Another mega blog I’m afraid! We haven’t had any wifi for days, so there’s a bit to catch up on and report. Here goes…
Sunday May 24
The day dawned beautifully, quite literally, because I was there to see it! I do wish I could sleep longer and later but unfortunately I don’t seem to be able to, so I was up at 4:00am but the reward was seeing the beautiful pink dawn light over the ocean and cliffs in the distance. Just wonderful. When the sun was finally up, it bathed the morning in warmth and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. When a reasonably humane hour of the morning had arrived, I whispered to Steve to see if has was awake and said, “If the morning is anything to go by, it’s going to be a cracker of a day!” He emerged from the inner sanctum and as we sat outside to have breakfast, the sun decided it’d had enough for the day and it was obviously exhausted with the effort of shining, which it so rarely does, so it gave up and turned the day over again to the grey clouds! Oh well, it was nice while it lasted!
We put on a jacket and decided to partake in that great English pastime – rambling! We set off across the neighbouring fields to walk the two miles to the next village of Branscombe. The ramblers were out in force, some like us, just out for a stroll and others clearly more seasoned, with their walking poles, rugged walking boots and woolly socks. We were a jolly lot though, marching across the fields, holding gates open for one another and then setting off down the narrow, steep and somewhat treacherous coastal path. Every so often we would stop, stand to the side of the path, trying not to fall over the edge, and let the upcoming ramblers pass as they huffed and trudged up the hill toward us. It was a thoroughly enjoyable ramble and we emerged at the bottom of the cliff at Branscombe Mouth, where we walked along the pebbly beach and stopped at the beachside cafe for a cuppa. It was so, so nice to sit there,watching people, listening to the lovely, pleasant accents in conversation, it was all so peaceful and genteel!
After our pleasant sit, we set off along the path to walk into Branscombe village. We followed the brook, as the path wound beside fields of cows, through trees and behind stone cottages, with the sound of the creek to one side of us and the rhythmic clip-clop-clip-clop of a horse being ridden through the village in the distance.
We arrived at the tiny, hidden little hamlet of Branscome which was an almost “blink and you’d miss it” kind of place. It was absolutely charming. As it was Sunday, we decided to continue our thoroughly English outing by having a Sunday pub lunch. We located The Mason’s Arms which was doing a roaring trade, with people sitting outside enjoying a pint and a meal, with their beagles and spaniels alongside them. A living painting! We went inside to the utterly perfect pub, with its low ceiling and huge wooden beams and asked if a table was available. The nice fella at the bar managed to fit us in and we sat there, in that charming hostelry, ready for our first English pub lunch. “Isn’t it just perfect,” I said to Steve.
“It’s pretty special,” he agreed.
I watched the man behind the bar and the poor fella had been bent over the whole time. He was very tall and with the low ceilings and low beams, he couldn’t stand up straight! When Steve went to the bar, he asked him how many times he hit his head.
“Twice in the last five minutes!” came the reply, “I can’t stand up straight anywhere in here.”
He said he was 6’7” tall and Steve said, “Oh, a couple of inches taller than me.”
“It has its compensations though,” the barman said, “whenever I fly, I’ve never flown anything other than first class. When the airlines see me, they take pity on me and don’t want me to have to sit in those cramped seats, so they always upgrade me to first class!”
Steve looked quite put out. A mere two inches stood between him and leg-room luxury rather than scrunched, cramped legs when we fly! No such upgrades have ever been offered to a mere 6’5” inch gentleman!
Steve ordered a pint of the local village brew and then we had the most delicious, scrumptious lunch. Steve pushed the boat out and had roast lamb with all the trimmings and the most enormous Yorkshire pudding you could imagine and followed that up with raspberry and apple crumble, smothered in thick, golden custard. Could a Sunday pub lunch in an English village pub be any more ideal!? I had a delicious mushroom burger and the best chunky chips on the side that I’ve every had and followed it up with a blueberry and almond dessert. It was absolutely SUPER! Well, we had worked up an appetite with our rambling, our hunger had been sated with an enormous and delicious pub lunch, so it was time to walk some of that off with a four mile walk back along the road and different paths, to our village of Beer. As we emerged from the pub it was to find that a mist had set in, so we set off walking with the clouds descending and the drizzle threatening. We may not have had to ride up any hills today, but we sure walked up a lot! The narrow road out of Branscombe was very long and very steep and I challenged Steve to a run. “Come on!” I said, “let’s run up some of it at least!”
“No way!” he said, aghast at the very notion, “anyway, I’m too full.”
“Oh come on,” I pushed, “I do your thing every day and ride the bike around and up hills, you can do my thing just this once and run a bit. Just twenty steps then, let’s run twenty steps up this monster.” So we did! I heard Steve behind me counting every step! He was not going to take one more extra step than necessary! We did it and the twenty steps running vertically were accomplished and we resumed the slow trudge up the steep road.
It was peak hour in the equine traffic! There were horses everywhere! We had passed some as we walked into the village, then I saw one after another, after another, being ridden past the pub and now as we we walked up the hill, they were coming down in a seemingly endless line of horsey traffic! It was so excellent! Another very, very English scene. We stopped at the side of the road as each one approached, to let them pass, then one lovely black gelding looked a bit hesitant as he walked past.
“You’re right mate, we’re harmless,” I reassured him.
“Come on Max,” the lady riding him said, while giving his sides a firm squeeze with her heels.
“Can I say hello?” I asked.
“Of course,” she said.
So I gave Max a pat and a nose rub and told the lady that I’d had a horse of my own, that I’d got as a five year old from the RSPCA and I’d owner her until she left me at the age of thirty-four. “So we had many long years together,” I said.
She asked me what type of horse mine was and then she said, “Max is my life. I’m a recovering alcoholic and he has been my best friend and my rock. He’s so good and he means everything to me.” I said I could understand that completely. We had a pleasant chat and I told her Max was gorgeous and utterly charming and we finally parted company and I left with a smile on my face, once again having had a lovely chat with a local, with the bonus of meeting another horse and having some more much-missed animal contact!
We continued up the hill, then took a turn onto a public footpath. The public footpaths here are not the sealed, concrete paths beside the road. The signs saying “Public Footpath” direct walkers onto off-road paths through fields or along hedge lined tracks or country lanes. It’s so perfect! So off we went, along a quiet lane, with hedgerows beside us and a pheasant marching along the path ahead of us. While we were walking, the grey sky decided to go one step further and give us some rain too! We walked along in the drizzle, with the mist enveloping the hills, fields and trees in its cloak of grey haze. It was lovely!We followed the path down into Beer and then up the street to our camp. We had a little rest, then decided in for a penny, in for a pound, let’s keep going with this perfect English day and have fish and chips by the seafront!
We put on a couple of extra layers and a rain coat and set off back down to the village and into the local chippy. We ordered our fare, then walked down the street to the pebbly beach, sat at a table overlooking the fishing boats and Steve enjoyed a burger and chips, while I had the perfect English combination of chips with salt and malt vinegar and mushy peas. Perfect!
So that was our perfect English day and it was perfect! A morning ramble, a delicious lunch in a village pub, a bit more rambling and chatting to the locals, both two and four legged, then chips by the beach, all done in the English drizzle and under grey skies. It was like something out of Country Life and we got to do it! Aren’t we so lucky! We actually said that to each other today as we rambled along the lane beside the brook. “We’re very lucky aren’t we.” We firmly agreed that we are indeed. It was a fantastic day, even in the chilly grey weather, just fantastic. Have I mentioned at all that I’m loving it here!?
Monday, May 25
Sadly, it was time to leave our lovely camp at Beer Head, say goodbye to our view and pedal off to tackle some more hills. That is exactly what we did! Beer is a little village at the bottom of a hill, so off we went to climb out of it. We are still following the National Cycle Network Route 2 which has been an absolutely fantastic route, taking us along some lovely quiet roads, through scenic countryside, through quaint villages and along tree lined bridle paths. It has though, also taken us up some mammoth hills! Today was no exception and the route took us back into the village of Branscombe, so we had some idea of the hills that were going to face us. As we rode into the village, we wheeled down the big hill that we had walked up the day before and were met on the way down by two road cyclists, pushing their bikes up the hill! There, I told Steve, we should feel better now! If road cyclists with their light, unloaded bikes feel the need to walk their bikes up a hill, we shouldn’t feel too bad if we have to do it with all the weight we’re carrying on our touring bikes! We rolled into Branscombe, passed our nice village pub and then cranked down the gears for the slog back up the hill out of the village. The sun was shining, so that was at least something that made the grind a little more bearable. We again had to stop a few times to let cars go past on the narrow country lanes, but we continued chugging our way up the hills.
We eventually arrived at the seaside town of Sidmouth and it was bustling with bank holiday visitors, walking along the seaside promenade. As we walked the bikes along there, we saw two road cyclists sitting on a bench eating ice cream. They paused in their post-ride ice cream refuelling and said, “There’s a nice big hill waiting for you as you leave.”
“Oh, right,” I said, “well, we’ll just add it to the collection!”
We walked the bikes through the narrow streets and little squares. I had an encounter with a visitor, that gave me a quiet inner chuckle. A lady came up to me and asked, “Do you know where I can get a paper?”
“Sorry,” I said, “I don’t know, I’m not a local.”
“Oh, you don’t live here?” she replied.
I shook my head. As I stood there with my bike all loaded up with panniers and bits and pieces hanging off every which way, I couldn’t at that moment think of anyone who looked less like a local than me! It gave me a little inner chuckle, that she picked me of all people to ask where to find something in the town!
As we were walking towards a cafe to have a cuppa, I heard a voice behind me say, “Tasmania!”
I turned around and an elderly man and a lady were looking at us, having seen Steve’s Tasmania cap hanging off the bag on the back of his bike.
“You’re Australian?” he asked.
“From Tassie?” he asked.
“I lived in Melbourne for seven years,” he continued. We told them what we were doing and the lady asked how we were enjoying our time in England. My face put on an involuntary, dreamy look and I gave a sigh and said, “Just loving it!”
“Oh, I’m so glad,” she said, “I hope the weather improves for you.”
So again, we stood and had a most pleasant chat with complete strangers. I love it!
After a cuppa at a cafe, sitting outside with the bikes neatly standing against a railing, we set off to cross the road and have proper elevenses on a bench by the seafront. Steve had spotted a donut shop and he wasn’t going to walk past that! He went over and emerged with a grin, “Mmmmm, hot, freshly cooked donuts,” he said with delight.
We found a spot on a bench and Steve tucked into his donuts and we watched the comings and goings on the promenade and on the pebbly beach. I’ve decided that we are complete wimps! Whenever I meet someone from mainland Australia and say I’m from Tasmania, their first comment is always about how cold it is. “I’d like to go there but it’s too cold,” is the usual comment. My response is usually something like,”No it’s not, they breed ’em tough in Tassie!” Well I have decided, we are not tough at all, we are wimps! We sat there in the 13C temperature and I had my fleece on and hood up against the cold, Steve said he was cold and we watched people on the beach. There were people swimming! Not in wetsuits, in BATHERS! With SKIN in the actual cold water!!! People were walking around in shorts and having a splendid time enjoying their trip to the seaside, in the freezing cold, which was obviously considered tropical by them! That’s tough! Good on ’em I take my hat off to the hardy Brits who don’t let a bit of freezing weather spoil their trip to the seaside and their SWIM!!! In the icy water!
We left Sidmouth and headed towards the hill that we had been warned about. As it turned out the warning was spot on! This was a hill that made other hills look like speed humps. This was the grandfather of all hills! We set off, already in low gears just at the bottom, before we even got to the really steep bits! We were passed by some road cyclists who gave comments like, “good effort getting up there with all that luggage,” and “I couldn’t do that!” We offered to give them some of our bags to take up on their bikes, or to trade bikes with them, but for some reason they declined the offers! Steve got off and walked a couple of times and I just stopped for a breather quite a few times. During one stop, a couple emerged from a side path, looking like full-on ramblers in all their gear and poles and commented on my valiant attempt to get up the hill.
“I’m on breather number seven!” I said, between gasps and puffs.
“There’s a lot more to come I’m afraid,” the lady said, “and it only gets worse.” Hmmmm I’m not sure I wanted to know that! It was pretty brutal already and I think a nice haze of ignorance would have been the best place for me to stay at that moment, rather than be forewarned that this monster was going to get worse. It did. We slogged up that thing, and it went on and on and on and was so unbelievable steep. Finally though, we made it to the top, Steve stopped in front of me and held up his hand and we did a fatigued high-five to each other on the side of the road. We’d done it!
We wheeled down the hill on the other side and enjoyed the pedalling along the country roads again. The hills weren’t finished with us and we still had to tackle a few more, but they were nothing like the mammoth climb we had just endured. We continued to nudge over into the undergrowth to let cars pass on the narrow roads and the drivers gave us a wave and a smile of thanks. One lady gave me such a cheery smile as she thanked me for pulling over, that I just rode off with a grin. When we stopped at an intersection I said to Steve, “I just love it!”
“What do you love today!?” he asked with a smile, now becoming quite used to my declarations of adoration for our riding through this country.
“The people are so nice and cheery and just…everything!” I said again.
The route took us off-road and along a quiet path through trees again. We passed some dog walkers and exchanged cheery greetings, then pedalled on, up some more hills, but under lovely canopies of tees and along quiet, forested paths. As I rode behind Steve, I shouted ahead, “I just love it! I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned that at all, but in case I haven’t I just love it!” Thankfully, he laughed and has so far not grown tired of the repetitiveness of these regular statements!
We rode into Exmouth and after Steve crossed a road, I stopped to let a car pass, before I followed him. As I was standing there waiting, there was a lady sitting on a bench with her little girl. “How heavy is that bike, without all the gear? Is it really light?” she asked.
I told her about the weight of the bike and the weight of the gear and how delightful the hills were to tackle with all of it!
“There are a lot of them around here!” she agreed.
“We’re loving it though,” I said “and we get spectacular views from the top!”
“That makes it worth it,” she said.
We chatted a bit more and then I finally pedalled across the street to find Steve. When I caught up, he looked like he was about to come looking for me.
“What happened, where were you?” he asked.
“Just chatting,” I said with a smile.
Either he anticipated something or he just felt like asking the question, but he then said, “And you are…?”
“Loving it!” I finished.
We stopped by the side of the road, so Steve could walk up to a service station to try and locate some fuel for the Trangia because we’re finding it really hard to get methylated spirits here, it isn’t sold in supermarkets and isn’t easy to come by. As he walked up the street, I sat on a bench with the bikes and waited. Three cyclists rode past me and then stopped and turned and seemed to be checking out our bikes.
“Where are you heading today,” they asked.
“We aren’t really sure,” I said, “we’re just riding until we decide to stop.”
They asked about what we were doing and I told them about our grand adventure and they shrieked, “Oh that’s AMAZING! We aren’t jealous AT ALL!! We chatted and they asked about our bikes and the sort of gear we had and where we were going after the UK. They were so nice and just kept shrieking with delight and envy each time I mentioned our plans for the trip. When Steve finally returned, they wished us well and said, “We’re heading to a pub down this hill and the topic of conversation over lunch is going to be all about you two!” They were so friendly and another nice chat with some locals was in the bag!
We found a nice park beside a golf course, where we sat and had some lunch while we researched possible campsites. I watched all the people enjoying the park with their dogs, many of which were spaniels. There’s something about spaniels, they’re just the most doofus sort of dogs! These ones didn’t let team doofus down at all! They had big grins and were running wildly around chasing balls in completely the wrong direction, spinning their heads this was and that, wondering where their quarry had disappeared, before galloping across the grass at a rate of knots, stopping and doing a full body tail wag, with a huge grin and ears flapping. They can’t help but make you smile!
We found a campsite nearby, which involved a bit of back tracking, but not too much so we headed off. So here we are at St John’s farm. We are pitched in a field again with a few people around us, but it’s a quiet spot with the basics that we need, so it’s given us a pleasant end to another delightful day, albeit a day that asked a lot of the legs and lungs! We’ll keep rolling along tomorrow, we aren’t too sure where, we know there will be more hills, but given what we’ve tackled, surely they should be manageable! All that we need is just a little more warmth please, just a touch more sun, that would be lovely! Even so, if that can’t be arranged, then no matter, what we have is darn near perfect anyway. Just smashing! Just tops! It’s been a corker!
Tuesday, May 26
I’ll describe today as an “active recovery” day. We did ride, but not too far and not too hard, so the hill-fatigued legs still got a workout, but also had time to recover a bit. The day started in sunshine again…briefly! We sat and had breakfast with the sun beating down and we took our time, even having a second cuppa as the warm sun shone down. By 8o’clock though, it had disappeared, the sky was completely grey and the warmth had gone! Just like that!
We took our time leaving and didn’t pedal away from the campsite until 9:30 and headed down to the Exmouth waterfront to have a look. We stopped by the beach and the first thing we noticed was…sand! I think it’s the first sandy beach we’ve seen. As we stood there, an elderly lady walked by and I said good-morning. She turned and walked over to us and asked how far we were riding. We said we weren’t sure, but gave her a brief description of our trip.
“Oh, that’s marvellous,” she exclaimed. “How do you camp and stay warm and dry in this country!?”
We laughed and said the tent managed to keep us dry, although we’d had some soggy days.
“You must be so fit! I’m just imagining all the different places you’ve been. What happens if you argue!?” she continued, with a list of questions and genuinely interested in what we did.
“Well, any arguments have to be nipped in the bud,” I said, “because at the end of the day we still have to share a tent!”
“Really!” she said, “I think you’re amazing! My nephew lives in Sydney so I’m going to tell him he should do something like this so he can come and visit me. I bought myself a bike, but there are so many hills here, that I have to go up big hills just to get home, so I don’t ride it much.”
We agreed that the area was indeed endowed with its fair share of hills.
“Well, I think what you’re doing is marvellous and I wish you both much, much happiness,” she said and said goodbye and continued on her way. What an utterly lovely lady. These chats with locals are such a highlight. I don’t think it would be happening if we weren’t on the bikes. The bikes seem to attract interest from people, so they have been a great magnet for people and the opportunity to chat and meet some locals. We’ve commented too, on the places we’ve ridden, such as through the paths in the New Forest and through the fields and bridle paths and how we’ve been seeing places that we would never have been able to see if we were in a car. So the bikes have given us experiences on this trip that could really have only been experienced with a bike.
We walked the bikes around Exmouth town to locate a bike shop, so Steve could ask about his broken saddle and look for a solution to the broken dynamo on his wheel, that has left him with no lights. The fella in the shop was so helpful and while he couldn’t find a solution to the seat or the lights, he gave us some useful tips about possible routes to take as we go and other bike shops to try and we chatted about our riding. He was a really nice fella. As we rode out of town, we rode up a hill and a man rode past us with his young son and commented, “I’m glad I’m not riding up there with all that gear!” I wanted to say, “Mate, you have no idea! You should have seen what we did yesterday! This hill is nothing!” But I said nothing and just smiled!
We rode along the cycle path from Exmouth to Exeter, that took us along the coast, by the river and through small villages. It was relatively flat, although it still had some rises to pedal up, which were enough on tired legs! We stopped by the river for a quick elevenses and then continued on to Exeter. During the ride I don’t know how many times I put my fleece on and then took it off, put it on, then took it off! The sun would appear, then run away, then emerge, then flee! It was warm, then cold, then warm, then cold…
When we rode into Exeter, the path brought us out by the Quay and it was a lovely spot, on the water, lined with cafes and old buildings.
We sat in the sun and had some lunch and discussed whether to keep riding or stay put. In the end we decided to stay in Exeter, after only 29km of riding and also decided to opt for a cheap hotel, so we could finally get some wifi. Wifi has been really hard to come by at the places we’ve been staying, unlike in the other countries, where it was pretty standard. So we found a cheap and cheerful hotel (I use that term “cheap” loosely, because nothing here is cheap!) and lay down for a bit of a rest. Then, I finished off the day with an evening run along the river, which was perfect. Unfortunately, the wifi is pretty ordinary, so it’s another late night, trying to get the blog posted!
So today was still an active day, but at a more sedate pace than usual. Steve has commented on how tired he feels and my legs certainly felt a bit heavy today, so it was nice to be able to take the pedalling a little easy, with fewer hills to deal with. So we’re still going, deciding day to day where we go and when we stop, with no set plan, no timeline and no pace to set. It’s lovely! I certainly feel more relaxed now we don’t have a date or a deadline to work from. We just ride and decide when we stop and if that means a short ride, so be it, if it means we keep going, we do that instead. We go where the road takes us and so far it has taken us along some wonderful routes, to some gorgeous places and given us some memorable experiences. We are certainly, quite literally, riding down memory lane, with wonderful memories being created every day!