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

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

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

Easton Eden

Day 133: Gloucester to Bristol England, Wednesday August 30th

Tony provides breakfast: cereal, toast, and a delicious cheese omelette, all washed down with real coffee. It really helped us get started on a day that looked to be pretty dark and rainy.

We rode all day on NCN 41 and 4. The rain was really just a light mist, and we got a little show when we reached the canal. A couple of small boats were going by and a guy was operating the swing bridge. We didn’t mind the wait. We chatted with the guy about how the canal system works and it was interesting to see how he hand cranked the old mechanism to swing the bridge back into place.

The route along the canal was a bit rough, but pretty. After that it was mostly quiet roads. The rain stopped and we took our lunch break in a town called Hill, which didn’t really have one.

A road closure forced us to take a busier road a little out of our way, but we ended up getting a very good view of the Severn Bridge and the Welsh coast.

When we got to Bristol we hit big hills. We had to push our bikes a couple of times, and there was very little time spent on level ground until we got on the Bristol/Bath cycleway which follows an old rail bed.

Our Airbnb was in Easton. Our host Jasmine was very nice and we settled in quickly. She gave us some Bristol tips, including where to shop for food.

On our shop we discovered Easton’s main street, which is a little like Queen St of old. The grocery store had a lot of Indian stuff, and we ended up having some boil-in-the-bag curries and rice.

Elderberries grow along the roadsides here. Couldn’t resist picking some.

Distance:

$81

Another Phone Bites the Dust

Day 131: Stratford-upon-Avon to Worcester England, Monday August 28th

Cycle route 5 out of Stratford is very nice, but it also goes a long way north before coming back down into Worcester. We decided that we’d take the 5 for awhile, and then make our own westerly route along some small roads, cutting the corner.

At one point we saw signs for a ‘ford’ and weren’t quite sure what it meant but it soon became clear. The river just ran right over the road. Thankfully there was a path around for pedestrians and bicycles.

One annoying thing we’ve encountered lately on the cycle routes are gates that are nearly impossible to get through with our loaded bikes.

In the tiny, pretty village of Sambourne we had lunch on a bench on the green. Across from us was an intriguing place called the Green Dragon Inn. We had to check it out.

After an ale in the beer garden, we left route 5 and headed west. It started out great: through Astwood Bank and Feckenham. And then Google Maps sent us down a dark steep hill filled with potholes. The juddering shook my phone free of the garbage mount I bought in Berlin (do not purchase a PNY phone mount!). Deb retrieved it for me, but the glass was shattered and it would not turn on. I even managed to get a tiny shard of glass stuck in my thumb, which I didn’t get out until we were in our hotel room.

Now with two dead phones in my handlebar bag, Deb was left as map girl, relying on her trustworthy, but relatively ancient Nexus 4. Without a mount of her own (and there was no way she was putting her phone on mine!) we had to stop a few times to check where we were, but it wasn’t too long before we found cycle route 45 and it took us right into the heart of Worcester.

We stayed at a hotel, a rarity for us, but it had an affordable room (better than the Airbnb places available) and it was right downtown. It was an old place, but really very charming, with a nice central staircase. Our room was stuffy, but big.

We hurried out and found a mobile phone repair place. The guy said it wasn’t worth fixing and tried to sell me a new phone. A few doors down was the Carphone Warehouse, which is the outfit I bought the phone from in Aberdeen. No, it’s not insured. No we can’t wait seven to ten days to get it fixed. The nice young man said I should try yet another mobile repair joint, where it likely could be fixed faster and cheaper, but voiding the warranty. We rushed a couple of blocks over, as everything was starting to close. This guy gave me two quotes, one for a new Samsung screen, one for a knockoff, and both were higher than Carphone Warehouse. I didn’t even bother asking how long it would take, it just wasn’t worth the money. I’ll live without a phone for a few weeks.

It was the last day of the Worcester festival, which meant that when we did our usual walkabout, we discovered a pretty good Dixieland jazz band playing at a riverside square. People were already picking our their spots to watch the 10 pm fireworks. We sat on some stone stairs and listened to the music while people watching but didn’t last until the fireworks.

Distance: 50 km

$106

House of Rules

Day 128: Stamford to Leicester England, Friday August 25th

Miranda gave us some advice about where to visit, and where to avoid, on our tour. We adjusted our proposed route to Bristol accordingly.

Breakfast was great and the weather was perfect again (not regretting the train ride expense at all). We continued on route 63 all day. Quiet country roads mostly, which meant few good places to stop. The hills were helping us burn off our big breakfast in a hurry, and we finally had to just lean our bikes against a farm gate and eat our lunch standing up (bread and cheese).

Leicester is a little rough around the edges and our Airbnb host’s list of rules and demand for extra ID verification made us think that maybe we’d booked into a flophouse. When we arrived on our street, we found 352A had glass shards strewn in front of the door, and a rather unsavoury looking woman smoking in the doorway. I groaned. Then we realized we were staying at 352, next door, which looked much better.

Stewart, the host, is really running the place as a budget hotel. It has 7 rooms to let, with a kitchen and lounge on each of the two floors. Apparently, he’s had a couple of bad guests, which explained the crazy long list of rules and the extra level of security. The doors all locked automatically, and since he didn’t live in the building, he got sick of hearing “I took a shower and locked myself out of my room”. His solution was to install small key safes outside every room and insist that the key only come out to unlock the door, then go right back in.

Deb and I went out and bought frozen pizzas for dinner. After eating we walked down into the core of the city. We explored a bit, and then went to a great pub called the Blue Boar. Deb was tempted to steal her glass (it had a boar on it) but she already has two souvenir pint sleeves in her bags.

The old town was busy with people going to bars and restaurants, and just sort of hanging around. We walked around a bit more, then headed back to our room.

 

Distance: 60 km

$

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

$

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.

Familiar Faces

Day 116: Brightons to Edinburgh, Scotland, Sunday August 13th

It was hard not to ride slowly to enjoy the good weather and the fantastic canal tow path cycle route, but we were anxious to get to the city to see our friends Allison and Aron. They were already in the midst of the Fringe craziness, and we exchanged messages as we drew closer to Beaverbank, the student residence where we all had rooms.

We had to push our bikes across a couple of old aqueducts. Water on one side, the drop on the other, and a narrow, rough, cobbled path between. The Avon, in particular, was a bit harrowing for Deb, as it is very long.

The ride through the city was a bit hectic, but we managed to carefully weave through the crowds.

We checked in, showered, and Deb ducked out to get supplies. Al and Aron arrived while she was out, and Aron, a true gent, gave me a cold beer. We spent some time catching up then went out dinner. The owner (manager?) of the restaurant gave us some Fringe tips.

We walked deeper into the festival area, thinking that we might find a show that interested us, but it was a warmish night, so when Allison spotted some seats outside a bar, we got drinks and enjoyed the people watching.

At 10 pm you can’t have outdoor drinks apparently, so our mini-crawl moved across the street. Then we returned to our rooms, planning some Fringe fun for Monday.

Distance: 50 km

$237