British Public Roads

Goodbye London, Aug 2017

It’s been a little over a year since we said goodbye to London and the U.K. and relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area. I was reluctant to leave. The parks, charity shops, high streets, public transit that gets you anywhere anytime, museums and galleries, countryside, pubs, and history at every turn were hard to let go of, but at least we left in style. After a bit of fuss over our lease agreement (beware of renting from KFH) and lots of back and forth with freight forwarders, we mailed three-weeks’ worth of clothing to France, hopped on our bikes, loaded Oliver in his basket, and cycled out of town. Our destination: France, for three weeks of visiting with family and cycling the countryside prior to moving back to the United States.

Departing from Battersea Park, we took one last peek at Windsor Castle, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, the Thames and Tower Bridge, and caught a train from London Waterloo East to Folkstone Central, a cab to Calais, and a train to Paris, where we cycled between train stations. Finally we took a train to St. Cloud (a suburb between Paris and Versailles), where we spent a few days before driving to Villentrois, in the middle of France. We then headed east to Soussey-sur-Brionne, from whence we cycled the Canal de Bourgogne and the Parc Regional Natural du Morvan. We then returned to St. Cloud and cycled around the Forêt de Fausses-Reposes, which stretches from St. Cloud to Versailles, for a few days before packing up our bikes and heading back to the United States.

Unfortunately we didn’t take any photos of the exodus through London. This was taken en route between London and Folkstone.

We took a Folkstone Taxi through the Eurotunnel, avoiding the Eurostar because it has a no-pets policy. While crossing the Channel, we were interviewed by Channel 4 for a documentary about the lives of regular people using the Channel in the light of Brexit.

A Folkstone taxi cab in the Euroshuttle, transporting us across the Channel while we are interviewed by Channel 4. Two of several cameras are visible, as well as a shy Ollie. Chloe from Blast Films, who organized the interview, was riding in the car behind us.

From Calais Ville we took the SNCF to Gare du Nord, then cycled through Paris to Gare Saint-Lazare, which took us to St. Cloud, our first destination.

The trip lasted about seven hours and involved at least a dozen staircases, but was otherwise painless. And I would lug my bike up twice as many staircases to cycle the French countryside again.

Bike Camping on an Undulating Plateau, Jul 2017

The route: Truro to St. Agnes, St. Agnes to Lelant Saltings, Lelant Saltings to St. Ives (by train), St. Ives to Lamorna via Penzance

Cycling Cornwall is not for the faint of heart. Arriving by train in Truro, the county capital, and stepping off the platform, we quickly learned what a twenty degree incline looks like. “An undulating plateau at three hundred feet” is how one local told us his secondary school teachers had taught him to regard Cornwall’s geography. “You notice the contradiction in terms?” he said, “A plateau by definition can’t undulate.” Cornwall has many plateaus atop many undulations, he explained, which we can attest to.

Truro to St. Agnes

St Agnes was our first stop. We camped overnight at Trevellas Manor Farm Campsite, owned and operated by the Trevellas family since the 1840s. Every year the family undertakes a new improvement project, and this year it was renovating the toilet and shower facilities. They were fantastic. To get to the campsite, we followed a trail overgrown with foxgloves. Looking up the trail, the sky was a blue disc.

Shortly after setting up our tent, which the landlord thoughtfully located next to a westerly hedge to protect us from the wind, we were inundated with fog as thick as pea soup, as the saying goes. A dusk walk into town was somewhat treacherous. We took a narrow road, which we mistook for a minor road. As cars raced past us we were invisible in the falling light and the fog, which caused Gauthier to instruct me to “Be prepared to jump into the bushes,” by which he meant “Be prepared to leap into the thorny brambles that thickly cover the steeply inclined shoulder of the road.”

Dinner at The Taphouse consisted of fresh crab, rocket salad with bell-shaped tomatoes, steaming ciabatta bread, and berries and meringue for dessert. It was worth the perilous journey into town.

On the way back we followed a trail through the Blue Hills Tin Works. The site is now more famous for motorsport races than its rich industrial history. We stopped at Trevellas-Porth Beach. Crumbling smelt stacks poked out of the earth amidst ferns and flowering bushes, and a little stream flowed quietly under cracked stone bridges to meet waves that crashed onto a pebble beach. A hundred or so feet out to sea were shadowy sea stacks like the hands of a giant, rocky time keeper.

St. Agnes to Leland Saltings

Next we headed for St. Ives. The roads undulated with the curvaceous landscape, past coastal towns with names like Porthtowan and Portreath. Many a hill we walked our bikes up, panting. But there was always a pub to quench our thirst when we reached the top. We cheated a bit nearing the end of the day and took the train from Lelant Saltings Train Station to St. Ives.

St. Ives was bustling, and Ollie in his basket was a major attraction. I don’t know whether it was talking to so many strangers or the ride, but I was absolutely exhausted by the time we got to Ayr Park, the campsite where we were to spend the night. And hungry! So imagine our dismay when we discovered at 8:30 pm that restaurants in St. Ives close at 9 pm. For half an hour we searched in vain for a restaurant that would take dogs. Then we bumped into The Sloop, an inn dating back to 1312 with the only kitchen in town that stays open until 10 pm. And they took dogs!

St. Ives to Lamorna via Penzance

The next day we rode just south of Penzance via Mousehole (pronounced “moozle”) to Boleigh Farm, a working dairy farm with a fenced off field for campers. One of the farmers pronounced Gauthier’s name right on the first try, dispelling any doubts we had about the connection between the cultures of Cornwall and Brittany. Dinner at the Lamorna Wink, in breath-taking Larmorna Valley, was phenomenal. A modest river flows down the valley, surrounded by enormous ferns and other plants we had only ever imagined could exist in pacific temperate rain forests, and were certainly not a feature of any other place we had visited in England.

On day four we caught a train from Penzance back to London, vowing to return to Penzance as often as possible. And next time, to shop at the fish market! Before we left Cornwall, we had “cream tea,” which consists of tea and hot scones spread with jam and clotted cream… served the Cornish way with the cream on top of the jam.

Truro to St. Agnes was the only muddy leg of the trip.

St. Agnes stone city marker.

Having missed a turn, we found ourselves at the end of a dirt road and confronted by three boys assembled under a tree who forthrightly informed us that “You’re on private property.” Thankfully their dad popped his head out of a door with an injunction to the boys to “Show them how to get back onto the trail.” A hidden bridge brought us here.

The overgrown trail to the Travellas Manor Farm Campsite

Foxgloves!

Walking from the Travellas campsite to the narrow, but not so minor, road into town.

A Blue Hills Tin stream

Blue Hills Tin Works

On one of those plateaus. Near Portreath, on our way to St. Ives.

St. Ives

On our way to Lamorna.

Moors!

A very old, crumbled down stone fence on the moors.

A seagull with a view!

Boleigh Farm where the campsite was separated from cow paddocks by a three-rail fence and a hedge.

Lamorna Cove

Mousehole

Apologies for the low res image, but this is where we had cream tea. Our waiter was unlike any waiter we’d ever had before. In appearance and accent he resembled a sailor. I was uncertain how to address him at first, but he was friendly, funny and knowledgeable, equally at ease talking about scones, pilchards and local history.

From the Downs to the Sea – Day 2, Apr 2017

Emsworth to Portsmouth via Hayling Island offered a change of scenery. We swapped rolling, grassy hills and ancient ewe tree forests for port towns and low-tide trails. It was chilly, and rainy, and the wind was so strong at times that it almost blew us off our bikes, but there were plenty of pubs happy to serve dripping-wet customers a warm tea and a Young’s real ale.