Tag Archives: Real ale

Stamps, holiday in Scotland, and September cycling

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

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


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

Seaside Bangor Pier

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

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


Volume Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the route I took:


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

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

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

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 28 – a day off in Orkney

Time to fix the bike (fingers crossed), and for some sightseeing.

28 May 2013

Post a bit of a late night chatting with fellow campers I was still up relatively early to get to the bike shop as soon as possible. It looked like it was going to be a brighter day, and the wind had dropped a bit which would make cycling easier. I had breakfast and a shower, before following Allan, one of be campsite wardens, to the bike shop – Orkney Cycles. I followed him in his smart car, cycling with my rear brake disconnected to stop the wheel from rubbing; it was pretty bucked now.

Orkney Cycles turned out to be a great bike shop, probably better than any within a 100 miles or so, including the mainland, so I’d struck lucky. It’s also one of the only bike shops on the island so was quite busy, and I was glad I’d got there early. I left the bike with them for half an hour whilst they worked out what they could do to help, and grabbed a cup of tea in town, opposite St.Magnus’ Cathedral.

St Magnus' Cathedral 1

St Magnus’ Cathedral 1

St Magnus' Cathedral 2

St Magnus’ Cathedral 2

Thankfully the bike shop were able to find a new wheel, albeit a racing wheel really, with 32 spokes instead of the 36 I’d had previously. It’s still double rimmed and strong, so should be as good as the previous being a good spec. At the very least it will get me further south where there are more bike shops, but hopefully will last for the whole trip otherwise this is going to get expensive. Didn’t really have a choice anyway given my whereabouts. I’m writing this whilst on the ferry back to the mainland, with my bike 3 decks below me, so can’t tell you the make presently! (Mavic CXP 22) I also got my chain replaced as it was getting worn and had stretched, which would mean it might start slipping or break; not something I wanted to happen on the next leg along he north coast. £130 all done.

Orkney Cycles

It was nice spending a relaxing morning chatting to the staff and other customers, without worrying about how many miles I needed to get done today. It seems there is quite a lot of cycling activity on the island, mostly road biking and time trials rather than mountain biking. There was a constant stream of customers coming in and out, either to hire bikes, or get repairs or advice. The shop also doubled up as a Games Workshop, selling figures; a slightly odd combination but works, will have to dig my old figures out at some point.

Orkney Cycles 2

Cycle Orkney 2

Recommend any tourers passing through Kirkwall drop in and say hello and get your bike checked by the friendly and helpful staff, who no doubt can give you a few tips on where to visit on the islands too.

Post bike fixing I pedalled out of Kirkwall, wanting to visit the Churchill Barriers around Scapa Flow, as well as the Italian Chapel. I’d already decided to spend one more night on Orkney, so had booked in at the same campsite in Kirkwall again and would head back to the mainland on Wednesday – think Wednesday anyway, losing track of what day it is slightly. Just a short ride today would give my legs, and body in general, a bit of a break. I very nearly stopped in at the leisure centre for a massage, but the weather was really too good to not get out. Nice not to have to pack up my tent, and to ride without panniers. Of course I did have to contend with the wobbles for a bit, until I got used to the much lighter bike again! It feels really weird for a bit, and the front wheel wobbles all over the place.

Looking back and down to Kirkwall

Looking back and down to Kirkwall

I did have to stop to adjust my back brake, which with the thinner rear rim wasn’t gripping enough, easy and quick job though. All done I rode up the hill and past the Highland Park distillery, where I stopped to look in the shop. They do tours but decided to save my money for a pub dinner later. Smelt pretty good as I rode up to the distillery and was tempted to get a whee dram! They had some expensive whiskys in the shop. I liked the look of their Loki and Thor bottles, but they’re well over £100. I also thought that Loki being a bit of a trickster might mean the whisky isn’t quite what you’d expect, and Thor might just give you a hammering hangover!

Highland Park distillery

Highland Park distillery


Highland Park distillery - steaming chimney

Highland Park distillery – steaming chimney

I pedalled on to St. Mary’s, over some moderate but exposed hills, into the lessened but still mildly irritating south easterly. It didn’t matter as much today as I wasn’t in a rush, the sun was out, and the scenery amazing.

Road to St. Mary's

Road to St. Mary’s


St Mary's - Lobster Pots

St Mary’s – lobster pots. Lobster wanted to sabotage these but the fisherman was around so he decided discretion was the better part of valour and hid.


Churchill Barrier number 1

Churchill Barrier number 1

From St. Mary’s I rode over the first of 4 Churchill Barriers, built in the Second World War, to stop German U-boats and warships from attacking the British fleet, which were based out of Scapa Flow. As well as the Churchill Barriers a host of anti-aircraft defences were also erected pretty swiftly after the outbreak of war. Unfortunately the defences hadn’t been maintained or improved upon since the First World War, and were a little shoddy to start off with as a result. The German U-boat U47 managed to sneak through one of the narrow sounds (Kirkwall Sound I think) and torpedo the British warship HMS Royal Oak, with the loss of over 800 lives. The U-boat got in and out without being caught, so despite the tragic loss of life a pretty gutsy move from its commander. This was before the Churchill Barriers had been built, and whilst a lot of the main fleet were still out at sea; if they’d been in Scapa Flow it could have meant an even worse toll. The defences were much improved by the end of the war, with at least one U-boat being destroyed in the anti submarine nets and minefields.

Post the 1st of the barriers I cycled up to the Italian Chapel, built by Italian POWs during the Second World War, who worked on building the Churchill Barriers.  They felt in need of a spiritual retreat, deprived as they were of other things, and built the chapel with the blessing of the camp commander, out of two donated end to end Nissan shelters, and other material they had to hand. For example bullied beef cans to make the lanterns/candle stick holders on the altar.

Italian Chapel 1

Italian Chapel – built out of two end to end Nissan shelters

Italian Chapel 2

Italian Chapel 2

Italian Chapel 3

Italian Chapel 3


Italian Chapel 4

Italian Chapel 4

The Chapel is a pretty amazing place, with everything having been built by hand. The Islanders promised the Italian POWs to look after it when they left, and it’s become a bit of a place of pilgrimage, restored in the 1960’s when the original Italian responsible for its design and build returned for a visit.

The POWs were also responsible for much of the work on constructing the barriers. Construction began with the scuttling of of old merchant ships to provide a temporary barrier, followed by the laying of large concrete blocks. They provided a very effective barrier, and now join the Orkney east mainland to Burray and South Ronaldsay. It was great cycling across them all, especially in the nice weather, but I wouldn’t like to do it in the winter with a gale blowing, and waves crashing over. 

Skua I think

Skua I think

Old scuttled ship

Old scuttled ship

Sea and amazing colour

Sea and amazing colour, and great sandy beaches

Sandy beaches

Sandy beaches – bit cold still for a dip though

I saw lots of seabirds including Cormorants, Lapwings, Gulls, Oystercatchers, Plovers and I think a Great Skua. Also saw a seal fishing next to one of the barriers. You could see it swimming under the water it was so clear, but didn’t get my phone out in time for a pic.

I had lunch at a little cafe just before barrier 4, attached to the Fossil & Heritage centre. A bowl of butternut squash and ginger soup, plus a smoked salmon an scream cheese toasty for £6, bargain. Treated myself of chocolate cake too.

Lunch break on Burray

Lunch break on Burray

Post lunch I cycled over the last of the barriers and on to St Margaret’s Hope, a small fishing and tourist town, with a pier and ferry too, on South Ronaldsay. 

St. Margaret's Hope

St. Margaret’s Hope

St. Margaret's Hope 2

St. Margaret’s Hope 2

I cycled back to Kirkwall on the same route, but with a tailwind so zipped along at quite a pace, especially with the new wheel. The hills that had taken quite a bit of effort before took half the time this way round. I popped into the bike shop on the way through to let them know the bike was running well, before going to Helgi’s Bar in town for a couple of beers and dinner; it was my day off after all.

Over a fantastic lamb tangine, and a few pints of the Orkney brew Scapa, which is a really good ale, I chatted to a few people. Hamish is a local salesman and travels around the islands selling agricultural products to farmers. Great bloke and seemed to know everyone that came in who was a local, which included the owner of the brewery whose beer I was enjoying, as well as Cameron who apparently once won Big Brother. I also learned that there are quite a few Harveys on Orkney, and in Scotland in general. I’ve always wandered about the origin of my surname, so maybe I have ancestors from round these parts! Thanks for her beer and company Hamish, I’ll be in touch on my next visit! 

So I’d recommend Helgi’s for the beer, food and company; it seems to be the place it go in Kirkwall and is good value for money.

Post the end of a great day off, a 32 mile ride and lots of good food, I returned to the campsite and chatted to a few of the other visitors for a bit. Shane was on holiday for a family gathering on Orkney, with people travelling here from all over the place including America. They can trace their family tree back to around 1480 on Orkney, pretty amazing. Made me keener to try and trace my roots back further.

Tomorrow I planned to get back to the mainland, after a quick tour round the rest of the mainland. Orkney definitely worth the visit so far.

Misty Scapa Flow

Misty Scapa Flow

Sunset in Kirkwall

Sunset in Kirkwall

Sunset in Kirkwall 2

Sunset in Kirkwall 2

Kirkwall bay

Kirkwall bay

Leg 9 – to Berwick-upon-Tweed via Northumbria

09 May 2013

After a sound night’s sleep courtesy of Lynne and John, woke up feeling a little dehydrated. Think I need to make sure I drink enough even when it’s cold and I’m not sweating much. It was a beautiful morning with bright sunshine and only the odd fluffy white cloud, however the forecast was for rain later. It often seems to do this in Northumbria, starts off lovely then deteriorates as the day goes on. I made sure I had my waterproof handy after jinxing the weather by applying sun cream.

After a superb and hearty breakfast (full English) I bid goodbye to John, Lynne having left for the office early, thanks again for putting me up guys, recommend no.28 for all touring cyclists! First I cycled back up the hill for a quick look at Warkworth Castle, the first of many I was to see today.

Warkworth Castle 1

Warkworth Castle 1


Warkworth Castle 2

Warkworth Castle 2

Warkworth Village

Warkworth Village

Warkworth Village 2

Warkworth Village 2

I then headed back through Warkworth and over the bridge, turning right on to route 1, intending to follow it for a bit before turning inland to visit Alnwick, a short detour down memory lane and to restock with supplies. Reached it in good time after a couple of invigorating hill climbs, and stopped in at Barter Books, the UK’s biggest second hand bookshop and well worth a nosy around. Unfortunately I had no spare room in my panniers, could have spent hours there looking over the dusty shelves of venerable tomes and interesting books of all genres.  Feel certain there must be a few magic grimoires hidden amongst the collection, some scenes from the Harry Potter films having been filmed in Alnwick.

Barter Books, Alnwick

Barter Books, Alnwick, well worth a nosy

I meandered around the town some more and past the castle, but didn’t enter – too expensive at £14 to justify a flying visit and I’d been there before. The castle was used for some of the Hogwarts scenes. After restocking with supplies (pasta, sauces, fruit, chocolate and lunch), but forgetting breakfast ingredients, d’oh, I left Alnwick and made my way back to the coast, down to Howick, along to Craster (wondered if there was a Keep there aka Game of Thrones), and on to Embleton.

Bike with banana attachment

Bike with banana attachment

Alnwick Castle 1

Alnwick Castle 1

Alnwick Castle 2

Alnwick Castle 2

Passed a lot of sheep and lambs lying about in the sunshine. Do sheep lying down mean the same thing as cows lying down, that it’s going to rain? My Gran always said that about cows apparently. It did start to rain about an hour later so reckon so.

Northumbria is littered with castles, a testament to it being on the border with Scotland and more warlike days. I passed several more including Dunstanburgh, right on the coast. The below is the view from route 1 which passes right by it.


Dunstanburgh Castle

Dunstanburgh Castle

I did divert from route 1 briefly as it seemed to leave the coastline and I want to stick to it for the most part, but rejoined it at Seahouses, where you can get a boat a out out to the Farne Islands to visit the seals, colonies of sea birds, and St Cuthbert’s pad; he spent his later life there as a hermit. He was also prior of Lindisfarne (Holy Island) which was somewhere I wanted to visit later, but the tides were wrong to get across the causeway, would have to wait for another visit.

Seahouses 1

Seahouses 1

Farne Islands

Farne Islands in the distance

I didn’t have time for a trip out to the Farne Islands today, and besides I’d been there before, plus it was getting pretty wet and cold. After having lunch (again) I chatted to a fellow Ridgeback Panorama tourer for a bit, always nice, before moving on up the coast past Bamburgh Castle which is very impressive, standing tall and imposing.

Bamburgh Castle

Bamburgh Castle

Think Bernard Cornnwall used this location as inspiration for Bebbanburgh, in his Uhtred books which are a great read, set in the period of Alfred the Great with battling Saxons, Normans, Christians and Pagans. If memory serves it was restored by the same person who built Cragside, Lord Armstrong, a great industrialist and inventor. Both places well worth a visit – Cragside especially but was somewhat off route.

I had to leave the coast post Budle Bay to avoid the A1, so moved inland on route 1, and up and down a few more hills. Met a couple from over the pond on heavily laden tourers on their way from Glasgow to Amsterdam, on their first visit to the UK. Nice to chat for a bit and they said how friendly and helpful they had found everyone so far, very encouraging. They started on the 01 May too, and were cycling into the headwind today which I didn’t envy them. Recommended a trip to Norwich on their way down to Harwich to get the boat. They were somewhat surprised I was in in shorts – said I was acclimatising for Scotland!

Continued on to Beal in the drizzle, and stopped at the Beal Barn Cafe for a hot chocolate, followed by a beer as it was still raining – got to keep hydrated after all. Beal is at the head of the causeway to Holy Island, but as mentioned the tide was in so it would have to wait for another visit. This is the second time this has happened to me, poor planning, maybe third time lucky. The Cafe has free wifi and was nice and warm so spent a good hour there sheltering from the rain, and downloaded a new WordPress app for my iPad, hence the photos now. Friendly staff too who gave me marshmallows for my hot chocolate, must have taken pity on my somewhat bedraggled state.


Holy Island in the drizzle

Beal Barn Cafe

Beal Barn Cafe – rehydrating

From Beal I headed towards Berwick-upon-Tweed. Had to travel on the A1 for a bit to make up some time, and I wanted to get to the campsite to get out of the wind and rain. The A1 was surprisingly okay, despite the big trucks – probably hit it at a quiet point. After an 8 mile stretch I turned off into Scremerston and headed into Berwick looking for the Pot-a-Doodle campsite – they have wigwams which I thought sounded cool. I doubled back through Wittal in a big circle, on a very bumpy route 1 along the cliffs which I was glad it’d avoided earlier. Eventually found the campsite back in Scremerston, but it was closed. 

Rode back to Berwick and found a different campsite – East Ord House Park, which accepts tents and had a cosy spot for me next to a monkey puzzle tree. Quickly set up the tent and got a very welcome hot shower, before retreating to the on site bar for a huge plate of liver and bacon, side salad and onion rings. Really nice and very much needed. This was to be my last night in England for a while being only a stones throw from the border, so I had a couple of pints from the Belhaven Brewery, as recommended by the friendly clientele, to mark the occasion, whilst writing up my blog from the comfort of the bar.

All in all a great day at around 70 miles, and trip down memory lane, if a little tough at a couple of points; I did resort to playing some Pantera and Disturbed off my phone at a couple of points to get me up a few hills! Then Coldplay came on which slowed me down somewhat – this was on speaker by the way as don’t agree with cycling in earphones, but there was no one else to annoy apart from the odd bemused looking cow.

Off into Scotland tomorrow, and round to Edinburgh which I hope to reach in time to visit the office in St Andrew’s Square, should be doable depending on the weather. Looking forward to seeing Hugh and Meredith who have offered to put me up for the night.

Bike and body still doing well, although one unpredicted side effect of lots of cycling is a very dry nose, and think I might have burst a few capillaries therein. Will visit a chemist in Edinburgh but probably just needs to acclimatise to lots of outdoor activity!

Leg 6 – To Whitby – rest day ahoy!

Still a couple of blog posts behind but getting there on the catching up front. Photos will have to wait until I get to a computer, or I might put up a complete gallery individually if get to a good place with wifi for my phone to connect into. Trouble is the wordpress app on the phone isn’t that great, several usability issues that could be fixed relatively easily and improving it lots.

06 May 2013
Seeing it was a rest day had a later start to the day, not setting off until 10am. My legs were aching slightly from yesterday’s exertions so definitely good timing on the break front. Packed up in the sunshine, with little in the way of wind, just enough for the kids camping nearby to get their kites up in the air. One of them proceeded to nearly dive bomb me several times accidentally – was slightly worried any sudden gust might take them over the edge of the hill and down a steep drop, that would have been character building at the very least!

Had a wander around the campsite and was bemused to see several caravans with satellite dishes or tv aerials, not sure why people would want to watch tv in such a beautiful spot but guess they like their home comforts, and don’t want to miss their favourite soap.

Bay Ness farm also hosts an off roading centre which I thought was a little dangerous, perched as it is at the top of a very steep and long hill, but probably adds to the adrenalin rush. A group of men were standing around a rugged looking jeep being loaded on to the back of a pick-up, all peering at the underside and admiring the damage done the day before; bent axle, bits sticking out that shouldn’t be, I’m sure my friend Neal would have been able to identify the bits far better than I, into off roading as he is. The owner of the jeep was promising to put photos up on his website of the post mortem, all very exciting if you’re into cars judging by the convivial atmosphere and general mirth and grunting. I prefer bikes, easier to mend and generally less expensive, most of the time.

Anyway I mounted my trusty steed for day 06, seems like longer than that since I left Norwich, and made my way back down the hill that nearly broke me the day before. Think I’m going to have to get some new brake pads in Edinburgh! After a couple of false starts I found the Cinder Trail, helped by some locals who called out that I was going the wrong way, must happen a lot. Headed North towards Whitby with the black dust coating everything again, making me think I should have taken the road, however the trail goes through some great countryside and wasn’t too bumpy today. I wouldn’t like to do it in the wet but fine in the sunshine, and I was having day 6 of sunshine so all good.

Quite a few other cyclists and walkers out for a bank holiday morning outing, general greetings exchanged in passing. I try to vary my greetings now otherwise gets boring, so occasionally I throw in some French, or Italian, the latter being trickier as I know very little Italian. Even broke into a tuneful ‘good morning, good morrrning’ at one point due to some downhill exuberance, which seemed to confuse the elderly couple I passed, they smiled though. I was passed by one other tourer, the first serious one I’ve met so far, on more of a mountain bike than my Ridgeback so he was coping better with the terrain. We had a brief conversation on the merits of different tyres for this sort of track; I was worried mine might get shredded at some point. I think I’ll either have to change to fatter tyres or stay on them roads more, although saying that haven’t had another puncture, touch wood, since day 2.

I made it to Whitby in good time and checked out the Abbey, which looked suitably Gothic and impressive (insert photos but look it up on google for the time being). Couldn’t see any Goths though, probably a bit bright, and I’d forgotten my goth get up, wouldn’t have fitted in the panniers too well anyway.

From the Abbey I walked my bike down an extremely steep and cobbled road into the town, it was a little hair raising at times with such a heavy load. If I’d let go could have caused quite a pile up at the bottom due to the sheer volumes of tourists out today. Whitby was absolutely rammed, so before going any further I stopped for a bacon and egg roll from a great little cafe at the bottom of that hill. Only £2.50, the yoke did go everywhere though and I had to do some emergency cycling top cleaning.

I continued to brave the masses for a bit, taking in Whitby’s lovely narrow streets and odd mix of shops, from the standard touristy ones where I bought some liquorice and ice cream, to the weirder curiosity shops and goth jewellery and clothing boutiques. And of course a host of fish and chip shops, more than I’ve seen anywhere else. I did have to be careful not to take anyone out with my panniers as I cycled out to the harbour, it was so crowded and people don’t hear or look for bikes, plus they were in general holiday bimble mode so weren’t very alert.

One comment, people really need to get on their bikes more or do some exercise, haven’t seen quite so many overweight people in one place for a while. They’ll be a heart disease epidemic at this rate; something close to my heart, as it were, having had an erroneous electrical pathway in my heart fixed a couple of years ago. Amazing operation via catheter ablation, I got to watch it on a screen whilst it was being done, under the effects of morphine. I remember grinning inanely at the nurse. Glad it’s fixed as your heart rate going up to insane speeds is not pleasant for an extended period of time and made the Docs think I was having heart attacks. In and out in 2 days, hurrah for wonders of modern medicine and the NHS.

Having had my fill of crowds I retreated to the campsite, Broading’s Farm, located just outside the town. Nice and quiet site with good shower block, always important, and friendly owner who let me charge my mobile. Lots of friendly dogs too, including a black lab puppy I think, very inquisitive. At this point my Garmin decided to break, and wouldn’t turn back on despite leaving it to charge for ages. Think it needs a hard reset but can’t do that on the road as don’t have the right tools, will try and find a shop in Newcastle or Edinburgh. Until then the Nemesis device will be out of action, probably a good thing given the last few days of it going wrong. Will use maps for a bit and see how I get on, plus write to Garmin with some feedback when this is over. It’s great when it works but has gone wrong too often, and now I’m going to have to record my miles manually.

Spent the next few hours reading my book, Josie Dew’s Slow Coast Home as recommended by a mother and daughter I met when out training in Norfolk, seems like an age ago but was only a couple of weeks. Great read so thanks for the recommendation. I also napped a fair bit.

Headed back into Whitby in the evening for more feeding and a few beers. Chilled out in the Shambles Bar for a while, which overlooks the harbour and serves great ale. Unfortunately they’d run out of food due to the bank holiday masses, who as mentioned earlier could really have foregone a meal or two and left some for me.

I had dinner at the Fisherman’s Wife, tomato soup followed by haddock and chips. Best haddock and chips I’ve had so far and the waitress gave a donation to the Big C which was great, must add it to my page. The restaurant has a great view over the beach and harbour area. Took some more photos which again I’ll put up at some point – there’s going to be hundreds of them, might have to buy a camera if iPhone runs out of memory. Saw a few rowing jigs, think that’s what they’re called but could well be wrong, out for an evening’s team session, haven’t seen the like since I holidayed in Cornwall.

I did miss the Magpie Cafe which I’d wanted to visit, it was just too busy; the queue was massive for hours. I spent a few hours in the Buck Hotel Inn bar writing up my blog and enjoying a few pints of Tim Taylor’s Landlord again, really superb pint and seems to taste even better up North, must be because it’s closer to home. The bar has free wifi and was playing some great old school tunes as mentioned in my post last night.

So, fully rested and fed I made my way back to the campsite, in a slightly wobbly but responsible fashion, and crashed for the night. Aching legs and body all forgotten, and ready for tomorrow’s leg over the River Tees and beyond. Feels like quite a long way from home now but morale good and looking forward to the next week. I recommend Whitby for anyone that’s not been, i’ll be trying to make it for the Goth festival next year 😉

Ready to roll

Final day of work done and dusted for 3 months, I walked out of the office with a big grin on my face after lots of well wishes from colleagues. Think I just about got everything done and handed-over (thanks Dan). Big thank you to everyone at work who have been so supportive in the run up to this, with offers of help, fund-raising and sponsorship, and ‘carb loading’.

My parents drove up today, and we were joined by Lu’s parents for a glass of fizzy stuff prior to me knuckling down to the packing. Also being joined by my brother, his wife and my nephew tomorrow. It’ll be great to see everyone for the off.

I laid everything that I want to take out on my kitchen floor, minus a few items I’ve since remembered post consulting my lists, to try and finalise what’s going in which panniers. There was quite a lot of stuff…Tour packingSomehow it all managed to fit, with a bit of room to spare for the items I’ve since remembered…

IMG_0308So I had beer to celebrate, well just half, courtesy of Chris B’s brewing talents. Dad had the other half and we both agreed it was especially fine Chris – worthy of an appearance in the Fat Cat I reckon.

IMG_0310So everything done and packed, with just a few things to do such as load routes onto my Garmin, find my passport (just in case I need to change lands masses due to adverse weather conditions), and probably repack everything a few times before I set off in the morning.

I’m aiming for a 10.30 start, whereupon I’ll wend my way through Norwich, past work, then on to Lowestoft, before turning left and heading North up the coast of Norfolk. Weather forecast looks good with plenty of sunshine, although a little on the cold side, and an Easterly breeze which should swing around to come from the South West a bit later in the week.

First stop is Happisburgh, which although gradually falling into the sea still has a good camp-site and pub. Looking forward to my first night under canvas! From Happisburgh I’ll continue around past Cromer and Sheringham to Sandringham, then on to just North of Skegness, before crossing the Humber into Yorshire and beyond.

Here’s to a great adventure, raising lots of money for the Big C, and honouring Lu’s memory; she always said I should do something like this so here we go 🙂

Further updates from the road, assuming technology does not fail me.

10 days and counting

With 10 days to go until I start my tour this weekend mostly consisted of training, planning, shopping, mild panic, and eating. I still managed to fit in a few beers though – got to maintain a balanced diet after all.

After a hectic week at work it was really nice to go out Friday evening. A group of us went to the appropriately named Bicycle Shop, a restaurant on St Benedict’s Street (Norwich) that also has a funky bar downstairs; the Bicycle Bar. Several ales were duly consumed whilst commiserating over the English house buying process – you can go all the way through the process, paying for searches, solicitors etc, but before you exchange it means nothing and the seller can just pull out, potentially losing you a lot of money. Happened to a couple of friends and doesn’t seem at all right, I believe the Scottish system is probably a lot fairer. Anyway I’d recommend the Bicycle Shop, and St Benedict’s Street in general for going out; The X Bells serves excellent cocktails!

Also met up with Tom who’s planning on taking his show to the Edinburgh festival this year, and has set up a Kickstarter project to raise funding – well worth a look at their Faileontology trailer. I know the guys would welcome any support so feel free to share the link!


As a consequence of Friday evening’s activity Saturday was a little slower starting than anticipated, however I duly loaded up my bike, which seems to be getting heavier with each outing, and headed out into the glorious sunshine. Still a little cold but fine once you get going, and there were plenty of warming hills to struggle up; please refer to a previous post concerning Norfolk really not being that flat, not when you have a fully loaded touring bike anyway.

A 72 mile training ride through the countryside down into Suffolk ensued, for once without a headwind to speak of, passing through Caistor St Edmunds and the old Roman town there, then on to Saxlingham, Halesworth, and through several more picturesque and decidedly sleepy English villages before reaching Beccles.

I’m not sure what it is about moderately sized Suffolk towns but they seem to make my GPS device (Garmin Edge) go a little senile. As with Bungay it proceeded to send me around in a few circles, attempt to cross a fairly large river where there wasn’t a handy bridge, and send me down a one way street the wrong way. I eventually did make it out of Beccles, but was quite thankful to cross over back into Norfolk where electronic devices seem less prone to randomness.

Nelson's County

Saturday evening consisted of eating pasta, a lot of pasta, and watching the Bourne Legacy which was quite entertaining, however I think they might be stretching out the Bourne thing a little too much now; rarely do sequels impress me more than the first film, with a few notable exceptions – Expendables 2 rocked 😉

Also managed to buy some of the last things I need, aside from food, including the all important Chamois cream and a new outfit – bib and cycling jersey from Northwave which I’m sure will look very ‘fetching’, if you’re into lycra that is. Must update my kit-list page.

Sunday was again good weather so I headed North to Blickling Hall, on a 45 miles route which I’ve done several times now. It takes me up to Reepham, on to Blickling Hall, then back to Norwich via Coltishall and Wroxham, all for the most part on pleasant country roads; aside from the potholes, ruts, debris from tractors, horses, cows etc, and the ‘interesting’ smells associated with pig farms. Can’t complain though, bacon has to come from somewhere and is a vital part of my balanced diet.

Few pictures below, quite a few of churches as Norfolk has a lot of them. I believe all the landowners used to build churches for their tenants. It must have been some kind of competitive status symbol, and obviously to demonstrate ones devotion. They dot the landscape coming in various shapes, sizes, and degrees of embellishment – hence competitiveness. They’re almost as common as pubs, although sadly the latter are prone to closure these days, which is sad considering the fine quality of real ale being produced in the county.

Just after Blickling I had to mend a puncture, which thankfully I haven’t had to do in a while, and hopefully won’t have to do again for a bit. I’m down to one spare inner tube now so best get some more before setting off, although I will try and repair inner tubes where practical. Ended up with very grotty hands for the rest of the ride which reminded me I need to clean my bike before setting off on 01 May.


Met quite a few really nice people whilst out cycling this weekend, mostly other cyclists, but also people who were in general interested in what I was up to and how far I’d cycled. Really encouraging to have a good chat when you stop for a break.

Last full week of work next week and lots to do, both on the work front and final planning activities before setting off the week after. Best make a list, I have lots of lists, thankfully most of them have lots of ticks on them, hence only mild panic at present.

On a parting note I’m now almost completely addicted to Haribo Tangfastics. Sadly I can’t claim they’re really part of my ‘balanced’ diet, but they really do help when your legs are close to giving up as I’m sure some of those who ran the Virgin London Marathon today would agree – congrats to everyone who took part and great to see it go ahead successfully after the sad events in Boston last weekend.

P.S. Thanks to Norman and Sheila for the Roast Chicken dinner this evening, and the flapjack, and the rejuvenating pint!