Did you know that "London is a first category cycling city" ? It's one of the things I've learn from spending a few minutes reading about Walking and Cycling in England (they deleted their page, so I deleted the link), according to the visitengland.nl website - the Official website in Dutch for tourism in England. It makes for very interesting reading.
visitlondon.com takes a slightly different line. According to them, "When you cycle through the busy traffic in London, it is of the highest importance that you wear a helmet. Some cyclists also use face masks. Make sure that you're seen by other road users: wear reflective clothing." That doesn't sound quite like a "first category cycling city" to me. For more views of London, check out earlier posts or bloggers from the city listed on the right.
You perhaps expect tourism websites to make positive claims for the places they're selling, but at what point does exaggeration become dishonesty ?
Several years ago, on one of our many ferry trips between Harwich and Hoek van Holland before we moved here, we fell into conversation with a Dutch couple who were heading for England. They'd got two children with them, both under ten, and the plan was that with all four on their own bikes they would ride from the ferry port at Harwich to Stonehenge. This is the sort of thing that Dutch families do within the Netherlands because it's supported by infrastructure which makes this type of thing into a relaxing family holiday. The British tourism websites give every impression that it's perfectly normal and supported by infrastructure in the UK as well. We tried not to be too negative about what they were attempting. After all, they were already on the ferry, half way across the North Sea before we got to speak to them. It was a bit too late for them to decide not to go. However, clearly they'd been taken in by the publications of the tourist information organisations of the UK, and thought this was as realistic a thing to do as it is in the Netherlands. We last saw them, all four on their own bikes, contemplating what to do at this huge roundabout just one kilometre from the port:
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Where they went next, we don't know. The most direct route south west is the A120. You can legally cycle here, but not many people would want to with cars legally driving at 60 mph / 100 km/h:
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I used to mainly take the B-road alternative routes. They are a little more civilised than the A roads, but make your journeys longer. However, would you ride here with children ?
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We don't know which route they took. If they were looking for a relaxing holiday they'd have been best off getting on the next ferry back to the Netherlands - we'd taken our bikes in the opposite direction for a reason.
"find this site on the National Cycle Network". However, click through and you find that the National Cycle Network stops a couple of miles short, and that even that access is actually "on road". The approach from the west to Stonehenge itself is along the A303. The speed limit here is 70 mph (112 km/h):
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This is what doesn't happen in the Netherlands. You can go everywhere without having to "share the road" with motor vehicles travelling at 100 km/h. It is quite practical to set off with children and cycle to interesting places at a considerable distance. The destination will be reachable by bike, and the journey will be pleasant.
Many British cyclists have discovered that the experience of "sharing the road" with drivers is not always a pleasant one. When we lived there I had my share of unpleasant incidents including regularly being passed too fast and too close, cars overtaking in the opposite direction driving straight at me, drivers coming out of side-roads and expecting me to stop, being overtaken as I clearly indicated a right turn, projectiles being thrown from windows, being driven into on purpose by drivers trying to "educate" me that I should ride my bike illegally on the sidewalk, and even people actually getting out of their cars and punching me. Reporting such incidents to the Cambridgeshire police typically brought a verbal response along the lines of "cyclists cause a lot of problems". No action was ever taken against any drivers that I complained about and after a while I stopped wasting my time by complaining. Nothing has changed. Here's a video of an assault on a cyclist from a few days ago:
Unfortunately, the Metropolitan Police have found it to be completely impossible to work out who this driver is.
Compare and contrast with another Dutch language tourism website which says that the English behave as gentlemen on the roads. Actually, I've heard several Dutch people express such an opinion. It's similar to how British people express an opinion about Dutch or French drivers. The reason is simple: people get an inaccurate impression from short holidays. On holiday you stay in one place only for a short period, reducing your exposure to problems, tend to avoid rush-hour, mostly ride in places other than the centres of cities, don't have any memory of where previous incidents occurred and of course you wear the most rose-coloured of glasses.
I don't believe that drivers behave very much differently in one country vs. another. However, our rose coloured spectacles about the Netherlands came off a very long time ago but it remains less stressful to cycle here. The reasons are simple: In the Netherlands, cyclists interact rarely with motorists. Where there are interactions it is obvious who has priority. That's what makes the experience here different. There's a reason why you regularly see school trips by bike here, but not in Britain.
The first website also says that "Northumbria has the most beautiful, well marked cycle paths" which "criss-cross through the area and take you to interesting places". I'd like to know where they are. It is a lovely area, but when we were on holiday there, all our cycling was on roads (a comment points to this cycle path in Northumberland). There's a lot of exaggeration about: Another British tourism website claims that Rutland Water is the largest artificial lake in western Europe, which is a bit weird given that it covers only one hundredth of the area of the IJsselmeer.
The video was also featured on crap walking and cycling in waltham forest and as easy as riding a bike.
There's more on London, Britain and exaggeration.
12th July update.
On Northumbria and Carlton:
If you've arrived here as a result of Carlton Reid's outbursts about me, please note that the above is the unedited (except for one spelling error corrected) version of my original post. This post was never about either Carlton Reid nor Northumbria, save for the couple of lines at the end of the post in small letters which discuss our personal experiences of the county, on a holiday which we very much enjoyed. Sadly, Carlton took this out of proportion and out of context and has been very busy both yesterday and today, not only commenting here but also writing a "Defending Northumbria" blog post as a response to this blog post. He also sent out several tweets to keep people informed of what he saw as new developments with this unchanged blog post, and repeatedly goaded me with more and more ludicrous blog responses until he wore my patience rather thin. That's the context. If you are interested and can be bothered, please read the responses below and make your own mind up any way you see fit. The responses are unedited and therefore may refer to Carlton's post as it was at the time they were written, rather than as you can read it now (he has edited his post's contents more than once and also changed its title).
I find this whole episode bizarre, but in one sense it is also positive. If there were real news to report, I don't suppose that a busy journalist could find quite so much time to inflate nothing at all into a "story", nor to say quite so much about both himself and about me.
On comment policy:
It's my blog, and I have my rules. In principle I prefer to let anyone who is not obviously spamming have their say in the comments beneath my blog posts. Unfortunately, purposely disruptive individuals, or "trolls", can ruin it for everyone. They make serious discussion impossible by wasting time and filling up the comment space with off-topic nonsense. This defeats the object of having comments, and I won't put up with it. At present there are two individuals whose comments I delete because they've proved themselves incapable of discussing things in a reasonable manner. Carlton Reid is not one of them. However, in my opinion Carlton has already made more than enough comments below this post. He is still welcome to comment on future blog posts, but after this experience I will read his comments with a little more suspicion than previously.
Two years later, sensible people still recognise that Northumbria has much the same problems for cycling as the rest of the UK. The number of cyclist deaths in the county rose by 35% between 2011 and 2012 and rather than bluffing about everything being OK, some people actually want to do something about it.
Beauty vs Function
1 day ago