Cycling to(wards) Syria

This May, I shall set off on a 3,000 mile bicycle tour, following the routes of migration from the safe refuge of London to the bombed-out streets of Syria. Don’t worry: safety is my first priority. I am fully expecting never to reach Syria, but that is my destination of the mind.

Along the way, I shall be collecting stories direct from the mouths of migrants, aid workers, government officials and local residents, using each interview to inform the course of the journey, and sharing these stories with as wide an audience as I can, in written word, photography, audio, and video.

(Link to Google Map of the route.)

This expedition has gradually solidified over the last few months from vague pipe dream to something that is really going to happen. Now I am ready to share my ideas, hear yours, and ask for help.

The route marked out above has a few flaws, not the least of which is that Google thinks I’ll be walking, but the three thousand miles should cover the UK, France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia, Greece, Turkey and Syria. Transportation will entirely by bicycle, save for two ferry crossings, of the English Channel and the Aegean Sea. I’ll return by train at the end of July.

About Me

As you may know, I am a freelance writer with extensive cycle touring experience in Europe and North Africa. Although it feels long distant, I also have an MA in Near and Middle Eastern Studies (Arabic, modern history and music).

I’ve been writing and taking action on migration issues in Calais and beyond since summer 2014 and was one of the instigators of the 2015 Calais Critical Mass, which brought eighty-plus bicycle donations (and their riders) to Calais. After the Critical Mass, I contributed to many media organisations, including the Victoria Derbyshire programme on BBC 2 and Newsweek.

I feel incredibly lucky to be able to take on a journey such as this by choice, and so feel a deep obligation to share the things I learn with as great an audience as possible, across as varied media as possible.

This will be my most ambitious story-telling expedition to date, and due to the need for hyper-mobility, words will be written on my beloved Alphasmart Neo 2 and publication-quality images, video and audio will be captured on a smartphone or iPod Touch (you can help with that!). All media from the expedition will be collected here and shared through Twitter (@dcisbusy).


If this ride is going to be a success, then I’m going to need a lot of help: encouragement, logistics and technology. If you can help at all, in any of these fields, please give me a shout.

Encouragement: Follow me on Twitter, say hi, share this page, and the stories when the ride begins. Drop me a line using my contact page, or leave a comment below this post. Let me know any ideas, what you do and how you might be able to help. Thanks!

Logistics: I will be taking camping equipment, but would also love to stay with friends, friends of friends, strangers and friends of strangers.

  • If you or anyone you know lives on, or even remotely near the route, through the UK, France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia, Greece, Turkey or Syria, then please, please get in touch.
  • If  you can offer suggestions on where to go or who to speak with, likewise.
  • If you’d like to join me for some of the ride – awesome!

Technology: The success of the story-telling element of this trip depends heavily on me having the tools to do the job. I am in the process of gathering equipment now and if you can help with any second hand, discounted or downright cheap or freebie tech, then that’d be fantastic. These are the sorts of things I’m looking for:

  • iPhone 5 or better (64gb minimum)
  • iPod Touch 6 (64gb minimum)
  • Front pannier rack for bicycle
  • Waterproof, reasonably high capacity cycle panniers
  • Bar bag for the bike
  • A great quality penknife or Leatherman
  • A lightweight small camping stove
  • A thermarest camping mattress

Even if you’re not sure how helpful you can be, please do get in touch. Thanks!

Migrant kitten, asleep in Calais, 2014.

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David Charles is co-writer of BBC radio sitcom Foiled. He also writes for The Bike Project, Thighs of Steel, and the Elevate Festival. He blogs at

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