One last cream tea, one last fish ‘n’ chips, and one last glimpse of the North Sea as we transitioned from the UK to France, this week.
We’ve spent almost an entire month here in Scotland and England, and it was really beginning to feel like home, not least of all because of our many visits with family and friends along the way. We’re ready for new shores, and a new adventure, but our parting from this island we’ve come to know is bittersweet.
Day 24: July 1, Kenilworth to Oxford, 81.1 miles
The country entered a panic as temperatures rose to the 90s. “Wimboilden”–oh, English rag papers…But, stiff upper lip, the Brits pushed on through the heat, and so did we. A visit to Shakespeare’s birthplace, Cornish pasties, and a countryside worthy of Wind in the Willows distracted us from the heat.
We finished the day with a short but sweet visit with Ian’s great aunt Sonia, who “blackmailed” us into buying her recent book of short stories, and availed us with “lurid” tales of her fascinating past. She’s got more to say, and we look forward to a return visit!
Sweaty and exhausted, we crawled into Oxford, where our dear old friend from college days, Jacob, took us in, fed us a marvelous feast, and put our tired butts to bed.
Day 25: July 2, Oxford to London, 63.7 miles
We enjoyed a slow morning in Oxford with our excellent tour guide, Jacob. Needless to say, Oxford has a rich history, and we like to think we absorbed much of it before popping in for a mid-morning tea in England’s oldest coffee shop.
Our visit with Jacob felt rather serendipitous. Here in Oxford only for one year, he had just a handful of days left before flying off to Israel again. How lucky that our paths crossed.
Once on the bike, the day flew all the way to London along highways and canals. Finally, we arrived in the center of London, where we were warmly welcomed by Ian’s great aunt Pat, curry, and a warm bed.
Day 26 – 27: July 3 & 4, London, 0 miles!
Pat lives in a lovely old town house in central London–a perfect base from which to explore the city. Pat would wake us in the morning with a full breakfast of toast, cereal and tea, and sent us off to the archive with a packed lunch. The British Library archive was massive, labyrinthine, and tightly controlled. The number of documents necessary to gain access to their reading rooms was like getting a driver’s license in New York City. Ian waited with the un-authorized while Christine dug through musty tomes.
With our free time we explored the city. We found an excellent map shop from which we bought maps for France, had Indian food and some of the best fish & chips in Hackney, and stumbled upon a street market. London is laced with canals and small streets which are a pleasure to walk. Taking the bus or the tube cross-town during rush hour is not. Inside tip. In two days we combined archive work with good old-fashioned tourism: Big Ben, Parliament, Buckingham Palace, red double-decker buses…
We were lucky to have an evening with Pat’s daughter Jane, as well as many afternoons and evenings talking about family and history with Pat. Pat is a wonderful host, not to mention an excellent story-teller. We soaked up as much history from her that we could in the time we had, including perusing incredible old family photos we had never seen before. (See how much Ian looks like his grandfather, Angus?!?!?!):
Saying goodbye to London and to Pat was especially difficult because it was the last time we would stay with Ian’s family. The first portion of our trip, we felt, had ended.
Day 28: July 5, London to Canterbury, 85.1 miles
Escape from London was surprisingly pleasant, if maddeningly slow. The day after the 4th of July dawned quiet and hungover (not us, the city), and we weaved down empty streets passed ravaged night clubs and east into the industrial docks of the Thames. Eventually suburbs gave way to countryside, and by evening we arrived, tired and relieved, in Canterbury. We had survived the biggest city of our trip.
We were welcomed into the home of Tim and Emilie, extremely well-traveled, generous, and interesting fellow tandem-cyclists. We enjoyed a fine meal and many shared tales from the road, including essential advice for France. One last night sleeping on the left side of the bed, and then we would be on the continent!
Day 29: July 6, Canterbury to Saint-Omer, 62.6 miles
Tim and Emilie awoke us with a delicious blueberry pancake breakfast and a super-cute two-year-old, Lisa. We all smeared blueberries all over our faces, and then rode into town together for an unexpected but AWESOME tour of Canterbury cathedral!
Tim is a music teacher at a school in town, and he and Emilie gave us an incredibly comprehensive, time-efficient tour of this amazing building, all while wrangling their child. Impressive!
Wheeling away from Canterbury, we enjoyed one last hurrah of English cycling. Shaded lanes took us over rolling hills in the North Downs. We eagerly breathed in the salty air (aaaaarr) as we approached the white cliffs of Dover. Christine nabbed us one last fish ‘n’ chips, and we enjoyed a greasy, messy meal in the massive boarding parking lot, between busses of tourists and massive lorries awaiting the ferry to Calais.
Vive la France! The ferry-ride was over before we knew it, and we were in France, where our last 10 pounds and our language skills were worthless. Excited and feeling vulnerable, we enjoyed smooth, smooth roads through completely empty towns that seemed to have NO bank or food. Worried we may die pleading for water without knowing how to ask for it, we were relieved to find a bank and grocery store close to the end of the day outside of Saint-Omer. We enjoyed a chat with a couple Australians also chasing the Tour de France.
Every town in France apparently has a campsite (thank goodness), so we were happy to fall into the next one we found. We have food. We have money. We can say “ou est la toillette.” In the words of Judy Plott, it will all be fine.
Nous sommes elephantes! Voulez-vous un chat noir? Tres, tres bien.
We will miss the ease of the UK, where every town had a pub and tea shop, but we are jazzed for the challenge, and for the Tour. Onward!