This blog was meant to be a low down on cycling to Paris. It was meant to provide information for people that have never really cycled. It was meant to be filled with pictures of the Eiffell Tower. But last weekend I realised (again) why people plan things.
On Friday night, we were packed and ready to cycle to Paris. And then we googled ferries and realised that there weren’t any that worked for us. Well done me. That was silly. So we changed the plan. That’s the joy of adventures, you can just chop and change.
We decided to cycle to Portsmouth, take the ferry to the Isle of Wight and spend Sunday cycling and eating ice cream around it.
Saturday 9am: London to Guildford
Left central London and headed for Portsmouth. The weather was amazing. And we whizzed along all different types of roads. Tempted by cycle routes, but stuck to main roads so that we would get there faster. Some of the A roads were just not good for cyclists and it was quite scary. The hard shoulder was tiny, there was a lot of glass and debris and we spent a lot of time trying to find a route. We aimed for Guildford and after some sandwiches and ice cream decided to hunt for a more enjoyable path. My phone cut out after two hours but luckily Rob had a couple of pages of maps in his pocket. Old school.
Saturday 1pm: Guilford to Petersfield
Rob found the most idyllic roads through villages and up and down a lot of hills. It was so beautiful and exactly why I love cycling. I’d never cycled through the Surrey Hills and they were… hilly. But beautiful. We stopped for a drink and some snacks at cute little ramblers pubs and ploughed on.
Saturday 5pm: To Portsmouth
We had a pretty hideous chunk of motorway. We were being beeped by everyone but just ignored it. Every junction we had to try and get back to the hard shoulder and it was scary. Suddenly I spotted a bike path running paralel to the motorway. It had been there for miles. Doh. So we chucked our bikes over the railings and climbed off the hideous motorway. After nearly 11 hours of cycling we had covered 85 and made it to Portsmouth. I wouldn’t advise following our route. And I would suggest getting your hands on some proper clip-in cycling shoes and maybe some form of GPS. But we made it and jumped on the first ferry to Ryde on the Isle of Wight. The weather was amazing and the sun was setting. Ideal.
Saturday night: Ryde in Isle of Wight
We managed to find a little hotel with a spare room. Dumped our bikes and walked over to The Three Buoys, an incredible seafood restaurant on the beach. Run by a young couple, the food was superb and we sat out on the balcony munching on Mezze, fish and booze – in our cycling kit.
Sunday: Around the Isle of Wight
We spent Sunday cycling around the island, eating in beach cafes, playing mini golf, chomping down ice cream and just enjoying the seaside. And after a little nap on the beach, we cycled back to Ryde, jumped on a ferry, caught a train and cycled back home. Perfect, perfect, smelly, tiring weekend.
Left London: Saturday at 9am
Arrived in Ryde: Saturday at 8.30pm
Arrived back in London: Sunday at 10pm
Money spent: £120 each for ferry return, train, hotel and food
Last year I decided I wanted to achieve a few ‘must-do’ adventures like climbing the 3 peaks, paddle-boarding a chunk of the Thames, cycling to Paris and running Hadrian’s Wall. So that’s exactly what I’m going to do over the next couple of months.
Starting with… Cycling to Paris.
We are doing it this weekend without any plans. We have nothing booked. We haven’t done any training (Except a 20 mile session in Richmond Park last week) and we thought we would see what happens. That’s the whole point of an adventure after all. We can’t leave work early enough to make the last ferry to France tonight so we are going to get up tomorrow morning, go and see what happens. We just need to make it back to London by Sunday night. It may go completely wrong but what I’m trying to do is show you is that you don’t have to be an athlete or a skilled planner to have an adventure. So watch this space.
iPhone Charger + Adaptor
Lip Balm (because I’m a girl)
We don’t have proper shoes, panniers or GPS. We are two rookies attempting to make it to Paris this weekend by bike. And then somehow find our way home on a budget. By Sunday night. Watch this space #LondontoParis
About a month ago, I was asked to be a guest presenter at an upcoming Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award Presentation at St James’s Palace and present awards on behalf of HRH the Duke of Edinburgh. Now for me, a Gold D of E Award Holder, that was like being asked to come and fly the plane while the pilot went to the loo. Yes I was unbelievably excited but slightly scared.
I’d actually never spoken about any of my adventures before. I know. It’s embarrassing; so many adventurers make their money through public speaking but I just kept wimping out. Put me in a storm in the ocean for 4 1/2 months and I can handle it. Ask me to speak about my adventures, well that just scares me. I knew I was going to have to get over it at some point and so an invitation to St James’s Palace was the perfect set up. I couldn’t say no and was just going to have to man up.
We arrived at the Palace and got ushered through for a tour with our personal guide who told us facts about the palace (memories of the Duck Bus flooded back). Then there was a drinks reception with the other presenters. Picture this – Sally Gunnell, Shane Ward (that dude from X Factor), Richard Matheson Harpham from Inspired Life and another chick. Quite the gathering.
Then we were taken into our rooms. I was speaking in the room that Will and Kate had their engagement photos taken in with the infamous fireplace. It is very red. And very gold. And I had the Welsh room with 150 children and parents.
We met the Duke of Edinburgh, had photos taken, got led around the room. And then I spoke. About collecting my award ten years ago until now. I used a lot of hand gestures but I do that anyway. And probably went quite red, which matched the room. And then I sat down. I had done it. All I had to do was hand out every certificate to the room. And I had done my first talk. I feel prepared for the ones coming later this year. And I forced myself to do something that scares me. Again. But in a palace.
For my birthday I was taken to the most magical Shepherds Hut I’ve ever seen. Settled in the fields of Norfolk, it’s the perfect getaway from the big bad city.
Norfolk Courtyard is a house run by a family with a luxury B&B, Shepherds Hut, Gamekeepers Hut and an antiques shop. It’s amazingly done.
Every detail is in keeping with shepherds, even with the grid under the bed for the wounded lambs to be kept. It looks incredibly cool, is wonderfully comfortable and far from camping. I would quite like to live in it.
We spent the weekend eating, drinking (where Nelson had drunk), walking along Brancaster Beach and driving around Norfolk. It was a mini adventure and an ideal birthday weekend.
Bank holiday Monday is normally a day of rest. Well not in the Bell family household. So we decided to take a trip to Oxford. From Hinton Waldrist to Oxford via the river. 20 miles.
My brother, is an army lad, and in training decided to pack a bag bigger than several people and walk to Oxford. With our two dogs. I decided to run it. And my sister and Mum decided to cycle it.
Charles set off first. And I followed an hour later. The weather was beautiful. I ran along the river passing so many people walking dogs, running, kayaking and cycling. But then you have chunks of time where there is no one. There are fences to climb over and I was feeling strong.
Hours passed and miles were covered. I finally caught up to Charles jogging along with the dogs, followed by Livs and Mum and we all carried along together. We hit the outskirts of Oxford as the rain started to fall and called Dad who drove to an arranged meeting spot with bags of Vitamin Water.
We didn’t count the miles or measure how long we ran for. But we did we wanted. And spent Bank Holiday Monday on the banks of the Thames. I loved it. No arranged event. Nothing planned. We just did it.
I’ve just sat down for the first time since reaching John O’Groats over a week ago. It’s been a whirlwind back in real life after 4 1/2 months supporting Sean Conway, who became the first person EVER to swim the length of Britain.
If you read my one and only blog from the depths of Scotland, you will know that the expedition wasn’t exactly plain sailing (excuse the pun). And the end felt so far the whole time. Even a few days before the end, we thought we might not finish until December. It wasn’t until we sailed, kayaked and swam through the harbour walls of John O’Groats that we realised we were actually going to make it.
Having signed up for two months to live at sea with three boys (and then one cool chick) on a very small boat, we ended up being away for 4 1/2 months. It was cold, tough, wet, hard, scary, exhausting, claustrophobic. Did I say wet? But boy was it worth it.
We had the most amazing team. We met the most wonderful people along the way. We ate fresh fish. We saw the entire British coastline from the water. We were supported by everyone on social media and back home. I attempted (and failed) to conquer my fear of water. We saw phosphorescence, seals, puffins, dolphins, porpoises. We explored deserted beaches. We dreamt about rare steak. We got to witness Sean achieve something no one has ever done before. And I managed to kayak a very long way. More than annoying that I didn’t make it the whole way to John O’Groats, as we got caught in a nasty storm and my kayak sunk. But I still managed to kayak for a very long time and made it up the length of Britain, past Cape Wrath and little bit further – the first chick to do so.
The whole thing was incredible. And we couldn’t have done it without everyone that supported us. After a bit of time at home, I’m ready for the next challenge. So watch this space…
“Never count your chickens before they hatch”
Everyone knows this.
But I had a whole coop of chicks running around in my head as soon as we left Northern Ireland. What a non-existent group of chicks they were.
Once we made it up Ireland, I saw Scotland as the home stretch. Sean even said in an interview in Dublin that he felt like he’d almost made it. Oh how wrong were we. Scotland, although stunning, brought the coldest weather, the most rain, the biggest waves, the strongest winds, the worst logistical disasters. All in one full swoop. The Mull of Kintyre was not kind to us. Our arrival in Scotland gave us an enormous wakeup call. Firstly we hadn’t reached the end. And secondly we still had a massive country to go. Dammit. I always thought the scale on our map was wrong (the one that is blue-tacked to the loo door and we mark on daily with a bright red pen). But then again I was never good at geography.
The first days in Scotland were without a doubt the hardest days of the whole expedition for me. People talk about the wall you reach in a marathon and once you push through it you will get to the end. Well I seemed to be hitting this wall every day in Scotland. For several reasons, I just didn’t know if I could make it. And I’m meant to be a positive motivation for Sean. Trying to be positive when you are feeling so incredibly negative, is really tough. I had reached my limit of living on a tiny boat with three other people (thank goodness we all get on perfectly). I had reached my limit of being cold and wet. I had reached my limit of kayaking through the day and night. I had reached my limit of time away from friends and family. I had reached my limit. And had to fight daily to keep going. Especially with an ever-changing end date.
While I’m not swimming in the water (so I’m embarrassed to even complain), I am sitting in the water for five hours straight. My kit went from basic wetsuit gear to everything we could find on the boat. I now wear the following:
Speedo Swimming Costume
Simply Swim Thermals
O’Neil Wetsuit Booties
Socks (made from a space blanket my best friend, Rosie gave me in my expedition survival pack)
Waterproof Jacket + Hood
X2 Pairs of Gloves
And I’m still cold. Partly because the kit isn’t breathable and so the condensation inside just makes me colder. And dealing with ridiculous winds, huge waves, nightmare logistics (broken engine, kayak rope around the propellor, no tide, gale warnings) looking after Sean, cooking, cleaning and worrying about getting to the end, I just didn’t know how much longer I could do it. If we knew the day we would arrive/ that we would ever arrive, it would be a lot easier. You can tell yourself to man up and count down the days. But I counted down the days and we just seemed to be getting there later and later. End of August turned to end November. Why not spend Christmas together? Real life started trickling back – the need to earn some money, the gap in the CV growing, the absence of family and friends.
But then I pulled myself together. At the end of this, Sean will be the first person EVER to swim the length of Britain. And I will be the first girl to kayak it. How could I not be excited to achieve this. And give me a few days in London, I would be gagging to be back on the ocean or in the countryside. I love being outside. Scotland is blooming beautiful. We have visited small communities on islands, discovered deserted beaches, lived on fresh fish and spent everyday outside. And I don’t want the adventure, the exploring, the daily routine of the team, the team bond and everything about #SwimmingBritain to end. Despite the mental and physical challenge it brings, we will be involved in helping Sean be the first person to do something. And I don’t think I could have said that if I stayed at my desk in my headhunting job I hated all those years ago.
So on we go. Skye is in our sights. And we must keep going. To make it to John O’Groats. And then back to real life.
After the joys of Kenton’s visit and filming with the BBC One Show, we were all on a high. And John O’Groats felt like a next-door-neighbour. But we weren’t quite there. Not quite.
We were catching two tides a day. One in the early morning. Resting in the middle. One in the evening. The problem was that we were crossing an enormous bay in between Dublin and Newcastle (in Ireland not England) and it was totally slack, without current. Sean was feeling pretty flu-like and sick. Jellyfish were in their hundreds in the evening. We weren’t sleeping very well. Things weren’t too easy. Why hadn’t Kenton experienced this?! And on top of that, we had to be in Newcastle to do a live broadcast to the BBC One Show. And we were days away. So we made the decision to motor there, just to make sure we didn’t miss it. But that meant we would have to go backwards once it was all over.
Newcastle. Newcastle. Newcastle. Not only did we do an Outside Broadcast with the BBC One Show which went spectacularly. (Conway pulled it out the bag. Even David Walliams said ‘It’s actually quite annoying’ in response to Sean’s challenge). We were also put up in the Slieve Donard Hotel. In the big dog suites. With use of the spa, pool and all. We went out for curries to celebrate and things were looking up again.
It was good we had lots of energy because we then had to attempt the journey backwards to the bay of doom. Jez fought against strong currents to get there but we just didn’t make it so anchored at Kilkeel for the night. On day 47 we finally made it after 5pm. Jez had barely left the captain seat for two days. And the ginger started getting the miles in. Just our luck, gale warnings were issued on the radio. So we had to hide in Kilkeel, attached to the immense fishing boats (I quite fancy the fishermen) (Jez quite fancies the boats).
While we hid from the storms, which didn’t seem to come, I decided to cause some extra drama and dropped our team wallet in the harbour. I was angelically climbing up the ladder to go and buy breakfast and I heard a little splash. No louder than a goldfish. After nearly squashing myself in between the boats and using every contraption around, a very kind man got into full diving gear and went hunting for it. No luck. I was in the bad books. I’ve decided I will be known on this trip for getting sea sick and losing the wallet. Oh dear. On the plus side we were given beautiful fresh fish, which was filleted for us. And our laundry was done. And we were given lifts to the shops. God people are nice.
The next few days were my favourite explorations over this side of the Irish Sea. With the discovery of brown lemonade with Jez in Annalong. I swam with Sean and phosphorescene (terrified) at 2am in the freezing cold. Finally crossed the slack bay. Visited Killough where some kids thought we were pirates. They raised flags to scare us away. And we left at the same time. So they sent letters to their town informing everyone of their triumph. Brilliant. We made friends in Annalong.
On day 53 we saw Scotland. At around the same time, the yacht battery went bust. And then amazing Simon and Simon came to the rescue. The only two people in the water (on SUP and kayak) and the only car on the beach, had a battery, jump leads and all. Legends. The next few days we raced to get to Scotland. We started crossing over to mainland early. With jellyfish stings up Sean’s nose. Cold cold cold water. Porpoises all around us. Strange eddys in the water and random rushes of waves. We made it 12 miles from Scotland. We could practically touch it.
But ten forced rest days arrived. The expedition was meant to be finished by now. So Jez had to go to London to start his new job in the school as the nutty professor. Owain had some days off with his family and then went home to work from there. I went to Cumbria to see my boyfriend who I had been away from for two months, but only had two days because we were considering crossing to Scotland unsupported – luckily that didn’t happen.
We are two thirds of the way through Swimming Britain in distance. And time. Bring on Scotland.
My only idea of Ireland was four leaf clovers, leprechauns, Guinness and ‘top of the morning to you’. I would advise you not to mention some of these things to your Irish friends when you first meet them.
Rosslare was my first Irish experience. And it is essentially a ferry terminal. After the crossing from Wales, we spent a couple of days drinking Guinness, washing our clothes, sleeping, eating, trying to show our ID to the local police and attempting to speak in an Irish accent. We also spent an extra day hiding from tornadoes that were expected, after we attempted to get back in the water.
Unfortunately we were still 18 miles off the coast. The current was pulling us further north and so we had kept going away from land. We experienced every type of wave. With huge rollers. Small choppy waves. Side waves. Big waves. Medium waves. Small waves. And with no land marks. I was getting irritated with being away from land. But by Arklow, we were in sight of Ireland itself. And boy was I happy.
We were swimming two tides a day with phosphoresce and jellyfish all around us at night. The weather was cold. Sean was feeling tired and demotivated after days at sea. The yacht got caught on a lobster pot. We anchored out at sea and spent most of the night sleeping on the floor. We were wearing cold, damp wetsuits. We were feeling pretty tired.
And then. Sean’s friend/ professional swimmer, Kent Kirkwood arrived. And gave the ginger a real nudge up the bottom. We were on day 38 of the expedition and the next few days were idyllic. Strong currents. Beautiful weather. Perfectly flat. Calm anchorage. It was almost embarrassing. Kent is going to go back to South Africa and tell all his friends how easy it was?! But it was amazing to have a new burst of energy for Sean and we did our biggest miles on these days. All while being tourists in Ireland with Dublin and Hauth en route. Kent slept on a wee-covered floor and became part of the team. I became a mother to two children. And Kent was my favourite. Sorry Sean.
Just so we wouldn’t get post-visitor blues after Kent’s visit, Owain (PR god) had arranged for the BBC One Show to spend the morning with us. I managed to head butt the boat, get wiped out by waves and sound posher than I normally do. We were all buzzing. Little did we know the days ahead we going to be quite so tough. Obviously we didn’t know. But you’ll just have to find out from my next blog what happened next…
I actually think I understand what Christopher Columbus felt the first time he spotted America. Ok. Well that is a slight exaggeration but crossing the Irish Sea made me feel on the same level somewhat.
Ocean crossings have been the toughest part of this trip for me. No sight of land. Constant sailing as you’re unable to anchor, which means shifts through the night to make sure you don’t crash into a ship. Considering I left my glasses at home, my watch was slightly unnerving. Especially considering I’m scared of the water, things are splashing around, it’s cold and raining, and I can’t actually see what direction the monster ferry is going (these ferries take 7 1/2 miles to stop after that press the emergency stop button just to give you some scale on their enormity). On top of that, I seem to have no in-built compass. Maybe that’s because I’m a girl. But when I’m heading north and the tide is pulling me south and I can’t tell whether I’m going round in circles, the whole process can get quite irritating.
We experienced days at sea with no sleep, huge waves, dreaded hair, torrential rain and steaming ships while dolphins jumped around us, phosphorescence glowed in the night and all the while, I could have been paddling in circles. Once we were 18 miles from Irish land, we decided to try and motor to shore for some sleep and food. Jez settled in for a eight hour sail and the Irish Sea decided to show us what she was made of. The wind picked up. The boat was flying. And all the stuff in it. As were we. The kayak capsized off the back and stared sinking. ‘Friday While’ started flooding. Water was filling up from the bottom of the boat. The wind tore the sail slightly. The table fell off. The bit of wood that holds the mast snapped (Jez will love my technical chat). So by the time we reached Ireland we were tired, wet and covered in bruises.
But we made it.
I had been planning a trip to Ireland in November this year. I was going to fly to Dublin. Eat and drink my way round the city. Fly home. And say I had been to Ireland. Instead I kayaked here with one crazy eyed skipper at the helm, one bearded PR guru and one ginger weirdo. And we were about to kayak up the whole coast. Hello Ireland.