Kimbolton to Istanbul: A Crusader's route 2,500 miles

Words by Mark

on 08/09/2014 09:18:01

For some, retirement marks the end of an era. For others, it's a new beginning. For me personally, it marked the beginning of a 'second harvest', reaping the benefits of a lifelong passion for cycling, turning it into a field of rich cultivation. From LEJOG, to pilgrim routes to Rome and Santiago de Compostela, followed by a 2,500 mile trek in New Zealand and Australia, and this year setting off from my home in Cambridgeshire, destination Istanbul 2,500 miles away.

My bike treks are much more than just ploughing a lonely furrow across continents. The routes are frequently chosen for their historic and cultural importance and, midst the daily mileages, time is found for discovering some of the hidden gems that often go unnoticed along conventional tourist trails.

My journey to Istanbul took me through 7 countries, all with distinct languages and cultures, all with contrasting histories, religions, politics and cuisines. The route I chose was inspired by the journey of the very first crusaders in 1096, when some 40,000 people gathered in Cologne and began the arduous march towards Constantinople (Istanbul). Their journey would have taken some 6 months. My journey was a mere 6 weeks, travelling solo and unsupported (as I always do), sleeping in my little tent, making countless friends along the way, and constantly being surprised by the kindness and generosity of strangers who touched my life.


Through the relative affluence of Holland, Germany and Austria, when I crossed the border into Hungary, I was crossing the site of the former Iron Curtain, which was dismantled only 25 years ago. But there was still a huge difference between east and west. Hungary, Serbia and Bulgaria are still struggling to escape the economic rigours of a communist past, and people are still nervous about making eye-to-eye contact. But everybody was charming. They welcomed me and some took me into their confidence, bought me a beer, and gave me some food.

When I crossed the border into Turkey, however, the climate (both meteorological and cultural) changed dramatically. Instead of avoiding my gaze, they sought my attention, they asked me questions "Where was I from? Was I married? Did I have children? Where was I going and why?"

Tea is the national drink of Turkey, and at every stop I was invited by individuals and groups to join them for a couple of glasses. I had my photo taken with countless people, was invited to become 'friends' on Facebook, and was given personal guided tours of monuments.

My longest day in the saddle was 112 miles, my most unusual night was spent in a Wendy House, the most awesome fellow traveller I met was Christian (Dutch) who was walking from Vienna to Istanbul, and the most moving 5 minutes were spent looking in on a Nazi death camp in Nis (Serbia), where 10,000 prisoners had been executed during WW2.

Frank enjoys a night in a Wendy House

Frank enjoys a night in a Wendy House

And I did all of this to support Motivation, a charity that develops affordable wheelchairs for disabled people in developing countries. If you would like to donate, please visit

Happy pedalling!

Frank Burns

Enjoyed this post? Why not visit Frank's Blog for updates during his adventures.