Biking from Canterbury to Belfast
Bob Moen's Tour de U.K. 1998
Monday, June 1st, 1998 - Dispatch #3
Greetings from Cardiff, Wales
It's a sunny Monday afternoon here in Cardiff and life is sweet. I really like what little I've seen of Cardiff. It's a modern, vibrant city, with only a few ugly, newish buildings marring its 19th century beauty.
This trip is a real adventure for me. I hope you're enjoying it as well. I'm healthy and my legs are holding up well. I did have some concern, however, until I was able to isolate the intermittent "creak" to my bicycle frame.
In spirit I'm well too, although I must admit that at times I have pangs of loneliness and homesickness. That fact that the English are so thrifty with their smiles doesn't really help much. ...but I've already noticed that Wales is different.
I'm here at light speed, a cyber cafe directly across the street from the Cardiff Castle. In fact, I'm seeing the Castle's reflection on my screen--parapets, gun ports, flags and all! But as I think about it, this can't be a cyber cafe because it doesn't serve coffee. I guess it's a cyber factory. ...or maybe a cyber prison, since should I leave to get that cup of coffee I really want, someone will take my place.
Britain sure is a great place to visit by bicycle. Villages and points of interest are not too far apart. The roads are good and most of all it's safe. As an example of how safe it is: I've seen six different pair of women touring on bicycle by themselves. When I asked two of them who were from Australia why they didn't choose the US, they were succinct, "guns".
Also, the Brits are skilled and polite drivers. The narrowness of the streets and lanes often causes them to yield to other cars (and bikes) which they do without complaint. In fact, the one time I did hear a horn honk, people came out of the shops to see what all the excitement was about.
This is a beautiful time of year. The countryside is painted with many different shades of springtime green. Small Red, yellow, blue and white flowers line the roadside; cows graze on fields of clover; gardens are ablaze with color. For me, listening to the songbirds is a real treat, since I come from western US where birds don't sing.
The weather has been "changeable", as they say. Fortunately most the rainfall has been at night. Considering I've only had to ride in the rain for about one hour, I have no complaints. The temperature has varied between 15 and 20 degrees centigrade--I don't know what it means either. My guess is that the temperature has been in mid-fifties to mid-sixties, maybe even seventy today.
My last dispatch was from Exeter, so I'll pick up from there. My first stop after Exeter was Glastonbury. I went there intending to study one lost culture only to discover another.
I learned at the museum that at Christ's time the Glastonbury lake people lived and flourished in the area. It was wetter then, and this tribe of people lived on an artificial island they had built in the middle of a swamp. For two hundred years they existed, commuting back-and-forth by canoe to their fields and hunting areas. Frankly, it looked like a miserable existence to me.
The lost culture I found--get this--was hippies. And it was not just a few hippies, but half the town. I overheard bearded men, wearing tie dyed T-shirts referring to their "old ladies". There was the Outer Limits head shop painted with psychedelic colors, and I even saw that old Haight-Ashbury favorite of a woman dancing to her reflection in a store window. Yes, Lisa, I split town before anyone mentioned "free love".
That night I stayed in Wells, a town of 10,000 in Somerset. It is the fact that it is the smallest cathedral "city" in the U.K. which makes it so interesting and appealing.
In Wells I found the quintessential pub lodging at the three century old Globe Inn (Tel: 01749 672093). Hollywood could not have invented a better place. The pub owner, straight out of central casting, was a hearty fellow named John Clinch who lives with his wife on the second floor. A small spiral staircase led to my room was on the third floor, which overlooked the 16th century church across the street. The room was spotless and at 17.50, priced right. It even came equipped with an English sheepdog and a cat, who spends the evenings posing upon the bar. I recommend it to anyone who wants to experience the real thing.
(How appropriate, the music on the radio is Tom Jones.)
That evening in Wells I had a great plate of chicken curry accompanied by chutney at Boxers restaurant/pub. In fact, all the food at Boxers looked top notch. I've been eating a lot of curry since I arrived in England. It's cheap, tasty and the rice on which the curry gravy is served supplies the carbs which are converted to energy as I ride. To bad curry is not popular in the US. Since the curry spice is actually a combination of many spices, it never tastes the same between establishments.
I just had the other food I'm eating a lot of-- ploughman lunches. In Wales its called "Colliers Snap". Here's how the menu described it: "A typically Welsh collier's lunch or 'snap'. A healthy chunk of white cheddar cheese, apple, tomato, pickled onion, pickle (chutney, to us outsiders), cottage cheese, wholemeal bread and butter, served on a wooden platter with salad."
From Wells, on my way to the Cheddar Gorge, I discovered I have the uncanny ability to find the steepest roads in any particular area, when I stumbled onto the highest point in Somerset, 800 feet. That reminds me of what I learned the hard way on my last trip to England: On maps, distance is given in miles, but elevation is given in meters. It was in the Lakes District when I discovered that the friendly little 700-foot summit, was actually a 2,200-foot climb from hell.
Oops, I just noticed the time. Got to hurry, since I have yet to find lodging or see the rest of Cardiff, so in a nutshell:
I'll spend the next few days in Wales, then on to Ireland. Stay tuned.
- Cheddar Gorge sucks.
- The seaside resort of Weston-Super-Mare is full of pasty, flabby English bodies. Please make them put their clothes on.
- Bristol sucks.
- The Tintern Abbey ruins are pretty impressive, but I was most impressed by the fact that the ruins were a tourist attractive at the time of the American Revolution.
- Even more impressive is the Roman's maintained a legion of 5,500 soldiers here in Wales for 200 years and the bath house at Caerleon, stood intact for a thousand years, before it was knocked down for building material nine centuries ago.
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