Josie Dew

Welcome to the official website of Josie Dew: cyclist, writer and cook.


THE SOUTH DOWNS WAY – Travels with a pram. Summer 2020

Propping up the pram. If I let go I’ll be flattened. This hill near Harting Down is a lot steeper than it looks. My right arm is quivering.

This summer I walked the South Downs Way with offspring in tow (Molly 13, Daisy 10, Jack 7).

The South Downs Way (a Bronze Age trading route) is 100 miles long (we went west-to-east – Winchester to Eastbourne) with a total of around 13,000ft of ascent. There were downhills too but, when you’re pushing what feels like the equivalent weight of half an elephant, most of the way felt very uphill. With various excursions to find food or diverting off course to look at interesting sights etc we did 118 miles altogether.

We started off heaving and hauling all our kit in a Dutch Walking Wagon (a glorified wheelbarrow) but it was so heavy and slow I swopped it for a fourth-hand pushchair. The girls walked while Jack pushed or cycled his bike.

Molly heaving the Walking Wagon with Daisy bringing up the rear.

My pushing-pulling team: Molly, Daisy, Jack.

We carried a lot of excess clobber with us including a dumper truck. But it kept Jack happy for hours.

We spent 3 weeks on the move (half of August and the beginning of September) which was about a week longer than I estimated (heatwaves and days of storms and rain at the beginning hampered progress).

The worst storm to hit was Storm Francis which the Met Office said had lashed the UK with ‘unseasonably strong gusts of nearly 80mph (129kph) winds and heavy rain’. We were camping near Cocking Down at the time. We nearly got blown into oblivion.

It’s raining men, hallelujah.

Life in tent during the build up to Storm Francis.

One of the advantages of living outside for 3 weeks is that children sleep through anything – even tent-flapping storms.

Jack relishing the sun again.

Heading down off Butser Hill, which at 271m (889ft) is the highest point along the South Downs Way. (Molly is with her school friend Lucy who joined us for some of the walk).

Jack had his 7th birthday in a rainy field above Buriton.

View from tent door near Forty Acre Lane near South Harting.

On the Downs what goes down must go up. Near Mount Sinai, south of Elsted.

Jack on large lump of chalk near Cocking.

Jack about to attack Daisy on Heyshott Down.

Chilly camping on Graffham Down. Wild camping is not allowed on the Downs so every night where we couldn’t get permission (which was most nights!) we tried our best to tuck ourselves out of the way.

Apart from one night in a hostel’s bunkroom at Southease, we camped at the side of the track every night, often sleeping on hard, lumpy ground beside old chalk pits, Roman roads and ruins, Iron Age hill forts and tumuli (burial mounds). The views from high up on the whale-back ridge of the Downs were constantly magnificent: a line of coast and expanse of sea on one side; the multi-varied patchwork of fields and woodlands and villages of the Weald on the other.

Crossing a stubble field on Littleton Down, west of Bignor.

Big skies and rolling hills near the Roman Road of Stane Street.

The rough and rutted tracks caused the pram to capsize far too often. The effort of re-righting needed a lot of effort. By the end I had a lot of names for the pram none of which were complimentary.

Heading up Amberley Mount.

Top of Amberley Mount.

View from tent on Kithurst Hill.

Puncture! All change.

About to put the tent up on Chanctonbury Hill.

Misty morning view from camp spot.

 

 

 

Jack and Daisy eating through some of the contents from the local bakery in Steyning High Street. We had to come down off the Downs to replenish food supplies.We carried enough food for a week (we only saw 3 shops in 3 weeks) and 8 litres of water, which was about enough to last 2 days depending on the weather. (Water taps are dotted along the Downs at rather irregular intervals).

Trying to dry our clothes on my homemade inner tent washing line.

Camping up near Ditchling Beacon.

Jack throwing a stone into a dew pond (no relation).

The windblown threesome.

Jack had his 7th birthday in a field above Buriton. Gary came out to meet us there with a prepared-before-the-programme cake I’d made and frozen.  It rained very hard and we sang happy birthday to Jack while kitted out in full waterproof regalia.

We had 1 shower, several washes beneath cold taps and 3 punctures in 3 weeks.

For navigation I used a small OS 1:25,000 scale map book of the Downs. I gave Daisy and Jack daily lessons on how to map read, identify symbols, read a compass and estimate the time of day from the position of the sun in true Rambo style. The advantage of using an OS map is that it doesn’t need charging – plus it makes great reading. It told us we were passing places like Scabby Brow, Plonk Barn, Cheesefoot Head, The Bosom, Mount Sinai, Muggery Pope, Granny’s Belt, Grandfather’s Bottom, Winding Bottom, Well Bottom, Bushy Bottom, Moon’s Bottom, Deep Bottom, Long Bottom, Loose Bottom and Breaky Bottom. Yes, up on the Downs you look down upon a lot of Bottoms.

Heading up the short, sharp steepness of Bunkershill Plantation.

The wind tends to blow from only one direction on the Downs (south-westerly) giving most exposed trees a bad hair day look.

A blue sky high on Iford Hill.

On the old military road with our first Seven Sister in sight.

In the field where we crossed from the Western Hemisphere into the Eastern Hemisphere.

Daisy climbing up the Down above Breaky Bottom Vineyard.

Daisy and cows Itford Hill.

Dog poo bag swinging in the breeze – unfortunately an all-too-common sight of fence adornments on the Downs. TAKE IT HOME!!

Full steam ahead with views of Mount Caburn and Firle Beacon.

Finally, on a perfect cloud-free day, we tackled the dramatic roller coaster coastline of the Seven Sisters. It was a long 13-mile day. Not long after the sun set behind Belle Tout lighthouse we donned head torches so as not to fall over Beachy Head by mistake and made it to Eastbourne in darkness.

Jack tackling a Seven Sister with Daisy bringing up the rear.

I would push the pram up one Seven Sister before running back down to push up Jack’s bike.

Sunset over Belle Tout lighthouse.

Daisy coming in to land.

Night time arrival at the end in Eastbourne. Or the beginning if you’re about to head for Winchester. (The signpost says: Winchester 100 miles.

We headed home inland for a while. Stiles and loaded prams are not a happy mix.

Waiting for the train home.

 

Molly, Daisy and Jack raised £370 for the NHS and around £2200 for our village primary school where Jack and Daisy still go to school.

For more updates see: www.facebook.com/itsjosiedew/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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OPERATION WALKING WAGON 2020

Molly and Daisy taking the strain on the South Downs Way in 2014

As I think it’s probably best not to venture too far from home this summer in the hope of giving that stealthy and villainous virus a wide berth, my wheels will be staying firmly put this side of any seas or oceans or watery channels.

Goose on full power heaving wagon up hill

Instead, sometime in early August, I’m swapping my bike wheels for four wheelbarrow ones as I fancy attempting to walk the 100-mile length of the South Downs Way with my three boisterous offspring: Molly (13), Daisy (10) and Jack (6). Molly’s school friend Lucy will also be coming with us. We will be pushing and pulling, hauling and heaving a Walking Wagon (a large glorified Dutch wheelbarrow) containing all the camping kit and clobber that we need to keep us going for a fortnight or more.

Stopping for a breather on top of Harting Down

I last did the walk with Molly and Daisy and 11-month-old Jack (he crawled a lot of the way) in 2014 accompanied by my Dutch friend Anoek, her young daughter Mila and Anoek’s ex-PE teacher friend Guust (Goose) who helped to push the wagons. This time I will be the only adult so it will be hard work as the Downs are very steep and the Walking Wagon is leg-quiveringly heavy. Oh, and my knees are a bit dickey.

Jack making a break for freedom

Daisy and Jack are raising money for their primary school to help buy sports and play equipment that the school needs. If anyone would like to sponsor them please go to: https://www.gofundme.com/operation-walking-wagon

Molly and Lucy are raising money for the NHS (National Health Service). If you would like to sponsor them please go to: https://www.gofundme.com/operation-walking-wagon-2020

I will try and send an update on our progress (or lack of it) on my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/itsjosiedew/once we hit the ups of the Downs. I will only have solar power to charge my phone so if all goes quiet from me, I think you can safely presume it’s raining. Either that or there’s been a mutiny and my wagon-pushers have abandoned ship. Both options are high possibilities.

To give you a taster, here are some photos from the SDW mission we did back in 2014.

Walking back down the Down to pick up Wagon Number 2

Meeting some cyclists and rather wishing I had gone by bike instead.

Emergency nappy-changing

Glastonbury without the music and crowds – just sheep

Tent city

Wagon One half way up

After pushing a wagon up a hill I would retrace my steps to retrieve the pram. No wonder we got nowhere fast

Bits like this made the effort all worth while

Jack contemplating his next escape

We camped anywhere we could along the way: when small legs get tired you just have to stop

Mila and Daisy having an in-depth discussion about a handful of stones.

Molly in pensive mood near Ditchling Beacon

Gary joined us on Butser Hill for half a day’s push and pull

Jack’s first birthday in a field near Newhaven

Bearing down on the Seven Sisters!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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LOCKDOWN CYCLING MAY 2020

Here’s a snippet of cycling during lockdown on an A road near where I live. Normally I steer clear of this road as it is usually like a race track with an almost constant stream of nose-to-tail cars, vans and trucks careering along. But here I am riding it in lockdown on my Circe Triplet with Daisy on the seat behind me and Jack on the seat behind her. When I was at school I used to cycle along this road all the time as there was precious little traffic on it. In lockdown it felt almost lovely again. Apart from a handful of vehicles that passed after coming through the traffic lights at a single-lane bridge up the road we had the place virtually to ourselves. Only trouble was trying to control our 14-foot road-train with Jack swaying around while singing the Batman theme tune and Daisy swinging round to try and knock him off. Takes a lot of concentration and flexing of forearm muscles to keep the unwieldy bike upright.

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MORE ACTION CYCLING IN THE NETHERLANDS 2019

This is my 9-year old daughter Daisy’s first attempt at filming as we’re cycling along on the Triplet (a three-on-a-bike sort of contraption). I’m at the helm, Daisy’s on Seat 2, 5-year-old Jack is on Seat 3. The filming  goes up and down and all around, but you should get the  gist.

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ACTIONS STATIONS CYCLING IN THE NETHERLANDS 2019

This time a year ago I was cycling in the Netherlands and it looked like this:

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AROUND THE ISLE OF WIGHT: BACK ON THE ROBERTS WITH THE BUILDER.

An unusual happening: I recently carted off Gary (the builder/husband) to the Isle of Wight by bike – our first child-free time together for nearly 13 years for heavens sakes. The last time Gary and I camped together sans offspring was cycling around New Zealand in 2004. The last time Gary went on a bike before our recent jaunt around the Isle of Wight was… ummm, I don’t think my memory stretches back that far. Let’s just say cycling isn’t his favourite cup of tea in life. But where there’s a bike wheel there’s a way so off we went.

Gary’s only had one night in a tent since 2012 when, against his better judgment, he agreed to cycle with me and Molly and baby Daisy 1000-odd miles from Holland to Denmark. This spring/early summer it didn’t rain for months. Everything was bone dry. The sun shone and shone. Until the morning Gary and I left home to cycle to the station. Result: we arrived for our train to Portsmouth looking as wet as if we had just swum the Channel. Never mind, we had a tent on board. In fact we had Jack’s tent on board. Jack, who’s now 5, loves army camo things so Gary had bought him a £40 ex-French army tent (with sniper panels!) off E-bay. Despite the fact that Gary scarce fitted into this sparse shelter we took it with us to act as our fancy abode for 3 nights.  After a day or two, the rain stopped and even the sun showed its face and, against all odds and Gary’s reticent thigh muscles, we got 101 island miles under our belts. The odd thing, apart from Gary managing to cycle up most of the hills (albeit in quite a vocally huffing-puffing manner), was not having children attached. Everything was so easy. And quiet. And simple. It was all very lovely. Mind you, Gary hasn’t cycled since.

A rarity: lightweight child-free travel. Up high above Alum Bay.

Gary bracing himself against the un-summery high winds and torrential rain. Ryde pier.

Lovely wet car-free cycling beside the murky River Medina.

Poised beside the remains of the last paddle-steamer to cross the Solent. It’s the P S Ryde and carried passengers across the Solent from 1937 to 1969 with an interlude during WW2 where the ship served as a minesweeper and then an anti-aircraft ship, seeing action at both Dunkirk and D-Day. A team of money-raising enthusiasts had hoped the ship could be restored to its former glory, but unfortunately  that’s currently looking unlikely due to the deteriorated state that its in.

Our elaborate French army tented home in the sun…

…and in the rain.

Flowery cycling.

Gary surveying the remains of the secret 1950s rocket test site at the Needles.

The wonder of the Needles. Above Scratchell’s Bay.

Preparing to hurtle off Tennyson Down.

Gary in action with livestock. Near Freshwater Bay.

 

For more updates and bits on bikes see: www.facebook.com/itsjosiedew/

 

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Cycling and Pramming the High Weald Way. Horsham to Rye. Easter 2019

In Easter school holidays I embarked upon the High Weald Way which is more officially called the High Weald Way Landscape Trail. It’s a 100-odd mile long-distance path that stretches from Horsham to Rye linking the area’s ridge-top villages through the High Weald of West Sussex, East Sussex and Kent. I was with Jack (5) and Daisy (8) (12-year-old Molly was busying herself elsewhere as long-winded slogs like this aren’t quite her cup of tea). Jack and Daisy rode their Islabikes and, as I can’t fit my bike and trailer on the train, I trotted along pushing/pulling an old pram loaded with kit/food/children’s clobber.

Gary seeing us off on the train to Horsham.

Waiting an hour at Dorking Deepdene due to the excitement of a fire on our train. 

By the time we reached Horsham hours had passed and seasons had changed. Leaving home it had been sunny and warm. Horsham, in contrast, was very cold and very wet. We donned balaclavas and full waterproof regalia and headed off through the muddy wooded tracks and quagmires of St Leonard’s Forest (apparently St Leonard once slew a local dragon here). The sun did eventually show its face, though not until the next day. In fact we had rather peculiar weather as the first week was particularly cold with nights down to below freezing. The second week was a heatwave and involved buying shorts in charity shops, slapping on the sun cream and sweating up hills wondering how the heck we ever wore mittens and multiple layers a mere few hours before. But such are the joys and vagaries of the British weather.

Wet mud. St Leonard’s Forest.

Slippery mud.

Sunny mud. Near Ardingly Reservoir

Large puddly mud.

Wonked bridge.

Over 12 days we walked/ cycled/pram-pushed/staggered/dragged/clambered (some off-road gradients were nigh-on vertical and spectacularly slippery) 127 miles averaging about 10-11 miles a day. One of  the trickiest parts was negotiating the scores of styles and kissing gates that we came across. This involved not kissing anyone (apart from my own offspring), removing a total of eleven hefty bags of kit off the pram and carrying them (and the bikes and pram) back and forth, back and forth over said obstacles, while often being chased by frisky cows and bullocks at the same time. The whole operation to move a mere handful of feet would take not much short of half an hour. And so the days passed.

Negotiating style with pram on head.

Jack on depth-testing duties.

Near miss!

Not a position I can keep up for long due to arduous gradient.

Jack giving a helping push up testing terrain.

Our route took us from Horsham to Rye via Cuckfield, East Grinstead, Groombridge, Tunbridge Wells, Cranbrook, Rolvenden and Wittersham. We slept on floors in houses or in cramped pubs where we shared the toilets and showers with chefs and in-house dogs called things like Juno and Dulux. The scenery was a delight in so many places: wooded tracks bordered by carpets of wild flowers (bluebells, daffodils, stitchwort, anemones, wild garlic), sweeping views of hills and valleys and Downs. Accompanying us on our way were birds like red kite and lapwings and larks. I think it must be impossible to hear the song of a lark and not feel happy. The only unpleasant thing was rare encounters with motor traffic. For hours we would travel in beautiful quiet countryside with just the accompaniment of bird song. Then, shock to the system, we would encounter a swathe of noisy dangerous road and have to run the gauntlet to cross the tarmac before being hit by the torpedo speeds and menace of modern vehicles.

Field crossing.

More field crossings.

Easy cycling.

Not so easy cycling.

Come-a-cropper cycling.

Sights at the side of the road: attractive pub (Kent)…

Unattractive dumped fridges and freezers.

Ingenious use of a bike tyre on farm gate.

Wooded picnic spot.

 

Experiencing proper trains. The Bluebell Line.

Jack and Daisy after emerging from beautiful 120-year-old carriages made of American oak.

Eridge station and the Spa Valley Railway: modern and not so modern. We prefer the not-so-modern (lovely slam-door trains with big caged guards’ vans).

Close up encounter of the Kent and East Sussex Railway just before we crossed the tracks at Wittersham.

Short grass cycling. Following the River Rother in the Rother Levels.

Long grass cycling. River Rother.

Daisy in perfect cycling weather action.

Me beside Jack’s ‘spear’ he dragged out of the River Rother.

Arrival Rye Harbour.

Arrival the sea! Rye Bay.

 

 

 

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SALTDEAN TO WEST DEAN BY BIKE AND PRAM FEB HALF TERM 2019

February half term came around so quick this year that our week away mission was all very last minute. I opened up my Ordnance Survey map to look for the nearest bit of road/track that goes somewhere and is safe for children to ride their bikes without the roaring fast swish of cars charging past their elbows. Within seconds I had plotted a rough route: West Dean to Saltdean. It looked like fun (plus it rhymed)and went via Chichester, Bognor, Littehampton, Worthing, Brighton and Rottingdean.

Following Chichester canal in the pouring rain.

Gary and Molly had opted to stay home (Gary to work, Molly to see friends) so I arrived with my game duo (Daisy 8 and Jack 5) late afternoon in West Dean at the the start of the Centurion Way – a bike path that follows part of the old dismantled Chichester to Midhurst railway line. Because of a major 3-hour delay earlier in the day it was nearly dark by the time we set off from West Dean. For all our previous biking voyages Jack had always ridden his pedal-less balance bike as he liked doing tricks on it. But this time, just as I was packing the last of the bags up at home, I decided, and Jack decided, he was too big for his little bike now so his pedal bike it had to be even though he had hardly ridden it. Ideally, Jack’s first go on his bike away from home would have happened in daylight hours along flat smooth surfaces. But sometimes life doesn’t always work out as ideal as you’d like hence Jack’s initiation into off-road cycling occurred in the near-pitch black across muddy flooded fields. No complaints though from Jack. After an initial uncertainty with his balance he speedily got the hang of it and charged by bright bike light across the River Lavant until we joined the dark path busy with the kew-wick and ter-whit-ter-whoos of tawny owls towards Lavant and Chichester passing Devil’s Ditch and Brandy Hole Copse along the way. Although it only takes about 10 minutes to drive from West Dean to Chichester it took us nearly 3 hours and 7 miles (the Centurion Way, as we discovered, doesn’t go direct). Bikes and travelling with children really does make a magnificent meal of things.

One of the highlights of this little stretch was meeting an elderly man who got out of an elderly Jag and wavered about on his unsteady legs in a very drunkenly way. We were in the multiple residential back streets of Chichester and I was trying to cut through to come out behind the hospital. He said, ‘Down the end here me darling turn right and follow the twitten through to the main road.’  What a very marvellous word twitten is. It’s Sussex dialect for a narrow path between walls or hedges but I think it would work just as well for drivers who pass cyclists too close.

Mud-splattered path alongside Chichester Harbour.

Cheeky-chap Jack at Dell Quay.

After a night in  Chichester  I was hoping we could walk/cycle the 10 miles to and around Pagham Harbour before taking the bus back to Chichester. When I had checked at the bus station whether it was permitted to put 2 children’s bikes on the bus the bus station woman said confusingly, ‘We don’t allow that.  Though it’s at the bus driver’s discretion.’ Which translates as: If you get a chirpy chappy (or chappess) driver then all is fine and dandy and you can pile on board with your wheels. But if you get a miserable sod then you get left at the wayside.

Anyway, instead of Pagham, we had a very fun 13-mile round-trip jaunt in the pouring rain and mud following the path beside Chichester Canal (busy with remarkably tame coots and moorhens) all the way to Chichester-mostly-rich-and-fancy-boats-Marina. We then followed a fantastic path which from Dell Quay followed the edge of Chichester Harbour where the saltmarsh and mudflats were alive with the beautiful bird sounds and sights of waders and curlew and shelducks and geese.

Daisy setting Jack’s sights on the alluring distant spire of Chichester cathedral.

Daisy bridging a bridge.

Rickety bridge near Fishbourne.

Over the next few days we cycled and pram-ran 66 miles and made it along the lovely high white chalk cliff underpath to Saltdean. In Brighton we had the good fortune to come across a slightly bonkers tennis coach on her way to London who, despite not knowing us from Adam, said, ‘I have a boat in the marina. Here’re the keys. Help yourself and enjoy a night or two on there!’ So we did. Jack and Daisy found this very exciting. Jack adopted the role of Captain Pirate Jack while Daisy, getting caught up in the seafaring moment said, ‘Hey, mum! We could escape school and sail to France!’ Which actually sounded like a very good idea indeed and I was sorely tempted. The only thing stopping me was a lack of nautical knowledge. Also, I didn’t think Jack and Daisy’s head teacher would take to kindly to me ringing up to say that they wouldn’t be at school for a bit because I had just rammed a super-tanker in the middle of the Channel.

That night, asleep in our gently swaying bunks, I was awoken by the rotor-whirring racket of a helicopter hovering for half- an-hour directly over our buoyant vessel. There was a long strong blinding beam of a searchlight shining from the helicopter into the deep dark waters of the marina so I knew something was up. In the morning we found out. Shortly before 12.45am police and coastguard teams were alerted that someone had fallen into the marina. The next day divers recovered the body of a man.

On the way to Saltdean along the seaside Undercliff path.

Exploding wave near Rottingdean.

Heading back towards Brighton.

Jack, Daisy and Donald . Brighton seafront.

Our most exciting day occurred between Bognor and Littlehampton. After following the seafront promenade until it ran  out we then encountered a beautiful and rare bit of undeveloped coast for this part of the busy south-east – a shingle beach with sand at low tide backed by fields. The only way we could do this stretch with bikes and a heavy unwieldy pram was at low tide as the sea goes out far enough to walk around the end of the groynes. Low tide was 16.28. We were on the beach before this time and hurrying along as I knew when the tide would turn. I’d been told that the beach part was only a relatively short stretch before you could climb back up across the shingle to join a seawall that met the River Arun to take us to Littlehampton. But as darkness started to fall we kept going on and on while all the time the sea crept closer and closer. But still there was no sign of any seawall. The sun set behind us turning the sky into a spectacular explosion of pinks and oranges and reds. Up ahead, a Supermoon, the biggest and brightest of 2019, rose dazzlingly into the darkening sky. It was so big it looked like it had slipped its moorings and was on course to crash into Earth. It was a tremendous sight and added to the perilous excitement of the whole occasion. By this stage we could have been on Namibia’s Skeleton Coast for all I could tell. The beach was deserted, the sea was closing in. And in the twilight, all was wild and lovely. But still there was no sea wall. In these sorts of situations all senses come alive. You are aware of every little nano-second that passes. I had to keep Jack and Daisy safe and happy and alive. They were loving this whole beach shenanigans, careering across the sand on their bikes, splashing at speed through rock pools like racing horses through a water jump.  But every so often they would call, ‘How much further, mum?’

‘Not far,’ I’d reply, ‘We should be there before too long. ‘Look, you can see the lights of Littlehampton over there.’

‘But that looks like miles away!’ they said.

‘It might look like miles away in the dark, but it’s much closer than it looks!’ I said even though I thought: ‘they’re right – it looks bloody miles away!’ But you’ve got to keep up morale somehow. Best to keep positive even in un-positive situations because the moment you stop being positive, un-positive things start to happen.  Actually, a slightly un-positive thing did happen. It was now near-dark and Jack rode into a rock pool thinking it was a shallow one when it was actually very deep. Result: his bike came to a sudden halt and he fell off into cold water. But children are amazingly resilient. I had spare kit and clothes but Jack said ‘I’m fine mum, I’m not cold. Full steam ahead!’

If either Jack or Daisy had given up the ghost we would have been doomed. But they both seemed to sense the urgency of the situation and rallied all supplies of diminishing energy determined to keep on going. The beach turned rocky, the sea not far away and I knew we would have to drag ourselves up above the bank of shingle to safer ground and somehow head inland. By lucky chance, having seen no one for nearly 2 hours, I spotted a man in the moonlight standing up on the bank surveying the sea. I made a bee-line for him and when I got up close he told us that the sea wall  we had been hoping to follow had been washed away in a storm last summer. So that was that, there was only one way to get to Littlehampton now: head up towards Climping to join the footpath-cyclepath alongside the horribly noisy and traffic-rushing A259. This we did, in pitch blackness, lit by the brightness of our headtorches and bike lights. Finally, we darted across a busy roundabout and followed a grassy muddy verge into the centre of Littlehampton. We had hit civilisation and survived. We felt euphoric. ‘We’re alive!’ we shouted and burst into laughter as a posse of passers-by gave us strange looks. After 14 miles of slightly hair-raising perambulations never have Daisy and Jack deserved and enjoyed a takeaway of pizza and chips quite as much.

Bognor seafront. Daisy atop exercise apparatus. Jack making a break for freedom over wall.

Daisy cycling on the beach between Bognor and Littlehampton.

Jack among rocky rockpools.

About to board the train home from Shoreham-by-Sea

 

 

 

 

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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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