The Hairy Bikers Go West review – an absolutely magical return to the open road
In December, the Hairy Bikers came home for Christmas, for their first programme since Dave Myers was diagnosed with cancer, almost two years ago. Their shows have always been about much more than food, using it as a springboard to talk about travel, community and their longstanding friendship, but their festive special really was just that: it was truly special to see how much they meant to each other. With The Hairy Bikers Go West, they’re back on the bikes and back on the open road for another full series. It is magical.
The plan is for them to loosely explore the west coast of the UK, starting in one of their favourite places in the world, the Isle of Bute, in the Firth of Clyde in Scotland. They first went there 30 years ago, explains Si King, though back then, there wasn’t quite as much happening as there is now. It has become a bit of a haven for locally produced food and I’d be very surprised if this episode doesn’t serve as an extremely effective tourist board ad for hungry visitors.
They stop off at a deli in Rothesay so fancy that it sells grouse-flavoured crisps, to the great amusement of the bikers, alongside cheese, trout and salmon that has been smoked on the island, lamb from up the road, and some pies that look so delicious I want to reach into the screen and grab one. They gather up supplies and stop off for a picnic. It’s these in-between chats that have taken on new significance; unsurprisingly, Dave has become more reflective and philosophical since his diagnosis. Watching these men talk to each other so openly about their emotions and feelings is lovely and I suspect it is also hugely important for other people to see.
There are plenty of other stops on the island. There’s a Syrian patisserie with award-winning apple tarts, where Dave and Si meet a 20-year-old baker/mechanical engineering student, who came to Scotland from Syria when he was 12 He tells them that for his first year at school, he couldn’t communicate with his friends. “As you can see now, I’ve got a wee bit of a Scottish accent,” he says, with some understatement, as he is putting the finishing touches on three stunning-looking tarts. They visit a butcher’s shop that has been in the same family for generations, and discover “blaggis”, a black pudding/haggis hybrid. They also meet a scientist who is trying to cultivate truffles by planting an orchard of the oak and hazel trees on which these delicacies depend.
Clearly, vicarious eating is a big part of the show and it is not advisable to watch it when you’re hungry. The bikers use the ingredients they find to cook up several dishes of their own, which also look lovely, if not very veggie-friendly, though the suggestion to swap lamb for aubergine is an easy and thoughtful concession. I enjoy these programmes so much that I have been known to watch old episodes more than once. The platform they can give to producers and eating establishments must be so important to small businesses. I have tried to look up some of the more tempting stuff they’ve tried on screen and found myself on a waiting list.
It goes beyond making your mouth water, though. The Bikers visit a six-acre market garden that grows and sells vegetables with two principles in mind: the environment and people. It specialises in local, seasonal produce, and teaches employment skills to apprentices and trainees, while also planting crops on any disused land, leaving the produce free for anyone to take. There are chutneys, jellies and pesto, as well as an intriguing-sounding vegan honey made from dandelion heads. This programme is so welcoming and hopeful that it could warm the heart, and fill the stomach, of the most hardened of misanthropes.
Every now and then, Dave takes a moment to reflect on where he has been and where he is now. The pair go fishing, which, says Dave, was a distant dream when he was very ill. “I’d long for it,” he says. There are small doses of profundity throughout and it works so well because it balances the sentiment with humour. When they’re making salmon en croûte, they don’t manage to catch any fish, so they pop to the shops instead. Early in the episode, Dave explains that he didn’t think he would be able to ride a motorbike again. He is still having treatment for cancer, and says that it has taken a lot of hard work and physio for him to be able to get back to riding. But now that they’re out on the road, “I’m drinking it in like a man who’s been in the desert”.