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Norbury, Shepperton, Farnborough and Aldershot, 25 January 2014

Image‘Fisher went to work as a researcher for the BBC Education Department; Rented a flat in Norbury, South London’

The Ballad of Climie Fisher

‘It’s about an hour’s drive
To Shepperton from ours’

Soft Verges

Penned by the burly physio
Of non-league Farnborough Town’

Improv Workshop Mimeshow Gobshite

‘Sheepskin nose-band, kids in Aldershot’

Them’s the Vagaries

After a six-month hiatus, during which we’ve pursued a range of experimental side projects (moving house, changing jobs, skulking round seven inch import sections, goading Paul Ross, etc)  we’ve decided to get the biscuit tour back on the road.  Nothing serious, just enjoy it, see what happens, kind of thing.

Restored to the original 2012 line up of Harman-Dawes,  the first destination on our comeback tour is Norbury, South London, which is of course where Fisher of Climie Fisher rented a flat while he took a job as a researcher in the BBC education department following the duo’s turbulent demise.

Unless it’s let itself go since 1990, Fisher’s BBC years must have been tough – because this is no place for an author of sensitive sophisto-pop ballads, a point underlined by the sight of a man staggering down Fairview road, pausing every few yards to vomit onto the pavement.  However, there’s no gravel to be seen, which perhaps accounts for Fisher’s attraction to the place.

Exiting rapidly, we proceed southwestwards as far as Wimbledon, where the day’s first mishap Imageoccurs, Nick suffering a double whammy of flat tyre and broken pannier.  Fortunately, we’re close to the excellent Action Bikes, who deal with both problems effectively and courteously, and join with us in some hearty condemnation of their incompetent rivals – Evans Cycles.  They even decline to charge Nick for replacing the pannier part, although this may well be because they recognise that the massive PR exposure they’ll get from a glowing mention on this blog will outweigh any financial recompense.

Passing through well-heeled Kingston, we bag Shepperton, which has few features of interest save a well kept little roundabout island, where we take the requisite photographs.   Around Chertsey, we’re forced to change route due to flooding (perhaps if more of us were to follow Blackwell’s example and switch the kitchen light off with our chins,  we wouldn’t have climate change, and the biscuit tour wouldn’t have to contend with so many severe weather events).

After the day’s only real climb, we stop off for lunch at the White Hart in Chobham – another of those places that should be in a HMHB song, but isn’t.  On re-mounting we note that it’s a bit nippier out, and later discover that if we’d hung around too long, we might have fallen victim to a mini-tornado that later claims two cats.

ImageHoping to arrive in time for kick-off of their crucial mid-table clash with Tonbridge Angels, we press on towards Cherrywood Road, home of Farnborough FC, formerly non-league Farnborough Town (they’re still non-league, they just dropped the town).     On approach to the ground, Nick convinces me that the noise of the traffic from the nearby M3 is the roar of a particularly vocal Skrill Conference South crowd, but in fact the game’s been postponed due to water-logging.   There’s no-one around at the ground apart from a teenage couple snogging, or sniffing glue, or doing whatever disaffected youth do these days, so it’s on to the day’s fourth and final destination.

Musing on Aldershot on his excellent HMHB lyrics site, Chris Rand reaches the reasonable conclusion that the home of squaddies only makes it into ‘Them’s the Vagaries’ because it rhymes with “apricot”.    We come across no evidence to the contrary here. This is no place to end an odyssey, and so our voyage of self discovery must continue.

Torquay and Dawlish, Saturday 20 July 2013

‘Checkmate!
Dennis Bell of Torquay’

Bad Losers on Yahoo Chess

‘If you would come with me to Dawlish
I’d be like Stadler’s caddy for ya’

Prag Vec at the Milkweg

Pissed off in StarcrossDevon is the proud home of five Biscuit Destinations, and we’re reunited with Richard Clarke and David Davies in a bid to bag four of them.

The stamp of Clarke is very much on this tour, which means that everything  has been planned with a frankly terrifying degree of meticulousness, and that we’re going to eat in establishments that serve you ‘amuse-bouches’.   Not only that, but his parents are kindly letting us stay in their Sidmouth residence.

I arrive a day later than the rest of Team Biscuit, who’ve spent a day wandering around the Clarke family seat,  amusing their bouches, and being abused by hostile bike shop staff, who demand a £2 RNLI donation for the privilege of using their pump.

When I arrive in Sidmouth, they’re all waiting by the side of the road and it’s instantly made clear to me there’s little time to waste on pleasantries because we have to catch the 12.40 ferry across the Exe to Starcross.  Despite Dawes and me both having new bikes, none of us are able to make it up Peak Hill out of town (to be fair, it’s very steep – look), so there’s some humiliating dismounting before we make any progress towards Exmouth.  Upon our arrival, we struggle to find the ferry terminal (a familiar tale) and only just make our crossing.   There’s no problem getting our bikes on although one of the ferry staff is as odious as a Bogus Official and making unpleasant comments about the weight of his teenage assistant.

After Dawlish, where we bag our first destination, our route more or less sticks to the coast.  The views aren’t bad, but the assurances of childhood Devonian David Davies that the road is flat lead us to question his powers of recollection.  At Torquay, self-styled jewel of the English Riviera and home to ungracious online chess player Denis Bell, we wander round looking for the seafront without success, to the point where we start to doubt that the town actually next to the sea at all.   But we can reveal that Torquay’s claims to be a major coastal resort are not an elaborate hoax, and we’re soon eating whelks and ice creams at an overpriced café on the seafront.

The mood darkens when it becomes clear that we’re not going to be able to make it to Totnes for the Bickering Fair, or to Newton AbbotDawlish to see them weigh in, without risking being late for our dinner reservation (made several years in advance by Richard).  After some intense discussions, fine dining wins out over Biscuit Touring, and we resolve to get a train back to Starcross for the Exmouth ferry.

Unfortunately, on arrival at the terminal, we’re informed that we can’t cross with our bikes because they’ve already let some other cyclists on, and blah blah blah, insurance policy, blah blah blah, more than my job’s worth, etc, etc.  It’s health and safety gone mad.  All we can do is leave our bikes behind to pick up tomorrow.  The bloke we saw abusing his employee earlier is particularly unpleasant about it all, taking much delight in telling us that he can’t guarantee our bikes will still be there in the morning.  He deserves his own couplet in ‘Breaking News’.

So we make the crossing without our bikes, noting how much room for them there would have been for them.  At Exmouth, we take the natural step of locating a tavern, and therein discussing means of physically harming those who have crossed us, before getting a taxi back to Sidmouth.  All of this means at least that we get to the Salty Monk in time for our booking.  The amuse-bouche is very good – a minty soup thing in a teacup.

Bikes behind barsOn arrival at Exmouth the next morning (having shelled out for another cab – they’re getting to like us at  the taxi company), the good news is that our bikes haven’t been purloined.  The bad news is that they’re behind the locked gates at the terminal, so we have to sit around waiting for our friends on the ferry before we can retrieve them.

At last it’s time to leave all this unpleasant ferry business behind us.  Having dealt with the puncture that’s mysteriously befallen my rear wheel overnight (foul play?)  there’s a very nice ride along cycle lanes to Honiton station to get the train back to the ferry free by-ways of London.

One Year On – Progress Report

Bike on pintIt’s over a year since we locked our bikes at the foot of Pen-y-Ghent, marking the start of this important endeavour.   We’ve cycled to 36 UK destinations mentioned in Half Man Half Biscuit songs, of which Nick believes there to be a total of 173.  At this rate we’ll be finished by mid-2017, although we’re getting quicker and have more expensive bikes now.  Also, we’re planning to do loads of the London ones over one weekend, hopefully as a large group undertaking, so let us know if you fancy joining us.

Here are some more facts for fans of strategies and logistics:

Longest distance in a day: 70m Dormansland to Ryde

Longest tour: 220m Wolverhampton to Leek via Shropshipre, Cheshire, Staffordshire etc.

Max height cycled: 554m, to base of Lord Hereford’s Knob

Max height walked: 690m, to summit of Lord Hereford’s Knob

Stapeley Water Gardens, North Staffs, M6, Leek, Uttoxeter, Monday 27 May 2013

“Stapeley Water Gardens,
A nice day out but best to take a flask”

Letters Sent

“Curries of Dumfries
Norbert Dentressangle
North Staffs Police”

M6ster

 

“But the beak in Leek is weak”

The Light at the end of the Tunnel

“They sent me a final demand
Placepot Uttoxeter”

Split Single with Happy Label Mates

A breakfast of kippers does wonders for our hangovers, and we reluctantly leave Nantwich and its promise of eternal youth behind.   There’s considerable distance ahead of us, and Nick eventually comes to thank me for dragging him away from the young sirens of the White Horse.

Leek SteveThe first destination of the day is Stapeley Water Gardens, sadly now well on its way to becoming the Stapeley Gardens housing estate.   Making a typically difficult exit from Nantwich (regular readers – and we know there are at least three – may have noticed by now that negotiating our way out of unfamiliar urban areas is not our forte) we pedal on to Leek, deciding to ride via Kidsgrove to avoid the horrors of Stoke-on-Trent.

Unfortunately Kidsgrove and its neighbouring villages at the foot of Bidulph Moor prove to be inhospitable and difficult to navigate, with the added menace of high winds and scowling youths (we’re too scared to shout out “If the wind changes, you’ll stay like that you know!”.)  While we’re trying to find the road over the moor, Nick’s mileometer falls off and disappears, adding to our despair.

Finally extricating ourselves from the horrors of North Staffordshire, we arrive in Leek, where the beak is weak.  There’s a Tourist Information Centre, but we wonder how many tourists come here, and what kind of information they might get:  “Chemical factory, hill, scary pubs, market square, end.”  One admitted highlight is the Foxlowe Arts Centre where, having given the pubs a miss for once, we’re served soup and quiche by friendly staff.

On departing, we soon realise that our final destination of Uttoxeter (which sounds like a piece of medical equipment serving a particularly unpleasant clinical purpose) isn’t exactly just down the road as anticipated.  In fact, it’s a good 20 miles of hills against the wind, and along the way we encounter more than our fair share of aggressive drivers. If only they would stop and pause for thought over a nice slice of quiche in the Foxlowe Arts Centre, perhaps they’d be more considerate.

When we finally get to Uttoxeter, it’s largely deserted – maybe because there’s no racing on today, and there’s not much else to do.   However, we find a pleasant and friendly pub with the obligatory end-of-tour jukebox.  There’s no HMHB, and Nick has banned me from putting on any more rap, but we celebrate the conclusion of our longest tour yet with a bit of Neil Young, The Fall, and Roxy Music.

Unfortunately, a brush with overzealous officialdom casts a shadow over our journey back to London: a pasty-faced train company employee Uttoxeter Nickinforms us that we’re not allowed to put our bikes on the train.   When Nick calmly but forcefully points out that we have reservations for them, he eventually relents, bafflingly telling us that he was always going to let us take them on, but just wanted us to know what the rules were.    To give you an idea of what kind of person we’re dealing with here, he refers to Crewe as “Crewby Doo”, when checking the tickets of some confused tourists across from us.  We respond appropriately by making rude gestures while his back is turned.

Chirk Airfield, Bangor-on-Dee, Wem, Loggerheads, Nantwich Sun 26 May 2013

“Along the lines of Donington / We took Chirk Airfield as our site”

“Most of Wem was steering clear of him / “I’ve got no time for this twelfth consecutive Rose Bowl”

A Shropshire Lad

“Carphone Warehouse and Matalan
And a pulled up at Bangor-on-Dee”

Upon Westminster Bridge

“We made our way from Loggerheads to Hope”

Fix it so she dreams of me

“I get feedback in my bedroom in Nantwich
Stamp my foot down on the angst switch”

Look Dad, no Tunes

It’s another hot day and for our ride to the day’s first destination, we have to slather on a fair bit of the old Factor 24.

ImageGetting to Chirk Airfield is harder than anticipated – it’s hosting an enormous car boot sale, and the traffic is horrendous.   The concept of courtesy to cyclists is quite alien to many of the local bargain-hunters, and abuse is hurled at us as we try to make our way towards the airfield sign.

Deciding not to stick around to see if ‘The Raging Ostler’ has made it into someone’s car boot, we head out of town via some very poorly kept country roads.  They’re not fit for mules, let alone ageing road bikes, and I take some photos with a view to complaining to the Highways Agency later.

At Wem (we’ve been to some places with odd names, but seriously?  Wem?) we have lunch Imagein the smokers’ shelter at the Fox, where we’re accosted by malevolent-looking dogs.  Heady after the carbohydrate rich lunch with which we’ve stuffed our sun-burned faces, we decide to increase the day’s mileage by adding Loggerheads to our itinerary.     Speeding through the next few villages, my attempt to secure an audacious points victory is thwarted when a proper cyclist offers to chase me down and take Nick along in his slipstream.  We’re not used to such concepts, and feel like pros for a while, or at least until we get lost around Market Drayton (Nick having unwisely left the navigating to me).

At Loggerheads, we take photos and stop off at a soulless pub by a roundabout.  In the well-kept but strangely gloomy beer garden, a middle-aged couple glumly flick the cap of their sun cream bottle for their dogs to chase, while their unruly teenage sons kick their football at the other customers.

Things pick up on the way out of town, as the sun sets and we encounter a series of contenders for ‘Best Kept Village of the Year’.  Undisputed winner is Norton-in-Hale (Dennis Nordern inhales), which looks like the kind of place where old maids cycle to church on a Sunday morning.   Close runner up is Audlem, where they’re having a summer jazz festival.

ImageIt’s tempting to stick around, but I spot a pair of professional-looking cyclists  I’m sure I recognise from Montgomery.  Convinced they’re rival Biscuit-tourers, hell-bent on reaching Nantwich before us, I’m  possessed of the sudden urge to chase them down.   I head off, and manage to pass them on the hill out of town.  In hindsight, I recollect that one of them was female, and they were probably just out for a leisurely evening ride, but at the time I’m convinced I’m Chris Froome.

We’re expecting Nantwich to be another perfectly normal market town, but it turns out to be Cheshire’s answer to Ibiza.  Over dinner, we notice that the White Horse pub opposite our restaurant is hosting a large outdoors party, with a P.A. system blaring out tunes – good ones too.  Not only that, but a series of young, attractive people seem to be entering.  And then a large white Mercedes with a ‘M CITY 1’ licence plate (we both can tell it really should spell ‘TWAT ONE’) pulls out and lets out someone who can only be a scion of the Manchester City ownership.

Naturally, we feel the need to investigate further, and on entry discover that the place is indeed a hotbed of youthful hedonism.   In the beer garden, they’ve set up a big inflatable, and young men with bungee-ropes tied round their waists are trying to sprint down to the other end to grab drinks before being flung back.

Our default mode in such situations is Statler and Waldorf-style cynicism, muttering into our beer about the dreadfulness of young people.  But then we realise it’s all totally brilliant and get into the swing of things.  The DJ is playing a blinder – Led Zeppelin, the Strokes, the Smiths, Supergrass – and we get chatting to some of the youngsters, who urge us to stick around for the burning of the witch later.

Although they assure us that things aren’t always this good in Nantwich, by the end of the evening Nick has vowed to move here and stay for the rest of his life.

Stiperstones, Montgomery, Oswestry, Saturday 25 May 2013

“And so returning to the car at Snailbeach, I set off in the direction of Montgomery”

“…a written curse of a witch from Oswestry…”

Descent of the Stiperstones

Leaving our stuff at Abel’s Harp, we head out to the Stiperstones, which are truly magnificent – they appear on the horizon like something from Monument Valley. Image

Marvelling at the lack of visitors on a sunny bank holiday Saturday, we reach the top and climb up the largest Stiperstone (or Michael Stiperstone as we call it, congratulating ourselves on another masterstroke of verbal inventiveness).  We then record ourselves descending (I haven’t posted the video of my girlish attempts) passing a handful of sensible walkers with poles who look very smug – maybe it’s because they have one of England’s best kept secrets to themselves.

Back at Abel’s Harp we sit out in the sun and have a chat with Dave.  It turns out that the place used to be the Drum and Monkey,  where Eric Clapton and other “rock gods”, played in the 70s.  Re-tracing the steps of Blackwell in ‘Descent of the Stiperstones’, we set off in the direction of Montgomery, where we discover Bunner’s the Chandler – which is a real shop and every bit as wondrous as he describes.  We can’t find an oil painting by Mercy Rimell entitled ‘The Raging Ostler’, or a jigsaw of Nazi war criminals, but there is an impressive array of accessories for doll’s houses (including miniature bikes and billiard rooms), bits of metal of all sizes, a giant mallet (men with mullets, take note),  tweezers in the shape of geisha girls, and a pirate board game.

Image

Lynette McMorrough isn’t to be found (possibly out looking for tofu) but we do manage to pick up a jar of Swarfega.  Proceeding to the till, we worry that the girl is going to say “Ah – you’re not a pair of those Half Man Half Biscuit Bike tourers are you?  We get them in all the time.”, but she serves us without comment.

After lunch at the Dragon, which oddly has a swimming pool, we press on northwards on the A433 which is straight, flat, and fast, but takes its toll on both the soul and the arsal regions.  Somewhere near Oswestry, we’re accosted by a pair of grubby-faced urchins, who shout: “Are you off to Ozfest boys?!” and hurl at us the timeless quip that our back wheels aren’t going round.  (It turns out that James are playing at a festival called Ozfest.  As a teenager, I used to have one of their t-shirts with the flower on, so I can’t join in when Nick makes cruel jokes about Tim Booth).

ImageWe’re at the Hand Hotel in Chirk by six, with enough time for some R and R before dinner.  For Nick, this means a trip to the local aqueduct and the nearby MDF factory.  For me, lacking his interest in our industrial heritage, it’s a long bath.

In the evening, we watch the Champions League final.  Someone has thoughtfully turned off the ITV commentary, but some young people with horrendous piercings have put some truly horrible dirges on the jukebox, so we set them straight and give them the benefit of a musical education, from Kenny Rogers through to NWA.  Within a few minutes, the bar is cleared, leaving us to chat with the owner, a former sqauddie with a liking for Half Man Half Biscuit.

Monmore Green, Hilton Park, the Wrekin, the Severn, Snailbeach, Hope (Friday 24 May, 2013)

Monmore, Hare’s Running

“Sampling Alessi in St Neots
Or chasing Bunty James round Hilton Park”

Our Tune

“Half-way up the Wrekin with an empty flask of tea”

Rod Hull is alive – why?

“Could this be heaven, would that be the Severn”
Lord Hereford’s Knob

“And so returning to the car at Snailbeach, I set off in the direction of Montgomery”

Descent of the Stiperstones

“We made our way from Loggerheads to Hope”

Fix it so she dreams of me

We don’t linger too long over breakfast, which is marred by a soundtrack of Andrew Lloyd-Webber show tunes, and head off along the canal path towards the first of the day’s many scheduled destinations.

Monmore GreenObviously we go a mile in the wrong direction before realising the error of our ways, eventually arriving at Monmore Green dog track, and then Hilton Park services.  Exiting the car park swiftly, we encounter drizzle and relentless wind, but are rewarded by a change of landscape, industrial hinterland gradually being replaced by quaint villages as we head into Shropshire.  We stop for lunch at Coalport next to the Severn (a destination we forgot to bag last time we were in these parts) and then go through a series of villages with faintly sinister names – Coven is the best.

We slog onwards against a headwind towards the foot of the Wrekin, eventually arriving at Lower Wenlock, which lent itsWrekin name to one of the one-eyed penises that acted as Olympic mascots.   As the sun comes out and bluebells appear everywhere, we hit upon what appears to be a footpath leading up the South face of the Wrekin.   Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to go all the way to the top, but that doesn’t matter because the WVs stipulate only that we have to be “half-way” up.  After long discussion about what that means (half-way up in terms of distance or elevation, Nigel?) we decide that we’ve done enough and begin our descent.   Subsequent referral to the map reveals that we were half-way up on either criteria, so take that Wripple Vetivers!

Apart from an unpleasant stretch of A-road towards Shrewsbury (Shropshire seems to attract a disproportionate number of caravanners, and Nick has a close shave with a bus) the landscape continues in picturesque vein as we push on into Pontesbury where we fuel up on jelly babies and Coke before the final stretch of the day.  To bag Snailbeach, we have to negotiate a particularly unforgiving ascent.  There’s also a steep hill into Hope, and by this stage there are some tired legs on the pitch.  With no end in sight we speculate that it should be re-named Despair.

Nick tartJust as we think we’re nearly there, we have a spot of bother working out where we are, and spend a good ten minutes pushing our bikes up a very steep dirt track (which seems more amusing now than it did at the time). Eventually, we arrive at our evening’s accommodation, Abel’s Harp, which turns out to be a quirky boutique hotel run by former Blackheath Stockbroker Dave and his partner, who are trying to bring a touch of Hoxton to rural Shropshire.

As well as being a gooner, Dave is an excellent host, bringing us pints by the fire before dinner.   Behind us is a man with a very long beard, who keeps himself to himself.  Apparently he’s a regular who rarely speaks, but unfurled a Welsh flag and sang Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau when Wales beat England at rugby.

After dinner, Nick foolishly proposes a game of Scrabble and has to have a lot of whiskey to get over his inevitable trouncing.

Gig, Robin 2, Bilston, Thurs 23 May 2013

“He’s got a small piece of metal in one hand

And a magnet in the other”

(Alternative theme to Homes under the Hammer)

It’s not a good sign – on embarking on any kind of trip – that both of you wish you weren’t going, and can think of ten things between you that you’d rather be doing.

First man in Wallasey to own a frisbee

But here we are at Euston, stocked up with beer and crisps, on the Virgin train to Wolverhampton.  The original plan had been to complete the ‘Asparagus Tour’ from Bristol, checking out the Quantocks, and meeting up with Stephen Crossman, a farmer from Minehead, who’s kindly offered to show us all the farm produce signs derided by Blackwell in “Asparagus Next Left”.  However, reports indicate that rain has ruined this year’s asparagus harvest leaving Stephen with other things to worry about, so instead we’re embarking on a lengthy jaunt around the West Midlands and East Wales, starting with the HMHB gig at Bilston.

Leaving our bikes at the Britannia Hotel (described quite unfairly by one reviewer as “not so much faded grandeur, as just faded”) we get a cab to Bilston, and as is becoming customary, arrive just in time for the band’s arrival on stage.

I’m getting tired of writing that it’s another great gig, because it always is.  Ken is announced as the first man in Wallasey to own a frisbee.  Blackwell reveals that he likes to watch Homes under the Hammer after walking the dog of a morning, and is fixated on the presenter’s apparent failure to detach his hands from one another, speculating that they’re held in place magnetically.  “Footprints” gets a rare outing.  There are accounts of the ruins of Halesowen Abbey, and apparent sightings of the man who played Sonny’s dad on Skippy.  A fierce debate breaks out about the correct pronunciation of “scones”.  There’s a particularly long drum solo in “Irk the Purists”, and during the encore (“Rhinestone Cowboy” again), someone is ushered out by security for lighting up.

Graham

Afterwards, we bump into Graham, first encountered over breakfast at the Cables in Matlock Bath (thanks again Roger!)  He’s officially the first fan of the Biscuit Tour, and was apparently delighted to have got a mention in the last blog.  This time, he’s come alone and is staying at the venue, which means he’s had free rein on the Tuborg, and so we have a good long chat about life, the Biscuit and everything.

Back at the Britannia, we have a few drinks with more Biscuit obsessives, including a Welsh union rep, fresh from the PCS annual conference.  Nick makes the uncomfortable observation that they all seem to be middle-aged men with relationship problems, but we try not to dwell on that, as we order one more JD and coke before bed.

Cowes and Winchester, Sunday 12 May 2013

“I got stars in my eyesImage
I told thousands of lies
When arrested at Cowes robbing yachts”

Tonight Matthew I’m going to be with Jesus

“Let’s head Winchester way

She said ‘Been Yesterday'”

27 Yards of Dental Floss

After breakfast, served by a man who looks like he’s just completed a five-year stretch at Parkhurst, we collectively try to fix David’s puncture.   Our bicycle maintenance skills haven’t improved much since we started this caper, and the simple process of replacing an inner tube takes us well over an hour. This means we’re going to miss our ferry and have to wait two hours for the next one, putting paid to any chance of us extending the tour to include the HMHB destinations of Aldershot and Farnborough.

With no reason to rush, we  pop over to David Icke’s house, which is just round the corner from the B and B.   We can’t see anyone around, and ascertain what Google already knew – that he’s not home.

Resisting the urge to shove a lizard through his letterbox, we set off on the eight-mile time trial to Cowes, the second biscuit destination of the weekend.  Here we take the requisite photos (apparently we don’t have to rob any yachts) and meet some cyclists who are actually doing something useful: they’re on a sponsored ride round the island for Hoveraid.Image

Instead of sticking around to chat with them, or exploring East Cowes further, we try to find a pub to watch the Championship play-off semi-final.  This is harder than expected, though we eventually end up in the Prince Charles where the staff and regulars are very tolerant of the lycra-clad dickheads who want to turn the TV over from the Formula One.

Having waved goodbye to the Isle of Wight Supremacy from the ferry, we land in Southampton, which, like Portsmouth, is a great big dump.  Through a combination of Google Maps and Ordnance Survey, we identify the road to Winchester and push onwards.  Just south of our destination, we pass through Compton (interestingly it’s the second one we’ve cycled straight outta this weekend – neither of them seem that bad and we wonder what Ice Cube and his friends were so angry about.).

ImageNarrowly avoiding a detour on to the M3, we eventually arrive in Winchester.  Rather than wondering at the historic cathedral, or the legendary Arthurian table, we again search out a pub with Sky Sports, and the weekend’s exertions end with Subway sandwiches at the Crown and Anchor.

South Downs, Saturday 11 May 2013

“Weekends are good we can walk the South Downs as a family”

Soft Verges

 

With the Isle of Wight next on our agenda, we’re boosted by the return of David and Richard, who’ve been out with lengthy lay-offs due to work, family commitments, and generally having better things to do.Image

We kick off at Dormansland, and manage a full three miles before stopping for a hearty breakfast at Casablanca in East Grinstead.  A big “Chapeau!” to the waitress who sprints across to Waitrose to get us some muffins.  As at many a gathering of thirty-something men these days, conversation dwells on which light entertainment figure of the 70s and 80s will be next to fall foul of Operation Yewtree.

As the morning’s heavy rain relents, we proceed South-west through the Heart of Middle England in the spring time – all pristine village greens with cricketers bowling their left-arm occasionals.    Spinning along the well-kept roads and passing hosts of bluebells on either side, I know exactly what NB meant about the flora and fauna abound in this land.

Things continue in a green and pleasant vein in Horsham, where some Morris Dancers are doing their stuff, and we discover a bridleway out of town.   In true biscuit tour fashion, progress is slow, and we fail to keep pace with a middle-aged jogger.   We also encounter two harmless-seeming old ladies, whose dogs appear to be called William and Dainty (reminding us of the famously unreliable mayor of Framley) and later reflect that they’re probably Wripple Vetivers keeping an eagle eye on our progress.

ImageAt Barns Green, adversity takes it first wicket, with David forced to retire by a combination of puncture and lower back pain.  Leaving him at Billingshurst to catch a train, the rest of us speculate that we can comfortably make it to Portsmouth to meet him in time for the cup final at 5:15.

Heading on to the South Downs, we stop for lunch at the Star in the Busy Little Market Town (possible points bonus there?) of Petsworth.  The waiter survives a Paxman-style grilling by Richard on the exact molecular composition of every ingredient in the burger, and successfully coaxes me into staying longer for banoffee pie.  [Richard has a different version of events and insists that the waiter was being rude to him when he pointed out that they didn’t serve hot chocolate].

The early afternoon’s stages are marred by steep hills, heavy downpours and a relentless headwind.  Having managed an impressive 50 miles, Richard decides to bow out on his half-century, leaving Nick and me to negotiate the remainder of the Downs unaccompanied.

It’s tough-going, especially up Tower Hill – the first true bastard climb of the weekend – and this being UKIP country, we suffer abuse from screeching harridans in Range-Rovers who don’t take kindly to cyclists.    We also struggle to find a sign to satisfy the WVs, eventually settling on a “Save the South Downs” poster.  (Plans to build a taxpayer-funded boarding school nearby are proving controversial, with the worrying views of Conservative councillor John Cherry getting him into a spot of bother.)Image

There’s a nice downhill stretch off the Downs towards the south coast, but the conditions and heavy mileage are starting to take their toll, especially on Nick, who’s slowly going a bit mad.   It doesn’t help that Portsmouth is a great big dump, and we have to ride along a busy A-road most of the way to the ferry.  Naturally, we also get confused and go to the wrong terminal, eventually re-uniting with David and Richard two and a half hours later than planned.

The crossing to the Isle of Wight Supremacy passes without mishap, and fortunately our B and B is just round the corner from Ryde Harbour.   Over dinner at the local Italian, concerns grow for Nick’s mental health – he’s muttering like Colonel Kurtz about the horrors of the South Downs.  I’m glad we’re not sharing a caravan tonight.