Monday, June 18, 2012

English cycling

My first weekend in England has been nice so far despite the weather. A friend from work is putting me up in his place in Southern England, and our big plan for the weekend was to do a cycling tour of the area. The weather forecast was spotty rain, largely overcast and "gale force winds." We got lucky and the spotty rain didn't show up until the very very end of the ride. On the other hand the route was planned one way and ended up being the wrong way, meaning into the wind all the way.

The start of the ride involved a quick tour of Poole to get down to the ferry. A lot of it was on curvy trails and was a good warm up for me since I was on a new bike (to me) and don't really mountain bike much anyway. I didn't crash although there were a couple somewhat close calls.

After the ferry ride a quick shot down the road and we were able to get off road. We stopped momentarily to get ready and made the random comment about the upcoming puddles that you can never tell until you go into them how deep, sloppy, or rocky they are. Then we got going and discovered the first set of puddles were knee deep and our shoes were no longer dry. The rest of the trail was fun and easy enough for me to enjoy. I've only mountain biked a handful of times so my skills are a bit lacking.

After a few miles on the trails we shot back onto the roads to get over to the next village (pub). The village was a tiny little thing with just a handful of stone-built and thatched roof houses that looked like they had been built a couple hundred years ago. And they probably had. Of course one of the buildings was an old pub, so we ducked inside, ordered an ale, then sat outside and drank. We had to be a bit careful with the beers once they got about half empty because a number of times the wind tried to blow them across and off the table. But the view of the ocean was nice.

After the quick half pint we got back on our bikes and headed off again. We followed the road a short way until a narrow trail crossed the road and we turned onto that. Very shortly the path began to climb, and it was apparently climbing up "Old Harry." Even now I'm not sure what exactly Old Harry was. Maybe the trail, maybe the hill, maybe one of the cliffs, but it doesn't matter. What does matter is that we had to start at sea level and make it to the top of this thing going directly into the 30mph headwinds that would occasionally hit us sideways and blow us off the trail into the grass. Fortunately we weren't riding right along the edge of the cliff with the wind blowing off the edge.

Of course we had to stop a bit to take a look around here for the view, then it was onward along the cliff edge. Not right on the edge, but about 50-100 feet from it and the wind blowing directly sideways from the cliff over to us. I guess that was better than a headwind, but it made the continued climb (yes it kept going up) a little annoying because we couldn't stay in any sort of a straight line.

Eventually we got to the top of the hill we were going up and got to head back down. We chose the steep, narrow and partly sketchy route despite my lack of skill or confidence on the mountain bike and lost all the potential energy we had just worked so hard to store up in less than a minute. That loss was somewhat sad but honestly at the time I was just happy to have not fallen and broken anything. Feeling good we figured it was about time to hit the next pub and grab some food.

Not too much farther along some rural roads and sort of out in the middle of nowhere we found the next main stop on the tour for the day. It was some incredibly old and tiny place with quite a few people sitting outside. As we walked in to the place I saw someone's lunch get picked up by the wind and get thrown into the next table over where it landed on someone else's back. We opted to eat inside.

A nice gourmet meal of pastys (soft A) and ales and a bit of a rest were a nice break. There was also randomly a little museum in the back of the pub of artifacts that had been excavated nearby. Most of it was your boring sea creatures that you've seen a million times and others were also boring farm implements from years past. But one exhibit (if you can call it that) was actually pretty cool. There was a display of pipes from hundreds of years ago that appeared to be carved out of white limestone. I had never seen anything like that and thought it was neat.

We finished our food and drink and realized it was getting on in the day and we still had quite a long ways to go. It's apparently somewhat difficult to make good headway when you're cycling into 30mph winds the whole way. And I should clarify. I'm not exaggerating when I say 30mph winds. And they weren't gusts to 30mph.

The rest of the ride was a bit of a blur. It was mostly on road and up and down small hills. At one point we climbed up another big hill and at the top our route was blocked due to a military firing range, so we were forced to adjust the planned path and headed into the next town, which had a train stop that could get us home. As we rolled into this last town it was getting very cloudy and cool. Rather than going to the train station we figured there was plenty of time to check out yet another pub so we did. Pint number three went down smoothly and was nicely accented by some "Jelly Babies" (gum drops formed into shapes).

While at the pub with our food and drink a quick check of the train scheduled showed us we had limited time to get back to the train unless we wanted to waste another hour. So we quickened the pace of consumption and once finished got back on our bikes in a slight drizzle and headed across town for the train station.

A quick 15 minute train ride and we were back where we started. I found out after the fact that we rode something like 25 or 30 miles, largely off road and into the wind, all to end up just about 7 miles from where we started. It seems sort of silly, but that was the fun route with good pubs and interesting scenery along the southern coast of England.


  1. Great tour. Sounds like you're having a good time.


  2. Mark: always. I just don't have any time to read everyone else's blogs right now!