Tag Archives: cycle

Stamps, holiday in Scotland, and September cycling

Did you collect stamps as a kid? I did. It was thrilling getting stamps from weird and wonderful places such as Australia, Europe, or Papua New Guinea. Maybe that’s where I got my original desire to travel from, to see these places myself.

I recently came across the Post Office Blog site, mainly because they’ve launched a new range of stamps covering Britain’s seaside architecture. It reminded me of several places I passed through on my Bike around Britain tour; well actually I passed close to or by all of them. I don’t collect stamps anymore, and have no idea if kids still do, but it’s a cool collection and made me feel a bit nostalgic. You can view them yourself here:

http://blog.postofficeshop.co.uk/celebrating-britains-seaside-architecture/

Here’s a sample – it wasn’t this nice in Bangor when I pedalled through, in fact I think it was raining, as it was for most of Wales.

Seaside Bangor Pier

Thinking about it I doubt kids still collect stamps, unless you can get them on an iPad, or games console; shame really, I hope I’m wrong.

Other neat stuff I’ve come across recently includes Volume Two of SideTracked magazine. I don’t usually buy magazines but think I have finally found one worth reading. I loved Volume One and wasn’t disappointed with this edition; it’s truly inspiring reading about the adventures other people have, all over the world. If you want to be inspired to have an adventure look no further:

http://www.sidetracked.com/

Volume Two

P.S. I’m not paid for either of the above links, I just enjoyed them and thought I’d share. I liked this paragraph from the Foreward:

‘A life encased in bubble wrap is claustrophobic and stilted; a sad waste of what could have been. But be careful, a life jam-packed full of unconscious distraction and thrill-seeking isn’t necessarily any healthier. I’m an advocate of seeking adventure, yes, but I’ve also learnt that it’s only when you risk with real integrity that the opportunity to grow wiser presents itself. Otherwise we just stumble from repeated mistake to repeated mistake, blind to the world.’ …Ed Stafford

With the above in mind I’ve got a few plans, but need to think them through a bit more.

So what else have I been up to? I spent a very pleasant week with family up on the West Coast of Scotland at the end of August. As usual it did not disappoint, and I especially love the West Coast. Highights definitely included the hike over to the pub, Tig an Truish, at the Bridge over the Atlantic with Dad, somewhere I stopped at last year, as well as a good day out cycling, entertaining my nephew,  being fed by Mum, and spending time with everyone. Also found a new whisky I like – a peaty little number called AnCnoc Flaughter which I thoroughly recommend. Here are a few pics:

Also did some mackerel fishing and managed to hook about 8 that were a decent enough size for the frying pan. Fresh mackerel really is hard to beat, especially when you’ve caught it yourself. Seb, my nearly 3-year-old nephew also caught his first fish, but wasn’t entirely sure what to do with it.

And now we’re in September, how did that happen so quickly? Whilst I haven’t really settled upon an idea for my next adventure, whether it be in Iceland, Asia, around the coast of the Mediterranean, or Scandinavia. I have at least been getting out on my bike a bit more and having the odd microadventure; can’t beat sleeping in the woods and waking up to the dawn chorus. I’m on holiday this week, and after a short ride yesterday I set off on something a bit more substantial today; a cycle just shy of 60 miles up to the coast, along it a bit, then back to Norwich. It’s been a gorgeous September day in Norfolk and it sounds like Autumn is looking promising weather wise, although best not to count one’s chickens before they hatch. I should really have bivvi’d up on the coast and cycled back tomorrow morning; maybe I will this weekend.

Here’s the route I took:

http://connect.garmin.com:80/activity/embed/597344206

With a tailwind I made excellent time up to the coast, via Wroxham and Stalham, before arriving at Waxham. I had the beach to myself, aside from a few seals who appeared and regarded me curiously when I went for a swim. The water is still pretty warm, and it was elating plunging into the sea on a deserted beach; I think I loosed an involuntary ‘yeehaw’. Sadly I couldn’t get any pictures of the seals; my camera would not have survived contact with water. It was amazing how close they came; one popped up 2 metres away, snorted indignantly, before plunging back underwater.

From Stalham I pedalled along the coast, nearly to Great Yarmouth, before turning back towards Norwich. I had to spend a bit of time on the main road before turning off into the countryside again and making my way to the Fur and Feather Inn near Salhouse. They also brew Woodfordes ale here, and having covered 50 miles it would’ve been rude not to stop for a pint; Once Bittern, with hops imported from New Zealand apparently.

Brilliant day, which once again reminded me that the simple things in life are often the best; a day out cycling, costing me less than a tenner, through some lovely countryside and coastline, equals contentment.

Bike around Britain – blog index and route maps

Links to the legs (Garmin maps) and blog posts that took me around the coast of Britain in 86 days, covering 5,451 miles. Hopefully this will be of use to those of you planning similar tours.

Caveat – some of my routes were at times a little unorthodox, there may well be smoother rides in places. All worth it for scenes like this…

Loch Fyne sunset 1

Loch Fyne sunset, spent the night wild camping

Leg 81 – to Kessingland

24 July 2013

I didn’t get pounced on by an excited kitten during the night, and hence had a very good sleep at JJ and Sacha’s. I awoke feeling refreshed and ready for the day’s ride up towards Lowestoft. JJ was already busy working whilst I had breakfast, but he did have time to demonstrate Rocksmith, a newish guitar PC based game, which looks like a lot of fun. I’ve been playing the guitar for a while however I mostly just do chords, and this game might make me learn how to play tab and the odd riff. I might invest in it when the new version comes out, although this would mean having to buy an electric guitar too; I’m sure the neighbours won’t mind too much! It reminded me of how much I’d missed my guitar whilst on tour, however I’d be back home in a couple of days tops, and would see if I’d forgotten how to play it.

After breakfast and chatting to Sacha about small business ideas and investments (she knows lots of stuff), I packed up and bid my most excellent hosts goodbye. It was time to hit the road on my penultimate day’s ride, however I’d be seeing them again soon for their 10th wedding anniversary party – how time flies.

JJ seeing me off - keep on rockin'

JJ seeing me off – keep on rockin’

Back on the road I pedalled around Ipswich and into the countryside towards Felixstow, stopping briefly to re-secure a rattling pannier. A few things were looking a bit worn and battered on my bike now, including Lobster who definitely needed a wash; I’d have to do some repairs once I got home.

Me and Lobster - penultimate day

Me and Lobster – penultimate day

I rode through lots of farmland and noticed several weird looking bird scaring devices flying over fields. I’m assuming they were bird scaring devices anyway, they did look uncannily like Dementors – Harry Potter reference for those that don’t know, although I’m not sure how that’s possible.

Dementor over the Suffolk countryside?!

Dementor over the Suffolk countryside?!

It didn’t take very long to get down to Felixstow through flat countryside, and avoiding the busy A14 by taking more picturesque country roads. From there I cycled along the coast to Felixstow Ferry, a small village as well as somewhere you can get a passenger ferry over to Bawdsey. I had to signal for the ferry using a signal ‘plank’; I love these medieval methods of communication.

It was another lovely day with temperatures quickly rising, so it was nice to have break for the short ferry crossing over the River Deben.

Disembarking on the other side of the River Deben was somewhat complicated by the presence of lots of kids and their crabbing lines. It’s a wonderful occupation as a youngster, as you pull up crustacean after crustacean lured by various bits of smelly bait; Lobster was not impressed – with the bait that is. It’s not so great when a boat is trying to moor up and lines get tangled up with bits of ferry. The captain had a stern word with the kids in question, and their parents who were completing ignoring the chaos their children were causing.

I eventually managed to get my bike and panniers off the ferry boat and up the jetty to the road, avoiding knocking any kids or their parents into the river, although it was quite tempting to give them an accidental nudge. With everything once more stowed away I pedalled up through more gently undulating countryside to Hollesley, and along more narrow roads towards Snape – no Harry Potter  connection as far as I’m aware. I was mostly following the Suffolk Coast Trail cycle route, with the odd diversion as it seemed to wriggle around unnecessarily quite a bit.

There were lots of tractors and harvesting machines out at work in the fields, and I got covered by cloying dust on a number of occasions. I also got slightly distracted and took a wrong turning, and ended up adding on a few miles to my day’s leg. This wasn’t really a problem given the good weather and fact that I was in no particular rush. In fact I was getting more and more apprehensive about getting back to Norwich, just because that would mean the end of a great tour, and back to normal life, something I wasn’t sure I fitted any more. I guess normal is all relative anyway; I’ll have to pursue a different sort of ‘normal’ life.

One advantage of riding through farmland were the field irrigation machines in operation watering the crops…and the road. I was ‘watered’ a number of times as I pedalled along, which was very refreshing given the hot day.

Wherry Boat on the River Alde

Wherry Boat on the River Alde

For some reason my legs and knees were starting to ache quite a bit today, perhaps due to the heat and tiredness catching up with me, but you’d have thought they’d be used to it after 5,300 miles! I stopped for a break at the Maltings, near Snape, an old grain store on the River Alde that’s been converted into housing, a pub, cafe and a few shops.

The Maltings, River Alde

The Maltings, River Alde

I wolfed down a sandwich and a very welcome cold drink, and then had a weird conversation with a German cycle tourer who was somewhat exuberant about my bike and kit, despite it’s battered appearance. He was insistent that Ortlieb panniers were the ‘best of the best’, which I have to agree with him on, them having kept my kit dry through some very wet weather. Still he was very friendly and waved me off once I’d managed to extricate myself from his enthusiastic banter.

After lunch I rode up to Leiston, ignoring Aldeburgh due to aching knees, and past Sizewell power station on the B1125. I arrived in Blythburgh, where I’d been a couple of days before on my way down to Brightlingsea from Latitude; there was very little evidence remaining of the festival that had taken place just a few days previous.

I turned down the A1095 to Southwold, where I hadn’t been before despite it practically being on my doorstep and somewhere people had recommended. I had a pedal about, and whilst it’s a nice seaside town I think I prefer Walberswick just across the River Blyth, to the south of Southwold. In fact you can get a ferry from Walberswick to Southwold, which I could have taken advantage of if I’d thought about it, however there was no guarantee it was running which would have meant having to backtrack.

Southwold Pier

Southwold Pier

Southwold beach and beach huts

Southwold beach and beach huts

It was only a short stretch up to Kessingland, my destination for the night, past Wangford which is an awesome place name, as well as Cove Bottom and South Cove. I found the campsite, the Heathland Beach holiday park in Kessingland, and pitched my tent before going to find some food.

I ended up having dinner at the Sailor’s Arms, a busy pub right on the coastline who do a mean Haddock and chips. I enjoyed a couple of pints of ale whilst the sun got lower in the sky, lending the coast a striking quality. There were lots of holiday makers around enjoying the evening, and I made a note that this would be a good place to come back to in future, there being a campsite right next to the pub, and plenty of wild camping spots out on the beach. I was a bit annoyed I’d opted to camp at the site up in the village rather than down here, but hindsight is a wonderful thing, and at least there was a bar at the campsite should I need another pint later.

After dinner I made my way back to my tent, passing Africa Alive which explained the slightly out-of-place animal noises I’d been hearing. I got back to find a peacock on patrol around the campsite, however he didn’t seem to object to my presence, so after a another swift beverage I ensconced myself in my tent to get a good night’s sleep before riding the short distance up to Lowestoft tomorrow morning, and then back to Norwich. I’d covered 66 miles today, with a bit extra added on this evening due to riding to the Sailor’s Arms. I only had about 40 miles to go to get home.

Leg 80 – to Ipswich

23 July 2013

The tent had survived the overnight storms well, despite a patched up pole; another win for the Hilleberg Akto. It had been pretty fierce at times, with the heat wave breaking in a dramatic fashion. The thunderstorm had brought bangs and flashes which illuminated my tent and kept me awake, along with a few heavy showers which cooled everything down. I’ve always liked storms and it was pretty exciting lying there whilst it sounded like the apocalypse was starting outside. I wondered if it was heralding the arrival of my brother and sister-in-law’s second child, which was due any time, however I got a text from Will a bit later to confirm the baby still hadn’t appeared.

Brightlingsea - Packing up post thunderstorm

Brightlingsea – Packing up post thunderstorm

I had a bit of a slow start to the day as I waited for the patchy rain to stop, so didn’t actually leave the campsite until around 11.30. I also discovered I’d bought the wrong replacement brake pads yesterday, even though I could jury rig them in, so I’d need to find another shop at some point.

Ridgeback next to lake in Brightlingsea

Ridgeback next to lake in Brightlingsea

I had a quick pedal around Brightlingsea, down to the marina and around the town, before riding off on the penultimate penultimate day of my tour, destination Ipswich where I was planning to stay with old friends – JJ and Sacha.

Colourful beach huts in Brightlingsea

Colourful beach huts in Brightlingsea

It was decidedly cooler than the previous day, with the overnight storms having freshened things up, and clouds still in the sky. Everything smelt crisp and fresh, that wonderful aroma you get when it’s been dry for ages and then suddenly rains.

Brightlingsea marina and mud

Brightlingsea marina and mud

It was quick riding around to Clacton-on-Sea, via Jaywick, both of them pretty typical British seaside towns. Clacton had a pier and amusements, and the usual assortment of holiday makers.

Clacton-on-Sea

Clacton-on-Sea

Clacton-on-Sea 2 - grey day at the moment

Clacton-on-Sea 2 – grey day at the moment

After a brief break I pedalled on to Holland-on-Sea, then around to Frinton-on-Sea and Walton-on-the-Naze where I stopped for lunch; a sandwich meal deal from a supermarket. The last bit of Essex coastline followed as I made my way up to Harwich.

It was a nice ride up to Harwich, as the sun came out and it started to get hot again. I arrived at about 15.00, and had to wait 45 minutes for the ferry over the Rover Stour to Shotley Gate. I grabbed a coffee from the little cafe next to the ferry pontoon, and called my parents to make sure they weren’t having any dodgy parties in my house; they were staying there awaiting the birth of their next grandchild, as its within striking distance of Cambridge where Will and Louisa live. It was good to have someone in the house for a bit, and Dad would no doubt fix anything he found to be wanting that I hadn’t got around to; wobbly shelves, dodgy light bulbs etc.

Harwich quite surprised me. I was expecting a pretty dull and busy port, and whilst it is indeed a large and very busy container port it’s also a pleasant town, with multicoloured beach huts and unique lighthouses. It was nice riding slowly along the waterfront, looking at the large ships out on the water and idly contemplating stowing away on one to get over to Amsterdam. I was really starting to dread getting back to Norwich, even though I was looking forward to seeing friends again. I’d spent so long planning for this tour, and then 3 more months doing it, and I wasn’t really sure what was going to happen next even though I’d had lots of ideas. I guess I was worried that once I got back to work life would just return to the same old cycle of long hours, and not having the time to pursue what I really wanted to do; sadly one has to earn a wage. I resolved to sit down and properly plan out alternatives over the winter months, so I’d have something to look forward to in the new year.

The ferry over the River Stour cost £4.50; a pleasant crossing and the captain helped load my bike and panniers on board. Back in Suffolk I rode towards Manningtree alongside the the River Stour, through some lovely and very peaceful countryside, before turning onto the A137 to Ipswich. This was familiar territory as I’d only travelled on it yesterday on my way down from Latitude, to restart my tour around the coast.

I was drinking copious amounts of water again due to the heat, so stopped off at Jimmy’s Farm for a break. I’d watched his TV series several years ago, where he gave up a relatively stable life to start a farm in the Suffolk countryside, overcoming financial challenges, and learning how to farm pigs from scratch. He had a loan from his childhood friend Jamie Oliver to start the enterprise, and I admired his commitment and resolve to see things through, despite the strain it put on his relationship and coming close to failing on a few occasions. He saw it through and now appears to be running a successful business.

Jimmy's Farm

Jimmy’s Farm

It looks like he’s diversified quite a bit since the TV series, with a ‘Theatre in the woods’, Caravan Club area and restaurant, as well as the shop and nature walk. I didn’t stay long as it was starting to get late, but it was good to have seen, and motivational from the point of view of thinking about new starts; I’d have to come back for a proper visit soon.

Jimmy's Farm 2

Jimmy’s Farm 2

I pedalled on to Ipswich, with the traffic getting heavier as it was rush hour. I got shouted at by one driver who wanted me to get onto a non-existent cycle path, which was helpful. Despite the busy roads and a few navigational errors in Ipswich itself, I made it to Sacha and JJ’s unscathed. JJ is an old friend from University, and it was great to see both him and Sacha again. Sacha and the kids had spent a busy day de-fleaing the house, it having been populated by the annoying critters courtesy of their new and delightful cat Miss Moneypenny. It was lovely to have a shower and relax after a relatively short day mile wise, just 62 miles, but it had been pretty hot again for the last half.

I chatted to Sacha whilst we waited for JJ to get back from work, and I helped peel the spuds; it was good to catch up. A lovely dinner of beef and roasted vegetables followed, accompanied by a beer and good company. JJ was in training for the Ipswich half marathon, having only started running a few months ago; he’s completed it now, a great effort, congrats and good luck with the full marathon, or Spartan Challenge ;o)

We watched a couple of episodes of Arrested Development to chill out to before bed, which was something I hadn’t seen before and pretty funny. It was nice to sleep in a real bed again after the festival, and not sleeping too well last night due to the storm; I had to be careful not the let the kitten sneak in though!

It was weird going to sleep thinking that this time tomorrow I’d only be a stone’s throw from home.

Leg 78, Latitude and Leg 79

18 July 2013

I was up early in anticipation of Latitude, and joining the Tour de Latitude from a few miles down the road. A big breakfast of baguette, pâté and other leftovers quickly disappeared, and I decided to give away a couple of large pots of yoghurt rather than risk them bursting in my panniers; something I’d experienced previously and had to spend ages cleaning up. The French tourers I gave them to were happy recipients and wished me well on the rest of my tour.

Lobster and I ready to hit the road to Latitude

Lobster and I ready to hit the road to Latitude

In high spirits I packed up quickly and rode the few miles to the Cricketer’s Rest in Fordham Heath, near Eight Ash Green, arriving a little early, however some of the Latitude Tour crew were already setting up. I registered and unloaded my panniers into the van, leaving just my tent and bar bag on the Ridgeback. It felt a lot lighter and unaccustomed to the lack of luggage I was a bit wobbly as I tested out my streamlined bike.

Bike sans Panniers, ready for Tour de Latitude

Bike sans Panniers, ready for Tour de Latitude

Once registered I chatted to other ‘Tour de Latitude’ participants as they arrived, and we were ready to go by about 10.00. I munched my way through a second breakfast courtesy of Marks & Spencer who sponsor the tour, and provide food and refreshments along the way. There were 30 to 40 of us leaving from the Colchester start point, with other start points in London, where they’d already be on the road, and Ipswich where they’d start a bit later. People wanting to take part have to raise a minimum of £150 for charity, and get a free ticket upgrade to the guest camp which has better facilities, and you have more of a chance of bumping into other interesting guests. They raised over £7,000 for the Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity this year – read more here – /www.latitudefestival.com/news/why-not-travel-first-class-bike-tour-de-latitude

Motorbike Marshals - they accompanied us along the route

Motorbike Marshals – they accompanied us along the route

Whilst waiting to start I bumped into Jack whose rear wheel looked like it had seen better days, with several loose spokes and a challenging buckle to work out. Using my spoke tool I tightened up the spokes and managed to get rid of the worst of the buckle, sufficient for the days ride anyway. We were in the first group to leave, which included all manner of cyclists, from those on super light road bikes with all the kit, to those on more ‘robust’ machines in appropriate festival attire.

Group 1 ready to leave on Tour de Latitude

Group 1 ready to leave on Tour de Latitude

The group quickly spread out as we each found our own pace, joining up with others riding at a similar speed. I ended up riding with Jack as we sped through the Essex countryside down quiet country lanes. Jack’s in his early 20’s, and I was a little concerned he’d outpace me early on, however days of being on the road had obviously had their effect and I was able to match his speed, and was more used to riding longer distances. It only took 1.5 hours to reach the Ipswich stop point, having followed a clearly signposted route which the organisers had put up, and being shepherded along by the motorbike marshals who helped keep us safe as we rode quickly through road junctions. It was superb weather again, and nice to be riding with a group for a change.

We were able to take advantage of more M&S snacks at the Ipswich break point, where others were just starting their ride to Latitude. I had a quick chat with Beth, the Tour de Latitude organiser, suggesting that next year a similar ride could be set up from Norwich. I’ll have to remember to suggest it again nearer the time as there must be a lot of cyclists who’d be up for it, and I’m sure Pedal Revolution or one of the other local bike shops would support it.

Refuelled we continued around the outskirts of Ipswich and through the lovely Suffolk countryside, passing fields full of ripening corn. Everything, aside from perhaps me, smelt fresh and summery. Jack was suffering from a bit of cramp, having not cycled this far before, however he was doing well and had a very high baseline fitness due to his footballing activities. He’s starting a career in marketing, and it got me thinking about when I’d just left University and started my own career at Virgin Money. I don’t think I ever foresaw myself working in the banking industry as a long term job, but it’s worked out alright; not all bankers are bad incidentally!

It was another really hot day, which wasn’t helping with Jack’s cramp and meant we were getting through water very quickly. The last few miles seemed to go on for a long time, as we passed others who had started in Ipswich and were also starting to wilt in the heat. We arrived at Henham Park, site of the Latitude festival, at about 14.30, and discovered we’d come 3rd and 4th respectively, covering 60 miles in about 4.5 hours. I was pretty impressed with our time, and it demonstrated how much quicker you can ride in a group, and of course when you’re not carrying so much luggage.

More refreshments were available for us at the finish line, including lots of very welcome cold drinks. I collected my panniers and Jack dropped off his bike, which they’d take back to Colchester for him; very impressed with how the tour is organised, and will definitely do it again, hopefully for Norwich.

After more snacks and a cold cider I thanked and bid goodbye to Jack and the organisers, including Laura Pando who’d sorted me out with my tickets; what a lovely lady! I needed to cycle back out of the festival and around the outside of Henham Park to the guest car park to meet up with Nigel, and sort out his ticket. It was fantastic to meet up, and he supplied me with another cold cider which he hadn’t realised was 8.4%; things were getting off to a good start.

We obtained our guest wrist bands and headed over to meet up with Wayne and Mel, me on my bike again, and Nigel going round in his car. We’d decided to all camp together in the main camping area, rather than use the guest camping area. The site was already pretty packed but we found a space where we could all set out tents up. My small Hilleberg Akto was dwarfed by everyone else’s, and could have easily fitted inside Nigel’s. His tent was handy for storing my bike in, out of sight from any potential thieves.

All ready to go at Latitude, 5,000 odd miles had squashed my hat

All ready to go at Latitude, 5,000 odd miles had squashed my hat

Setting up the tents didn’t take long and it was soon Pimms o’clock, followed shortly by cider o’clock again. It was pretty clear how this weekend was going to progress, and the alcohol was doing wonders for improving the state of my legs and general well being after 62 hot miles, pedalling through Essex and Suffolk.

There follows a summary of Latitude, with a few pictures.

  • I don’t recommend Jagermeister mixed with ginger beer and cucumber as a cocktail, it’s foul. Jagermeister was being heavily promoted at the festival; most people seem to be avoiding it and the plethora of staff in the Jagermeister tent looked very bored.
  • On Friday we watched the Festival of the Spoken Nerd, and a great night time display involving a young lady suspended beneath the moon, and giant swans. Also bought a dragon pennant so we could find out tents.
  • On Saturday I investigated the showers – they were very good, as were the guest toilets.
  • Watched Mark Thomas, lay in the grass, had more Pimms. Spent quite a bit of time in the comedy tent – really enjoyed Andrew O’Neill. I Am Kloot were pretty cool, as were Texas, The Maccabees and Bloc Party. Visited the Poetry Tent where we watched Russell J Turner, who we vaguely know from Norwich, along with Andy Bennett, both budding poets. Les Enfants Terribles, who we also saw last year, put on a great show – Marvellous Imaginary Menagerie
  • Enjoyed a wide variety of food stuffs from the massive selection available at Latitude. It’s a bit pricey, but all delicious, including Haloumi salads, pizza, kebabs from Kebabylon, falafel, Chinese and Hog Roast.
  • Weather was generally excellent, with a bit of welcome drizzle on Saturday that cooled things off, and reduced the dust that was getting everywhere.
  • Watched Dylan Moran, who was good, along with Sara Pascoe, Josh Widdecombe, and Russell Kane.
  • Really enjoyed Richard Ashcroft, of the Verve.
  • Kraftwerk were excellent, but I don’t think the younger generation really got it; it was more of a nostaligic experience. I expect I could create similar tunes on my mobile phone.
  • The Lucifire burlesque show was…intriguing.
  • Nicky, Nigel’s wife, joined us on Sunday. Good to see another familiar face.
  • Enjoyed Marcus Bridgestocke’s Policy Unit show, a Spanish Flamenco dancer and guitarist on the lake stage (Sadler Wells – Rocio Molina), and the Red Riding Hood production by the National Youth Theatre Group. The latter was very good and had a great twist at the end. They used different parts of the Far Away forest as their stage, and the audience followed them around.
  • Enjoyed lying in the grass again, fell asleep.
  • Eddie Izzard, the Horn Section an Alien Ant thing were all good, and I even participated in a bit of the shed disco.
  • Someone must have fallen on my tent as the pole broke. I make it 5,000 miles around the country and it survives fine, only to get broken by a drunk reveller at a festival. I managed to temporarily fix it with some gaffer tape and spares bits.
  • My legs and knees ached from all the walking – they’re not used it.

22 July 2013

Monday morning came all too quickly, and it was time to pack up and get back on the road for the final few legs home. My tent pole fix had lasted through the night, and I was remarkably not hungover considering the number of pints we’d partaken of on Sunday.

The camping area at Latitude looked like a bit of a bomb site, with abandoned tents and rubbish strewn all over the place. Our area was at least clean; I don’t really get why people can’t tidy up as they go along, rather than leave it someone else to clean up after them.

I grabbed a quick shower to wash off the dust from yesterday, which was refreshingly cold as the gas had run out, then packed up and big goodbye to Nigel, Wayne and Mel. I was back on the road by 10.00, after grabbing some free Lucozade being handed out at the exit. It had been a great festival.

Unfortunately cycling out of Henham Park proved to be somewhat of a trial, on the narrow track with lots of traffic. Dust was being kicked up by all the cars, covering me in grime again, and I couldn’t really squeeze past the queue. I also got attacked by mosquitoes where the track passes through woodland, and must have looked a bit odd frantically squatting them away. Shortly afterwards the track opened up a bit and I was able to whiz past the slowly moving traffic to the main road. It helped that it was dry so there wasn’t any mud to contend with, unlike a couple of years ago when it took us hours to get out.

The A12 followed, with the Latitude marshals doing a good job of keeping the traffic moving. The ride to Ipswich was pretty straightforward, through Saxmundam and Woodbridge. I tried to avoid the A12 as much as possible, taking country roads that seemed to be going in the right direction.

In Ipswich I stopped off at Elmy Cycles to get some new brake pads, and Cotswold’s kindly performed a better fix on my tent pole, re-threading the elastic and binding it up so it would last until I got home. They were really helpful and didn’t charge for the fix, so I donated a few quid to their charity instead. I’ll need to order a new pole before my next long tour; maybe Hilleberg will send me a new one for free if I ask nicely.

After a nice Subway sandwich I called my brother to check on new baby status; there was no news as yet but the Royal birth was imminent, and indeed later that day Prince George was born.

It was a good day to be cycling, and definitely cooler on the bike than off it, pedalling down to Brightlingsea. The breeze was refreshing, and the route mostly flat as I rode back into Essex and down to the coast, arriving at the campsite after covering 61 miles. It was a bit of a rip off at £20 for the night, but was a site next to a lake and not far from the town centre.

The last few legs were going to be shorter as the tour wound down, and I intended to make the most of the final few days on the road and fantastic weather. I was still mulling over ideas for the next tour, having not been deterred by this one, and was considering a ride up to the Arctic Circle via Amsterdam, Denmark, Sweden and Norway.

I did some washing, clothes drying very quickly in the heat, then went out for dinner at the Brewers Arms in Brightlingsea. I felt too tired to cook after the exuberance of Latitude. and my fuel bottle had gone walkabout at the festival anyway. I chatted with a group of blokes sailing their boat down the coast, which sounded like a great thing to do given the conditions.

Dinner a the Brewers Arms, Brightlingsea

Dinner a the Brewers Arms, Brightlingsea

I’d covered 5,284 miles by this point of the tour, and was planning to be back in Norwich on Thursday; for some reason this was a bit of a scary prospect.

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 http://www.jamesketchell.net – 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.

Margate

Margate

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.