Monday, December 11, 2017

Loughborough in Snow

The first snows of the winter came early this year. Gemma and I went for a frolic down to the Swan Pond.
 Our backyard under snow.
 Our front flower patch.
Much to my surprise the ducks and swans were still in the pond. Pop culture has tught me that birds flew south for the winter; I guess this does not refer to water fowl.

 Swans were as intrigued as we were
There was a pretty big difference in quality between Gemma and mine's phone camera. I'll let you pick which was which.
 The canal by the north fields.
Traffic lights lightly dusted
I took a photo of the swan pond from the bridge not realising that mum had taken the exact same photo 18 months ago.
Swan Pond under snow
This time wearing its spring best
One Happy Gatty after a frolic in the snow (and a self induced snow flurry).
I'm sooooo excited!!!

A short interlude to the Cornwall Challenge

So, a new day dawned and here I was in Tintagel after two gruelling days of cycling. My eyes cracked open and I my ears ears were greeted with the howling Cornish winds. Despite the early morning my intellect kicked into gear and I immediately realised I was faced with two mutually exclusive prospects:

1. Battle the hills and wind in an early morning epic duel of man and mechanical machine Vs the elements as I succeed strived to maintain my strict structure and schedule.
2. Yawn, rollover, sleep. If I wait it out the hills and wind will be someone else's problem (also known as fuck the future self philosophy; popularised by the great philosopher Seinfeld and renamed by the even greater Joel Hallinan).
I will not tell you which I chose, but instead, I will let you, our intrepid reader, deduce for yourself the decision I took based on the clues below!

Baiky stares out over the Celtic Sea
Camelot Castle Hotel - at this stage I think they're just milking it.
Crazy paint job
The ruins of the castle Tintagel controversly claims could be Camelot
King Arthur sculpture
Merlin's Cave
The old post office, sadly no longer functioning in its post duties
A performance based on the young Merlin
The Cornish Coast
A view of Tintagel from the cliffs

Sunday, November 19, 2017

My Cornwall Challenge: Part 2

The day dawned bright and sunny, and before all the other campers had stirred u had packed my tent, loaded my bike and was slowly making my way back up the steep hill out of cloud farm. Today's destination was Tintagel, a seaside town that claimed to be the location of Camelot.
Malmshead - lovely in the morning.
My journey started by finding by I heading southwest out of Exmoor National Park stopping briefly to admire the calmness of the quaint hamlet Malmshead and the views from Kinsford Hill. I shortly found myself in Barnstaple, known as one of the oldest Borough's in the UK.
The museum in Barnstaple
Here I picked up the National Cycle Route 3 onec again and followed a super bike path called the South West Coast Path to Bideford before taking the Great Torrington Train Line (now a bike path too!) towards Little Torrington.
The Beam aqueduct
The Train Line is a really well used route, and their were tonnes of tourists out cycling and walking and heaps of cycling cafes. I stopped off at one I thought mum would approve for a quick bite to eat and top up my water. The train line itself had long stretches of dirt path that was actually not too pleasant for a loaded up bike, particularly as it was predominatly up hill.
This one is for you mum!
At around Little Torrington I cut more west aiming for Holsworthy, by now I was mostly surrounded by farmland. At one point between Berry Cross and Shebbear on a tiny narrow road I couldn't help but laugh as I witnessed a trio of cars stuck behind five or six slowly moving cows that were taking up the road. My laughter caught in my throat, however, as I realised that the about 4 tonne of bovine was being herded by the vehicles towards itty bitty me and I had nowehere to hide.
Look out: cats and dogs? not too sure what his sign meant, but Baiky had to get involved!
Then the cows caught site of me, on my lonesome, pedalling implacably towards them and in the pure poo inducing terror that only a Gatt on a bike can inspire, the six cows abruptly stopped did a U-bolt, and charged back towards the (apparently) less menacing cars. The cows squeezed around the cars and continued to flee from me, emptying their bowels as they ran. Finally they found what I hop was their field and ducked off the road. I cycled on.
The bulls in Spain would be ashamed of this.
By this stage I had been cycling uphill for what seemed like 40 miles. I ran out of water at one stage and had to ask a some friendly locals to top me up just around Holsworthy. I soldiered on thorugh to Titson and braced myself for the final 15 mile slog uphill. Once again the final 5 miles or so were a lovely downhill where I could cruise to my destination, and always at the back of mind the niggling thought -"how the hell am I going to get back out of here again?"
Well, I found camelot. Not too sure what all these historians are arguing about. It looks like a castle and its in Tintagel. Case closed.

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 day 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?