I’m watching from the quayside at Guernsey as the Ferry pulls away, homeward bound for Poole, horn blaring, passengers waving from the decks .
The only problem is I should have been on it!
It was probably a fitting way to round off travel arrangements which went awry from the start.
On a whim I’d decided to take some leave and go on a short cycle tour, nothing like my Canadian/American adventure but something closer to home. After very little planning I hit on the bright idea of spending a few days in the British Channel Islands.
For those not familiar with UK geography this small archipelago of islands are British Crown Dependants but sit closer to the Normandy coast of France than the UK. Only 7 of these small islands are inhabited, with Jersey, the largest at 80,000 people measuring a scant 9×5 miles. Each island has its own independent laws, elections and currency and own fierce inter-island rivalries.
The original plan was to sail to Jersey, spend a few days touring round then catch a boat to Guernsey, its smaller neighbour, heading home 24 hours later. The great appeal of the trip (apart from a promise of the warmer weather further south) was being able to cycle all the way on Claud the bike. From front door to Poole ferry port a total distance of 9 miles.
However at the last minute sudden storms and 40+mph winds scuppered that plan so, with just a few days remaining, Claud and I decided to head straight to Guernsey.
As the second largest (large being a misnomer) Channel Island, Guernsey has a circumference of just 26 miles by road which, even at a slow pace on a loaded touring bike can be covered in a few hours.
Arriving in the evening I sweated and cursed up the steep hill from the port to find my Warm Showers hosts for the first night. A lovely couple who had never met me had agreed to not only let a stranger camp in their garden but were kind enough to feed me too and ply me with maps. For those touring cyclists who haven’t discovered this gem of a website which works on reciprocal generosity please check it out. I’ve stayed with and hosted some wonderful people this way all around the world.
The next morning my legs were distinctly unimpressed with being back on a fully loaded bike. Yet, with Claud making some equally worrying noises, we wobbled off to start our island tour and it was great to be on the road once more.
The island’s perimeter road, with wonderfully little traffic, meandered alongside a plethora of stunning white sandy beaches lapped at by clear, blue ocean. The tranquil, narrow, often single car lanes, were bordered by a profusion of wild flowers and picturesque stone cottages whilst fields contained impossibly pretty Guernsey cows who pouted seductively flicking long, film-star eyelashes.As always, the wind was not my friend.
Being such a small island it’s at the mercy of the elements and through a combination of bad planning and general muppetry I seemed to manage a lot of cycling against the wind in my meanderings to find campsites and cake stops. It also meant that my plans for long, lazy days lying on the beach were somewhat stymied by a breeze which dropped the air temperature several degrees and made sitting in exposed areas somewhat chilly.
When touring food is never far from my mind. As an island known primarily for its produce, I was in heaven after discovering the many small stalls at the end of peoples’ gardens sold punnets of sweet strawberries, earthy new potatoes and fresh vegetables. Whilst cafes and shops are full of, wonderful fresh fish, oysters and scallops.
I’ve also written previously about my self-confessed cake addiction (one of many reasons for long cycle rides) and a particular craving hit as I was browsing at the Tourist Information Office. So, taking the opportunity for some local inspiration, I approached the girl at the counter.
I eagerly asked where I could find a good cake shop in town to be greeted by the perplexing response:
“Well we don’t really have cake shops here, just shops that sell cake……”??!
Oblivious to my bemused look she directed me to a local supermarket – bizarrely failing to point out the renowned Boulangerie Victor Hugo within yards or the number of little bakeries all later discovered close by.
Wanting to make the most of my last night I headed to the beach to watch the sun set and contemplate the universe. Unfortunately however I’d picked the one and only beach sited in an industrial zone, covered in rocks, rubbish and flies. Crouching against the ever present wind, wearing most of the clothing I owned, I proceeded to unwrap my unappetising pot of noodles, immediately interesting a gang of large delinquent seagulls. As the gulls and the flies vied for poll position on my dinner and the wind blew through every layer of clothing, I decided I was definitely ready for the comforts of home.
Fast forward to the following afternoon and where this post began. The unhappy combination of a mislaid ticket and erroneous information from my cake-eschewing friend at the Tourist Office and I’m stood on the quayside, 1 hour late for my return ferry, watching it steam into the sunset. Only one boat a day meant another 24 hours on the windy isle.
I’ll admit this was a low, near tantrum point, however the good karma fairy then stepped in. My Warmshowers hosts from night one jumped to the rescue offering a bed, BBQ and wine. By the end of the day I was back in good spirits and starting to embrace the unexpected extra day’s holiday I’d achieved.
And that final day was a delight, re-covering bits of the perimeter road as well as discovering new little lanes. A stop for coffee and a cream scone restored spirits as did a lunch of locally-caught crab and beer. The sun shone, the wind blew and my final cycle was an exhilarating descent down hair-pin bends into St Peter Port Harbour.
Claud and I first on and firmly installed on the return ferry, a smooth crossing was followed by a final breezy 9 mile ride home.
Walking through my front door a day later than planned, tired but happy with many good memories. Cycle touring is full of not just ups and downs but also extremes. Cold and tiredness can heighten every emotion available but so too can the beauty of new places, the freedom of travel as well as the kindness of those you meet on the road.
Where next I wonder….?
Thank you to my amazing Warm Showers hosts Carol and Shaun and to Bill Bryson from whom I shamelessly stole the title for this post (apart from the bit about cycling).