The capital of Holland is Amsterdam - official - When we were two little boys - CycleBlaze

The capital of Holland is Amsterdam - official

Mike - "You just see so much more from a bike"
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THE CAPITAL OF HOLLAND is Amsterdam. I point this out because 50 years ago, heading for the youth hostel at Broom, Mike and I fell out over it so badly that we spent the rest of the day sulking and riding alone. Such things are important when you're 15.

I felt guilty about it ever after. I said the capital was The Hague. Mike said it was Amsterdam, and he was right. When I apologised, lifting decades of guilt and shame, he said he didn't have the slightest recollection of it.

Well, it won't happen again because there's no longer a youth hostel at Broom. Nor, so far as Mike can see, anywhere else to stay. We'll ride through and stop in the following village. We only chose Broom in the first place because, with that schoolboy logic, we fancied visiting Stratford-upon-Avon just up the road but we thought the hostel there would be too crowded. So we stayed half an hour away in Broom, felt we'd been really clever, and realised only later that the point had been to visit Stratford and that we never had.

We've had to make one change to our ride of 50 years ago. In those days, we lived on the northern outskirts of London. Our first hours, therefore, were spent crossing the capital to escape to the countryside of the south. Now neither of us lives in London and the place has grown so large and so threaded with high-speed roads that we'd have to be obsessive to insist on historical accuracy rather than an enjoyable ride.

Mike and his wife, Geneviève, live in Milton Keynes, about 80km north of London. I live in southern France and by one of those coincidences in life, Mike and Geneviève have a house near St-Tropez but can't quite bring themselves to live there all year. So I will set off from here and ride to St-Malo, take the ferry to Portsmouth and ride round the western side of Londonto meet Mike. We'll then set off south-westwards to Abingdon, which wasn't on our original route, before going on to Winchester. That was our first stop last time and it's where historical accuracy will take over.

Well, historical accuracy to another point, anyway. Back then, we stayed at youth hostels. Some are still there and some aren't. We decided this time that we'd opt for a little more comfort and stop at bed-and-breakfasts but we did hope we could stay at two favourites. The first was Litton Cheney, a valley village in Dorset where the hostel was and still is in an old cheese factory and, more important, only a few steps from a bar where we drank rough cider against our parents' warnings and played traditional West Country skittles. The other hostel, at St Briavels, is also still in the imposing castle that dominates the Welsh border. There we drank hot cocoa and gazed at night, charmed but slightly scared, I think, at the dark forest that lay around us. But both the cheese factory and the castle are already fully booked.

Mike - and here be the saints all praised - has succeeded in finding a bed-and-breakfast even closer to the cider-and-skittles pub than the youth hostel was. It won't be so far to totter back afterwards.

Yesterday Mike told me he'd bought some proper cycling shoes. "So much better than the trainers I've been riding in so far," he wrote. He wondered what we'd worn back then. I'm pretty sure I had cycling shoes, even then, but I remember that my bike still had a three-speed Sturmey Archer hub gear. To our regret now, neither of us had a camera. Well, we did - we had Kodak Brownies or Crestas, something like that - but just snapping pictures was beyond our budget and, as Mike said, "only proper professionals or really keen amateurs had better cameras than that."

This time we'll both take plenty of pictures, I'm sure. You'll have to excuse us if those after the cider and skittles are a little blurred.

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