Friday, April 30, 2004

Happy Birthday Connor! and Updates

We don't usually do special personalised messages here at Big Trip (we'll send you one if you pay us enough though....), but we wanted to send our nephew and godson, Connor a very Happy 9th Birthday message for today. Miss you lots and hope you had a great day.

For everyone else who isn't Connor you can go and check out the updated Big Trip Stats.
On level ground

The last 8 days have seen us head south with a vengeance. We used the Belgian canal paths to good effect and followed them all the way to Ieper (Ypres). With no hills to slow us we covered nearly 50 Kms on the day we got there and were rewarded with a nice campsite which had a mini-golf course. This got me thinking that it would be a great idea to play mini-golf wherever we could and devote part of the Big Trip to a transcontinental novelty putting tournament. Surprisingly, Vic too thought it would be a good idea. Actually, it's not that surprising given her record against me. I won't dwell on it but the Belgian Championship went Vic's way thanks in no small part to an 8-shot swing on the 10th hole where she calmly followed my 9 with a hole-in-1.

From Ieper we followed minor roads to the border town of Westouter which sits atop the only decent-sized hill for miles around. We struggled up from the quiet village below along deserted roads to be greeted by a throng of daytrippers promenading up and down the main street at the top. It was most unexpected and we never really got to the bottom of what the attraction was - there was no view to speak of, the prices didn't seem that different in Belgium and France and the cafes were nothing special. It was almost as if the souvenir shops brought the visitors not vice versa.

Having paid our departure tax in the form of nearly 100 vertical metres we were free to coast into France. Almost immediately our fellow cyclists became more friendly and I became confident that the language I couldn't express myself in was French. The last week has seen us become slightly better at making and breaking camp, we have identified and sent home some unecessary bits and we have embraced the local's love of the pattiserie.

Our route from Westouter took us to Aubers, Raimbeaucourt and now Douai (which, oddly enough, is twinned with Harrow). Our accommodation in Raimbeaucourt was unusual to say the least... We had run out of steam by 4ish and started looking for somewhere to stay. Town after town had no hotels, campsites, guest houses or hostels and by the time we got a positive lead it was getting on for 6 o'clock. The village we were pointed to was a couple of kilometers away so we decided to see if there were any front garden options on the way. The residents seemed reluctant but reckoned the local farmer may be more helpful so we headed off to try our luck.

As we toured the streets I spotted a bloke in a farmyard and set about turning the bike round. While I was doing so Vic had started chatting to a chap who had what looked like a python draped around his neck. This was obviously not the case as it was actually a boa constrictor. It turned out the family had no fewer than 9 snakes to keep the 2 dogs and 2 ponies company and we spent 10 minutes looking at them and using our basic foreign language skills to find out about snakes, bikes and stuff like that. However, we didn't think we knew them well enough at this point to ask about the large collection of swords and knives. Anyway, as time was ticking on and we were getting along so well, I asked if they had a spare bit of grass that we might camp on and to our delight they did. The grass was long and Michel, Michelle and Therese supremely hospitable as they treat us to a home cooked five-course meal. They truly were a lovely, friendly bunch who couldn't do enough for us, right down to breakfast and a contact in Greece.

With nearly 400kms on the clock we are starting to feel like proper cyclists. If you don't believe us, ask to see our strange tan lines.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Goodbye England

The road from York to Hull was said to be flat and so it was. The cycle path out of York is traffic free and features one of the best things I`ve seen for a while. The section from the just past York racecourse to Riccall has a scale model of the solar system. The sun is at the York end and is a couple of metres across. As you cycle along you are greeted by Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars within the first kilometer. From here the distances start to get a bit bigger and the flat and largely straight nature of the path really helps you imagine you are whizzing across space. Each new planet was a good reason to stop which was necessary as we later found out we had been traveling in excess of 10 tmes the speed of light.

A couple of days cheap camping was welcome over the next few days before our last few UK pints for a while with our mate Nik in North Ferriby. Facing the final 15kms the next day was not the easiest thing to do. Hull itself saw us of with ever heavier rain as we searched for a route to the ferry port which avoided the busy A63. The highlight was following a dockside path for several kilometers to find our route blocked by a 50-step footbridge. Behind us lay the A63 so we had no choice but to unload the bikes and carry our stuff over. 45 minutes later we were across and picking our way across a lock which was clearley not designed for laden cyclists. We both had visions of our bags snagging and pitching into the deep, brown Humber.

We were thouroughly soaked and cold (and with a flat BoB tyre) by the time we reached the ferry. Our 15 k journey had turned out to be 27 and taken us four and a half hours.

We are now in Belgium for more flat cycling. We stayed in the hostel near Zeebrugge the first night then covered nearly 50kms to a village called Wilkeskerk. The last 10 were in search of somewhere to stay and after the heartbreak of being turned away from a campsite because they were closed we were ready to pitch anywhere. We stopped to ask a farmer directions and, using my fairly rusty schoolboy French, managed to get him to allow us to put the tent up on his front lawn. The farmer was a star, even bringing us out a bottle of water.

Our route seems to be changing at the moment and is taking us west towards France instead of South. Watch this space for details!

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

And so it begins...

After much waiting and planning we finally loaded the bags and Bob and climbed on our bikes outside Stockton town hall. Our lack of fitness was a worry as was the amount of stuff we're carrying but my biggest concern was being unable to navigate us out of my home town.'s been a while since I've lived there.

The opening few miles were through some of Teesside's less inspiring industrial estates before the countryside welcomed us at Maltby. Suddenly the trip started to make sense as we got used to the feel of the laden bikes on the quiet back roads. The next couple of hours passed very pleasantly as we made good progress on the gently undulating lanes, our main company being fellow cyclists rather than cars.

Soon after lunch the terrain started to get a bit more severe and we had to get off and push the bikes - not an easy task in itself - but even so our first destination of Osmotherley was well in our sights despite the best efforts of the hills of Swainby.

The day would have been a perfect start to the trip but Vic's wheels slid from under her on the gravel path down to the campsite. She fell pretty heavily and really banged her knee. The sight of blood running down her leg into her sock was sickening but apart from a deep cut there seemed to be no internal damage. We hobbled into camp and set up the tent but the injury meant we had to have an enforced rest day on Monday. Better safe than sorry at this stage!

Vic's knee was still a bit tender on Tuesday but with the ferry waiting in Hull on the 18th we had no choice but to press on. The steep hills of the North York moors stopped our progress almost dead; the uphills too steep to cycle and the big downhill on a gravel offroad section which was too skiddy ride. As a result we covered less than 9 gruelling kilometers in the first 3 hours of the day.

After lunch things speeded up a bit and we made a lot of great progress but we made a pragmatic decision. We decided to ride on to Thirsk and get the train down to York and save a day. This would allow Vic's knee to rest further and allow us to sort out a few logistical bits and pieces.

So here we are in York. The first 2 days in the saddle were hard but good and we're on our way.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Snapshots from Singapore

We've dug out some snapshots from a photoshoot that we attended in Singapore. Enjoy!

Friday, April 02, 2004

The Queen Sees Us Off

Who would've thought that the Queen (well Queen Liz II) was a fan of the Big Trip?

In that expose in the UK Sunday papers a couple of months ago there was no Big Trip mug or lunchbox amongst the acres of tuppleware that supposedly inhabit Buck House.

My republican leanings are also well known, so you can imagine my surprise when as Banz and I ate our lunch in a patch of sun in Harrow town centre on Wednesday and watched some workers putting together a platform, we were informed that the Queen was visiting on Thursday.

I never thought that she would be a fan, but yet here she was appearing in the town centre that we've come to know and shop in over the last few years (love is a very strong word), as well as driving past the end of Nibthwaite Road (Banz did mention that the loft room that caused us all this grief for a year would've made a fantastic sniper's nest) so she could pay her respects and wave us on our way before we caught the train up to Darlo to visit with HiG.

Thanks Liz - we didn't know you cared.

For the full story - CLICK HERE!