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Book Review-Free Country, A Penniless Adventure The Length of Britain

Updated on June 18, 2013
Their starting off outfits - union jack boxer shorts
Their starting off outfits - union jack boxer shorts

Free Country - Getting From A to B with Nothing But A Smile

If any of you have read my other article, Book Review- Be Brave, Be Strong, A Journey Across The Great Divide, you will know that I do enjoy reading a good endurance cycling book.

Well George Mahood's book 'Free Country' is an endurance cycling book of a different kind - the endurance comes in the form not just of cycling but actually 'existing normally' for the length of the Land's End to John O'Groats route.

Let's keep it real though, Land's End to John O'Groats is no Great Divide - you can walk/run/cycle this famous British route in as few as 603 miles or as many as 1,000 miles depending on the route you take.

But what if you decided to take on this challenge with nothing more to your name than a pair of union flag boxershorts? The book begins with the wonderfully descriptive line "We were standing on our pants on the end of Britain."

Ah, now I've got your interest! Read on....

Map of Land's End to John O'Groats

Starting Off With Nothing...

Two young men George and Ben decide to get from Land's End to John O'Groats together.

George, in a moment of warm-hearted belief in his fellow Brits, thinks that a good way to do it would be to start with absolutely nothing; no money, no food, no drinks, no tent or sleeping bags.

George really wants to prove a point - that he and Ben can get from Land's End to John O'Groats on nothing more than 'goodwill'. In this case, the good will of the British public - the regular man/woman in the street.

Some people believed that as a nation, "the British had lost sight of the basic values of humanity and kinship." George Mahood wanted to disprove this notion. He wants to prove that he and Ben can survive on the kindness of strangers.

As a joke, they turn up at the car park at Land's End in September, not exactly the height of the British summer, in a pair of union flag boxer shorts. They are pretty chilly but still smiling. Ben has his doubts, it could all end here in Land's End with egg on their faces and hypothermia but George remains the optimist of the pair and asks Ben to at least give it a chance.

Barefoot, they set off into the town of Land's End on the scrounge for more clothes.

How Can You Cycle without Bikes?

George Mahood at least considered the possibility that they may not find bikes so the original challenge and the one he put to Ben was that they had to get from the foot of England to the top of Scotland either by foot or cycle. The first part of their journey was, by necessity, on foot. Neither George nor Ben had bikes or shoes so they needed to find one and then hopefully, the other.

Doing the whole journey on foot would be an endurance route and would take a long time. George Mahood's plan was for he and Ben to do Land's End to John O'Groats in 3 weeks. It was crucial that they found a bike at some point on the journey; the earlier the better.

BMX Bike
BMX Bike

And what about clothes, food, drinks and somewhere to sleep?

The first people they meet in Land's End are not even British, they are an Australian couple on holiday. When George tells them of his and Ben's plan, they think they are mad but still dragged out an XXXL tee-shirt from their car to help the boys out. George snaffles it gratefully, glad of the extra warmth Another clean white tee-shirt follows a few minutes later and Ben grabs it. They are both at least looking like regular holidaymakers, though still without footwear.

Luckily, a nice American guy comes to the rescue with a one pair of socks and trainers and at a local hotel, the receptionist rakes through the lost property box and finds them a pair of suit trousers made for a fat, short man and two old fashioned gents' cardigans and two baseball caps.

So already with no money, they have some clothes, even if they do look like a couple of scarecrows!

They set off towards John O'Groats without map or compass and in the first morning manage to blag a pair of size 6 wellies from a farmer; they are both size 10 so the wellies are a very tight fit.

Near lunchtime, they come upon a small airport offering flights to the Scilly Isles. The nice man in the restaurant hears their story and offers them coffee and a bacon sandwich. Other passengers hear their story and come forward with food they have in their hand luggage, grapes, pop, chocolate, flapjacks and the like. Their hearts swell a little, they begin to believe that this trip could be a success.

As well as the union flag shorts the boys have a camera, a notebook and a pack of postcards on which are written "I am OFFICIALLY a very nice person"; they plan to hand these out to people who help them and photograph them.

The book is filled with photos of very nice people!

So they are feeling quite optimistic on day one, clothed (sort of) and fed.

By later that night, they have two vehicles - a World Wrestling Federation scooter and a mini BMX.

They get fed again with the leftovers from a wedding buffet at the local hotel and sleep in a barn with a huge bull; thankfully, it is chained up in a pen.

They sleep like babies.

George Mahood
George Mahood
Ben and George
Ben and George | Source

Is There Still Kindness in Britain?

If days 2 to 21 lived up to Day 1 then George Mahood's theory about British people having kindness and humanity would be proved.

I think it is amazing to consider how well the guys do on day one of their trip. George Mahood writes in such an optimistic way that you find yourself rooting for him and Ben from the first page.

In fact, it is too easy to forget that they are wearing one trainer each and are for the most part partially dressed in ill fitting, uncomfortable clothes. George Mahood hardly ever complains about things and they certainly get their fair share of bad weather and mishaps with their bikes, as well as some minor injuries and less satisfying food.

At some points in the book, I began to wonder if George Mahood had just been so overcome with the helpfulness of people that he had forgotten to mention the people who did not want to help and did not give anything to their trip.

By and large, Ben and George do very well. They are bought beers at the pub and allowed to sleep in the passageways of motels and hotels or in barns or occasionally offered beds in someone's home.

Ben is far braver than George when it comes to blagging stuff - he just asks for it straight out and does very well out of it; however he also takes advantage, putting himself first quite a few times with George often getting the raw end of some of his deals.

George and Ben survive on their wits but have their own personalities to thank for getting the things they need.

You will read this book and feel heartened by the behaviour of other people. And often when one person did a good deed, others in the immediate area followed suit.

George and Ben made it to John O'Groats on slightly better vehicles, having been given one full sized bike later in the trip.

They ate pretty well for most of the trip, only going hungry once or twice although finding suitable places to sleep proved difficult a few times with them still searching for a bed well into the night.

They argue along the way and make wrong decisions from time to time. Ben is moodier than George and on more than one occasion goes in the huff but George just lets him come round in his own time and he always does.

Free Country, A Penniless Adventure The Length of Britain is an excellent feel good book and just the tonic if you're fed up with society and feeling like the world is letting you down or disappointing you. It is also a very funny book and you will be smiling at George and Ben's antics from start to finish.

You'll be delighted at their small victories and their abilities to scrounge free food and drinks and will feel sympathy for them when they are riding children's bikes wearing wellington boots 4 sizes too small in heavy rain.

George and Ben made it to John O'Groats without too much fanfare after 3 weeks. They had handed almost all of their postcards out to 'officially' nice people who had helped them travel 650 miles with nothing more than their broad smiles and boyish banter.

They proved that there are still lots of good people in Britain. People who helped when they could, gave what they could spare and put their faith in what George and Ben were tryng to do.

Many thanks for reading.


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    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      5 years ago from North-East UK

      Jaye, many thanks for reading. I really enjoyed it (as you can tell).

    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 

      5 years ago from Deep South, USA

      Wonderful story...wonderful review. I must read this book! Voted Up+++ and shared.


    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 

      5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Hooray! I just ordered the book off Amazon, but it won't be here for a week or two, so I guess I won't skip class tomorrow. :) Theresa

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      5 years ago from North-East UK

      Glad you enjoyed it, I can certainly recommend the book, Amazon have it in paperback and on Kindle.

    • moronkee profile image

      Moronke Oluwatoyin 

      5 years ago

      A very interesting book review. I'm also a keen cyclist.

      Thanks for sharing.

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      5 years ago from North-East UK

      Theresa, glad you liked it, thanks for reading. it is a very good book, really fun and they were brave to take it on but they managed to do the ride with nothing but British kindness from others!

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 

      5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      I love this Hub! I love Ben and George! I love the good people of Britain! This is wonderful...makes me want to skip school tomorrow and read the book. :) Sharing. Theresa

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      6 years ago from North-East UK

      annart, thanks so much for your comment - as someone living in England, I think this book will appeal to you.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      6 years ago from SW England

      Voted up, useful and interesting. I love this sort of book and I'm thinking of getting myself an e-reader so will add this to my list. Thanks for a great review and for bringing this to everyone's attention.

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      6 years ago from North-East UK

      I have recommended it to quite a few of my friends and my hubby who is a keen cyclist. I wish you the best of luck with it George, it's a good book and more people should read it!

    • profile image

      George Mahood 

      6 years ago

      I really appreciate you taking the time to review it. I think this is only the 2nd or 3rd review. Despite very good sales, and great customer reviews, many reviewers still don't take self-published books seriously.

      Thanks again. George

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      6 years ago from North-East UK

      Sharkye11, you will enjoy it - the guys are both good fun and it is a real feel good book about the kindness of ordinary folk :o)

    • Sharkye11 profile image

      Jayme Kinsey 

      6 years ago from Oklahoma

      Excellent review of what sounds to be a very interesting book! I love the concept behind the storyline, but can only imagine how much dedication that would take. I've never heard of this book before, but I am definitely putting it on my library list now, thanks to your wonderful hub.

      Voting up and more!

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      6 years ago from North-East UK

      Mary, many thanks. They certainly were!

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 

      6 years ago from Florida

      Great book review. These two are real characters, that 's for sure!

      Voted this UP, etc.

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 

      6 years ago from Orlando, FL

      Way to go Jools! Fab review!!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      6 years ago

      I so enjoyed this story. They had to be a little crazy to set out on such an adventure. Their quest proved that there are still nice people out there. Thanks for sharing this book with us.

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      6 years ago from North-East UK

      Wow George - what an honour! Many thanks for your comment - I loved your book!

    • profile image

      George Mahood 

      6 years ago

      Hi Jools. Thanks so much for the great review. Glad you enjoyed it. George

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      6 years ago from North-East UK

      Gypsy, many thanks for dropping by and commenting, I'm glad you enjoyed this reciew. Yup it was a daft idea and I wouldn't have done it but they did it on nothing more than a wing and a prayer (and a few smiles!)

    • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

      Gypsy Rose Lee 

      6 years ago from Riga, Latvia

      A wonderful review and an inspiring story. Crazy idea but what a trip. Passing this on.

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      6 years ago from North-East UK

      Mhatter, many thanks for your comment, glad you liked it.

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 

      6 years ago from San Francisco

      Excellent review, thank you.

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      6 years ago from North-East UK

      Janine, I think they were very brave to do what they did. I'm not sure I would do it :o) But give them their due, they believed in the kindness of strangers and strangers got them to John O'Groats.

    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 

      6 years ago from New York, New York

      Another great review and glad to see there are still some descent people left that will help out someone else in need in this day and age. Have of course voted and shared too!!

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      6 years ago from North-East UK

      Hiya Bob! How about that for serendipity? I AM reading Walk In The Woods at the moment :o) I've read all of Bill's books - love 'em. I read Walk In The Woods a few years ago and am re-reading it now; I forgot how funny the book was. The book reviewed here is cheap as chips on the Kindle and was a really good read.

    • diogenes profile image


      6 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Ballsy kids and wery Bwitish! Only for the young adventurer though!

      Read Bill Bryson's "Walk in the Woods" for another great twosome adventure story.


    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      6 years ago from North-East UK

      UnnamedHarald, many thanks for your comment - it certainly was a strange notion to do this trip but they proved their point and made it to John O'Groats safely (and still happy!)

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      6 years ago from North-East UK

      Billy, many thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment - bless them, I got to the end of their journey still smiling but amazed that they had not looked at any money for 3 weeks and were still going strong!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      What an incredible journey! I can't imagine anyone trying that in the States; they would be shot or locked up....or both. lol Great book review; I seriously have to read this one.

    • UnnamedHarald profile image

      David Hunt 

      6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      If the book is as good as your review, I'll have to look into it. What a weird and great idea. Voted up, etc.


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