There is no escaping Joan

Like us, the Tour de France had a rest day yesterday, today they are cycling 172km from Dunkirk to Calais. To avoid confusion we cycled from Chinon to Richelieu on the voie verte, a 48km (30 miles in real distance) round trip along a disused railway line. It opened in 2017 and is punctuated with small stations and information Boards every 5km or so.

By our standards, we started early to try and beat the (30C) heat and headed out of town past vineyards, fields of sunflowers and nut trees, arriving in Richelieu, at the renovated station, just in time for a quick lunch.

The next stop was the Parc de Richelieu, a lovely quiet oasis behind a beautiful town square.

We took our time cycling back, mainly because of the head wind. In our experience, there is always a head wind on the journey home and never on the route out. Why is that? Is there a God of Cyclists that we should be praying to?

Halfway back we stopped to read about Chateau du Rivau, 1.5km off our route. It’s claim to fame is Joan of Arc stayed there while selecting war horses for her attack on Orleans. There was much eye-rolling from us and we chose not to visit the Chateau. Perhaps another time, the restoration of the organically managed gardens look interesting.

We returned home to see the last 60km of the Tour de France, which isn’t very interesting if you don’t know what’s going on because the commentary is in French and David Millar isn’t explaining precisely what’s happening.

As we write, two more ministers have quit the cabinet and yet again Boris is apologising with feigned sincerity, we know this as a couple on an adjacent dinner table have bet us, that Boris will be gone before breakfast! We think he’ll hang on longer although we are considering, on our way home, fishing Joan’s ashes out of the Seine. She’d soon have Boris sorted.

Culture versus Wine

A difficult one. We are more likely to be interested in wine than improving our local knowledge but 10am does seem a little early to start drinking.

Our day began with the Forteresse Royale Du Chinon or, as John described it, another bloody castle. Anyway, it’s perched on the hill and towers over Chinon and Kim was really only interested in views across the Vienne River.

The Chateau dates back to the 10th Century and has an important place in the history of England and France. Henry II of England took ownership of the castle in 1156 and stayed there until he died. King Phillip of France won it back in 1205 and it has remained in French hands ever since. In 1429, 17 year old Joan of Arc met the future King Charles VII there and was instrumental in ending England’s ownership of France. A brief reminder that teenagers are an awesome force of nature, to be treated with caution.

By mid 19th Century the fort had fallen into decay and was later recognised as a historic monument. A programme of repair was started and it became, once again, an imposing structure.

This afternoon was wine tasting, woohoo! A couple of Caves were recommended by a cafe owner, so we took a walk out to Cave Monplaisir. Consisting of many caverns carved out of the stone hillside, it sells wines produced by 3 local domaines, is full of barrels of drinkable wine with the oldest dating back 40 years. We were, however, concerned about the state of the empty bottles.

We followed this with a further tasting at La Dilettante Chinon before heading back to the apartment with a few of the best. We had limited the tasting and only have three bottles, the challenge is to decide which one we need to fill the car with.

One advantage of wine tasting by bike, or on foot, is of course you don’t need to worry about driving. Another is that you have no easy means of transporting any wine home and can therefore keep drinking all day without paying for a single drop.

At some point during our wanderings, John picked up a leaflet for a town walk and after dinner we followed a route around many roads we’ve already visited. It’s amazing how much of the medieval history has survived and the buildings are beautiful. But…if we read another tribute to Joan of Arc meeting Charles II in 1429 much of the town may not last much longer.

Tomorrow, we cycle the voie verte to Richelieu. 20km along a relatively flat disused railway line. If we’re lucky it’s going to be easy cycling.

The Tour de France started yesterday and…

… we are in France with our bikes. We leave you to draw your own conclusions.

Yesterday, our trip started with an exciting drive to Portsmouth for the overnight crossing to St Malo. We hadn’t even reached the M25 when our bikes suddenly disappeared from the rear view mirror. Luckily, the bike rack had simply folded away from the car and the only damage seems to be to one of Kim’s handlebar grips, most of which has been deposited on the surface of the outside lane of the M1. There was a minor altercation with a coach driver in Watford, regarding what constitutes a highway, when we pulled off the road to double check the bike rack. No blows were exchanged but there was a lot of gesticulating on both sides. Kim is considering whether or not one damaged handlebar grip makes her bike unusable.

Enough whining! We arrived safely in Portsmouth and, now, we’re in France. As always, John is completely enamoured with French roads and the 3.5 hour journey to Chinon passed effortlessly. Sadly we have to admit that we broke our journey at McDonalds. Our defence? They do make a reasonable tea and coffee. To compensate we enjoyed a typical french lunch in Chinon, recommended by a couple we met outside a cafe.

We are renting a small apartment in the 15th Century Quarter of Chinon, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s very old and quaint with a layout only the French could dream up and complete with a toilet in a cupboard. Saying that, we both love it and could live here. When have you not heard us say that?

The location is excellent, above a Creperie in a very narrow street with a bar at the junction. We are based in the rue du Carroi which was the original major crossroad in the town. Parking, as with any historic Town, is an issue. We think the bikes are in a cellar somewhere around the corner but not really sure, and the car is partly parked in a hotel garage at the other end of town. There is an old tyre holding the garage door closed as it’s only just big enough to hold a BMC Mini. We have assessed the risk and think the Mercedes will still be there when we need it.

Our plans include visiting Villandry, Saumur and the chateau at Azay-Le-Rideau, probably by bike which seemed a good idea a few weeks ago!

John is keen to cycle from St Malo to Nice and has brought his book in the hope we might be able to say we have made a start and completed one stage. Kim has looked at it very, very carefully and, at a push, might be persuaded to attempt half a stage and consider a round trip from Fontveraud to Saumur – watch this space. Kim has also considered losing this book in the recycling!

Final thoughts from Soller

Jacky and Kim made the most of our final morning by visiting the Botanic Gardens. The Garden was founded in 1985 and is a centre for conservation, study and understanding of Mediterranean plants, specifically those of the Balearic Islands. The living plant collections are laid out according to ecological groups and simulate their natural habitats. We saw the biggest bee in the world, perhaps a slight exaggeration but Xylocopa violacea, the violet carpenter bee, is one of the largest in Europe. Kim has horrified John with ideas for growing her Aeoniums in the sandstone wall we have just had repaired.

Eventually the time came for us to leave our lovely hotel.

As a result of the Es Firo festival, Soller was starting to get very busy and a number of roads were being closed. Antonio our taxi driver was aware of the problems and arrived in plenty of time for a smooth and effortless drive to the airport. As we were leaving Soller we noticed long traffic queues on the outskirts of Palma – luckily on the other carriageway, caused by people visiting the Hippodrome to watch the horse trotting races. It really brought home that we had been living in a bubble for the last few days.

COVID-19 remains a risk in the Belearic Islands and the government has recruited 120 Special Agents to support local police. Candidates for this role are drawn from those who applied but failed to obtain a post in the police force in the last 5 years.

Luckily, Ken was able to escape Mallorca in disguise, otherwise Agent COVID may have arrested him….. he tested positive this morning. So far, the rest of us have escaped.

Mirador de Ses Barques here we come

Today’s walk was a mere 11km with a total ascent/descent of 550m, one of the most challenging of the holiday. Yesterday’s ascent and descent figures were less than 400m and that had been difficult enough. Kim had checked the map carefully and identified a number of shortcuts if it all proved too much. The ankle has gone from blue and purple to shades of green and purple so obviously on the mend. We hope you’re suitably grateful that we haven’t shared a picture of said ankle?

We left Soller, heading north, on quiet tarmac roads. They didn’t last long and, within a couple of kilometres we were back on narrow loose cobbled paths. You read all about those yesterday and these were much the same. The route took us through the hamlet of Binibassi before arriving at the village of Fornalutx, also known as the ‘village of a thousand years’ and said to one of the prettiest in Mallorca. We couldn’t argue with that description. It was beautiful stone buildings on narrow cobbled streets.We stopped for refreshments outside a little cafe on the main square before moving on. We’d been walking for almost two hours and had only managed 3.5km.

The village is high up and there were some fantastic views over the orange groves and olive terraces. The cemetery on the outskirts of town was very peaceful against the backdrop of the mountains. We’re not sure if the grave was truly for sale but thought it could be worth investigating as a final resting place.

Kim took a view as we left the village and we cheated with a shortcut back to Soller. Jacky and Ken were determined not to be beaten by a little hill and some rubble and carried on to the viewing point and cafe at Mirador de ses Barques. Our route continued up through wooded terraces, along very narrow overgrown paths with steep drops. It seemed a bit unfair to still be climbing when all we wanted to do was head downhill back towards Soller. The route flattened out and we stopped briefly for a picnic lunch in an olive grove with a backdrop of grazing sheep.

At this point the path started to descend and suddenly we were wishing for some nice rugged ascents. Why is downhill so much harder than uphill? That just seems plain contrary! It was hard work and when John suggested that we could have a beer in Biniaraix, Kim gave him a very hard stare and pointed out it would add at least another hour to our walk. He saw sense and opted for a beer in a quiet, shady terrace in Soller, no more than 10 minutes walk from the hotel.

Ken and Jacky arrived back less than an hour after us and had made good time. There was grumbling about sore feet and knees as well as distances quoted on our walking notes. The whole walk was meant to be 11.5 km, just over 7 miles in a real measure. They had done somewhere between 10 and 11 miles depending on who you believed. We had walked over 7 miles and that was with our ‘shortcut’. So much for an easier day before walking to Deia tomorrow.

On a positive note, Ken and Jacky did see the stunning views over the bay and we booked into C’an Pintxo again for dinner tonight.

Port de Soller – the long way

We had two options walking from Soller to the Port. First was a simple, straightforward 5km, the alternative was nearer 10km taking in Refugi de Muleta and Cap Gros. We chose the more adventurous route, it was only 6 miles and Kim insisted she was capable despite hobbling down to breakfast.

We picked up provisions from the nearest supermarket and set off just after 10am. Our route notes estimated a 4 hour walk so, even with Kim limping, we’d be at the Port by mid-afternoon.

All routes start from the main Square in Soller and, as we left town, we realised we’d walked quite a loop around to the back of our hotel. There was plenty of eye rolling and we were only 15 minutes in. Soon we had left the town and were walking out through Olive, Orange and Lemon groves with the Tramuntuna mountains curving around us. They looked very high and stood between us and the Port. We consoled ourselves with the thought that estimated walking times hadn’t let us down yet. It’s worth mentioning now that, by the time we were nearer our destination,

Following GR221, Ruta de Pedro en Sec or The Dry Stone Route, which followed old cobbled paths that had once been the main communication routes between villages. It took us up through rows of Olive terraces. As we walked, the dry stone route suddenly became the dangerous wet stone route as the rain came down. Luckily it didn’t last long but it turned a challenging route into something deeply unpleasant.

As we wound up through stone terraces we started to see glimpses of the port through the trees. We also started to see signs warning us of ‘Big Game’, the subject of much speculation. The wildest creatures we had seen were a couple of donkeys lazily grazing under overhanging trees.

It had been hard work and, about 2/3rds of the way along our route on the Muleta Plain, we came across Muleta de Ca’s Hereu, an old guest house perched on the hillside serving coffee and cake. It seemed rude not to stop and the almond cake was delicious. A few hundred meters on, we came across a young girl squeezing fresh oranges and selling the juice by the side of the path. A great business opportunity and we had two thoughts – shouldn’t she be at school and how do we get by without seeming rude, we had only just drunk a cuppa. Luckily, a couple of German walkers stopped as we went past.

We met numerous people along the way, of many different ages, abilities and nationalities. These narrow paths must get difficult to negotiate as the weather warms up and the number of walkers increases.

Finally, we reached Cap Gros, having decided the extra 5 minutes to Refugi de Muleta just wasn’t worth the effort. We may have missed the most picturesque stone hostel with breathtaking views but, quite frankly, we’re no longer bothered.

The final 3km into Port de Soller was on welcome tarmac. The only problem was it was steeply downhill with a lot of hairpin bends. Kim made it this far without too much complaining, but that last stretch was probably the most difficult.

The route timings were fairly accurate, we had walked for just over 4-hours. We stopped briefly in the Port for probably the most overpriced cuppa ever before taking the tram back to Soller.

The tram is a Spanish Heritage tramway and one of only a few first generation tramways to survive in Spain. Opening in 1913, the route is nearly 5km long and a very big tourist attraction. We decided we ought to do it even though, for the cost of one tram ticket, all four or us could get back to Soller in a taxi.. it was quaint but very overcrowded. According to Wikipedia, there are 17 stations along the route, quite how anyone could elbow their way through the crowds to get off is beyond us. And why would a local use it when there’s a perfectly good, faster cheaper bus service

Dinner this evening was a recommended local tapas bar, and it was delicious. We’re not good at remembering to take food photos but the carrots were quite exceptional!

Palma to Biniaraix

For those of us who could walk without limping, our final morning in Palma was spent visiting the Museum of Contemporary Art. Despite our best efforts we are not renowned for our culture and, true to form, everyone was back at the hotel within the hour.

This gained us an advantage and we caught an earlier train to Soller. The tiddly pom train left Palma along a track down the middle of a busy road, whistling and tooting at every intersection. It would have been great to watch it go past from the kerbside. Once out into the suburbs, we passed many homeless encampments before winding our way up through Olive groves into the Tramuntuna mountains. Thunder storms had been forecast but, apart from some heavy showers in Palma, the weather has been lovely.

We arrived in Soller at lunchtime and spent the afternoon exploring. The town is very busy and gearing up for the big Es Firo Soller, a four day festival celebrating the region’s defence against Moorish invaders in 1581. Luckily, we leave on Saturday and hopefully will escape being chased round the streets by Moors with paintbrushes and pots of tar.

An out of town village bar in Biniaraix up in the hills was recommended by an English couple who have been spending their winters here for over 30 years. Luckily, Kim wasn’t paying attention otherwise she of the purple twisted ankle would have vetoed the uphill walk. It was worth the trek, stunning views accompanied by the heady scent from orange groves. We stopped for refreshment at a lovely bar with an excellent music choice. It was a walk well worth doing.

Finally, this is the view from our balcony.

Train? What train?

Our day started with a walk to the station to buy our tickets for the Tren de Soller, otherwise we may have an expensive taxi ride tomorrow and miss one of the highlights of the holiday. So popular is the train that the ticket queue went right round the Square and we were advised to return later in the day when we were assured it would be much quieter. Next stop was the Mercat Oliver, an undercover market selling everything from tripe to beetroot seeds. It appeared to be the place to have a mid-morning Prosecco and oysters as well, so we stopped for good value tea and coffee.

Then we headed to Nano Cycle Hire. The plan was to cycle out to the Marina before retracing our steps and cycling back along the coast to Arenal, a flat round trip of approximately 30km. Our route took us along dedicated cycle paths which were narrower than we were comfortable with, but we were safely away from traffic. The route out to the Marina gave Kim another opportunity to recreate Ken’s photo from 1964. The yachts are significantly larger.

Cycling back towards Arenal, we stopped for lunch on the outskirts of Palma. It was nice to stop at a Mediterranean beach bar, but it was overpriced and highly average. We continued on to the outskirts of Arenal and bemoaned the fact that 30 minutes outside Palma we could have had a more authentic meal at half the price. We really should know better by now.

We didn’t make it to the centre of Arenal but the ride took us along some very pretty seafront routes.

Bikes were returned at 5, with just enough time for John and Ken to get back to the station and buy our train tickets. Something had been lost in translation, the ticket office had closed at 3pm and now we have our fingers crossed that we can get on a train tomorrow

Our evening meal was booked at the popular Cellar sa Premsa, a converted warehouse that has been a source of Mallorcan food and hospitality since 1958. It didn’t disappoint but, not knowing what to expect, we ordered a starter and main course each which was far more than we needed.

Finally, someone’s ankle was sprained in a kerb and bike related incident. Guess who had this accident? It may make the ‘walking’ part of our holiday more challenging.

Guess where we are….

Ok, so it wasn’t a difficult question. We are spending a week walking in Mallorca with Jacky and Ken, three days based in Palma followed by another 4 days in Soller.

We flew from Luton with none of the expected delays and 2 hours later arrived in warm, sunny Palma. Our base is Hotel Almudaina right in the heart of the city. There is no view from our balcony, but the hotel’s roof terrace is amazing. Yesterday was spent getting our bearings before we went full blown tourist today.

Our break was booked without thinking too much about dates, and today is a public holiday and most of the museums are shut. It’s also Mother’s Day, and yesterday the flower market was preparing bouquets late into the evening for when the town comes alive and in the UK most people are asleep. John and Ken had done some evening exploration devising today’s plan which included walking through the art district and down to a sea front craft market.

If you click on the smaller photos, with the wonders of modern technology, they expand to full size!

Kim was keen to visit the old Arab Baths, dating back to about the 10th century and the only remains of a Moorish invasion in the 8th century, an occupation that lasted almost 500 years. The baths are centred around a tranquil, courtyard garden. The domed ceiling of the main room is supported by 12 columns recycled from an earlier Roman building.

As we walked back to the seafront, we could hear loud drumming and suddenly found ourselves caught up in the ‘Labour Day’ demonstrations with protesters demanding higher pay, better pensions and greater rights for women. Apparently these demonstrations have been organised in most Spanish cities today, and although peaceful and good natured armed police were keeping a watchful eye on events from various vantage points.

Kim’s dad, Ken, visited Palma in December 1964, where he took a photo of the Cathedral. We tried to recreate his original photo and you can barely see the difference.

Dinner tonight was traditional tapas. Tapa means ‘lid’ and beer or wine would be served with a plate of ham or cheese on top to keep out annoying flies. Over time the Tapas became more refined developing it’s own dining culture – at least that’s what we read at tonight’s restaurant.

A slight problem occurred early evening as we discussed plans and timings for the next few days. Jacky scribbles circles, lines and crosses all over maps with a flourish that is alien to John, and Ken appears completely incapable of grasping a basic itinerary. We are currently evaluating our future holiday plans.

Final thoughts from Holland

During our walking tour of Amsterdam, we learned a bit about Dutch provinces. Technically, this is final thoughts from Clophill but our trip had officially been based in South Holland with a brief visit to North Holland.

If Holland wasn’t so wet and windy, apparently it is wetter than the UK, we would want to live there. It is so geared up to life without cars, ours went in the car park on arrival and didn’t re-appear until we left for home.

Our journey home was interesting. DFDS asked us to allow 2 hours for check in rather than the usual 45 minutes. After our Dover ‘adventure’ we didn’t want to risk missing the ferry and were up at 6:30 for the 3.5 hour drive. Next time we will use Harwich to the Hook of Holland which has served us well in the past. The route to Dunkirk is fairly easy driving but its a long way. We arrived at Dunkirk to be greeted by clear empty lanes and a shiny new Duty Free building. Did they want us early just so we’d be lured into Duty Free.

Dunkirk was lovely and sunny but, before leaving port, our Captain warned us we ‘might notice some movement on board’ as we approached Dover. Experience says that professionals always tone down any bad news and we were in for a choppy sailing.

We were held outside the Port at Dover for over an hour, waiting for a little tug to assist us into port. It was very dramatic with harbour walls and berthed P&O ferries all within hitting distance. We admired the skill of the tug captain, a tiny little boat dwarfed by the ferry. It was all very dramatic in a calm, understated way. The only sign the crew were preparing for a potential accident was seeing them all calmly lined up watching what was happening outside, ready to take action if needed. It really brought home the impact of P&O’s decision to use agency staff.

We landed safely at Dover and it was a relief to see the miles of parked lorries had cleared, let’s hope those drivers wish to return to the UK in the future.

The less said about our journey home, the better. 3.5 hours through torrential rain with a detour through Sevenoaks and Dartford. At one point we thought Google was having a nervous breakdown!

Anyway, we safely home and counting down to our walking holiday later this month.

Keukenhof and the mythical Black Tulip

Despite changeable weather we chose to cycle to Keukenhof, the 79 acre site which opens for 8 weeks annually, to showcase the products of bulb growers and flower producers in the region.

The joy of Dutch cycle networks is they generally take you away from main roads. We cycled out of Leiden, along the river and past some fantastic houseboats and houses .

Then we were out in the Tulip fields although Narcissus and Hyacinths were putting on the best show and, despite relatively cool temperatures, hyacinth scent was strong in the air.

We made an unscheduled stop at De Tulperij, a grower of tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and dahlias. Although along a narrow road, it’s a local attraction. There was a spotless, barn divided into a clean orderly work area and a beautifully decorated cafe. You can walk around their growing fields and order bulbs for autumn delivery. It was a fantastic find and we felt obliged to stop for a cuppa and homemade apple cake.

On to Keukenhof, Ken had last been there 30 years ago and was amazed by its transformation. The rest of us has nothing to compare and simply thought the entrance looked new and smart.

Both gardens and flower displays were stunning. It was a few weeks early for tulips to be at their best and it looks like there will be azalea displays too. Layered bulb planting was meticulously planned and there was plenty of colour to keep us occupied. Flower pavilions around the site were equally engrossing. Our photos really don’t do it justice.

On our way back to Leiden, we took a detour into Lisse to visit the Museum of the Black Tulip. It was a lovely little museum, tracing the history of the Tulip from China to the Netherlands in the 16th century to the present day and the Novacap floralis scandal – now that’s something for you to Google.

We learned about bulb glasses and crocus bowls as well as how bulb growing and harvesting has developed over the centuries. Finally, in 1850 Alexander Dumas wrote ‘The Black Tulip’, a successful novel telling a story about the battle for a black tulip which was often believed to be true. We knew better from our Keukenhof visit.

Our ride back to Leiden was into a headwind with the odd smattering of rain. It was hard work and a relief to get back to the hotel.

We have an early start tomorrow and, fingers crossed, it will be a straightforward trip home.

I saw a mouse… where?

Heavy rain and strong winds had been predicted and the forecast was surprisingly accurate. This morning, we noticed even the hardy Dutch were struggling to cycle in the appalling weather. We were booked on a walking tour in Amsterdam and couldn’t quite believe we were daft enough to attempt it in such awful conditions.

John was seriously impressed by trains each one with specific areas for bikes, but his admiration was dented when we ground to a halt, stuck behind a train with a defective door. It was a short delay as we were sent back to Haarlem but enough to turn our lunch plans into a quick stop for coffee and a snack.

Tip of the day: If you are cold, wet and hungry head to a Dutch department store. They usually have a warm, clean, reasonably priced cafe and don’t mind you dripping on the floor. We have tested this theory twice so it must be true.

Our guided tour started at the national Remembrance monument opposite the Royal Palace. We were a mixed group with people from New Zealand to Brazil. As we walked, our guide, Sem, gave us an entertaining talk on Dutch political history. We learned about. Dutch architecture and how the style of the houses was influenced by wealth and taxes. Taxes were calculated on the width of your property and the number of windows and steps.

Many of the tall narrow canal front houses lean forwards. We always thought it was something to do with poor building practices, but we learned today, it’s a mix of practicality and tax avoidance. The houses have such narrow staircases, all the furniture has to be hoisted up the outside and the lean helps to avoid furniture crashing into the property. The design feature also helps keep water away from the building. We’re not sure it’s true but it made a good tale.

Our walk through one of the university buildings stopped at an original Banksy and the most frequently stolen traffic sign in Amsterdam. The sign came about following a long campaign by a local to stop students smoking weed outside his home. Now all he has to deal with is the sign regularly being stolen.

Next was the old Jewish Quarter. 80% of Amsterdam’s Jews didn’t survive WW2 and those that did, came back to find their homes had been looted and any combustible materials removed by locals to help provide warmth through one of the coldest winters seen in the city.

We are sorry to say we didn’t see any windmills in old Amsterdam or mice with clogs on, it was too wet and windy.

Fietsknoop to Delft

Just to be clear, Fietsknoop is not a bizarrely named Dutch town but an ‘App’ that enables route planning along the many miles of Dutch cycle ways. Jacky had mapped our route, 23.5km one way, with a plan to catch the train back to Leiden. There is only so much cycling Kim can be encouraged to do.

This morning, we discovered Leiden’s historic centre complete with obligatory windmill

Cycling in Holland is a joy. Well maintained, wide, signposted cycle routes feel very safe and the cyclist is king of the roads. It continues to amaze us that cars give way to cyclists and even treat pedestrians with respect. If it wasn’t so blooming cold, we’d want to live here. The App was fantastic, reminding us to pay attention to route markers, and taking us away from the main roads.

We took 1.5 hours to cycle to Delft, just in time for lunch! It would have been rude not to try the local speciality of krokotten. Delft, like many Dutch towns has a very pretty historic centre with a lot of canals and some stunning architecture.

We were surprised by the alarming angle of lean on the ‘Old Church’ tower which stands directly on the ‘Delf’, the old word for ‘canal’. When plans were made to add a tower to the church in 1325, there was nowhere to put it. It is likely the canal was diverted, filled in and the tower built on top of it. This turned out to be a bad idea when the tower started to subside during construction. They managed to stabilise the structure and continue building it straight and that is why the tower has a kink.

Our route to Delft had been so straightforward, we thought we’d cycle back to Leiden. Now we’re not sure if it was all uphill, but it was far more challenging and we battled with a bitterly cold headwind. It was a relief to get off the bikes at the hotel and collapse with a cold beer.

Tomorrow, we are taking the train to Amsterdam and have a walking tour booked. Thank goodness we hadn’t planned to cycle, a break from the saddle will be welcome. The only problem is the weather – heavy rain and high winds are forecast.

Are you paying attention?

Every day for the last two years during lockdown, Kim has spent time diligently improving her ability to speak French. So as the world begins to open up our first post-Covid adventure is to…. Holland.

Neither of us know any Dutch but our passports are dusted off, the car has it’s post Covid UK stickers. We are staying in Leiden, with Jacky and Ken, and cycling to see the tulip display at the Kuekenhof gardens. Trips to Delft and Amsterdam are also on the itinerary.

If you have been paying attention to the news over the last couple of days, you will know that the last place you want to be, in the UK, is Dover and that is where we headed for our ferry crossing.

This is where you really do need to pay attention… our original crossing to Dunkirk was scheduled for 8am, DFDS changed it to noon. Bad weather and crashed ships had upset their timetable and that’s without mentioning the P&O debacle. We complained about the noon sailing so DFDS helpfully re-arranged for 8:30 to Calais.

We left home at 4am for the 2 hour journey, made really good time until we were 2 miles from the port and it all started to go wrong.

Dover was at a standstill and we mean the whole of Dover.

You have to feel sympathy for the lorry drivers, hundreds parked up on the Dover approach roads, many of whom had been there without any facilities for over 24 hours, it’s easy to see why they are becoming increasingly relectant to deliver to the UK

Eventually we made it to check in at 11am, and booked on the noon Calais sailing. Yippee, we thought. Ken and Jacky were checked in an hour ahead of us and on the same ferry. Never mind the delays, we were now the correct side of the check in barrier

To cut the rambling short, we drove straight onto an empty ferry which promptly departed early at 11:30 and left Ken and Jacky, in Dover, wondering how on earth they weren’t in France ahead of us.

Amongst the first to disembark, after a 3 hour effortless drive on some lovely roads we reached our first planned stop at Willemstad. We’d stayed there on a previous cycling holiday and it was still beautiful. The sun was out but the wind was bitter so we didn’t stay long.

So we haven’t done much today, other than sit in queues and drive a long way. An early night beckoned and you have to love a hotel that hides cards like this in your bed

Is Wales ‘abroad’?

We decided a micro adventure was needed to celebrate our 27th Wedding Anniversary. ‘Abroad’ still feels far too complicated so Anthony Gormley’s ‘Another Place’ was our destination. Please bear with us, Wales will feature at some point and, because we passed a sign saying ‘Welcome to England’ we feel we have been abroad.

Anyway, the Gormley statues have been on our list for a while and 2021 became the year to make it happen. We started early, stopping for a romantic breakfast at Keele Services before arriving in Crosby.

Neither of us were sure what to expect when we clambered over the sand dunes to find the statues. 100 life sized cast iron versions of Anthony Gormley spanning across 3km of beach and stretching 1km out to sea was not it. It’s difficult to convey the impact of all the statues, looking out to sea, in a single photo. You really need to visit to appreciate the emotional impact they have, it’s really very impressive.

Crosby is also home to the grand Plaza Cinema which first opened its doors on 2 September 1939 and was immediately closed again that same day, due to regulations introduced by the outbreak of war! Luckily it was saved from redevelopment and is now run as a successful independent cinema.

By midday, we’d walked the length of the beach and back through the town to the car. It was too early to head to the hotel so ‘what next’ we asked ourselves. John had always wanted to visit Rhos on Sea and it was only an hour away, so we headed under the River Mersey using the old tunnel and out along the North Wales coast.

Whilst eating lunch, John suddenly announced we could visit the aqueduct at Llandudno, we were only a few miles away and the aqueduct is famous although Kim had never heard of it. Luckily Google maps told us it was the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct near Llangollen, not Llandudno, and only a short detour on our route to the hotel.

The aqueduct was stunning, especially if you like views with sheer drops either side! Thomas Telford designed and completed in 1805, it carries the Llangollen Canal across the River Dee and is the highest canal aqueduct in the world and the longest aqueduct in the UK. It consists of a cast iron trough supported 126 ft above the river on iron arched ribs resting on eighteen masonry piers. The bridge is 310m long but only 3.5m wide. Much respect has to go to some very skilled and brave bricklayers, pattern makers and foundry workers.

We finally reached our hotel, the rather grand Netley Hall, just south of Shrewsbury as it got dark.

The following day, our first stop was Ralph Court Gardens near Bromsgrove. Now this was an experience to put a smile on your face.

Each of the garden areas depicted different countries and most were quirky and entertaining. We don’t want to give too much away, you may not want to visit for the planting schemes, but if this place doesn’t make you smile, there may be no hope for you.

Next stop Old Court Nurseries and the Picton Garden. The nursery holds a national collection of Asters and has a lovely garden to showcase them, together with some more unusual specimens. Well worth a visit and only £4 each to wander round.

That was followed by a visit to Mahlakas Plants in the Vale of Evesham. A hobby turned into a career by a former music teacher. He grows and sells succulents from his back garden with the assistance of two dogs and a opinonated cat.

Our final stop was back in Worcester, the view of the cathedral from the river was lovely. 600 miles in 36 hours, we need a holiday to recover.

One in one out

Here’s a rather delayed final day on the Isle of Wight. It’s taken until now to recover from Friday’s journey home.

We had a few hours to while away before our crossing home. There was no chance of changing our booking, according to a number of people we had met it seemed that most residents were leaving the island ahead of the festival and, as well as clogged roads, there were clogged ferries!

With nothing else to do we decided the Bromptons deserved one more outing and that was a round trip between Sandown and Shanklin. Now this was Kim’s sort of cycling – five miles of flat esplanade alongside beach huts.

As we sailed out by ferry ahead of schedule, our good luck didn’t stay with us, severe delays on the M25 more than made up for any saving. Of course the alternative would be to use a helicopter in the same way that Tom Jones and other festival performers do, although if you have seen the photos of Liam Gallagher’s face after falling out of his helicopter, possibly not.

Finally, do you know what happens if you post a letter to your neighbour on the Isle of Wight? We’re assuming ‘no’!

It is taken from the Post Box, put on a ferry to be sorted in Portsmouth and transported back across the Solent before being delivered to your neighbour.

From Sun Wars to paddling

Sunshine together with inhaling sea air were seen by Victorians as beneficial for health. They started measuring sunlight hours using a Campbell-Stokes sun recorder where a glass globe is used to concentrate the suns rays and burn a paper card.

Sunshine-wars broke out between resorts as they tried to attract visitors, especially those promoting treatment of good health and alleviation of chest ailments. One of these resorts was the Royal National Hospital in Ventnor offering 130 separate south-facing bedrooms amid a micro-climate for its patients.

Mild climate treatment for tuberculosis became obsolete in the 1960’s replaced instead by the use of antibiotics and other drug treatments, and the hospital closed. But fortunately for Kim the gardens remain as Ventnor Botanic Gardens one of her top ten favourite gardens in the world and we have visited many.

All week we have been trying to walk to the Botanic Gardens from our apartment. 30 minutes Google said. We are beginning to distrust all forms of technology, it may have been 30 minutes for a fell runner but not us. We have to admit the coastal path was scenic and we were pleased to have seen the rather lovely Steephill Cove which certainly lived up to its name when leaving.

We arrived for breakfast at the Botanic Gardens and, despite being cooked by a man who only has two pans and two working cooking rings, it was voted the best breakfast of the week.

Kim is tempted to move here, she just loves the abundance of agaves and aeoniums and feels the tortoises would be right at home with temperatures averaging 5 degrees higher than the rest of the island.

Our walk back along the road was far kinder to our legs and we coveted lovely houses with amazing views along the way.

There was time for one final cycle ride before the Bromptons were stowed for our journey home. Kim had assessed the hills and they were judged suitable for pushing a bike up without crying. We headed down to the sea front and along the Coast Path to Bonchurch. We were hoping to get to Shanklin but the nice flat route petered out at a shingle beach. John, wisely didn’t suggest trying to cycle up the steep hill out of Bonchurch. Instead he sensibly opted to turn around and head back to the Sea Pot cafe for a cuppa.

We hadn’t cycled far so carried on into Ventnor and, for the only time this week, Kim took her shoes off and paddled. We haven’t been sure quite why we’re not more taken with Ventnor, but a little paddle in the sea bumped it up in Kim’s estimation.

Daguerreotypes, festivals and Hendrix

Yesterday, we took the opportunity to meet up with John’s cousin Julie. Despite decades on the island she is technically still a foreigner according to her husband Jim an authentic caulk-head. We wiled away the hours, over lunch at the Spyglass Inn, discussing family and island life. Well to be precise, Julie provided John with an updated family history which he is embarrassed to admit he has very little knowledge of.

As an electrical engineer Jim worked on control systems for the Black Arrow rockets, which were proof fired from the nearby High Down Test Site. Despite the success of the program including launching Britain’s first satellite Prospero, Government Ministers declared there was no future in satellite technology and announced an end to the Black Arrow programme. Rocket testing moved to Woomera in Australia, while Jim and Julie built a successful international electronics business.

On first hearing the term caulkhead, Kim thought it was a reference to wine drinking, but it simply means a third generation islander. This boat building term originates from caulking (sealing gaps with rope and tar) as opposed to dropping new born babies into the Solent to see if they will float which we hope is just a local myth.

Today started with a return visit to Freshwater Bay and breakfast at The Piano Cafe followed by the ‘Iconic Jimi’ exhibition at Dimbola Galleries. The galleries are the former home of Julia Margaret Cameron, pioneering Victorian photographer. It’s amazing to see how physically large early cameras were (about the size of microwave) compared with todays pocket sized Smart Phones. Part of the exhibition includes posters and photos of the 1970 music festival featuring some legendary acts performing within sight and sound of Dimbola.

Julie and Jim had told us how pretty the north west Wight coast is, so our next stop was Yarmouth. There was so much going on, as you would expect from a ferry terminal and marina.

Somehow we had missed this rather unusual feature as we left the harbour for our wander around the town. It came as rather a shock on the way back. There is a prize for the first person to name it.

This evening, we had managed to get a reservation at The Smoking Lobster in Ventnor, the downside was that we had to be there at 5:15. It was worth the early meal. The food was delicious, staff and service was friendly and relaxed. We’ll only bore you with one photo of food and tell you that the cheeseboard included Tunworth.

On our walk back, we discovered that we’d missed most of the ‘Cascade Challenge’. An event organised by the local running club to raise funds for members competing in the London Marathon. The challenge was to run up and down the Cascade as many times as possible in an hour. Apparently the winner lost count at 20 and, to give you context, we hate walking up it once!

Our spirit of adventure took over as the light faded and after five days, we have discovered a route along the coast path which seems to provide a wide, flat route into Shanklin. Kim might be tempted back onto her bike and give it a go.

Only 396 left

Today we collected the last two IoW Quest clues. The first was in the picturesque village of Calbourne in West Wight arguably the prettiest village on the island. It’s famous for the film-set perfection of Winkle Street with its thatched 18th-century stone cottages, each with small but delightful front garden facing a brook. We had a lovely chat with the single resident family, all the remaining cottages are holiday homes.

After a brief stop at Chessell Pottery where we opted for a pot of tea rather than pottery painting, it was on to Freshwater Bay and our final quest clue on the island. We had to find St Agnes Church which competed with Winkle Street for historic cuteness.

As a treat for finishing the IoW challenge, we sat on the Esplanade and basked in the sun. After watching the kayaks paddle off into the distance, Kim declared that she was tempted to give up cycling and try a kayak instead. This is from someone who has no real sense of balance and doesn’t like getting wet.

Voted one of the best driving roads in Europe by the Telegraph, our run back took us along the old Military Coast Road from Freshwater to Ventnor. Part of a great driving road is of course the view and this road doesn’t disappoint.

Tomorrow we have a meeting planned with Jimi Hendrix.

Faint foreign odour..

Our day started with breakfast at the Garlic Farm. To John, the smell hit you as we arrived in the car park and he panicked at the thought of garlic being added to his porridge. It turned out he needn’t have worried, his food was (fairly) garlic free. As to Kim’s breakfast, let’s just say he’s keeping his distance and the windows are open.

Our different opinions of the Garlic Farm neatly sum us both up. Kim thought it was wonderful, quaint and very pretty. John thought the piped music was atrocious and hated the smell.

Garlic first appeared on the Island during the Second World War courtesy of French soldiers stationed on the island who brought bulbs from France to add to their cooking. Chalky soil combined with a favourable micro climate enabled garlic cloves to grow in abundance.

Since it first started in 1983, the annual Garlic Festival is one of the most popular events on the island. Goodness knows what they do at the festival unless you enjoy Garlic and Chocolate Chip Ice Cream or a pint of Garlic Beer..

Brading was where we started today’s Quest, which was a clue at the top of a very big hill above Bembridge Fort called Culver Down. Both OS Maps and the Wahoo cycle computer were brought into play. It started badly with OS Maps sending us down a footpath when it knew we were cycling, but the Wahoo was for once more reliable. It was less than a 10 mile round trip with an ascent of 340 ft. We don’t wish to dwell on how steep the ride was and will simply say that Kim pushed her bike for at least 2 miles. The panoramic views from the top back across the Solent were glorious.

At the top, Kim felt a cup of tea and sit down were far more interesting than who the Monument was dedicated to so John climbed the final few feet by himself. By the time he was back for coffee, the people at the next table were having a conversation about how easy it is to illegally import whale meat from Iceland into the UK. For a fee, we will pass on our knowledge

Since we’ve been here, we’ve been through Brading several times and each time we’ve asked each ‘What’s that bull all about?’ and ‘why does Brading have a Bullring?’

Before 1835, if you were a bull, you wouldn’t have wanted to be near Brading or pretty much anywhere else in the UK. It was believed that meat was more tender if the animal was tortured before slaughter. Unlucky creatures were tied to the bull ring and attacked by dogs hence the name of a Bulldog. Butchers could be required to have a bull baited before slaughter and were often fined if they failed to do so. Luckily, a sense of compassion prevailed and this barbaric practice was outlawed in 1835.