I never thought I’d be a member of a website called Warmshowers and I certainly never thought I’d be telling people! However, its kinky sounding name belies it’s more innocent function: it’s couch-surfing for cycle-tourists.
I joined for a ride to Holland last year and stayed with some lovely students in the Hague who set the hosting bar very high. Six months later I received an email entitled “Could I Stay Your Place?”. After reassuring my girlfriend to let two South Korean strangers into our home I was given the go-ahead to welcome them in.
They were quite a sight: tanned, sweaty, weathered and laden but most striking of all was their attitude – they were “full of beans” as we say up north. We spent a great weekend in Manchester cooking for each other, them: traditional Korean food and me: less than traditional “Spancunian”. We saw the sights (Old Trafford), soaked up the culture (down my local) and had a game of kickabout in the park.
They learnt that I had just become unemployed and therefore saw no reason why I shouldn’t go with them to Edinburgh. Unable to provide them with any valid excuses, I got my permission slip and bought myself a pannier rack. Thanks to the hard-work and diligence of Manchester’s bike thief community I had recently been relieved of 1.6 bikes. So with a mixture of trepidation and padded lycra I set off with Joo and Soo on my (less-than-suitable) single-speed bike.
We spent an amazing week cycling through the breathtaking countryside of the Yorkshire Dales and Northumberland National Park. We wild -camped, cooked big meals, played cards and stayed up talking every night, becoming firm friends along the way. We had a few hairy moments too: I’ll never forget settling down in my tent to go to sleep by a stream in Yorkshire and beginning to dream about gunfire. I then realised I wasn’t asleep. “Strange”, I thought, too tired to put the pieces together. “Jimi, sounds like gunfire”, says Joo’s tent. I agreed with him. “It is gunfire”, confirmed Soo’s tent, who’d just finished his military service. All of our tents agreed that we were too tired to move the camp so there we slept for eight hours to the soothing sounds of the British Army out on night time manoeuvres.
My recomendation to readers is that cycle touring is something anyone can do; it’s not a race and you just go at whatever pace feels right for you, it’s a holiday. I used opencyclemap.org to find cycle routes including the Route 68, known as the Pennine Cycleway. I learnt some important things that week; that traveling the world by bike is my dream and South Koreans have an unhealthy appetite for pork scratchings. I also know I’ve got some where to stay in Busan if I ever find myself cycling through South Korea, or at least somewhere for a warm shower.