Carolyn and I did a second tour in England and France in August 1991. Oddly enough, even though this was not as long ago as our first tour, our memory of this one is fuzzier – after our first tour we made a photo album with captions that refreshed those memories. On the second tour, we did not and those memories faded with time. That’s one of the reasons I’m so enthusiastic about blogging on our ‘57 ride – it will keep the memories fresh.
For our second tour we planned to do the southern coast of England – we heard it was a popular vacation area and thought that it would be fun to take a ferry over to France and try touring in a non-English speaking country without actually committing the whole tour to it.
The only specific stop we had planned was to visit Arundel castle because a friend had said it was nice. We had no plans beyond that at all!
We left home on Saturday night and landed Sunday morning at Gatwick airport. We decided on Gatwick to avoid the problem we had the previous tour with the tube to London – Gatwick is both an airport and a train station. After reassembling the bicycles, we took a train to Chichester – it seemed like a reasonable place on the coast, and only ten miles from Arundel. We were not planning a big day because we knew to expect jet-lag from the flight.
We thought we had the train all figured out this time, but got on a car where bikes weren’t allowed and had to change cars at the next stop. The stop was so short we almost missed getting back on. Sigh.
When we arrived in Chichester we realized that had no idea what we wanted to do next. It was still early in the morning but we were tired and cranky and everything was a bit of an argument. We decided to Chichester cathedral but we couldn’t get in. We just walked around the area, relaxed and played with a friendly calico cat.
We called ahead to Arundel and made a reservation for the evening. With the jet lag, just riding the ten miles there wiped us out pretty thoroughly. We visited Arundel castle (which had a nice display of arms and armor), checked into the B&B, showered, and walked into town to find a restaurant. Because it was Sunday night there was only one restaurant open, but it turned out to be quite good.
On Monday we woke up late and almost missed breakfast. We went to the Wildfowl trust and saw lots of birds (Carolyn loves birds!). We rode south to Little Hampton, through East Brighton and Hone which were cities with lots of traffic. Brighton looked like a more civilized Coney Island. We stopped for chips and soda then were back on the road.
We found a nice bike path along the water, we got off in Peacehaven and continued on through Newhaven into Seaford – pretty town, big enough to find a place to eat a good meal, but we felt like we hadn’t gone far enough for the day and decided to continue on. We saw a sign for a zoo about four miles off route (Carolyn loves zoos!) so we decided to go there and then go back to Seaford for the evening. The road to the zoo was seriously hilly and we ended up giving up and heading back to town without ever actually getting there (I think it was at Drusilla’s Park).
When we got back to Seaford we could not find a B&B – we ended up at the tourist office and they found us a place – that was a hint of things to come. We showered and walked to town where we looked for a topographical map so we could avoid the hill problem. We couldn’t find one in the local bookstores and gave up. We stopped in a pub for a drink then had dinner at a nice Indian restaurant.
Tuesday we rode to Canterbury, a really scenic and historic area. Again we had a hard time finding a place to stay, so once we found a hotel, we decided to stay in Canterbury for a few days, doing daytrips to tour the area. The hotel was just down the street from Canterbury Cathedral which is a beautiful building.
On Wednesday we rode out to Woodchurch to see a Falconry display (did I say that Carolyn likes birds?).
On Thursday, we decided to check out the English shore, so we checked out of the hotel and headed to Margate. Along the way we found and took a picture of the classic “Ham Sandwich” street signs (this one is not our photo, I can’t find that one).
As it turns out Margate and the surrounding areas are where Londoners go to vacation at the beach. At the time, it was just a bit on the tacky side, a little run down at the edges. We were tired so we decided to look for a hotel. Unfortunately, the first hotel we found that had room was not clean. We asked to see the room before checking in and found someone else’s underwear hanging in the bathroom – so even though we were tired we decided not to stay there.
We continued on and ended up at Broadstairs, a really nice town with a lot of history associated with Charles Dickens (the Dickens House Museum is there). We were wiped out and walked to a park to relax – turns out they were having an American square dancing festival and we got to enjoy watching everyone giving it a try. It was a very nice ending to a not-so-nice day.
On Friday, we rode to Dover and discovered the white cliffs. Neither of us had really thought about that phrase “white cliffs” – in hindsight, it was obvious that it was a long way downhill to the shore. This was driven home when we (ok, when “I”) took a wrong turn and ended up going way, way downhill into St. Margaret’s Bay. St. Margaret’s Bay is in its own little pocket of the shore – the only way to Dover was back up the really steep hill and both Carolyn and I ended up walking our bikes up the $#&#! hill. From Dover we took the hovercraft to Calais which was quite fun. We rode up the coast to Dunkerque where after a lot of searching we found a hotel for the night. Again we decided that since it was hard to find a place, we’d stay for a couple of nights.
On Saturday, we were a bit tired and decided to be unambitious so we rode to Belgium and back just because it seemed like fun to visit yet another country. I really don’t remember how far along the coast we went, but I do remember Carolyn having Moule-frites (mussels) for lunch at a very nice place on the shore that would take whatever kind of currency we had (this was before the EU and the Euro).
Sunday was this tour’s day from hell. We did not count on all the stores and restaurants being closed. It was hot and we ran out of water. We discovered there is a mini mountain range separating Dunkerque and our destination, Boulogne-Sur-Mer. I don’t remember the route very well, but I do have some vivid memories: getting lost, riding a road that just faded out from under us, joking about buying some concrete lawn art, deciding we were going the right way because we were riding up a mountain into the wind, getting to the top of the mountain and having the clouds break open and the sun shine over the countryside, riding down a mountain with the wind so strong that I was in my lowest gear and Carolyn was drafting behind me (she never does that!), watching birds flying backwards. We finally found a convenience store where we had liverwurst on crackers and thought it was the best thing we’d ever eaten.
When we finally got to Boulogne-Sur-Mer we starting looking for a place to spend the night. We stopped in every hotel and B&B we saw and they were all booked full. We continued downhill through town finding nowhere to stay (this side of the channel is also something of a cliff). The tourist office was on the shore, at the bottom of the hill, and they found us a place – fifteen miles back up that $*#% hill.
We moped around a bit trying to figure out what we were going to do. We decided that if we were going to sleep on the beach, we’d take the ferry back to England so that when the cops roust us they would speak English. We took the ferry to Folkestone, and wonder of wonders there was a nice, somewhat fancy hotel with an available room. They weren’t going to let us take our bikes up the elevator to the room, but relented when they realized there was no good place to lock them up for the night.
Monday we decided was going to be a no biking rest day. We left the bikes in the hotel room and took the ferry back to Boulogne-Sur-Mer and wandered around eating pastries, drinking wine and beer and just having a wonderful time not riding our bikes. At the end of the day, we took the ferry back to Folkestone. We were both thrilled to be off the bikes after the previous day’s adventures.
Oddly enough, neither Carolyn nor I remember what happened after that. I seems that we did get home eventually. I do remember one incident where we were going down into a valley and right at the bottom was a small car that was upside down (no one was hurt). We stopped and helped flip the car back upright. I was struggling up the other side and it took forever to realize that I was still in my big chain ring. Occasionally Carolyn will still tease me about that (“are you sure you’re in the right gear?”).