Our EasyJet from Rome flew in at 1am to Luton Airport, and despite the early hour we were psyched to begin our next leg on the trip, our loop around England. We had organised a Warmshowers stay with Sam and Anna, but we weren’t meeting up with them until 10am. This gave us a good amount of time to build the bikes, grab breakfast and check out the centre of Luton before arriving at their place.
Luton Airport is great for bike touring visitors. It has a Costa Coffee, a Marks & Spencer Simply Food (both open 24 hours) and a bike path straight out the front into the city. Bleary-eyed but jacked up on coffees we slowly made our way, keeping an eye on the time. This was the first time we had used Warmshowers, a site that offers free accommodation to cycling tourists, very similar to Couchsurfing, and we wanted to make a good impression. Knocking on Sam and Anna’s door at 10am we were greeted with two lovely sweet people who settled us in with coffees around the kitchen table and bustled about with breakfast and bed sheets.
Despite no sleep we were excited to see our first sights of England and jumped on board with their offer of a riding excursion. We spent the day exploring, riding past the stately Ashridge Estate, spying on the bison at Whipsnade Zoo and ordered the biggest scones I’d ever seen with jam and cream at Brownlow Cafe.
Home for showers we presented ourselves in the kitchen clean and tidy ready to head out only to be told that dinner was not for another hour. The penny finally dropped that we had never switched our watches off Italy time onto England time and we were an hour ahead. Suddenly it all made sense why it was dark when we rode out of the airport at supposed sunrise, why people were still drinking in the pubs and Sam and Anna’s seemingly late breakfast. Despite our best efforts to be good guests we had actually shown up to Sam and Anna’s an hour early! And lovely hosts they were not to even skip a beat and invite us straight in. Phones, tablets and watches correctly changed over we were ready for a proper pub dinner where conversation, cycling tips and giggles continued.
The next day, after free rein on toast and tea, we ruefully made our way onwards. Straight out the gate we came across some awesome traffic free cycle paths completely separate to the roads. The access barriers however, to stop scooters and motorcycles, were slightly irritating, with us just able to squeeze our loaded bikes through.
Our first impressions of England proved to surpass our expectations. We rode through fields of sheep, cows and horses, neat hedgerows and stone houses and national trust estates.
British pride for history was well and truly on display.
And every ‘historic market town’ was crammed with pretty photo opportunities.
Despite all the prettiness, England does have a couple of party tricks for cyclists, namely the high percentage of intentional planting or natural vegetation of ‘defensive’ plants/hedges with spiny thorns (brambles, rambling rose, hawthorn, holly etc). These passive aggressive plants are ready and waiting to lovingly embrace you when you pull over to let traffic by.
Not to mention crowds of stinging nettles. These jerky plants are covered in fine hairs which act as needles, injecting venomous chemicals causing welts, rashes and other irritating non-useful side effects for a few hours. Sam and Anna tried to show us these so we could avoid them but it wasn’t until a personal encounter, responding to the call of nature behind a hedge, did we learn, instantly, to identify them. And let me tell you something, nettles are JERKS!
For the record stinging nettles look like this.