CYCLING BACK TO HAPPINESS ON THE NORTH SEA CYCLE ROUTE
Bernie Friend at Ribe River just outside Danhostel Ribe
The English journalist, Bernie Friend, cycled around the 6,000 kilometre North Sea Cycle Route for a UK Cancer charity to find inner peace after losing two very young parents to brain cancer, within just 12 short months.
The cycle route is the longest of its kind in the world, circling the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Scotland and England, but it was in Ribe where the two wheeled personal pilgrimage finally began to have a positive effect on the 36-year-old.
As Bernie Friend writes in his book, Cycling Back to Happiness: Adventure on the North Sea Cycle Route, he fell in love with Scandinavia's oldest and best preserved town straight away.
Bernie Friend´s 2 chapters about Ribe starts this way:
It was love at first sight. Ribe stabbed its head above a flat plain as the majestic spires and towers of its focal cathedral penetrated an untainted sky of perfect blue.
Heath, marsh and reedy fields banked the remnants of a once important trade river sharing the town's name, spiralling a protective moat of an arm around a cluster of orange tiled roof tops and red brick chimneys.
A gentle breeze sent a shiver to my body's core as a spooky feeling of something ancient rattled my bones.
Little did I realise on approaching this magical, but minuscule town, it would be a living library of so many wonderful stories from forgotten ages, as well as being Denmark's best kept secret.
Passing over wooden bridges, straddling small canals feeding off the River Ribe, a mothballed inner sanctum of crooked cobbled streets and 16th-century half-timber-framed houses was revealed.
History was oozing out of every doorway and lump of brickwork. "I've never seen anything like this. It's just so old, but still looks so good," I dribbled.
Rhys was open mouthed and speechless. Ribe is the oldest preserved medieval town in Scandinavia and we could so easily have been travelling back in time cycling along those bumpy roads.
The peppermint green sloping roofs of the robust cathedral dominated the centre of town, Torvet, with tightly hemmed in lanes and shadowy hidden alleys twisting off at every opportunity from a spacious high street.
Feeling like an excited young boy hunting out adventure, I couldn't wait to start exploring all the nooks and crannies of this unique antiquity.
Ribe's residents were rightly proud of their heritage and one of the kindly natives had offered us a bed for two nights at the immaculate Danhostel.
The ultra modern guesthouse sits on a quiet meadow overlooking the river, just a short stride from the breathing museum outside.
In a place where being so up-to-date makes you the odd one out, the hostel is an environmentally friendly Green Key establishment, translated as having everything from water-saving taps, toilets and showers to a strict waste recycling programme.
Luckily for me, a highly infectious middle-aged lady, Gudrun Rishede, was married to Jens, the man in charge.
A historical nut with a healthy complexion and winning smile, she was desperate to give me the grand tour free of charge, promising mesmerising tales of Vikings, witches' curses, headless pirates, fairytale queens and returning storks.
North Sea Cycle Route, outside Ribe in Denmark. The sign says Esbjerg 33 km and Kammerslusen 5 km
About Bernie Friend
‘Don’t let your biggest fears stand in the way of your dreams, even if your biggest dreams happen to be your biggest fears.’ That was exactly Bernie Friend’s attitude when he ditched medication and group therapy to overcome a very unwanted companion - paranoia. A complete novice to long distance cycling, Bernie confronted many demons on his epic journey - a coastal cycle route which circles 6,000 kilometres of the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Scotland and England.
Bernie Friend is an award winning sports journalist and one of the UK's funniest new travel writers. Bernie was born in 1971 and lives in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex. He has an unhealthy Doctor Who obsession, supports Southend United and enjoys pulling funny faces at himself in the bathroom mirror.
He has followed a career path of digging holes, pulling pints, spinning records, delivering letters, selling market stall hats, number crunching and getting sacked for illegally swearing and smoking at his desk, all in the same breath, before becoming a journalist and writing his first book 15 years later. His only remaining ambitions in life are to sit on Richard and Judy’s couch and spend an evening playing drunken Trivial Pursuit with Tom Baker.
Cycling Back to Happiness is published by Pen Press.