Leaving London I was pleasantly surprised by the cycle lanes starting to thread through the city’s busy streets. I followed my brother on his usual commute over Tower Bridge and thought there is hope for British cycling infrastructure. We were heading towards Faversham and our first host who showed us the town, fed us and regaled us with astonishing stories of her cycle tour from Paris to Peking. I was delighted that my brother witnessed the abundant generosity of the hosting website Warm Showers, and more was to come. We got to Dover in plenty of time the next day and queued to present our passports with Bulgarian lorry drivers who were struggling to get their goods past unsympathetic customs officials. There seemed to be a laissez-faire attitude with regard to our passports and tickets and before long we were rolling into Calais.
I have developed a theory that cycling infrastructure improves the closer one gets to the cycling Mecca of the Netherlands. Once we got into Belgium there was a marked difference and the roads became easier with wide cycle lanes and before long our route took us alongside beautiful canals away from any sound of an engine. As we went through Flanders there was a plethora of war cemeteries and memorials to the soldiers who fought and died here. When cycling through the Menin Gate in Ypres I saw the inscription above which read “to the armies of the British Empire who stood here from 1914 to 1918 and to those of their dead who have no known grave.”
I was already starting to mourn my perceived rejection of this place through Brexit and once we arrived at our host family the pangs of loss were felt all the more. They were such a kind and welcoming family who spoke fluent English as a third language. The youngest daughter had been shown kindness as she toured across America and this was their way of paying it back. They treated us like royalty and as we ate delicious food in their courtyard the days warmth slowly faded. We told stories of past adventures and dreams of future journeys. We discussed politics across the globe and noted the seismic changes and instability of politics the world over.
It pained me that this family with which I shared so much in common, which was so kind and good, were distanced by a feeling that the UK had turned their back on Europe. It pained me that they had friends and family living in the UK who now felt rejected. The vote to leave was interpreted as isolationist and I wanted desperately to say it wasn’t so.