole”

San Antonio Foam Party

Goole, SteveWe spend Saturday making our way unhurriedly northwards through Lincolnshire and East Yorkshire. Our destination for the day is Hull, which isn’t mentioned in any Half Man Half Biscuit songs (‘Rod Hull is Alive – Why?’ doesn’t count) but is where we met at university many years ago. First and only biscuit official stop of the day is Goole which is perhaps overstating the case slightly when it announces itself not only as “the UK’s premier inland port”, but also a “haven of opportunity.”

It’s a low mileage day, so we’ve got time to stop off in Gilberdyke to have lunch and enjoy Arsenal crushing Liverpool at the White Horse.   By contrast with the Whitegates the day before, it’s a great pub, which – the pennants on the wall suggest – caters for motorcyclists and mods, as well as football fans on Half Man Half Biscuit-themed cycling tours. Unfortunately we’re there a week too early to see comedy Hypnotist Chris Good (who promises “the most fun you’ll ever have in your SLEEP!”). They’ve had to postpone previous shows due to low ticket sales, so Chris can’t be as persuasive as he makes out.

We take a wrong turn at South Cave, adding an unnecessary hill to our journey.   Our pace by now is such that we’re briefly overtaken on one of the climbs by a skinny teenage female runner, who rubs it in by laughing at us. Brushing off this humiliation we pass through some of the well-heeled villages west of Hull and are soon riding on a wave of nostalgia. My old friend Deon is putting us up, and takes us for a night out, showing us how the place has changed since we left in 1997. The student area where we used to live has steadily been gentrified, and it’s a strange feeling to see bistros and glitzy bars where pawnbrokers and old men’s pubs once stood.

After Joy Division Cycling Glovesa couple of pints at one of our old haunts, we head to Spiders, “HULLS ORIGINAL INDIE-VIDUAL NIGHTCLUB,”, which, unlike Half Man Half Biscuit, featured “ON CHANNEL 4’S CULT MUSIC SHOW THE TUBE IN THE 80s” On arrival, we’re horrified to discover a queue, but Deon confidently strides past the shivering young Emos, promising that she’ll get us past the bouncers.   Strangely, her argument that we should be able to go straight in because she’s with her friends from London who used to come here doesn’t carry any truck.     As we stand in line behind 19-year olds in Slipknot t-shirts (prompting a hearty chorus of ‘Vatican Broadside’) the police roll up, on the look-out for underage drinkers. Inexplicably they walk straight past us, despite us waving our driving licences at them.

Nick at Spiders

Inside, we discover Spiders is one to file under ‘Hasn’t Changed a Bit’. You can still get one of their ‘Pan-Galactic GargleBlasters’ – a truly disgusting mix of cider, Pernod, vodka and something else (possibly urine) served up in a plastic pint glass for £3.10. The more discerning clientele eschew the horrible ‘Nu-Metal’ served up downstairs in favour of the upstairs dancefloor, which correctly plays Rock and Roll, sixties pop, soul and disco.   We establish ourselves in a corner, and spend the night dancing to Tina Turner and Edwin Starr, the cheap ‘cocktails’ helping to numb us from the nagging awareness that we’re twice the age of most of the people here.   Back home, Deon, slips into her animal-themed onesie (photos not displayed here in the interests of decency), and the disco fun continues.

Rock City Notts, Mansfield, and Rampton, Friday 3 April 2015

“I’ve Rock City umbrellabeen up to no good. I’ve been dissed in the ‘hood. I’ve been locked in the Rock City, Notts”

Tonight Matthew I’m Going to be with Jesus

Trying to be Mansfield’s very own Steve Malkmus”

Lark Descending

“When your mum’s in Rampton bouncing off the walls and singing Who’s afraid of Virginia Wade?”

Outbreak of Vitus Gerulaitus

Picking up our life’s work after another prolonged hiatus, we meet in central Nottingham on a damp and dreary Good Friday. The purchase of two new GPS devices hasn’t changed anything (partly because Nick has forgotten to charge his up) and true to form we struggle to navigate the half mile journey to Destination Number One, the once great music venue, Rock City. After taking some artistic pics, making sure people with umbrellas are in shot to provide some gritty local colour, we head north in the pouring rain through Arnold and Ravenshead.

Clipstone CollieryDestination Number Two is Mansfield, which is up there with Tredegar and Blaenavon as one of the grimmest post-industrial towns we’ve ever been to. I’m starting to get peckish, but Nick is resolute in his opposition to having lunch until we’re well clear of the town and its hostile white van drivers. Remembering that he doesn’t like me when I’m hungry, he eventually permits a lunch break at the Whitegates Hotel in Clipstone. It’s a funereal, eerily silent kind of place, unwelcoming to the point of forbidding us from charging up our digital devices because they haven’t been “PAT-tested”.  “When’s Pat coming back then?, quips Dawes. His wit falling on deaf ears, we eat our fishfinger sandwiches hurriedly, deciding against sticking round for the meat raffle taking place that evening. Riding past beautiful old Clipstone Colliery, which didn’t actually close until 2003, we’re reminded that this used to be a proud and thriving mining community.

The scenery becomes more bucolic around Sherwood Forest, famous home of Robin Cook and his merry men, and Sherwood Pines, which sounds like an American politician (as in “Republican Senator Sherwood Pines has voted against 57 gun control measures”) Then as we head north-eastwards the sun comes out, the terrain takes a flatter turn, and we find ourselves cycling through quiet fields with views of wind farms as far as the eye can see (the turbine blades are all turning rapidly, generating vital renewable energy for all, so in your face, UKIP.) After Rampton Hospital, we plot a route northwards through villages that become quainter the deeper we get into Lincolnshire. Epworth is another Busy Little Market Town (I always think we should get some sort of bonus for those) and the Red Lion is a decent hotel.

Our excessively calorific Steve and Wind Farmsdinner is accompanied by a soundtrack of Heart Radio’s ‘Club Classics’, and we impress each other with our respective knowledge of early 90s dance music.   After our third pint, we sink back into our armchairs and reflect that Rozalla was right when she voiced her opinion that “Everybody’s Free (To Feel Good).”

Notice of Forthcoming Tours

After one of our regular periods of inactivity, we’re once again ready to stroll down favourite lanes in our continuing bid to cycle to every UK destination mentioned in Half Man Half Biscuit songs . Tour dates confirmed this year so far are:

Good Friday to Easter Monday: Nottingham (Rock City), Mansfield, Rampton Hospital, Goole, Filey, Redcar (189 miles, 6 destinations)

25th-26th April (Starting at Hastings after a Fall gig) Rye, Camber Sands, Broadstairs. (60 miles, 3 destinations)

12-14th June (Starting at Bury St Edmonds after HMHB gig) Diss, the Wensum, Swaffham, Ely, Chatteris, St. Ives, Papworth General, St. Neots. (133 miles, 8 destinations)

You could join us – our flask is full to the brim….