Sunday, October 15, 2017

My Cornwall Challenge: Part 1

About a year ago (I'm a bit out of date I know) I decided on my second cycle tour: to head down to Land's End, the western most point of mainland England. As my tour coincided with the Bristol Balloon Fiesta my plan was to leave from Bristol, and as Land's End isn't too far from Bristol I further decided to follow the south coast of England to Bournemouth after Land's End. So with half a plan in mind, I set off on my adventure.
There wasn't much in Weston-Super-Mare, but there were donkeys. I think a donkey or two would have helped me on my journey.
 As with my previous tour, I was keen to follow the coastline for as much of my journey as possible. and so my first leg was southeast from Bristol to Weston-Super-Mare following festival way and route 33 on the cycle network. 
Our last sighting of the balloons on Festival Way.
Somewhere around Nailsea I lost track of the cycle route and ended up on a the A370, which was fine until it crossed the M5; a big enough and busy enough roundabout that I decided to back track and find an alternative road. 
Admittedly, this show in Weston-Super-Mare got me excited.
I picked up route 33 again in Weston-Super-Mare only to find that it literally followed the coast with the cycle path leading to the sandy beach. Not surprisingly my bike did not cope to well with the terrain and it makes me wonder of the local council have ever ridden bicycles before.
I tried, oh, how I tried.
It was a lovely ride to Burnham-on-Sea and then I followed River Parnell to Bridgwater and an uneventful ride on the A39 through the Quontock Hills to Watchet and Blue Anchor. Baiky enjoyed the view from Blue anchor so much he decided to stay behind and I set off up and over one of the steepest hills I have cycled on. 
A happy little English flag in Blue Anchor
It was, of course, once I was down the other side that I realise Baiky had stayed on the beach, and so I tackled the hill again found Baiky, and then this time, walked my bike back up. My poor legs were not able to make the third journey to the peak. Sadly, this was the final, the steepest, nor the longest incline I would meet on my journey.
 This is where Baiky left me. Fortunately, this is also where I found him.
A39 snaked its way into Exmoor National Park and it was here that I had my first real taste of the terrain to come as I battled my way up Porlock Hill. The veiws of north to the Exmoor Heritage coastline and Bristol Channel were to die for, but unfortutaly so was my climb up Porlock Hill. 
Slogging up Porlock Hill.
I was relieved when I finally reached the top and could coast down to my first campsite screaming down hills on tiny roads into the stunning Cloud Farm at Doone Valley. The while way down, this nagging thought kept digging its way back in my consciouness: "tomorrow I was going to have to fight my way back out again..."
Baiky and I get our first look at the Emoor Heritage Coast, in the far distance is Minehead.
Anyone who has a chance to read this and is looking for somewhere to stay, I cannot speak highly enough of Cloud farm. It was a lovely campsite complete with a gurgling brook. I had one of those moments in which I met a couple of families that had driven past me struggling up Porlock Hill and seemed a little confused what I was doing at the campsite. I think it cofuses them more as I extract all my camping equipment from what look to be tiny bags and set up camp. I was in bed early though, a new I had a long day ahead of the next day.
 The farmlands of Exmoor National Park.
Overall, this leg was not particularly exciting until I had snuck into Exmoor. It was about 80 miles and took me most of the day. However, it was the last 30 miles from Bridgwater that I finally got a taste of what was come. The deep greens of British moor and farmlands, ocean views, and rolling hills.
Bristol Channel from the top of Porlock Hill.
The entire was sunny too, which means it did not prepare me for the fickleness of the British east coast, but more on that next time as I continue on my journey east on to one of the supposed locations of Camelot!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Gemma's Birthday in Dublin

Earlier on this year, in February, on a date that coincided with Gemma's Birthday, Gemma and I went to Dublin for the weekend. Dublin is an excellent place to visit in February, for while the weather isn't great, it does provide an excellebt excuse to enter a pub when it starts raining. Plus, they make a good Guiness.

Even the Predator can't turn up a good guiness! This is the second predator statue I have seen, and now I wonder how many pther capital cities in the world have hidden Predator stautes.
It was an interesting trip as we had both been to Dublin before, so it was more about finding the nearest donut store to visiting the sites.
That said, no trip to Dublin is complete with a photo of the Spire (and Gemma makes me put selfies into my blog)
It was a bit if a whirlwind of pubs, so recalling when we went to each place is a bit tough, but I do remember the key bits! On Gemma's birthday I played coy about what I had planned, after getting her good and liquored up I walked her to a nice restaurant, just before we entered I told her the secret pass phrase and then took her downstairs away from the restuarant, surretitiosuly pressed a hidden button and watched as the the bookcase in front of us slid aside to let us into a hidden speakeasy. What's it called? Well never you mind. How did I find out about it? Never should you know. Where is it located? Some things a meant to be a secret. So romantic I would date myself.

The people in the background indicate it is perhaps not the best kept secret in town.
The following day we caught a train to DĂșn Laoghaire to catch a comedy show and a bit of weather. Three aspects of this day trip were memorable:
  1. The comedy show was pretty good, but the supporting act was terrible. Interestingly, the supporting comedian was the younger brother of the actual act.
  2. We found a cider called Orchard Thieves (or, Teheeves, as they say it in Ireland).
  3. The wind, the rain, the waves!!! I tried to walk along the pier, but staying on one's feet required was nigh on impossible. I got as far as I dared, but there always was the real concern of getting washed away by the waves, or blown over by the wind. Never have a seen its like before, but I gather this is not uncommon in coastal areas of the UK as each winter there are stories of people getting washed off rocks and piers.
Not quite Hurrican Irma, but still pretty hairy.
We returned back to Dublin wet and somewhat tipsy.

Gemma acting tipsy.
On our final evening we saw a play called The Pillowman. I found it fascinting as it was about stories, and each of the stories in the play was as well written and constructed as the play itself.

I think the barista was as surprised as I was when I asked about the riddle.
Other than that we strolled through parks, visited museums, checked out the castle, and looked at street art. I was also able to bring my 22 years of education in excellent use by answering a riddle and winning a free cup of coffee. It was Gemma's birthday trip, so I gave it to her and everyone felt like a winner.
Especially Baiky

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Oadby Sausage and Cider Festival 2017: the one where Phillip falls off his bench

It was that time year again. The last weekend of June. Indeed, my favourite weekend in June. Even more so then my birthday weekend. The Oadby Sausage and Cider Festival, which, in our extensive experience of two different Sausage and cider festivals, is unequivocally our favourite. And while I did not write a post of the 2016 festival, I can assure you that we were (as usual) one of the first patrons there!
Baiky is once again sitting above an empty pint.
This year the weather was not the best, so Gemma and I searched for a table under cover and scored the table closest to the bar. We then plonked Baiky on the table and proceeded to work our way through cider list with reckless abandon somewhat akin to a kid in a candy store. Once again, with trusty pen in hand we rated the tasty (and not so tasty) beverages we quoffed. Below are some of the more noteworthy descriptions.

Thistly Cross (6.9%)
Their description:Matured in Glenglassaugh whisky casks to deliver a subtle spirit finish.
Gemma says: I don't like whisky
Phillip says: Don't worry, it doesn't taste like whisky.
Gemma says: It tastes of marshmallows.

Mr Whitehead's (7%)
Their description:Strong and dry - making a very unusual perry.
Gemma says: Ice lollies.
Phillip says: Ice Lollies?
Gemma says: Ice lollies!
Phillip concludes: Its a taste that lasts for a mile. The taste changes as it passes from the mouth, to the throat and then there's an aftertaste.

Baiky helps me make friends. However, when Gemma, Baiky and I are together, an amazing occurence...uh...occurs. People, for some reason completley unbeknownst to me, think we have a child. On this occassion we were offered free vouchers for swimming lessons for kids. 
Admittedly, it took us a while to convince them that Baiky was born to swim. 
Norman Cider (Medium sweat 7.5%)
A red cloudy cider with a delicious taste. Like a kiss from  a beautiful apple.
Phillip says: Urgggh! Janet Jungle Juice.
( Janet Jungle Juice has been a staple since we first attended this event - the description in 2015 was: smells like, B.O., tastes like B.O., must be B.O. Unfotuantely, since that time all that has changed is its name... -Ed.)
Gemma says: Ruuuuuuuude!

Black Rat Perry (Medium sweet perry 7.5%)
Their description: A fruity pear cider - dangerously drinkable. Go steady - this is a rocket fuel (seen the description rocket fuel a few too many times in the drinking guide, shows a certian lack of imgination. -Ed.)
Phillip says: $2 hooker; goes easy!

Vale of Welton: (Medium Sweet 4.8%)
Their description:Champion cider of the 2015 Northampton County Beer Festival - alcoholic apple juice.
Gemma says: Reminds me of Mary Poppins - its watered down medicine with a spoonful of sugar.

Aberhalls (Medium 6%)
Their description: A heady aroma of fresh crushed apples, light golden in colour, crisp and refreshing with a lingering fruitiness.
Phillip says: radioactive orange squash
Gemma says: fuck, my parents are [waiting for me to give them a lift] at the airport.

Gemma sees multiple missed calls on her phone confirming that she had in fact forgotten that she was supposed to give them a lift from the airport to their car that was parked at her house with keys inside the house.

Moonshine (Medium Sweet 7.5%)
Their description: Rocket fuel in aglass - go steady as this is dangerously drinkable.
Phillip says: Fuckin' disappointed, sharp taste but will drink it because I bought it. (this sentiment was shared by the teenagers sitting next to us at the time as well).

Apparently it is customary at any drinking event for Gemma to wear the contents of someone else's beverage. In this instance there is a slight potential that my pint was launched in an act of self-preservation. Apparently, I managed to single handedly topple my full-bench seat whilst leaning on it at a precarious angle (citation needed). It was gratifying, if somewhat patronising, that so many people who were barely able to stand themselves came to my rescue. None of these chivalrous gentlemen helped dry my pint off Gemma.

 Phillip missed this photo as he has fallen over again.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Ballooning in Metz

Less than I week after returning from Poland, Gemma and I once again packed our bags this time heading towards Metz: near the French/German border. Why? We were going to the Mondial Air Balloons: the biggest ballooning festival in Europe!
With this traffic we'll nevner make it in time.
With flights every morning and evening every day of the event my calendar is absolutely crammed with flights, or at least there would have been lots of flights if the weather had have been a tinsy bit better (unfortunately poor weather and holidays seems to go hand in hand in Europe).
 Baiky's first flight!
We flew on the first morning, but alas, Steve, our pilot, was not confident in the weather conditions to go up again whilst Gemma and I were there. Personally I think he was just embarrased about the, ah, shall we say 'bumpy', landing on our first flight. That said, it is much easier to pack up a balloon if it is already prone on account of its landing.
We're here, just drinking beer (without a fear).
Probably a good decision after hearing about the balloon that 'gift-wrapped' a tree on the second day. Weather can be fickle, and even the clear looking skies on the photo above were considered insalubrous for flying.
Baiky managed to score two flights! Seriosuly, though, miniture balloons were hanging in trees in villages for miles around.
However, while we were defeated by strong winds, rain, and poor wind direction ballooning is about more then just flying (especially because it is well-documented I am not overly comfortable in the air.). It is also about drinking, eating, culture, and eating culture.
Balloons preparing for flight.
During our days not flying we visited Metz with its huge cathedral, an excellent art gallery (I did not attend visit), and free wifi well suited to watching round 17 of the AFL (only I participated in this particular activity). 
Minions are bloody everywhere.
Outside of Metz we visited a US WWII cemetery, enjoyed a free sound light show (more commonly known as thunder and lightning), and we also ate bread and cheese; lots and lots of bread and cheese. 
Our ballooning team for the first weekend. 1 flight, 5 blocks of milka, 6 cases of beer, 20 baguettes, and a (laughing) cow's worth of cheese.
I am of the understanding that the world record for the most balloons taking off at the same time was broken with nearly 450 taking off. This, quite clearly, happened after Gemma and I had returned home.
 Gemma got artsy, capturing balloons in glasses.
This was my first international ballooning festival, and to be honest, despite the lack of flying, I throroughly enjoyed it. The tent leaked a bit, but it was mostly on Gemma, and we did not fly much, but flying scares me, so overall I am earnestly anticipating the next one. Who else is up for Warsteiner 2018?

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Acqua Alta

So, you may be wondering what Acqua Alta, why was it mentioned in the last post, and why would I dedicate a post specifically for it. Well, we were wondering the same thing as we witnessed the strange occurance.
A normal day in Piazza San Marco.
It all started at about 3 in the afternoon, when I heard a sound that was uncannningly similar to an air raid siren from WWII movies. It sounded once and then...nothing.
Hours later we were seated outside at a popular restaurant right on the canal, pretty hard to find choice seats like this during tourist season. The young couple in front of us were no doubt thinking the same thing as they had scored a table right in the canal edge, a table we had previously passed up thinking that we may get splashed from passing boats. We watched the water from the canal started lapping up against their table and chairs, we watched as they shifted uncomfortably as the water started tickling their feet, and we watched as they finished their meal early and left quikly; smug in ur choice of table, nice views and no water.
Water? In Venice? Well, I never!
Next, we watched as crowds of tourists made walked across a nearby bridge only to return, looking somewhat confused and miffed, minutes later. The water continued to rise.
Next we saw tourists striding along with large plastic bags, tied off at the knee covering their lower legs and shoes and locals walking past in gumboots. We looked at the water nearing our table, at the plastic bags, the gumboots, and the crowds of tourists walking backwards and forwards and I turned to Gemma to say, "No need to worry, my shoes are waterproof"
"What about me and my shoes"
"Well, I don't see how that's my problem"

I did formulate a plan. Venice is a maze of streets, surely one of them will be dry (in the background crowds of Venetians are laughing at that comment). However, we did okay. We made it all the way to the Rialto bridge without issue, along teh way meeting a lovely elderly couple, whom had been provided stylish plastic bags by the restaurant they had eaten in. This, however, created a difficulty for them, because not only were they lost, but plastic does not offer much grip of wet cobblestones. So, arm in arm, Gemma and I guided them to the bridge (their hotel was not far from there) supporting them in the 'treacherous' but comic journey.

 Baiky taking a swim in Piazzo San Marco with Gemma and I. By this stage  we were wet enought having a paddle didn't really matter any more, although I imagine hotel staff had a difference opinion...

By this stage, my planning had kept Gemma and I relatively dry. But alas, not two blocks from our hotel the water raised to heights not yet seen, and despite trying every avenue possible to the hotel it ended up a brave slog through shin deep water. My ankle-length waterproof runners futile against such depths.
View from our hotel window; their was no getting around that!
If you haven't put it together yet, the siren is the cities method of alerting citizens of the upcoming raise in tides. Probably somethig that would have been useful to know before we went.
In an unfirtunate turn of circumsances, the siren sounded again the next day, however, we were traipsing around Murano, Burano, and Torcello so were once again caught unprepared.
I have researched various sites on this phenomenon and many have said it happens maybe once or twice a year, but the fact it happened twice in our stay, I imagine it is more often then that.

Saturday, June 24, 2017


Venice! Swamp to merchant capital of the Mediteranean. 118 islands joined by foot bridges and ferry lines. A city's worth of tourists every day to become engrossed and lost in its maze of footpaths and canals and for one week in the summer of 2016, Gemma and I joined them.
Baiky snags a summer spritz.
We never intended to stay there for the entirety of our trip. the previous year we spent nine days in Nice (can't find the photos so no blog post), which was nice, but a little stagnating. When we arrived in Venice we had only booked our hotel for three night and we intended to stay in nearby cities for the remainder of our holiday. But Venice is a place like no other.
Venice: non-stagnating
If I followed our every minute activity this post would go on forever, but it truly was fascinating. No cars, just boats and gondolers; winding lanes so narrow that barely one person can squeeze down;
A venetian highway.
everywhere you turn toursits, tourists, and more god-awful tourists (yes, I realise the irony); and then at 4:00am, poof, like magic, everyone is gone and Venice becomes a ghost town devoid of sound but for the gentle lapping of waves.
This was taken at about 5:30 in the morning. At any time past 8am hundreds of people would be crowded around the statue and traversing the street. This, buy the way, is the secret to good photos in Venice...
It was chock full of surprises. Despite the buildings appearing to be tiny, our first hotel room was massive. Everywhere you turn there was massive church or cathedral (not surprising) that had been turned into an alternate use or museum (hugely surprising).
Also surprising, the huge glass replica of puffer fish.
And it was built on top of a swamp. By chance (not really by chance, the main tourist area of Venice is not that big; we were bound to find out about it) we came across a carthedral converted into a Leonardo da Vinci 'musem'. They had hand's on scale models of da Vinci models and inventions. It was like Questacon, if it had been designed in the 1400s.
We stumbled across a Zaha Hadid exhibition, an influential architect whom Gemma likes. We saw to the Interpreti Veneziani play Vivaldi. We travelled out to colourful islands of Murano and Burano and traipsed around Torcello (I decided we should move to Torcello but thought it would be too boring).
Murano and Burano were both like this, I admire the dedication at keeping the paint so bright!
We sipped Spritz in the sun. We marvelled at how pure stillness of the canals in early morning perfectly reflected its surroundings.
Reflections in the canals.
We climbed St Marks Tower and went to the Basilica where we made all the requisite ohhs and ahhhs. And yes, we got stuck in Acqua Alta. Twice. Its alright though, my shoes are waterproof.
No story to thsi photo, dad just gets annoyed if I do no have a picturen of me in a blog post.
All in all it was a good trip, and while I enjoyed myself Gemma absolutely adored the place. After being there we would love to return, but I also feel strongly for the locals and how the sheer volume of tourists is impacting the true spirit of Venice. We might return and we also might not as Europe still has a lot to offer.
Gemma and I indulging in a selfie.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Lake District

Pretty much exactly 12 months Gemma and I decided to spend the May Day long weekend in The Lakes District, a National Park in the Cumbria. It is famous for it's glacial ribbon lakes and rugged fell mountains. Now, I am not going to lie, I still haven't the foggiest what a fell actually is but it seems to have something to do with moutainous...
Mountains! In the Lake District! With Snow! (which makes me question why we came here...)
As with our stay in the Peaks District 12 months prior, we decided to camp. Unfortunately, the May Day weekends have not poduced weather that is particularly accommodating to our plans. On this occassion, the rain was so thick on the Friday evening that halfway to the Lakes we decided it was probably best to head back home and try again early on Saturday morning!
Gemma and Baiky on a bridge across over the Micklden Beck. Why they just can't call a creek a creek I do not know.
The next day dawned considerably dryer and much brighter, even if our campsite in the Great Langdale was a sodden mess. We set up camp and proceeded to check out the local walks. I was pretty keen to make my way to the top of Scafell Pike, the highest peak in England, but first Gemma and I wanted to walk up to the Stickle Tarn, a nearby glacial lake.
Gemma dn I stop for a bit to eat on our way up to the Tarn.
The view of the area was pretty amazing from the Tarn, and it was here I decided to take the scenic route home and run back over the Lagdale Pikes (I think a pike is a rocky outcrop in the top of a peak, in the end, they always have amazing views).
The stickle Tarn.
I scrambled my way to the top of all the pikes. I kinbd of got stuck on the Pike of Stickle as it was a tough scramble to get to the top and didn't really know how I was going to get down. I then caught up to some adventourous runners who were prepping for the 10 peaks challenge (cheats were using GPS) for a bit of company across the Martcrag Moor. They took a route off the beaten path and we pretty much immediately fell knee deep into a quagmire, which hampered our progress. After which they pointed my towards to Cumbria walking path where I ran as hard as I could back to the pub to catch up with Gemma's drinking.
This is where I got stuck. The trekkers at the foot of this rock heap were of no help either.
Sunday dawned soaked in clouded misery so we drove to some nearby towns Grassmere, Ambleside, and Windermere. Grassmere hosts the founder of Grassmere gingerbread, which has stayed in the family since 1854 and is widely known throught the UK. It also is the resting place of William Wordsworth (at the local church, not the gingerbread bakery).
Another photo of Baiky and the Stickle Tarn, because I just didn't take that many photos.
Ambleside is home to the Applice Pie Cafe and Bakery where I indulged in my favourite dessert, the humble apple pie! We got to Windermere just as it was closing and spent our time on the lake.

This is looking back across Sticle Tarn and over the Great Langdale. Our campsit is somewhere down there. 
Finally Monday rolled around and I rose bright eyed and bushy tailed ready to make my run to Scafell Pike, only to be greeted by fog so thick I could barely see the map in my own hand. Reason won out over desire and I decided not to go on a run through unfamiliar territory with no visibility and so Gemma and I packed our car and sludged our way out of the Lakes, with Scafell's untouched peak beckoning me back for another trip...
 View from the top of the highest point I made it too.