Monday, 25 August 2014

Those holidays... were really, really nice.

There we are, Monday morning. Time to start telling you about all the things that happened during the blogging break... and the first thing is: our holidays.

This year for our holidays, we went to England again. Now, me and the most patient husband of them all like to have vacations with an, um, active element to them, such as going for a several-day canoe paddle... or travelling with the tandem.

If you've been a long-time reader, you might know that we own a semi-recumbent tandem, a perfect machine for travelling. We've done two England cycling trips before, and this time, we wanted to have a go in the south - Kent, Sussex, maybe even the Isle of Wight. We prepared the trip by getting Sustrans maps, loading all kinds of data onto the satnav, checking out what English Heritage and National Trust things would lie in the region, and finally went off for a two-week holiday.

What we had underestimated were, of course, the hills. Now we knew that England is only flat in tiny areas (quickly travelled through) and goes up and down otherwise. We're both not afraid of climbing a hill or a large hill... but the short and steep inclines in the inland of Kent and East Sussex do drain one's legs quickly if you have a bike with some weight to it. And with all our stuff, plus the rather heavy build of the tandem itself, it's a significant amount of weight! We were planning to camp, so our gear included the tent, mats, sleeping bags, and a full camping kitchen including a stash of emergency food supplies. Alltogether, with our personal gear and food and water loaded onto the bike, it weighs about 70 kg - that's a lot of weight to pedal up a 10% or more slope.

So we didn't get as far as the Isle of Wight. We did, however, manage to see Brighton (including some sea-bathing, though not directly in Brighton). We also saw lots and lots of beautiful vistas across cliffs, lands, fields; rode through dozens and dozens of streets that were flanked by trees so dense and high it turned them into green tunnels; went into gardens and old churches and houses. We saw Dover Castle (twice!), happened across a band of change-ringers (to our great delight), and most of the time we were very, very hot as we managed to get the full heatwave that England had in July.

It was, altogether, lovely. We met lots of nice people, had lots of nice food, slept incredible amounts of time ("oh, it's dusk already... hm... we could go and sleep?") and took in wonderful, wonderful landscape and scenery. We also made the most of our Overseas Visitor Pass from English Heritage... and not so much from our National Trust one. And you can totally save yourself the money for buying an overseas membership for the Camping and Caravanning club if you are going to use a tent - not worth it at all.

More detail? Here you go.
We have had so many good times with the English Heritage pass that it was a no-brainer to get one for this holiday. Really, it's amazing value - if you visit Dover Castle twice, you are already saving money if you bought the pass. And it's easy to spend two days (or two half-days) at that place, there's so much to see. When you buy the OVP, you get all the info stuff you would receive with a regular one-year membership, so you can look up all the details for all the places in a book.
If you are still in doubt - don't be. We usually broke even on our second or third day of holidays with the pass, even if travelling on the bike. And it gives you plenty of side destinations, all with clean and nice toilets, friendly people, gift shops to browse and fairly-priced, good food in their tearooms.

The National Trust has lovely parks as well as stunning houses and gardens, and they also offer a temporary pass. Unfortunately, though, you do not get a book with info, and all you have to plan with is a (rough) map that tells you whether it's a landscape, a house, or a garden. There are no opening times, no descriptions, no prices for regular entry (which would help in planning, as the price is usually a good hint on the size of the property, and thus the time you should plan to visit it). The only way to get this information is to pick up one of the info leaflets for the individual properties and places - and these are not always available in the spots you happen into. We thus had a hard time planning, and ended up not visiting as many of the places as we had hoped to (also because we were not cycling as far as we had originally planned to go, so it's not completely the fault of NT). The staff, though, was all incredibly nice, and we were even given a proper info book at one place, when we complained about our difficulties. We were also allowed to have a walk through the garden at one place even though we came there on a day where it was closed, having cycled a good distance just to visit this place.
So... if you are planning to do a sightseeing trip with bicycles or similar slow transportation, you will probably want to look up everything in the Internet before and take notes - including notes on opening times, which can vary immensely from property to property. The parks and landscapes are usually free to visit, so you might not even need to buy a pass.

And in regards to the Camping club... not only do you get no info, you also get an unfriendly answer when you ask for more info, or for the reason why they are so stingy with their stuff. As most of the places they have are very hard to find without the big book of sites, it was a waste of money and we will definitely not do that again. Also, they have plenty of places that do not take tents, and it's a hassle to find out which ones do from via the websites, if it's at all possible.

But that really was the only fly in the ointment of a holiday trip full of sun, fun, and beautiful things. Was it exhausting to cycle in England? Hell yes. Would we do it again? Hell yes, too.


A Life Long Scholar said...

Oh, I have wanted one of those semi recumbant tandems for a long time, since I prefer recumbant and the partners I have had over the years generally prefer uprights. What kind do you have? If you were shopping again today, what features would you want to be different than on yours?change about yours?

a stitch in time said...

We have a Hase Pino, and in spite of all its shortcomings, it is a lovely machine and we would not decide differently today. We've changed some things over the years - mounted a smaller smallest chain ring, changed the derailleur and shifter, exchanged the brakes for a bigger model with a larger front disc, and most recently killed our kickstand and had to replace that - but the concept is just unbeatably good.
If you are looking for more info, there's a forum on the net about that bike type: which has lots of pictures and also a (small) English section.