Sunday, January 29, 2012

Salisbury Sunday

Having learnt my lesson by being exhausted going out for a ride in the forest on Saturday morning with a workmate who whizzed round the trails using the big ring, while I spun my only chainring furiously - Sunday was set aside for a day off the bike & going for a little drive to do something touristy while I still had both arms.  It was a cool, gloomy day - but one of the advantages of surviving a long Canadian winter is that anything above freezing point is warm - for my trip half an hour north to Salisbury.

The famous cathedral (tallest spire in the country) dominates the still-nicely-sized city & it wasn't long before I spotted that curious English sight of someone standing in a river in the middle of the city trying to coerce tiny fish on to a hook.

It was a lot sunnier when I came here with Mum forty odd months ago.  But the cathedral is no less impressive.
I had hoped to fill in the some of the day at a museum or two before a quick wander around the cathedral.  Inexplicably, the main museum was closed so I was wandering around the cloister & over all sorts of gravestones well before I expected.
This stone is a lot newer than most & is only of any significance in that it was unveiled just as I was taking my first breaths half a world away in New Zealand - not sure how I spotted that.

I was pleased to discover that there was a tour you could take that was basically climbing a few stairs (332) up to the top of the tower/base of the spire.  I was even more pleased to find that there was a single spot left on it - I couldn't leave that empty, so promptly took it.  I still had plenty of time to wander around the nave & appreciate the oldest working mechanical clock in the world, the general incredibleness of the masonry in a building over seven hundred years old & the best surviving copy of the Magna Carta (in the Chapter House) - the new font is very neat too, but I didn't get a good picture.

After the opening spiel from our good humoured, but very proper, guide we set off up the first of five progressively narrower spiral staircases.  In the picture three above we climbed up the left front corner halfway, then walked across the end of the nave to the right corner before another flight of stairs.

We were then up in the roof space of the nave.  It was neat to see the crude, but solid, structural pieces holding up this huge building.  The top side of the nave ceiling wasn't nearly as attractive to the eye; we could see some of the two acres worth of lead sheeting through the oak-work that still forms the roof after all this time.  We walked towards the centre of the cathedral, ducking out to a tiny balcony to check out the view of the Close & look towards Old Sarum (where Salisbury originally was on top of a hill, before they decided they were sick of no easily accessible water supply) over modern (it's a relative term) Salisbury.

Inside the tower there was the bell ringing mechanism - even if the bells were further above.  The bells used to be rung manually & when the mechanism went in they decided it was too big & cumbersome to get up to the bells, so just ran some ropes up.  The framework below had to be put in by Christopher Wren to stop the after-thought tower (it went up in the 1300s) slowly heading towards collapse.

Up even more rickety spiral staircases we managed to get pretty close to all the bells - thankfully not quite at the right time.  It was pretty noisy on the floors immediately below & then above when they did ring out on the quarter-hours.

Finally we were at the top of the tower looking up in to the huge spire.  The scaffolding that was left after construction was almost as impressive - nothing like the scaffolding I've seen around the many plants I've worked in.
There was just enough room for the thirteen of us out on the balcony so we could look up along the face of the spire & out over the city.
You can just see the top of the tallest spire in England - 123 metres

Looking down along the roof under which we walked

Another interesting unplanned & unexpected outing - the Tower Tour is well worth the extra few quid if you have the time.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Bond cars & some more rides

With Saturday morning gone spent looking for ski clothes in Southampton (I found a jacket - at least I'll be a little easier to spot now on the slopes), I was keen to get out for a little ride before it got dark. As the new Bond car exhibition has opened properly just down the road at Beaulieu, I struggled against a huge headwind through the forest to get there for a free look. It's quite the impressive collection of about fifty various Bond vehicles (cars, motorbikes, boats) from most of the series (not much from Dr No) - with the more recent movies being better represented obviously. The best of the lot were the two from Goldfinger - Goldfinger's Rolls Royce & the quintessential Bond car, a DB5. The Aston Martin from Living Daylights was a particular favourite of mine - the cello case would be one of the stranger ones.

Sunday's MTB club ride was miles better than the previous one I went on. I joined a group just because I heard the word "hills" mentioned. As it was in the New Forest, it was all bridleways & byways - but some of them quite old & also muddy to slow quite a few of our group down. I think Dean, our leader, was used to a faster group - but I was pleased to have a crazy singlespeeder to keep up with. The hills weren't much to speak of, but at least they were there & I could stretch my legs out a bit on them. We were slowed by a couple of punctures, but still managed to find time for a pub stop after the ride.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Hurst Castle

After a week of gorgeous sunsets & sunrises on mild rides to & from work, winter finally decided to make a little bit of an appearance on Saturday with a few degrees of Jack still lurking when I set out for a little bit of ride west to check out Hurst Castle. A few miles down the road Beaulieu was looking pretty nice in the crispness.

I continued on back roads enjoying the peace & quiet, skirting around Lymington & many yachts propped up for the winter around the marina before riding the paths through the Lymington-Key Haven Nature Reserve.  It's all very marshy and before rocksalt & transport was cheaper, it was a very profitable area for making salt. Now it's quite the habitat for many species of birds & that curious breed - birdwatchers. I did my best not to hit any of them into the marsh as they stood on the path peering skyward.  After 25 km my goal was tantalisingly close across the water, but there were still a few miles of following the shore around through Key Haven & then along the two mile-long spit which was very shingly to the castle.

Hurst Castle is lying low next to the lighthouse
It was a bit of a slog along the shingle spit, but still a lot faster than walking
The Isle of Wight is only three-quarters of a mile across what is the end of the Solent

This Hurst Castle is rather underwhelming compared to the extravagance of the last Hearst Castle I went to.  The centre part of the castle dates back to Tudor times when Henry VIII built a string of castles stretching around the south-east of England to defend against invasion as he managed to antagonise the Catholic nations. They are all similarly designed - low-slung & circular. Being in such a good position to defend the Solent, the Victorians extended the castle a long way along the shore in both directions. It's a little odd walking in & seeing just how long & narrow the castle is - definitely not your usual square keep. They put in numerous 38 ton guns, but a shot has never been fired in anger from the castle - that includes during its defensive duties through the two world wars.

At the end of the long spit on a reasonably chilly day, there weren't a lot of other people around as I clattered around in my bike shoes.  There were plenty of nooks & crannies to explore around the Tudor central section.  I wasn't exactly overdressed for the weather, so didn't spend too much time reading the exhibits.  Instead I opted for eating my lunch watching the tide creep in - if I had have brought lashings of ginger beer I could have easily imagined I was about to discover a smuggler's long forgotten treasure buried on Kirrin Island.

I avoided the circuitous route through the nature reserve on the return journey, but detoured back to Buckler's Hard after Lymington. I took a few little walking paths trying to find an obelisk, the top of which I spied from some distance.  I tracked it down along Monument Lane, funnily enough, read the long tributes to a past MP & continued down the walking paths.  It was a little weird crossing a private airfield, but I was pleased to discover that the USAF used it for a while around D-Day to fly Thunderbolts on bomber-escort missions.  Find curious little bits of history like that is one of the great things about being following one's nose in a country such as this.

Back through Beaulieu the sun was setting & as I climbed up to Hill Top I was surprised to pass a roadie struggling up the hill.  After forty miles, I was hardly fresh - this guy caught up to me on the flat, turns out he works in our head office & had ninety miles under his belt to explain my passing him.

Sunday was supposed to be a much shorter ride with Dan & Chris off-road in the Forest.  We looped around a bit & Chris showed us giant sequoias.  For the New Forest, these are big trees.  But after Yosemite & the NorCal coast last year, I was pleased just to be mildly interested.  Somehow we ended up way out west in a quaint village, Burley, with a good pub-stop to refuel on some big potato wedges.  Just as well the Forest is flat - the ride turned out longer than the previous day's at 45 miles/72 km.  Beautiful day it was too, this place must be a zoo in the summer - there were so many people out on another frigid day.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Pedal & Steam Power

Well thrilled at the prospect of a weekend at home & not having to drive hundreds of miles, I planned absolutely not-much. Of course, a couple of rides figured in that not-much - it having been a month since my last adventures off road & that shoulder op getting closer. Saturday's was not at all ambitious - I headed to the diametrically opposite side of the Forest & followed some of the marked cycle trails (wide double track & some road, with plenty of walkers out). There were scruffy looking ponies in abundance as usual.

Just to prove that not all of the New Forest is beautiful, I think I stumbled on its secret ugly corner. It was bleak - low scrub, a dim day, sand, mud; I wonder why I didn't see many people out there. But I was out on my bike pushing the cranks around & it was good. With twenty clicks under the wheels, it was a pleasant hour & a bit out stretching the legs.

The local MTB club (New Force) had a fortnightly ride on Sunday, northeast of Winchester. So I dragged myself out of bed & went & joined dozens of others. We split into three groups & ours proceeded on a long anticlockwise circuit along bridleways through rolling farmland. While it was dry overhead, there was plenty of moisture in the ground to deal with - the mud was draining & a good technical challenge, especially on any long descents. In fact a bit of road was sometimes welcome for the respite it provided. I'm not sold on these club rides, I thought mountain-bikers were generally friendly. Perhaps the English are just over people from all over the world - four hours & I hardly got a word out of anyone, I miss riding in North America. That's beside the time when our group got split in two - who leads rides & doesn't wait at big intersections?
Did see this good looking flag randomly down some country lane.  Actually, I'd much prefer it were a silver fern on black.

The day was salvaged by a big plate of cheesy chips (not quite poutine, but good enough), Somerset cider & then stumbling across a steam train near where I'd parked my car. I wandered up & down the platform a bit checking out the hissing engine & beautiful old carriages with the fascination one would expect of a history & engineering fiend. It occurred to me that I had no real reason to get home, so I paid my pounds & was issued with a quaint stiff cardboard ticket for the last return journey of the day. I had no idea where I was going, but that was just part of the fun.
We headed east under the setting sun across more green pastoral land, with plenty of cuttings to climb up a couple of hundred metres. The Mid Hampshire Railway, also known as the Watercress Line due to its predominant market-gardening commodity in the nineteenth century, has been restored since the '70s & now runs the ten miles between Alresford (where I embarked) & Alton (which I'd never heard of) on many days of the year. They have a surprisingly large fleet of steam & some diesel engines & all sorts of old rolling stock stashed on various sidings along the line. With all the staff in period dress & the engine chugging in to the fast approaching evening, billowing smoke swirling down to cover the carriage windows it was all good fun - not to mention the first time I've been pulled by a proper steam engine in I-don't-know-how-long.

It was easy to see all the signal control wires running alongside the rails.

A pleasant end to the day - even if I was a little tired from the mud-riding & got told off by the guard for almost falling asleep on his train.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Catch up

It was yet another trip up to London last, New Year's, weekend. This time to drop Mum off at Heathrow for her return to NZ & see if I could find something to do for my completely unplanned New Year's. For some reason, Levi & Marki didn't make it to Krakow to see in the New Year. Actually that reason was it was too difficult to get from where ever they were skiing near Salzburg to Poland. But that worked out in my favour as they had a little gathering at theirs, so I braved the trains into the city. As always with Marki & Levi's hospitality, I was extremely well fed & it was a good evening - even if I didn't understand any of the multitude of eastern-European languages (but then no-one but Levi & I understood the Te Puke stories). We wandered up to the building's roof to get a view of many of the various fireworks displays dotted around London as we opened champagne that kept multiplying.

Some sort of Czech food that was very tasty

Levi & Marki - on the remote chance any TP people are interested
There were a lot of fireworks, a mile or so away
Sunday I made the trek back home to Sidcup & generally sifted around seeing if a) Mum would fit all her things in her suitcase & b) how late we would be leaving for the airport. She did, & it was only 45 minutes - which I was quite impressed with. But we had plenty of time up our sleeves for a trying wet drive around the M25 before a tearful goodbye as Mum flew back to the other side of the world. As it turns out, it was well timed as a couple of days after Mum arrived home I got the sad news that my much-loved Grandma passed away after a prolonged slide into dementia. For me, I had about three years of being far removed to deal with the fact that I wouldn't be seeing Grandma again. Still, as I said during all those earthquakes, it's times like these that make one feel the furtherest from home.

On a note that will cut closer to the bone, I have a date for my shoulder op - February 21. It will be so nice to get it much more stable - although I'm sure it will come with a lot of sacrifices. Driving, riding & generally being armless come to mind.