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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 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 http://www.technologybox.co.uk/ 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 http://www.southdownsbikes.com , 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 – http://www.dragonflyclinic.com – 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

Leg 71 – to Wimborne via Weymouth

11 July 2013

Chris does a good fry up, a most excellent start to what I was planning on being a long day in the saddle. Sam had to leave for work early however Chris, Matthew and I had a more relaxed start to the day, taking in a bit of CBeebies whilst I packed up. I do find kids TV a little disturbing at times, a bit of a sensory overload with colours and sounds. You end up having kids songs stuck in your head before you know it, accidentally humming or singing them in inappropriate places which can sometime attract odd looks.

So humming a tune involving a dragon eating lots of pies, at least I think that’s what it was about, I bid my hosts goodbye and was on the road by 09.00. Thanks for putting me up Chris, Sam and Matthew, and hope to see you all again soon.

Chris and Sam live halfway up one of the biggest hills in Torquay, so I immediately had a tough climb to get up the other half and down the other side to the road out of town. There followed a stretch along the A379 over rolling hills and through lovely countryside, before crossing the River Teign to Teignmouth.

Crossing the River Teign

Crossing the River Teign

It was slightly cooler than yesterday, with a few clouds in the sky, however I suspected the sun would soon burn them off and it would turn into another hot day. I continued on to Dawlish and Cockwood, before arriving in Starcross where I intended to get the ferry over to Exmouth, rather than trek all the way inland to Exeter and back down to the coast again; a route that would have involved negotiating some very busy roads for no real benefit.

The ferry leaves from the other side of the railway line in Starcross, and I had to carry my bike and panniers over the pedestrian bridge to the jetty on the other side, a good work out which left me feeling hungry. I had to wait 20 minutes for the ferry to arrive so topped up my energy levels with a few snacks, as more passengers arrived on the pontoon.

Starcross Ferry pontoon

Starcross Ferry pontoon

The passenger ferry arrived about 11.00 and we all piled on for the trip across the River Ex, a voyage that cost me £5.50 which I thought a tad pricey, but bikes always seem to cost extra.  There was a duty ship’s dog who seemed very at home on board the boat, and who was fairly interested in my panniers which must have smelt good. Unfortunately there was another dog on board who got very upset about being on a boat, and about the presence of another canine, so it was a bit of a noisy ride across with one dog threatening to tear away from its owner and chase the calm and somewhat bemused ship’s dog around the ferry.

My bike and I were safely deposited in Exmouth, from where I rode along country lanes towards Sidmouth. Shortly after passing through Otterton I started encountering lots of cars jammed up on the narrow country road.  The sheer volume of traffic trying to go in either direction had just brought things to a standstill, with not enough passing places. It was a bit like one of those square puzzles with lots of tiles you have to move around to make a picture, where there’s only one space you use to try get things all lined up. In this case there was a rather bewildered policeman standing in the middle of it all, trying to work out what to do. I don’t think he was helping at all, and his parked car was taking up one of the passing places. The road really isn’t suitable to be used as the main route from Sidmouth to Exmouth, and I guess the extra traffic from tourists following sat navs meant it just couldn’t cope. Feeling somewhat superior and failing to suppress a grin I was able to slip through all the cars, passing a couple of cycle tourers going the other way who judging from their expressions were finding the experience just as satisfying. I decided to be helpful as I rode past stationary and gradually overheating cars, informing their equally overheating drivers that no there wasn’t an accident, there were just too many cars on the road and it would be a better idea to turn around and find another route. They seemed appreciative of the information, and I was probably more helpful than the slightly lost policeman.

Countryside near Sidmouth

Countryside near Sidmouth

Out of the traffic I rode through more beautiful Devon countryside down a steep hill into Sidmouth, passing two more cycle tourers struggling up the hill in the other direction. The two young ladies in question had the most stuff loaded onto their bikes I’d seen all tour. They were pushing their bikes west, into a region consisting mostly of more hills, so I wished them a hearty good luck. I reckoned they’d be lightening their loads shortly.

I had my own steep hill to contend with out of Sidmouth, followed by several more on my way over to Lyme Regis. I passed a Donkey Sanctuary and the village of Beer, hmmm beer, before crossing the River Axe at Seaton. I was tempted to ride up to Axminster, a few miles inland, and have lunch at the Axminster Canteen which is part of Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall’s River Cottage empire. It would however have to wait for another day, as I was keen to get a lot more miles done and see if I could make it all the way to Bournemouth.

I stopped for a break in Lyme Regis, eating a couple of banana’s instead of a posh deli lunch at the Axminster Canteen, and attracting the attention of a seagull who was slightly disappointed I only had fruit and not fish and chips. Lyme Regis was packed with tourists enjoying the beach and town, and hunting for fossils for which the area is famous. I was in Dorset now, and making good progress.

Leaving historic Lyme Regis I pedalled along the coast road, having to take the A35 for a bit before turning on to the less busy B3157 just past Bridport. The Dorset coast is stunning, but the hills are relentless with continuous ups and downs as I rode along the Jurassic coastline.

Jurassic coastline

Jurassic coastline

With Chesil Beach on my right, an 18 miles shingle bank which joins the Isle of Portland to the mainland, I rode on towards Weymouth, the site of the Olympic sailing competition a year before. Chesil Beach is another good place to go fossil hunting, and Lucy and I had visited it several years before when her parents lived in Weymouth, and a few years before that for New Year, with our friend Wayne who’s parents also live down here. I don’t know if it still is but it used to be a great place to go out for New Year’s Eve, with everyone dressing up in fancy dress and the whole town coming alive, with a great atmosphere. I remember Nigel, who joined me for the first evening of the tour, carrying Lu out into the sea on New Years Eve (the bay is very shallow in parts), and thankfully not dropping her. Happy memories.

Dorset countryside and Chesil Beach

Dorset countryside and Chesil Beach

The Isle of Portland slowly appeared out of the haze as I rode east. Despite the bright sunshine it was a cooler day, and although I’d slowed up over the hills the miles were still passing at a good rate, mainly because I was ignoring any promising looking pubs. I kept seeing the same vintage Spitfire sports car for a while, which seemed to be going backwards and forwards along the coast road. A great day to be out driving with your top down, but I was getting slightly paranoid they were stalking me.

Isle or Portland in the haze

Isle or Portland in the haze

For some reason I decided I’d include Portland on my tour, I’m not sure why seeing as there’s a big hill you have to tackle just as you get onto the island. The Isle has a rich history having been inhabited since the Mesolithic era. The Romans had a settlement there, and Henry VIII built a castle to defend against the French. Portland limestone has been used for centuries, Sir Christopher Wren having built St. Paul’s Cathedral from it. Hundreds of thousands of gravestones were also made from it post the two World Wars.

I struggled up the initial hill, stopping half-way to visit a Co-op and refuel on two pints of chocolate milk, before performing a quick circuit of the island. I passed the turning to the famous Portland Bill lighthouse, but had been before so decided to press on back towards Weymouth. The coast around here has claimed many a ship so the lighthouse, now like so many operated remotely, has provided an important service over the years.

Portland Bill

Portland Bill

I was quite glad to get off the island, having been slightly abused by a few impatient and aggressive drivers.

View from the top of Portland looking west

View from the top of Portland looking west, Chesil Beach clearly visible

View from the top of Portland looking towards Weymouth

View from the top of Portland looking towards Weymouth

I rode back down the hill and across the land-bridge to Weymouth, passing Portland Harbour which is one of the largest man made harbours in the world. It used to be a naval base, and is now a civilian port.

Weymouth was packed with holiday makers enjoying the town and beach, and had changed quite a bit since I was last there due to the building completed for the Olympics. I pedalled along the seafront and out of the town, deciding I would try and make it to friends living in Wimborne, just outside Bournemouth, rather than find somewhere to camp.

Weymouth Beach

Weymouth Beach

Weymouth Bay - sailing boats out

Weymouth Bay – sailing boats out

I still had a fair few miles to cover and realised I would be cycling into the dark, but my legs were still feeling fresh at this point, and I was keen to push myself to see just how far I could go in one day. I passed the familiar white horse carved in the hillside just outside Weymouth, and the turning to the Smugglers Inn at Osmington Mills, of which I had fond memories from visiting with Lucy and her family.

The terrain flattened out somewhat over the next stretch, as I rode down the A352 for a bit before turning off it at Wool down to Combe Keynes and East Lulworth. The light was starting to fade as I pedalled across the Purbeck Hills, entering an army exercise area. It was getting on for 21.00 and there was no-one else around, leaving me alone in beautiful surroundings. For company I just had cows, deer and a fox than ran down the road ahead of me before dashing off into the gorse chasing a rabbit. The air smelt really fresh and delicious, and I stopped for a break after climbing the Purbecks to watch the sunset.

I continued on out of the MOD firing range and down to Corfe Castle, with the light fading further and making the castle look impressive.

Corfe Castle 1

Corfe Castle 1

Corfe Castle 2

Corfe Castle 2

The castle was built by William the Conqueror in the 11th century, and ended up being mostly demolished in 1645 after Parliamentarian forces assaulted it in the English Civil War. It was one of the last remaining strongholds fpr the Royalists, and they obviously didn’t want to have to go to the trouble of another lengthy siege in the future.

I had to turn on my lights as I pedalled across the Isle of Purbeck, which isn’t an island as far as I can tell, making my way to the chain ferry near Studland. My legs were starting to get really tired now, having been on the go for over 12 hours, and I had to break out the Haribos just to keep the wheels turning. There were quite a few cyclists out enjoying the evening, and making there way to the ferry at a slightly quicker pace than I. I texted Steve to let him know I was on my way, and not far from the ferry, and that I might need some directions after I got into Poole Harbour.

After what seemed like a long time I finally made it to the chain ferry, eating a Bounce Bar whilst I waited for it to clunk its way across from Sandbanks. There was a party going on at the bar/restaurant next to the ferry station, with Cuban music echoing across the otherwise peaceful landscape. I liked the music and it sounded like people were having a lot of fun, but it seemed a little out of place in the tranquil surroundings.

Party going on near the ferry

Party going on near the ferry

The camera on my phone doesn’t take photos too well in the dark, and I accidentally left the flash on which immediately drained the last of my battery. I really needed my phone to communicate with the Headley’s, with whom I was staying this evening, and to use Google maps to make my way to their house. It was at times like this I needed my Garmin Edge to be working, however that hadn’t happened for weeks and I still needed to get in touch with them to organise a replacement; their phone lines are always jammed and it cost me money to hang about on hold. Thankfully my PowerMonkey battery was fully charged, there having been lots of sunshine of late, so I was able to plug my phone into charge.

The ferry over to Sandbanks and Poole Harbour ended up being quite busy, as I was joined by several groups of slightly the worse for wear party-goers returning home, and a group of male cycle tourers who’d been out for a days ride. I chatted with the latter for a while, learning one of them had done his Jogle a few weeks before. I described some of my journey to date, realising I was fast approaching the end of my own tour, especially after riding well over 100 miles today.

I rode into Poole Harbour, one of if not the most expensive place to live in Britain outside London. It’s a huge natural harbour, and I could make our Brownsea Island where Red Squirrels still find a home as the Greys can’t get to them.

Poole Harbour is another place humans have lived for thousands of years, the Romans having launched there invasion of England around-bouts, and it being an important port ever since. It’s an ideal venue for lots of water sports too.

My energy levels had been somewhat boosted after consuming a vast number of Haribos, so I pedalled quickly towards where I hoped Wimborne was. After travelling a few hundred yards from the ferry I heard a loud shout from behind me, which I initially ignored thinking it was probably drunk kids being funny, although that would have been a little out of place somewhere like Poole Harbour. The rich kids around here probably don’t need to hang about outside a local Spar drinking dodgy cider, they don’t know what they’re missing; not sure they even have Spar’s in Poole Harbour, probably only M&S and Waitrose.

I was further alarmed when I heard a rider approaching me rapidly from behind, however on glancing back I recognised the familiar face of Steve who’d cycled down from Wimborne to meet me. This was very much appreciated seeing as my phone wasn’t really charged as yet, so I wasn’t sure of my route, and being very tired would have probably ended up somewhere odd.

I followed Steve down cycle paths I’d never have found on my own, around Poole Harbour and off towards Wimborne Minster. At one point we were stopped by police who were looking after someone that had collapsed on the path just ahead of us, and who didn’t want us running them over. We think they were just drunk (the injured party rather than the police) rather than anything more sinister, and we were able to just cycle around them.

We arrived in Colehill just outside Wimborne at about 23.30, after a final hill climb that stole the last of my energy. I was tired and very thirsty having run out of water a while back, but extremely satisfied to have covered what I later worked out was 128.5 miles,  the longest leg of my tour. The Headleys are old family friends and it was great to see them, and great to have made it before Pete and Diane left for Scotland the day after. I was welcomed with warm hugs, several glasses of water, a cold beer and some thai curry, all of which I was extremely grateful for.

In Colehill post 128.5 miles

In Colehill post 128.5 miles

Tomorrow I’d be pressing on towards Chichester via Portsmouth, and hopefully meeting up with my friend Ian who was joining me for a day or two. I was a little worried about what sort of state my legs were going to be in the morning, but for now I just hit the sack, and slept very deeply.

Leg 70 – to Torquay

Only 52 miles covered today, including two ferries, but probably the hardest leg of the tour hill wise. Beautiful weather and scenery more than compensated though.

10 July 2013

I woke up slightly stiff, with a few bruises on my legs after yesterday’s altercation with the Volvo, and decided to give my bike a good check over before doing anything else just in case I missed anything last night.

Upon closer examination I discovered one of the pannier rack struts had snapped, on the front right and in the same place that went back on the east coast of Scotland, on the front left. I suspect this wasn’t as a result of the crash, but had probably been like it for a while and I hadn’t noticed. It appears to be a weak point in the design, but the Blackburn racks allegedly have a lifetime guarantee so I’ll see if I can replace them when I get back to Norwich. In the meantime I bound up the break with some wire and gaffer tape, plus a few cable ties for good measure. One of my rear pannier bags also had a dodgy clip, but nothing major, so aside from the slightly bent forks I already knew about I’d got off lightly. The Ridgeback was good to go for another day of riding.

It was already pretty hot as I had breakfast, followed by a shower and quickly packing up my tent. By the time I was ready to go I already had a bit of a sweat on, so it looked like it was going to be a day of frequent stops to rehydrate.

On the way out of Briar Farm campsite I bid goodbye to two other campers, one of whom was walking the coastal trail to St. Ives. He’d had a bit of a tough time of it for the last couple of days, but was hoping to make good progress today. I assured him the hills do get easier with time…mostly. Hope it went well James!

I was on the road by 10.00, cycling down country lanes to the A379 through such places as Smutty Moor Wood and Holbeton, which I initially read as Hobbiton. Sadly there were no Hobbits about and a serious lack of potential venues for second breakfast. Undeterred I pedalled on through the glorious Devon landscape, with a slight north easterly cooling me off. The tall hedgerows also lent a certain amount of shade which was most welcome.

The hills steadily increased in size as I passed through Modbury and rode down to Aveton Gifford. I tried to avoid the A379 as much as possible as it was proving very busy with traffic, but at times it was unavoidable on the way down to Kingsbridge. I turned on to the slightly less busy but hillier A381 which took me to Salcombe, past the turning to Hope Cove where I’d been on holiday a few years back. Hope Cove had been the inspiration for an episode I’ve written for the Ravenskil audio drama we’re recording as part of our It’s A Trap productions. Hopefully Wayne and Chris will finish getting it recorded this year, and it’ll be out next year post the editing process. Should be a good tale and slightly different to our previous venture into audio drama, ‘Jack Steel and the Starblade’, which was more tongue in cheek. Ravenskil is more a combination of X-Files and Cthulhu (H P Lovecraft).

Anyway, I digress, but I did have time to think about a lot whilst on the road, including more possible ideas for It’s A Trap.

Despite the tough climbs on the way to Salcombe, it was well worth the effort. A few other cyclists were out and about, but no tourers, and I exchanged smiles and hellos with several on my way down into the small coastal town. I was more than ready for a break by this stage, so bought a tuna, cheddar and chilli jam baguette from one of the several delicatessens ‘pedalling’ their wares. Tuna, cheddar and chilli jam seemed like a very odd combination, but it was the daily special and hence cheaper, and it turned out to be delicious. Although to be fair being permanently hungry on this tour I found pretty much all food delicious. Who knew tuna and chilli jam went together though?!

Having forgotten to take any pictures so far I had a wander around Salcombe, investigating the town’s narrow streets, boutiques and harbour front.

Salcombe is another lovely Devon coastal town, and worth visiting if you’re in the area. It was very packed with tourists, several of whom I nearly ran over as they stepped out in front of me without looking. Despite judicious use of my bell they just don’t hear bikes, and people have a habit of subconsciously not looking if they don’t hear anything coming.

I managed to avoid running anyone over and carried my bike and panniers down to the ferry to East Portlemouth. The ferry was only a couple of quid, and took me over the Kingsbridge Estuary, past moored yachts and other river traffic. I unloaded on the other side, before carrying my kit up more steep steps to the road.

East Portlemouth jetty - looking back to Salcombe

East Portlemouth jetty – looking back to Salcombe

Whilst recovering from carrying my stuff up and down steps, I gave a friend a call. Ian was due to meet up with me on Friday for a couple of days riding. He lives in Hastings so would get the train down to wherever I was, before cycling back east. We hoped to make it to Hastings by Sunday, in time for work (for Ian) on Monday, something that thankfully I didn’t have to worry about quite yet. Plan arranged I turned back to the pressing matter of navigating my way through the next rather complicated bit of Devon.

Salcombe from East Portlemouth

Salcombe from East Portlemouth

I cycled from East Portlemouth alongside the river, the road sticking to the side of the estuary to begin with. It looked like parts of the road are frequently flooded, and I had to cycle through a shallow ford at one point.

Ford near Waterhead Creek

Ford near Waterhead Creek

The next section took me up to Chillington and the A379, via South Pool and Chilvelstone amongst other small villages. The confusingly signposted country lanes took me over some of the hardest hills of the tour, due to their gradient, length and frequency.

Narrow country lanes out of Salcombe

Narrow country lanes out of Salcombe

It was really satisfying to make it over the hills, but extremely hot, and my progress slowed considerably as a result. I had to push up one particularly steep climb after having to stop to let a car pass. It was impossible to get going again without rolling backwards or falling off. My legs were completely exhausted by the time I got to the top, and I stopped for a tactical banana break, noticing the shadow of a buzzard circling on the road next to me; the scavengers were moving in already!

After making it back to the A379 and avoiding the attention of any raptors looking to make a snack of a fainting cycle tourer, I had a nice descent down to Torcross, enjoying the cooling breeze. From Torcross there’s a flat stretch along to Slapton, past Slapton Ley, with Slapton Sands on the right and the lake on the left.

Slapton Sands, looking east

Slapton Sands, looking east

Slapton Ley is separated from Slapton Sands by a thin stretch of shingle, along which the road runs. It’s the largest natural freshwater lake in the South West England, and an important nature reserve being home to Bittern, amongst other interesting species of flora and fauna.

Slapton Sands looking west

Slapton Sands looking west

I stopped in Slapton for a break at a small trailer cafe offering cold drinks, propping my bike up and sitting down on the shingle, looking out over Start Bay. The cold lemonade was extremely well timed, and I spent 15 minutes resting my legs and enjoying the sunshine before moving on.

There followed another steep climb up to Strete, during which I was encouraged on my way by a friendly cyclist on a super-light road bike. I appreciated the sentiment but could have done without the ‘I’ve done this climb dozens of times’ comments; try it with a bike weighing in the region of 60kg. More hills followed, with some wonderful scenery, as I made my way over to Dartmouth.

Blackpool Beach, Devon

Blackpool Beach, Devon

I rode past Blackpool beach, which beat it’s namesake up north by a good measure. It’s a truly magnificent spot, set in a sheltered cove and surrounded by woodland.

I made it round to Dartmouth with my brakes squealing on the last descent. I was glad I wasn’t going the other way as the hill down into the naval town was particularly steep and long. I’d have to adjust my rear brake later and check the pads didn’t need replacing again. I was pretty knackered by this stage, and running low on water but couldn’t see anywhere convenient to top up.

Dartmouth 1

Dartmouth 1

I needed to get the ferry over the River Dart and was glad to rest for a bit whilst I waited for it to arrive, remembering I had a bottle of Lucozade in my panniers which didn’t last long. What I really needed was some chocolate milk, the best sort of recovery drink.

Dartmouth 2 - looking towards Kingswear

Dartmouth 2 – looking towards Kingswear

The ferry over to the other side cost 50p, and I chatted to a young cyclist on the way over who was having trouble with his pedals – they kept falling off. I suggested he had them the wrong way around; if you put the wrong pedal on the wrong side it’s likely to come undone as you cycle along. He’d check it out when he got home.

Dartmouth Chain Ferry 1

Dartmouth Chain Ferry 1 – on its way over to me

Dartmouth Chain Ferry 2 - looking back to Dartmouth

Dartmouth Chain Ferry 2 – looking back to Dartmouth

My companion on the chain ferry was able to advise me that after a long climb up from the ferry it was relatively flat over to Torquay, my destination for the day, encouraging news.

The River Dart

The River Dart

The climb was indeed long and somewhat tricky on already tired legs, however I just got into a rhythm, putting the Ridgeback into a low gear and spinning my way slowly to the top. The traffic slowly increased in volume and decreased in patience as I made my over to Paignton, where I was able to scoot around several traffic jams thanks to my two wheeled method of transportation. I did however have to take care of my wide load when squeezing through some of the gaps between the cars, especially with one slightly dodgy pannier clip – a small bash could knock it tumbling to the tarmac.

I was feeling very hot again by this stage, and had run out of water, but spied a Sainsburys ‘local’ by the roadside which beckoned me into its air conditioned interior. I spent a good 5 minutes in the freezer isle cooling off, which must have looked slightly odd but I really didn’t care, it was lovely. I followed this up with a litre of deliciously cold banana mild to get some energy back, before calling Chris in Torquay to let him know I was nearly there. I was really looking forward to seeing Chris and Sam, and their son Matthew, having not been properly in touch for about a year.

I pedalled along the final stretch of the coast to Torquay, past throngs of holiday makers on the beaches getting sunburnt, eating ice-creams, and swimming. The water did look pretty inviting.

Torquay 1

Torquay 1

I hadn’t been to Torquay since Chris’ stag do a few years back, and hadn’t seen it properly in the daytime as a result. It looks lovely in the sunshine.

Torquay 2

Torquay 2

After faffing around slightly navigation wise I made it to Chris and Sam’s by about 17.30, completing a pretty slow but satisfying 52 miles. I’d need to do more miles tomorrow to make up for it, however it was good to be staying with friends, and to have an early stop.

There followed a great evening of chilling out and catching up, and meeting their son Matthew properly. Matthew had a very challenging first year, with serious heart problems that needed surgery. It was touch and go for a while but he’s much better now, and very lively which was ace to see. He does however have slight OCD when it comes to making sure doors are shut, which was a little inconvenient during the several trips I made to carry my stuff inside. It’s funny the habits children can pick up; my nephew Seb loves cleaning, whether that be mopping, brushing or wiping, he’s there. It was fab to see Chris and Sam, and I was looking forward to seeing them again in a field a little later in the year, presuming I made it back to Norwich.

After a huge amount of Chinese food and a few beers I was ready for sleep, even though it was boiling still. I thought there must be a storm coming but it didn’t materialise overnight as far as I could tell, however I could easily have slept through it.

I had vague plan to try and cycle all the way to more friends living near Bournemouth tomorrow, which would be a leg of at least 125 miles. It might be a little ambitious in the heat and if the hills continued to be as challenging, which I was pretty sure they would be, so I’d just have to see how it panned out.

Leg 69 – to Newton Ferrers via 4 ferries

Link to map of today’s route: http://connect.garmin.com/course/4124115

09 July 2013

What an ace day, covering 85 miles through Cornwall and Devon, over 4 ferries, in gorgeous weather. And my legs seems to have acclimatised to the West Country hills too.

My tent was pretty hot when I woke up, indicating another great day was on the cards weather wise. I rolled out into the fresh air, quick to get out of the oven like conditions the Akto can create in direct sunlight. One drawback of sleeping in a tent is you can’t really have a lie in when it gets hot, unless you want to emerge slightly hard boiled. Mind you when the weather gets good you don’t need a tent, unless there’s an abundance of midges or mosquitoes as there had been in Scotland.

After a shower and a quick breakfast – I was still full from last nights feasting – I packed up and was on the road by 09.30. My objective for the day was to use 4 ferries to cross rivers along the coast, and get back into Devon.

My first stop was Helford Village, a picturesque spot on the banks of the Helford River. It’s a lovely small village with a great pub, the Shipwrights Arms, but it was a little early to be frequenting a drinking establishment.

Helford Village - another bright day

Helford Village – another bright day

There’s a bit of a ford you can ride through, but there wasn’t a lot of water in it.

Helford Village - picturesque spot

Helford Village – picturesque spot

Helford Village Pub

Helford Village Pub – bit early for a pint

I followed a narrow path down to the ferry landing, and had to use the orange disk to summon the boat from the other side of the river. You just open up the disk, which can be clearly seen from the other side, when you want to cross. Better than a phone with little reception in the area, and more fun.

Orange Disk of ferry summoning

Orange Disk of ferry summoning

After unloading my bike to get it down the steps to the jetty, I sat on the wall to wait for the boat, idly swinging my legs to work some of the latent stiffness out of my muscles. It was a perfect morning and a perfect spot.

The ferry duly arrived, and as the lone passenger I loaded my panniers and bike on board with help from the ferry boat skipper Stephanie (think that was her name anyway, apologies if not). Stephanie comes down from Cambridge each year to work the ferry for a few months, which sounds like sounds a pretty idyllic way to spend your summer. I only just had enough money to pay for the crossing, which costs £6 with a bike, however it was worth it for the scenery and experience and saved me a long trek inland to find a bridge. It’s only a short crossing over to Helford Passage, the village on the other side, where I disembarked and a group with an enormous dog got on for a trip back. The dog really wasn’t sure about the whole thing but was eventually coaxed into the boat.

I added Helford to my list of places to come back to , as I pedalled off up a big climb out of the village and took the road around to Falmouth and my next ferry crossing of the day. The Cornish countryside looked and smelt lovely in the sunshine, as I passed through Mawnan Smith and Penjerrick, very Cornish sounding place-names.

Falmouth is a much bigger town and I stopped to get some cash out, as well as pick up some supplies. I bought six ripe bananas for 48p from a greengrocers, a bargain, as well as some more sun-cream and multi-vitamins. After a cold drink I headed down to the harbour to find a ferry over to St. Mawes.

After a bit of a circuit of the town I located a promising ferry, and had to carry my bike and panniers down some steps to get to the boat on Princess Pier. I only just made the 12.15 sailing, and thankfully the crew were on hand to help load everything into the boat, a slightly bigger affair than the Helford ferry.

It was a nice crossing over to St. Mawes, during which I chatted to one of the crew for whom today was his first day on the job. It’s a long day and hard work but nice being out in the sunshine and fresh air, providing the weather stays good. It was good to relate a few of my experiences and learn a bit about the route ahead over to Fowey. There was a guitarist on board who entertained us with a few melodies on the way across, made me miss my guitar but it really wouldn’t have been practical to bring it on tour.

St. Mawes harbour

St. Mawes harbour

I stopped for a bite to eat in St. Mawes, fish and chips; sustainably sourced Icelandic Cod from the Watch House. I don’t usually eat Cod however as the restaurant had gone to great lengths to promote the fact it was from sustainable resources I thought it a safe option. I was glad I’d decided to opt for the traditional seaside delicacy, as it rivalled that I’d had a couple of months back in Whitby, which felt like a long time ago now.

St. Mawes - looking over to St. Anthony

St. Mawes – looking over to St. Anthony

With my energy levels restored I pressed on, deciding against using the ferry across to St. Anthony, it was getting expensive on the wallet, and instead taking the A3078 up the hill to St. Just in Roseland. There are a lot of towns and villages around here named after saints.

There followed a long stint along country roads towards St. Austell. The lanes are a little maze like around this neck of the woods and I took a wrong turning up to Grampound. I also had a few close encounters with the drivers of large 4×4’s and vans, including one interesting altercation between a farm tractor and a shiny Chelsea tractor. As with other day I slipped through leaving them to sort out who was going to back down. Things would be a lot easier if people would just buy smaller cars, half of them only had one or two people in.

Back on track I headed past St. Austell and down to Fowey, drinking copious amounts of water due to the heat. I paused in Fowey for what I reckoned was a well earned cold pint after tackling a lot of hills, then had a quick look around. Fowey is another lovely small coastal town, with a ferry that runs across the River Fowey to Polruan.

Suitably rehydrated I took ferry number 3 over to Polruan, after negotiating steep steps down to the stone jetty. I was developing a pretty slick process of loading and unloading the panniers from my bike as I carried it and my kit to and from ferries, often up and down steep steps to jetties or piers.

The road out of Polruan involved a leg burning hill climb. I made it up but attracted curious looks from quite a few villagers and tourists, who obviously thought I was slightly mad for not just pushing my bike up. I pedalled on to Looe, via a slightly roundabout route due to bad map reading skills and warren like roads…again.

Looe 1

Looe 1

There’s a bridge over the river at Looe, rather than a ferry, which I crossed before heading up the A387, intending to join the B3253.

Looe 2

Looe 2

Unfortunately the B3253 was closed so I had to take the long way around, continuing inland on the A387 over rolling hills on my way to Torpoint.

B3253 closed - not a sign you want to see on a cycle tour

B3253 closed – not a sign you want to see on a cycle tour

After a lovely ride through more great countryside, and waving to several other cyclists, I made it to Torpoint. I was impressed with my stamina today, my legs seemed to be working well taking on one hill after another without too much trouble.

I met another cyclist whilst waiting for the chain ferry across to Plymouth, who advised on the protocol for boarding. The ferry is free for cyclists, and seems like a far better option than tackling the busy main road which runs further inland around the north side of Plymouth.

Torpoint 1

Torpoint 1

Chatting to the fellow cyclist on the way across I learned she worked for the Department of Fisheries, so I asked her what she thought of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. She agreed that he’s done some great work in challenging the fish discard rules, but needs to be careful with some of his more recent Fish Fight campaigns which could just result in putting honest fishermen out of work; as always it’s important people follow expert advice and not just reckon one knows best. I feel quite passionately about giving the oceans a chance to recover, and banning irresponsible fishing techniques, but like everything you need to know the facts to make an informed argument.

Torpoint 2

Torpoint 2

She also recommended a good campsite, just on from Plymouth in Newton Ferrers. There was allegedly a very nice pub in the village, so I decided to take her advice and head there for the evening. Where a nice pub is concerned I don’t need a lot of convincing.

Bike on board the Plymouth chain ferry

Bike on board the Plymouth chain ferry

Riding off the ferry at Devonport I successfully negotiated Plymouth and some pretty intense traffic, heading for the A379. There are several cycle paths running alongside the road which I was able to take advantage of. These are great aside from when cars decide to park in them.

I was cycling along minding my own business, well actually I was looking down at my map trying to work out where I was, when I looked up to see the rear end of a Volvo estate a couple of metres in front of me. Unable to stop in time, but taking the edge off my speed by slamming on my brakes, I smacked into the back of it. I didn’t go over the handlebars, but did end up on my cross bar, and my rear panniers came off in the impact. It would have been a lot worse if I hadn’t looked up. Unfortunately I bent my front forks in slightly, meaning my fuel bottle would no longer fit in its cage without interfering with the front mud guard. I think my front wheel was bit battered too, not to mention me. After relocating my fuel bottle and reattaching panniers I was able to continue. The Ridgeback proved its toughness by not being otherwise adversely affected, as far as I could tell anyway.

The Volvo was of course completely unharmed in the altercation. There was no-one in it at the time, and whilst it’s a bit annoying to have someone stopped in the cycle lane it wasn’t illegally parked, so it was completely my fault.

With a slight case of bruising in my nether regions I continued on out of Plymouth via Pomphey, taking the bridge over the River Plym on to the A379. I turned right at Yealmpton, on the B3186, down to Newton Ferrers and tackling the last hills of the day with my bike still running well despite the collision.

I arrived at Briar Farm campsite as afternoon turned into evening, quickly pitching my tent and heading down to the pub to find something to eat. Newton Ferrers is a pretty village, and evidently home to quite a few people with a lot of money, there being a yacht club and expensive looking houses. There’s one shop where I was able to buy a few supplies for the morning.

Newton Ferrers

Newton Ferrers

I met the campsite owner in the Dolphin Inn where apparently he spends quite a bit of his time, so paid the £7.00 site fee, before enjoying the food that had been laid out for the pub quiz. I’d arrived a bit late to participate in the actual quiz, however they were quite happy for me to finish up some of the food, which I proceeded to do with some gusto over a couple of pints. It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening, listening to the quiz whilst chatting to Ed the bar manager. Newton Ferrers was the birthplace of the famous pirate Henry Every, who plied his trade in the late 17th century in the Atlantic and Indian oceans. He was never caught and retired very rich, somewhere unknown, inspiring others to take up the pirate way of life.

Dolphin Inn, Newton Ferrers

Dolphin Inn, Newton Ferrers

I was somewhat amused to hear one of the younger patrons talking to her friends about her busy day planned for tomorrow. She needed to visit the solicitor to sign the papers for the house daddy had bought her, alright for some.

Newton Ferrers Cross

Newton Ferrers Cross

After a great day encompassing 4 ferries and some beautiful coastline and countryside, a long with my fair share of hills, I retired to my tent ready for sleep. Tomorrow I planned to head for Torquay to stay with friends, Chris and Sam, which meant more ferry crossings and more steep climbs. Bring it on.

Leg 68 – to Newtown-in St.-Martin, via Land’s End and the Lizard

08 July 2013

Everything ached when I woke up at about 08.00. I think the last few days of Devon and Cornwall hills had finally caught up with me. My legs were stiff for the first time in ages, and my forearms and hands ached from all the hill climbs.

A warm shower helped alleviate the muscle fatigue, followed up with breakfast at the campsite cafe. Over a fry up I worked out I still needed to cover about 70 miles a day to get to Latitude on time, but could afford a slower recovery day today. I think I needed it physically as well as mentally, having somewhat run out of steam.

After packing up I was on the road by 10.30, cycling down to Land’s End via Sennen and passing the First and Last Inn on the way.

The First & Last Inn

The First & Last Inn

I pedalled into the Land’s End visitor centre, which is slightly on the tacky side with attractions such as King Arthur’s quest. The coastline however is fantastic affording superb views out over the Atlantic. Consequently I took rather a large number of photos which I’ve put into a gallery. I even managed to get the horizon straight on some of these, will wonders never cease.

I met another cyclist whilst at the famous sign-post, which was massively crowded with people wanting to get their photo taken. He was visiting Land’s End by car today, and took my photo for me next to the sign. He lives in Exeter and is recovering from kidney cancer – yet another person affected by this disease. It was nice to have a chat and good to hear he still gets out on his bike, doing some big distances albeit not as quickly as he used to due to reduced lung capacity. Good on you!

I spent about an hour at Land’s End enjoying the perfect weather, and despite it only being the morning had a beer to celebrate completing a Jogle, albeit a very long winded version thereof.

After having a walk around a bit of the coastal path I got back on my bike, ready to tackle the South Coast of Britain. It felt like I’d reached another milestone on the tour, and that I was really getting into the last stages of my ride. Unfortunately the wind had changed direction to a North Easterly, which was a little frustrating considering I’d been looking forward to a prevailing South Westerly. Fingers crossed it would change again soon.

I hit the hills once more, pedalling past Porthgwarra and Porthcurno, both sites of childhood escapades. I stopped at the Merry Maidens, a late Neolithic stone circle, for a quick break. I’d driven past the circle many times, but can’t remember ever actually having visited it properly, so took a wander up.

The Merry Maidens

The Merry Maidens

The circle has other standing stones called the Pipers associated with it, and legend has it that the Maidens and Pipers were turned to stone for dancing on the Sabbath. This is a little odd as I’m pretty sure they didn’t have the Sabbath in Neolithic times, Christianity not having arrived in Britain until a lot later. This tale is not uncommon, apparently being associated with other stone circles, and is probably adapted from earlier tales not involving Christianity.

The Merry Maidens - panorama

The Merry Maidens – panorama

Whatever the truth the circle is a nice relaxing spot, and it was nice sitting in the grass listening to the ever present skylarks after the busy road from Land’s End. It was quite bizarre touching the sun warmed stones and thinking they were erected thousands of years ago. I wondered what the people were like who lived here at the time, and what they used the circle for. Perhaps it was a calender to mark the passing of the seasons, or a site to perform religious rituals, or maybe something more mundane like a UFO landing site, or stone age drive through. The stones will no doubt be year for thousands of years to come.

I pedalled on to Mousehole, scene of a childhood fishing misadventure, and stopped for another walk about.

Mousehole 1

Mousehole 1

My brother and I were fishing off the end of one of the piers, many moons ago, when everything went slightly awry. I cast the line, which sailed out across the mouth of the harbour straight into the wooden beam on the other side. I reckon the wind must have taken it. The hook on the end of my line became thoroughly embedded in the wooden beam, and despite much cajoling would not come loose. Worse was to come in the form of a motor boat that wanted to get into the harbour, but was obstructed by my line. I should have just cut the line, but being very young panicked and tugged harder, which just resulted in embedding the hook further into the wood. More yanking resulted in a sickening crack as I broke my Dad’s wooden fishing rod, which he’d had since he was a child, and the end slipping down the fishing line. Calamity! Eventually a group of kids on the other side came to my rescue and unhooked the fishing line so I could reel it in. Not my greatest ever day’s fishing, however Dad was quite sympathetic.

Mousehole harbour 2

Mousehole harbour 2

Despite the bad memories from that fateful day Mousehole is a lovely fishing village, and it was good to have a walk around the harbour, passing the Ship Inn where I’ve enjoyed scampi and chips several times.

I continued on to Newlyn where we stayed whilst on holiday. We used to fish off the South Pier, but that’s closed to the public now due to health and safety I think. Health and safety rules are pretty vexing at times.

Newlyn - South Pier

Newlyn – South Pier

There definitely aren’t as many fishing boats in Newlyn harbour as there used to be, which I guess is down to fishing quotas making it very difficult for fishermen to make a living. I agree that fishing needs to be controlled to allow stocks to recover, however it’s sad to see a decline in the traditional way of life for so many people around the coast.

Newlyn Harbour

Newlyn Harbour

Despite the lack of fishing boats compared to yesteryears, Newlyn hasn’t changed a lot, and it was nice to stop and remember some fun times fishing out in all weathers, or walking down to the old harbour.

Newlyn harbour and old harbour

Newlyn harbour and old harbour

I rode on around to Penzance, where feeling a bit peckish I stopped for a baguette on the seafront. It really was a gorgeous day and really hot, however I was still feeling pretty tired so was glad to be taking it easy.

After lunch I pedalled on to Marazion, passing St. Michael’s Mount where people were paddling across the partially submerged causeway to the small tidal island.

St. Michael's Mount 1

St. Michael’s Mount 1

St. Michael’s Mount is called Karrek Loos yn Koos in Cornish, which means ‘grey rock in the woods’. The island was once surrounded by forest rather than the sea, but at some point the sea flooded in and cut it off from the mainland. There are varying accounts of when this may have taken place, and various interesting historical facts and legends associated with the island. Was it part of the fabled ancient kingdom of Lyonesse, or the island visited by the Greek geographer Pytheas in the 4th century BC?

St. Michael's Mount 3

St. Michael’s Mount 3

The Mount has been the site of a monastery in the past, and still boasts an impressive looking castle.

St. Michael's Mount 4

St. Michael’s Mount 4

From Marazion I cycled round to Helston on the  main road, the A394, up and down several hills which were pretty challenging in the heat. The buzzards were circling waiting for exhausted cyclists to fall by the wayside and provide a tasty meal, although by this stage of the tour there was far less of a meal to me that when I’d started. I seen a lot of buzzards since entering the west country, along with a variety of other birds of prey.

Drinking a lot of water and taking it easy in the hot weather I turned on to the A3083, passing Culdrose Airfield, and cruised down a comparatively flat road to the Lizard, the most southerly point on the UK mainland.

The Lizard wasn’t as busy as Land’s End but there were still a lot of tourists about, and a decided lack of lizards which slightly confused and disappointed the Lobster who I think may have been suffering slightly from sunstroke.

The name ‘Lizard’ may originate from the Cornish name for the area, which means ‘High Court’, so it may have been an important settlement in the past. Or it may be to do with the serpentine rocks which stretch down into the sea and look a bit lizard like. It’s a lovely spot, with Kynance Cove on the western side of it, and well worth a visit. The whole coast is worth a visit when the weather is good, or bad if you’re prepared for it; visually stunning and emotive in all seasons . When conditions are bad and the sea rough you can well imagine why it’s hazardous for shipping, the coastline around here being known as the ‘Graveyard of Ships’, hence the many lifeboat stations including one at the Lizard.

After a break I rode back up the road, before turning off to Goonhilly passing the ‘Satelite Earth Station’.

Goonhilly 1

Goonhilly 1

The satellite dishes looked like something out of Star Wars, and I half expected to see an Ewok pop out of the long grass. Maybe Lobster wasn’t the only one suffering from a bit of heatstroke. Chief Chirpa did not make an appearance as I pedalled past.

Goonhilly 2

Goonhilly 2

Feeling tired I decided to stop early after covering just 51 miles, my shortest day in a while. I found a campsite in Newtown-in-St.-Martin, not far from the Helford River which I planned to cross tomorrow. The campsite was a bit of a find, also being a pub – the Prince of Wales.

The Prince of Wales in Newtown-in-St.-Martin

The Prince of Wales in Newtown-in-St.-Martin

I set up my tent and had a very welcome shower, before making my way to the pub to celebrate completing the full set of cardinal points; I’d been to the furthest points north, south, east and west on the UK mainland.

Tent set up at the Prince of Wales

Tent set up at the Prince of Wales

As a morale booster I treated myself to a meal in the pub too, going the whole hog and ordering a starter, main course and dessert. A spectacular home-made burger followed fish-cakes, with the meal rounded off by treacle tart and clotted cream. I’d really needed the early stop and thoroughly enjoyed my evening in the pub.

I intended to be up in good time the following day to take a series of ferries along the coast, starting with the Helford River crossing, before cycling on to Falmouth and beyond. The weather forecast looked like it was going to be another hot one, so I had one more pint of Cornish Ale (Lance) to ensure I was properly hydrated before going to bed. I can also recommend the Rattler Cider.