Monthly Archives: October 2013

Trick or Treat

Happy Halloween – in a break from the Bike around Britain posts here’s a story I wrote a couple of years ago, with a Halloween theme.

Trick or Treat

Jack flicked through the channels, idly looking for something that might be vaguely interesting. So much dross on the television these days, perhaps it had always been that way and he’d just not realised it until now.

‘Oh great, Big Brother is on again Soot, you’ll like that,’ he muttered to the German Shepherd at his feet. The dog glanced up expectantly at the sound of his name, then seeing no movement went back to gnawing on the dried pig’s ear Jack had bought earlier from the market.

‘No…no…no…definitely no…and sod off Most Haunted,’ who believed that fake crap anyway, but it was a done deal on Halloween.  He liked Halloween, but it was late now and the local kids had stopped coming around about an hour ago. They liked to visit number eight, and Jack always tried to make an effort to provide some entertainment on what was supposed to be a spooky evening. Soot loved it, all the people and attention. He didn’t really live up to Jack’s claims of being a hell hound, or Black Shuck, who’d savage them if they were naughty, preferring to wag his tail and lick anyone who smelt nice. As usual Jack had carved a couple of pumpkins into as scary faces as he could manage, and as usual they’d come out slightly lop-sided and comical, but they did the job sitting out on the porch. He’d even tried carving a couple of turnips again, in an effort to un-Americanise the whole thing, but they’d not worked out quite as he’d hoped and he’d relegated them to the garden to scare the pigeons instead.

Jack lived on the outskirts of town, part of a new estate that had been built over a patch of scrubland bought up by developers seeking to squeeze as many homes as possible into the small space. Still, they’d left a fair sized common in the middle of it; a planning regulation requirement no doubt, but something for the kids to play on and for people to walk their dogs. In its centre were the remains of an old tower that was slowly crumbling away, maybe part of an old church, or Norwich’s old medieval defences, Jack didn’t remember. It was pretty enough with ivy growing up its old flint walls, and in Spring birds nested in the hawthorn trees that grew around and in some places through it.

‘Right, nothing on Soot, let’s have a drink.’ Jack turned off the television, got up off the sofa and wandered over to the drinks cabinet. ‘Hmmm…a small whiskey maybe, no nothing for you here,’ he said, nudging away Soot’s inquisitive nose. Soot whined slightly disappointed at the lack of treats, and then the lights went off.

‘Bugger, power cut or fuses do you reckon?’ Jack walked carefully over to the window trying to remember if he or Soot had left any crap on the floor. Pulling open the curtains he glanced outside, all the neighbours’ houses were dark too. ‘Power cut Soot, maybe the spirits are pissed at something,’ he said sarcastically, ‘time to take you for a walk anyway.’

The streets were dark too, with only moonlight making things visible. Still, Soot didn’t seem particularly bothered and Jack didn’t worry about a lead. It was close to midnight and there weren’t many cars around, in fact he couldn’t hear any at all which was a nice change, if not a little unusual. They walked down the hill past the common and onto the main road that led down to the river. Jack could only vaguely make out Soot sniffing along the edge of the hedgerow a short way ahead, his black coat merging with the darkness. The night was fresh, crisp and clean, with clear starry skies and the promise of a beautiful morning ahead.

Candlelight flickered warmly through the windows of the Freeman pub as they passed it, but Jack didn’t go in. The local folk seemed to resent his presence on the rare occasions he did go in for a pint, not that he’d ever done anything to earn their suspicious glances. He thought they’d have accepted him in the neighbourhood by now, but for some people if you weren’t born here you’d never be a local.

Turning onto the path beside the river they walked towards town, under the sycamore and beech trees that arched out over the sluggishly moving waters. The waxing gibbous moon gave Jack enough light to see by, reflecting off the water and casting long shadows of the trees across the path. The moonlight also reflected off Soot’s eyes, as he regularly turned his head back to ensure Jack was still following, making them seem to glow green in the night. ‘Wrong colour Soot, they’re supposed to be red remember,’ Jack mused to no-one in particular.

A slight breeze sent dead leaves skittering across the ground, and carried with it the faint sounds of music; what sounded like a lonely flute being played somewhere across the river, the beautiful yet sad notes merging with the night, and almost seeming to set the leaves waltzing in time. Perhaps someone was having a party at one of the cottages that backed onto the water, where the haunting strains would certainly lend the evening an appropriate quality. The music seemed to follow them as they moved further down the path and up towards the road which took over where passage was no longer possible along the riverbank. The song brought unbidden feelings of something lost to Jack’s mind, or of something being searched for, he felt he almost knew the tune. The music seemed to reach out, observe then move away once satisfied you were not of any significance to it. Jack shook off the melancholy threatening to engulf him, moving up and onto the road where abruptly the music could no longer be heard.

The houses and street-lights here were still all dark indicating the power cut was unresolved. Jack decided to continue following Soot who seemed intent on having a longer walk than planned, making his way along the pavement towards the roundabout where one could either continue towards the town centre, or follow the ring road either way. Soot was probably heading for the small park on the other side of the roundabout, which backed onto the graveyard. There was still no traffic around although he could hear a distant rumbling of what could be a group of motorbikes out for a midnight ride.

They crossed the ring-road and made their way up the hill towards the old marker stone sitting next to the park’s entrance, indicating one mile to the old town centre in Tombland. Jack thought he could make out a figure close to the marker stone still some 100 yards away. Whoever it was seemed to be looking for something, crouching down to examine the ground before getting up and moving on to a new patch a bit further on. Soot stopped, waiting for Jack to catch up before approaching the stranger who hadn’t seemed to notice them, intent as they were on their searching. Jack realised it must be a young women, or girl, wearing in a flowing dress, with her long unbound and slightly curly hair flowing across her shoulders and down her back to her waist. God knows what she doing out so late; perhaps she’d lost her keys.

The girl looked up, away from Jack, as the sound of the motorbikes he’d heard earlier suddenly got a lot louder, lights appearing on the road at the top of the hill and pausing briefly before streaming down towards the marker stone. Soot growled as the peace of the night was shattered by the loud engines and shrieks from the riders who bore down the road towards the girl. She backed away towards the park entrance but came up short against the old rusting iron gate.

There were nine of them, dressed in leathers and riding on what looked to be old Harleys, the motorbike lights illuminating their helmets which seem to have been adorned with a variety of horns, crests, and twisted motifs. They screamed to a halt forming a crescent in front of the girl as Jack walked up behind them, Soot at his side. He thought he recognised them. The lights also illuminated the girl’s terrified face yet defiant face, as she frantically scrabbled behind her at the padlocked gate.

Two of the riders dismounted and approached the girl. ‘Come here little one, out all on your own, you’re wanted.’ The lead rider’s voice sounded guttural and growling through his helmet.

‘Leave me alone, I ain’t done nothing, and you ain’t allowed to just take folk,’ she shouted back at them.

‘Doesn’t matter anymore, your wanted Moon Seer, his Lordship’s got plans for you,’ said the gruff rider.

Jack came to a stop behind them, silhouetted by the bike lights on the opposite side of the crescent. ‘Look, she doesn’t want to go with you so just take your ride elsewhere,’ he said.

‘Who the bloody hell are you then,’ said the leader turning towards Jack. Several of the other riders dismounted from their bikes. ‘Being out with your puppy on Halloween ain’t such a good idea.’

‘For whom,’ replied Jack.

Some of the riders moved towards Jack and Soot, unlimbering chains and clubs from various jacket pockets and bags. Soot growled deeply at Jack’s side causing them to pause.

‘I don’t want any trouble alright,’ said Jack. ‘Just let the girl go and I’ll walk away, no need for anything else.’

‘They ain’t allowed to take me anyway, I’m neutral and ain’t done anything,’ shouted the girl who’d scrambled half way up the gate.

‘Shut it bitch…I said that don’t matter any more’ said the leader. ‘Look mate, you on mushrooms or something, there’s nine of us and one of you plus lassie there, this ain’t none of your business so sod off,’ he growled menacingly. ‘You two grab the girl.’

The girl shrieked and climbed further up the gate away from the approaching riders, three others squared off against Jack and Soot, who showed no inclination towards leaving. Jack reached inside his trench coat pocket fingering the zippo lighter he kept on him. ‘Stop,’ said Jack in a low tone that seemed to ripple through the night.

‘Urrr boss’, said the rider closest to Jack, ‘something funny going on here, he ain’t right and neither is his dog.’

The leader turned back towards Jack. ‘Well what we got here then, if it ain’t mister candle eyes. What, got yourself some of the blood do you? Teach him a lesson lads, Trick or bloody Treat mate.’

‘Trick,’ muttered Jack.

‘What?’ said the leader who walked up behind the three in front of Jack.

Jack could feel the fire building inside him, and as it did the glamours in front of him faded. ‘I said Trick,’ said Jack drawing, flicking open and lighting the zippo in front of him. Soot snarled and leapt from where he’d been crouching at Jack’s feet, teeth latching on to the arm of the nearest rider, sheering through leather and into the flesh underneath.

Jack raised the lighter to his face and blew into the flame, causing a roaring sound as it expanded and flew out towards the two riders advancing on him. Flames swirled and danced through the night, illuminating the area and combatants. Riders revealed for what they truly were stumbled off horses, clad in furs and leather, chain mail, and motleys of scrap metal, wielding crude spiked clubs, flaming torches, chains, nets and short swords. What could be seen of their faces revealed green tinted skin and rugged features, with teeth filed to points sitting in slobbering mouths. ‘I hate Scrags, and you’re no wild hunt,’ Jack said menacingly, knowing flames would now be dancing in his eyes as he let the power grow.

Cursing the leader raised his short sword and charged towards Jack, shouldering through the two burning riders hit by fire already; they collapsed to the ground engulfed in red and blue flames. Jack turned his gaze towards the charging figure and tendrils of angry blue fire leapt towards him, wrapping around torso and limbs causing shrieks of anger and then pain. The short sword lunged out from the leader’s burning form straight for Jack’s chest; he stepped to one side and brought his left hand down on the arm holding the sword. With a crack the arm broke and more flame poured out along Jack’s arms and over his assailant.

Chaos descended after that as riders struggled to avoid the fire and the huge snapping dog in their midst, regain their mounts and escape. Fire danced on engulfing the two who’d been trying to grab the girl, reducing them in seconds to ashes, then stabbing out towards another who looked like he might have a go. No-one came at Jack or Soot again, and soon all the riders were ashes or had fled, the sound of retreating hooves soon turning into the rumble of motorbikes. The flames slowly subsided and winked out, and Jack put the zippo back in his pocket.

He turned towards the girl who’d managed to scramble over the gate during the fight. ‘You okay?’

‘Yeah, I’ll be fine. The way’s open now. Nice dog,’ she said, staring cautiously and slightly curiously at Jack and Soot through the gate’s iron bars. Jack could hear the same haunting flute tune he’d thought he’d recognised earlier drifting through the night from somewhere in the park.

‘Well sounds like the Piper’s abroad so you should be safe, don’t know what you were doing out here but best you get home, wherever that is,’ said Jack.

‘Who are you?’ Asked Mia.

‘Doesn’t matter, just someone hoping for a quiet life, should have known better than to go for a walk on Halloween,’ replied Jack.

‘Well I’m Mia, thanks for helping me. I’d have got away anyway, but thanks. Scrags don’t usually bother us but something’s changed, that’s why I was out, looking for answers in the leaves.’ She started to back off into the park, keeping her eyes on Jack.

‘I don’t know and I don’t want to know, think Soot and I’ll just head home,’ said Jack.

‘You could help us, one of the folk like you, if you change your mind about wanting to know come and find me at the Star Wherry.’ With that Mia turned and ran barefoot across the grass into the park, her black hair flying out behind her. She disappeared down a cobbled path that most people would be forgiven for not seeing, and soon was invisible to anyone who couldn’t look In Between.

‘She should have shoes on,’ muttered Jack, ‘she’ll step on a needle or something.’ Soot looked up at him and whined softly, then wandered over to sniff and urinate on one of the small piles of ashes that were gradually blowing away in the wind. They’d be gone in a few more minutes leaving no evidence anything had ever been amiss. There might be locals complaining about kids setting off fireworks in the morning, but nothing more, people only saw and heard what they wanted to most of the time.

Jack took one last look around, wondering if he should have just left the riders to it. It wasn’t a world he wanted to be involved in any more, but they’d pushed it after all, and it had felt good using his powers again. Smiling slightly he turned for home.

‘Don’t piss with Jack-O-Lantern on Halloween,’ he muttered to himself, before starting to whistle the Piper’s song. Soot padded off ahead, sniffing along the hedgerow again.


Leg 77 – to Colchester

17 July 2013

I didn’t get the best night’s sleep thanks to dogs barking and howling in the nearby kennels, which kept me awake for a bit and sounded slightly eerie when they all starting howling en-mass. It was already pretty hot again by the time I woke up, so slightly grumpy I quickly rolled out of my tent, keen to get on the road to Colchester.

Morning at Wyburns Farm campsite

Morning at Wyburns Farm campsite

I consumed a big breakfast, finishing off the bread, ham and cheese from last night, as well as a big pot of yoghurt; I figured I’d probably skip lunch today. Whilst eating I watched a women putting her border collie through it’s paces on an obstacle course in the field next door. They looked pretty proficient, and the dog was obviously having a great time, ears ever alert to instructions from its mistress.

Bike loaded I was on the road by 10.00, with the temperature already in the mid 20’s. First up I cycled down to the coast via Leigh-on-Sea, and continued around to Southend-on-Sea. Unfortunately the promenade alongside Southend beach was a bit grotty, with a few people already the worse for wear for drink; a shame when it’s not even 11.00 and they’re alongside kids playing on the beach.

Southend-on-Sea - Beach 1

Southend-on-Sea – Beach 1

There were already quite a lot of people on the beach, having a good time in the sunshine, but the coast here has nothing on the coast in the West Country or Scotland. It’s always nice to have the sea on your doorstep though, and I expect a lot of locals make good use of the beach and it’s amenities.

Southend-on-Sea - beach panorama

Southend-on-Sea – beach panorama

I was already getting through my water bottles as I rode along to Shoeburyness, saying hello to a few other cyclists out riding along the seafront. I turned north to Great Wakering, riding past Foulness Island which wasn’t on my list of places to visit; it looked a bit flat and dull but is no doubt a haven for bird watchers.

Idling down country roads enjoying the gorgeous weather, I pedalled west to Rochford, crossing the bridge over the River Roach.

Bridge over the River Roach

Bridge over the River Roach

I rode up to Canewdow and the Essex Marina, through flat fen like countryside, hoping to get the ferry to Burnham-on-Crouch over the River Crouch. A slight Easterly breeze helped keep me cool, however I was still glad of a break by the time I got to the marina, by which time I had finished off one water bottle and started on the next. I wheeled my heavy bike on to the ferry pontoon thinking it all looked a bit quiet, and tried ringing the number advertised; there was no answer, and unlike the Helford River crossing there was no handy disk to summon the boat. Luckily a yachtsman noticed me waiting and hailed me to say that the ferry didn’t run on a Wednesday, which is pretty inconvenient when you’ve just cycled several miles to get to it. I’d also been quite looking forward to seeing Burnham-on-Crouch, a big yachting centre. Having been in a lot more remote parts of the country where the ferry boats run 7 days a week, I found this quite strange.

Slightly annoyed at somehow having missed the fact the ferry didn’t run on the one day of the week I’d chosen to visit, I was forced to push my bike off the pontoon and retrace some of my route towards Ashingdon, alongside the River Crouch and looking for a place to cross. A bridge didn’t materialise for several miles, not until Battlesbridge where I crossed and pedalled on towards South Woodham Ferrers.

Unfortunately in my haste to get on, having not been able to make use of the ferry, I took a wrong turning and ended up on a minor road alongside the A130, cycling towards Chelmsford. I blame a new roundabout which may have been built after the map I was using was published, that’s my excuse anyway. I realised my error after a few miles, and a few unanticipated hills, when I ended up in Howe Green not far from the A12; that’ll teach me to zone out whilst cycling.

I turned east to rectify my navigational error, passing through East Hanningfield, Bicknacre, and several butts; road names which no doubt reference the obligation in past centuries for people to partake of archery practice. Despite being slightly frustrated at having added on a not inconsiderable number of miles to what should have been a short leg, it was nice riding through the Essex countryside, and a bit different to be away from the coast.

Maldon was next on my route, a nice looking town where I stopped to buy a cold drink, downing a pint of milk to refuel and stashing a bottle of Fanta for later. There were lots of very ‘Essex’ looking people around. I don’t mean to stereotype but every other person seemed to be slightly on the orange side due to fake tans, with expensive looking hairdos, and a fair amount of suspect looking cosmetic surgery. I was looking pretty manky and disreputable by this stage of the tour, so didn’t hang about for too long, only stopping to chat to a man with a prosthetic leg who was trying to escape from a couple of Mormons.

Back on track I decided to head straight for Colchester, so took the B1026 to Heybridge, then up to Goldhanger which got me singing the theme tune from Goldfinger, followed by a run of other random tunes as I cycled down more pleasant country roads. I rode through Tolleshunt D’Arcy attracting a few odd looks from pedestrians due to my vocal efforts; maybe I had a bit of sunstroke. Wigborough came and went, as did several other villages with bizarre sounding names. I think the villages must have pretty mixed origins, with Saxon mingled with Norman and a bit of Norse.

After crossing the bridge over the Abberton Reservoir, and having run out of water, it thankfully wasn’t too much further to Colchester. I passed through Layer-de-la-Haye, another strange sounding place which I later looked up. I was correct in my assumption that Saxon, Norse and Normans all had their part in place names in the area. The village was founded in Saxon times, when it was known as Legra meaning lookout, then changed it’s name to Leire or Leger, meaning mud, a Norse word referring to the marshland surrounding the village. Finally the village came into the possession of the de la Hayes during the Norman conquest, and its name changed to Layer-de-la-Haye. With the land around here having changed hands so much over the last 2,000 years there’s no wonder there are a few odd sounding places around.

It felt like the hottest day of the tour so far, with the temperature well into the 30’s, so I was glad to make to Colchester where I found the Camping and Caravanning Park fairly easily, in Lexden. I had to call the warden to book in as reception was closed, and a queue of confused looking tourers in cars were waiting outside; 2 Germans and some Italians I think. No-one else had called him and he looked slightly alarmed at the number of unexpected visitors when he finally appeared. Having taken the initiative I booked in first, keen keen to get into the shade.

Cooling off in Colchester post a hot day's riding

Cooling off in Colchester post a hot day’s riding

Having pitched up relatively early I had a little time on my hands, so I got set up and then headed to a nearby supermarket to stand in their freezer isle for a bit; this was becoming a habit, but was utter bliss. I also bought a few supplies including dinner, and a few bits and pieces for Latitude. I probably bought far too much considering I didn’t have much appetite due to the heat, but figured I’d eat it over the next few days, and the Latitude van would transport my panniers to the festival anyway. It would be very strange riding on a much lighter bike, a treat I was giving myself as the leg tomorrow wasn’t part of my coastal tour.

I spent the evening at the campsite over a couple of beers,checking my bike over and trying to stop my rear brake pads from squealing so much. I adjusted them so they weren’t quite as noisy, however I’d need to change them for new ones after Latitude.

I rang my brother Will to see how he and more importantly his wife were getting on in the heat. They were expecting child number 2 in a few days time, and I think Louisa was feeling pretty uncomfortable by this stage. They were having a sweep stake as to the sex, weight and day of birth, so I went for Tuesday at 11.45, a girl, and 7’3″; I only got one thing right – the gender.

The Colchester start for the Tour de Latitude, which I was due to join tomorrow morning, kicked off from just outside the city. The starting point was only a few miles from the campsite so it would be easy to get to. I was looking forward to meeting Nigel, Wayne and Mel at the festival, and basically lying in the grass for a few days listening to bands and drinking beer. If the weather stayed like this it was going to be great.

Sunset in Colchester

Sunset in Colchester

There were a lot of foreign tourers at the campsite for the evening, including a few fellow cyclists. One pair of Dutchmen were travelling on recumbents, which always look a bit scary to me being a lot lower to the ground, but I’m still keen to try one out at some point. The flood of late arrivals kept me entertained for a bit, as I watched people struggling to put up tents in the dark – I did offer to help incidentally! I was hoping the mosquitoes might visit them instead of me tonight, having been bitten quite profusely the night before.

I caught up on my journal for a bit, and checked out how Captain Ketch (James Ketchell) was doing on his round the world cycle tour – check out his website at – he’s done and is doing lots of cool stuff. It makes me want to pedal off around the world too, and I might just have to one of these days.

Disreputable pirate look in Colchester

Disreputable pirate look in Colchester

I’d covered 73 miles today, further than anticipated due to a few unplanned diversions, however I only had about 60 miles to do tomorrow, and then had three days off at Latitude; I couldn’t wait.

Leg 76 – to Rayleigh via the Gravesend Ferry

16 July 2013

The sound of screeching Green Parakeets woke me up, confusing me temporarily as to where I was. Had I been magically transported to Australia? Had it all been a dream? Green parakeets are exceedingly noisy!

Unfortunately I hadn’t been magically transported to the Southern Hemisphere overnight, and was still in Ramsgate, however there are a lot worse places to be in world and the sun was still shining. I’ll just have to pedal to antipodean climes at some point.

I was a little late up so was in a bit of a rush to get ready, quickly stuffing down breakfast, and grabbing a shower before packing up. I bid goodbye to my neighbours, wishing them luck with their move, and was on the road by about 10.15.

First up I cycled to Ramsgate seafront to join up with the ‘Viking Coastal Trail’, a cycle/walking path that would take me around to Margate and hopefully beyond, avoiding having to use any roads.

Ramsgate seafront - not terribly inspiring at this point

Ramsgate seafront – not terribly inspiring at this point

The ride didn’t start to well when I missed a signpost and ended up on a dead end bit of promenade below the cliffs, otherwise known as the ‘Great Wall of Ramsgate’. I’m not sure it compares too favourably with its namesake in China, but it was nice pedalling down the empty promenade, weaving back and forward and humming ‘Busy going nowhere, working the whole day through, trying to find lots of things not to do.’

Cycling below the cliffs in Ramsgate - a dead end

Cycling below the cliffs in Ramsgate – a dead end

After doubling back I had a good ride around to Broadstairs, which was packed with tourists and foreign students. The beach looked nice; judging from the tyre tracks and patterns in the sand I think they must rake it very day.

Broadstairs Beach

Broadstairs Beach

Above the beach someone, or perhaps a group of daredevils, had hung knitting along the railings. I think this must have been the scene of a ‘knitting bomb’ escapade. Knitting bombing is a form of graffiti or street art, where artists secretly decorate areas with colourful displays of knitting and extreme crocheting. Pretty cool, and in keeping with a seaside theme in this case.

Broadstairs knitting bomb

Broadstairs knitting bomb

The Viking Trail is fairly wriggly, and I wove my way around the coast adding on several more miles than if I’d taken a more direct route via the road. It was much more pleasant riding along the trail without any cars to worry about, although I did have to make good use of my bell to alert walkers, mobility scooters, and other cyclists as to my passing.

I made it to Margate, which had the usual seaside town amusements and rides, and didn’t look as nice as Ramsgate. It was still thronged with people on their holidays, enjoying the beach or just walking along the promenade in the sunshine. It was getting pretty hot by this point.



Handily the Viking Coastal Trail runs all the way along to Reculver so I didn’t have to use the busy A299 at all, and could stick nice and close to the coast past Minnis Bay. There are a few sections you have to get off and push your bike through, mainly areas where there are a lot of beach huts and hence lots of people, but for the most part it was lovely smooth and relaxing riding. I did go wrong a couple of times due to enjoying it too much and not concentrating, not noticing the sign that directed me up onto a different section and ending up at a dead end. My excuse was the signs really aren’t that obvious, but basically it was a case of user error. I was somewhat exonerated when I met up with another cycle tourer who’d made exactly the same mistake as I, and was pedalling back to join the correct route. He was over from the States doing a tour around this part of the coast and we rode together for a while, before I pushed on towards Whistable.

Beach next to the Viking Trail - west of Margate

Beach next to the Viking Trail – west of Margate

I rode through Reculver passing the Reculver Towers, site of a Roman fortification and subsequent buildings of a similar nature. I wasn’t really in a historical sort of mood today, so didn’t stop to examine them in any detail. I was happy enjoying the sunshine and mulling over ideas for the future. The plan to cycle to the Arctic Circle was gradually gaining favour as the next ‘big one’, however I was also keen on the Mediterranean; I’ll probably end up doing something completely different anyway.

I was also thinking about my idea for starting a cafe/bar type establishment similar to Sundowners down in Polzeath, run by Matt, however I was having difficulty settling on a name and theme. There are just too may things I want such a place to offer/be; currently ‘The Adventurer’s Retreat’ is my favourite, offering meals with variable portion sizes depending on calories required, and sourcing food from supermarkets that they’re about to throw away, adventuring advice (guest speakers etc), maybe a small book section, live music/open mic nights, maybe a workshop, cool decor, a mini climbing wall, and of course beer…and a bunk room…and a fireman’s pole…okay the last one is just something I’ve always wanted in my house.

I joined the Oyster Trail (route 15 I think) which took me to Herne Bay, then round to Whistable where I stopped for lunch. Whistable is a nice town with pretty buildings and shops, and an interesting waterfront. A friend from work, Tim, had recommended the Salt House restaurant for a meal, but unfortunately I don’t think it opened until the evening, if indeed I found the right place. I settled on some sandwiches from Co-op which I ate on the beach; you can get some good deals if the sandwiches are nearly out of date.

Whistable high-street

Whistable high-street

Whistable Beach

Whistable Beach

After a pleasant stop I rode on through Seasalter joining up with my old ‘friend’ Route 1, which I was worried might happen. I thought Route 1 might have mended its ways since our last encounter, and decided to take it for a bit as it seemed to be following the coastline…error. I unknowingly passed a signpost covered in foliage, and ended up off course and deep in farmland after following a track that looked as if it should be cycle path, but really wasn’t; a lot of Route 1 cycle paths I’d experienced previously had been pretty bumpy and rutted. I was on the wrong side of the river, with the way forward blocked by locked gates, so I had no choice to but turn around and pedal about a mile and a half back looking for the correct route.

I found the turning I’d missed, which was easier to spot from this direction, and stopped to remove the foliage that was obscuring the sign so that other tourers stood a better chance of seeing it. The path took me in the direction of Faversham, where I should have been about 30 minutes ago, so I picked up the pace to try and make up some time.

Route 1 was not however done with me yet, and I encountered my next obstacle after about 15 minutes of riding; a narrow footbridge entirely unsuitable for bikes, let alone touring bikes loaded the nines with panniers, tents etc. I could only laugh.

Footbridge near Faversham

Footbridge near Faversham

There was no way my fully loaded bike could squeeze across the bridge, it was too narrow, so I took all the panniers off and carried everything, including the Ridgeback, over to the other side. Whilst I was loading everything back onto my bike, getting slightly nervous about the dogs barking in the boat/scrap yard I was about to ride through, I decided to join the road at the next earliest opportunity. It would be busier but would stand me a chance of making it to Gravesend this century, and I’d also had enough of Route 1 and its antics again. I later learned I wasn’t the only person to have trouble with this bridge and their bike; Anna Hughes (@EatSleepCycle) who has also cycled around the coast of Britain, shared a very similar picture to the above via Twitter, from her ride a few years ago.

I made it through the boat yard without getting savaged by any dogs, and joined the busy A2 making good progress once past Faversham. It was busy, smelly, and pretty hazardous due to the number of lorries and some erratic driving on the part of impatient car drivers, but it went in a mostly straight line and had the occasional bit of cycle path I could take advantage of.

I arrived in Sittingbourne, where I stopped for a cold drink, before continuing on to and through Gillingham, Chatham and Rochester, all of which were very busy and not pleasant to cycle in. In Rochester I crossed the River Medway, and was afforded a good view of the castle from the bridge.

Rochester Castle from the River Medway

Rochester Castle from the River Medway

I took a wrong turning again near Rochester, I really wasn’t concentrating very well today, and ended up continuing on the A2 towards London. The road fortunately had a cycle path next to it, otherwise I’d have ended up in the traffic joining it from the M2 with car drivers still very much in motorway mode. I was able to cut back through country roads via Thong and Shorne to the A226, and pedalled on to Gravesend where a friendly couple of street attendants directed me towards the ferry. Feeling a bit low on energy I bought some milk and Fanta to refuel; it was another sweltering day.

I found the ferry after having to wheel my bike down the pier and practically through a restaurant, and chatted to another cyclist out for an evening ride whilst waiting for the boat. She was training for Lejog in a couple of weeks time, and was fairly nervous about it despite the ride being supported and staying in B&B’s along the way. I gave her a couple of tips, such as not leaving home without any spare inner tubes. a spoke tool, or Chamois Cream; the latter has been a blessing in the hot weather to prevent chafing.

Gravesend Ferry 1

Gravesend Ferry 1

The ferry across the Thames cost £3, and it was easy to wheel bikes on and off. It didn’t take long to get across to Tilbury where the boat docked about 18.30. It felt like another milestone to make it across the Thames, and effectively be back in East Anglia, or close to it.

Gravesend Ferry 2

Gravesend Ferry 2

My destination for the evening was Rayleigh, and I set off through the mostly flat Essex countryside, being passed by the occasional roaring, lowered, under-lighted, tinted window fiesta driven by Essex boys and girls doing the evening rounds. On the whole the roads were a lot quieter than south of the Thames, and I made good progress engaging my ‘mile eater’ mode.

I bumped into a few other cyclists out for an evening ride at a railway crossing in Stanford le-Hope, and had a bit of a chat whilst waiting for the barriers to open. There are some really friendly people you meet whilst on the road.

Avoiding the A13 by sticking to B-roads I pedalled over a few hills south of Basildon, not somewhere I wanted to get embroiled in. I ignored Canvey Island which didn’t seem to have a campsite, although I dare say I could have found a quiet spot to wild camp. It was an island anyway so under my own rules I was allowed to skip it; I’d included plenty of other far more exciting islands.

I stopped at a Cooperative to buy a few supplies and stood in their cold isle for a bit to cool down; it was lovely although I must have looked pretty manky by this stage, and was slightly worried the Essex fashion police might apprehend me – my tan just wasn’t fake enough. It was a short stretch to Rayleigh and the campsite I’d picked out earlier, although I did have to tackle an unexpected 14% climb, which was well timed seeing as I’d just bought supplies which were hanging off my handlebars, reducing my stability somewhat. It was pleasant cycling through quiet countryside to Wyburns Farm campsite, after negotiating a final obstacle of a dual carriageway which I had to push my bike over; I thought there’d be a bridge over it, or a tunnel under it, but there wasn’t and I had to make a dash for it when a gap appeared in the traffic.

It was 20.30 by the time I arrived, and after checking in I set up quickly amongst lots of annoying biting insects. It was only £8 a night, but was a very basic campsite with no shower. Instead I took advantage of a hosepipe to wash away the day’s sweat and grime, which was lovely and cool after such a hot ride.

Me post a hot days ride, still look dishevelled, hair under control courtesy of a bandanna

Me post a hot days ride, still look dishevelled, hair under control courtesy of a bandanna

I quickly retreated to my tent to get away from the flies, and ate ham sandwiches washed down with strawberry milk. I’d covered around 92 miles today, maybe a few more due to unexpected detours, and was feeling pretty tired. The leg tomorrow should be a lot shorter, up to Colchester, and I was considering booking a hotel for a treat prior to Latitude. I was getting pretty excited about the festival now, and joining the Tour de Latitude the day after tomorrow.

Leg 75 – to Ramsgate

15 July 2013

Despite a late night of trying to catch up on my blog, and at least one whisky, I was up early and sorting out my maps, keen to get a good start on my next leg into Kent and onwards towards Latitude. I wasn’t sure where I was heading for today, Ramsgate maybe, or somewhere close to it; I figured I’d look for somewhere a bit later once I’d got some miles done.

Mum cooked me a nice fry-up for breakfast to ensure a vital start to the day, after a cup of Red Bush tea in bed courtesy of Dad, a very good start to proceedings. I also had clean clothes again, sufficient to see me back to Norwich, after making use of the washing machine.

Breakfast consumed I packed up and loaded everything on to my trusty Ridgeback, which was running very nicely after the bit of bike maintenance yesterday. I managed to get on the road just after 09.00, bidding goodbye to my excellent hosts. Mum had of course made me some sandwiches which would be welcome later, perhaps for second breakfast; I rarely manage to leave my parents without some kind of offering. I’d see them again soon in any case, back in Norwich upon my return.

I pedalled off, once more under sunny skies, making my way back down to the coast via Little Common and Cooden Beach, before turning east to Bexhill-on-Sea where I was able to ride along the promenade.

Bexhill promenade

Bexhill promenade

The promenade has only just been opened up for cyclists , and makes for lovely riding all the way along the seafront, before you take the cycle path up over Galley Hill and down into St. Leornards and Hastings. I passed the Delaware Pavillion in Bexhill, a building of the Art Deco style which a lot of people love; I’m remain sceptical of its aesthetic qualities.

De La Warr Pavillion, Bexhill-on-Sea

De La Warr Pavillion, Bexhill-on-Sea

The cycle path to Hastings, which didn’t used to run all the way along this bit of the coast, meant I avoided the very busy main road. I met up with Ian again who has an office near the town centre, from which he runs Technology Box. Check out their website for all your business technology requirements.

We grabbed a quick coffee in a cafe downstairs from the office, and Ian added a Wagon Wheel (the biscuit variety) to my food supplies. I was going to end up putting on weight during the course of the tour at this rate, however it was important to ensure I maintained energy levels.

After once more parting company I rode through the rest of Hastings, past the castle up on the hill and the Old Town, then down to tall black wooden huts where they used to smoke fish. I don’t know if it still does however Hastings used to boast the largest beach launched fishing fleet in Europe, and although reduced in number there are still lots of boats pulled up on to the shingle. There are several nice fish and chip shops, fishmongers and seafood restaurants down at Rock-a-Nore, including Webbes which I’d definitely recommend.

The town didn’t seem to have changed very much since I was last there, and I had a moment of nostalgia as I pedalled past the Carlisle Pub, where I used to go in my younger days. The Carlisle is a biker pub which meant it used to be relatively safe compared with some parts of Hastings, because the usual trouble makers avoided it; good to see it’s still going strong.

Hastings - Rock-a-Nore

Hastings – Rock-a-Nore

The seafront looked much the same too, with the same mixture of out-dated amusement arcades, and crazy golf courses. I’m surprised amusement arcades still survive given that so many households have a games console or PC these days. They’re probably all money laundering fronts or suchlike. The pier still looks sad having been set on fire by an arsonist a few years ago, however there are now plans to re-develop it into a community space which is good news. Hastings can be a fun place at the right time of year, especially during the summer if the weather is good, with the Jack-in-the-Green festival in May, the dress like a pirate day, and frequent biker rallies.

I turned inland at Rock-a-Nore, cycling up the hill to Fairlight. It felt like quite a big hill, however I didn’t really mind figuring a lot of the ride today would be across flat territory, with a few notable exceptions around Folkstone and Dover. It was good to get my legs going again, and meant I had a feisty descent through lovely countryside down to Pett Level, where everything does indeed level out.

There followed a flat stretch along Pett Level Road, which runs parallel to the beach behind the large embankment built to keep the sea from flooding the low lying land. I stopped and climbed up to the top of it to take in the view.

Pett Level Road looking west from the top of the embankment

Pett Level Road looking west from the top of the embankment

One of these days a big storm will breach the embankment and the sea will come pouring through, perhaps making Winchelsea a port again. I wasn’t going to pass through Winchelsea today, another ancient town which has been rebuilt several times over the centuries due to floods, fire, and attacks by the French; it’s worth a look if you’re passing that way.

I continued along the coast, following a route Ian had told me about earlier, and checking directions with another cyclist also making their way towards Rye. She was travelling at a more sedate pace, complete with shopping basket, to meet a friend at a pub in Rye for lunch which sounded like a very good plan seeing as it was starting to get very hot.

The cycle path I was following made its way through a field full of sheep at one point, as I rode around to Rye Harbour. Of course a few of the beasts gravitated towards my bike intent on throwing themselves in front of my wheels, however I managed to avoid them with a few emergency manoeuvres; it seems they’re just as stupid in the South East as everywhere else. The cycle path was great for the most part, with no traffic and a good surface, meaning I made good time around to Rye where I stopped for a break.

Approaching Rye - set on a slight hill above the marshes

Approaching Rye – set on a slight hill above the marshes

Rye is a lovely town, and another of the historic Cinque Ports, or Confederation of Cinque Ports which were important centres of trade and defence in medieval times. Rye was also a big centre of smuggling during the 18th and 19th centuries, as were many of the coastal towns in East Sussex and Kent. It’s set on a hill overlooking a small harbour on the river below. It being very hot I bought an ice cream, then decided I was hungry and ate the sandwiches Mum had made me, despite it not being that late as yet.

I had a good walk around the town, peering in small shop windows at various attractive foodstuffs, including the numerous baked goods at Simon the Pieman’s, Rye’s finest purveyor of pies and pastries. I also took a wander around St. Mary’s Church which was lovely and cool, as well as being very peaceful after Rye’s bustling streets which were full of tourists. As I’ve done before on the tour I made a donation and lit a votive candle in the church to remember Lu by, not because I’m particularly religious, agnostic at best, but because it seemed like a nice thing to do.

Leaving Rye

Leaving Rye

After giving Lucy’s parents a quick ring to wish Sheila good luck with an operation, I left Rye behind I stuck to the coast around to Camber, with its sand dunes. The road was pretty busy and narrow so it was good to get on to a cycle path as I rode up to Lydd, into an easterly breeze which helped keep me cool, even if it did slow me down a bit. It was continuing to get hotter as morning turned into afternoon, I reckoned into the 30’s, and I was very glad of my two water bottles.

I cycled through Lydd and down to Dungeness and its Power Station out on the point.

Dungeness Power Station

Dungeness Power Station

I was trying to remember what the landscape around here reminded me of, and I realised it was a bit like the badlands in the computer game Fallout 3, which I played a few years ago (great game). The big old nuclear reactor dominates the landscape, as do all the power lines running from it which unfortunately make the countryside look a bit ugly. The flat terrain also meant the Easterly felt stronger, and I was beginning to tire of cycling into a headwind, but still had miles to go.

Dungeness signpost

Dungeness signpost

After Dungeness there was what felt like a long stretch around to Hythe and Folkestone, with the traffic getting heavier. I rode alongside the Dymchurch railway line for a bit, on which a steam train runs between Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch, and down to Dungeness. There’s quite a big hill up into Folkstone, the second of the day and a chance to burn off some of the calories I’d been consuming due to frequent ice cream stops.

I had a quick ride around Folkstone and bought a new notebook to use as a journal, and some pens, having been running low of ink and paper. As usual for this time of year coastal towns in the South East were swarming with foreign students who spend a few weeks over here learning English. I spent a few summers teaching them when I was at University, as a summer job; good fun but low pay and pretty tiring trying to ensure they don’t get themselves into trouble all the time! Scandinavians are well behaved, Italians and Spanish not so much but a lot of fun.

After Folkstone I dropped into the Battle of Britain memorial, which is up the top of another big hill. Thankfully there’s also a cafe there so I was able to buy a couple of cold cans of lemonade. I’d have had to tackle the hill whichever way I went so it was worth stopping in at the memorial.

I hadn’t realised the memorial was in honour of all the allied pilots that fought in the Battle of Britain, and not just the ones who’d lost their lives. I spotted the name ‘Eeles H’, the father of a friend of the family Tom Eeles. There was a ‘Harvey’ on there to but as far as I know they’re no relation.

After Capel-le-Ferne there followed a lovely ride downhill all the way to Dover, from where I could clearly see France across the Channel, in fact I don’t think I’ve ever seen it so clearly. It didn’t look very far away at all but I still wouldn’t fancy trying to swim across; maybe windsurfing it if I got a lot better at it, and could avoid the ships.

Dover Ferry Port

Dover Ferry Port

I spent a few minutes down by the port, taking in the view. There were people relaxing on the beach which I hadn’t quite expected in one of the busiest ferry ports on the coast.

Dover panorama

Dover panorama

The beach looked like quite a good place to be in the hot weather, and I was quite tempted by another ice cream.

Dover Beach

Dover Beach

Dover Ferry Port 2

Dover Ferry Port 2

Resisting the temptation of another frozen dairy product I pedalled up past the castle, and stopped at the top of the hill to look back down on the channel. The ferries looked like toy boats in the bath from up here, and the coast of France was even clearer.

I joined the A258 to Deal after turning off the A259, the road surface of which was really shoddy. The A259 in Kent has one of the worse road surfaces I’ve cycled on, probably due to all the heavy traffic going to and from the port. It consists mostly of patches rather than the original road surface, and is really uncomfortable to ride on after a while as it constantly jars your wrists; I was very glad to get off it.

Deal looked nice in the evening sunshine, with lots of people on the beach again, or sipping wine on the seafront. I passed groups of people having fun together and for the first time in while felt in need of company, probably because I’d been spending time with friends or family recently. I knew I’d be seeing lots of friendly faces at Latitude, all being well, so I kept that thought in my head and pedalled onwards.

Deal pier

Deal pier

The sea looked very inviting and I was sorely tempted to take a dip to cool off, but needed to find somewhere to camp for the night soon so pressed on.

Deal seafront

Deal seafront

I took the quiet minor road from Deal round to Sandwich, which passes through the Sandwich Estate and is marked as a toll road. The toll gate was open and unmanned so I passed straight through along with several cars doing the same; maybe it’s not a toll road any more, or free at certain times of day. Sandwich is a pretty place, with nice old houses, a quay by the river, and at least a couple of good looking pubs. I forgot to take any photos as I had a close encounter with an elderly driver who didn’t look my way at a road junction and nearly ploughed into me; evasive action saved the day and I quickly pedalled over the bridge and out of harms way.

The last stretch around to Ramsgate was mostly on cycle paths, thus avoiding the traffic which was a relief. I passed a few other cyclists out for an evening ride and exchanged customary nods. This part of the coastline encompasses the Viking Coastal Trail, which I’d ride along tomorrow, and as I entered Ramsgate I passed a replica Viking longboat with a rather gaudily painted figurehead.

Ramsgate - Viking Longship

Ramsgate – Viking Longboat

I arrived at the campsite I’d found via my phone during an earlier stop, at about 19.00. The Nethercourt Touring Park is a nice small campsite, situated in a park just on the outskirts of Ramsgate, but really not very far from the town centre. It was a bit pricey at £15 however I was in need of a shower after a hot day’s ride, so didn’t mind too much, and the caretakers were nice people. If I ever do a longer tour in Europe, or off to New Zealand via Asia, I’ll have to work on a much tighter budget and wild camp more. Thankfully wild camping is much less frowned upon in Europe, for the most part anyway.

After pitching my tent I headed up the hill to the local pub for dinner and a couple of pints, and ended up chatting to the chef then the landlady for a while; I think this worked in my favour as the curry I ordered was on the large side and very tasty. After dinner it was back to the campsite where I got talking to a couple of fellow campers over a glass of wine; they were down in Ramsgate scouting out the area. He’d just got a job down here so the whole family were about to move south from Yorkshire or thereabouts (might have got that wrong but it was definitely further north), including two young kids. This trip was all about convincing the two youngsters that it was a good idea, and show how much fun it could be to live beside the seaside. I didn’t think they’d have too much trouble if the weather stayed like this.

I’d covered about 82 miles today, but it felt shorter due to much of it being flat riding. Riding across flat terrain can be a little tedious but was nice for a change, and with the hot weather it had made for a pleasant day. Tomorrow I’d be riding round to the Thames Estuary, then finding a ferry to take me across it, probably at Gravesend. Nigel had confirmed he could make it down for Latitude so everything was lining up nicely for the end of the tour; lots to look forward to still.

Leg 74 – to Whydown – Mum and Dad’s

Only a short leg today – 21 miles to Mum and Dad’s near Bexhill-on-Sea.

14 July 2013

I slept pretty well in the meadow, cushioned by the long grass which had the slightly annoying side effect of inducing mild hay fever, but it was well worth it for the view in the morning. I woke up when it started getting light at about 05.00, took a photo, then went back to sleep again.

05.00 on the South Downs

05.00 on the South Downs

I woke up again just before 07.00, in time to say hello to a dog walker wandering past who may have been slightly surprised by the two vagrants sleeping in a field, but didn’t seem bothered. It was another beautiful morning, and I only had a short distance to go today before arriving at my Mum and Dad’s where I would stay tonight; free food and lodging always a bonus, and would be great to see them again.

Ian and I packed up and were on the road by 07.30, riding down the grassy slope we’d pushed our bikes up last night. Ian had a much better descent than I, on his mountain bike complete with suspension, whilst I had a more bumpy and cautious ride down nervous of wiping out and sending panniers flying. We both made it safely to the bottom and pedalled through East Dean, passing the Tiger Inn where we’d eaten the previous evening.

East Dean and the Tiger Inn

East Dean and the Tiger Inn

We headed to Birling Gap next, where more of the cliffs had fallen into the sea since I’d last visited. Judging from the bikes chained up at the top of the steps down to the beach, and the tents down on the shingle, this was where the cycle tourers we’d seen at the pub last night had ended up. They were taking a bit of a risk in pitching their tents in the lea of the cliffs, which have a tendency to drop rocks on the unwary.

Birling Gap - people camping next to the cliff were taking a bit of a risk

Birling Gap – people camping next to the cliff were taking a bit of a risk

I still have a bit of rock at home that Lucy picked up a few years ago when we’d visited, because it had a nice piece of quartz in it; it seems like just yesterday we’d been walking along the beach, but at the same time ages ago because so much has happened since.

Birling Gap - looking east

Birling Gap – looking east

After a handy toilet stop we tackled a 500 foot climb up to Beachy Head and more great views. Beachy Head is unfortunately popular with people wanting to end it all by throwing themselves off the high cliffs, however thankfully no one was attempting such today. We did pass someone careering down the road on a road board type thing – lying down on long board with wheels, don’t know what they’re called but it looked fun if a little hazardous; luckily it was still early enough for there to be very little traffic on the road.

There’s a Bomber Command war memorial at Beachy Head, and there was an older gentleman sitting next to it, obviously ex services. I could see a moisture in his eyes as he remembered past comrades and events, so quickly left him and his wife to their contemplation in the peaceful spot.

The road down from the South Downs into Eastbourne was a lot of fun, a great descent if a little hair-raising as I tried to keep up with Ian. With the heavier bike I had to give myself more time to get around corners without the bike careering off into the bushes. We passed St. Bedes school where my Mum used to teach French, then stopped to look at Eastbourne College where I did my GCSE’s ‘several’ years ago.

We rode along Eastbourne seafront to the Sovereign Harbour where we stopped for breakfast at the cafe; a much needed fry up since we hadn’t eaten anything as yet. As usual the marina was full of expensive looking boats. I prefer the sailing yachts to the motor cruisers, and have a long term ambition to take a year out at some point, learn to sail properly, and sail around the Mediterranean. I’ll have to save up quite a bit to realise this dream however it’ll stay on the list, and I’ll keep saving the pennies; once I get back to work that is.

Over breakfast I chatted to Ian about possible plans for the next tour, having by no means been put off cycling by this one. I’d been mulling over cycling to Norway and the Arctic Circle, via Amsterdam. I reckon it would be great to pedal up long the coast through the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Norway, across land bridges and using the occasional ferry, and taking in the fjords. The trouble is I’ve got lots of ideas for more tours; Cape Wrath to Sicily, coast of Ireland, around the Mediterranean coast, to New Zealand, and ultimately perhaps around the world. In the immediate future I might just do a few shorter trips into Europe to get used to cycle touring abroad. Ian was trying to convince me as to the merits of taking on the Tough Mudder challenge, which is an extreme assault course involving mud, dips in icy water, electric shops, 12 foot walls, crawling through tunnels and wading rivers, over something like 10 miles I think; sounds fun, sort of. Whilst I’m physically quite fit from cycling I’ll have to do some serious training for that one, involving running and perhaps visiting a gym – I hate gyms. Ian – I’m still not convinced it’s your best plan ever but I’m not ruling it out, I’m not clever enough to say no.

After breakfast it was a pleasant ride along the coast through Pevensey Bay, where William the Conqueror landed his forces before defeating Harold at the Battle of Hastings, then on to Norman’s Bay. I grew up around here so it was all familiar territory, and Ian only lives just down the coast in Hastings.

The day was getting hot so we stopped off for a swim at Herbrand Walk, near Cooden Beach. The sea was a lot murkier than it had been around other parts of the coast, the English Channel being sandy and muddy, and churned up by lots of ships. The water is however for the most part clean and it was a refreshing dip.

Herbrand Walk

Herbrand Walk

We swam out to and around a buoy, and I thought I saw a dog swimming about 100 metres further out to sea. It must have been a seal as it disappeared from view, and it would be very unlikely a dog would have been that far out. The sea was flat calm, which is pretty strange for the English Channel and looked lovely. Usually there’s a prevailing South Westerly that whips up the waves, however the wind had been a North Easterly for the last week which was really odd, and was perhaps more evidence of climate change; it’ll be a cold winter if that keeps up. It also meant there were no windsurfers out today; usually it’s a popular spot due to the reliability of the wind.

All in all a very refreshing dip, followed by a drink from the snack van and meeting up with my parents who had came down to meet us as they only live a few miles away. Ian had to shoot off back to Hastings as this point, to rendezvous with his wife Rachel and their kids for a party. I didn’t particularly envy him having to go to a kid’s party after two days of cycling and camping. Thanks for the company Ian!

I cycled back to my parent’s house in Whydown, near Bexhill, arriving about 11.00 after covering just 21 miles. It was pleasant to have an early stop, and I was greeted by bunting and banners which Mum and Dad had erected to welcome me, with the help of the neighbours Steve, Di and Alex. It was great to see everyone and folks were generous with their sponsorship, including Darren from across the way.

Arriving at Mum and Dad's - bunting abounded

Arriving at Mum and Dad’s – bunting abounded

With only a week or so of the tour left it was a motivational boost to see everyone and get such a warm welcome, especially as I’d been starting to grow slightly apprehensive about finishing, and what it would be like to go back to a normal life. I wasn’t sure I’d find it very easy to return to the day job after this.

Me at Mum and Dad's

Me at Mum and Dad’s

After grabbing an early celebratory beer from the fridge I had a shower, lunch, and spent some time catching up on my journal in between snoozing. Dad and I also set about a bit of bike maintenance to make sure the Ridgeback was ready for the last few days of the tour. My next target was to reach the Latitude Festival by 18 July, which was only 4 days away, but all being well I’d make it in time to join up with the Tour de Latitude. I got in touch with the organiser Laura Pando to confirm I’d  join them in Colchester, assuming I could get across the Thames. I had a lovely surprise as Laura had organised a free ticket to the festival, and one for a friend as well – amazingly generous and a gesture that would bring my tour to a great finish. I decided to invite Nigel, a friend from Norwich who’d started the tour with me nearly 3 months earlier, camping overnight in Happisburgh. I was really looking forward to the festival now, and meeting up with a load of friends.

A rose bush at Mum and Dad's

A rose bush at Mum and Dad’s

I spent the rest of the day writing, eating, chatting with parentals, and planning the last few legs around the coast. I decided to avoid London by getting the ferry across the Thames at Gravesend, even though I’d been tempted to cycle all the way in and across the bridge at Putney. I didn’t really have the time to cycle all the way into London, and it would be pretty unpleasant riding with all the traffic.

Sunset in the garden

Sunset in the garden

Mum had cooked Roast Lamb for dinner which was an excellent result, and would set me up nicely for tomorrow, along with the ‘Pain Killers’ cocktail from Dad, a soothing remedy for tired legs, involving rum I believe. A whisky followed that later on so I was feeling pretty relaxed by the time I went to bed, and slept soundly looking forward to getting to Kent tomorrow.

Leg 73 – to East Dean

13 July 2013

My tent turning into an oven pretty early on indicated it was going to be another hot day, so I rolled out before it got too unbearable at about 07.30. The campsite was already very active with people getting ready for the Goodwood Festival of Speed. I could hear bacon sizzling from all directions; the smell was very attractive.

Loveders Farm campsite - morning campers

Loveders Farm campsite – morning campers

Ian of course hadn’t had the ‘benefit’ of a tent, and certainly hadn’t needed one. I was quite jealous of his sleeping mat which, as opposed to mine, appeared to stay inflated throughout the night. Mine hadn’t really done that since Lincolnshire but I’d just got used to it. I might have to invest in a similar one if I can remember the make (Ian?).

In the daylight you could see just how busy the campsite was with punters going to the Festival of Speed; there was an air of excitement and I almost wished we were going that way, but the traffic would have been horrendous.

Ian soon emerged from his cocoon like bivvy bag, and we set about getting ready for the day ahead. Although we didn’t have bacon we did have lots of cheese and pickle, and chocolate milk, and fruit, so hearty fare was had, with more sandwiches prepared for lunch. After a shower we packed up and got on the road for about 10.00, cycling from Nutbourne down to Bosham, an ancient village with references back to Roman Times.

Bosham 1

Bosham 1

Emperer Vespasion may have built a house in Bosham; the Romans certainly built a basilica there. Fishbourne is just up the road where there’s a famous Roman villa.  King Canute also had a palace in the village, and his daughter allegedly drowned in the mill pond and was buried in the church yard. Canute was the monarch who commanded, unsuccessfully, for the tide to stop coming in, to show his sycophantic court that there were limits to his power. This seems like a bit of a risk to take as a medieval king if you ask me; I’d prefer them to think me all powerful to discourage assassination attempts. King Harold, who was killed at the battle of Hastings, might also have been buried in the church; it’s all rather speculative.

Bosham 2

Bosham 2

The road around the inlet at Bosham is very low, and floods regularly at low tide, however we were in luck as the tide was out as we pedalled around it. Actually it would have been more fun if the tide had been in a bit, as Ian and I have a tendency to do stupid things when we get together, or at least he entices me into doing stupid things; there could well have been some stunts had the road been waterlogged.

Bosham 3 - a rare photo of me on my bike

Bosham 3 – a rare photo of me on my bike

We continued around  the coast and up to Fishbourne, using a cycle path to get most of the way to Chichester. The roads were getting increasingly busier as I rode further east, and the cars more expensive looking. This seemed to directly correlate to a reduction in driver patience and road etiquette, so I was glad to be off the road even for a short while. We rode past the Roman villa/palace at Fishbourne and down into Chichester, where we stopped for a break in a cafe; I had an excellent pineapple and mango smoothie, and was seriously tempted with the fry up they had on offer.

Cafe stop in Chichester

Cafe stop in Chichester

Chichester grew to importance in Roman times, and its street plan still resembles the layout of that original town, with a Roman road going up to London, and another going to Silchester. It continued to be an important city through the centuries; King Alfred the Great fortified it during his battles against the Danes.

That’s probably enough on the Time Team front; back to the cycling. Refreshed we took the B2266 down to Bognor Regis, after a great stretch alongside a canal. It was lovely riding away from the traffic again, although that didn’t last once we rejoined the road. The holiday season was definitely in full sway along the coast, with a group of oldsters singing Vera Lynn numbers, and various acts along the seafront.

Fundraisers in Bognor - knocking out a few Vera Lynn numbers

Fundraisers in Bognor – knocking out a few Vera Lynn numbers

Belly dancers on the beach

Belly dancers on the beach

We passed cheerleaders as well, always a bonus! And there was a Birdman competition scheduled for later in the day but we had to get on. Birdman competitions are a little odd, but great fun to watch. Contestants in various costumes and contraptions launch themselves off a pier, trying to ‘fly’ the furthest distance possible before crashing into the sea. Google images will supply pictorial evidence in this case, should you require it.

Beautiful day along the South Coast

Beautiful day along the South Coast

We continued along the coast to Littlehampton, stopping to consume sandwiches and the occasional icecream to take the edge off the hot day, and to maintain energy levels. It was a nice change to ride with someone else, and we were pretty equally matched speed wise. I’d been worried Ian would be a lot faster than me with his lighter bike, compared to my Ridgeback with its bulging panniers, however he had much fatter tyres which thankfully slowed him up a bit, and I was more used to hills by this stage.

Me riding down the A259 - not a great road for a cyclist

Me riding down the A259 – not a great road for a cyclist

We made it to Littlehampton and obtained directions from some other cyclists as to the best route to Worthing, trying to avoid the busy main road as much as possible. Maybe it was the heat however drivers were definitely being more aggressive in the South East, or maybe it was because there were two of us; shouldn’t have made any difference as we were in single file. I’m sorry to say that I’ve just come to the conclusion that whilst you can’t generalise, there are just a higher percentage of impatient, irritable and bad drivers in the South East, compared to the rest of the country, barring large cities where maniacal driving is something of the norm. I grew up near Hastings and Eastbourne so I already had a pretty good inkling that this was going to be the case. Thankfully there are quite a lot of quieter roads and cycle paths you can use, and the countryside is lovely to ride through.

Worthing Pier

Worthing Pier

Just before Worthing I spotted a bike shop, somewhere between Ferring and Goring-by-Sea. My old cycling gloves were in the process of disintegrating having taken a battering over the last few months, in all weathers, and after having been soaked with sweat and at times blood from various nicks and scratches. One glove had lost two gel pads, and the other was in danger of losing the same ones, so it was time to replace them; they really help my hands stop developing pins and needles after a few hours riding. I opted for Endura fingerless gloves again, but a slightly different type to my current ones. The new gloves were far less smelly, and very comfy; I instructed the helpful shop staff to treat my old ones as a biohazard and burn them at the first opportunity. We’d been drinking a lot of water throughout the day and the shop also let us refill our waterbottles, which was much appreciated; think the shop was , so check them out if you’re in the area.

Ian's bike - he was travelling light

Ian’s bike – he was travelling light

We pedalled on, battling through traffic and the occassional swearing driver to Worthing, and then on to Shoreham-by-Sea which was packed with people enjoying the sunshine. There were lots of beach huts along the Shoreham seafront, some of which were immaculately finished, with extravagant interiors. People obviously go to a lot of effort to kit them out and maintain them; they’re not something I’ve ever considered owning but I can see the attraction if you live near a nice beach, and they’d be ideal for storing your windsurfing kit in, if it weren’t for security worries.

We had to double back in Shoreham because the cycle bridge over the lagoon hadn’t been finished yet, despite the cycle route signs pointing us in that direction. I’d hoped we’d be able to meet up with Anthony Sheehan in Shoreham, who’d been following my travels via Twitter, however after the traffic and frequent icecream stops we arrived a little too late. Hope you had a good day’s ride anyway Anthony, and cheers for the messages.

Riding on down the A259 we arrived in Hove and then Brighton, where we stopped to meet up with Ian’s sister Caroline, who I hadn’t seen in ages, her husband Roger and their 6 month old baby Jasmine. It was great to sit on the grass in the sunshine down by the seafront, which was packed with likeminded individuals having picnics, the odd drink, or quite a lot of odd drinks in some cases. We were also treated to some bonus food courtesy of Caroline and Roger – couscous and quinoa, very tasty and good carb loading stuff. We spent about an hour lazing before deciding we really ought to head on towards the South Downs and find somewhere to camp for the night, however it had been very pleasant relaxing for a bit, and watching a plane do some aerobatics over the beach.

Thanks for the encouragment and mention on your website Caroline and Roger – – sports therapist and other treatments plus pilates if you’re in need. Hope to see you again soon; think Ian, Chris and I might be passing through Brighton sometime early next year if a plan comes to fruition.

Energy levels replenished we picked our way along the cycle path that runs down Brighton seafront, dodging the multitude of tourists and locals strolling about in the sunshine, who frequently meandered into the cycle lane. It was absolutely packed with people, especially around the pier. I guess folk descend from London and its boroughs for the weekend, especially if the weather is good.

So it was slow going getting out of Brighton, but we eventually made it passing the marina and heading for the hills as the South Downs rose up before us. These were the first serious hills we’d encountered all day, and with the heat Ian was struggling slightly as we passed through Rottingdean, Peacehaven, and on to Newhaven. I’d probably underestimated how acclimatised I was to riding long distances in hot weather, compared with my cycling buddy for the weekend, and despite drinking lots of water he realised later he may have suffered from a touch of heatstroke. We stopped in Newhaven and nipped into the supermarket to grab some supplies; it was nice to stand in the freezer isle for a bit again.

After a couple of pints of banana milk we both felt a lot better, and rode on to Seaford and ‘up’ into the ‘Downs’, which seems a little contradictory but there you go, that’s the English language for you.

Coast off Seaford

Coast off Seaford

The scenery around the Cuckmere Haven and the Seven Sisters country park took me back to my childhood when I’d come here on Geography field trips to study the Oxbow lakes, or to visit the nature centre and walk with my brother and parents; we acquired some stick insects which were pretty fascinating at the time. There followed a monster climb up to Friston Forest, as we ingored ‘Route 2’ which directed us inland towards Polegate, sticking instead to the coast road (A259 still).

We were in familiar territory as we sped down the hill to East Dean, heading for the Tiger Inn where dinner and a cold pint awaited.

Bikes resting after a hot days ride

Bikes resting in East Dean after a hot days ride

Having grown up near here I knew of several good pubs, however the Tiger was reliable and with the South Downs on our doorstep there’d be loads of places to crash out later.

The Tiger - East Dean

The Tiger – East Dean

It was busy but we managed to squeeze on to a table outside, and ordered a couple of pints of Harvey’s Ale and the pub’s homemade burgers for dinner. Harvey’s Brewery is based in Lewis, just down the road; unfortunately I’m not related as far as I know, but the beer is very good, matching anything brewed in Norfolk aside from perhaps Nelson’s Revenge. We spent a very pleasant few hours in the pub ‘rehydrating’ as the sunshine disappeared, to be replaced by a balmy evening with clear skies. A large group of cycle tourers appeared later on for dinner, and then rode off towards the beach; I wasn’t sure where they were going to camp but we’d decided back up the hill was probably the best bet.

Tiger Inn - busy evening

Tiger Inn – busy evening

Having eaten and drunk our fill we left the pub and headed back up towards the forest and top of the hill, pushing our bikes through a meadow above East Dean.

Tiger Inn sign

Tiger Inn sign

No tent was required, not that Ian had one, so we both just lay down in the long grass on our sleeping mats, watching the stars and odd sattelite travelling across the night sky. It was a great spot to sleep for the night, and whilst not strictly legal we weren’t bothering anyone, or wrecking the joint, and you wouldn’t know we’d been there by the time we left in the morning. I think it was probably National Trust land and we’d be gone early, so probably wouldn’t be noticed by anyone aside from the odd dog walker. I just hoped there weren’t any cows or sheep in the meadow that might come and try and get friendly with us later on in the night; knowing my luck it would sheep, infernal creations.

We’d covered 65 miles today, which was an excellent effort from Ian considering the heat and the fact that whilst he’s done lots of long mountain bike rides before, he’s not really done much in the way of cycle touring. We’d only have a short ride tomorrow to get over towards Hastings, where I was going to stop for the night with my parents and Ian lived anyway.

It was great falling asleep under a spectacular starry sky, and waking up to a wonderful view as the sun rose.

Sunrise on the South Downs

Sunrise on the South Downs