Monday, March 23, 2009

Cycling around the Isle of Wight

After many wonderful trips to various places around England, Ashwin and me felt that it was time we did something different. Something that we could remember even if we suffered from Amnesia later on in life.
I sat one whole night pouring over my guide book and finally after hours of research suggested something radical- A cycling trip around the cliffs of Isle of Wight.
Ashwin liked it but there were serious doubts over the idea- We did not know the road rules of England - they drive on the left hand side of the road, that is where the similarity ends when compared with India. I had not touched a bicycle since 1994 and the last time I had ridden one I fell and fractured my ankle. We did not know the level of our stamina too and since the weather prediction for the rest of the week was rain, we were wary of the wet slippery road too.
But something took over us and in spite of all these doubts we got up one fine morning and took a train to Lymington pier, on the south Hampshire coast.
The train to Lymington pier was had a vintage touch to it and was a far cry from the modern trains that we were used to.

From Lymington pier we boarded a ferry and stood on its open deck braving the cold winds.
Though there is a nice cosy warm lounge inside, we had to temper our bodies to what we were about to do. Below is Ashwin keeping a Lookout from the ferry!

and here he is Mooing, a special tribute to a special one.

The ferry unloaded us at Yarmouth and a 10 minute walk from the pier led us to a bicycle shop from where we hired two bicycle's . We were asked to wait for 20 minutes during which the bicycles were undergoing pre-hiring tests. We used this time to plan our route on the map and briefly get acquainted with the rules of the Road.
As we were waiting by the lake side for our bicycle, we had our first encounter with a Local, who gave us a big smile and it reminded me of Arnold Schwarzenegger in the Movie Commando!

Well we finally had our bikes and with kid steps slowly started to pedal. We decided to start our trip on an unpaved road, since there would not be any vehicles and it would give us some practice.
A little experiment with the gears and in 20 minutes we were pretty confident of our balance. Now we had to prove our self's on the road.
The ride was very picturesque and I can only imagine how it will be in spring, when the trees are in full bloom.
Every time we met locals ( mostly taking their dogs for a walk) here they had the perfect etiquette of giving a nice smile, followed by wishing and enquiring about the weather.
This actually continued during our entire day at the Isle, so much so, that we cannot remember one single person who had not wished us.

There were times when even car's slowed down and the drivers gave us a nice smile. There was so much of warmth and respect and it all made us so comfortable and good.

After an uneventful enjoyable ride, the first place we reached was the Freshwater Bay.It took about one hour of cycling to reach here, the route was pretty straight and even and its only when we decided to have a view from the cliff that we had to climb the steep ascent.

and steep is an understatement...

Once on the cliffs, it was all windy plain grasslands and was a lovely sight, so beautiful that no photograph could do justice to its beauty.

Just Awestruck

We ventured close to the cliff edge to get a feel of the strong wind blow against our face; the wind was so strong that even if we had to jump off the cliff, we would have been blown right back into the hill.

Photographed from the very edge of the cliff.

Photograph of the warning board that says, "Cliff edges can be dangerous". Since there is not fencing around....

........ activities like sitting on the cliff edge like this should not be done !!!

The serpentine roads of the isle wind through picturesque country planes and you never realise time fly by as you pedal your bike through the planes.

The only creatures with attitude here where the sheep, this one certainly did not like us photographing him and gave us dirty looks.

Through long winding roads we pedaled from Freshwater bay to Alum bay. The scenic ride past sheep farms and farmhouses was simply exhilarating.

It was mostly downhill now, and we were enjoying riding full speed and breaking the sound barrier on the bicycle. It was sheer delight as the wind hit out face and froze our veins. It would be hours before we could see any cars.

At alum bay we had our lunch, which included a nice thick juicy sausage and the most tasty burger that Ashwin or me have ever tasted.
Next to the restaurant was the Alum glass factory, we spent some time here, watching glass blowing and reading interesting trivia about glass in the small display that is kept for visitors.

Our reason for visiting Alum bay was to visit the Needles and from the glass factory we had to pedal on a continuous ascent for about one hour to reach the needles.
The ascent was slow because we were halted many a time by the sheer beauty of the place.
The multi coloured sand of the Alum Bay can put even the rainbow to shame. The red colour is due to Oxidation of Iron in the sand and various levels of oxidation gives different colours.
Coming closer to the needles we saw a path that took us very close to the cliff edge and provided a breathtaking view of the entire bay. The cliffs looks like massive chunks of chalk and felt like chalk too.

It was sheer rush of adrenalin as the wind kept us pushing away from the cliffs and we went on cycling leaning on the invisible wind.

when it came to the climbs though even wind did not help..

We Finally reached to the peak of our ascent and on the top is a Old Victorian Battery which once housed Guns to defend the English Channel from enemy naval attacks. Above is the remains of an old rocket testing site. In the 1950's ICBM's were test fired from this place. We stood on this place and looked towards the sea.

And from this point we finally got to see the scene which we so hallowed, 'The needles'. This entire trip was centered around this view and we had finally made it. We jumped hugged and clicked photographs, but standing there was difficult because of the strong winds. We even had difficulties parking our bicycles in the strong wind .

Above is a closeup of the Needles light house, it held special importance to me since I had used this point to fix my ships position numerous times, when we transited the English Channel. All I had seen of it before was its Radar Echo and it brought back all those memories.
( The place is called the Needle, because there was a Needle shaped chalk formation in between these rocks which collapsed in 1764, but the name still stuck)

The wind had now become so strong that walking was nearly impossible, there was a shower but the water was quickly dried off by the strong wind. Clicking photographs was pretty difficult but we somehow managed to get a few shots. Above is the Photograph of Alum bay from Needles and below is Needles from Alum Bay.

Wind had picked up to Force 6 ( 40-50 kms/hr) and staying around the cliffs was becoming nearly impossible. We then decided to go back and at this time we experienced our best cycling joy.

We had a steep downward slope, wind was on our back and pushing us at 45 km/hr. We simply let our bicycle brakes loose, I have no idea of the speed we were travelling at but everything around seemed blurred. The wind was pushing us down the slope so fast that probably my entire reservoir of Adrenalin was in my blood. We had rocketed down from a rocket testing site within minutes .Once at the base of the hill we looked at each other and gave a hi-five.
It was nearly dusk and we had to reach Yarmouth and return back the bicycles before dark. Since our bicycles did not have any illumination it would be very unsafe to ride at night. We pedaled back as fast as we could with all our energy, only stopping and resting at pristine secluded beaches for a bottle of water.

The beach above entirely consisted of Pebbles and these pebbles made beautiful sound when the waves brushed against them.
Just at the end of twilight we reached Yarmouth, we had pedaled for about 21 kilometers. When we started the day we never thought we would do something like this, but the day could not have ended anyway better.
We let nature take control of us, instead of fighting the elements we gave in to it and Nature did not let us down. We only managed to explore 1/6th of the Isle, today we can only wonder what the rest of the island has in store for us. We sure will visit it again and complete the Journey.

Friday, March 20, 2009


After a relaxing nights sleep at the Bath spa University hostel Ashwin and me had a nice sumptuous English breakfast that was our fuel for the rest of the day.

We were to take a train from Bath to Bristol, but works on the rail line made us take the Bus, which dropped us to the Bristol Meads train station, photographed below.
We had grand plans for Bristol and the morning did not unfold in the way we expected. Next to the train station is the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum and it was our plan to start the visit of Bristol by visiting this museum. Its only after waiting until 10 that we realised that the museum would not open since they are shifting to London.. Grrr...
We then caught a bus and headed to the Harbour front where we spent a little time walking around the river side and looking enviously at all the lovely yachts.

We had come to the harbour front to visit the Wildwalk - an indoor botanical garden which recreates a tropical forest in the heart of Bristol. But unfortunately for us this too was closed because they were sprucing it up for the summer tourist season. We sat beside the fountain wondering what to do next.
From where we were sitting we could see houses atop a high hill, we wondered how Bristol would look like from there and decided to trek to that place. Looking into the map, we realised the Bristol zoo was located somewhere in that direction and headed there.
It was a long steep climb. Sometimes I felt that we should have taken a bus, but clicking photographs of the steep road we climbed was never so fun.

We treated our self's with photographs and a mouthful of water after every steep climb. It was a 30 minute of steep walk and we sometimes wondered if the walk would be worth it. We were heading towards Clifton.....
As we were approaching the zoo, we came across a beautiful view, this one of the Clifton High school, the scene was so beautiful that we stood there for quite sometime. It was hard to believe that this was a school.
Closer view of the school...

We entered the Bristol Zoo and I must admit that although it has a wonderful collection of animals and is very educative, the zoo did not appeal to us. May be because of the artificial kind of feel ( it was too clean to be associated with animals ) but it sure is a very nice way to teach children about animals and they have almost every thing from Lion to a housefly, from a Okapi to mole rats and from Seals to dart frogs.
The one that I liked a lot was feeding of the seals, I had never seen seals before and feeding I had seen only on the tele. We did get a bit hungry looking at the big chunks of fish these seals were being fed with.
Well after eating a chocolate bar from the vending machine we came out of the zoo and we had to still see the houses on the cliffs which was the reason we were here. We kept following our instincts and walked across the beautiful country side. The walk was very rejuvenating and we kept walking through these tunnel of trees as the sun kept setting on us.
We walked about 10 minutes in this alleyway of trees and I wonder how the place will look in Summer when the trees are filled with green Foliage.
The streets where we walked were lined by beautiful Victorian styled mansions and it sure seemed like a place for the cream of Bristol's affluent people. Below is the photograph of the Christ Church at Clifton.
As we reached the end of our steep climb, we were greeted by this wonderful view of the Clifton Suspension Bridge. The view was so grandeur that all our tiredness vanished and it seemed the visit to Bristol was truly worth every penny.
( The flare in the above photograph is caused because of the internal refraction of sunlight in the camera lens, since the rays enter the lens at an angle. It was just by chance it happened and I like it so much that I decided to post this one over the other ones without the flare)

On the steep slope of the hill we spotted many people ( even children) playing slide. They were sitting on top of the smooth rock and were sliding down the hill. It was quite amazing to see it. We walked on the bridge and loved the wonderful view the bridge provided.
The building on the cliff is the Clifton Observatory and houses a camera Obscura, it also has a passage that leads to a cave in the middle of the cliff from where one can get a magnificent view of the bridge.
Photograph from the other end of the bridge.
We finally had the view of Bristol that we came searching for, it was simply breathtaking
A view of the bridge from another side.
The massive wires that hold the bridge.

The Sun was setting as we finished looking at the bridge and began our descent down to bristol. One last glance at the bridge and it looked even more prettier with the sun playing tricks with shadows.

As we reached the City centre we passed across the SS Great Britain. The ship was designed in 1843 and served for 43 years as an ocean liner. After being damaged in 1886 she was converted to a cargo ship and has been in Bristol from 1970 and is today a Museum. It was too late for us to visit her that day.

After a long fun filled walk we rested at the waterfront watching people play in the night light.

After a nice unwinding hour we had a big pizza and headed back to bath- from where we went back to Reading.
Historically speaking Bath has always outshined Bristol and we felt it continues to do so, the Modernity of Bristol has failed to outshine the beauty and elegance of Bath.
We had two lovely days of outing- living like two free birds, going where we wanted to heading to where our instincts dictated and mostly eating and drinking what we just felt like. These were some of the best days of our life's.