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)


Wild Horses and Snake Catchers

Day 147: Bournemouth to Brockenhurst England, Wednesday September 13th

Once again we had a night where we watched the rain pouring and listened to the wind howling and we wondered what our morning ride would be like. And again, the sun was out when we ate our breakfast. I went into the bathroom to brush my teeth and when I came out it was raining again. Stas told us we could hang out for as long as we wanted, and we talked bicycles, and about his and Kinga’s future plans. They both work in hospitality, which meant it was fairly easy for them to leave London, where they met, and move to Bournemouth, which suited them better. They hope someday to move to Slovenia, maybe to open a place of their own.

The shower passed, and again Stas was a big help with the bikes and gear.

The start of the ride was all on the beach. This time going with the wind. They only downside was that it was hard work navigating the large drifts of sand. We weren’t in a hurry, so we didn’t mind.

Eventually we had to push our bikes up a zigzag path to the road up on the cliff. Then, riding through Christchurch, the signs for cycle route 2 simply disappeared. Deb used her phone to get us through the town, and soon we were entering the New Forest. Still no cycle route signs. We stopped for lunch at a memorial dedicated to the New Forest Air Fields, of which there were many, and those who served at, and supported them, during the war.

We didn’t know anything about the forest, so we were pleasantly surprised, and a little confused, when we started seeing cows and horses, apparently wandering around free.

At one point a few horses were blocking the road. We stopped in the middle of them, and when one approached me I gave it a pat. Then it sniffed at my bins and gave one a nibble. I shooed it back, laughing, then turned in time to see another horse snag Debbie’s bottle of suntan lotion right out of a side pocket on her pannier. Deb reacted quickly, and they entered a little tug-o-war. Deb won, but the bottle had some teeth marks. Undaunted, the horse immediately marched around to the front of Deb’s bike and started investigating her handlebar bag. Things were getting out of hand, and I was close to collapsing with laughter. Nimbly, Deb navigated her way around a couple of the curious equines, and we escaped.

The paths through the New Forest were all nice: quiet roads, rail trails, and gravel tracks. We saw cows blocking roads, and a lot more horses.

Our Airbnb was in Brockenhurst, in the middle of the Forest. It was called Cornucopia, and Kathryn, our host was ex-navy, and a dog trainer. She really helped us with our plans, as she’s an expert on the New Forest. She also gave us a good rundown on the local pubs and shops.

We explored the town, stopping at The Snakecatcher pub. The best thing about this place is the story behind its name. Harry “Brusher” Mills lived in a self-made hut in the New Forest for years. He caught grass snakes, and sometimes adders using only a forked stick and sold them to visitors, research centres and zoos. He died in an outbuilding of the inn, which was eventually renamed to honour him.

We ate a simple dinner in our room, and watched a terrible horror movie.

Distance: 31 km



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


Tanks for the Memories

Day 145: Crossways to Bournemouth England, Monday September 11th

It was a windy, rainy night. The kind of night where Deb and I repeatedly look at each other and say, I’m so glad we’re not in the tent. We did not have high hopes for the morning.

But, when we got up the sun was out. A shower went through before we were ready to load the bikes, but in general it was a much better day than we expected. It didn’t take long to find our way back to cycle route 2.

There was a lot of traffic from a big music festival that had just ended, “Bestival”. It was a huge event, apparently. The line up of acts was crazy long.

Note the small white square with the big red L on the front right bumper (?). That means Learner.

I had wondered aloud whether or not we would meet any more cycle tourists. I thought it unlikely, and felt that was kind of sad. And then, this morning, we met a couple loaded down with luggage in the Studland and Godlingston Heath National Nature Reserve. We were at a gate, already stopped when they rolled up. We talked for a few minutes. The guy took pictures of me with the Kitty Bins, and he asked a lot of questions about them. They were just a few days into a three week tour. They also told us there was another touring couple somewhere behind them.

Sure enough, we stopped on a narrow, muddy cycle track to chat with an older couple from Frankfurt and they were on a circular tour: heading for Plymouth, then France, and riding home to Germany. The question we didn’t ask them was, “How do you ride in sandals when there’s stinging nettle all over the place?” I was happy to have one last opportunity to say, “Gute fahrt!”

We reached the Shell Bay to Sandbanks ferry with just minutes to spare (although we only would’ve had to wait twenty minutes for the next one). It was good timing especially because it was starting to rain, and after we boarded and got under cover it really started to pour. It’s a short crossing, but the shower had passed by the time we had reached Poole.

The route to Bournemouth stuck close to the water for awhile, and we saw a lot of people windsurfing. Then the route curved east and hit the beach. In July and August you can’t ride on the beachside path during the day. Yay for offseason travel. We had seven kilometres next to the sea before we had to turn into the city. We went right along one of Bournemouth’s central parks, then climbed (pushed) past the Hilton and found Stas and Kinga’s apartment.

Stas, a Slovenian, was a huge help. He carried Deb’s bike upstairs to their flat, and came back for bags too. He even offered to make us a sandwich. We met their dog, an adorable Schnauzer, then got cleaned up.

It was sunny, so we walked through the parks which are very nice. We found a Tesco, bought supplies, and made dinner at the Airbnb. We played with the dog a bit and he fell asleep under my chair.

Distance: 45 km


Feeling Sheepish

Day 144: Weymouth to Crossways England, Sunday September 10th

Carmen had no problem with us leaving late, so we didn’t get on the road until about 11 am. We were expecting the hill between us and Dorchester to be challenging, but it turned out to be gradual enough, and short enough, that we were looking down on Dorchester in no time. The descent was long and fast and soon we were back at the busy roundabout. Once we’d safely navigated that we stopped at a huge Tesco.

We left cycle route 26 and got on route 2 heading east. The ride through the edge of Dorchester was nice, and soon we were on quiet country roads.

It started to rain as we neared our Airbnb. We sheltered under a tree through the worst of it. We were very happy that we were heading east, as the wind was (finally) at our backs.

Our place for the night was in Crossways, which is a tiny place and not quite on the route. Brian, a taxi driver who drove a truck in Canada for years, got us set up. He and his partner, Lisa, have a nice new house with a lot of space. Lisa has two rescue sheep as pets, and an adorable labrador named Max who she has trained as a gun dog.

After showering we went out to the local pub. On the way out we met the sheep.

After having a pint at the Frampton Arms, next to the train station, we walked back in the dark. I think it’s only worth mentioning because we’re continually surprised by how early the sun is going down now. Compared to Scandinavia in June I guess all days are bound to seem short.

Distance: 22 km


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)


Here Comes the Rain Again

Day 142: Weymouth England, Friday September 8th

Google was right, the weather was pretty bad. We managed to get out to a grocery store without getting too wet, but other than that we stayed in Carmine’s spacious and fun apartment. Deb managed to get pretty much all the rest of our nights booked in Airbnb places, and we had our route laid out. No more stress about that. I mostly read and watched the rain on the window.

We haven’t had too many of these rest days on this long journey. This was good one.

Distance: 0


Channel Surfing

Day 141: Dorchester to Weymouth England, Thursday September 7th

We had a very short ride to do and we couldn’t check in at Weymouth until 3 pm. Our host graciously allowed us to leave late, so Deb and I went for another walk around Poundbury.

Getting out of Dorchester was fairly simple and we found the cycle route quickly. It was a nice new separated cycle path, but it stuck pretty close to a busy highway. Right after leaving town we had to navigate a crazy roundabout, but after that, we were totally clear of the traffic.

It was a long, gradual climb away from Dorchester and we stopped to catch our breath admire the view. Eventually we could see the English Channel.

It was a nice downhill cruise to Weymouth and we arrived with some time to spare. Luckily there was a Morrison’s grocery store on the route. We took our time and picked up some lunch which we at on a bench outside.

Carmine, our host met us at her building’s door and helped us get the bikes into a garden shed. She was funny and friendly and her apartment was big and wonderfully decorated in a colourful, kitschy style. We loved it.

The forecast for Friday was not good, so we got out to see the town while the sun was out. Weymouth is a beach resort town with an old-timey feel. We walked along the beach, admiring the classic little hotels and amusement arcades.

The sand here is famously fine, which apparently makes it great for sand sculptures. We checked out a display of some examples of this art. After watching the old lift bridge in action we made our way back to Carmine’s place. We beat the rain back and had dinner with a box of wine.

Distance: 12 km


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

Prince Charles Town

Day 139: Yeovil to Dorchester England, Tuesday September 5th

We heard our host leave, and when we went downstairs we found Owen and Woody in front of the TV again. Woody was playing Grand Theft Auto 5 (did I mention that he’s about five years old?). He said, It’s got naughty words.

We loaded the bikes and got out of there.

It was easy to get back onto route 26, but there were several pretty steep climbs. Winded, and with the rain just starting, we took refuge in an Inn, the Helyar Arms, sharing a pot of tea.

When the rain eased, we continued. We stopped at the sign for Halstock when we saw that it had a drawing of a woman cradling her severed head in her arms. Deb bought some stamps at the village post office and when we continued we saw a hotel with the same disturbing image as their logo: the “Quiet Woman House”. I Googled it, and it turns out to be a pretty good ghost story: nasty stepmom is jealous of pretty, pious girl; makes it look like the girl had a baby and fed it to the wolves to horrify her son who then lops of the girl’s head with a sword; girl’s body reanimates, picks up the head and carries it to the church; ghost returns every All-Saints day to repeat the head-carry walk. Juthware, the girl, lived in Halstock in the 7th century, and they made her a saint.

We had a long but gradual climb after Halstock. It was fairly rainy all the rest of the day, but never too bad, but it did mean that some of the rougher tracks were a little rougher than usual.

Dorchester is one of those towns where Sustrans just couldn’t find a good place to put a cycle route, so the 26 ends at one end of town, and starts again on the other side. We walked our bikes up the sidewalk next to the A road into the city, did some food shopping, and then rode into Poundbury, the strange little neighbourhood where we had booked an Airbnb.

Many of Poundbury’s buildings looked old, and it seems like a cottagey community on the edge of the city. We walked around after dropping off our bikes and gear, and we couldn’t help but notice that the place felt a little Disney. There was no rust on the fences, no graffiti, and a weird homogeneity to all the structures.

We discovered later that the whole place is new, and all designed by one Luxembourgian architect, Leon Krier, according to principles set down by Prince Charles. It has no zoning, is carbon-neutral, pedestrian friendly, 40% social housing, and much higher density than typical post-war suburbs. We liked it, despite (or because of ) the weirdness. It’s also working, because it’s growing rapidly, and our host told us the prices had climbed very high.

Distance: 40 km