Monday, 15 August 2016

Riding 'Round Part III: England

Going back through London meant that I could take my bike back into the shop to resolve the leaking petrol issue, so after packing up and saying goodbye to my housemates once again, I took it in. It only took them a little tinkering to pronounce it fixed. However after visiting friends at work I came out to find it literally pissing out petrol. A few more hours in the shop and the outcome was one of two options; either the carb got enough fuel but leaked, or it didn’t and the engine didn’t start. In the end I just had to opt for the leaking option and to remember to turn the fuel off at the tank every time I stopped (spoiler alert, didn’t happen).

By the time I got to Cambridge it was getting dark … I didn’t mind because I was just going to find dinner and a place to sleep and explore the city the next day. It was going to be my first night camping and because I had limited space on the bike and like travelling light, I opted to go without a tent and just use a waterproof bivvy bag over my sleeping bag. After rejecting a few parks because they were too populated, I found a little reserve with trees; not too light, not too dark. I mean, I didn’t want to be readily seen by passers by, but I also didn’t want to stumble into a drug circle. Set myself up next to my bike and got some sleep under the stars.

Cut to the next day when the early morning light revealed what I had not seen in the dark … I had actually camped next to the giant iron gates to Trinity College, the most prestigious college at Cambridge University. And people were starting to arrive. Abort!

I spent the morning and early afternoon wandering around Cambridge, avidly avoiding paying for anything, which worked out well because I discovered you could see some of the colleges by just going in the entrance around the back. I was a little disappointed in Cambridge; I thought it would be similar to Oxford, which has an incredible amount of beautiful buildings and architecture. While Cambridge is an academic rival, it has nowhere near the grandeur of Oxford, so while the afternoon was hot and sunny, I jumped on my bike to head to Stratford-upon-Avon, which wasn’t really on my itinerary. Of course, half an hour in the sun disappeared and I even got hailed upon. England, everybody,

Arriving at Stratford I realised that I wasn’t particularly interested in seeing Shakespeare’s various houses, so I just looked up a campsite instead (not wanting another mishap and also, I needed a shower). I struck up a conversation with a Russian woman working in Sainsbury’s (while getting my daily fix of granola slices) who spoke about the places she had been in the UK including the Peak District, which was on my route. My brief conversation with her was actually the highlight of my day and it reminded me yet again how the best part of travelling for me is the people. On my way out I even struck up a conversation with a strange man who thought he recognised me (he thought I was a homeless person haha #whereisthatshower). He was the kind of guy that you would shrug off and keep walking past, but I decided to humour him. We had a great chat about living in the UK and it turns out he was from Azerbaijan. Who meets an Azerbaijani in Stratford!?

My campsite, accessible by a partly submerged road in which ducks were swimming, was run by an amazing elderly gentleman in a khaki suit and fedora. Ladies and gentlemen, living on a farm in the middle of nowhere is no inhibitor to dressing smart. I had another beautiful balmy night under the stars, this time accompanied by a family of chickens.

One thing I did take from Stratford was the beginning of my love affair with British pubs. I mean, they’re pretty much perfect. Warm, rustic and friendly, they offer great, CHEAP meals AND alcohol, but are more casual than a restaurant (that’s code for you can totally pick a table by a powerpoint and stay several hours with a cider and charge all your devices).

Taking the advice of my Russian acquaintance, I decided to head for the Peak District; nature was probably both more interesting and also practical for me at this point anyway. On my stopover in picturesque Bakewell (pub meal and cider for lunch of course) I also sampled the Bakewell pudding and got some Bakewell tarts for the road. The Peak District was pretty, but I thought it was really just glorified farm lands, which I felt guilty for. When I arrived at a cute little campsite it had already begun raining, so of course I spent the night in the pub across the road. Did I mention how much I love pubs? This one had wifi, so I even go to watch some of the men’s Olympic diving and gymnastics, which let’s be honest, are the only sports I’m interested in.

Hmm, still raining, time to get creative. I ended up solving my lack of tent situation by putting my umbrella up against the front wheel of my bike and putting my bags and head underneath to keep dry. It actually worked fantastically and I had a great and cosy night even with the rain and howling wind. Mr Bivvy did not turn out to be as waterproof as advertised however and so I decided it was time to invest in a tent.

I was really excited about getting to York, hailed as one of the top places in the UK to visit. Again I feel guilty for admitting I was a little underwhelmed. It had some nice architecture, including the city wall that you could walk on top of, but nowhere near the grandeur or ambience of cities like Bath and Oxford. I did stay in one of the best hostels of my life though, which had hair straighteners, a shower with pressure that could kill and a kitchen that put an Ikea showroom to shame. Meeting some people to hang out with didn’t turn out as expected as I was sharing my room with a 16 and 19 year old, #feelingold. Lacking on sights, I tried to give the food a go and made a to-eat list for York. The pie shop had closed down, the gelato was severely underwhelming and the brunch place had run out of their famous croque madams by 9:30am, so I think we can all agree that York was not the greatest success. On a more positive note I did enjoy a great Yorkshire pudding and got a tent for a very discounted price from probably one of the nicest retail assistants in the world.

On the way to Whitby I rode through the North Yorkshire Moors, which surprisingly I really loved. Barren of nearly all vegetation except for the purple heath, you can see for miles across the highlands and valleys. I think the weather really plays a role on my moods; it was dark and raining in the Peak District, whereas today it was bright and sunny. I setup my tent for the first time at a farm with relative success (found it half blown down from the wind later that night, so maybe not) and was quite pleased with the added bonus that I could leave all my stuff in it, which gave me more freedom to explore off the bike (I usually had to carry everything with me).

Whitby was everything I had been waiting for since leaving St Malo. Fucking. Stunning. The town is built on two hills that straddle the narrow bay and the the afternoon light was beautiful on the river and sea front. Decided in the moment to take a 40-minute boat ride out to sea after I heard them yelling out from the dock … best £3 I have ever spent! The two old guys driving the boat were hilarious and basically gave an unofficial stand up comedy routine for me and the one family on board. On the way back they just gave the steering wheel to the 8-year old and totally left him to steer us back in to port. It was amazing. The views of the coast and town were also fantastic.  After the largest serving of fish and chips I have had or will ever have, I climbed the opposite shore to cemetery and abbey, with great views over the town and then back along the main promenade to the beach. By this point the sun had set and the sky blazed with colour, which prompted another walk along the waterfront to get some great pics.

The next day I rode to Newcastle via Durham (where I had a PB&J burger - how is this not a thing everywhere) and the Angel of the North. While contemplating whether to get a hostel in Newcastle or camp further out, I rode aimlessly around the streets. After getting a feel for the locals and passing my fifth hens party I decided that in fact Newcastle wasn’t for me and I was unlikely to meet any … people of quality … there. Stayed at a campsite out west, where some Geordie families were actually playing great music from the sub in the boot of their Commodore. Pub, cider et al.

I wasn’t really sure what to do the following day. I had a lazy morning in tent writing my journal and so by lunch time it was too late to do the things I wanted to do on the way to Edinburgh, so I decided to stay another night and just poke around the area. I went and sat on a part of Hadrian’s Wall for quite a while and caught up on some emails and admin. It was the first time I had just stopped in a place with nothing particular to see or do and I really enjoyed it. If I had more time I would really have liked to do more of that … just camp in a place for a week or something.

I came across a road (which was actually running through someone’s property) that said ‘not suitable for motor vehicles’, but I had a motorbike so of course that didn’t count. It totally did, but the rocks and large puddles were all part of the fun. After stopping to photograph this ancient arch thing, I noticed that all the cows in the field were converging on me - it was calf season so they get protective. I didn’t want to take a gamble on whether they were coming over to be friendly or to trample me, so in a mad panic I tried to put all my gear back on and start the bike as they got closer and closer. As I took off (which has to be slowly on a gravel road) the cows started pursuing, but thankfully I reached the cattle grid in time and thwarted their homocidal plans.

I got an early night so I could start early the next day (early for me at this point being 9am). First stop was Alnwick Castle, which I was clearly only visiting because it’s where they filmed the flying lesson scenes (among others) from Harry Potter. Imagine my joy (you don’t have to imagine actually, look at the picture) when I discovered they offered broomstick flying lessons, which I undertook with the other 30 small children. The two instructors were also hilarious. I took the tour of the grounds and received ten points for Ravenclaw for naming the three balls used in Quidditch.

Next I called past The Holy Island of Lindisfarne, which I was unfortunately unable to get to because the causeway is underwater during high tide, but actually the highlight was just seeing the road disappearing into the ocean; very cool! Finally I drove through Berwick-upon-Tweed to see the viaduct bridge before making my way into Edinburgh to find Anna’s parent’s house (and Anna). Coming up next … SCOTLAND.

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