Sunday, August 2
Brrrrr, another chilly start to the day, another heavy dew and another shower of less than optimal temperature, but I’m used to these things by now, so no drama. Oh, but those planes did not stop all night and they were still flying past at 5:00 am, so being under that flight path was quite a noisy affair, with a plane roaring overhead every 3 minutes.
We pedalled out of camp about 9:00am, by which time the sun was awake and warming things up nicely. The ride was delightful and we were back on an off-road, smooth, flat, wooded path that took us through trees, under towering brick railway arches and past fields and farmland. Gorgeous.
The town of East Grinstead was our first stop, where we found a replacement gas bottle for the Trangia and then had a look around the town. East Grinstead has houses and buildings that date from the 15th century and has a unique arrangement in the main street. There are a row of buildings down the middle of the main street, as well as either side, that were once part of the market, which was a regular event in the town after receiving approval from Henry the VIII. As we rode out, we saw a statue to Sir Archibald McIndoe, a surgeon who pioneered treatments for soldiers with severe burns after WWII. I loved the final words on the stone beside the statue: East Grinstead. The Town That Did Not Stare. What an admirable cause for recognition.
The ride out of East Grinstead and on to Forest Row, continued to be delightful, through the lovely wooded path. We only passed briefly through Forest Row, to pick up some elevenses and then sat in the sun on a field beside the bike path and enjoyed our snack.
The lovely path continued and soon became the perfect path. If there were criteria we would look for in a cycle path, this path had it all. It was perfect.
1. It was smooth
2. It was flat
3. it was off road
4. It was quiet and peaceful
5. It had an ever so slightly down hill run
6. It was sheltered
7. It was picturesque
8. It was sunny
It was the perfect path! We rode the perfect path into the village of Hartfield. This village has the claim to fame of being the place where A.A. Milne lived and wrote the Winnie the Pooh stories. We called in to Pooh Corner, which is now a small memorabilia shop, but was once the sweet shop, where Christopher Milne (A.A. Milne’s son on whom Christopher Robin was based) would visit to buy sweets. Steve and I have decided we are the human personifications of Pooh and Piglet. Steve is Pooh, the easy-going, laid back character. He also happens to go through a bottle of honey every three days or so, he consumes it in such quantities on his bread, so he and Pooh have much in common. I am definitely the Piglet character – a small, constantly worrying scaredy cat. So we felt right at home in “Pooh country” in Hartfield. It was here we also experienced a definite “don’t judge a book by its cover” moment. Two men on Harley Davidson motorbikes pulled up outside the small store. They were big, with short cropped hair that led to a ponytail at the back, piercings and beards. They parked their motorbikes and then proceeded to take it in turns to pose outside Pooh Corner, while they took each other’s photo! They then went into the tea rooms and garden and did the same thing beside the statue of Winnie the Pooh. How about that! Do not make assumptions or judgements about somebody’s character or interests merely by their appearance. They might have looked somewhat imposing and just a little bit scary, but they obviously liked Pooh Bear!
Of course, being Sunday, we needed to find a pub for our traditional Sunday lunch. The Anchor Inn in Hartfield proved to be the ideal place. We rode the bikes around the back of the pub to find a lovely garden, with tables and sun umbrellas and other cyclists with their bikes propped up against fences. We found a top spot in the sun, with the bikes leaning nearby and perused the menu, while sipping a cooling drink. The day had turned out to be really warm and it was absolutely super! After discovering nothing vegan friendly on the menu and after a couple of questions to the very nice man taking orders, I discovered nothing on the menu was adjustable or able to be “veganised”. I asked if they could fix me a giant salad and the chef kindly obliged and I was served a big bowl of delicious salad and some warm, crusty ciabatta and it was a splendid lunch, sitting in the sun. Steve had the roast beef and tucked into it heartily. He again had an enormous Yorkshire pudding, which sat on his plate until the end. The Yorkie is always Steve’s “joy bite”, the term I use for that part of the meal you leave on your plate right until the end, to savour as the final mouthful. It might be that final, crispy looking chip, or that last, golden roast potato, that you leave until the last moment, to finish eating with a smile. That’s the “joy bite.” The Yorkshire pudding stayed until the end and was Steve’s “joy bite” and gravy mopper and Steve did indeed end his lunch with a smile.
We had found a campsite at the nearby town of Crowborough, which was about 13km ride away. The first part of the ride was again along the wonderful, tree lined path. As we rode along, we crossed a bridge and I pulled over.
“We can’t leave Hartfield without playing Pooh sticks,” I said to Steve.
So we each chose a stick, I stuck a leaf on mine for identification, because if there’s one thing bound to cause disagreement in a game of Pooh sticks, it’s arguing over the ownership of the winning stick! “That’s mine, I remember that bump on the side.” “No it’s not, I won, that’s my stick, mine was that colour.” So have many disputed results gone in the past! Not this time, my stick was clearly identifiable, with its small leaf attached. We leaned over the side of the bridge. Steve took the height of the sticks very seriously. “Yours is down too low, that’s not fair, lift it up. It has to be level with mine.” I couldn’t actually tell if they were level of not from where I was hanging over the side of the bridge, so I just went along with Steve’s umpiring. On the count of three, we released our sticks into the flowing stream and raced to the other side of the bridge to await the appearance of the winning stick. I can announce that on this occasion, Piglet prevailed. My little leafy stick, appeared in the swirling water and alas, Steve’s failed to appear at all. Stuck? Sunk? Given up? Who knows, but Steve declined a best of three, so it was time to pedal on.
The path eventually ended and we were back on the road, but the road was a lovely, quiet, narrow country lane, with hedgerows beside us. The only trouble with these hedgerows though, they were overhanging with blackberries and they grabbed me and dragged on my arms and legs, as I passed by on the narrow road. Those bad ol’ blackberries even drew blood, so I had the battle scars on my arms by the end of that stretch of the ride. The ride towards Crowborough also gave us hills, some quite steep hills and we were huffing and puffing and dripping sweat in the heat of the day. It was fantastic! So much better than shivering! As we climbed one of the hills, Steve disappeared around a corner in front of me and as I rounded the corner it was to see Steve walking back down the road towards me and one of his panniers lying on the roadside. My first thought was he’d come a cropper, but thankfully he hadn’t. The pannier had bounced off when he went over a bump and he was scurrying back down the road to retrieve it. Luckily a car hadn’t been following or it could have caused the driver to swerve, which wouldn’t have been good. We pulled the bike off the road onto a safe spot and reloaded things, before continuing our slog up the remaining hills.
We were greeted at our campsite by the wonderful, friendly and helpful owners. We chatted about our trip and they were just lovely, gems of people. We began setting up and then realised, being Sunday, supermarkets close at 4:00 and it was now 3:30. I set off power walking into town to try and beat the closing time of the nearby Morrisons. Thankfully, it was only a kilometre away, so I made it. Supplies were gathered at a break neck pace along the aisles, then I took a more leisurely stroll back to camp, still enjoying the sun and warmth. No wifi at camp, so no blog posting tonight, unfortunately.
We plan to stay a couple of nights here, so we can take a trip into Tunbridge Wells tomorrow and do some exploring, before continuing on with our journey south. Today was another top day. Splendid. Champion. Ripper. Grand. The sun shone, the cycle path was magic, the towns gave us some quaint scenes, the people were lovely and the pub lunch was ace. We’ll take these days when we can get them and embrace them with bucket loads of gratitude. Thanks for another fab day England, we love it when you serve up these. Thanks so much. Greatly appreciated. We loved it. You’re a grand Dame. Thanks m’darlin’.
Monday, August 3
The weather pattern continues. After a superb day in the sunshine yesterday, we are now, again, sitting in the tent with the rain pouring down. It seems we have one sunny day, then a couple of weeks of cloud or rain or cold and then another bonus nice day, before the cycle starts again! We did have some sun on and off through the day today though, so that was delightful.
Off I went this morning, for an early run through Crowborough. I have no idea how far I ran because the satellite signal kept dropping out on my Garmin. I find this a little intriguing. When we arrived at our campsite yesterday, the owners told us we were now at the highest point in Sussex (those hills we climbed helped us get that high!). So if we are so high up, why is there no satellite signal? Our phone reception is very hit and miss and no internet. This blog is being attempted on a very sketchy phone hotspot, with a signal that keeps dropping out. We didn’t have any signal yesterday. I would have thought our location would have helped those things, but it appears not.
Our day of roaming was planned for Royal Tunbridge Wells, a spa town here in East Sussex, so we caught the bus and watched the countryside and towns roll past the window. The Pantiles is a colonnaded walkway, lined with historic buildings that are now home to shops, cafes and restaurants and it was here that our roaming began. It was a very pretty area, the buildings were lovely and dated from the 1600’s. In 1606 springs were discovered in Tunbridge Wells and from then on, it became the place for gentry and royalty to visit and “take the waters”. The “Master of Ceremonies” who saw things went to plan during “the season” and everything was as it should be and rules adhered to, was Beau Nash. He had the same role, to see everything was perfect and proper for the well-to-do visitors, in Bath, so he obviously knew his spa towns because he divided his time between Bath and Tunbridge Wells.
After a most enjoyable tour of London, with an informative tour guide, I decided to book a similar tour with my guide in residence. We downloaded the self-guided Heritage Trail Walk and Steve again donned his tour guide cap (metaphorically speaking, since losing his poor ol’ Tas cap), and proceeded to lead us around the heritage highlights of the city. After the breakdown in customer relations during the last tour, which concluded without the promised meal from the Tour and Dinner Package I’d been promised, we decided to start the tour with elevenses, just to be on the safe side. At least I would get my treat at the start, if not at the end. We sat in a pleasant little cafe, had tea and crumpets and planned our tour route. It’s at this point that I’m going to voice my one teeny, tiny, eency, weency, disappointment in this grand ol’ land of England that I love. As I may have mentioned once, twice or a few dozen times, I love this place and all it has delivered, but I have one little minor gripe and it involves one of my loves in life…tea. Now, I had England tagged as a nation of tea drinkers, so if I was to get a perfect cup of tea, it would be here. Alas, no. I am yet to receive a good cup of tea in all the months we have been here. When I order a cup of tea, I receive a tea bag in a cup. When I order a pot of tea, I receive a tea bag in a pot. Where’s the real tea? Where are the tea leaves in the pot. Tea is leaves, in a pot, with a strainer. I’ve noticed in the supermarkets there are shelves upon shelves of all manner, flavour and brand of tea bags, but it takes some serious searching and binocular gazing to find the possibly three bags of leaf tea on the bottom shelf. I’m not sure why this is. Maybe I just got the whole England-tea relationship completely wrong. England, I love you, you know I do, but the tea situation could be improved just a notch or two!
The sun was shining again, so off we went, around the streets, through the parks and gardens, with Steve providing the commentary. He was also not backward in reminding the tour group, which consisted of one sole member – yours truly.
“Hey, get back here, I’m trying to tell you something here and you’re walking off!”
“I was looking at the plaque.”
“Well I’m the tour guide, so I’m supposed to be in the lead, you aren’t supposed to go in front, get back here!”
I think some long lost ancestry that involved sheep mustering was coming to the fore, because he began to sound like he was giving his Kelpie instructions! Git back here! Git around there!
The tour guide did take a wrong turn every now and again, so maybe it would have helped to have the “kelpie” take the lead occasionally! Nevertheless, it was a thoroughly enjoyable little stroll.
We wandered through The Grove, a park that was established in 1703 by the Duke of Buckingham and was placed in Trust “to be preserved for a grove and shade, and walks for the use of all inhabitants.” In 1782 it contained about 200 oak trees, although many were lost during “the great storm” of 1987. When we stayed at the campsite at the racecourse in Stratford, we heard all about the great storm of 1987, from the man camped beside us, who chatted to us at length as we were packing up to leave. He told us about the great storm, great floods and great snow, so we had some useful background information when we heard about the weather event that struck the oak trees in The Grove.
After some pleasant and leisurely strolling, learning about some locations and history of Tunbridge Wells, our tour concluded. The tour guide made up for the incomplete tour package in London, by offering lunch at the end of today’s tour. Nice one. He will be spared any lashings in social media and all is forgiven! We picked up a salad and a Subway and headed back to Calverley Park, a gorgeous park with gardens, open space, a croquet lawn and beautiful flowers in bloom. The wind was blowing mighty hard, so we found a sheltered spot down a hill, sat amongst the flowers and enjoyed our post-tour lunch.
After some final strolling through the town, we again hopped on our bus for the rattling and rolling ride back to Crowborough. Feeling plumb tuckered out from all that roaming and learning, we had a quick snooze in the tent before setting off into Crowborough to find supplies for supper. Crowborough itself has a claim to fame, being the home of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, he of the Sherlock Holmes stories, amongst many others. He lived and wrote here until the age of 71.
After gathering supplies in the supermarket, we approached the exit to see…rain. Oh dear, not again. We headed back to camp and by evening, the rain was coming down, so we sealed ourselves into the little tent, cooked up our victuals and listened to the increasingly heavy pitter-patter on our nylon roof. Tomorrow we continue our southward journey, in weather that is forecast to be cool and very, very windy. It would be fine if that wind was on our tail, but for some reason, it never is!
It was a nice day. A relaxing day. A peaceful day. Just a roaming day at an easy pace. We had both been feeling a wee bit of fatigue in our hill-weary legs, so even though the legs were still powering us around the streets and hills of Tunbridge Wells on foot power, it was nice to give them a day off from propelling us and all our gear up those hills on the bikes. Back on the bikes tomorrow, into the wind and up the hills. It may have its tough moments, but it’s also going to give us some new destinations, new sights, new experiences and, I’m sure, more than a few tales to tell! The road beckons. The pedals await. The hills call like the mesmerising song of a siren. We’re coming…we’re coming…