Bournemouth (UK), post lockdown

Though i’m not the most adventurous type, Bournemouth post-lockdown felt like a big step back into holiday travel. With the weather forecast good and a cheap upgrade on the hotel room it felt like the stars had aligned.

The trains were only a fraction full; unheard of in the nascent holiday season. Anywhere along UK south coast is sure to be popular. Still I felt an anxiety, not through fear of the virus but something less easy to pin down. The mandatory face covering and distancing rules never seemed likely to be enforced but I felt compelled to have my mask hooked ready on one ear in case a guard approached. Really when you’re not even in spitting distance of anyone it seems a odd rule. Why not only boarding and alighting or during peak times?

I have to admit to drinking a bit of vodka mixer on the journey. Well, it was my birthday. And holiday travel after so long did feel like a big deal.

Leaving the station I struggled with the major decision of which Tesco to visit, as they were both almost equi-distant from the hotel. I opted north, and walked straight in the path of an oncoming beggar. He seemed honest, if it wasn’t a finely honed scam, telling (and showing) me he had only collected 10p for the whole day but needed £3.20 for something he muttered. I told him, ‘It’s a post-cash society,’ thinking hardly anyone carries coins now and would be wary of near contact. But I added: ‘Lucky for you it’s my birthday,’ while getting out my wallet, with no idea how much change it contained. Quite a lot, it turned out, so I handed over about £2.60 – more than I ever have to a beggar. Of course he seemed grateful, wishing me happy birthday and have a good day. It’s only in Bournemouth I’ve been stopped in my tracks, and in previous years I would have gotten irritated and not always given anything, but in these times there are a lot of desperate people. Or at least more of those not wanting to spare their money to the truly destitute.

Hotel check-in should have been straight forward, after so many, and it was only for one night. But this time I struggled. Had to fill out a form: name&address, email, double-sign. Since I had the booking reference and my details were already registered through the booking site it seemed, well, very 20th century. Then she told me: ‘First floor, on the left.’ Simple enough, I thought, so headed for the nearby stairs.

As I started climbing them I heard her call: ‘Sir! It’s on the left.’

Back at the bottom I noticed another set of stairs a long way on the other side. I wondered, how many unfamiliar would assume on the left meant turn left once reaching the first floor?

The room was stuffy in early evening, so I had to get out. Another trip to Tesco bought a bottle of Pinot Grigio, watched a bit of TV and feel asleep.

Surprisingly not hungover, I checked out the hotel about 5mins after hearing what must have been the fire alarm since there was no one at reception. It was most likely a drill.


There’s a lovely footpath route that leads from the Knyveton road right down to the coast. All the times I’ve been to Bournemouth and never discovered it!


The coast walk feels endless, it’s one of the best in the UK. Well, certainly the most tourist-friendly (lots of toilets). This was supposed to be after the 2M rule was relaxed, not that it is realistic this time of year, but people made an effort to keep their distance.

Fours hours till my train, I got as far as Mudeford. July was bound to be crowded, but on this partly sunny day there was just enough space. Half way along I realised I’d left an unstarted bottle of apple Lucozade in the hotel room. What irked me was the thought that it would be thrown away unopened, such was the minuscule yet non-zero virus risk. At least I still had some wine decanted in plastic bottles. Well, it was that or water with my lunch.




On the return walk back my tranquillity was broken by two blokes arguing, from different groups. ‘You think you’re superior to me?’
‘No, I don’t think I’m superior at all.’ There might have been a racial element to it, such are these febrile times. But I wanted to switch off from that and enjoy the rest of my walk.

The first train back east is one of the most enjoyable (or at least stress-free) journeys, especially with so few passengers. On the last Southern train the Scottish driver regularly issued a reminder to obey the rules, including the 2m distancing!

So, I’m thinking, make the most of it before the virus threat has truly gone…


Somerset: Tricky Trains, Rain . . . and the Child Prodigy

This was my second and last chance to explore Somerset. I set out with my usual hope that it would all work out, despite the weather forecast. But it wasn’t long before things started to go wrong. Not having taken the bike to Taunton since 2009 it just hadn’t occurred to me I needed to reserve it for the last segment. One of the train staff at Westbury told me helpfully I could leave it at the station. As if…

Still I made it finally to Taunton via Bristol. With the campsite only 2 miles away mostly on a cycle path, and bike satnav, it was never really a problem getting there. I was surprised to see another cyclist had just arrived, who pointed out the owner was not around; just had to leave my name on a register. He suggested just pitching up. That other lone cyclist had somehow managed to compress a tent and whatever other travel equipment into neat little pannier cases around his bike, whereas my panniers hung bulkily on a rear 30yr old carrier frame, holding an air mattress+pillows, bike accessories and enough cereal bars to last a week. But also I had 65litre rucksack with my tent, sleeping bag and clothes on my back. I must have looked a worrying site to most motorists!

The campsite itself – in an orchard – was not too bad considering it was near the town centre. Empty except for other biker. So I carefully had to calculate how I’d pitch my tent a fair though not obvious avoidance distance away from his – not completely at the other end of the field and a trekking distance from the shower block. It took me a while to decide. But anyway most on bikes only stay one night, as it proved.

Before I’d unpacked my tent the owner arrived, got his payment for two nights – £14 less than the last Quantocks site! And not here the rigmarole of searching for my address on a database. I did get the impression the other cyclist knew the owner, asking him how he was. Or maybe that’s just some people’s more sociable demeanour than mine.

Finally I was pegging down the tent. But somehow I snagged my middle finger getting frustrated at the hard dry ground and bent pegs. The skin ripped off deeply; these accidents always seem so avoidable, wondering how I could have been so careless. Still I didn’t think much about it till the next day. Tiredness to took over. Even the incessant squawking of peacock/hens wasn’t enough to bother me.


The next day started brightly. Sun shining. It filled me with something approaching optimism, a quixotic hope that the heavy rain forecast would not materialise, that in these hilly parts there are more unpredictable local weather systems. I didn’t think to take my rain jacket.

From the outset the sky darkened. An hour into the journey towards the Quantocks the rain became torrential. After sheltering under trees at a roadside for it to ease to merely heavy, I pressed on to a fire-road connecting the main hill. Stopped again; ate peanuts, a mini cheese and a cereal bar under a heavily dripping tree. Feeling cold, my optimism had ebbed away.

At least one section of the main route was sheltered. But then was faced with the open hills. Well, I couldn’t face them, so found another grouping of trees and listened to Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-Trump tirade on my pocket radio until that gave out. My phone at least should be ok, attached to the bike and wrapped in clear baggie. Checked forecast: showers but sunny spells in the next hour. An MTBr with a dog passed by. He returned ten minutes later. Maybe even the hardened locals were getting defeated by it.

Eventually it became light enough to be tolerable. Sky brightening, I headed off onto the hill. But now I was starting to notice my sore finger, pressed against the next on the bar grip. Had a tube of Germolene … left in my tent. Damn! Perhaps it wouldn’t make much difference anyway in these conditions, I reasoned.


Reached the top of a ceremonial ground, then down a steep hill. Rain had stopped. Clouds cleared, the sun illuminated the spectacular view. Did an about-turn, climbed on foot. When back at the gate trying to empty a bit of grit from my shoe, a runner stopped by, wanting to know if that was good route. I gave my impression that it probably was. The number of possible routes can be overwhelming. I headed to West Quantockhead. Some decent trails and the views were stunning! I stopped to put tape and tissue round my finger. It helped. A bit.


Mostly sunny, the long hilly journey back was a pleasure on the small roads. Satnav on handlebars really removed the anxiety I once had of getting lost.

Finally reaching the town after 40miles I stopped off at an Aldi. Depleted of energy I picked up way too much food – nuts, crisps, biscuits, chocolate. At the checkout I was guessing it would be a pound or 2 over £10. But the cashier I was sure told me £18.21, and seemed to be confirmed by the little display. Pulling out two tens I somehow dropped a pound coin. But what happened next seemed strange. Incomprehensible, even! A child – perhaps no older than 7yrs, with his dad – picked up the coin and handed it back to me. Then I thought I heard him say something to the cashier, who then re-quoted me the price as £10.21. The kid’s dad, full of pride, was praising him, saying ‘Yeah! You’re my Power Ranger!’ But I was left befuddle. Did that child really correct the cashier? Was he some mathematical genius, who knew the total price of all those items? Or maybe he understood that the scanning system can malfunction – that a zero wrongly displayed as an 8. In my fatigued state I wondered if I had only imagined it.

Back at the campsite all I could think about was eating, and resting. Not even worrying about that potentially tricky train journey the next day.