By the time I sped into Calais, excitement had been building for several days and I headed straight for the port. Once again I'd been kindly given a complimentary ferry crossing by P&O and was welcomed onboard personally by the captain.
In the Club Lounge I was treated to a champagne and Eggs Benedict breakfast. I was then greeted as I left the boat by Brian who I'd first contacted to ask for the free crossing in 2010 and who'd once again obliged. He welcomed me with a big hug and took me to the P&O offices to meet some people and have lunch.
That night I camped atop a white cliff and let melancholy merge with joy in my racing mind while the sun set over Folkestone. I was nearly home and it was nearly over.
I had anticipated culture shock but it never came. Everything seemed comfortably – if distantly – familiar. Signposts, pub names, images and overheard snippets of conversation rushed upon me and found buried-but-not-forgotten counterparts in the recesses of my head: Public Bridleway; Zig-Zag Hill; The King's Head; vomit on the pavement; CLOSING DOWN SALE!; The High Street; "bucketing it down"; W.H.Smiths; bald and burly men in high-vis vests; the astringent scent of salt and vinegar wafting out of chip shops on warm soggy air; old, emaciated men with gin-blossomed cheeks stooping slowly down the street; school boys with deliberately-badly tied ties; school girls with high cut skirt hems; "Victoria Road" and "Victoria this" and "Victoria that".
I joined the A20 London-bound and crossed the M25 circular mid-morning on a Thursday. I was early for my homecoming party that evening so I rode around the city enjoying my last day as a tourist. I sat in Trafalgar Square watching excited young couples from Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas; all taking photos of themselves with their phones attached to selfie sticks. I finished my French bread, meat and cheese on a Hyde Park bench and then sat in a pub after darkness fell. At 7pm, as arranged, I met with some police officers on Earl's Court Road and they stopped the traffic.
A police escort of two outriders with blue lights flashing took me down the strangely quiet and empty road. I turned right. Bagpipes struck up, the flags of every country I'd visited were strung across the mews, a chequered flag was waving and so many people who I'd assumed wouldn't care were cheering me on over the finish line and to my family to whom I'm immensely grateful.
A wonderful party ensued and I was a wreck of relief and emotion throughout. I was publicly unbearded and finally got to bed in the small hours. A day later I quietly began the real final ride of the trip. Under grey skies and in thoughtful mood I rode southwest. My last tented night was in a field on the outskirts of Basingstoke. On a Sunday afternoon I rode into my parent's village near Salisbury. The villagers had been alerted and faces from my past smiled and waved me down the lane, up the short sloping driveway and home. Then it really was over.
A special message from Charlie:
If you have enjoyed reading these blogs over the years, please consider making a small donation to either of the two very worthy charities that I am supporting. (Future Hope and Royal National Lifeboat Institution). Don't do it because I've cycled nearly twice the circumference of the world. Do it because it is the right thing to do! Many thanks, Charlie.
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