The Needles

Day 153: Freshwater to Newport England, Tuesday September 19th

Our Airbnb came with an amazing breakfast. We had omelettes and beans, fried tomatoes and toast. Our host served and stuck around to chat while we ate. A couple of the Springer Spaniels hung around too. Before we left we had some fun playing with the dogs.

Taking our host’s advice we rode to Totland Bay on the island’s west coast before leaving the area. We locked up the bikes and walked the path along the shore. It was mostly sunny and we got decent views of the Needles: three chalk islands that rise out of the sea.

Our ride for the day was mostly on the section of the coastal route we rode when we got off the Yarmouth ferry. We did have a nice rail trail for the first couple of miles to Yarmouth that we hadn’t been on yet. Just as we arrived at the edge of Yarmouth and joined the familiar coastal route road, we ran into a couple also out touring on bikes but going in the other direction. We talked for a minute, exchanging tips on what to see and where to ride. They had just visited an alpaca farm, and noted that the animals like to spit. We passed on that one.

With less gear weighing us down, and knowing what was coming, we found the hilly section before Cowes to be much less difficult on our second try. We stopped just before the waterfront ride going into Cowes and had half pints of ale at a pub with a view of the Solent.

After Cowes we were back at the beginning of the Red Squirrel Trail. Again, a very pleasant rail trail ride to Newport where we were reunited with our camping gear. Our host Brenda and her husband helped us get all our stuff upstairs, and there we met the famous Mr. Cleese: a super sweet and handsome feline.

Our room was great and the shower was intense. It was also affordable enough that we felt we could hit a pub for dinner.

At the Hogshead they had a burger and pint deal, and even better, the cask ales were on sale for a festival. We took our time and watched some cricket (and made some progress towards understanding what was going on) and then most of the Leicester City vs Liverpool FC game. Leicester won.

Distance: 35 km

$91

Garlic Beer

Day 151: Cowes to Sandown England, Sunday September 17th

Eggs for breakfast!

Cycle route 23 is also called the Red Squirrel Trail, but we didn’t see any. Deb’s theory is that too many people walk their dogs there. It is a very nice rail trail, and we took it from Cowes to Newport in the morning.

We had booked a place in Newport for Tuesday and Wednesday night, and Deb had the brilliant idea to ask if we could leave some gear there, as we were passing through today. Our host, Brenda, and her husband said it would be no problem. We left all our camping stuff, and more. I ended up with nothing except my handlebar bag on the front of my bike, and slightly lighter kitty bins too.

After unloading, we got back on the Red Squirrel Trail. It’s worth mentioning that red squirrels are native to the UK and our North American grey squirrels have invaded and bullied them out of much of their habitat. The Isle of Wight has managed to remain grey squirrel free, and is quite proud of their red squirrel population. Again, we didn’t see any this afternoon.

Another thing they’re proud of is their garlic. We went to a big touristy garlic farm, mostly because we’d heard they made garlic beer (!) and because it was only a short ride off the cycle route. It was an interesting place, with dozens of sauces available to taste, lots of information about garlic (I had no idea how many different varieties there are) and yes, garlic beer. We bought a bottle and Deb picked up some “black garlic” to take home.

We reached Sandown in the mid-afternoon. I expected it to be much like Weymouth: an old-timey English beach resort town. Well, it is and it isn’t. Both Deb and I agreed that Sandown felt like low-rent Weymouth. It was a bit rundown, with many closed shops and hotels. Everything felt just a little shabby. It is a nice beach.

Our Airbnb fit with the feel of the town. It was a big old place that felt like it had been a boarding house. Our host, Ann, had just sold the place and was downsizing. She had two cats, one of which, Sheba, was very affectionate.

The pier is dominated by a huge amusement arcade/casino. Sad people were walking around playing gambling games. There were kids in there too. I find it strange that children are allowed around these things. There were rooms for 18+, because the bets were bigger, but toddlers can waste their money on Star Wars “fruit machines”.

One more stop for a treat. Ah, jam doughnuts, how we will miss you. 50p for five, and no, the ones at home are not as good. Just the fact that we can eat them all the time without gaining weight has made this part of the trip worth it.

The garlic beer was pretty good.

Distance: 27 km

$

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

$

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

$80

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

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

$

Tombolo

Day 95: Lerwick to St Ninians Isle and back, July 23rd

After a big breakfast we went for a tour with only water and food. Even with so little baggage the hill out of town was a chore.

The Shetland Islands are a strange, otherworldly landscape. There are no trees, just endless green and rocky vistas, and a new view of either the North Sea or the Atlantic Ocean around every bend.

There are few roads, so we spent much of the day riding on the busy A970. Cycle Route 1, which goes right up through the islands, did take us down into little villages when it could. There we rode on single lane roads, with excellent surfaces and only a few cars.

St Ninians lived up to its reputation, and a couple of local girls added to the effect by riding their horses up and down the tombolo (known locally as an ayre) which connects the main island to St Ninians.

Our host, Brian, told Deb that only a little farther south there was a cove where we might see seals. It cost us a few more hills, but he was right, it was covered in dozens of sunbathing sea beasts.

We started to ride back, and now we had a strong wind in our faces. The hills suddenly felt twice as high (and they were big to begin with). It took a lot longer to get back to Lerwick than it did to get out, and we were exhausted when we finally locked the bikes up at the Airbnb.

Worth it.

Distance: 65 km

$131

Blimey

Day 87: Newcastle-on-Tyne (North Shields) to Alnwick, July 14th

Deb and I both love sleeping on boats, and the pitch dark of our interior cabin also contributed to a good night. We did need earplugs, however, as the walls were thin, and we had a neighbour who snored.

The ferry docked just after 10 am, which was 9 am local time. National Cycle Route 1, which happens to be the North Sea Cycle Route, goes right past the port, so we were on it right away. There were only two other cyclists on the whole ship (another couple), and they were headed our way, but not very chatty.

The route got a little messed up by construction, but we managed to find our way to Tynemouth, with it’s impressive castle/priory and fantastic view of the sea. After that it was all beaches and touristy towns for a long time. We stopped for a snack at a bench by the sea and a man with a dog stopped to ask us about our journey. He was the first English person we spoke to, and it seemed like he’d been hired to entertain tourists: walking stick, Wellies, cap, and a tendency to say things like ‘blimey’.

As we neared Alnwick, we spotted a bird with an unusual profile hunting the fields around us. It was an owl, and we stopped to watch it swoop around.

The day finished with a few challenging hills, and we were very glad to finally reach our Inn for the night. While Debbie checked us in I waited with the bikes. A gentleman came out of the pub (our room was upstairs) for a smoke and struck up a conversation with me, beginning with, as is often the case, the question:

“If you don’t mind me askin’, what’s ‘Tidy Cats?'”

Charles and I talked for a bit, and I couldn’t help but notice that he’d had maybe a drink too many. When the pub manager came out to help with our gear, he gave Charles a look and warned him to behave himself. Charles later said to me, “Andy knows that sometimes I’m a bit of a bugger, but I’m all right tonight.” And he was.

Obviously we had a couple of real ales in the pub after freshening up. I finally got over my slight dose of depression: one phase of our trip had ended, but the next was just beginning.

Distance: 70 km

$100

Tropical Storm

Day 65: June 22nd, Krautsand, Germany

Big bad weather was a-comin’, so we asked if we could have a cabin at the campground in Krautsand. No problem, they just needed some time to clean one up.

It turned out to be really nice. Simple, but with a good bed, a coffee maker, and tables inside and out. We had the key early enough to eat our breakfast in front of it.

Then we went shopping. We could see the dark clouds coming, so we brought rain gear. Good thing. The storm hit hard and fast. The winds were incredible. We waited at the shop until the worst of it passed, but we got soaked on the way back to our cosy cabin.

It cleared up for awhile, and we went for a walk. We saw a lot of trees torn up by the wind.

The Elbe here has a nice beach. We walked along it, dipping our feet in the cold water. I spotted a “message in a bottle”, we pulled it out, but felt that it was intended for a North Sea journey. Debbie threw it back in. At a bistro on the beach, we got a couple draft beers.

When the next storm hit, we were safe in our cabin. There was even a little hail.

$96

A Camp by any Other Name

Day 62: June 19th, Husum to Sankt Peter-Ording, Germany

Sunny and hot. We ate our breakfast outside in the beautiful garden of our Airbnb, again being spoiled, this time with melon and soft-boiled eggs.

When we were packed and finally ready to leave, Jan said he wanted to show us a bicycle. I asked if it was his ‘speedy’ bike, and he and his wife laughed, ‘No’.

It was a Hercules Cavallo ‘Swing Bike’ from the 80’s. A bicycle that bizarrely mimics the up and down saddle motion of horseback riding. Jan demonstrated it for us, and I took some video which is practically ruined because of the sound of me laughing and saying ‘awesome!’.

We stuck to the North Sea route, which meandered mostly through country roads near the coast.

Eventually we reached the giant beaches of Sankt Peter-Ording. The farms gave way to hotels. By one of the beaches, we stopped at a nice campground, Rosen-Camp Kniese,. Good showers (it was a sweaty ride) and chilled beer for sale at a very reasonable price.

The size of these beaches is worth mentioning. People pay to park near huge piers, then walk a half hour to get to the water, which was reportedly too cold to swim in. You can see the water from miles away, as we did, riding on the dikes, but the beaches are massive, flat expanses. It was no surprise to see “sail cars” docked along the trail; unfortunately, we didn’t see any on the move.

We ate our dinner picnic-style on a blanket (a hammock Dave K gave us which also serves as my camp pillow).

Our camp neighbour was a Dutchman with a VW camper-van. He brought over a map of Holland and gave us some useful touring advice.

Distance: 55 km

$28