Wilsey Down Forest

Location Spotlight: Wilsey Down Forest

When you’re bombing it down the A30 into deepest Cornwall you are guaranteed to pass Wilsey Down Forest. It is situated near Altarnun and borders the edge of Bodmin Moor. The dark, foreboding mass of trees is bound to make you wary – something only an evergreen forest can accomplish.

With war looming on the horizon at the beginning of the 20th Century, Britain could no longer rely on timber imports. Woodland resources in England covered just 5% of land area by 1917, due to demands during the First World War (especially trench warfare). In 1919 the Forestry Act came into force and Conifer plantations like Wilsey Down were established to ensure a strategic reserve of timber. It is unfortunate that many of the ancient broadleaved woodland areas around England were cleared to make way for the faster-growing Conifer trees.

Whilst some plantations are gradually being replanted with native species, Wilsey Down remains as a fascinating stretch of woodland to amble through and explore. The interior of evergreen plantations have a tendency to be dry dead places, due to the needles blocking out light and suffocating the forest floor. This forest is the complete opposite, with an endless carpet of moss creeping over everything, including up the trunks of trees.

As with any natural area, people have come and made it their own. The woods are scattered with survival lean-to shelters carefully designed to keep out the elements. The photo below has a heat reflection wall to bounce the heat back inside the shelter… Though I have never seen anyone actually sleeping in one.

Even the odd piece of litter is absorbed into the forest and quickly becomes something special. This glass bottle has turned into a tiny biome, complete with plants growing inside it.

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A Cycling Recap – 2017

It’s time for my second cycling recap post! The first one was for 2016, during which I started cycling as a hobby and covered 1911 miles around Bournemouth work placement year at university. This year I only did 628 miles of ‘hobby’ cycling that was recorded on Strava, but the 5000 miles of unrecorded cycling during my summer tour is also added on.

In 2017, I cycled:
5628 miles – 9057km
158 days – 145 activities

My cycling map hasn’t really changed much from last year, the main difference is more rides in Cornwall as I spent the last quarter of the year at home.

And the Strava ‘My Year in Sport’ video

My favourite day-ride cycling photo from 2017 has got to be Badbury Avenue in the mist. I haven’t taken such an atmospheric photo since.

In last year’s recap I said it was unlikely I would do more than 1500 miles, I never imagined I would do triple the distance.

The main rides:
Summer Cycle Tour
Into the Mist
Nipping into the New Forest
Dorset Bluebells
New Forest Exploration
Hartland Moor and Corfe Cycle

 

2018 New Year Goals

On the 1st January 2017, I made a ‘New Year Goals’ post, the outcome of these goals a year later is that I achieved a few of them, half achieved a few more and completely failed the rest. Does this matter? I would argue no, as I’m happy with what I did manage over the year (and besides, it’s a bit late worrying now!).

Last year I wanted to:

  • Grow my reader base on Facebook – I left Facebook, so that didn’t work out. But on the other hand, I started using Instagram which is going great. (1 resolution achieved!)
  • Have a few more guest writers – It’s surprisingly difficult motivating people to write. I don’t think this was a very good resolution as it relies on other people to be completed.
  • Finish documenting my travels from the last few years – In the process of doing, I just need to tidy up and actually publish. (1.5 resolutions achieved!)
  • Keep up my cycling – I cycled 5600 miles! (2.5 resolution achieved!)
  • Draw more and photograph more – I have practised both digital art and my photography, but maybe not as much as I hoped. (3 resolutions achieved!)
  • Graduate – I achieved a first, so definitely done! (4 resolutions achieved!)
  • Write about this years holiday – Done! (5 resolutions achieved!)
  • Find an IT Graduate job – Slowly getting there, I have my eye on graduate schemes which I’m really keen on.

So I have achieved 5 out of 8 of my 2017 New Year Goals, the ones that I missed I’ll carry over to this year as I still want to achieve them.

2018 New Year Goals
  • Finish documenting my travels from the last few years.
  • Find an IT Graduate job.
  • Visit at least one more country I haven’t previously gone to.
  • Read 36 books.
  • Finish two digital art pieces I’ve been working on/off for years but always thought were missing something that completes them.
  • Meet with the Bournemouth lot at some point.

 

Summer Cycle Tour Recap

The finished route, cycling through 13 countries over 4 months.

The initial idea of a summer cycling tour began a few years ago but never developed into a full plan. We knew we wanted to do it and that was enough. Then, last Christmas we started to discuss it more and dithered between two ideas:

1. Cycle the Baltic Sea.

2. Head into France and meander south.

Idea 1 had the size and impressive thing going for it, whilst idea 2 would have been a more relaxed holiday and safer as we know France. In both scenarios going to Ireland was first as we needed to be near home in early July.

In Ireland, idea 2 tended to win. We were constantly wet, cycling up mountains and generally miserable. Our conversations would mostly be “can’t wait to be eating croissants” or “this supermarket is awful, at least the French supermarkets are really good”. We held off deciding until after a week resting with family in the Peak District. The horrors of rainy Ireland faded away and so we settled on Idea 1.

I’ve collected my adventures over the summer into this post with quick links to each country along with the best photo from it. Simply click on a post link to be whisked away to the relevant place.

UK

Cornwall to Wales

Ireland

Winding Westwards | The Dingle Peninsula | The  Wild Atlantic | Cycling the Causeway Coastal Route

UK (again)

Stopover in the Peak District

The Netherlands

Cycling through the Netherlands

Germany

Visiting Hamburg and Lubeck

Denmark

Exploring Copenhagen | Reaching the Baltic Sea

Sweden

Southern Sweden | Destination: Gotland

Finland

 The Archipelago Sea | King’s Road through Finland

Estonia

The First Baltic State

Latvia

Disaster Strikes in Latvia 

Lithuania

Border troubles in Lithuania

Poland

Touring through Poland

Germany (again)

Back into Germany

Belgium

Navigating Belgium

France

France and home

That’s everything for the summer cycle tour! Four and a half months summarised into 21 website posts and countless photos.

France and home

Roughly 130 days later and we are nearly home! The last country of the tour was France, all it did was rain and so we caught a train and only spent three days there.

We entered France at Lille and what felt like the worlds longest continuous highstreet. It went on, and on, and on. We spent so long on it that it started to feel like a timeloop. Every 10 minutes the same tram station would go past, and I would stare at it until I realised that it was ever so slightly different. We eventually got onto a canal and followed it for 40 miles to a camping municipal.

Entering France at Lille meant that we cycled straight through the Somme and the Western Front in World War One. The length of time it took to cycle, combined with the constant signposting for war graveyards really enforced the scale of the fighting.

The next part of the cycle was terrible, we checked the forecast and saw there was a massive rainstorm coming in and so decided to cycle to a small country station and catch a train to Amiens. We arrived to find that the entire line was closed for repairs and so we cycled the whole way to Amiens as fast as possible as we wanted to catch the 5pm train. We made it with 10 minutes to spare and had to dodge all the commuters heading home.

I was using my phone to navigate and took a quick photo enroute, but the water on the screen changed the settings into faded black and white. I think it came out even better!

My phone broke after that incredibly wet ride. I later dried it out at home and found that it stills works other than the WiFi circuits were fried. I decided to make do as it it works perfectly for everything else.

Rouen Cathedral and the Abbey of St. Ouen were really hard to photograph properly due to the size. Though I quite like the doorway with my bike and a boy with his hands clasped in front of him.

Rouen is also famous for its medieval half-timbered houses that brighten the cobbled streets.

From Rouen we needed to follow the Seine river straight to Le Havre and board our ferry by 5pm. We got half way and suddenly thought that maybe we should double check the ferry time.  Much to our dismay we had misremembered the time and actually needed to be there by 4pm. So we did 90km in about 5 hours without stopping. The route led us through small riverside towns, a national park and the Esso oil refinery that was belching huge gouts of fire into the sky from its chimney stacks.

Whilst in the queue we chatted with some fellow tourers, and one said “wherever you go, there is always someone who has gone further”. True words, though we only met someone who had done a comparable distance to us once and that was durign . We made it onboard the ferry and sunbathed on deck until the sun set behind gloomy looking clouds.

After a quick stop in Fareham we were once again cycling through the Cornish countryside and the holiday was over.

The Route

My next post will be a recap of the entire holiday, from beginning to end. But until then, here is our final (rough) route and the key details.

4.5 months
5000 miles
13 countries
£3711 spent

Navigating Belgium

Only two posts left for the summer cycle tour! We mysteriously sped up after Dusseldorf and pelted it home, doing 550 miles over 7 days.

I was initially excited about cycling through Belgium. I researched the best way home during the Dusseldorf break and found the Flanders Cycle Route. It’s a segment of LF6 that goes from Maastricht to near Dunkirk and so would have carried us nearly all the way back. In reality, it was useless and we ended up going more diagonally towards Lille (which was a huge mistake!)

The first bit was cycling through Germany to Maastricht (Netherlands) where we found a statue memorialising d’Artagnon who died during the Seige of Maastricht in 1673. It was a must-stop for both of us as we had read the Three Musketeers series when we were too exhausted to do much else (I read about 60 books during the holiday).

The next day we cycled into Belgium and proceeded to get lost in a town whilst looking for a shop. It was divided in half by a large road and the map app route looped around and was completely mystifying. A guy yelled at us from the top of the building during one of our map checks and then came down and guided us to an Aldi on his bike. He said people often couldn’t find it and we weren’t the first he had shown.

That evening we camped in a ‘legal wild camping spot’, along with a tramp who was camped right next to the water pump. We couldn’t get the pump to work and had to go on a phone signal hunt to translate this sign:

The first paragraph translates to “best driver (?), please always leave a round bucket with pump water for the next visitor. It is the intention that you first pour water into the pump and then the pumps start.”

That puzzled us, then I decided to take it literally and poured water into the top of the pump where the handle is. That worked but the water was filthy, it stank of iron and had dirt/rust floating in it. The bivouak site quickly dropped from being great (free!) to being absolutely useless and frustrating. We made do with the water we were carrying then walked around the lake.

Close-up shot a bit further on:

Yes, I did see a few dead fish. On the plus side, there was a large watersport facility further around the lake that had an outside tap which I may have used to wash whilst my brother kept a careful lookout.

The main problem with the Flanders Cycle Route was that it felt like they dropped a piece of spaghetti on a map and decided to use that as the basis for the route. It twisted and turned up every big hill and most of the small roads. We only followed it for a day but the majority of the route was over cobblestones which rapidly became uncomfortable. Not to mention worrying, we were cautious after breaking a spoke in Poland going along rough roads.

On the final day of Belgium, we were cycling towards Herne, a small town that has a campsite when a local chased us down the road and yelled at us. We carried on cycling and he chased us down the road so we figured we should stop, he switched to English and offered us his garden to camp in. It turned out the campsite in Herne was caravans only.

Throughout Belgium we found beautiful graffiti by their resident graffiti artist, he is called DZIA and paints urban areas throughout Europe. This was the best one I saw, though there are hundreds of others that we missed.

 

Back into Germany

We approached Germany with some apprehension, everyone knows the German reputation for being strict and law-abiding so we thought they probably wouldn’t be so thrilled to find us camped in the corner of a graveyard or on their pristine football pitch. Our worries turned out to be unfounded as we made it across to Dusseldorf without any arrests or incomprehensible yelling matches.

After the relative poverty of the Baltic States, we were overjoyed when our first German town had a bridge with a slide attached for no reason other than fun. We noticed more random features of entertainment throughout Germany than any of the other countries and always tried to make the most of it.

Our first adventure in Germany was meeting another tourer from New Zealand on the ferry over the Szczecin Lagoon. Incidentally, he was on his way home because the tent had fallen off the back of his bike. One of my general exploration tips has always been:

Don’t store equipment on the outside of your panniers or backpack! If you absolutely have to, loop a strap through somewhere where it is impossible to come off even if being dragged behind you.

The bicycle tourer felt that the younger generation are swept up in their digital lives and was amazed at meeting tourers as young as us. He invited us to a cafe and we ended up chatting all morning, and not leaving until 12. The delay wasn’t ideal for our planned long day to get us well into Germany. In the end, we still did a huge distance (85 miles) and managed to take smaller roads. I noticed that autumn was arriving and felt odd having left home mid-spring and still travelling at the beginning of autumn.

Something we found entertaining was the state of German roads. Unlike Poland or any other country I saw, Germany seems to like chopping the roads up and filling them back in to make a patchwork quilt effect. We couldn’t puzzle out why they would need to cut such peculiar shapes out of the road. Is it because of pipes or wires? Roots? Treasure hunting? Most likely tree roots, judging by the huge trees either side.

After spending a little too much money at the supermarket the previous day, we decided that we really should find a wild campsite for the evening. I noticed a road leading up to a large clump of trees just outside a small village. After some exploring through the trees, I found a small, sandy quarry with a beautiful open spot overlooking it. Tractors drove past in the morning and got a good look at our washing drying on the trees, they paused for a bit but didn’t stop to investigate.

Heading off in the morning down the track

The next day was Sunday, and extremely windy. All food shops are closed on a Sunday in Germany so we were carrying a fair bit more weight whilst also fighting through the wind. We cycled past a graveyard surrounded by fields and decided to stop a little bit early. The following morning our choice of campsite was rewarded with the best sunrise I’ve ever seen.

The tent is tucked away on the left beside the trees. It was a great spot, other than an endless barrage of slugs crawling towards us. They were those horrible long, black ones that ooze goo and refuse to go away. We woke up to a few on the outside of the tent-inner and tried hitting them off from the inside. It didn’t work. Instead, we upgraded the problem to squashed, leaking slugs. Ten minutes of scraping the tent and we were ready to pack up and move on.

We cycled as far as Celle and then caught a train to Dusseldorf for 134 euros, which saved roughly five days cycling. It was always the plan to catch a train somewhere in Germany as we knew by this stage of the holiday that staying with my sister would be a welcome break.

Germany technically marks the end of the Baltic Sea Bicycle Tour as our route back via Belgium and France doesn’t go anywhere near it, nor do the countries even border it. Next up, we attempt to navigate the Flanders Cycle Route through Belgium.

 

 

Touring through Poland

Our final day of cycling in Lithuania ended with being interrogated by the Lithuania/Kaliningrad Border Police, so it was only natural that we hopped over the border when the road did pass near it for a few miles. The nearest guard tower was 5 miles away and the Russian side was wild woodland so it was a pretty safe bit of law-breaking. This fancy post marks the Russian side.

border with russia

A few days into Poland we had another bike disaster. We were cycling inbetween two towns when my pedal crank jammed, a few minutes of fiddling managed to fix it. Then 20 minutes later it happened again, and this time fiddling didn’t work. A quick explanation of the problem is that if the pedals can’t turn then I don’t move! We were 9 miles from a town and so my first thought was to ring local taxis. I can only say that they don’t speak English and after four conversations of “co? co?” I lost patience. So using a mix of bike waddling and being towed by my brother we made it to Bartoszyce, the next town.

Bike towing is a useful skill to know, the broken down cyclist simply grabs hold of the mobile cyclist and is pulled along. I found holding onto his shoulder worked well but he found it strenuous work. Alternatively, grab hands and then you can get a bit of a push off when you pull ahead. Of course, this is dependant on having a strong puller.

We ate at ‘Restauracja U Świętego Mikołaja‘ and had a really good two course meal costing £12 for both us! It included two soups, a maincourse of chicken and pierogi (dumplings) plus drinks. We had Kvass, a fermented black drink made from Rye Bread. It was… unusual.

The meal was definitely tastier than any attempts we could have made to cook the octopus we frequently saw in shops. The thought of tentacles drooping over the sides of our camping saucepan was enough to put me off buying one. Though 40.48zl (£8.53) is a pretty good price for an entire octopus.

The next morning we caught a bus from Bartoszyce to Gdansk (32zl each + 60zl for both bikes), where we found a bike shop willing to take a look at my bike. The mechanic undid the casing and then accidentally snapped it in half, and said ‘broken!’with an air of finality. At that moment I was feeling apprehension at the bike repair cost to come but he simply did it all back up and said ‘fine!’ I made 100% clear with him that it was good for another 1000km and we left. He didn’t charge us, which makes sense considering that if anything he broke it more.

Photo of broken bike

The white jagged edge is where it snapped off, all the way around.

The next few days were uneventful cycling along the Polish coast towards Germany. We stopped along the road to enjoy the beach and found it crowded with people! A very different scene to the beaches in Estonia and Latvia. Try to spot the difference between this photo of a beach in Poland.

And this photo from when we cycled through Latvia. If you want a beach all to yourself as far as you can see then the Baltic States are where to go.

We both purchased new cycling shoes for the tour, my brother bought Shimano RT500 Shoes (left) for £68, I got Shimano M065 Cycling Shoes (right) for £55. By Poland his were totally knackered. The sole was coming off and the black coating peeling away. On the plus side, he went to Decathlon to buy new shoes and got on so well with the bike mechanic that he gave him the old multitool.

That evening we stayed at a campsite near Wladyslawowo, on the Hel Peninsula. I wouldn’t recommend it there, the campsites were all filthy, crowded and crammed in one after another on the first half of the peninsula. In retrospect, camping on a 100m wide peninsula was never going to be nice.

Thomas had a bit of a row with a campsite woman/cleaner so he left his old shoes sticking out from the curtain in one of the toilet cubicles. Some say that no-one has dared look inside to this day.

—End of the 51-day dry spell!—

The 51 days of cycling in the sunshine ended in Poland much to our dismay. The next few days we cycled with rolling thunder all around us, though it frequently broke up and gave us a chance to dry off.

Towards the end of Poland, I found the largest puffball I’ve ever seen. It’s aptly named Calvatia Gigantea in Latin and is edible when young. I doubt you would have the heart to eat this one though.

At this stage of the cycle tour the odometer is at roughly 4500 miles and we have cycled through 12 countries. Just three countries remaining: Germany (again), Belgium and France.

 

Border troubles in Lithuania

I am now home! We cycled for four months, over 5000 miles, and through 13 countries.

Lithuania was my least favourite of the Baltic States, that isn’t to say that we had plenty of fun though. We lost equipment and found it again, got waylaid by a super-social German and interrogated by the border guard.

Our second day in Lithuania was an unusually long one. Leaving the campsite at 9am and cycling until 7pm in the evening. We decided not to go along the Curonian spit as we needed to cut around the Russian province of Kaliningrad and the spit didn’t go in the right direction. I did see the sailing boat moored in Klaipėda though, where the spit begins.

We couldn’t find a campsite at 5pm so I went into a supermarket and filled up all our water carrying equipment (bottles and platypus) whilst Thomas chatted to some Lithuanian children who were delighted to test their English on him. As we cycled off we heard them yelling behind us: “Tom! Tom!” He turned around and found that he had left his hat on the ground and they were running after us to give it back.

We were cycling in the twilight when a minibus driver stopped in the middle of the road and started jabbering to us. The gist of the conversation seemed to be that we should put our lights on, though neither of us understood a word he was saying. We looked at him blankly and after a few more communications attempts he shrugged, muttered something and drove off. We likewise shrugged, thought he was crazy and cycled on. Then further down the road, we noticed a police car, then another, then another, all parked on a forest track. They were standing in a circle talking so we cycled faster and fortunately they didn’t stop us. I think there are certain laws in the Baltic about lights and wearing visible clothing, which we were probably breaking.

The Cateye Saga

Firstly, cateye is the manufacturer of the speedometer I use. It clips on to the handlebars and measures distance by how fast the wheel turns. The cateye debacle started when Thomas broke a spoke. We had been going over horrendous roads all day, the Lithuanians’ repair roads by ripping them up in long stretches and then letting people drive over them. It’s not comfortable, and certainly not good for the bikes.

I bet you’re thinking ‘huh, that doesn’t look too bad?’ It’s not if the roads are empty. But as soon as a car comes along we either go into the gravel on the left or the dust on the right. We get coated in fine grit either way, and it doesn’t taste nice.

Fortunately, we only ended up with that one broken spoke and so made it to the nearest town which had a bicycle shop. Only it was closed due to Assumption of Mary – a national holiday in many Catholic Countries. We decided to carefully cycle on. Then it struck us, the primary way of travel are buses – so why not catch one! We successfully caught a bus for only €4 each but in the process my cateye was knocked off.

In the campsite that evening we met an overly social German who invited us to have beer beside his caravan. We ended up there all evening, slapping mosquitoes and standing in the dark. There was a good sunset over the lake though.

The following morning we fixed the bike ourselves at a bike shop as the mechanic was out. As we were puzzling out how to true the wheel when the mechanic returned and wordlessly took over for us. We decided to go back 20 miles for the cateye, it should have been easy peasy, but of course we somehow missed the bus stop and cycled an extra 9 miles further (and then back again!) than we needed to. The fact that we didn’t notice familiar surroundings is testament to how exhausted we get towards the end of the day, and how different things look from the opposite direction.

To make us feel a bit better we bought one of those super fancy looking cakes you always see but never buy. We found it in the discounted section of course.

interrogation by the border guard

In the evening we camped above a lake on the Lithuanian/Kaliningrad border. On our side the lakeside was scattered with lights, on the Russian side it was pitch black. But bizarrely, around 8pm we heard very loud thumping music from across the lake. We had seen frequent ‘NO CAMPING’ signs and uniformed guards in jeeps so decided to avoid any trouble and camp in a field above the lake.

We got going early in the morning and so everything was slightly damp from the dew and condensation in the tent. Further on we found a dry bus stop and so stopped to set everything out, sleeping bags draped over the bench, towels on the curb, washing on nearby trees, and so on. Then up comes a jeep, out hop two soldiers with guns and I worriedly look around at our drying gear.

“Lithuanian border control. Can we see your papers?”
We immediately jumped to it whilst they looked at our washing, at us, then back at the washing. I pretended not to notice.
“Thank you. Where are you going?” One asked, as the other agonisingly slowly flicked through each page of the passports.
“Poland.”
“Where are you from?”
“England.”
“What are you doing here?”
“Cycling around the Baltic Sea for four months.”
They ignore the obvious conversation hook, snap the passports shut and have a final look at our washing.
“Ok, carry on.”
With that final sentence, they marched back to the jeep, climbed in and slowly drove off leaving us feeling embarassed about our drying gear and feeling glad we hadn’t been interrogated whilst wild camping within a mile of Russia.

Disaster Strikes in Latvia 

I’m once again on the move. We’re camping near Maastricht in the Netherlands tonight, we’ve extended the tour to include the Flanders Cycle Route through Belgium to Dunkirk.

The first part of the Latvian disaster is that my brother started to feel ill one morning when we were wild camping without water. He was then sick multiple times, I told him to man up and we cycled 45 miles until we found another suitable wild camping spot. He spent the rest of the day languishing in bed.

On route that day we spotted… A giant chair. Funnily enough, it was advertising a campsite but we decided to push on to the one we had planned.

The legs were double my height and so impossible to climb without some kind of aid. You can spot the log restoring against the back but it didn’t help much. Especially as I didn’t want to break anything in the middle of a Baltic country 1500 miles from home.

Latvia has the one of the longest beaches in Europe, that stretches the entirety of the hook near Riga. It is an amazing experience to be able to walk along a beach for a few miles on a blistering hot day and not see anyone. Try it in the UK and you would struggle to see the sand.

Having cycled most of an entire sea we are well aware that cycling on sand is not worth the sheer amount of difficulty it entails. I remember speaking to one couple touring who followed signs for another eurovelo route that took them along muddy tracks and then through sand dunes. It took them over 2 hours to do 5km!

The disaster struck me three days after Thomas. We ate and topped up with water in a town and then cycled for an hour into the forest bordering the sea.

Like the start of many disasters, it was a perfect evening at the beginning. We found a spot over looking the sea and drank hot chocolate as the sun set. There wasn’t a soul in sight and the view was stunning.

But then I felt the pangs of illness in my stomach and the evening rapidly deteriorated from there. I spent the night half out of the tent decorating the cliff with Latvian dumplings, a popular national dish. We both concluded it was a bug as we caught it days apart and so couldn’t be the food or water.

By the morning it was over and it was only fair that we cycle 45 miles to a campsite bringing our wild camping streak to an end. From arriving in Sweden to Latvia we wild camped a total of 22 consecutive days!

We quickly cycled through Riga, the capital of Latvia. It was a beautiful city and one I would like to explore without bicycles.

Despite the trials and tribulations of Latvia it remains my favourite Baltic State and the cake eaten and beaches camped will always be remembered.

The next country is Lithuania and the final Baltic State.