Burley and Back

Day 148: Brockenhurst England, Thursday September 14th

A great day for a hike: sunny and in the teens. We took our host Kathryn’s advice and headed mostly north from Brockenhurst.

The New Forest was made a royal forest in about 1079, by William the Conqueror. Some landowners, called Commoners, were granted permission to let their animals graze in the woods, and some of those original agreements still stand. We set out hoping very much that we would see pigs, though apparently that’s getting pretty rare.

We stopped to eat our lunch at a picnic table next to a car park. From there we followed the Tall Trees walking trail, and saw some amazing red woods and giant sequoia.

Going a little off trail, we cut our way west. I wanted to see Burley, a town with a long connection with witches. While trying to make our way to another cycle path, we saw a large herd of deer.

We were just entering Burley when I startled what I thought was a big dog. We’d stumbled into a group of cute piggies, all chowing down on acorns.

With tired legs we walked around the old town, and then we stopped for a pint at the Burley Inn. Deb checked to see if there was a bus back to Brockenhurst. Nope. It was a 10 km hike back, which ended up being longer as we didn’t follow the Google route.

Some of the walk now was in heathland, and after a brief rain shower we were treated to a rainbow over the fields of heather. With that and the (sort-of) wild horses around, the place felt very magical.

We felt we deserved a pub dinner, so we managed to stumble to the Foresters Arms. It was worth going over budget.

Distance: (maybe a 30 km walk)


Wild Horses and Snake Catchers

Day 147: Bournemouth to Brockenhurst England, Wednesday September 13th

Once again we had a night where we watched the rain pouring and listened to the wind howling and we wondered what our morning ride would be like. And again, the sun was out when we ate our breakfast. I went into the bathroom to brush my teeth and when I came out it was raining again. Stas told us we could hang out for as long as we wanted, and we talked bicycles, and about his and Kinga’s future plans. They both work in hospitality, which meant it was fairly easy for them to leave London, where they met, and move to Bournemouth, which suited them better. They hope someday to move to Slovenia, maybe to open a place of their own.

The shower passed, and again Stas was a big help with the bikes and gear.

The start of the ride was all on the beach. This time going with the wind. They only downside was that it was hard work navigating the large drifts of sand. We weren’t in a hurry, so we didn’t mind.

Eventually we had to push our bikes up a zigzag path to the road up on the cliff. Then, riding through Christchurch, the signs for cycle route 2 simply disappeared. Deb used her phone to get us through the town, and soon we were entering the New Forest. Still no cycle route signs. We stopped for lunch at a memorial dedicated to the New Forest Air Fields, of which there were many, and those who served at, and supported them, during the war.

We didn’t know anything about the forest, so we were pleasantly surprised, and a little confused, when we started seeing cows and horses, apparently wandering around free.

At one point a few horses were blocking the road. We stopped in the middle of them, and when one approached me I gave it a pat. Then it sniffed at my bins and gave one a nibble. I shooed it back, laughing, then turned in time to see another horse snag Debbie’s bottle of suntan lotion right out of a side pocket on her pannier. Deb reacted quickly, and they entered a little tug-o-war. Deb won, but the bottle had some teeth marks. Undaunted, the horse immediately marched around to the front of Deb’s bike and started investigating her handlebar bag. Things were getting out of hand, and I was close to collapsing with laughter. Nimbly, Deb navigated her way around a couple of the curious equines, and we escaped.

The paths through the New Forest were all nice: quiet roads, rail trails, and gravel tracks. We saw cows blocking roads, and a lot more horses.

Our Airbnb was in Brockenhurst, in the middle of the Forest. It was called Cornucopia, and Kathryn, our host was ex-navy, and a dog trainer. She really helped us with our plans, as she’s an expert on the New Forest. She also gave us a good rundown on the local pubs and shops.

We explored the town, stopping at The Snakecatcher pub. The best thing about this place is the story behind its name. Harry “Brusher” Mills lived in a self-made hut in the New Forest for years. He caught grass snakes, and sometimes adders using only a forked stick and sold them to visitors, research centres and zoos. He died in an outbuilding of the inn, which was eventually renamed to honour him.

We ate a simple dinner in our room, and watched a terrible horror movie.

Distance: 31 km


Salmon Leap

Day 103: Crask to Tain, Scotland, Monday July 31st

We had a full Scottish cooked breakfast, said goodbye to Allen and our hosts, then climbed the hill away from the Inn. The rest of the ride was pretty much a long, slow descent to the Kyle of Sutherland, and then to Dornoch Firth.

We had light rain for the first hour, then we dried in the sun. In Lairg we ran into Allen again, but he was riding more directly south than us.

On a beautiful road following the Shin River, we came to a strange building, designed to look like a salmon. It was the Falls of Shin cafe and pavilion. The rain had stopped again, so we enjoyed the sun at a picnic table and had a snack. Then we walked down to the falls. I was just saying, “Wouldn’t it be cool to actually see salmon jumping…” when we saw the first leaping fish. We stayed for awhile, watching the salmon heading upstream to spawn, cheering on their efforts.

We had to tackle some stairs to get over the Kyle of Sutherland on a pedestrian bridge. We’re getting pretty good at this challenge, and it gave us a great view of the Carbisdale Castle. It also got us onto a very quite road for a nice stretch.

There was just a little rain left for us to wait out after we reached our campground, and the site had a nice porch around the facilities building. When it cleared we set up our tent, and rode into Tain.

I was able to get a phone signal by the Tesco, which was good, because it was my mother’s birthday. I talked to my parents for nearly half an hour.

Deb made hot water couscous, and we avoided the midges by hanging out in the laundry room, which actually wasn’t bad. Three other tents were set up after ours: a woman traveling by car, a young man cycle touring, and a couple with their big dog. Nobody seemed particularly keen to chat. There was a beautiful sunset, and we were the only ones up to see it. Probably because of the midges.

Distance: 68 km


Puffin Stuff

Day 96: Lerwick to Sumburgh Head and back (by bus), July 24th

For our next day in the Shetlands we did a little research and decided to take a local bus to the southern tip of the main island. Much of the bus trip was the same road we biked on the day before (there just aren’t a lot of roads here) but it was nice to see the views again from a warm seat.

The bus has to cross one of the airport’s runways, then it drops you close to the lonely Sumburgh hotel. Right next to that is Jarlshof, an amazing site where we walked around ruins from a staggering range of time. We got an excellent audio tour and spent over an hour exploring.

From Jarlshof there is a footpath up to the Sumburgh Head lighthouse. We walked next to some rather scary cliffs overlooking crashing waves. At one point Deb spotted our first seal of the day, bobbing in the water and staring at us.

Father up we started to see puffins, and other seabirds that nest in the cliffs. At some points near the lighthouse you’re very close to the birds and we got some good pictures. The lighthouse was interesting as well – built by Robert Louis Stevenson’s grandfather – and there was a radar installation up there that played a pivotal role in WWII.

We hiked back over a sheep-covered hill, spotting yet another inquisitive seal as we approached the hotel. We had a pint in their bar before catching the bus back to Lerwick.

Distance: 0



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



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


Awesome since 1958

Day 56: June 13th, Jelling to Billund, Denmark

A carpenter from Billund founded Lego in 1934, and the company headquarters are still here. We rode past several Lego office buildings, including one intriguingly named, Lego Innovation House.

Back in Sweden we booked a patch of grass for two nights in the Legoland Holiday Village. With all the rain we’ve had since our return to Denmark, we were very fortunate to get a cool, but dry day and night.

The campground is pretty nice. It’s more expensive than your average Danish campground, but the wifi coverage is great, it’s clean, and there are cool Lego models all over the place. For kids it would be amazing, because the playground equipment is really great.

I wish people wouldn’t feed birds in the tenting area. Stop feeding ducks bread, first off. And secondly, they crap where you sleep, genius.

Distance: 25 km

$82 plus bike tires and tubes

Living High on the Hög

Day 38: May 26th, Påarp to Höganäs, Sweden

We’ve heard that the Swedish take coffee seriously, and we got our first taste of it on this morning. Ola made me an espresso and Deb a cappuccino: divine. They also gave us a couple of bottles of locally produced apple juice. We took our breakfast outside, as it was sunny and warm. A bunny ran through the backyard to entertain us. We took our time getting out, partly because we were so comfortable.

To start we needed to ride back to the seaside, where we would pick up the Kattegattleden, Sweden’s first national cycle route. Helsingborg has a beautiful waterfront. We explored a bit, and slowly started north. As Deb stopped to take a picture of the long promenade by the sea, I was approached by a couple who wanted to know if I was American. We talked for several minutes, and learned that they had gone to York University, and taught there, and had returned to Toronto every summer since 1984. They told us what kind of terrain to expect on our ride north.

The route was mostly beautiful coast. At one point we rode right under a guy paragliding over the dunes.

We stopped at a conference centre/church that seems to be converting into a campground. There were a couple of other tenters, but no other cycle tourers. We had a view of the Kattegat sea, a kitchen, and a lounge with power outlets. We stopped so early we had time for a long walk through the cottages to pick up groceries.

Distance: 31 km


Hog Wild

Day 28: May 16th, Fürstenberg/Havel to Kratzeburg, Germany

Light rain, all day. Also hills, just to make it interesting. Riding mostly north through forest, and around many small lakes.

Elevated hunting blind next to a forest trail

We entered Muritz National Park and had an exciting encounter with nature (especially for Deb): we saw a family of Wild Boars! We were close enough to hear their grunts. For all I know, they’re like the chipmunks of this part of Germany, and nothing to get excited about, but we thought it was pretty amazing.

The misty, spitting drizzle turned into actual rain just as we reached Campingplatz Naturfreund. That convinced us it was worth shelling out a little extra to rent an old caravan rather than pitching our tent. It was far from luxurious, but it was dry, had electrical plugs for charging our phones, and pretty cosy. The campground is on the shores of Käbelicksee, a small lake, and when the rain let up we toured the nice grounds and bought a couple of beers from the proprietors.

Sitting in the sunroom outside the camper

Distance: 60 km