This Green and Pleasant Land
Date: 13th April – 29th April 2013
Where: Dover/Folkestone – Hastings – Brighton – Fareham – Winchester – Stonehenge – Kemble – Oxford – Bearley (HOME!)
Distance: 8404 to 8713 miles
Hugs over, we looked around us. The sea-mist temporarily shrouded the vistas of Dover: Here the harbour wall, there the white cliffs, here the castle, there the grotty port buildings. We were back on home tarmac at last. No more ‘asphalt’. We cheerfully found the cycle-path. No more ‘ciclo-vias’. We set off uphill, lungs bursting in our buffet-laden bodies. We’d decorated ourselves with red balloons from the cruise’s quiz, rising the occasional wry smile as we went. No more Andean ‘hills’. The cycle-path took us right along the top of the cliffs, quickly making us realise that we have amazing landscapes right on our doorstep. The only difference being, that after five minutes, the grand scenery was over. No more ‘Pampa’. Then it appeared, like a shining light…the tea-room! Our first British culinary arrangement was nothing short of spectacular: A mug of tea and two tea-cakes with butter! Heaven! Re-invigorated, we made short work of the 2km downhill into Folkestone. No more day-long slogs between abandoned houses where all you see is some distant guanacos.
The Hannis family had arranged a B&B for us that night, and after a satisfying pub dinner with REAL ale, we slept a deep sleep, under a down duvet, with an actual pillow. Rested, we spent the day fossil hunting, before moving to the slightly less glamorous campsite nearby. Here we met Rémi, an old cycle-touring accomplice, who would join us as far as Brighton.
The next day we set off with Rémi acting as our guide (‘Get on the other side of the road guys!’). We followed the coast for much of the day, rediscovering the short sharp hills of the English countryside, as much as the cafe-diners with cheap, filling grub. Confusion reigned at one point as we spotted a giraffe off to our right. ‘Are we in Africa?’ No, just a wildlife reserve, one assumes for animals that just couldn’t hack it in the crowded zoos, and couldn’t go home because British immigration had lost their paperwork. Our cunning plan of attaching the Brazilian sun to the back of the cruise ship and dragging it back to the UK worked a treat, but had rather unfortunate consequences: Firstly we got rather badly sunburnt, and secondly, the Patagonian wind had decided to come along for a holiday too. The resulting arrival time of 7:30pm was a little later than planned, but our warm showers hosts in Hastings were lovely (Abby and co.), and we could leave the next morning well-fed and with eyes wide open.
The next day to Brighton followed the first, except the wind was stronger. Not wanting to arrive at 7:30pm again, we jumped the bikes on a train mid-afternoon, and as such arrived with plenty of time. Here Rémi left us to the devices of the British road network, as he had to return home to go to ‘work’ the next day. Poor guy!
An equally amazing warm showers experience (with Dan) on the 8th floor of a building overlooking Brighton’s sea-front gave us the energy to keep fighting the wind as far as Chichester. At this point, the lure of the train was too much, and once again we hopped on the train. When we arrived in Fareham station, a lone figure was waiting, last seen waving at us from the dimly-lit ferry on the island of Ometepe in Nicaragua: Nico, Sarah’s brother, and cycle-tourer in his own right.
Since getting home, Nico has spent much of his time perfecting recipes that just couldn’t be cooked in the middle of a rainforest in Honduras. On Sarah’s request, he’d prepared a wonderful Biryani complete with saffron rice. That set the tone of our four-day stay in Fareham…catch-up time on all the food we’d missed and of course with Sarah’s family. The pattern continued when Sarah’s Mum arrived, with her slow-cooked beef brisket. The moment Sarah was really looking forward to happened at last when Sarah’s sister turned up, complete with their little boy Nicholas who Sarah had not seen since he was 3 months old. Now walking and talking, he inevitably controlled everyone’s interest.
After yet more fish and chips it was time to reluctantly move on homewards. We only had a short day to Winchester to stake our claim to the throne of England (by getting to the treasury before anyone else). Unfortunately the monarch didn’t die en-route and not wanting to wait at the treasury (and longest Cathedral in England) any longer, we pedalled off to a veteran warm showers host. Jay is not old by any means, but he has been hosting cycle tourers for over six years. It is no surprise to us that people keep staying with him and his family, such is the hospitality we received. To top it all, his daughter works for the ‘Mars’ chocolate company, and had a car full of free goodies to re-stock our panniers!
Jay had printed out a detailed map to get us to Salisbury, and these roads are undoubtably some of the prettiest we have ever been along in the UK or indeed the World. Helped no doubt by yet another day of full sun, the fields of white flint contrasted with the Spring’s newly green trees and countless daffodils. We took time to go round Salisbury Cathedral (tallest tower in England), and in particular to see one of the few surviving copies of the Magna Carta (one of the first documents expressing people’s rights). A meandering country lane took us onwards to the A303 main road, where a footpath carried us to Stonehenge, probably the most famous of all ancient monuments in the UK. We found a campsite just North of it and camped for what would be the last time.
We awoke early, wanting to reach our destination of Kemble in good time. A quick glance of the map, and we suddenly realised we were in the middle of Black Heath, one of the main areas for target practice for the Army. Sure enough a few miles down the road we spotted a tank camouflaged to our right, and as we went past, it fired, luckily in the opposite direction! That was about as exciting as that day got, apart from the competition to see who could find the most bizarre-named UK signpost. One signpost as we neared Kemble was to a small village named Crudwell, Geoff’s home for most of his early life. We stayed with old family friends (Steve and Jan) in Kemble, and were treated like royalty.
The older (and wiser) half of the Hannis family came down to see us again, and we had a short walk around Malmesbury, eventually finding the famous tombstone inscribed with a tale of immense sadness:
In bloom of life,
She’s snatched from hence,
She had not room,
To make defence,
For Tyger fierce,
Took life away,
And here she lies,
In a bed of clay,
Until the resurrection day
RIP Hannah Twynnoy, died 1703. Evidently people didn’t know the perils of keeping pet tigers in those days!
That afternoon, Steve took us through editing all our video clips into one spectacular masterpiece. Having edited numerous videos over the years, it has given us a head-start in understanding what is and isn’t possible with some simple video editing software by speaking to him. Maybe it’ll now take us less than a year to actually create the finished product for us, and of course all of you.
After another tremendous breakfast an old family friend, Phil,arrived. He would join us as far as Oxford and then cycle back home to near Kemble the same day. In order to keep up with his hand-made road bike we ditched our camping equipment with the ever-suffering Hannis family and were now down to two rear panniers each. The road to Oxford passed without a bump, or a hill for that matter, and as such we arrived in plenty of time to enjoy the Iffley meadows nature reserve, and also to sample some Oxford ale in the Isis Farmhouse Pub.
Phil soon left for the second half of his mammoth cycling day, leaving us to visit an old friend (David) in an ice cream parlour (any excuse) before pedaling up Rose Hill to Clare and Jamie’s house. Old friends from OUMC (Oxford University Mountaineering Club), we quickly felt at home and spent the next few hours drinking G & T whilst Clare whisked away at her homemade mayonnaise. Eventually the damn thing behaved and thickened so that we could get on with the eating part. It was delicious.
We had a good night’s sleep, and an even better breakfast which finished just in time for Jon and Kirsten to knock on the door. This couple (now married) were first encountered in a ramshackle restaurant in El Salvador whilst they were on holiday. We met them again a few days later, and a friendship had been established which only now (over 1 year later) could be continued. A lovely walk along the river to a pub (where we met Alison and Rich (also OUMC)) followed, with bright sun for most of the time. The rest of the time we were fighting tooth and nail against a freak hail-storm. We were glad not to be on our bikes at this time!
The road beckoned again, and the next morning we set off for the final day’s cycling. We had left things a little late, and by the time we had eaten another huge breakfast at Mirek and Kasia’s (old friends from Coventry) we were against the clock (and the wind) to get to Hook Norton for our next social arrangement. Arriving twenty minutes late, we were greeted to the Pub by Sven and Jude. These ex-OUMC friends were visiting from Switzerland, and were keen to meet us having read the blog all the way. As such, they had driven down from Manchester that morning to see us. It has been great seeing so many friends since coming back, it makes us feel very much at home again.
We left the Sun Inn in high spirits, and after one or two roadblocks and hills, the distractions faded, and our thoughts drifted to that first day cycling from Dover, and then further to the first days in Mexico. This adventure was almost over. We made it to Charlcote, and with eight miles to go, Mother Hannis joined the train. We made steady progress against the wind, and flew down the hill past the golf club and into Bearley for the first time in 15months (17 for Sarah). Home at last…now where are our CLOTHES!
It turns out we were quite organised before leaving the UK, and we quickly found most clothes items we wanted, with only a bag of Geoff’s underwear eluding us at this point (editor’s note: it’s over-rated anyway). There still remains quite a bit to be sorted (see photo below), but we are having no issues being ruthless so far. Next on the list is a video of our travels…please have patience with us on this one. It could be a month, it could be a year, however one thing is clear, it will be the next and FINAL blog post. The before and after of writing this blog has been great fun, but frankly I am glad that the actual effort of doing it is now over.
Thanks once again for all the support you blog-readers having given along the way, it made it more than worthwhile. Also thanks to all the generosity shown to us by people here in the UK, and across Latin America.
For those who want to continue reading cycle-touring blogs, please look at Mel and Chris’s exploits as they reverse our journey and go even further North to Alaska. We’ve been reading them, and spend at least two hours stitching our sides together afterwards!