The blog has been somewhat delayed due to a few days of no wifi. The first campsite had no wifi at all and the second one was in a National Park, so definitely no wifi service. We are now sitting in a tea room that has wifi, escaping the wind and rain and trying to catch up on our blog posts. So this one is a bit of a mega blog I’m afraid, to record a few day’s worth of happenings!
Friday, May 15
Hiya! Y’oright? See, I’m picking up the local lingo already! We awoke this morning in our posh hotel and took ourselves downstairs for the all-inclusive full English breakfast. Yep, we are in England and our first breakfast on these shores is a fair dinkum full English! Steve tucked into his plate of sausages, bacon, beans, tomato, mushrooms and toast and then downed a huge mug of coffee and a couple of pastries! I devoured my plate of veggie sausages, beans, tomato and mushrooms, washed down with a couple of cups of tea and with two bowls of cereal as an accompaniment! Well…if it’s on offer, we’re going to eat our fill! So now fully fuelled and ready to pedal, we retrieved our bikes from their basement possie, loaded them up and then walked across the road to the ferry. The ferry was just a short little chug across the river to Gosport, where we disembarked and began our day’s pedalling along part of the National Cycle Network, heading for a campsite at Netley.
The path we had for riding was absolutely brilliant! We had cycle paths and bridle paths pretty much the whole way and it took us along the coastline, then through trees, beside hedgerows and through picturesque little villages. It was delightful. We stopped in a little town for Steve to find some lunch for the road and we parked the bikes at the town bike stands, which were full to bursting with bikes.
I waited while Steve went off in search of food and I enjoyed watching the locals coming and going, riding their bikes in and out of town, with their handlebar baskets and shopping. While I was standing there, I had a chat to some of them. A lady rode her little white bike in with its matching white wicker basket and parked it on a stand in front of me.
“Oh, we almost need another bike stand!” she said, looking at the vast array of two-wheelers around us.
“Yes,” I said, “it’s Grand Central Station here today.” (chuckle from the lady)
“I like the high stands, rather than the low stands,” she commented.
“Yes,” I replied.
She then took her shopping bag from her bike basket and began to walk away. Then suddenly she stopped, turned around and asked me, “You’re not the bike warden are you? I’m just going to the shops.”
“No, no!” I laughed, “just an Australian tourist pedalling about!”
“Oh,” she said with relief, and strolled off. I’m intrigued now as to what a bike warden does!
Then a man parked his bike and walked past me, “You’re all loaded up!” he said.
”I certainly am!” I replied.
Another lady returned to her bike, put her shopping in her handlebar basket and was about to leave but then started rummaging around in her bags. “Ooh, I hope I’ve left my keys at home,” she commented to me, as she searched for the lost keys.
“Oh dear,” I said with a look of sympathy.
“I put a load of washing in the dryer in the garage (pronounced garij) before I left and I’m just hoping I put them inside after that.”
“Oh I hope so,” I said.
Then the man returned who had commented on me being loaded up and strolled over for a chat. “How far have you come?” he asked. When I told him from Tasmania, Australia…guess what he said…”Oh, my best friend is from Tasmania.” Well I never! Little Tassie gets a mention from someone once again! He said his friend worked for a power station (I’m guessing the Hydro) in Tasmania, but they met at boarding school. He said when he arrived at boarding school, his now friend was his mentor, “and I’ve loved him like a brother ever since.” The man said he’d spent 40 years at sea on cargo ships and his big regret was that he never got to Australia. His company used to transport apples from Hobart to Helsinki, but the man said he didn’t ever get to do that run. We happily chatted for a while and talked about our trip and his love of retirement, before we said ta-ta.
It was absolutely BRILLIANT! I loved just standing there and doing what I love to do, which is just say hello to people and chat to complete strangers! It’s the first time in three months I’ve been able to do it because it’s the first time myself and the complete strangers spoke the same language! The locals were so lovely and friendly and chatty too, so I had a lovely time.
We continued on our way along the cycle route and rode along a peaceful tree-lined bridle path. I’ve always wanted to ride on a bridle path, although I’d wanted to do it on a horse, but today I had to be content with a two wheeled substitute for the four legs. As we pedalled along, a lady came towards us riding a lovely dappled dun horse. We stopped and pulled over to the side of the path, for her to go past.
“I’m not too sure how he’s going to react to your panniers,” she said from a distance, “he’s usually OK with bikes, but…”
“We’re not your average looking bikes,” I said.
She walked the horse slowly towards us and I clicked my tongue and said, “You’re right mate,” to reassure him that we weren’t horse monsters. Having owned a horse myself who thought anything that appeared even slightly out of the norm was an excuse to act like a complete maniac and prance, spin and snort like she was being attacked by Frankenstein’s alien cousin from the planet Zog, I didn’t want this nice fella approaching us to think we were anything to be scared of and react in that way. They walked past us, with Steve and I talking to him reassuringly, while the lady riding him told him he was a good boy. With a slightly wary glance our way as he passed, the nice, brave horse walked past us without incident. The lady thanked us and she clip-clopped off and we pedalled away.
The cycle route then brought us to another ferry crossing, to take us another skip and a chug across a little river to the village of Hamble. When we found the spot for the ferry, the tide was way out and a sign said passengers were to wait at the water line. So we walked the bikes across the slippery algae and down the river sand to wait at the tide line for the ferry to approach. What a cute little dinky ferry it was too! A tiny little bright pink thing, that just managed to fit both bikes on, along with us and one other passenger and we chugged away, past the other boats, for a pleasant five minute trip to the other side of the river. As we rode out of Hamble, I had a smile on my face, it was such a quaint, cute “oh so English” looking village.
A short ride from Hamble we came to the village of Netley where we found our campsite with the friendly sounding name of Sunnydale Farm. The lady at reception was very nice and friendly and her husband showed us to our pitch on a nice flat patch of grass in a paddock and we pitched the tent. After a cuppa in the chilly wind and under the grey skies, we cycled off to the local Tesco supermarket to get some supplies. It was at Tesco that I discovered the answer to something that has perplexed me for some time! Whenever I’ve read British novels or watched British period TV shows, people talk about having “tea and a toasted tea cake.” I’ve always wondered what a tea cake was and why or how you would toast cake! Well, I saw the packets of tea cakes in the supermarket and it turns out they’re fruit buns! It all makes sense now! My English education has begun!
So we had a lovely day and a really enjoyable ride along a peaceful and scenic path and now we are finally back in our little tent again. The weather is cold, the wind is making things colder and the sky is grey (although it’s dark now), but I guess we can’t have everything! Still…just a bit of sun and warmth during the day while we’re riding would be so nice and such a refreshing change from all the cold we’ve had so far! We shall continue our pedalling tomorrow and enjoy what the English countryside and towns provide for us. It’s only been two days but it’s been a delight so far – nice scenery, friendly people and new things learnt! Things won’t be easy all the time, but days like today are nice reminders for when the tricky bits come along! We’re not sure what tomorrow will bring, but we shall trundle on…
Saturday, May 16
PONIES FOR NEIGHBOURS
We got off to an early start this morning, due mainly to the sun getting up so early. Well…maybe it’s more that I’m awake at 5:00am and do my best to stay put so as not to disturb Steve, but eventually one has to make a move, so we were up and about earlier than usual. This meant that we were off and pedalling well before 9:00, leaving our nice friendly campsite, headed for Southampton. As we were leaving a lady was walking towards us, heading for the bathrooms and this is what transpired…
“Good morning,” I said.
“Good morning,” she replied. “I’m in a porta cabin.”
“Oh, yes,” I said, a little perplexed at this addition to the morning greeting.
“I’ve done my back,” she continued, “I fell down at home. Went down with a thump. I had a physio appointment but they rang and cancelled.”
“Oh, no,” I said, “I’m sorry to hear that.”
“I put a claim in!” she added emphatically.
“Oh, well, good on you,” I relied, with no idea what she was talking about and what she was claiming and from whom, but it was obviously important! “I hope it gets better very soon,” I added.
See, a little like the conversations I had with people at the bike stand yesterday, people are very chatty and just like to strike up a conversation and tell you a bit about their general life and goings on! I think it’s great!
We had a bike path all the way to Southampton but once we hit the city it was mega traffic and that wasn’t much fun. We had to go over a long bridge on our way in and I nearly ended up under a bus again. The day was really windy (what a shock, that we would be riding in blustery, blowing wind!). Well, the wind at the top of the bridge was, naturally, really strong and then a bus came past and the wind that it was blowing out sent me into a full on swerve right…left…right…trying to recover control…left… It was unnerving to say the least. We then spent two hours riding around Southampton once again in search of trousers for Steve. He’d found a store that sold the same brand as the ones he has, so he was hoping to find them in a smaller size. After much searching and backtracking, we eventually found the store quite a way out of town and Steve went in while I waited with the bikes. Alas, he once again emerged empty handed. Too short in the legs again! So he remains in shorts for the foreseeable future. While we were riding, it was Steve, not I who proved to be directionally challenged because a couple of times he turned a corner and rode on the wrong side of the road while I’m shouting behind him to get over on the left! Mind you, later in the day as we were riding through a town, a cyclist said hello to me and I replied with “Bonjour” so I think we’ll call it even! Honestly, we’re a menace, you can’t take us anywhere!
We headed for the ferry terminal where we caught a ferry for another little hop across the river to the town of Hythe, on the outskirts of the New Forest. It was a pretty little town, lovely little streets and we sat in the square for a while, listened to the town cryer and watched people coming and going at the small market in full swing (I left with a jar of homemade loganberry jam!)
Then off we went to explore the New Forest, stopping at an open green space, on the edge of the national park and sat on the ground for a quick lunch, then off we went. This has been a bucket list event for me for nearly forty years! Being the horse-mad child that I was, I read every horse book or magazine out there and my absolute favourites were the Jackie books. They were so quintessentially English and Jackie and her pony Misty and cousin Babs with her pony Patch, had such adventures and found themselves in all sorts of bother, but with lashing of ginger beer! Hurrah! Well, one of their adventures took place in the New Forest where they saw the wild New Forest ponies and ever since those books all those years ago, I have wanted to see the New Forest ponies. So off we went to recapture my childhood!
We had to ride along a busy road for a while, but…there they were! The wild ponies just there beside the road, grazing and rolling and the little spring foals lying around all plum tuckered out from the effort of just being in the big wide world.
As we rode into a town, we passed a park where people were kicking balls or just sitting around and there in the park with them were wild donkeys, just grazing and paying no attention to the people all round then. One decided to wander off and it just ambled across the road and all the traffic stopped while it slowly strolled across, in no hurry at all. It was just fantastic!
On we pedalled towards our chosen campsite for the night, in the New Forest National Park and when we arrived, it was to find an absolutely perfect place, just a top spot! The wild ponies and donkeys just wandered around the grounds, in amongst all the campers. How awesome is that! As we were pitching the tent a couple of donkeys were chasing each other flat out around and around the grounds, with the one behind giving sharp bites to the rear end of the one in front and the one in front giving swift hind leg kicks to the one behind. At one point, they came flying around the corner of a gorse bush, right where we were and right where our bikes were leaning. The lead donkey took evasive action and swerved around the bikes, but the one behind didn’t see them quickly enough to dodge, so he just jumped right over the front of my bike! I gave him a clap! So here I am, not just seeing the wild ponies, but having them right here at my tent flap and roaming around beside me. That is sooooo special! Something I’ve wanted to experience for so many years, and now I am, with those gorgeous horses just right there in front of me. A dream come true!
It’s been a top day. Some nice pedalling through pretty towns, some hills to return the legs to their pre-Paris fitness and hardiness, the sun eventually came out and then some very special moments with my ponies. Just super dooper! We’ll continue exploring the New Forest tomorrow, so I wonder what adventures we’ll have!? What troublesome botherations will we encounter? It will all be accompanied with lashings of tea and peanut butter sandwiches. Huzzah!
Since writing the above, the first adventure has occurred! Two of the ponies came nosing around our tent and proceeded to walk into the tent and nibble at our bag of tea, coffee and sugar! They even tore open the bag of my precious Australian tea that Len and Pauline had brought over for me! Cheeky ponies! I still kept the tea! There was a big hole in the bag and a bit of pony slobber around the edges, but I’ll cope with that! Oh what a lark!
Sunday, May 17
CRUMPETS AND TOASTED TEA CAKES
I emerged from our palatial nylon palace this morning into the dew laden morning, just waiting for the sun to rise and shed some warmth and light on the landscape. I put the kettle on the trusty Trangia and Steve eventually emerged from his quilt wrapped slumber and joined me in the spreading sunshine, where we sat and enjoyed a cuppa and our respective bowls of oatmeal and muesli. We were joined by some early morning donkey visitors who strolled over to the tent for a look, checking out if there was anything interesting or tasty on offer and when they found nothing, they slowly sauntered off.
We slowly packed up and hit the pedals for the short ride into the nearby village of Brockenhurst.
The weather forecast is for a couple of days of rain, so we decided to move campsites to a place a little closer to a village, so if necessary we can escape the damp of the tent and seek some warmth and respite in a pub or cafe when the rain strikes tomorrow.
Brockenhurst is a lovely little village, quiet and quaint. As we rode in, we stopped in a small park and a group of donkeys were happily grazing beside us. There was a news item in the local newspaper here a month ago with a photo of a donkey strolling in to the village Tesco supermarket! It’s that sort of place! We stopped at some tea rooms and decided to park the bikes and have our elevenses inside. Well…it was absolutely perfect! I had a pot of tea and crumpets and Steve had coffee and a toasted tea cake. How delightful! The only thing that tainted the perfection somewhat was my feeling of sitting there feeling bedraggled and scruffy, and generally not quite to the standard of civilisation that I would have liked for such a charming experience in a tea room. Oh well, it was still lovely and I enjoyed it immensely!
We pedalled off to our next campsite, located in another section of the New Forest and it is, if possible, even better than the last one. We have pitched the tent under oak trees and the ponies are still roaming around and it’s just picture perfect. I love places like this – completely natural, quiet and peaceful. We sat in the sunshine for a while, watched the ponies, had some lunch and then went back into the village to pick up a couple of items. Steve rode the bike in and I took the opportunity to go for a run, so I ran in and back, which was great.
After a little more leisure time at the tent, we went for a walk through the forest and it was so beautiful. The ponies were grazing under the birch trees and we walked under the oaks and through the crisp leaf litter as the early evening light filtered through the branches and the birds twittered in the trees. We even saw a squirrel darting up a tree! It was the stuff of poetry and I kept stopping just to pause and look and repeat many times to Steve, “Isn’t it just beautiful.”
We think we’ll stay here for a couple of nights, to ride out the rain when it comes. We don’t have any wifi again here, so we are somewhat incommunicado, technologically speaking, but we have a beautiful, peaceful little home here for a short while. So it’s been another delightful day…a nice pedal, a quaint village, a beautiful camp in the forest, the ponies grazing around us, a much needed run and then a peaceful stroll among the oak trees. I think all of that will help to ease the discomfort of the damp that will be thrust upon us very soon. England may give us some less than perfect weather, but it compensates with some pretty near perfect scenes and experiences. I’m willing to accept that deal.