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Chapter 14: The Story Of Louise Sutherland


I was never lonely while I was cycling. I had my bicycle to talk to. - Louise Sutherland

You’re coming to the end of our mini book on bike touring but before you go, we’d like to share a story with you.

It’s written by Hilary Searle of the CycleSeven website. She tells the story of Louise Sutherland – an adventurous bike tourist who went around the world in the 1950s.

Louise Sutherland

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Louise Sutherland was a nurse from New Zealand who was working in London in 1949, when she set off cycling around the world. She bought a bike in a church jumble sale in Soho for £2.10s and a ‘grateful patient’ in the hospital where she was nursing made her a small trailer ‘to trundle merrily behind it.’ She seems to have set off round the world almost on a whim. She had initially only intended to go to Land’s End!

After that first trip, Louise returned to London to collect her passport and her £50 savings and set off, first for Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Italy. She only returned to London in 1956.

“During my first day in Italy I felt most dubious about my chances of survival. I had been offered dire warnings about what happened to small girls travelling alone in that country. I did not wish to forego the camping, but equally, I did not relish the thought of being attacked in the dead of night. Of course no one did attack me.”

The warnings grew even more dire as she approached Yugoslavia: ‘They shoot on sight’, ‘They’re communists remember. If you’re arrested you might never be heard of again.’ and ‘They’re so poor they’ll attack you just to steal the valve rubbers out of your inner tubes’.

The people, however, treated her with great kindness.

From Yugoslavia she went to Greece and then took a ferry to Israel. She had an amazingly resilient spirit and refused to be daunted by the fact that having paid the boat fare she had only 13/6d left in the world. In Haifa she took a job in a mission hospital for 3 months, then cycled onto Jordan where she worked as a nanny. From there she cycled to Beirut and spent 6 months working in a sanatorium.

She had hoped to cycle across the desert to Baghdad but was refused a visa so had to travel by train to catch a boat across the Persian Gulf to India. She was refused a third class ticket, with the line:

We do not sell third class tickets to white men and certainly never to a white girl. Anyway no girl is permitted to travel third class alone.

She had, of course, received many warnings against going to India. In Bombay, she was inundated with offers of hospitality but later found herself in a famine region where she went for 3 days without food.

“I knew that only by keeping the pedals turning could I ever get to the dense green jungle that would indicate a rain soaked district, and only by reaching such a district would I again get food.”

Unfortunately all the warnings she had received almost came true when she was attacked by 2 men but they ran away when a bus appeared.

“The memories of the attack by the few have now blunted and are fading, but the kindness of the many will always remain clear.”

“After the fear had completely left my mind, I could feel nothing but anger for those two men. They had placed me in a position where all the world could say: ‘I told you so!’ but does one swallow make a summer?”

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