Phase Two Ends

Day 158: Southampton England, Sunday September 24th

The gang gathered at the Docks Cafe for breakfast. It was nice enough to eat outside. We headed back to the playground, but spotted an open Charity Shop on the way. Here Deb found perfect black shoes and a sparkly blouse. We celebrated with fun on the swings.

Will and I went to the Sea City Museum, which has an excellent Titanic exhibition, as well as a lot of really great model ships. The ladies caught up to us in the museum’s gallery of old-time arcade amusements. Harriet had her palm read by a machine that seemed to know her.

Sadly, this last event of our tour had to come to an end, as they had to catch their train back to London. We said our goodbyes, and Harriet was generous with hugs.

We still needed one important thing: bags. Without some kind of carriers we could never manage all our gear in one trip. We will not have the bikes with us when we board (supposedly), so unlike the cruise over, we can’t just strap things back onto our wheels. In a gigantic supermarket we began our search, while also picking up some things for dinner, but the lines were outrageous. The place was mad. We bailed out.

Deb wondered if a “Pound Store” would have what we need. Sure enough, the first one we checked had some woven plastic bags that would do the trick. We bought four.

Back in Woolston we picked up food at a much saner Co-op. On the walk home, there were two horses tied up outside the local pub.

Now we’re wrapping things up. Tomorrow, we check out at 11, ride into downtown Southampton where we plan to wait an hour over a craft beer at a brewpub called the Dancing Man. Boarding begins at noon, but we learned at the Florida end that everybody wants to get on right away. Hopefully the terminal will be nice and calm if we wait until about 2 pm.

Distance: 0

$

Brand New Kicks

Day 157: Southampton England, Saturday September 23rd

Our alarm was set to get us going fairly early today, for we wanted to get through some Charity Shops before Will and Susanne arrived from London. First store, first score: Deb got a little handbag, just big enough to hold her camera and phone.

We made note of some potential stuff in the other stores in Woolston, but there was nothing perfect, so we resolved to come back Monday morning if we found nothing better.

We walked over the big Itchen Bridge and into Southampton proper, then explored for awhile, basically at random. We did stumble across a few more Charity Shops, and Deb found a cardigan. At a second-hand place called the Beatnik Emporium Deb purchased desperately needed replacement sneakers. At another place I found a good sweater (and that’s me done).

It was sunny, even hot in the sun, and we soaked up some rays while waiting for Will, Susanne and Harriet to arrive at their hotel. Harriet, now almost four, was shy around us at first, but not for long. What a sweetheart!

We walked to the Platform Tavern for lunch, then explored the old town, catching up the whole time. Will has been purchasing some mysterious, wonderful old negatives, and had brought some of the most fascinating prints. Deb was enthralled by them, and they discussed copyright law, preservation, and archival research.

We explored the town some more and stopped at a cafe. While the rest of us finished up, Susanne and Harriet took a ride on a ferris wheel on the High Street. Later, Harriet guided us around a nice playground.

Dinner was at a good Mexican place (Deb and I didn’t know you could get good Mexican in the UK, and we’d been craving it). The hitherto tireless Harriet finally ran out of gas, and Susanne took her back to the hotel. Will, Deb and I hit the Titanic pub. It wasn’t tacky, it was actually a nice place.

The break from routine (eating at odd times, etc.) triggered one of Deb’s nasty migraines, but it was getting late anyway. We agreed to meet for breakfast, and returned to the house of pug. We had to step over Buffy the cat to get to our room.

Distance: 0

$

Long Itch

Day 129: Leicester to Long Itchington England, Saturday August 26th

That’s not a typo, we camped in Long Itchington, or Long Itch to locals.

Our day started with a simple breakfast in Leicester, followed by the making of beds and vacuuming the room. Stewart, the Airbnb host gives you a choice: do these chores or pay a £7 cleaning fee to his paypal account. Naturally, we went the cheap route.

Getting out of Leicester started out well. It took us little time to get on the cycle route by the canal. But then we missed the rail trail entrance and ended up having to haul our bikes up some stairs to get on it later. Good thing we’ve had so much practice doing that.

It was sunny and bordering on hot. We took cycle route 6 and 50 almost straight south on trail and quiet roads through quaint towns. Then we cut west toward Rugby to find the 41. We barely saw any of Rugby as the cycle route dropped into forest to follow a stream. It did come back up at south edge of town, where we saw some guys playing rugby in Rugby.

The route took us through a couple more little towns, and along the way we met up with an older gent out for a ride of his own. We rode with him for awhile and he told us it was his first day out in three months due to illness. He was a character, and I was happy to finally meet a cyclist who goes our speed! While we all laboured up a hill he chirped, “It’s only gravity.” He also helped us out with directions to Long Itch.

Another gentleman helped us find the local grocery store, and then we arrived at the Marton Rd Farm campground. Some of the online reviews made it sound pretty terrible, but it was perfect for us. Although there was only one working shower for the whole place, there were no lines when we needed it, right after getting the tent up. The field was flat and the grass was soft. There was a fence to lean the bikes against. And there werepicnic tables! Enough for everyone!

Deb and I shared a bottle of wine and had a cold dinner of “reduced” (discounted) food from the Co-op at our own table, next to our tent, in the sunshine.

The sun is setting much earlier on our campsites now, so we turned in pretty early.

Distance: 60 km

$

Stamford … even the toilet blocks are Grade II-listed

Day 127: Peterborough to Stamford England, Thursday August 24th

Today felt like a new beginning. It was sunny and warm, with no rain in the forecast, and we had no idea what the cycle route would give us. Very exciting.

Cycle route 63 took us north and east, meandering through some park areas and mostly quiet roads. We got a little turned around in the old winding streets of Stamford, and ended up having to roll carefully down a flight of shallow stairs.

Our Airbnb was, yet again, excellent. Miranda and Mark had a beautiful house and they made us very welcome in it. They had a golden doodle puppy named Olive who was also keen to meet us. Our room was really nice, so nice the antique piano in it didn’t seem out of place. They gave us some advice about exploring the town. It had been a fairly short ride, so we had time to be tourists. We showered and set off.

Stamford is very Niagara-on-the-lake, but with older buildings. It was a perfect day for walking the pretty streets.

We stopped at a pub attached to a brewery. It was full of little cosy sitting areas, and the pints were very cheap.

We bought a couple of postcards, and stopped again for another pint at a pub that we found out later was renowned for having a very surly barman. He wasn’t mean to us.

When we returned to the Airbnb for dinner, Miranda and Mark said they were also about to eat, and they asked if we’d like to eat with them and have some wine. They were really interesting people, and we talked about Brexit (strongly opposed) about travel and Airbnb, and much more.

Distance: 28 km

$

Snowball

Day 123: Beith to Maybole, Scotland, Sunday August 20th

After a makeshift breakfast we rode out of Beith and back onto cycle route 7, heading south. It was a fairly nice day and we were on quiet roads in the country.

At Irvine the route hit the coast and we got our first views of the Atlantic ocean since the Orkneys. The path through Troon was all along parks and beaches and golf courses and there were a lot of people out.

 

Shortly after Ayr, the route briefly put us on a rather busy and fast road. I was pleased, at first, when it turned off onto a little single track road with almost no traffic.

Then we hit the Carrick Hills.

It was one of our more arduous climbs, and it was followed by a series of smaller, but still tough foothills, until we finally reached Maybole.

Our Airbnb was a very big, beautiful, old house with a huge garden and some outbuildings. It was a lot of space for our two hosts, Chris and Julie-Anne, and their four cats, so they’d decided to get on Airbnb. They were excellent hosts, and really fascinating people. Julie-Anne had just finished her Masters thesis, and Chris took amazing photographs of abandoned spaces. He’d even been to Chernobyl.

All their cats were fun, but Snowball had a face I could not get enough of.

There were other guests, and we ended up sharing dinner with Shaun (Sean?) from California, who was traveling and working remotely (web consulting). He was really interesting too, and we had excellent dinner conversation over pasta, red wine, and a little rhubarb pie for dessert.

Distance: 65 km

$90

A Cousin in Hamilton

Day 122: Kilbarchen to Beith, Scotland, Saturday August 19th

We were getting a bit weary, and faced another day with afternoon rain in the forecast, so we booked a room above a pub in a town only 20 km farther down the cycle route. This meant we could also linger over breakfast and chat some more with our hosts and their other guests.

There was just a little intermittent spitting rain when we finally got on the cycle path, which was right outside their door. Cycle route 7 here is all on old rail trail: flat and beautiful.

The Saracen Head Hotel had graciously offered to let us check in as early as noon, but with such a short distance to go, we still took our time, stopping frequently for photos.

Beith is just a little ways off the route, but we had no trouble finding the pub and they had a back corridor where we were able to store the bikes. Sadly, the Isle of Skye Brewing cask taps at the bar were no longer in use, but we survived. While we sat enjoying a pint we met John, an older gentleman with family who emigrated to Hamilton. I told him we might be related, but we weren’t able to connect our family trees.

We bought supplies at the local Co-op, and had a simple meal in our room, resting up for a tougher day to come.

Distance: 20 km

$106

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

Dull, Boring and Bland

Day 109: Pitlochry to Acharn, Scotland, Sunday August 6th

Some of the riding on this day was on the Rob Roy Way, which we hiked back in 2011 with Will and Susanne. The route (still Cycle Route 7) follows the River Tay here, and it is mostly very quiet roads. Perthshire is beautiful.

We detoured into Aberfeldy to eat our lunch by the Black Watch memorial. A band of marauding ducks hassled us while we ate.

We rode up into the town to shop for supplies and stopped at the little market. We looked, but somehow missed, Charlotte Flower Chocolates, where we could have met our host.

It started to rain a bit as we rode past Castle Menzies and into Dull. This place I had read about, as it has paired with Boring, Oregon, and just lately with Bland, in Australia.

In Kenmore things became very familiar, and we couldn’t resist stopping at the Kenmore Hotel where we stayed during the hike. It is reputedly the oldest hotel in Scotland. In the lounge there is a poem written in pencil over the fireplace by Robbie Burns.

From Kenmore it was a short ride along Loch Tay to Acharn, where we found the wonderful old house where we we stayed the night. Our hosts, Charlotte and Adam are amazing people and their home is an old schoolhouse, full of quirks and stories. They made us tea, and later their other guest arrived: Charlene, from Brittany, a schoolteacher touring by car. Charlotte had bought herring at the Aberfeldy market, and they invited us to join them for dinner. Deb helped with the cooking. The conversation was as good as the food. Charlene had funny stories of being an Au Pair, and Adam and Charlotte have lived all over the world (Nepal and Namibia among other places). We could’ve listened to them all night.

And, of course, Charlotte now makes incredible chocolates using ingredients she forages for. Which we had after dinner.

Distance: 41 km

$100

Where Go the Boats?

Day 106: Kingussie, Scotland, Thursday August 3rd

Kingussie, the “Switzerland of the British Isles”, has been a popular holiday town for a long time. Robert Louis Stevenson (in whose footsteps we seem to follow often) spent much time here. He even wrote a poem about the Gynack River, where he floated paper boats as a boy. We walked a short hiking trail along the river, learning much about the history of the area from the plaques.

We did some planning over a pint in the lounge of the Duke of Gordon Hotel and I bought a random package of sweets at the candy store.

Making dinner we met the Dutch cycling couple staying in the room opposite ours. They were headed the same way as us, having come down from the Western Isles. They showed us their awesome cycle route guide (the Dutch publish very good ones) and helped with our planning.

Where Go the Boats?
Dark brown is the river,
Golden is the sand.
It flows along for ever,
With trees on either hand.
Green leaves a-floating,
Castles of the foam,
Boats of mine a-boating –
Where will all come home?
On goes the river
And out past the mill,
Away down the valley,
Away down the hill.
Away down the river,
A hundred miles or more,
Other little children
Shall bring my boats ashore.

-RLS

Distance: 0

$98

 

The Last Homely House

Day 102: Bettyhill to Crask, Sunday July 30th

A beautiful morning. We packed up the tent, rode (and pushed) up the hill to the only shop in town and purchased a makeshift breakfast. While we drank our instant coffee another cycle tourer arrived and we started talking. Brigitte was Swiss, and quite the traveler. We admired her custom-built bike and talked about the road. She invited us to look her up on Warmshowers if we ever tour Switzerland.

From Bettyhill it was a quick, and fun, drop to the River Naver. We spent much of the day riding on a B road next to the river. This was the Strathnaver region, which once had about forty settlements and is now nearly empty, thanks to the clearances. Along the route we stopped at a few historical plaques.

A neolithic site

After reaching Loch Naver and turning west the sky began to darken. Before we rejoined the A836 at Altnaharra we were getting some light rain.

The last stretch seemed awfully long as the rain came and went. Finally, we rolled down a long hill and into the only building in Crask: the Inn. It was raining very hard, and we arrived with me shouting angrily at a caravan driver who didn’t think he needed to give bicycles space.

I calmed down quickly when we saw the inside of the Inn. It was built in the early 1800s as a drover’s cottage, and it doesn’t face the road, because the road didn’t exist. We were warmly welcomed into the bar, where a peat fire was burning. The Inn is owned by the Scottish Episcopal Church, and they brought in a family to live there and run it on their behalf. You can tent in the garden for a donation to the church, but we, thankfully, had a room.

We met Allen, an English cycle tourer, when he came in soaking wet, asking if he could pitch his tent. We were already toasty warm, drinking tea by the fire. All three of us paid the extra £15 to join the family for dinner, and it was worth every penny. Douglas, Denise and their daughter cooked and served. Denise’s sister, and her son and daughter were also there with us riders. It was a big family meal, and we loved the food, drink and conversation.

After dinner, we riders retired to the bar for pints. Allen was a fascinating guy – a musician, and quite a cycle tourer. We talked midges, weather, gear, and a lot about the route and our travels.

Distance: 52 km

$230