Know Your Swallows, Swifts and Sand Martins

May 13, 2014 at 8:04 pm | Posted in Cycle Rides, Learning Stuff | Leave a comment
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…and House Martins too, but that didn’t fit with the alliterative title of this post.

As I was riding home from work tonight I saw some swallows. This is always a lovely sight, especially early in the year. Or were they swifts? Or martins? I wonder this to myself EVERY year. Although I have consulted Enid’s nature books in the past I’m afraid it’s failed to sink in. So here are some tips for identifying swallows, swifts and martins from each other, for me and also for you, if indeed you have this problem.

The Barn Swallow

Barn SwallowFrom Enid Blyton’s Nature Lover’s Book:

‘He is a well-known bird, because of his long, forked tail. His black is steel0blue, his throat and forehead are chestnut-coloured, and he has a blue-barred chest.

Swallows build their nest sin barns of out-buildings, on beams or rafters. The nest is a saucer of mud, and is lined with feathers or grass. The eggs, which are long and narrow, are white, speckled with grey-brown.

The swallow has a musical little twitter that sounds like “feetafeetit, feetafeetit”. It is very pleasant to listen to listen to on a warm summer’s  evening.’

From the RSPB Magazine:

‘The one with the long, forked tail: steel blue above, pale below (white to bright peachy colour) but with a clean-cut dark throat […] Swallows typically fly low down, flying fluently with sinuous swerves and more fluttering twists, often around livestock, along the edges of open fields, over cricket pitches and the like’.

The House Martin

House MartinFrom the RSPB Magazine:

‘The one with the white rump: blue-black above with browner wings, with a broad white band above the tail, and all-white below from chin to tail. Nests in quarter-sphere mud cups beneath eaves’.

From Enid Blyton’s Nature Lover’s Book:

‘Many people think that the house martin is the barn swallow, for they are rather alike. The martin belongs to the swallow family, and leads the same aerial life. He is steel-blue above and white below. He has a white patch on his back, and this and his shorter tail will help distinguish him from the swallow. He, too, is a migrant.

The martin likes to build his nest of mud under our eaves, stuck against the wall. He lines it softly. The eggs are long and are pure white.

The martin, like the swallow, has a pleasing twitter.’

The Sand Martin

From the RSPB Magazine:

‘The brown one: all mid-brown above, white below with a brown chest band. This is a tiny bird, more fluttery than the others, often above or close to water.’

The Swift

From Enid Blyton’s Nature Lover’s Book:

Swift‘The swift has no song or twitter, only a loud and harsh screech. His name is a good one for he is one of our fastest flying birds’.



One thing that is lovely about Enid Blyton’s writing is the way she incorporates factual information into her narratives. The first part of the Nature Lover’s Book tells a series of short stories set across the course of the year. John, Janet and Pat go for a series of walks with Uncle Merry and his little black dog Fergus. Uncle Merry opens their eyes to all sorts of things that are around them, from flowers in January to nightbirds, moths and nocturnal beetles in June.

This is from ‘A Second Walk in May’

‘One morning John went into the garden and heard the swallows twittering together. He loved their little voices saying “feetafeetit, feetafeetit.” He looked up and saw that another bird was flying with them.

“That must be the swift,” said John to himself. “It’s sooty black, as Uncle Merry said. What great sickle-shaped wings it has! It looks like a flying anchor!”.

Enid Blyton’s Nature Lover’s Book has beautiful drawings by Donia Nachsen, as seen above. I was very lucky to discover a second hand copy of this in the National Trust bookshop at Blickling Hall in Norfolk while on a cycling tour a couple of years ago.



Cycling in Essex

July 18, 2013 at 7:51 am | Posted in Cycle Rides, Cycling, Eating and Drinking, Travel | 1 Comment
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IMG_2085Essex is a great county to cycle round. Last Saturday Mr C [still waiting for the right Famous Five pseudonym to present itself] and I did a circular route from Audley End to well, obviously, Audley End. The towns, villages and countryside along the route are beautiful, with just the right amount of hills (I never felt like I was constantly peddling up hill but there were enough inclines to keep things interesting).

IMG_2100The first stop was Saffron Walden, home of the glorious Fry Art Galley which has an extensive and wonderful collection of works by Edward Bawden, Eric Ravillious, Kenneth Rowntree and many more. You can get fine cakes, quiches and scones from Cafe Cou Cou but it is extremely hard to find anywhere to leave your bikes. We ended having to ask the vicar if it was ok to lock our bikes up to the church railings.

From Saffron Walden we set off in the direction of Thaxted, a sweet village with a windmill and plenty of impressive examples of pargetting, a traditional style of decorating the exterior plasterwork of buildings with patterns. Pargetting is big in this part of Essex and nearby Cambridgeshire. IMG_2072

We kept looking for a river or pool in which we could take a dip (temperatures exceeded 30 degrees on Saturday) but sadly this was not to be. But we did come across some very cute hens, and Mr C bought some freshly laid eggs which we had for breakfast with Brick Lane bagels the following day. This is my egg cup, Mr C is far too manly for such a thing.IMG_2099

Given our various stop offs, and the high temperatures, we took our time getting round the 34 mile route. By early evening we were more than ready for a drink and pub meal. We stopped off at The Cricketers Arms by Rickling Green and had a quintessentially English experience of drinking Pimms (me)/ale (Mr C) while sitting on the grass watching a game of cricket.IMG_2097

I’d highly recommend this ride although doing it in one day means you won’t have time to visit all of the various attractions en route (the house at Audley End, Bridge End Garden and turf maze, Saffron Walden Museum, and various churches). The route can be found here.

And here is some recommended viewing; 4 films from the East Anglian Film Archive:

The House that Essex Built (1958)

An A-Z of East Anglian Villages: Ugley (1975)

Britain’s Historic Counties: Essex (c.1955)

Ripe Earth (1938) Boulting Brothers documentary about harvest time in Essex.

Yet another cycle trip

June 20, 2013 at 9:52 pm | Posted in Cycle Rides, Cycling, Dick, Eating and Drinking | 1 Comment
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Hallo everyone! (‘hallo’ being much more Blytonian than ‘hello’) I’ve been on yet another cycle trip, although sadly my bicycle is currently sitting upside down in my flat suffering from a buckled wheel. This year Dick and I got back in the saddle and did a circular route out from Oxford. We stayed in a mildly surreal but beautiful [and cheap] resort-type hotel (for business types during the week, and families and couples who want to spa during the weekend) and managed to get in some quality hills and birthday cake along the way. Here are some snaps from my album:



My beautiful bicycle, glinting in the sunshine on the canal path between Oxford and Blenheim









I like the strips of green, white and yellow in the fields along this stretch of the cycle route, also in between Oxford and Blenheim (although we were about to hit the horrid bit of the track that runs alongside a busy main road).







A nice hot bath was just what was needed after a long and dusty day on the road.









On the way back we stopped at the smashing Rectory Farm. They have a cafe, a shop and you can pick your own strawberries and asparagus too!









…they also have bunting…










…and good lunch offerings including this salad of local broad beans and asparagus with a pullet’s egg on top (plus a much needed mug of tea).








And lastly, even Timmy wouldn’t have felt left out – homemade dog treats!

The Parks of North London, by Bicycle

June 7, 2013 at 12:12 pm | Posted in Cycle Rides, Eating and Drinking | Leave a comment
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Last Sunday we went on a London cycle ride, from Stoke Newington up to the very edge of Zone 6, Trent Country Park. My lovely companion (who has yet to select a Famous Five pseudonym) planned an excellent route for us that wove through the parks of north London with just a small number of roads in between. North London parksI had no idea there was such a wealth of excellent green spaces on the way out to the top end of the Piccadilly line. It felt a bit like The Swimmer but with parks as opposed to pools.

Starting in Clissold Park we skirted the daddy of North London parks, Finsbury Park, and then continued on through Downhills Park (uphill in the direction we were going), Lordship Recreation Ground, Broomfields Park, Grovelands Park and Oakwood Park before reaching our final destination of the beautiful Trent Park.

Near Broomfields Park we found Baskervilles Tea Shop, a good place for a restorative cup of tea and scone, with proper cream. Later on we had healthy pure fruit ice lollies from the cafe by Grovelands Park cafe. So although it was a fairly urban adventure, we managed to cram in many Famous Five staples (including a puncture).

Baskervilles Tea Shop



Norfolk Cycle Tour (Day 3)

June 12, 2012 at 10:18 pm | Posted in Cycle Rides, Cycling, Eating and Drinking, Timmy | 1 Comment
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Georgian market town Holt attracts lots of visitors (locals meeting for a coffee, tourists, second home owners in search of olives and harissa). I went to pick up a few supplies for my day and to have a little look around its shops which include an outpost of the Norwich art and craft shop, Verandah, and Old Town, purveyors of modern versions of old style home and workwear (stove pipe trousers, house dresses – lots of twill).

For provisions I went to the Owl Bakery and got a sausage roll, warm from the oven, and a coconut tart, which was the closest I could get to one of the Five’s favourites, coconut macaroons. There’s a tea room at the back of the bakery where I stopped for a coffee, which was much needed on what was shaping up to be a damp and misty morning. The tea room is charming without trying too hard and has booths and tables with old tea tins, metal teapots, tennis rackets and other miscellanea propped up on shelves all around. I had a good cup of hot coffee but did note that it cost more than a cup of coffee in a fancy East London cafe (this says much about the fashionable parts of North Norfolk).

My route on Day 3 was Holt to Heydon, via Blickling Hall. There are a few nasty B roads around Holt but cycle route provision means there’s an underpass to help you avoid the worst of these. Within a few minutes I was once again completely alone on a quiet road in the midst of woods and fields, on my way to my first stopping off point, Baconsthorpe Castle.

Baconsthorpe is an actual ruined castle, on the very edge of the village at the end of a long farm lane. Apart from the Tudor Gatehouse, the rest of the castle is a little Kirrin-like. Timmy and I had the place to ourselves, apart from the cawing rooks and a lot of geese (there’s a mere next to the castle). We explored a little and as it was a bit lonely and eerie we stopped to fortify ourselves with the coconut tart  –  a delicious and very restorative elevensey (is this the singular of ‘elevenses’?). As we were leaving some day trippers in a motor car turned up. Pah!

The roads around this part of the county are lovely. Contrary to popular belief, Norfolk is not flat, especially around this area which was shaped long ago by Ice Age glaciers. There were a few little climbs followed by some exhilarating downhill stretches. In Itteringham we stopped off for a ginger beer from the village post office. NB This is an excellent little shop which sells postcards, stationery, teas and ices much in the tradition of the village shops encountered by the Five.

My timings were much better than the previous day, perhaps because I decided to abandon my 20 church quest, and I arrived at Blickling in good time for a picnic lunch inspired by a meal in Five Have a Wonderful Time in which they feast on sausage rolls and strawberries. I confess my version was a little inauthentic as I opted for fresh (although rather squished after a morning being bumped around in my bike basket) rather than tinned strawberries.

After a look around the hall and its gardens, I visited its excellent and rather large secondhand bookshop. Despite trying to travel light I succumbed to two hardbacks. These were Blytons, of course: a hardback Ring o’ Bells Mystery and Enid Blyton’s Nature Lover’s Book. The second is a thing of such beauty that I will return to it in more detail another time.

Day 3 was by far my greediest day. In less than an hour I was in Heydon’s Village Tea Room and Shop (I took a longer route to avoid busy roads) with a pot of tea and a scone. Like Biddy’s Tea Room in Norwich they sell lavender scones so I requested to have mine with lemon curd and cream – a heavenly although rather indulgent combination. But surely ok after all that cycling?

My destination for the night was the Stable Cottages at Heydon Hall, run by the fabulous and indomitable Sarah. I was given another cup of tea and, with the other guests, sat outside and watched the wide array of birds (woodpeckers, nutcrackers) that frequent Sarah’s garden and the grounds of the hall. Rather magically, a barn owl appeared and flew around the estate on its early evening hunt.

This was the final night of my trip. The next day I had a gentle ride back into Norwich day (2-3 hours along the Marriott’s Way, old railway track which is now a designated cycle route) and decided to round off my trip with a final cream tea, this time in the garden of the Briton’s Arms on Elm Hill. Whipped rather than clotted cream but very good nevertheless.

Tally for the penultimate and the final day: Ruined castles (1), ginger beers (1), cream teas (2), stately homes (1), churches (0).

Norfolk Cycle Tour (Day Two)

June 5, 2012 at 3:14 pm | Posted in Cycle Rides, Cycling, Travel | 1 Comment
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I got up early for a pre-breakfast cycle to the beach which was a mile or so from where I was staying. When I left the barn a little after 7 there was a thick mist hanging in the air and this got even thicker as I got closer to the sea. The previous day I’d been able to see the Happisburgh lighthouse, with its distinctive bright red and white stripes, from many miles away but this morning it was completely invisible. Happisburgh suffers from extreme coastal erosion and as I went down the cliff path, the one remaining house on the edge of the cliff looked very lonely, bereft and run down.

I left my bike and Timmy behind and went down to the beach. It was a bit like the beginning of of A Matter of a Life and Death when airman David Niven gets washed up on a beach which looks very other worldly. There may have been other people down there but as I could only see a few metres in any direction it felt like I had the whole place completely to myself. Gradually the sun began to break through, the mist started to roll back from the land, and the lighthouse slowly revealed itself. After a little wander around the churchyard (which, it turns out, did actually feature in an M R James adapatation – eek) I cycled back to the farmhouse for a hearty breakfast of poached fruits with yoghurt followed by scrambled eggs and smoked salmon (Rosie definitely knows how to feed her guests).

This set me up nicely for the long morning’s (hot and sunny) cycle to Felbrigg where I planned to rub one of the church brasses. I decided to set myself an additional challenge: to visit 20 churches over the course of my four day trip. I’d already looked around four the previous day, plus Happisburgh that morning, so I was well on track. Or so I thought.

From Happisburgh I picked up National Cycle Route 1 which took me down lots of quiet lanes. For the most part the national and regional cycle routes are well signposted but occasionally either they are not, or I get distracted by looking at other things and miss crucial turnings. Happily I didn’t go too far wrong and soon after Ridlington followed the route up past Witton Bridge to St Margaret’s. The church has a round tower and from the end of the churchyard a glorious view over to the coast (you can see Happisburgh lighthouse and church, plus several other churches dotted across the landscape). As on the previous day I trustingly left my bike and luggage outside while I went in to look around. I was pleased that all of the churches that I went to, no matter how remote they were, were all unlocked and accessible. However, all had notices about ‘smart water’ and anti-theft deterrents and it’s very sad to think of people robbing these beautiful old buildings. Church tally for the day: 2 and counting.

I mounted up and continued down to Paston, best known for its association with the Paston Letters. These span the 15th and 16th centuries and give an incredible insight into the life of a private, socially rising family, during this time. William Paston’s magnificient thatched Tithe Barn, built around 1580, is still there, as is the church (yes, another St Margaret’s   – she’s a popular saint in Norfolk) in which numerous members of the family are commemorated. It also has good wall paintings of St Christopher which are well worth seeing.

From Paston I temporarily left national cycle route 1 and headed for Knapton, partly because it was a shortcut but mostly because I wanted to see Knapton church which is famed for its glorious ceiling of carved angels. I’m afraid my photograph doesn’t really capture its full glory but it really is stunning. From Knapton, to Trunch, via ‘quiet lanes’. The ‘quiet lanes’ concept is a nice one that has been implemented by Norfolk County Council over the past ten years or so in an attempt to make these small roads more people and cycle friendly and to encourage cars to drive considerately and/or use alternative routes.

After pausing at Trunch church (good font, churches so far: 5) my hopes of getting to Felbrigg by lunchtime were rapidly waning. I grabbed a quick and refreshing ginger beer before leaving the cycle route to cut across country via some less pleasant B roads. Finally arriving at Felbrigg around 2 I locked up my bike, left my luggage in the National Trust lockers and took my brass rubbing kit down to, yes, you’ve guessed it, St Margaret’s church. My 1970s Shire Guide to brass rubbing advised writing to the current incumbent to get permission beforehand which I duly did. The internet is a glorious thing so I didn’t have to go the local library to consult Crockford’s Clerical Library as the Shire guide suggests, but was instead able to Google the vicar and send him an email (to which he replied quickly and in the affirmative).

All of the brasses in the church are covered in mats to protect them so I spent a little while rolling these back to look at the brasses and decide which one to rub. I finally opted for Jane Coningsby, who had a nice Tudor ruff but who was inconveniently positioned half under the an altar table near the front of the church. It was quite hard work but very enjoyable, and had novelty value for people coming in to look at the church. One advantage of being situated under the altar meant I didn’t have people stepping over me all the time. After a cup of tea at the National Trust tea room I had time for a quick look around the hall before it shut. Picking up the cycle route that runs through Felbrigg estate and out the other side I then headed off to Holt for a shower and good rest followed by a trip by car (yes!) to the Wiveton Bell for dinner (local crab) with a friend who drove up from Norwich. Lovely.

Tally so far: cream teas (0), ginger beers (1), churches (10), brasses (1 rubbed), stately homes (1), ruined castles (0).

A Norfolk Cycle Tour (Day One)

June 2, 2012 at 4:55 pm | Posted in Cycle Rides, Cycling | 3 Comments
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Plastic Timmy and I have returned safely from our Norfolk Cycle Tour 2012. I’m pleased to report that  there were no punctures, loose spokes or hurricanes, as in previous years. There were, however, cream teas (2), ginger beers (2), churches (10+), brasses (1 rubbed), stately homes (2) and ruined castles (1).

Norfolk is a truly beautiful county to cycle around, especially in the early summer when the May blossom is out in all of the little country lanes and the fields are full of green wheat and cornflowers. I cheated a little on my first day and took the train from Norwich to Hoveton & Wroxham so I could get straight out into the countryside. From H&W station I was perfectly placed to begin a tour of the northern part of the Norfolk Broads. I’d originally planned to first go south and climb the magnificent church tower at Ranworth but unfortunately the foot ferry at Horning has been discontinued so I decided instead to approach Horning from the north.

My first stop was the little church of Hoveton St Peter. Dating from 1624, it’s very sweet and made of red brick with Tudor/Jacobean style gables, a bell and a thatched roof. From St Peter’s it was down to Horning, a charming village by the river with cream teas, ices etc.  (too soon to stop for one of these though). Horning is the setting for Arthur Ransome’s Coot Club (1934) and The Big Six (1940) and in Arthur Mee’s travel guide (from the same year as the latter) Horning is rather poetically described thus:

‘a little Venice in the heart of Broadland, where the waterways wandering from the river into the gardens are crossed by tiny bridges. The river winds in and out until it nears the old church, which looks out on shining water through a mantle of tress and on sails like white wings among the green. Lovely lanes bring us to it, and to the charming thatched house with gables and dormers keeping it company.’

The King’s England: Norfolk

I left my bike and baggage outside of the church (St Benedict’s) so I could have a look around. The service had just finished and the congregation were dispersing but a few of them stopped to chat and to tell me about the open air service that will be happening on the first Sunday of August. This is a yearly tradition and is tied up with St Benet’s Abbey, a ruined riverside abbey a couple of miles away. This was the only abbey to escape Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries and he in fact made the Abbot of St Benet’s the Bishop of Norwich too. This link continues up to the present and each year the Bishop of Norwich, who is still the Abbot of St Benet’s, arrives to hold an open air service at the abbey. The East Anglian Film Archive has a film from the 1960s of the Bishop arriving by wherry and although I’m not religious, I’m quite tempted to try and return to Horning to witness this age old tradition.

My next stop was Irstead, a cul-de-sac village next to the River Ant near Barton Broad where I popped into the dark and cool church (another thatched roof plus some lovely glass). I hadn’t realised how close I was to the water until I caught a glimpse of a white sail gliding through the trees just past the end of the churchyard. There is a little thrill in this – in Broadland you don’t always realise you’re near the water at all until you suddenly see a sail moving along nearby. I went down to the river and stopped off at the staithe where I ate my packed lunch of a cheese sandwich and a banana (thanks mum!) and mapped out the next part of my route.

Because the minor roads and lanes in this region don’t really lead anywhere they are exceptionally quiet; I hardly saw a car at all for the whole day. From Irstead I went up through Barton Turf, Dilham and Honing and then across to East Ruston, home of the magnificent Old Vicarage gardens. I had a cup of tea and a wander around before heading to my final destination of the day, the Manor Barn and Farm B&B near Happisburgh. Hostess Rosie gave me a warm welcome and a cup of tea before leaving me to unpack, explore the barn’s fine range of local interest books and have a little sit out in the suntrap courtyard before going over the the farmhouse for a glorious dinner of local crab cakes, salmon and local asparagus and home-made blueberry ice cream with biscuits. This was served up as a communal meal with the other guests and was both delicious and jolly good fun. Tired and happily full, I retired to my very comfy bed with a book of Norfolk ghosts and legends. Timmy bravely offered to stay outside to guard my bicycle and despite thoughts of Old Shuck, a very different and decidedly more diabolical black dog, I managed to fall asleep without any trouble.

Tally for the day: cream teas (0), ginger beers (0), churches (4), brasses (0 rubbed), stately homes (0), ruined castles (0).


An Expedition to a Mysterious Island…

March 31, 2012 at 10:11 pm | Posted in Cycle Rides, Cycling, Travel | 1 Comment
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… is looking unlikely to happen these Easter hols. Prof. Hayling and I have been idly planning a cycle trip out to Osea Island, Essex, inspired by the spooky goings on of The Woman in Black. We thought to meet at Witham train station and cycle across at low tide (even more so than its near neighbour Mersea Island, Osea gets cut off from the mainland by the sea), and perhaps have a picnic before heading back. However, it appears that Osea is as verboten as Whispering Island in Five Have a Mystery to Solve. It is privately owned and you cannot visit unless you are paying to stay in private accommodation on the island (see Osea’s FAQs). Bah.

So, what should we do? Sneak across in the spirit of Wilfred, Toby (Billycock Hill) and some of the other Blyton boys (and girls) who cock a snook at authority and the concept of property ownership? Or follow the righteous example set by the upright Julian and do our very best to keep out of trouble? I’m afraid to say it will no doubt be the latter and we’ll try to come up with an alternative Essex cycle ride. I’m currently thinking of a trip to Tiptree (I like the way that phrase rolls off the keyboard), or a circular ride around Dedham Vale and Constable country. Unless anyone else has some good Essex cycle ride recommendations (more or less equidistant between Norwich and London if possible please!)?

Kentish Cycle Tour

August 29, 2011 at 11:26 am | Posted in Cycle Rides, Cycling, Dick, Eating and Drinking, Timmy, Travel | Leave a comment
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This year’s Kentish cycle tour took us through a wealth of different terrain (we were east of the Medway so I think I should actually say that it was a cycle tour of Kent rather than a Kentish cycle tour). We enjoyed coastal paths, flat marshland, woods, hills, wheatfields, hop fields and plenty of orchards – and the vast majority of our riding was on designated cycle routes as Kent is very well-served in this respect.

Dick and I took the high speed train from Stratford to Broadstairs. Traveling from east London should have been convenient but it was actually a bit of a faff given that the station is situated in the middle of a building site at the moment. Bikes need to be taken on a very circuitous route to get onto the platform and then on a shuttle bus to the station itself. Once in Broadstairs we found our way to our seaside hotel and then set off to explore the town. Dickens connections here are strong – he lived and worked in Bleak House, which is perched above the town, and the Dickens House Museum, on Victoria Parade, was once the home of Mary Peason Strong – the original of David Copperfield‘s Betsy Trotwood. The museum showcases all sorts of Victoriana, as well as letters written by Dickens from or about Broadstairs.

In the evening we treated ourselves to ice creams from the legendary Morelli’s. Opened in 1932, Morelli’s was refitted in the 1950s and the Broadstairs branch retains much of the charm of this period – pink leatherette seating, a soda fountain, jukebox and a truly bizarre ceiling feature. The ice cream is excellent and I think Julian et al would approve – there are many flavours to choose from as well as a host of weird and wonderful sundaes (the Brazil comes with a miniature palm tree stuck on top).

After an early morning dip in the sea (bracing and a bit sea-weedy) we set off on the first proper day of cycling: Broadstairs to Canterbury. We took the Viking trail along the coast to Ramsgate and then on to Sandwich. The first section boasts gorgeous views of the sea and coastline and although the final stretch is largely alongside a busy road it’s nicer to be on a separate path than borne down upon by impatient and speeding traffic. After a stop in Sandwich to get some provisions we set off on National Cycle Route 1, a truly beautiful ride through luscious orchards and (later on) cool, dark woods. We picked up some apples for sale by the side of the road and had to eat two right away – they were warm from the sun and wonderfully juicy. I couldn’t resist also buying a jar of home-made damson jam  – probably foolish given I would have to carry it around for another 70 miles.

We stopped to picnic in an orchard and after a post-prandial snooze (we did drink some cider with our bread, cheese and apples) and some hills, we arrived in Canterbury in the late afternoon. We stayed with my lovely friend Emma whose nearest FF character would probably be a cross between the sweet Jennifer Mary Armstrong (Five Run Away Together) and one of the excellent FF hostesses like Mrs Thomas of Billycock Farm.

The next morning we made for Whitstable via the Crab and Winkle Way. Canterbury is nestled in a hollow so we had a steep climb out of the city and round the university before joining (parts of) the disused railway line that used to run from coast to cathedral city. Sections of the route are quite undulating – a fact which proved the downfall of the line as Stephenson’s poor Invicta engine couldn’t quite handle the gradient. When we arrived in Whitstable the sun was out. So, even though we were laden with cycle panniers (including that heavy jar of damson jam – argh!) we had a paddle before some oysters (for Dick) and brown shrimps (for me) before pressing on to Saturday night’s destination, the amazing Linen Shed in Boughton-Under-Blean. After long flat stretches around Seasalter we began a series of climbs up to Boughton. Happily we were rewarded with stunning views back across the countryside to the sea, then our first hop field and then, upon arrival at the Linen Shed, a refreshing shower followed by tea and home-made granola flapjacks, and later on, wine, on the verandah.

Vickie is, in short, an incredible hostess and has created a beautiful place to stay. This feature in the Wealden Times gives a flavour of this wonderful weather-boarded buiding which stated life as an army drill hut before having stints as the village hall and even as a cinema. Breakfast the following morning was certainly on a par with the best Blytonian feasts: grilled vine tomatoes and Serrano ham (me), a full cooked breakfast with rosti and creamed mushrooms (Dick), fresh breads with raspberry and lavender jam, ripe peaches and raspberries, passion fruit and Greek yoghurt. This set us up well for our longest day of cycling so far – approximately 40 miles down through Kent, via Ashford to Rye in East Sussex.

Things started well. I got us a tiny bit lost (I am always convinced that the map, rather than me, is wrong) but it was nothing major and we soon found National Cycle Route 18. I was so thankful that I left the Dutch Bobbin at home this year and actually had a bike with a range of gears. We climbed hill after hill – made that much harder by the luggage we were carrying (including, yes, that pesky jar of damson jam). We finally got to the highest point of the climb, a few miles from the village of Wye, and stopped to admire the view. Here is plastic Timmy enjoying the scenery.

We started the descent, picking up speed as we whizzed down an actually quite steep hill. And then… disaster struck! Something suddenly went THUNK and my back wheel seized up. I managed to avoid an approaching tractor before stopping and dismounting to assess the damage – weirdly wedged breaks and a severely buckled wheel. I cannot repeat what I said at this point. After assorted cursing we disengaged my breaks and limped/wobbled the next few miles to Wye where we made straight for the pub for a lime and soda before bike and I took a taxi to to Halfords in Ashford leaving Dick to have a solo adventure and navigate his way into town by bike.

Spending a sunny Sunday afternoon on an industrial estate is possibly one of the most depressing things ever but happily the charming young gentlemen of Halford’s Bike Hut were able to replace some missing spokes and got me back on the road reasonbly sharpish. After a few false turns en route, Dick turned up and we decided to press on to Rye. It became a bit of a gritted teeth job, especially on the final stretch from Appledore into Rye. This was several miles of uneventful road going against the wind and wasn’t terribly fun at the end of a long day. Thankfully we’d been able to have a quick restorative cup of tea and a scone at Miss Mollett’s delectable tea room in Appledore. Although there was too much pretty vintage crockery for Dick, and too many wasps for both of us, they do serve an excellent cream tea which I would highly recommend. We finally arrived in Rye in the early evening. We felt tired and windswept but also proud that we had overcome adversity and had traversed many miles to get there.

This post has gone on far too long so I won’t say much about our stay Rye. It is, as is well know in the world of Blytonia, the original of Smuggler’s Top. It was also the home of Henry James, E. F. Benson and John Ryan (of Captain Pugwash fame) as well as once being a veritable hive of smuggling. I plan to return in a more suitably atmospheric season (mist and fog are probably necessary to experience it as the Five did), and not on bike next time. Having said that, I will certainly be going back to explore more of Kent on two wheels. It was particularly lovely riding through the orchards, especially as it was harvest time (there’s a bumper crop this year!) but I imagine a springtime trip, when the blossom is out would be quite magical too.

Cycling Hol 2011

August 13, 2011 at 2:00 pm | Posted in Cycle Rides, Cycling, Dick, Timmy, Travel | 3 Comments
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It’s that time of year again. James, no, sorry, I mean Dick and I will shortly be setting off on this year’s cycling odyssey. This time we’re leaving the Cotswolds behind and will be heading south to explore the garden of England, aka the fine county of Kent.

Our plan, in short, is this: Broadstairs – Canterbury – Faversham (via Whitstable) – Rye (so a little bit of Sussex too in fact) with the final day’s destination to be decided (somewhere where we can catch a train back to London Bridge rather than Victoria). We’re not covering a lot of distance as we’re hoping to enjoy the seaside too, but we’ll almost certainly take some more meandering routes between each place. I have a handy guide to Kentish cycle routes and it looks like there will be a wealth of national and regional cycle routes to follow along the way (click on the map above left to be taken to Kent County Council’s very useful cycling pages).

While in Margate the other week I also picked up an old Penguin Guide to Kent, Sussex and Surrey. Purportedly for travellers ‘of all sorts’ you get the impression its author ( S. E. Winbolt) liked a good fast run down from the capital to ‘one of the great playgrounds of London’ in a Bentley or some other powerful car. The book dates from 1939 so it’s quite poignant to think about how everything was soon to change. The leisurely motoring holiday would become a thing of the past  – all that petrol guzzling – and Kent and Sussex quickly became the part of the country most vulnerable to invasion, a fear reinforced by the sound of bombs and gunfire drifting across the channel.

Mr Winbolt is quite keen on churches, geology and topography (he was an archaeologist) so, the odd Baedeker raid notwithstanding, quite a bit of the book’s contents should still be relevant. It also has some charming touring maps of the three counties although I suspect we’ll be using my OS, and Dick’s iphone, slightly more frequently.

We’re off on Thursday. B&Bs have been booked and the silver ‘lady bike’ is prepped and ready (it’s significantly lighter than the Bobbin – with lots more gears – and it has larger wheels than the Brompton so is better for touring). Timmy is also raring to go. Luckily the fact he’s small and plastic means I don’t have to lug around a smelly bone for him, unlike the devoted George who is frequently weighed down with the butcher’s finest by-products.

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