Simon Parker was enjoying his work as a successful travel writer and international broadcaster, until the Covid-19 pandemic ground life as we knew it to a halt.
Worlds suddenly fell apart, and Simon’s was no different. His packed schedule emptied, his mental health deteriorated, and when news of a close personal tragedy hit, he knew something had to change.
So he decided to embrace the only therapies he knew he could trust: travel and exercise.
Simon embarked on a 3,427-mile solo cycling expedition around the edge of Britain, passing through 55 counties and meeting hundreds of inspirational people along the way.
Riding Out: A Journey of Love, Loss and New Beginnings is a book that both charts and celebrates Simon’s epic journey.
In it, readers will discover a unique tale of resilience and determination, living every thrilling high and low along with Simon as he camps on isolated beaches, finds new strength in others’ courage, and learns unique lessons he’ll never forget.
We were thrilled to have the chance to ask Simon more about his journey. If you feel inspired to re-create parts of it yourself, we’ve included some recommendations for unusual places to stay (though cycling the full 3,427 miles is optional, of course!)
Simon is also undertaking a theatre and festival tour of over 50 locations in Britain, during which he will share his many captivating stories in person.
HU: How did you prepare for your trip?
Simon Parker: I know it might sound crazy, but I don’t do a huge amount of “training” for a huge ride like this.
I try to see the first week as a training week, so I build up slowly – starting at about 30 miles every day, and gradually increasing the mileage by 5-10 miles a day.
However, as a journalist I did try to plot a very vague route, and think about who I might meet in each part of Britain. The idea was to uncover stories of resilience in the furthest corners of the country, dozens of which are documented in my book.
What was your favourite moment from your journey, and why?
I talk a lot in the book about the healing power of adventure, and simply being in the green spaces of Britain was incredibly therapeutic.
I had lots of small but memorable encounters with wildlife. At a time when I was struggling with my mental health, those micro-moments really grounded me.
Specifically, I had a fleeting, but powerful moment with a big stag in the Highlands… but you’ll have to read the book to find out exactly what happened!
Did you discover any ‘hidden gems’ you could tell us about?
I really loved Shetland; it’s the wildest and most exotic corner of Britain. I camped in some epic places and met some really inspiring people.
I love getting to places that are off the beaten track, so Orkney, the Scottish Highlands and Scilly were really memorable.
But as for a “hidden gem”, it has to be the Lincolnshire Wolds, which is an undulating green Eden with hardly any tourists. I’d go back there for a holiday in a heartbeat.
There are lots of castles in that region of Britain, and I was lucky to be invited to camp in the grounds at Bamburgh Castle! That was one of the most surreal nights of my life.
I stayed in a couple of really nice shepherds’ huts – they’re certainly on trend around the country!
The most memorable night, though, was probably the night camping at Bamburgh Castle. They’d just been shooting the latest Indiana Jones film, so there were all sorts of props around.
HU Recommends: Northumberland: Bamburgh Coastal Retreat (below)
Where on your journey did you feel the most welcome?
Probably in Scotland. It was a cagey time when I visited – right in the middle of the pandemic – but lots of people wanted to look after me.
By strange coincidence, my route passed the front door (in Ullapool) of a teacher I’d met in Venezuela some years before, when I was working there for the BBC. They stuffed me with home-cooked food and a fair few beers!
These unique interactions are what made the whole journey so special, and they hopefully make my book more interesting to read.
I also missed my bath; after a long day in the saddle, nothing soothes aching muscles like a long soak in red-hot water.
I also missed my girlfriend, of course. Being away from her made me realise just what I had at home.
HU Recommends: (for home comforts): The Shepherds Hut Retreat and The Charcoal Hut (below)
What tips would you offer to anyone who’d like to recreate your journey?
Try not to overthink the big distances. Just “ride the day”, as I tell myself many times each day.
Reward yourself, too. It’s meant to be fun, and no one is forcing you to do it. I always try to have a beer or two in the evening – it’s a great way of coming down from the adrenaline rush!
Also, don’t just camp in horrendous weather to prove a point. If you can afford a nice pub or guesthouse, then you’ll appreciate being able to dry out your clothes and sleeping in a proper bed from time to time.
You can also book tickets to see his live multimedia talk at theatres and festivals all over the country: https://www.simonwparker.co.uk/adventure-travel-book-riding-out/