North Sea

This blog post marks the end of my second stint of cycling in Europe, this time through the UK and Ireland. Unfortunately I missed out on the western and northern parts of Ireland, but the island proved to be larger than I thought and, moreover, I was running out of Summer.
Wales, on the other hand, was a thorough success and I liked it immensely.

sleeping

Not missing sleeping for around three months on roughly 0,7 cm of foam.

coffee_ritual

But I will miss my little coffee making ritual…

From Calais I cycled back to the Netherlands along the North Sea. This led me through French Flanders and the town of Dunkirk which was important in the Second World War and where, since then, nothing ever happened, even though some people are still waiting,  and then, after that, Belgium.
During my first episode of cycling I had toured through the central part of Belgium and it now struck me how short the coastline was: not more than 65 kilometres, much of which, it must be said, is an urban eyesore. Many apartment blocks were obstructing the sea views and casting long shadows over the wide boulevards. A tramway transports people along its entire coastline from De Panne in the south to Knokke-Heist in the north making it the longest of its kind in the world.
And that is something.

The last bit took me through the Dutch province of Zeeland. It wasn’t quite Wales, but then, it was a lot easier to ride the flat expanses of former islands and connecting dams and bridges, than the cliffs of Wales.

It was this province that lent its name to the country of New Zealand. Not long after it was discovered by Abel Tasman, in the 1640’s, Dutch cartographers marked the island on their maps as Nova Zeelandia, possibly because of the impression it made of being a jigsaw of islands and sea.
When he sailed east from Mauritius he and his crew managed to spectacularly miss the entire landmass that we now know as Australia and hit first Tasmania and later New Zealand without ever setting eyes on the continent itself.

Next: North Africa.

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Bye bye England

In the hostel I was unpacking my bags and talked to a German student who was happily bubbling about his upcoming studies while a slug fell out of my backpack. He hadn’t even noticed and while he kept talking I surreptitiously picked it up and disposed of it in the toilet.

unfinished_horse

Sketch of a dog or a horse or something

From Cardiff I cycled in one day to Bristol.

Bristol was known in the eleventh century as Brycgstow and most citizens still seem to pronounce it that way. In 1497 the Venetian explorer John Cabot sailed from here to North America. He was commissioned by Henry VII, who, years before, had turned down Bartholomew Columbus who had an idea for a similarly outrageous expedition to be undertaken by his brother. This was the second of three voyages that John Cabot made. On the first he discovered nothing but more of the Atlantic Ocean. It’s very big, he told bystanders after coming back. On his second voyage he sailed in the Matthew a caravel of which I saw a replica in the harbour of Bristol. It was unbelievably tiny and seemed to me hardly sufficient to discover Ireland, but it was with this vessel that he made landfall in New Found Land which seemed to be as good a name for a new country as any. On coming back to England he received the sum of ten pounds which at the time seemed ample reward for discovering America. Some thought it was way too  much. Little seems to be known as to the results of his third voyage… maybe he discovered America again, maybe he didn’t.
Reading through the Wikipedia pages I found some more interesting stuff on Hy Brasil, a mythical island off the coast of Ireland where it was said to appear for one day every seven years out of an impregnable mist. Having been in Ireland now recently, that suddenly didn’t sound so outlandish. It was said that Bristol men in trying to find this island had discovered North America before 1470 (that is twelve years before Columbus) but later couldn’t find their way back to America. It’s not that big after all…

In Bristol I tried some watercolours on an equestrian  statue of William III in the park.

Horses are difficult.

Another famous person from Bristol is Banksy, a mysterious street artist whose identity is not known. Several of his works can be admired in Bristol. His paintings sell for millions and he doesn’t pay any taxes. He is very much against it.

Banksy

Banksy in Bristol

 

More conventionally, there is the Bristol Museum which had some nice works. I liked Harry Watson’s Holidays which showed the artist’s magic with sunlight. Watson had lived for two years in Canada but it had been too cold: his paint froze solid and his fingers turned blue.

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Photo of a detail of Holidays, a painting by Harry Watson

Then I got an email from Lukasz who I had met several years before in Faro in the south of Portugal. He was going to drive his van to Poland and asked if I wanted a lift. Since I had done most of my most rewarding cycling in Wales I didn’t feel the need to ride all the way back across England again and gladly accepted his offer.

The hostel in Dover was a disgrace. It was said to date from the 18th century and it showed. But it had to do for one day. The bar man cracked jokes with two elderly ladies. They looked like caricatures and after making some polite small talk I excused myself from their company. Then I made the mistake of using the toilet in the bar and wished I hadn’t. It looked like the Worst toilet in Scotland that famously features in the movie Trainspotting. A sign on the door of the hostel said the premises would be open 24/7 but most of the time it was locked up. Eighteen dear pounds it cost me.

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Having a coffee in St. Margaret’s Bay, Dover.

Bye bye, England.

 

Cardiff sketchbook

In Cardiff I was happy to check in at a hostel. After many days of camping it was heaven. It even had a toilet in the building so I didn’t have to get out through a soggy,  slug filled field every time I needed to go to the toilet.

The National Museum (of Wales) in Cardiff was free so I took my sketchbook and tried my hand at a few of the works on display.

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Sculptures

 

Monet

Sketch after Monet

 

Boudin

Sketch after Eugene Boudin

Then there was the park where I sketched a tree. Because my watercolours were ruined by the rain, I used GIMP to add some violent colour.

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From Cardiff I cycled to Bristol which brought me back to England.

In Bristol I stayed in a hostel with a lot of long term residents. An old Punjabi was making chapattis and Brazilians seemed to be cooking rice all day long while a black man sat in a corner reading the holy bible. We even had a Scotsmen who actually said aye. The hostel was a bit rundown but it felt genuine just as the city itself.

Back to the big island

More Irish history. The Romans never made it to Ireland. They planned to but somehow they never got around to actually get there in a meaningful way, that is, to subjugate the people, build roads and bridges, introduce money and new gods, and educate the local population about the pleasures of hot baths and floor heating. And gladiators, to do all the gladiating.
Maybe because the nasty Picts kept jumping over Hadrian’s Wall in the North.
Will you please keep behind the wall?  Civilised people stay behind their wall. You want to be civilised now, don’t you? Sorry? You don’t want to be civilised? Look, we really don’t have time for all this…
After the Romans had left the British Isles, pagan Angles and Saxons invaded England and Wales, but Ireland, that was converted to Christianity before, was spared that fate and it was thus that England was later converted to Christianity again by Irish monks.

abbey

Another abbey

In Dublin I visited Trinity College which is very famous for it’s cheap coffee.

On my Ordnance Survey map of Wales, highly accurate but useless in Ireland, and which shows features in both languages, showed the Irish Sea in Welsh as Mor Inwerdon. ‘Mor’ meaning sea and ‘Inwerdon’ meaning Ireland. The Old Celtic root for Ireland was Iveriu from which both Eriu and Hibernia, respectively Irish and Latin for Ireland, are derived. And Inwerdon of course, maybe most relevant because of the Celtic languages Welsh is the only one that is not considered endangered.
In Ireland I haven’t heard any Irish at all but many road signs and place names were in Irish. Number plates were always in Irish [Dublin = Baile Átha Cliath‘]. The Irish accent is pleasing to the ear with its soft rolling r and short throaty vowels. It sounds friendly.

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Bilingual sign

 

I love it how every now and then I find, for example, sachets of shampoo from Egypt or an Uzbek coin somewhere in a corner of my backpack. Sainsbury’s automatic cash machines don’t accept Uzbek coins. I tried.

When I was sitting in front of my tent making cheese on toast the family from hell arrived. They came from Germany. The children were shouting at each other. The mother was yelling at the children. The children then started screaming at their mother. And there was no joy. The mother looked haggard, her hair loose, her voice shrill. They had driven all the way from Munich to pitch their tent on the soggy grass of this Irish field. Then it started to rain again and the sound it made mercifully muffled the noise of the Teutonic plague.

Too late I realised I had only taken 12 photos in Ireland. So I made one of the ferry.

IrishFerries

I had to be at the ferry at 8.15 which meant I had to leave a little before seven. I woke up at six and breakfasted with pleasant routine nursing my coffee. There was ample time for a second mug. Then making sandwiches for on the ferry and changing the map of Ireland for the map of Wales.

In Pembroke Dock I cycled off the ferry and up the hill and down the hill and up the hill. It was roughly 5 miles to the country pub where I could pitch my tent in a field with lush grass. After that I needed some groceries and cycled the same way back to Pembroke Dock. Up the hill and down the hill and up the hill. Then I raided the Lidl before riding back up the hill and down the hill and up the hill again.

The weather forecast for Pembroke was promising: temperatures in their mid twenties and mostly sunny. Unfortunately, it happened to be the weather forecast for Pembroke, Ontario. Which is in useless Canada.

I’ve come cycling from Holland.
Crikey!
Crikey?? People actually say that?

In Swansea I visited the well done Dylan Thomas Centre and after that I wanted to be a poet.

 

Ireland

It rained steadily when I left the ferry in Dublin Port. By the time I had reached the hostel, water was sloshing in my shoes and navigating was nearly impossible because I couldn’t make the pattern on the wet surface of my smartphone to unlock it.

History of Ireland
On Wjkipedia I read that the earliest evidence of human presence of around 10,500 BC was ‘a butchered bear bone found in a cave in County Clare’. That was very poetic. It  was followed by Neolithic field systems, dry stone walls and then the old Bronze Age that came with bronze (duh), the newly invented wheel and the brewing of alcohol.
Soon followed by the first road casualty.

In Ireland I made it a point to read James Joyce. A portrait of the artist as  a young man. It was nice to read about Stephan Dedalus expounding his theory on aesthetics in the streets of Dublin and not much later walking around there myself.

JJ

James Joyce, Dubliner

My favourite street was Moore Street off Talbot. It was lined with fruit stalls where I could buy cheap pears and oranges. At the end of the street was a Lidl supermarket.  Walking around that part of Dublin it struck me that there were very few benches to sit down and have a moments rest. They want you to keep moving, to buy stuff, to do things.
On my way to the museum I passed Sweny where Leopold Bloom (the main character in Joyce’s Ulysses) bought a piece of lemon soap.

Ireland meant back to kilometres and euros but for some reason everything looked further away and more expensive. The island was much bigger than I had anticipated and so I had to skip a large chunk of my itinerary and missed the western part of country. I was running out of Summer.

From Dublin I cycled in two days to Kilkenny. The second half of the day it rained.  After that it cleared up and I got some nice days in Kilkenny. Or Kilkenny Rogers as I found it easier to remember, humming Islands  in the Stream, as I strolled through the town.

Some roads allowed a speed limit of 100 km/hr, which was way too high. Curves in the road and at some points a complete lack of shoulder meant it was dangerous. Signs that say 100 km/hr also have a psychological effect on drivers. It creates a sense of entitlement: I am allowed to drive it, so I will and everybody who is keeping me from it is wrong. This sentiment can result in severe road rage. Irish drivers proved repeatedly to be reckless and dangerous. What would mean a scratch on their paint or at most a small dent, might fling me into a tree with fatal results.

DunbrodyAbby

Dunbrody Abbey ruin

DuncannonBeach

Duncanon beach

Ireland differs from Wales in the fact that there are noticeably fewer sheep.

Snowdonia and Anglesey

Wide vistas in Wales. Soon to become wet vistas in Wales.

snowdonia_small

From Abergele at the Irish Sea I cycled into the mountains. To avoid A-roads with heavy traffic I took to the back roads.

Steep

Seriously?

Some of these roads were impossible to cycle (see photo above) and I even had trouble pushing the fully loaded bicycle uphill at some points.

Not far from Curig Capel I found a small campsite where I pitched my tent between grazing sheep.

snowdon1

It was at the second attempt that I was successful at summiting Mt. Snowdon. The first time was under averse conditions: rain, strong wind and I had started too late because I had to cycle up to the car park first. High up the mountain it appeared that everybody had left for the day and with almost being blown off the mountain, soaking wet and slippery conditions, I decided to abort the attempt. I wasn’t having  a good time either.

The next day was beautiful and it was hard to see how I could have missed the path on the previous day. From the Pen-y-pass car park I now took the Miners Track that joins the Pyg Track that I had tried the day before. After reaching the summit I walked over to the other summit, slightly lower, for good views of Snowdon itself and without the crowds.

The day after conquering the highest mountain of England and Wales, the weather held out and I set out to hike to another mountain with lots of wandering sheep, soggy grass and windswept rocks. Then the weather turned bad again and for one whole day it rained steadily and I kept in my tent reading the Count of Monte Cristo and making coffee. Fortunately, I had lots of coffee.

Yes, it was better before, the woman said. I think we had a heat wave some weeks ago. A heat wave? I thought. But then definitions might vary. Maybe a heat wave in Wales is three consecutive days over 20 degrees centigrade with no rain to speak of. The last time that these circumstances occurred was in 1974.

Mount Everest was named after George Everest, a Welsh surveyor in British India, and forever mispronounced. It’s eve-rest and not ever-est. Another Welsh connection is the Western Cwm, a well known feature of the highest Himalaya peak. In Welsh a cwm is a valley. So no typos on your map there.

When it brightened up again I packed my tent and crossed the Llanberis pass to a picturesque lake on the other side of the massif. This is where the slate industry took off in the 19th century. Very interesting if you’re in roofing.

Road signs are often an entertainment when touring through Wales. I think the one on the left means something like: Careful. Hobbits. Ysgol is sooo Lord of the Rings! By the time you have finished reading the other one, you’re sure to have forgotten it actually meant to say not to drive faster than 40 miles per hour. Miles? Yes, despite years of going metric, they still use miles….
Milk is sold in 568 mils and coffee in 227 g packets. Very metric.

Anglesey. This is the island at the very north western point of Wales.

Not far from Holyhead, where the ferry for Ireland leaves, is South Stack with its cliffs, sea birds and rainy weather. There was a lighthouse too. I saw a somersaulting chough (a bird) but failed to photograph it. So I tried an easier target: myself:

Despite all the rain and the sometimes impossible inclines, Wales is still  one of my favourite destinations so far.

North Wales

At the toilet block I met a man who started talking to me but I could not understand him.
The Cockney drop their aitches but this man seemed to have dropped virtually all his consonants.
Not wanting to be offensive I nodded whereupon he made another effort of communication which proved equally ineffectual.
He seemed friendly.

conwy_castle

Sketch of Conwy Castle

The castle in Conwy was built by Edward I when he led the Norman conquest of Wales. It was one of a series of defence structures from this period that later became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In one of these castles was born his heir, the future Edward II, who became the first Prince of Wales. After that, many more followed.
Wales has more castles per square mile than any other country.
They are everywhere.

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The Welsh Riviera

On my way to Conwy I followed a coastal pathway along the Irish Sea and admired the Welsh beaches. An astonishing number of people congregate here on these shores every summer eagerly waiting for the rain to stop pouring down on them.

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St. Trillo’s Church

Smallest church (Rhos-on-Sea) in the British Isles that seats six, though I could well see how a few more people could be squeezed in. Many centuries ago a hermit built his cell here (St. Trillo I assume) and there is a well in front of the altar that has been used for its healing powers ever since. That is, until a modern hospital was built.

From the same town hails Prince Madoc who sailed from Rhos-on-Sea and discovered America in the 12th century. He landed in Alabama. Most historians seem to believe this invalidates the claim.