Josie Dew

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DOWN THE DOWNS LINK WAY. New year’s cycling and pram-pushing jaunt 2019

Post Boxing Day I felt it was high time to head off on a mini adventure with Daisy and Jack to try and give them a good burst of fresh air before school started again the following week (Molly, being on the brink of teenage-hood opted to see friends and go shopping and visit Nanny Val in Dorset with Gary). The plan was to catch a train to Guildford but then engineering works scuppered that idea as the bus service that South West trains laid on didn’t allow bikes, which meant that any cyclist catching the train from Portsmouth to London got usefully kicked out at Haslemere and left to their own devices. Anyway, had the bus allowed bikes, it would have taken a hefty hour and a half to get to Guildford (usually 20 minutes on the train) as I think it was going via Boggy Bottom or Nether Wallop or Upton Snodsbury (yes, all real places) or somewhere like that.

So, action stations Gary! With bikes and prams we piled into the army camper and tallyho’ed up the A3 where, to avoid getting caught in the gridlock of Guildford, he jettisoned us into the grey, late December murk near Shalford, which roughly was the start of the Downs Link.

We’re off. Speeding across the first bridge by the River Wey.

The Downs Link is a 40-odd mile bridleway following the old railway and connects the North Downs Way and the South Downs Way before continuing to the coast at Shoreham-by-Sea. The northern part of the railway line ran from Guildford to Christ’s Hospital and opened in 1865, and the southern part went from Itchingfield Junction (near Christ’s Hospital) to Shoreham-by-Sea and opened in 1861. Trains took 50 minutes to traverse the route, with 6-8 trains a day stopping at Bramley & Wonersh, Cranleigh, Baynards, Rudgwick, Slinfold, Christ’s Hospital, and Horsham, among other stations. Thanks to the Beeching rail cuts both of these useful and lovely routes were closed in the 1960s. As a result this old route is commonly known as the Hundred Years Railway.

Waiting at Bramley and Wonersh station for a train that will never come.

My plan of action was to follow this old railway all the way to the sea. Although Jack can ride a bike he wanted to take his hobby horse-like balance bike as he likes doing tricks on it. Daisy rode her bike while I walked and ran and pushed a fourth-hand pram loaded with essential clobber – most of it edible. It also provided a seat for Jack should his 5-year-old legs give up the ghost, though in the event he only used it once for a quick sleepy flop mid-afternoon south of Southwater.

Old railway bridge near Cranleigh.

More bridges.

Tunnel bridge.

Graffiti bridge.

Helmets. heads and ears. Bridge art.

This way, that way, t’other way. The emblem for the Downs Link is the double bridge emblem, second from top.

As demonstrated by Jack here.

And here’s the double bridge. The brick bridge was built in 1865 to allow trains to cross the River Arun. But as the railway inspectors then decided that the gradient was too steep to reach nearby Rudgwick station, the embankments were raised and a second bridge (an iron girder one) was built over the original brick archway.

With the added excitement of old railways and canals (the Wey and Arun) the whole route was incredibly interesting and very fun. Slowly, we passed from the North Downs through the High Weald, Low Weald, the Greensand Ridge, Clay Vale, the South Downs before emerging through the Shoreham Gap to reach the sea. We then sped along the lovely seaside bike paths from Brighton to Worthing.

Quite a lot of the route was muddy and boggy which Jack was very happy with. A favourite pursuit was to charge full pelt into large puddles to form bow waves.

Daisy about to take a nose-dive.

Old railway path near Rudgwick.

A rare hill.

Me in pram-pushing action up steep slippery bit. The route takes a diversion from the old railway at Baynards station to bypass the old railway tunnel which has been boarded off.

A handy picnic perch south of Cranleigh.

Handy tree perch.

Dilemma spot. Daisy eyeing up a steep hill to fun/roll/fall down.

Trying out some different flavoured bikes in Southwater.

The rare moment when Jack’s legs went on strike and he decided he needed to flop.

We were away a week and with multiple diversions to find food and places to sleep we did 73 miles altogether. The longest day was 14 miles and 2 days were 13 miles but surprisingly Jack didn’t once ask for a rest in the pram on any one of those days. Strangely for us we had no storms or floods or record-breaking awful weather. For 5 days of leaden-grey skies it was oddly dry and strangely unseasonably warm.  Near Shoreham we had our first and only rain – about five-and-a-half drops. And then it stopped. The last 2 days were sunny but very cold and Daisy in particular suffered from frozen toes and fingers despite multiple socks and thick gloves. To combat this we had to keep stopping so I could blow on her extremities and to join her with an assortment of star jumps to get the circulation circulating.

That man on the bike would once have been a train. West Grinstead old station.

Signalman Jack in action.

The worst bits of the route were on the small occasions we had to encounter motorized traffic (the trail disappears around Christ’s Hospital so we had to join some country lanes for a bit where vehicles passed too fast too close) and cross a handful of busy A-roads with drivers charging along, many on their mobile phones. The only way get across the road safely was to wait at the side of the road long enough for a considerate driver to notice us and stop and flash their lights for us to cross which would then stop a vehicle in the opposite direction.

The only other problem was darkness falling at four. This meant that I had to keep the pace up so we could find lodgings before we were cocooned in blackness. Twice we failed in this but we had good bike lights and head torches which only added to the excitement and uncertainty of the whole event. Anway, we got to stay with some interesting people: an artistic vet, a musical director and an 89-year-old squash coach to name a few.

Approaching the South Downs we had our first bit of sun.

Progress though was often precariously slow. We had multiple stops for food (they were constantly hungry), wees, stone-collecting, mud-stamping, puddle-stomping, river-damming, stick-throwing and tree-climbing (my health and safety rules were particularly thin on the ground) – they climbed trees as high as houses. To keep morale high we had good sing-songs as we wound our way along. As we were only just fresh out of Christmas firm favourites were festive carols with slight revamping of some words: ‘The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came….Most highly flavoured gravy. Glor-or-or-or-ria!’

On the banks of the River Adur.

Crossing the Adur.

Jack came out with some thought-provoking thoughts too. One day, near Rudwick, Jack said, ‘Mummy?’

‘Yes, Jack’.

‘Mummy?’ (He usually says ‘mummy’ a few times to make sure I’m paying attention). ‘Mummy? Mum? Do you not either know what I was thinking about then?’

‘No. No idea Jack. I was a bit busy dragging this load up the hill. What were you thinking about young laddie?’

‘I was thinking I was that I would like to be borned a giraffe coz then my head would be as high as a house tall and I could see ages.’

‘What? Like the Middle Ages?’ I said to confuse matters. And then our deep and historical and exotic African animal-based conversation was interrupted by a dog walker who looked like he had his head on upside down (he had a big beard and a bald head). He looked us grubby muddy threesome up and down and then said, ‘By golly! You got enough bags on there?’

To which I always say, ‘You can never have enough bags on board – especially when half of them contain food!’

He then wanted to know what we were doing so I told him we were spending several days walking and cycling the Downs Link. It turned out that although he had lived here for 12 years he had never realised the Downs Link linked the Downs so it was nice to give him a little bit of historical background chit-chat so that he could better appreciate the railway relevance of his daily dog-walking hot-spot. ‘Well I never!’ he said before giving me a hearty pat on my back and then we continued on our separate ways.

Beneath the roaring A27. I’m glad we’re down here and not up there.

Birds, bikes and rivers. Near Shoreham.

Bike path near Worthing.

Worthing beach.

Shoreham-by-Sea station. Waiting for the train home.

 

 

 

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6 WHEELS 2 BIKES AND 4 RIDERS AROUND HOLLAND. SUMMER 2018.

A few hours before school reopened for the Autumn term I was floating across the North Sea with Molly and Daisy and Jack. We were on our way home from the Netherlands where we had just spent 5 weeks cycling 410 miles around this lovely land of dykes and bikes.  Holland was the first foreign country I ever cycled in (back in 1985 on my way to Africa) and since then I have ridden over 4000 miles across this beautiful wind-raked flat low land as my wheels keep returning there again and again.

We’re off! Cycling across the port of Harwich.

In line waiting to board.

Entering the giant jaws of the ferry.

On board. Jack trying out the porthole for size.

Earlier this year mum’s Geordie friend from Newcastle (who is very into family histories) delved into mum’s past and found out that she has Dutch ancestors who in 1656 emigrated from Texel (a little wind-blasted island that lies just north of Den Helder) to the equally flat land of the American prairies (I have 5 generations of dead relatives lying in a cemetery in Normal, Illinois). These Dutch relations had the surname ‘van der Hoff’ which is good to know as I like vans (camper vans, transit vans, Dutch vans – my best Dutch friend is a van der Leest). So with my van der Hoff ancestry maybe it’s no wonder I love cycling so much – I’ve got Dutch clogs and windmills wedged in my blood.

Arrival! Feet and wheels have landed on Dutch soil.

This year’s cycling line-up was 11-year-old Molly (who turned 12 in Noordwijkerhout) riding her own bike, while 8-year-old Daisy and 4-year-old Jack (who turned 5 in Egmond aan Zee) and the-wrong-side-of-50-me rode the triple-whammy 14-foot-long school-run mount. Loaded down with full camping regalia the weight of this unsteady behemoth bike-contraption was a bit silly and cycling it felt on the verge of impossible. But not impossible enough not to do it. Even if I did have a large inflatable crocodile strapped on my rear. Essential travel kit (according to the younger pedalling party) for bouncing over the breaking waves of the cold jellyfish-riddled North Sea. On a beach near De Koog on the island of Texel I regally launched our large reptile into the sea and thereby declared it named Gary – our 5th member of our Dutch-land cycling team (the real Gary we’d left back at base camp in England as he had been a bit busy with work – and engine-tinkering – to join us).

Straight off the ferry we were confronted with bike paths like this – smooth, straight car-less wonders (the one of the left is for walkers).

Paths so smooth and quiet you can even sleep on them very comfortably (Jack did).

This bike path is this wide. And it’s all ours.

This one was good for running races.

This one is as wide as the M25 and good for North Sea wave spray.

This one is good for balancing tricks.

This one ended in a ride on a ferry across the Noordzeekanaal.

This one south of Zandvoort came with passing cyclists.

This one near Noordwijkerhout was hot.

This one south of Ijmuiden might make you say, ‘Oh snow! Is that snow?’ To which I’d say, ‘Snow way! It’s sand! (And Daisy’s shadow).

This one near Den Helder comes with a lighthouse.

This one near Juliandorp came like most Dutch bike paths come, with useful detailed bike-path maps.

This one came with the touch-and-feel seaside option.

This one had more snow-like sand.

There’s that lighthouse again. This one was so fun we went back to do it again.

This one came with woods attached.

This one near Bergen aan Zee came with undulating dunes.

As for weather, we had everything hurled at us. First it was too hot (mid-30s heatwave) then it was too wet – storm after explosive storm with biblical rain that drummed on the tent so loud we had to shout to each other to be heard. Then we got caught in a hail storm that resulted in hail-drifts and floods. It was barmy – after sweating away in the tent for two weeks dreaming of cold we were suddenly freezing and dreaming of heat. Didn’t put us off wanting to live there though.

A lot of the time though the weather was cloudless like this…

…or with a few puffy clouds like this – perfect for launching Gary-the-inflatable-crocodile into the North Sea. (Though the frisky currents weren’t so handy).

But sometimes, to hit the steamy air on the head, we had black monster clouds like this impinging upon our seaside frolics which sometimes resulted in this…

…turning it from hot to arctic within a matter of minutes.

It made good hailstone balls though.

And the white stuff around our tent gave camping an interesting edge.

But whatever the weather the birthdays always went down a treat.  Here’s Birthday Boy Jack in present-opening action.

And here’s Birthday Girl Molly about to launch into her packable, foldable, stowable gifts.

And here’s Molly’s packable foldable birthday cake.

In Noordvijkerhout’s Dirk supermarket Jack kicked up a bit of a commotion as he wanted a big furry cuddly ostrich the size of a kangaroo that was for sale. I said no – because for one thing it was expensive and for another there was no room on board due to Gary-the-Crocodile filling the last space.  To calm the scene I spotted a pink mop head for sale and for only 1 Euro who could say no? I couldn’t. I felt it would not only help to clean up around the tent but double up as fetching headwear. Jack wore it for the rest of the holiday. He got a few odd looks though.

Hoek van Holland. Our last hour on Dutch soil/sand.

Harwich! Fresh off the ferry and onto Gary (the real one).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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At school one minute – on the Salterns Way the next. Summer 2018.

School classrooms are hot places to sit in a summer heatwave and last summer it was the hottest summer ever for England. So as often as possible I packed the panniers, oiled the chains and took off to the sea with offspring in tow. Here are the pictures of one short jaunt I went on with Molly (11), Daisy (8) and Jack (4). Following the mostly off-road Salterns Way we cycled around Bosham Harbour, crammed ourselves on the small Itchenor ferry and rode to the Witterings and on to Bracklesham Bay, Pagham Harbour and Chichester.

Daisy poised for action Bosham Harbour.

Waiting for the Itchenor passenger ferry .

All aboard. We are the only passengers.

Fresh off the ferry and hoping the bikes (or the young’uns) don’t fall off the pitching pontoon.

Ready to catch Jack. And that’s Daisy’s finger top right!

In full cycling swing.

This may look like a lovely shimmering lake but it’s actually a field full of plastic.

Taking a breather west of Shipton Green with not a car in sight.

Daisy’s going this way, Jack’s going that way and I’m trying to go the right way.

When life on the road becomes too much at least there is always the trailer for flopping into.

Though these days it’s a bit of a tight squeeze.

Bracklesham Bay.

A misty Pagham Harbour.

A bit bumpy this part but at least I’ve got some helium balloons on board to act as stabilizers.

The unwieldy bike-train.

This is the life. Chichester Harbour.

Sunset. Lights on. Time to head for home.

 

 

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DEVON COAST TO COAST BY BIKE, PRAM AND FOOT. EASTER 2018

Here, not before time, is the where, when, why, who with and what happened on Devon’s Sea to Sea cycling and pram-pushing mission that I went pram-pushing on last Easter.

 

WHERE?

The Devon Coast to Coast. Created by Sustrans (the sustainable transport charity). It?s a beautiful and often very hilly route that runs from Ilfracombe on the north Devon coast to Plymouth in the south. The direct route is about 100 miles long but with diversions for lodgings, food and daily veering off to look at interesting things we did 138 miles. Over half the route is along disused railway lines and includes the Tarka Trail, the Granite Way and Drake?s (Francis!)Trail. The rest of the way uses generally quiet country lanes and bridleways.

 

WHO PUSHED, WALKED, OR RODE WHAT?

Molly (11) walked, Daisy (7) rode her bike and Jack (4) scooted along on his bike (we had to take the pedals off his pedal bike as he wanted to scoot (as opposed to pedal) along on two wheels from coast to coast). ?I pushed a 4th-hand pram loaded to the gunwales with kit and which provided a handy seat for Jack when he needed his afternoon siesta. To prevent the pram collapsing under the sheer weight of the bags and bodies that flopped across it Gary ?reinforced the pram with welded bits of metal. At my request he has also attached one of my old kitchen chopping boards to the pram which acts as a handy footplate for Jack to rest his feet and to attach an extra bag.

HOW LONG?

We walked/cycled/scooted/pushed/pulled and heaved our way from north to south Devon for 12.5 days averaging 11 miles a day.

Waiting for the train at Yeovil Junction to take us to Exeter St Davids.

Waiting for the train at Exeter St Davids to take us to Barnstaple.

Arriving on Easter Sunday in Ilfracombe (the start of the Devon C2C) in very atmospheric torrential rain.

WEATHER?

Highly unpredictable! Snow was forecast for Easter so I packed my survival shelter lest we got caught out in a wayward snowdrift on the barren ruggedness of Dartmoor. A survival shelter is a big bright orange lightweight waterproof bag-thing (with a porthole!) that can fit 4 people and kit in and, when held to the ground with body weight and bags, forms a microclimate ? useful if you feel hypothermia setting in. Luckily the snow never materialized but we had storms, torrential rain, heavy rain, medium rain and spitty-spotty rain. We had high winds, low winds, gusty winds and trying-to-push-us-over winds. We had high cloud, low cloud and very low cloud (fog!). On top of all this we amazingly found some sun. And very welcome it was too.

HOW DID WE GET TO THE START (ILFRACOMBE)?

On Easter Eve I crammed all bikes, bags, pram and offspring into the camper van and then Gary gave us a lift to Blandford in Dorset where his mum lives in a sheltered housing complex where we were to sleep for Night No.1 on the floor of a cramped room in the nurses? quarters. This was not a good night for two reasons. Firstly Nanny Val had failed to tell us that a serious diarrhoea and vomiting had broken out among the inmates of this complex (on arrival we discovered a big sign at the door advising all visitors to keep away due to the stomach/bottom-churning bug. By then it was too late so we had to stay). Then just as Jack and the girls had gone off to sleep a police helicopter hovered outside our window which of course awakened my brood. There then followed an air ambulance flying low and loud past our window to land at the hospital next door. Half an hour later it took off and racketed past. Result: a good night for excitement levels, but not for sleep.

From Blandford, Gary gave us a lift 40 minutes west-north-west to Yeovil Junction where we crammed all our wheels and clobber onto a train to Exeter St. Davids. There we changed onto a little bumpy train to Barnstaple. The bus that should have transported us to Ilfracombe was able to take the bulging pram and Jack?s mini bike but refused to take Daisy?s bike because although it?s not a fully grown bike it still looked too much like a bike for the bus company so we were refused entry ?(the joys of Britain?s integrated transport!). So a money-eating taxi it had to be. Being Easter Sunday most taxi firms in this neck of the woods had shut up shop to eat Easter lunch. But I did strike lucky and find a taxi company run by three men called Gary, Stumpy and Chunky. Stumpy turned up with a well-used and small (for our amount of prams, bikes and bags) VW Touran but by way of some ingenious dissection of wheels and steeds I managed to pack the whole lot in with not a millimetre to spare. Jack and the girls found a small space to huddle in the back in a slightly illegal fashion while I sat in the front with garrulous and strong-Devon accented Stumpy who gave me a taster of his colourful life story (which includes being hurled into a Spanish jail).

Jack in the rain studying watery hillside south of Ilfracombe.

Still raining! Woolacombe and Morte Bay – looking south.

Woolacombe’s lovely whatever the weather (it’s raining) – looking north.

WHERE DID WE SLEEP?

Mostly in bed-and-breakfasts. Some were good. Some were not so good. In one we had to share the toileting facilities with a very rotund ship-builder who never put the seat down. Aaaaghhh! His snoring was phenomenal too.

Molly and Daisy having a farm gate sit-down. Jack’s snuggled in pram and asleep. Country lane south of Georgeham.

WHAT DID THE LOCALS MAKE OF OUR OVER-LOADED PRAM-PUSHING ROAD-TRAIN?

Some were intrigued, some were dumb-founded, some were amazed. And all were incredibly friendly. Some were so generous they would walk or drive past us, head off to their home or a shop to stock up on food and drinks before backtracking to find us and shower us with their goods.

A Molly-made photo during a lunch stop.

Hmmm. Jack seems to be asleep again. Path alongside River Taw.

Molly and Daisy limbering up (before falling off the wall) on the north side of the River Taw near Barnstaple.

On the sunny south side of the River Taw.

Alongside the River Torridge near Bideford.

Feeling happy we’re down here on the quiet scenic riverside bike path and not up there on the noisy A39!

View of Bideford with large tidal mudflats.

Bikes in Bideford mud flats. Luckily not ours!

 

Fancy bench erection near Great Torrington.

Jack and the girls emerging from an old railway tunnel south of Great Torrington.

Snooze time for Jack south of East Yarde.

Sunny warmish moment between the wet near Sheepwash.

Another steep hill near Totleigh Barton.

 

The effects of a steep hill near Hatherleigh.

HOW DID JACK AND THE GIRLS COPE WITH THE ARDUOUSNESS OF THE TERRAIN?

Daisy flew along on her bike on the flat bits but struggled with the copious hills (many were near-vertical). Jack bounced and crashed his way through and up everything in his path with boyish enthusiasm and energy before flopping for an afternoon siesta in the pram. The biggest surprise was Molly. Back home, sometimes just trying to get her outside to sniff the air is a battle beyond belief but here she managed to walk 12 miles in wellies up and down dale in the rain without complaint. Mind you, it did help having a constant fuel supply of Fox Glacier Mints, twisted helix marshmallow Flumps and stale donuts on tap.

All aboard the Hatherleigh shepherding sculpture.

Daisy wondering what on earth Molly is doing sitting in the road in the pouring rain…

…before deciding it looked liked a good idea. Rainbathing!

Admiring Meldon Viaduct (south of Okehampton) from down here.

And riding along it up here.

 

A wooden Daisy.

Edge of Dartmoor near East Tor.

 

Lydford Castle.

 

Up and up near Mary Tavy.

 

Where there’s a puddle there’s a Jack. Near beautiful Brent Tor.

High up looking out over Dartmoor.

 

Daisy getting a fine swinging view of the impressive multi-million pound traffic-free Gem Bridge south of Tavistock.

Top spot for picnic stop.

More long dark dripping tunnels.

Plymouth! And the not-so-lovely A38 careering over our heads.

More Plymouth – the end is nigh!

Plymouth railway station and about to board the train home with our not-very-easy-to-stow pram, bikes and clobber.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2 BIKES, 1 PUSHCHAIR AND A SUNNY AND RAINY AND MUDDY SOLENT WAY (Part 2) February half term 2018

Daisy and Jack waiting for the train to New Milton (near Milford on Sea) with a pile of bikes and pram to cram into a carriage.

In February half term I set off on another wet and windy cycling and pram-pushing mission with Jack and Daisy (Molly saw sense and opted to see her friends and stay the week with gran; Gary made sure he was working to save being dragged along for the ride). This was Part 2 of The Solent Way (a long-distance coastal walking route that stretches from Milford-on-Sea to Emsworth Harbour). On New Year?s Day our cycling and pram-pushing threesome had set out on Part 1 of the Solent Way. Jack and Daisy rode their trusty steeds while I pushed and pulled and dragged and carried our 4th-hand pram which acted as a glorified shopping trolley to carry food and clobber and sleeping bags and, when his legs got tired, Jack. We had four very fun and very wet days (Storm Eleanor struck us with torrential rain and flooding and impressively lively 70mph winds) but we managed to splash and aqua-plane our way 38 miles from Farlington Marshes to Southampton.

This time, after walking and cycling 89 miles we finished off The Solent Way (averaging 11 miles a day over 8 days) making it home just in time for school ? which was a bit of a revelation as normally we don?t. The Solent Way is about 60 miles long if you don?t divert off course or 127 miles if you?re us and you do (we did a few sections twice, went sightseeing plus diverged off route to find food and lodgings).

Milford on Sea in the sun

Milford on Sea in the rain (Daisy with Jack’s bike and the Needles behind).

Heading along the shingle spit to Hurst Castle.

Arriving at Hurst Castle in high winds. (The castle is an artillery fort established by Henry VIII). The Isle of Wight (on the horizon) is a stone’s throw across The Solent from the castle.

From New Milton we cycled (Daisy) scooted (Jack) and pram-pushed (me) to Milford-on-Sea, Hurst Castle, Keyhaven, Lymington, Bucklers Hard, Beaulieu, Hythe, Southampton, Portsmouth, Hayling Island, Emsworth. We wound our way around and across a multitude of estuaries, harbours, shingle spits, marshes, beaches, creeks, lagoons, castles and forts all steeped in seafaring and maritime history.

My mini cycling brigade heading out along the Keyhaven to Lymington Nature Reserve.

Pausing for breath mid nature reserve.

Jack having a drama queen moment.

Normal service resumes.

Cycling heaven: in the over-populated south of England and not a car to be seen.

The Lymington to Yarmouth (Isle of Wight) ferry sandwiched between Daisy and a weighty pram full of kit and a sleeping Jack.

And then the rains came (near Norleywood, New Forest).

Mud. And…

… more mud.

The Keyhaven to Lymington nature reserve was a particularly amazing area of salt marsh and mudflats and a haven for busy birdlife. Everywhere were gulls, terns, egrets, cormorants, oystercatchers, ringed plover, redshank, Brent geese and little grebe, also known amusingly as dabchick (always a good thing to strive to be). We spotted some fine wildfowl too ? teal, wigeon, shovelers and eiderdown ducks as Daisy calls the eider duck.

Another unusual species to hover over my head was not quite such a welcome sight. With no one around I had taken the opportunity to climb down the sea wall to have an al fresco pee. I ?whipped down me trollies? (as Jack calls it) and was in position on my haunches admiring the view (bird-teeming mud-flats, the wind-whipped Solent, the hump-backed mound of the Isle of Wight, the-out-on-a-limp-lump of wave-lapped Hurst Castle — 5-star hotel toilets are never this good) when blow me, what should appear above my head but a flashing blinking buzzing drone. My trollies were whipped up faster than you could say dainty dabchick and I clambered back up the seawall to see who was flying this airborne Peeping Tom. Ah ha. Up ahoy, further along the seawall, were two figures of high-viz-coated men. As we approached I saw one of them had a control panel in his hands. We got chatting and it turned out they were from the Environment Agency and in the midst of surveying not just toileting pram-pushers but the whole of the nature reserve?s sea wall to watch for flooding weaknesses and breaches in the sea wall etc. Their former method was with tripods and levels. Now it?s by UFO-like flying camera which means it?s a much faster process that can also give them a 3-D image of the whole area. It was all very interesting stuff but a bit concerning that they might have a few snapshots of me tending to the call of nature. The upshot was it made Jack and Daisy?s day, such was their height of amusement, so I suppose being caught with my pants down was worth it in the end. The lengths we go to in order to make our offspring happy.

And so onward we went. We had sunny moments, freezing cold moments (a strong easterly blew throughout), wet moments (it rained for 3 solid days) muddy moments, swampy moments, plentiful funny moments, slightly lost moments, brake-exploding moments (Daisy?s) and wild cattle and pony-jam moments (we crossed the New Forest off piste).

I seemed to spend a bit too much time wearing the pram in order to cross soggy and boggy areas…

…and to climb over multiple stiles and squeeze through pram-unfriendly kissing gates.

A very wet Bucklers Hard.

In fact it rained so hard at Bucklers Hard that it didn’t make much difference to the wetness of our clothing whether we were standing on land or in the sea.

 

Crossing the New Forest off piste to get away from a busy strip of the Beaulieu to Hythe road.

A bit of waterlogged New Forest near Dibden Purlieu.

Hythe pier from where we caught the ferry across Southampton Water to Southampton.

Portsmouth!

In poll position on Southsea seafront.

All aboard the Hayling Island ferry.

Daisy in full flow – Hayling Island.

Daisy looking downcast as we approach the final destination of Emsworth. She liked ‘life on the road’ and didn’t fancy going back to school.

Emsworth and being met at the end of The Solent Way by Gary (the husband).

 

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2 BIKES, 1 PUSHCHAIR AND A FLOODED STORMY SOLENT WAY (Part 1) New Year January 2018

On New Year?s Eve eve I suddenly fancied heading off on a cycling and pram-pushing mission on New Year?s Day with any offspring game to come with me. Molly wanted to go and stay with gran for the week so that left Jack and Daisy keen to mount up. Last New Year us threesome left to circumnavigate (by bike and pram) the coast path of the Isle of Wight. So the conundrum was: where to go this year? It had to be somewhere that Jack (4) and Daisy (7) could ride their bikes without being flattened by thundering traffic; somewhere that was scenic and fun and that we could get to quite quickly from home; somewhere that preferably involved boats and the sea.

After a quick bit of pondering I hit upon The Solent Way ? a 60-mile long-distance coastal walking route that stretches from Milford-on-Sea (near Lymington) to Emsworth Harbour. It sounded lovely: estuaries, harbours, shingle spits, marshes, beaches, creeks, lagoons, castles and forts all steeped in seafaring and maritime history. Then there was the odd little passenger ferry to catch across the watery parts which would add a bit of excitement for the younger members of the crew. The only thing that didn?t sound so lovely was the weather. The first storm of the year (Storm Eleanor) was due to come crashing in off the Atlantic with 100mph winds forecast to blow more away than just cobwebs. Oh well, never mind, I thought. ?Storm Doris had hit us on the Isle of Wight with 90mph winds and we survived that one. And anyway, like the well-worn adage: There?s no such thing as bad weather, just inadvisable clothing. Though saying that, despite advisable clothing, Doris did throw some impressive clothes soaking rain and wind at us.

So on the morning of New Year?s Day Jack, Daisy and I battened down the hatches of our Velcro and storm zips, donned balaclavas and galoshes and sallied forth to do battle with Eleanor. As we didn?t have enough time before school started on the 4th to do the whole length of The Solent Way in one fell swoop I decided it best to do the first part of it backwards. We would start at Emsworth and finish Leg 1 at Southampton from where we could easily catch a train home.

Gary gave us a lift down the A3 in the camper. When we left home it was raining hard. By the time we hit the A3 it was raining even harder. Arriving at our set off point the weather was so bad (gales and sheeting rain) it had become almost laughable.? ?Just a clearing-up shower!? said Gary gaily as he sat in the heated cab of the van while I bailed out of the door into the cold wind-battering maelstrom to sort out packing up the bikes and pram. The good thing about starting an expedition in awful weather is that even though it may get even worse it will get better. So clinging to that catch-a-glimpse-of-the-sun-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel-hope I set out into the floods and hood-flapping wind with a surprisingly enthusiastic Jack and Daisy.

Jack was riding his little Islabikes balance bike (he doesn?t like pedals) while Daisy was riding her trusty off-road mount. By trotting along and pushing a pram instead of riding a bike it meant that I could travel at the same speed as my young outriders. Also, should Jack?s little legs get tired, he had a comfy reclining seat to sit and rest and eat and sleep.

Amazingly the weather did improve that first day (this awful bout of wind and rain was just a prelude to Storm Eleanor which was due to hit the next day) and as we skirted Farlington Marshes and headed down the east coast of Portsea Island the sun did actually try to show its face. We forged floods into a continuous headwind of a gale, sustained a puncture on the pram on Southsea seafront (a big roofer?s felt tack) and after 10 miles found a place to bed us down in Portsmouth.

Over the next 3 days we walked and rode through everything the weather threw at us (which was a lot and consisted mostly of wind and rain) averaging 10 miles a day until we reached Southampton. The trials of the weather added to the fun of it all (it wouldn?t have been so exciting in windless tepid conditions) and Jack and Daisy remained amazingly buoyant throughout ? Jack scarcely paused for breath and only climbed into the pram for one short afternoon siesta. When we reached Southampton we were all keen to keep heading onwards and eastwards to Milford-on-Sea but unfortunately school was calling (we had already missed the first day back on the Thursday due to the blowy conditions).

The plan is to embark upon Part 2 of The Solent Way during February half term (starting next week). No doubt we will attract some other ferocious Atlantic storm so if you want good weather you are advised to steer clear from the south coast west of Southampton.

For more on bikes and trikes and tandems and bits see:? ? ? www.facebook.com/itsjosiedew/

If in doubt, crawl! A very flooded bit of path around Langstone Harbour.

Jack trying to throw himself over the sea wall on the east coast of Portsea Island.

Forging the floods.

Fuel-break before the next downpour.

Beach-riding, Langstone Harbour.

Wild winds, fast clouds, bright sun.

4pm sunset Southsea seafront.

Puncture! Pram wheel, Porstmouth.

The culprit – a big roofer’s felt tack!

Drying off with my arms full in B&B Portsmouth.

Storm Eleanor hitting us full force at Old Porstsmouth.

More wild wind and big waves, Lee-on-the-Solent.

Sunny, but blowing a gale – Lee-on-the-Solent.

Jack’s finally climbed into the pram for a slumber – farm track on way to Chilling (south of Warsash).

Waiting in pouring rain for the little pink passenger ferry across the River Hamble.

All aboard with kind and friendly Roy (Captain Birdseye). Due to the wild weather we finally arrived at the ferry an hour after the last sailing of the day. But Roy had waited for us specially and took us across. He has been a ferryman on the Hamble for 60 years (he got his license when he was 21) and is finally retiring this year.

Jack and Daisy watching Roy tie up the ferry for the night.

Stopping for a play on the playground in Victoria Country Park east of Netley.

Flood! I got very wet feet running through that.? Jack loved getting wetly in Netley.

More floods. Jack’s admiring the car park – now a choppy sea.

Sandwiched by floods. What was the car park is on the left, the river-of-a-road on the right. Woolston, Southampton.

Crossing The Itchen Bridge into Southampton in a helmet-rattling headwind.

The end of the road. Jack conked out at Southampton Central railway station waiting for the train home.

 

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CYCLING SCHOOL RUN FUN

I write blogs and articles for Cycling UK (the charitable membership organisation that supports cyclists and promotes bicycle use). My latest blog is about the daily cycling school run I do (currently on my 14-feet-long juggernaut) with Jack and the girls. If you fancy seeing more have a look at: https://www.cyclinguk.org/blog/josie-dew-why-we-love-cycling-school

Here’s a couple of recent icy morning school run snaps with Jack and Daisy. The road was so icy we had to walk this bit.

 

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Four on a Fourteen-foot bike from France to Holland (via Belgium)

As usual I’m a few months behind posting up snapshots of my cycling jaunts but hopefully you will get the gist of where I was and who I was with and what it was like when we were there.

So here’s what happened: Last July, a week before school broke up, I thought I’d better get on and book a ferry to go cycling somewhere for the 5 week holiday with 3 offspring attached. As Gary (the husband) couldn’t come due to working flat out on the Victory (he’s a carpenter) I thought let’s go to the best country for cycling with children in the world: the never Netherlands (as Daisy calls it). But the ferry was completely booked up so a quick change of plan and I’d booked a crossing on the ferry from Portsmouth to France (Caen) with the idea that we would cycle across northern France and Belgium to Holland. We would then catch a ferry? back to Blighty land from the Hook of Holland at the beginning of September. Easy really. At least it is on paper. But nothing is easy when it comes to travelling with children.

Early one late July morning Gary gave Molly (10) Daisy(7) Jack(3) and me (half a century) a lift in our rusting camper van to Portsmouth International Port. Somehow 4 people and all those bags on the ground (plus more lurking out of sight in the camper) had to fit onto one bike. Hmm. Where to start?

If in doubt just pile it up and strap it on and cram it in and don’t worry about the weight. Until you try to cycle.

About to board the ferry. The deck crew thought we were part bike/part juggernaut so put us with the large articulated vehicles.

Bonjour! Welcome to France. Canalside riding near Caen.

Elevate! That’s our road in the air! Waiting to cross the canal.

I hadn’t cycled in France for 16 years and in that time the roads have got much busier. When I didn’t like the look of the traffic we veered off-road for some bumpy bliss.

Posing in the picturesque harbour town of Honfleur. Jack’s having his afternoon siesta in the trailer.

This is the life! Reclining on the beach at Veulettes sur Mer. But things aren’t peaceful for long. Jack is about to throw a large rock at Daisy. All hell breaks out.

It was THIS big. Yes, really!

Camping in what we called the Rotting Caravan Campsite (it was full of rotting rusting caravans – it wasn’t a proper campsite but at least was somewhere to sleep). And just in case you’re wondering, that’s Daisy’s finger in the way of the lens.

It was still this big. Woodland camping, French style.

Camping in the garden of a friendly francais family who invited us to sleep with them and eat with them and shower with them.

Every now and then we would hoick Jack out of the trailer and have running races. This one is on a lovely French rural road north of Montreuil.

Cycling along the joys of the Canal de la Somme.

How to entertain 3 children in a tent when it’s pouring with rain: get them to wear their pants on their heads. It’s like a pant-flavoured nativity scene.

Belgium bike path near Diksmuide. Our wagon just about fits but heaven help any on-coming cyclists.

Belgium bike path near Brugges.

Jack’s 4th birthday in the tent in Nieuwpoort, Belgium. Jack’s had some memorable birthdays. He was born on my bed (almost the bathroom floor). His 1st birthday was in a field on the South Downs Way (I was with the girls and my Dutch friend Anoek while pushing a glorified wheelbarrow along the SDW for a month). His 2nd birthday was sitting on a tent about to leave to go cycling around the Isle of Wight. His 3rd birthday was in a tent in a heatwave in Holland. And voila his 4th!

The windmill of Vlissingen, Holland.

All aboard. Leaving a Dutch farm campsite.

The marvels of Dutch engineering – cycling along the impronounceable Oosterscheldekering which is not a solid dam but a storm surge barrier which is only closed off during storms. It is the largest of the 13 Delta Works series of dams and storm surge barriers, designed to protect the Netherlands from flooding from the North Sea.

Forming our own storm surge barrier against the giant jellyfish-filled North Sea. Beach near Breskens.

It’s good to find souvenirs on your travels. Here I’ve found a Dutch lighthouse which I managed to cram on board mid-ships.

What’s this – a rare lesser-spotted Dutch hill? Yes. And a steep one at that which makes it all the more fun to ride down in the pouring rain on a juggernaut of a bike weighing over 200 kilos.

Riding through the industrial zone of Europoort -nearing our destination of Hoek van Holland.

Last beach-dive for Jack and the girls at Hook of Holland before boarding the ferry home.

When I made my last-minute booking for the ferry to Caen I didn’t know quite how far it was from there to the Hook of Holland (maybe about 400 miles, I thought). I wasn’t even quite sure if I was capable of doing that with 3 children on one bike with such a heavy load. But without planning any daily miles it worked out a treat, though I was a bit of an exhausted wreck by the end. We ended up cycling 642 zig-zagging windy miles and arrived at Hoek van Holland with 6 hours to spare before our ferry left. Perfect timing! ‘That was lucky, mum!’ declared Daisy. And it was.

Emerging from the ferry at Harwich at 6.30 a.m. one sunny September morning. Our bike contraption is even longer than that emerging Range Rover.

Gary meeting us at Harwich port and glad to have his offspring wrapped around him again.

The next day – Jack’s first day at school. As Molly has just started at secondary school (and takes the bus) Jack has been promoted to Seat 3!

 

On another topic, Anoek (my Dutch friend who pushed wheelbarrows with me along the SDW – see above) set me up with a Facebook site (www.facebook.com/itsjosiedew/) which I’ve been a bit hit and miss with keeping up to date. But then in December I was just getting the hang of it and feeling faintly enthusiastic to stick up a few more pictures of bikes? when someone hacked into it which now seems to mean anyone can look at it or comment on it, except me. Facebook has blocked me from using my own site. Useful! Facebook said they would contact me and sort it out but a month later and they still have done nothing. Anyway Anoek and my friend David (a compute-fixer) are now trying to get to the bottom of the mystery. Any words of advice gratefully received.

It’s now a few days later: Facebook sorted! At least for now.

 

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Four on a fourteen-foot bike around the Channel Islands.

Earlier this year (Easter school holidays) I loaded half a ton of kit plus my merry mob of 3 children (Molly 10, Daisy 6 and Jack 3 ) onto my Circe Helios triplet electric assist contraption which, with the Burley trailer attached, is 14-feet long – about as long as a Range Rover, and off to the Channel Islands we sallied by sail (ferry). We cycled 277 miles in 11 days.

Day 1. Early one morning (6a.m.) at the beginning of April Gary gave us a lift to Portsmouth in the camper van. Gary couldn’t come on our overseas jaunt as he had to work next door to the ferry port at the naval base where, as a carpenter, he was helping to conserve the Victory.

I hadn’t tested to see whether I could fit all the hefty clobber for 4 people on a bike before I left but amazingly? it did!

All aboard! We tethered the mount to the car deck where the ferry handlers were very surprised: they were expecting a bike not a behemoth.

7 hours later, and after seeing bits of France float past (Normandy) we arrived in Guernsey’s St Peter Port.

There were palm trees a-plenty – so much so that we could even attach a cluster of them to the bike.

The wagon in action. This photo was taken by a woman from Leeds who was standing on a hill overlooking this road when she spotted us and was so amazed at the size of the bike that she took a picture. A week later we happened to meet her on the other side of the island and she said, ‘I took a picture of you last week because I couldn’t believe my eyes what was coming down the road! In all my days I’ve never seen anyone ride anything so long!’ And then she sent me the picture.

These are the sort of road signs I like!

I found some roadside litter (an L plate) so put it to good use.

I’m used to cycling places where? I seem to manage to attract the worst weather on record nearly everywhere I go. So cycling around the Channel Islands came as a pleasant surprise as the sun shone…

and shone…

and shone…

and shone…

and shone…

and shone.

With so much sun we could stop all the time to play on rocks or…

beaches or…

rocky outcrops or…

 

green grassy banks or…

leapfrog bike stands or…

stop to eat lots of chips and ice creams or…

have a luxurious Easter Day lunch lounging on the ground in the car park of a local Co-op.

?Coming soon: France to the Netherlands (via Belgium) by 4-person bike…

 

 

 

 

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Isle of Wight Coast Path by Bike and Pram – Part 3.

Just for a cycling-flavoured warm-up here’s a picture of a toasted bike c/o John Banbury-based Batts who sent it to me.

Jack trying out his bike with his new motorcycle exhaust attachment that Gary found in a local charity shop.

Hells Angel Daisy Dew.

Jack on his more peaceful-on-the-ear scoot-along balance bike.

My Isle-of-Wight-by-bike-and-pram-saga is now all done and dusted. In May half term I headed back to the Isle of Wight with 3 year-old Jack and ?freshly 7 year-old Daisy. Here the young-wheeling duo ?are heading onto the ferry at Lymington. Next stop Yarmouth.

Heading up the River Yar path to Freshwater in heavy rain.

The foothills of Tennyson Down.

Going up.

Still going up.

Daisy having a foggy rest.

Then it got foggier and foggier. Do we go this way, that way or t’other way?

T’other way proved the right way. The marble Celtic Cross of the Tennyson monument is sighted merging from the mist. It stands on the highest point of Tennyson Down – a long chalk ridge with sheer 500-feet cliffs on the south side.

The foggy top. In good weather this point offers some of the best views on the island. Not today though. The eerie bellowing of the booming Needles lighthouse sounded good though and made up in sound what we lacked in sight.

Daisy’s looking this way but the North Pole is that way.

Some handy hikers helping me to hoist the pram over kissing gate obstacle . Jack is in the pram and slept through the whole airborne operation.

At the entrance to a farm campsite we met an intriguingly friendly Dutch couple. The husband was riding a touring bike but his wife was riding a self- designed electric recumbent. She told me why. ? Several years ago she’d ?had a serious car crash which left her disabled. She had been very active but then, as a result of her disability, she became ? depressed that she would never ride again. As ?we stood in the misty rain she told me it was 0then that she read one of my books which apparently spurred her into doing something about it. So with her engineering son she designed a recumbent specifically around her disability, She was now very happy again and touring with her husband. I was then given a ?touchingly big hug and thanked for something I had no idea I had ever done, It was a touchingly bizarre encounter and we’ve kept in contact ever since.

 

 

 

 

Above Alum Bay.

Wartime defenses dug into the cliffs around the Needles.

The high white cliffs of the needles.

The Needles lighthouse was manned up until 1994.

Jack and Daisy in full flow beside the River Medina north of Newport.

The wooded coastal path near Fishbourne.

The finish – Ryde Pier. Although the Isle of Wight coast path is 67 miles long we did 117 miles due to doing several sections multiple times and veering off-course to find food/beds and see interesting sights. Daisy rode her bike all the way; Jack rode his for 88 miles. I pushed him the resat of the way in the pram when his legs were tired or he was sleepy.

 

 

 

 

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