Tuesday, 31 July 2012

With the shores of England behind us we were looking forward to the next and more testing part of our journey.  With next to no French bar yes, no, cat, dog and thank you - we were hoping that either most people spoke or at least understood English or we could perform charades to explain what we meant.
We arrived after a fairly quick crossing and cycled out of the ferry terminal and into Calais where Dave added a Gold Coast touch to the Calais sign!!
The French countryside was really lovely, and we were graced with good weather - AT LAST - It was a pleasure to be cycling and we came across these two locals just outside some houses in a street, but they weren't very talkative:
The French Beaches were totally different to the Shingle beaches of the South coast of England, and this was our first view of them.
The buildings here, as in the UK are really something else.  It makes us really want to know the history behind them as you can't help wonder who has been there and how were they built so long ago to the exacting finishes and elaborate details!
We were lucky enough in some circumstances to be able to find the information in English so that was a bonus!!
We headed South from Calais and into 300 mile an hour headwinds - Well it felt like that!!
Maybe 50 miles an hour, but it was heavy going over this terrain.....
We stayed the night with a young French couple hosting us and checked out the forecasts.  They foretold of nothing but headwinds if we kept a southward path, so being the intrepid travelers we are we said "bugger that"" and decided that the North of France was the place to be, so it was with the wind that we headed off the next morning feeling pretty good. It's so nice to be free!
 As we were travelling we passed by what we thought might be a council type caravan park, as it seemed to be pretty crowded and with no specific order about it.  We later found out that it was a Gypsy encampment.  We had seen a few of these in the UK, where the Gypsies just arrive 'en masse' in a park or wherever and just set up camp.  Within a couple of hours they can populate whole parks etc and then the authorities have to go through their procedures to get them to move on which can take a few weeks.  But none of the English ones were like this!!
As we cycled we came across a lot of religious statues.  Both in the towns and even way out in the countryside where there is nothing for miles.  Typically in the country they seem to be erected on the tops of hills.
They also had some great street sculptures.  These were representing each country's flags and you would not even guess that anyone would come up with an idea quite so novel.
We also noticed that so many of the houses in the little villages had window boxes full of flowers in their windows and the larger towns had beautiful gardens in public areas like this one.
The beaches were typically  Cafe's then the obligatory beach boxes - not everywhere but in quite a few places, then vast flat sandy beaches.  We tried where possible to cycle along the waterfront, amongst all the hustle and bustle of the tourists, and getting all the wonderful smells from the different cafe's:
These two items were interesting so just thought i'd throw them in before I sign off from France......
They are displayed for posterity along the road and are remnants from the building of the channel tunnel.  This one is part of the machine that drilled out the service tunnel:
And this is one of the machines that drilled out the tunnel that the train now passes through from France to the UK.......pretty fascinating:
Then after we spent a couple of days relaxing and catching up with washing etc in Dunkirk it was off on our way again and heading for Country no 8 - Belgium.

Monday, 23 July 2012


Our time in Scotland was to be cut short due to the ever worsening weather. After arriving in Inverness on a lovely day and staying in a nice little camp site the weather again turned bad.  This was really becoming monotonous....
On checking out the projected forecast we found nothing but rain and winds for the next two weeks and further, so yet again an executive decision was made and we decided to head back to England, with the desire to one day return as it really is a fascinating place and one of our favourites!

So back on the train and across country to where we were expecting slightly better weather in Lancaster.
 Yet again we found some fascinating old buildings, and this one has been used for so many purposes since it was built, which is pretty typical.  Once a prison among other things and now i think they are trying to take it back to its original state.

 After exploring the city we headed off on the Lancaster canal path which started off fine but gradually got muddier and smaller until we were just riding along on the grass beside the canal and wondering if we would have to turn around and go all the way back but we did eventually find the way out.
Even though we had traveled back to England to escape the rain, it followed us and after riding for
the whole day in the rain we finally found a refuge beside yet another canal - (Liverpool to Leeds canal)
in the form of a B & B called 'the boathouse'  where they even encouraged us to take the bikes in out of the rain into our room.  It was heaven and they even washed and dried all our wet clothes - highly recommended for weary travelers!!
It was then full steam ahead to Yorkshire where we went back to Dave's birthplace and retraced some childhood memories.  We stayed with an old family friend and again had to dry out. My boots took 3 days as they were so saturated!!!  It was lovely to have dry boots again though!!
You may think we are exaggerating re all the rain but by some stroke of fate we managed to ride through the 2 wettest days ever recorded in both Lancashire and then the same in Yorkshire!!! And the flooding followed us down the country. (Sorry guys - think the weather Gods were cranky with us)
After leaving Yorkshire ( again in the rain!) we found a great little pub to shelter in for a little while-

As you know by now, we love to travel on traffic free roads where possible, and we found an old pit trail which was the path all the mine workers took to take them to work in the pits.
We must say here that we really appreciate all the work that goes in to maintaining all these trails as it makes it just so much safer for cyclists to travel.
We finally got a day or rather an afternoon without rain so we took the opportunity to get back under canvas (so to speak) and to dry some of our stuff out.  It was strange as we were the only people visable in the park so it was like we had it all to ourselves!!
But as with all good things, they are always balanced out with bad, and if you've also been following us on facebook you would have read Dave's tally on my Bugs and Bingles.  I have now learned to close my mouth on downhill runs as I think I have now swallowed about 8 bugs - much to Dave's amusement, and I have also had a few bingles and have the bruises to show for it!
And this was when they were getting better!!
We were making our way back down the middle of the country and eventually arrived in Northhampton to be greeted with - you guessed it - rain!  But some of the local inhabitants were very colourful!

We picked up another canal path out of Northampton, and it ended up being a really hard days ride as the pathway kept changing from good to muddy to good then bad,

 then 2 amazing long tunnells that I had to walk through as my balance was shot in the darkness!!  Dave was ok riding, but ended up keeping me company which I really appreciated in the dark (just a scaredy cat at heart I guess)
And again we found some wonderful Long Boats!  There must have been hundreds all along here, some in Marinas - more like huge parking lots out in the middle of nowhere, but many travelling along the canal.
These boats also have to pass through locks and they only just fit!
At the end of this canal we finally reached Milton Keynes where we decided to have a little celebration as we had reached our first big milestone on the trip - - - 1,000  Miles cycled  - and proof  :
It may not be much to most cyclists but for a couple of unfit, middle aged almost grandparents who are carrying way too much weight in luggage we feel pretty pleased with ourselves!

Travelling on and we finally reached the big smoke.  You haven't lived until you have cycled through London traffic!  We knew it was London when we saw this typical vehicle!
But we were very apprehensive about ever leaving our bikes unattended after seeing this!!!
And there were also some strange sights - I called this 'Robo Cop meets Teddy?"
We had hoped to cycle alongside the Thames, but unfortunately bikes are not allowed and we had to cycle 1 street back between the buildings and in the city traffic which really was not a great deal of fun so we decided to go back to Kent and leave the bikes so it was back to our favourite watering hole and a welcome from Will the landlord:

After the bikes were safely stored with my cousin, we headed back to London by Train to do the Terry Tourist thing.  Here's a typical London tourist I spotted...
The days spent in London were typically for us- raining as seen when I tried to get a shot of the London  Eye from the top of a Big Red Bus!
 We did manage to cover all the big ticket items though with Buckingham Palace, Tower of London, Natural science Museum, Piccadilly Circus,  British Museum, Nelsons column, Mayfair, Parklane and all those other places made famous by Monopoly.  We also took a cruise down the Thames to Greenwich and saw the Greenwich Meantime clock and Naval museum among other things.  
As we were leaving we thought we would get a last shot of Trafalgar square to remind us of the wonderful weather we had experienced in the UK.

Please don't think we haven't enjoyed our travells so far, but if you check out the facts, the UK has just experienced its - wait for it - 
and we just happened to choose this time to cycle here, so call us unlucky as it has curtailed some of our travells, but we have managed to achieve pretty much all the main things planned for the UK and we have learned a lot about ourselves and how much more we can achieve under adverse circumstances - and we are still talking!!!!

So we headed down to Dover with its wonderful old castle.

And took a last look at the amazing White Cliffs....

 And it was with mixed feelings that we said goodbye to England..

And Hello to whatever the future holds!

Friday, 13 July 2012

We left you in the Waiting Room at Tarbet Railway station where we had decided to jump the Train for Fort William  as traversing the mountains in the Wind and Rain was not very enticing.  (It's called "Creative Navigation')
Trains are not plentiful in this part of the world and the first one that came did not have room for our bikes ( boo hoo)  but a kindly conductor rang and booked the bikes for the next train - 6 1/2  hours later!!
So we had a cold and long wait for the next train - lots of reading - Thanks for the Kindles boys!!
We finally arrived in Fort William at 10pm and rode to the camping park at the foot of Ben Nevis where we put our tent up at about 11.15pm and it was still light enough to see!!!
This area was so beautiful that we decided to have a rest day and rode back into Fort William for a look around. On the way we passed a mob of people arriving at a big field not far from the park to embark on a rather long walk over the mountains.  Some in costume and a lot of pretty serious looking walkers.  There are just so many that climb these mountains every day, but we were just happy to watch them from the base!!!
The weather continued cold and wet but we were still enjoying ourselves!
After our rest day we set off in actual sunshine!!! and the first thing that caught our attention was the locks.  Called Neptune's staircase, this is the start of the waterway the passes all the way to Inverness.
There are quite a few locks in a very short space and the level between the first and last is pretty impressive.  This is the view from the top looking down.
All along the way we had beautiful scenery to look at while we were riding.

And some unusual signage...

We arrived at the Caledonian Canal near Ft Augustus.
and the ever present locks.. Just after this was taken the heaven's opened up  and the last hour riding to Ft Agustus was in the wet and cold!  We were becoming ever used to this horrible weather!

After a night a Ft Augustus we set off on the 2nd day of our trek along the Lochs to Inverness.
The first mission was to climb up  and up and up......I think the fresh air was getting to Dave as he started dancing a Jig!!!

We passed by some lovely sights along the way, Lochs in the mountain tops.


The trails are pretty well posted along the way......

The roads were not very wide but there were periodical passing places, and we found the vehicles to be pretty considerate.

for 5 miles we pushed our bikes and eventually arrived at the top 2 1/2 hours later - at an elevation of 400 metres.
The views were awesome all the way along the trail which kept up the morale.

And of course the ever present views were always worth waiting for:

The best part was that after that it was downhill for the next bit and for 3 miles we did not pedal once and it only took 10 minutes!!!!!
Some of the areas we passed through were absolutely beautiful with the mountain streams:

And Enchanted forests: It just felt as if some mythical creature could have ventured out and it would not have seemed at all out of place!!

I am surprised that we ever actually get anywhere as it seems that every 5 minutesone of us says "hold up, you just have to see this!".  Don;t know how many waterfalls we stopped at but they were all beautiful and Dave filled his water bottle at one and said it was the best water he'd tasted!
We finally arrived at Loch Ness and think we were both secretly hoping that we would spot the elusive "Nessie"
But don;t think we had much of a chance when these guy's can't even find her and they are at it full time!!!!
As we neared Inverness we approached the final leg of the Calendonian Canal with the last set of Lochs before reaching the open water.

After a night camping here we decided to take a day and look around so here are the stars of the show just hanging out while we play tourist!!

We checked out the Castle

and some of the beautiful old churches

It was extra special for me as I was able to see a lot of the places where my Mother spent a great deal of her childhood, places that I had heard about in stories, so that now they had substance.
Apart from that it was a really nice old city:
and even though the weather was getting rapidly worse, we couldn't help but enjoy our time spent here!