Cowesabunga

Day 150: Cowes England, Saturday September 16th

Sunny morning. We walked through Cowes and peaked into the very nice charity shops.

The walk along the waterfront is very long and very pretty. We strolled, looking at the boats and reading the historical plaques and whatnot. Turns out Winston Churchill’s parents got engaged in a house on the Solent.

Our timing was good. By the time we’d worked our way back into town it had just started to rain. We went into a tiny pub and had a cask ale. When the rain had stopped, we walked back up to our Airbnb.

Distance: 0

$

Burley and Back

Day 148: Brockenhurst England, Thursday September 14th

A great day for a hike: sunny and in the teens. We took our host Kathryn’s advice and headed mostly north from Brockenhurst.

The New Forest was made a royal forest in about 1079, by William the Conqueror. Some landowners, called Commoners, were granted permission to let their animals graze in the woods, and some of those original agreements still stand. We set out hoping very much that we would see pigs, though apparently that’s getting pretty rare.

We stopped to eat our lunch at a picnic table next to a car park. From there we followed the Tall Trees walking trail, and saw some amazing red woods and giant sequoia.

Going a little off trail, we cut our way west. I wanted to see Burley, a town with a long connection with witches. While trying to make our way to another cycle path, we saw a large herd of deer.

We were just entering Burley when I startled what I thought was a big dog. We’d stumbled into a group of cute piggies, all chowing down on acorns.

With tired legs we walked around the old town, and then we stopped for a pint at the Burley Inn. Deb checked to see if there was a bus back to Brockenhurst. Nope. It was a 10 km hike back, which ended up being longer as we didn’t follow the Google route.

Some of the walk now was in heathland, and after a brief rain shower we were treated to a rainbow over the fields of heather. With that and the (sort-of) wild horses around, the place felt very magical.

We felt we deserved a pub dinner, so we managed to stumble to the Foresters Arms. It was worth going over budget.

Distance: (maybe a 30 km walk)

$127

Sandblasted

Day 146: Bournemouth England, Tuesday September 12th

We got a good day for exploring. We walked through the centre of Bournemouth and along the High Street, popping into shopping arcades to look around now and then.

We headed east to the Boscombe neighbourhood, where there is a large pedestrian district. We walked down to the beach through the Chine Gardens, and out on the historic pier, where we ate our lunch. Afterwards we walked back up through the gardens and continued east.

We eventually reached Pokesdown. Sadly, the pub we’d hoped to check out had closed in the Spring. But Pokesdown is a funky little area, with lots of interesting shops and bars. We went to a cask ale house called the Wight Bear. When we first sat down with our drinks the only other people there were older men. Regulars. Then a woman came in with a new paperback and had a pie and a pint. Then another woman came in for a pint as well and most of the men finished up. And then a third. It was interesting to watch the vibe change.

We got a light rain shower as we walked down to the beach, but it didn’t last. The wind picked up however. Walking west along the water meant we got a little sandblasted. Bournemouth is popular with surfers and with kite surfers. Kite surfing looked like a lot more fun to me; most of the surfers seemed to be doing a lot of work for not a lot of excitement, while the kite surfers were flying around at great speeds, and doing flips in the air.

We walked up through the Lower Gardens, stopping to empty the sand from our shoes. Again, we finished our day with dinner made in the Airbnb’s kitchen.

Distance: 0

$93

Durdle Door

Day 143: Weymouth England, Saturday September 9th

Nicely rested after our rain day, we set out for a big hike (about 17 km) on the “South West Coast Path”.  It started on the beach, heading north around Weymouth Bay where it becomes the “Jurassic Coast”.

At one point we had to walk through a little amusement park called “Fantasy Island”. After that we passed the beautiful, old Riviera Hotel.

It was mostly sunny, and as we climbed up onto the cliffs we were treated to great views.

When a bit of rain caught us we ducked into a nice pub called the “Smuggler’s Inn”. We thumbed through a book of movie trivia.

We were about a mile farther down the path when Deb noticed that I didn’t have my backpack. Sigh. After retrieving it, and finally getting that mile back, it started to spit again. We waited this shower out under a tree. The sun returned and we walked on, stopping for little tubs of ice cream at just the right time, for a real downpour hit and we were able to hide in the little shop. Again, it didn’t last, but the ground did get pretty muddy.

It also started to get a lot rougher. In places the trail was just a muddy track. Still, those views!

I think it was just after we passed a little pebble beach called, ahem, Scratch Bottom, that things got a bit crazy. We had three or four tricky hills. One of which was so steep that we did part of it crab-style. If there had been any other option other than a long hike backwards, we might have bailed.

When we finally reached Durdle Door, a natural arch at a beautiful sandy cove, we felt that we had truly earned all that sunny splendour, unlike all those people who drove there and walked a paltry 1 km.

We took lots of pictures and enjoyed the view, but decided against going down to the actual beach. Our legs were tired! Instead we hiked up to the car park, and then on to the campground. We stopped to buy a postcard and to confirm that there was a bus stop at the main road. When we found the stop we realized we had only seven minutes to wait for the last bus to Weymouth. We were very, very happy we’d decided not to go down to the beach.

The bus driver looked about fifteen, and he drove like a teenager (fast). It was an entertaining, bumpy ride back to town.

We felt we had earned a pub meal, but all the places near the beach seemed overpriced or a little fancy for our muddy selves. We started back, thinking we’d have a Tesco pie, but we chanced upon a small pub with its menu in the window: homemade pies for less than six pounds. We had to sit at the bar, as the place was full of locals, but we didn’t mind and the bartender was a nice, chatty gentleman. The pies were slow to arrive, as they really are homemade, but they were definitely worth the wait. A perfect end to a memorable day.

Distance: 0 (23 km hike)

$152

Roman around Dorchester

Day 140: Dorchester England, Wednesday September 6th

Dorchester has a set of walks around town. We did all four of them.

Thomas Hardy is their most famous son, and there’s a statue of him, and many buildings connected to his life and writings.

There is also a really interesting Roman Townhouse, that has been partially reconstructed and covered in glass. We spent awhile checking out the mosaics and marvelling at Roman ingenuity.

Where the Roman town walls would’ve been (there’s only a small section remaining) there are pretty tree-lined walking trails, and we sat on top of what is left of their amphitheater and watched a dog fetch a frisbee for awhile (almost as good as a chariot race).

The amphitheatre was actually built on a pre-existing neolithic henge site known as the Maumbury Rings. Another significant neolithic site was found just down the road and excavated in the 1980s. I wonder how many people using this underground grocery store car park realize that the big red circles mark the locations of timber post holes from a massive neolithic enclosure?

As we are nearing the cruise home, Deb has started eyeing things in charity shop windows. Here she found a very pretty dress, and later she went back to try it on while I browsed in a comic shop. Success! We celebrated her find in the Convivial Rabbit a “micro pub” which had no taps, just cask beers and bottles. It was tiny, and had no music. We chatted with a local enjoying a cider at the table next to ours.

We finished the walking tours and stopped at a more traditional pub. Finally we made our way back to Poundbury.

Distance: 0

$116 + dress

Avalon

Day 137: Glastonbury England, Sunday September 3rd

After our success with the Jane Austen audio tour in Bath we decided to follow an online walking tour of Glastonbury. It wasn’t great, but it did take us all around this strange little town.

The sacred Chalice Well, the freaky Tor, and a long association with Avalon and all things King Arthur has attracted a lot of mystics to the area. There are dozens of shops selling every New Age gewgaw you can imagine, and most of them have really excellent names, like Star Child, Elestial, and Cat and Cauldron. 

There’s some good street art too.

After our tour, we stopped at the King Arthur Pub for a pint, and there was a pretty good guitar playing singer performing.

Then we were ready to climb the Tor.

We walked up the steeper of the two paths, and it was a little harrowing, with a gusty wind blowing. The views were truncated, but the mists added to the magical atmosphere of the place. We saw one couple furiously scratching lottery tickets in the tower, but I don’t think the gods smiled on them.

The hike down was a bit easier and we finished off with a final ale at the Rifleman’s arms, where a guy was stuffing coins into the e-jukebox and playing a selection of really good songs from the 80s and 90s.

Distance: 0

$105

Banksy, Beer and a Bag of Nails

Day 134: Bristol England, Thursday August 31st

What a glorious end to August. Sunny and warm. We saw Bristol at its best and we loved it.

The first people I noticed when we set out were a couple of big older dudes, one with a short mohawk and the other with a large nose ring, just back from a shop. I knew right away that Bristol would be interesting.

The city feels vibrant and exciting. It’s an excellent place to people-watch. We walked all the way back into the centre of the city and saw the ruins of Bristol Castle. We popped into St. John on the Wall, a church and crypt built right into the old, original walls of the city.

There is street art everywhere, and much of it is excellent. This is Banksy’s city, and part of our tour was seeing his work around town.

 

Banksy downtown

 

Stik and others

We had a pint on the Grain Barge, a floating craft beer bar. From there it was only natural to walk around the rest of the waterfront, which is full of interesting shops, cafes, bars and artist workshops.

Deb surprised me by taking me to Aardman Studios headquarters: the people who created Wallace and Gromit. There’s no gift shop, but Deb bravely asked the receptionist if we could pop in for a photo with the life-sized models of the characters. We got buzzed in and I nearly peed myself looking at what an amazing space they have.

At the M Shed, museum of Bristol, we saw another Banksy, and lots of other things about the city. It’s home to Sustrans, the organization responsible for all the national cycle routes, so we saw displays about the long history of bicycles in Bristol.

Jasmine had recommended a pub called the Bag of Nails, but only if we liked cats. Sure enough, the place is crawling with them. Real Ales and friendly kitties. We loved it. I also loved all the rules posted on the walls: No stupid xmas sweaters, no selfies, etc. I took note, in case I ever open a pub. The owner was a crank after my own heart.

The long walk back to Easton involved hunting out the rest of the Banksy works. Some of his earliest stuff is in Easton, so it was like a trip back through his (their?) history.

That evening we met Jasmine’s partner, Dan. They were preparing to have guests over to watch the season finale of Game of Thrones. They kindly invited us to join, and we would’ve loved to, but we haven’t seen a single episode of this season yet. They even offered to close the door to their living room so we wouldn’t hear spoilers, but we just plugged our ears and said “la, la, la” for the duration.

Distance: 0

$107

Campaign for Real Ale

Day 126: Peterborough England, Wednesday August 23rd

Today was pretty much all about the Cask Beer Festival. Our hosts provided breakfast and we got a chance to hang out and chat with Hannah. We also got to do a big load of laundry, emptying the monkey house.

We walked to the festival, which was in huge tents in the downtown park known as the Embankment. We went early, so it only cost us £2 each to get in. No plastic sample cups at this event; instead, you chose a half or full pint glass. Fortunately, you could purchase 1/3 pints, otherwise we would’ve had a tough time walking out of there.

Unlike Toronto beer festivals, this was a very much a family event. People brought their kids, put down blankets or folding chairs, and made a day of it. There were carnival rides.

Deb had a tough time choosing, and really examined the guide with all the beer descriptions. I chose based on two criteria: what style I’m in the mood for, and the name. I also just copied Deb a couple of times. We had some truly excellent brews.

Afterward, we walked around Peterborough’s impressive cathedral before returning to our Airbnb.

Distance: 0

$

Orwell that Ends Well

Day 119: Edinburgh, Scotland, Wednesday August 16th

We said goodbye to Allison and Aron, as they were off to pick up their rental car and begin the next stage of their Scottish adventure: exploring the Highlands and the Orkneys. Then Deb and I went to a funny show about the surveillance state: “Orwell that Ends Well”.

When the show ended we saw that it was pouring rain; fortunately the venue, the Caves, had draught beer.

We meandered around the Fringe hotspots, taking in the buskers and the crowds.

I always enjoy a good bookstore, so we spent some time in Blackwell’s, and Deb found some postcards for our bathroom wall.

We walked to Leith, and stopped at the Stewart Brewing shop, where a very friendly guy, Ian, served us samples. We lingered and chatted, and finally made our way back to Beaverbank on the very nice “Leith walk”.

Not all Castles are Bouncy

Day 118: Edinburgh, Scotland, Tuesday August 15th

We met again in the student lounge. Al and Aron told me I’d just missed Robert Picardo, the doctor from Star Trek: Voyager, picking up his laundry. He told them he was doing a Fringe show with Sylvester McCoy (the Seventh Doctor Who!).

It was sunny and reasonably warm, so we started with a Detective Rebus walking tour. The guide was good and the tour was well-paced and fun. It included some interesting Edinburgh history and trivia, as well as some readings from the books.

In the afternoon we saw a good show by English comedian Andy Zaltzman.

We experienced some true Fringe madness by having drinks at the Fringe Hub, surrounded by buskers and other Fringers. Then we worked our way through the throng to see a silly show called Goldilock Stock and 3 Smoking Bears.

Deb got a recommendation for a pub to eat at, and it didn’t disappoint. We didn’t have to go far to see our next show, which was a pay-what-you-can performance based on Roleplaying games. The gamemaster chose a party from the audience and they played a mostly improvised adventure, rolling a giant 20 sided die to resolve challenges. It really reminded Deb and I of something we might see on a Jonathan Coulton cruise.

We fit in one more show, again with Andy Zaltzman. This time he was hosting for four standup comics. All were good, and the venue was a cool little underground bar.