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A mini adventure to test out our Brompton bikes

We spent a few weeks trying to decide where to go to test out the Bromptons for cycle touring. A seed had been sown when I was following Nick Crane’s tweets about his cycle trip with his son along the NCN 4 out of London, along the Kennet and Avon Canal to Bath and onwards to Devon. ‘Sounds like a good idea’, I said to Chris, ‘why don’t we give it a try but avoid the London bit?’ So a plan was hatched.

Being of a certain age, we were able to apply for a Senior Railcard – I suppose there are one or two perks to being over 60 :o( – and purchasing them with our double-value Tesco rewards made them even more of a bargain. We booked a ticket from Poole to Reading and set about revising our packing routine for travelling with the Bromptons.

We had bought a T bag for the front of each bike – these bags take approx. 31 litres and are equivalent to about 1.5 panniers – but were not quite sure what to do about rear bags. The Brompton rack sack has a capacity of 16 litres and is purpose built to fit the rear rack, but we weren’t sure if it was going to be big enough. As far as we could see, the only alternatives were to lay a pannier flat on the rack and attach it securely to the rack (see http://www.shanecycles.com/the-genius-of-brompton-touring/) or fix a rucksack in an upright position by attaching it to the saddle and securing it to the rear rack to prevent movement (see Pathlesspedaled http://youtu.be/4c76T3g5wwY). Our pannier seemed to have quite a bit of overhang off the back of the rack, which concerned us a little, and we weren’t too sure that a rucksack would remain securely fixed to the bike. In the end, we decided to go for the Brompton rack sack, as it would make us try to lighten our load, which is never a bad thing! The weight limit for luggage on a Brompton bike is 10 kg each on the front and rear. By the time we had added two bottles of water, we were both about at the limit on the front. On the back, I had a couple of kg to spare, while Chris had about 5 kg spare.

We managed to get all of the essentials in, but it was a squeeze! Of the three items of luxury we allow ourselves – a Thermarest pillow (essential for a good night’s sleep, light but bulky), our Helinox lightweight chairs (the old bones start to creak when sitting on the ground) and a book to read (it is supposed to be a holiday, after all!) – we could only manage to fit in the pillows. Then a moment of inspiration! Usually not one for attaching things to the outside of bags, it occurred to me that the Helinox chairs could be easily bungeed to the rear rack on top of the rack sack. Brilliant! Chris had to forgo her book (I have a Kindle but she doesn’t yet – says she loves the feel of a book in her hands), but said, wryly, that she was looking forward to some scintillating conversation instead! I detected a hint of sarcasm here!

The only other items that space would not permit were our sandals (and boy did we need them as we caught the start of the heatwave weather halfway through our trip!) and food provisions. Chris is only happy if she has a couple of days’ supply of food with her. I’m trying to break her of this habit by telling her that there’s always a little shop somewhere nearby and, failing that, a pub offering some sort of food (oh, and the obligatory pint or two of real ale!).

We may look again at the packing options for the rear of the bikes but, for now, we were ready for the off!

More posts on the trip to follow…

Train tickets and National Cycle Network (NCN) map

Train tickets and National Cycle Network (NCN) map

Early start at Poole train station

Early start at Poole train station

Gear and bikes loaded on to train

Gear and bikes loaded on to train


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The year’s first cycle camping trip doesn’t go quite to plan…

Having waited for what seems like an absolute age to find a slot in both our work schedules when we could take some time off, we booked a short cycle packing trip last week just to get us back into cycling fitness in readiness for longer trips hopefully throughout the rest of the year.  Of course, we picked the wrong week – it should have been the previous week, which had wall-to-wall sunshine and reasonable temperatures! Never mind, we packed our gear and battled against the wind to head for the Purbeck Hills, on the Dorset section of the Jurassic Coast.

We cycled to the Sandbanks Ferry in Poole, by which time the strong blustery wind was accompanied by light rain. We alighted from the ferry and began the long, slow climb up towards the Purbecks. We were heading for the campsite at Langton Matravers (Tom’s Field), just outside Swanage, which is located conveniently close to the many different walks in the area.

Fortunately, we were too late to get caught up in the ‘Jurassic Beast’, a local cycle sportive arranged by Wiggle, the online cycle store, that goes up and down the steep Purbeck Hills. Although, while I was waiting for Chris – who by this time was pushing her bike – one of the marshalls who had stopped to take down a sign, looked at me slightly quizzically and asked if I was riding in the race. As if – loaded up with all these panniers, you must be joking!! We duly arrived at Tom’s Field, slightly damp and somewhat windswept but looking forward to a few days camping and walking the coastal paths.

Tom's Field Campsite

Tom’s Field Campsite

The following day dawned sunny but still windy. Fortunately, we had tucked the tent in behind the wall, so were out of the worst of the wind. We spent a leisurely morning soaking  up the welcome sun rays and generally chilling out. We were visited by a very tame Mr and Mrs Blackbird. Mrs was the braver of the two and actually took a few crumbs from my hand. She also inspected the inside of the tent and afterwards removed any remaining morsels left on our plastic folding plates.

Mrs Blackbird clearing the plate

Mrs Blackbird clearing the plate

After lunch, we took the short walk across the fields to Dancing Ledge, on the coast. We crossed the Priest’s Way, which is an old track that winds its way from Swanage to the pretty village of Worth Matravers. In the old days, this track was used by the local priest as he trudged his way back and forth between the churches in his care.

Stone sign on the Priest's Way

Stone sign on the Priest’s Way

Looking along the Priest's Way

Looking along the Priest’s Way

Signpost and drystone wall

Signpost and drystone wall

After following the footpath across several fields, in which the sheep had tucked themselves behind the drystone walls to keep out of the wind, we arrived at the cliff tops above Dancing Ledge. The gorse bushes above the cliff tops were in full bloom and looked absolutely stunning. About the only time of the year that gorse bushes look attractive! They even smell nice too!

Ewe, ewe, ewe and ewe!!

Ewe, ewe, ewe and ewe and ewe!!

Gorse in bloom and smelling of coconut

Gorse in bloom and smelling of coconut

Dancing Ledge was once one of the many local quarries used to provide high-quality limestone for building.

View above Dancing Ledge

View above Dancing Ledge

Old quarry workings, Dancing Ledge

Old quarry workings, Dancing Ledge

There is a small swimming pool on one of the rocky ledges that the quarrymen cut into the rock at the beginning of the 20th century so that the local children could swim there. The edge of the swimming pool can be seen in the bottom righthand corner of the photo.

Swimming pool (bottom righthand corner)

Swimming pool (bottom righthand corner)

The ledge is also used by climbers and we saw a group preparing to climb one of the rock faces.

Climbers at Dancing Ledge

Climbers at Dancing Ledge

Climbers at Dancing Ledge

Climbers at Dancing Ledge

The whole area comes under the stewardship of the National Trust and we noticed that they had put up some new signs after a recent spate of major landslips further along the South West Coast Path.  The unusual weather patterns of the past couple of years have had a massive impact on the stability of some parts of the coast, which have had to be closed off due to the damage caused and the danger of further cliff top collapse.

National Trust warning sign

National Trust warning sign

Walking back to the campsite, we crossed a field to get on the leeward side of the wall to shelter from the cold wind. Unfortunately, I stepped into a slight depression in the ground and jarred my back. At the time, it wasn’t that painful but later in the evening my back started complaining. After a very uncomfortable night, I could hardly walk the next morning.  Realizing that this would take more than a few days to settle down and would not be helped by crawling in and out of a little tent, I reluctantly decided to call for help. My brother-in-law has a long wheelbase Landrover and is able to transport us, the bikes and all our panniers. Luckily, he was free and able to come to our rescue – for which I was very grateful.

Our plan to visit the Square and Compass at Worth Matravers had to be put on hold. This is a very interesting old inn that has been in the same family for over 100 years. Inside the pub itself there is a museum with some dinosaur fossils, as well as some other interesting artefacts such as prehistoric tools and bits of 18th century shipwrecks. If you are ever in the area, it is well worth a visit. And the ale is good, too!

Hopefully, our next trip will be slightly more successful!