Book Review: From the Mull to the Cape by Richard Guise

Richard Guise, From the Mull to the Cape: a gentle bike ride on the edge of wilderness, 2008, Summersdale, Chichester.

This is an admirable little book, with lots of amusing insights and some good jokes.  They are not side-splitting jokes, but they will bring a smile to most readers.  If you are a not too serious cyclist, or are interested in lightweight travel writing this is the perfect companion for a long weekend away.

Guise cycled 943 kilometers over 16 days of actual cycling tracking his way from the Mull of Kintyre to Cape Wrath in the north of Scotland.  In truth he took 3 bites at the journey, completing the first two legs unsupported and the last with the help of his partner, Julie and her car.  Let’s face facts: at an average pace of 7.2K per hour , this was no grand tour, but he describes a route well worth taking and tells the tale with great good humour and warmth.

The book is full of good jokes.  His bike is called Seamus Tetley and was bought for the trip from Da Kettle On. Get it?  Later he is unsure whether he is in search of a town with a sense of place, or a scent of plaice and a chip shop.  So you get the idea:  you have been warned!

He is pretty kind to most of the people and places he meets, although remarking that Lochgilphead, ‘seemed to haunch its grey shoulders’ against him; and Gairloch is an ‘oddly unsatisfactory’ place.  Least kindly treated is Lochinver, which he wants re-named, ‘Council Estate on Sea’.  Ullapool fares better, having the feel of the wild about it, but offering rest and good tucker within.  He is most scathing about the ‘Celtic suicide cafes’ he comes across with their dour staff, faded tartans and morbidly bland music.  But then, we have all suffered in them!

The book is full of amusing inventions.  I liked very much the 10 point remoteness scale.  I was delighted to learn that cycling 650 miles was no more dangerous than travelling 10.000 miles by car, or eating 2700 spoons of peanut butter.  While the book offers the usual historical and cultural accounts of places, they are conveniently boxed in the text to make them easier to by pass.  And by pass them I did, save for a light scan on approach.

I came away from this warm and charming book pleased to have learned that taking on a big ride is just a call for mind over matter: as he puts it, ‘a long bike ride is just a series of small bike rides.  One wheel turn at a time.’

Richard Guise, From the Mull to the Cape” a gentle bike ride on the edge of wilderness, 2008, Summersdale, Chichester.  Recommended with 3.5 stars. 

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