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

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

$87.45

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

$106

From Camelot to Chaos

Day 138: Glastonbury to Yeovil England, Monday September 4th

Our host, Judith, was not impressed with our next destination: Yeovil. I did some research and found little of interest there, but we just couldn’t find accommodations anywhere else on cycle route 26. The Airbnb we booked was cheap, and although the reviews raised some red flags for us, we were only going for one night.

We rode on a really quiet and flat country road with views of the Tor. There were many caravans parked here and there on the road, and they looked fairly permanent.

It was a bit cloudy, but it didn’t rain. At one point we stopped at a nice place called the Camelot Inn (due to its proximity to Cadbury Castle, which has been associated with King Arthur’s legendary court).

It got hillier, but not too bad, and eventually we rode into Sherborne. Here we stopped at the White Hart. Deb found a new paperback for a pound.

Getting into Yeovil meant leaving the cycle route here. The last stretch was hilly, some of it pretty steep, and it culminated on a very busy A- road. After speeding down that to the edge of town, we just got on the sidewalk and pushed the bikes for a couple of blocks, for there was just too much traffic.

The Airbnb was essentially hosted by a kid named Owen who couldn’t have been much more than ten years old. He was caring for his little brother, Woody (perhaps five?), and three dogs (one reviewer had noted the dog smell of the house, and they were spot on). Owen was polite and helpful, even as his underpants-clad brother rolled around on the floor wrapped in a duvet making happy but very loud noises. Cartoons blared from the TV.

The room itself was an oasis in a madhouse. We could hear the shouting and barking continue until the evening, but we had a big, comfy couch and very good WiFi. I couldn’t get the Amazon TV to work, but I didn’t bother to ask poor little Owen for help.

Our actual host came home from work about 9 p.m. We went down with our dishes (there was no dining room, or kitchen table – we ate in our room but it appeared that the family always ate from their laps in front of the TV). She said hello, but there was no exchange of introductions. She seemed very busy, and not at all interested in us. It was very awkward, and we retreated to our room.

Distance: 48 km

$82

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

The Two Tunnels

Day 136: Bath to Glastonbury England, Saturday September 2nd

Pedro told us about a couple of really long cycle tunnels nearby, and when I looked at Google Maps I realized that the recommended route went through them. The route I had originally planned to take was longer and hillier. Decision made! We love bike tunnels.

Cycle route 244 turned out to be another rail trail, this one much newer than the Bristol/Bath cycleway. It’s also known as the Two Tunnels Greenway. The tunnels did not disappoint. The first, the Devonshire tunnel, is just over 400m long, and it’s just a warm-up. The Combe Down Tunnel is almost 1700m long! The longest cycling tunnel in Britain. In the middle section they pipe in music, possibly to keep walkers from losing their minds.

Once we escaped Khazad-dûm and returned to the sunlit overworld, the route passed by Midford Castle, once owned by Nic Cage.

We picked up cycle route 24, and took it along country roads and through a couple of very small villages until we hit Radstock. Both Appa and Momo had some pretty loose brakes by this point, so when we spotted a cycle shop we went in to ask for help. Sam, the young man in the shop, said that they didn’t normally do repairs on Saturdays, but he’d see what he could do. We walked out for a pint to kill an hour.

Radstock had little to recommend it, but we found a not-unpleasant pub full of tradesmen taking a break from work. The owner was curious about us, and she gave us two pints of rough cider on the house.

Pleased with our free drinks, we returned to the shop and were delighted to find that Sam had adjusted our brakes and made them much more responsive. He said the pads would last the rest of the trip, which was good news, because the replacements that were sold to me in Viborg, Denmark, turned out to be the wrong size.

From Radstock we relied on Google Maps to cut west to Wells, where we picked up cycle route 3 to Glastonbury. We roared down a long decline into Wells, catching glimpses of the distant Tor and thanking the gods for brakes that work. The descent was reminiscent of the drop down the escarpment last August on our Ontario tour.

At the bottom of the hill was the magnificent Wells Cathedral. We stopped for pictures and to watch all the people on the green. We’d arrived just as a market was ending, and we walked our bikes through the square, enjoying the sights.

Route 3 took us the rest of the way to Glastonbury, and our Airbnb was excellent. Judith, her nephew Owen, and her sweet rescue dog, Milo, made us feel at home. We walked to a grocery store for supplies, had what we call Smashed Potatoes for dinner, and turned in early.

Distance: 46 km

$86 + bike repair

Austen-tacious

Day 135: Bristol to Bath England, Friday September 1st

What a nice way to begin our final month of touring. After breakfast we talked with Jasmine and Dan in their lovely little garden, telling them how much we liked Bristol, and why. The neighbour was barbecuing something that smelled delicious, and before we left his son, who was dressed in a very smart robe, presented Dan with some food for Eid.

It was a short climb up to the Bristol/Bath cycleway, and soon we were enjoying the flat and beautiful trail.

We stopped at a grocery store to pick up lunch, and stopped again in front of a pub to fiddle with my mushy brakes. It was sunny and warm, and we had time to kill before we could check in at Bath, so we had a leisurely pint too.

A little farther along the cycleway we noticed tracks, and a small train platform that appeared to still be in use. Soon we reached Bitton Station, on the Avon Valley Railway. There was a steam train idling, and lots of people enjoying a little park. This short railway (3 miles, and expanding), we discovered, is a project undertaken entirely by volunteers who re-laid track in the 70’s, and restored the station and platforms, and now operate it as a recreational train.

Our Airbnb was on a hill overlooking Bath, and we ended up pushing the bikes a ways up sidewalk on a busy street. Pedro, our young host, seemed a bit quiet at first, but soon he was giving us good advice about how to best walk into town and what to see on the way.

After cleaning up we followed his directions and walked up into Alexandra Park where we got a great view of whole city.

From there, we took a path down to the streets below.

Deb had downloaded a Jane Austen walking tour onto her phone. It started at Bath Abbey and wound all through town. At each stop we listened to readings from her books and historical information about her life and the buildings. It was a great, free, way to get a feel for the city. A highlight for me was strolling the secluded, gently rising Gravel Walk while listening to a passage from Persuasion, where (spoiler alert) Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot of Persuasion stroll when they are finally reconciled.

Deb loves Georgian architecture, and Bath is like a giant Georgian amusement park. All the buildings are built out of the same white stone, and it feels like a place frozen in time.

Distance: 25 km

$104

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