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

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

Loopy

Day 132: Worcester to Gloucester England, Tuesday August 29th

There was a light rain falling as we rode through Worcester looking for cycle route 45. Once we located it we made good progress along the canal to the pretty Diglis Marina and then out into the countryside.

We had noticed on the Sustrans site that the section of the 45 we were doing had two loops – places where we could take a left or right fork. The route description says absolutely nothing about this stretch of the route. In fact, I think it worth mentioning that the description of cycle route 45 is three paragraphs long (for 270 miles of cycle route). There is not one word about the route between these two cities. We love you Sustrans, but come on.

With nothing else to guide us, we decided to take the shorter of the two options at both loops. At the first loop, just south of Pirton, I missed the turn where the diverged paths met up again, and we continued back around the other side of the loop. We almost did a full circle before Deb realized what was happening and we turned back. Did I mention that it was raining and that my phone was broken?

The fork we took at the next loop took us into Tewksbury, which is a fairly big town. We figured that the other fork was longer, but avoided the busy streets. We needed to buy something for lunch, and Tewksbury seemed pretty enough, so we were still happy with our decision.

But after we left the high street, we couldn’t find any markers for route 45. Deb struggled with her phone and we had to turn back to find the little road we’d missed. Then that little road turned into a dirt path. This can’t be right, we thought. Deb checked again. The route was supposed to cross the river we were riding beside. But there was no way across. Back to where the little road starts we found a tiny note stuck on a pole, with a number for ferry information. Deb couldn’t get a signal, but we’d just been down the road and seen no sign of a ferry. A ferry? Where on the map does it indicate a ferry? Nowhere.

Even backtracking proved difficult, and when we got turned around again, Deb just about gave up. It was still raining.

But my warrior princess figured it out. And though it was a long detour, it was actually a pretty pleasant ride. And the rain stopped. Still, it was a pretty quiet lunch we ate in front of St. Peter Church in Bushley.

There were no more major problems (though there was a very muddy bridle path) until we got to Gloucester. We muddled our way though the city without too much difficulty, and even stopped at a canal-side brewpub near the docks.

The rest of the ride was along the canal, with no cars, just joggers, other cyclists, and dog walkers. We had to stop a couple of times to work our way through the suburban neighbourhood of our Airbnb, but we managed to get there before the sun went down.

We were greeted by Tony Latham, a retired filmmaker who now writes books, makes beer and wine, and has an incredible little garden where he grows more stuff than I would have believed possible. He also keeps a pretty great two room B&B. Our room had a view of the canal and an en suite shower and toilet.

Tony made us tea and we got to know each other. His movies were multi-language development films made in third world countries. He has been to many amazing places, including parts of Africa that are not easy for foreigners to see. His favourite places were Tuvalu and Bhutan. And he cans the fruit that he grows himself and fishes in the canal. I think Deb really felt at home.

Distance: 72 km

$124

 

Highland Standoff

Day 110: Acharn to Callander, Scotland, Monday August 7th

We had toast and coffee with Charlene, Adam and Charlotte, and said our goodbyes. Adam rode down to the Scottish Crannog Centre where he was going to be learning how to cast a bronze sword from a visiting craftsman. Charlotte let us take more of her exquisite chocolates. We rode west along the edge of Loch Tay, a route with great views, many little waterfalls, and many, many hills.

By the time we reached the beautiful Falls of Dochart, in Killin, our legs felt quite rubbery. We stopped for photos, and lunch. So far, the entire ride was part of the Rob Roy Way, though in 2011 we were going in the other direction.

While we were standing on the single lane bridge, taking pictures, we noticed that the cars were all stopped. Two cars, both with ample room to move out of the way, were engaged in a stand0ff. They sat for some time, and eventually the angry gesturing led to getting out of the cars and shouting. The line grew and grew. It went on for several minutes. Fortunately, it did not escalate any further. One of them finally gave in.

We rode into the Trossachs National Park next, and began the longest climb of the day along forest paths. The reward though was a very long, very gradual descent with spectacular views. And ice cream. Still, when we finally reached Callander, we were nearly exhausted.

We stayed in a Hostel, but we had a private en suite room that was big and bright. The only thing “hostelly” about it was the kitchen (which was great) and the lounge full of people much younger than us.

We went for an evening stroll on the High Street, but turned in early.

Distance: 60 km

$78

Pod People

Day 93: Johnshaven to Aberdeen (ferry to Lerwick), July 21st

A day with a deadline; we had to be at the Aberdeen ferry by 6:30. It wasn’t a particularly long ride, but we knew there were a lot of hills to conquer.

Getting out of Johnshaven involved riding along a rather rocky seaside track. We crisscrossed over the A92, and rode on it briefly, then climbed a long way up for a spectacular view over Stonehaven. The ride down into the port town was nice, but the ride up and out was not. Construction of a new highway has added a lot of traffic and confusion to the roads up the coast. Climbing a busy, steep and long hill is not a lot of fun.

 

We stopped to rest and eat by a cenotaph and who should come riding up the hill but our new friend, John. We formed up our little convoy again and he helped us negotiate some of the construction mess.

At one point we met a young Dutch guy who was on a huge tour. He’d already been to Iran and Mauritius (which I had to look up).

When we were only a few miles from Aberdeen, Cycle Route 1 seemed to get bogged in construction again, following a gravel road which appeared to be closed. John elected to ride the A90, warning us that Aberdeen drivers were crazy, but saying he’d ridden it safely many times when working in the area. We followed him up the on-ramp. But it was an on-ramp. The closer we got, the more the A90 looked like the Don Valley Parkway. We bailed. John disappeared into the throng of traffic and we rolled the wrong way back down the ramp. Google Maps helped us find a slower, safer route into the city.

Riding into Aberdeen felt a lot like riding in Toronto. There were a few half-assed cycle paths, but mostly it was riding on busy roads. Too many potholes, too many cars and people. We were happy to finally reach the port.

We were early, so we had time to go into the giant mall across from the port and get me a new, unlocked, phone. We walked into the city a bit, took some pictures and picked up supplies. At a bank, Deb also managed to trade in a £5 note that had been taken out of circulation.

Boarding the ferry was straightforward, and we discovered that the “Sleeping Pods” that we’d booked were really just glorified reclining chairs. Still, they had USB plugs and were in a room with no blaring TV. We also received blankets, eye masks, and tokens for the showers, which were actually really good.

Distance: 60 km

$223 plus a new phone

Coasts and Castles

Day 88: Alnwick to Eyemouth, July 15th

We couldn’t get our bikes out of the Inn’s cellar until someone came in to open the place, so we did a little sightseeing in the morning. We’d heard that Alnwick had a famous used book shop, so we sought it out. “Barter Books” did not disappoint. It is, easily, the best bookstore I have ever been in. It’s in a former train station, and it had coal fires burning (in July, yes, but it was a misty and cool day), a model train running over the bookcases, and a beautiful cafe in the old waiting room. If I lived in Alnwick I would go there every day. Deb bought a paperback, but I resisted; my eReader has no charm, but it is very light.

The mist was now rain, so we lingered, then we shopped for groceries. By the time we started riding it was 11:30. This turned out to be a mistake.

We started the ride with a long climb in the rain on a busy road. Conditions quickly improved, but the meandering cycle route seemed determined to take us east and west more than north. We had a room booked in a small hotel, but we were worried that there would be noone there to check us in.

That nasty bolt came loose and started rubbing Deb’s rear tire again. We stopped and I did a better job securing it than before.

At one point the route devolved into a grassy track. It was like nothing we’d ridden on before and we had to pause to make certain we hadn’t taken a wrong turn. Later, when it was far too late to be of use, we saw a sign that warned us that we had been riding through a former military training area, and that touching any metal objects we found could kill us. But yes, this was still National Cycle Route 1, also known as the “Coasts and Castles North Route”, and is still part of the North Sea Cycle Route.

There were plenty of castles though. Most impressive was Bamburgh Castle.

Approaching Berwick-upon-Tweed the trail became a cliffside dirt track. Deb tried very hard to appreciate the spectacular views of the sea, but it was a little more treacherous than she liked, and it did not help that we felt we were racing against the clock. Shortly after this excitment we crossed into Scotland. We also left Cycle Route 1 and picked up Route 76, sticking to the coast as we headed for Edinburgh.

To top it off, Deb got a flat. Fortunately this one was a slow leak and we managed to go the last 12 km only refilling it twice.

 

When we finally climbed the last hill and arrived at our hotel, we found a phone number on the door. The man knew right away who was calling. “I’d just about given up on you,” he said. Actually, he was very friendly and helpful, and he said he didn’t mind the late check in at all. Our bikes got a nice dry stairwell for the night and we got long, hot showers and a sweet, sweet bed.

Distance: 90 km

$111

Hobbit Hut

Day 49: June 6th, Gothenburg, Sweden to Brønden, Denmark

We got up very early, giving ourselves plenty of time to ride to the ferry dock. That didn’t stop me from freaking out when we hit construction and got turned around. We made it with 17 minutes to spare, and boarded with about eight other cycle tourers. The ferry between Gothenburg and Frederikshavn is pretty big, and sometimes the crossing can be a little rough. For us, it was sunny and smooth. I was stunned by the number of people I saw buying draft beer and drinking in the sun before the ship left port: it wasn’t even 10 a.m. Impressive.

We’d planned a short ride south along the coast to a campground, but with the free WiFi on the ferry, we looked at other options and decided to take a more direct route towards Aalborg (our planned 2nd night) taking Denmark’s National Cycle Route 3: The Ancient Road.

The docks in Frederikshavn were right by the Tourist Info building, so Deb ran in and got us a good map of the cycle route.

A word about National Cycle Routes. We’ve learned that a National Route does not mean that it is direct, or that the terrain will be suitable for loaded touring bicycles. In fact, whoever lays out these routes seems determined to get bikes off of roads with any cars at all. You’ll be happily rolling along a quiet highway with an excellent surface and a good, wide shoulder, and the route will suddenly turn you onto a muddy logging road with steep hills and loose gravel. It’s always a gamble, because the route often takes these annoying turns to get you to something fabulous: like an incredible view, or a cycle path next to a lake. Other times, it winds through the muck for 8 km and then you meet up with that nice road again, which has gone in a nice straight line for 3 km.

The Ancient Road Hærvejen basically follows the track used by medieval ox traders. I thought that meant it would wander around a lot to avoid hills. Nope.

It’s not that bad though, Denmark isn’t exactly mountainous. Denmark is windy though, and we got some of that on our first day back.

We stopped in Brønden, at something the locals call a “Nature Camp”. There are simple shelters and a covered place to eat. Also firepits and wood. There’s an outhouse, and there’s supposed to be a water tap. This place had a busted top, and a sign that read Vand (water) with a vague arrow, pointing at nothing in particular. We went on a water hunt through the nothing town, and found a tap at the soccer field.

We ate and got into our hobbity shelter just before the rain hit. We were very glad we weren’t in a tent like we’d planned, for we woke in the middle of the night to a serious downpour. The structure was small and simple, but it was water-tight. We really enjoyed our little taste of wild camping, and the fact that it was free was nice after the extravagance of Oslo.

Distance: 50 km (plus ferry between Sweden and Denmark)

$76

Rostock and Roll

Day 30: May 18th, Krakow am See to Rostock, Germany

We took down our tent and hit the road unsure of how far we would get, but hoping we might reach Rostock. Pretty much out of food, we stopped for groceries in Krakow and had breakfast by a fountain. Our Swiss friend caught up to us (he must’ve had a very early start!) in the square.

This was our second day in Mecklenburg on the Berlin to Copenhagen cycle route. It started with more undulating landscape, but good trails and great weather.

After passing through the town of Güstrow we finally found the flatness, riding on canals and country roads.

A large square castle building with moat

A riding path along a small stream or canal

We reached Rostock, and starting looking for an Airbnb, thinking we might like a rest day before taking the ferry to Denmark. No luck. We rode to a pension, and found it closed. Very tired and very hungry, our phone batteries dying, we sat on the steps of the closed Tourist Information office in Universitätsplatz, and tried Airbnb again, this time for one night.

We found a place that turned out to be a room in the flat of Herr Singer, a modern Renaissance Man. He was teaching Tango dancing in his attached studio when we arrived. When his class ended, we chatted. He also works as a photographer and is a musician as well. We talked travel, mostly.

By the time we’d showered and changed, it was too late to purchase dinner at a grocery store. We stumbled to the pub around the corner and the barkeep, who spoke very little English, treated us very well. Stuffed with beer and good pub food (so many vegetables!) we got our bill and a complimentary shot of Kirsch.

A shelter shaped like a large milk can with a cut out door

Distance: 90 km

$133

Burning Thighs

Day 16: May 4th, Helmsdorf to Irgersdorf, Germany

Don’t bother trying to find Irgersdorf on a map, it’s just a cluster of homes.

We continued on the D4 cycle route, better prepared for what it would be like. The weather was back to grey, misty and about 12c.

The D4 is unpredictable. Sometimes you’re on farm roads, sometimes a cobbled street in a town, and sometimes on a muddy logging road in the woods. Well, one thing is predictable, you’re always either gaining, or losing elevation (mostly gaining). We covered maybe only 50km, or less, but it felt like 150. It didn’t help that we had some trouble following the D4, getting a little turned around a few times.

About 1 p.m., we used Booking.com to reserve a place in Irgersdorf (“The Apartment in the Mountains”), but when we arrived we weren’t even sure which house it was. Few places had numbers, and no one answered at the one Google Maps seemed to indicate. We looked around a bit, and finally ended up back at the same (unnumbered) door. This time a very surprised man answered. Neither he, nor his wife, spoke any English. It took awhile, but we finally figured out that the room was free, but he didn’t feel it was fully prepared (we think what Google Translate gave us as “not suck out” was un-vacuumed).

The place was a full apartment with a kitchen! Some desperately needed tea and hot food.

Distance: 45km

$70

Praha

Day 13: May 1st – Public Transit to Prague

The Czech Republic is still cheap to visit by European standards, but Prague rooms are a lot pricier than those in Mělník. We decided to leave the bikes for a day and take a bus/subway into the city. The German cycle tourists we had breakfast with at the pension seemed to think we were making a mistake, but we already knew what it’s like riding a bike in a Czech city, and our butts were looking forward to a day out of the saddle.

We covered the 50km in about 1.5 hours, leaving plenty of time to walk the ancient city. It being a European holiday, the place was hopping. The mob around the astronomical clock was of Disney-esque proportions, but it was fun, and it got better when a small student parade broke through the scene.

It was sunny and fairly warm. We looked at all the beautiful buildings and walked across the Charles Bridge, trying not to knock all the selfie-takers into the river. I have never seen so many people taking pictures of themselves.

We found a microbrewery recommended on TripAdvisor, then found a couple more, finishing up at U Fleků, which has been brewing for over 500 years. They only make one style: a dark lager, and servers walk around with trays of it constantly; you simply signal when you need a refill. An accordion player was performing and people were singing along.

For dessert, we couldn’t resist getting the treat that is everywhere in Prague: Trdelník (they sometimes call them “Chimneys” for tourists like us. It’s dough cooked on a spit, covered in sugar and walnuts, and filled with whatever you want – chocolate, in our case.

We managed to find the way back to the pension in Mělník too, which was a bonus.

Distance: 0 (bus)

$149