Final thoughts on returning to Britain.
The flight home was more painful than I expected. Throughout the cycle tour I had felt healthier than ever before but within ten minutes of being on a plane packed with other people I was snuffling and coughing miserably. It was also a bit dispiriting to cover the same distance in an hour that had taken weeks of cycling. I arrived back in the UK in the middle of a monsoon, and soon learned the fairly wet Norwegian summer had been almost Mediterranean compared to Britain.
To my surprise I managed to get a distinction for my Open University economics course. Studying on the road was often difficult - and was the main reason I didn't manage to update this blog regularly, as any Internet access time was always taken up by study - but it is possible. Studying economics goes well with cycle touring as there are so many unresolved questions to ponder while rolling along the fjords. There are many more questions than answers in fact and I can't help feeling that the 'science' of economics is at a similar level as medicine in the 14th century - even the most basic tenets are patently wrong (and are widely recognised as such) yet the conclusions are followed religiously. It's still a fascinating subject though.
It is commonly said that travel brings a greater understanding, and perhaps appreciation, of your home country. Arriving back in the UK I was quickly aware of how much poorer the UK is than the Scandinavian nations. The most obvious example of this is housing. It's a great irony that people in Britain are so obsessed with housing when much of our stock is of extremely poor quality. I physically cringe every time now I pass through a village in the UK. The houses are so tiny and squashed together despite the huge areas of surrounding countryside, often used only for sheep grazing. It is quite common in the UK to see an entire rural village, with dozens of houses, squashed together into an area smaller than the average Scandinavian plot. The obvious retort to this is that the UK has a much larger population but a smaller land area than the Scandinavian countries. However, the Netherlands has three times the population of Scotland in half the land area, but the housing there has much more in common with that of Scandinavia - large houses in decent sized, well-spaced plots. In Scotland almost the entire population is crammed into a few densely populated areas, while vast areas of land are used only for rough grazing. The surprising thing I discovered on this trip is that the situation is almost exactly the same in England, despite it having ten times the population.
On the plus side the food is better and cheaper in Britain than in Scandinavia, even taking the lower wages here into account, and there is greater variety. Tinned soup, for instance, is virtually impossible to buy in Norway apart from huge tins of fish soup and powdered soup costs about £3 a sachet. If you have a sweet-tooth you really aren't in luck at all as all sweet foods are eye-wateringly expensive. On the other hand, obesity levels in Norway are half those in the UK and people generally look much healthier so perhaps cheap food isn't such a blessing. And something economics, if not common sense, has taught me, is that there is always a cost somewhere. The horse-meat scandal shows the hidden cost of 'cheap' food, and I suspect there are many other hidden costs.
Curiously enough I'm now working for a meat manufacturing company, experiencing the joys of commuting in the UK by train, and saving up for my next trip.
Stats for the Northern Europe tour:
total distance travelled: 6000 miles approx (my cycle computer gave out at about 5500)
journey time: 4 months
highest point cycled to: 1469m at Leirvasbu
lowest point cycled to: 213m below sea level at Nordkapp tunnel
number of punctures: 2 (and one blown valve)
other bike parts replaced: 2 sets of brake pads, one front wheel