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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.
I really haven’t cycled very far. At all. I would say that the furthest I’ve cycled was to Brighton last year. But I’ve decided to cycle to Paris. So with a week to go, I thought it would be a good idea to get some training in. Maybe it’s too late. But I should probably learn how to change a tyre.
So after work last Wednesday night, I cycled out to Richmond Park. Stopping to change a puncture once (Paris suddenly seemed very far).
Once I finally made it to Richmond Park, I realised that place is FULL of cyclists and very aggressive ones. Everyone is in the proper kit whizzing around and overtaking me a lot. I prefer to cycle with people that care less in a place where there are no people. But I can’t wait to cycle to Paris. I love travelling by bike. And after 21 miles training(?!) last Wednesday, hopefully I will make it there.
Watch this space. If I make it, then I really am proving that people (with no skills at all?!) can attempt to do things they’ve never tried before.
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. What a nutter.
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. It 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…
This is a guest post by Megan Harris. Megan is an outdoor enthusiast with a particular passion for kayaking. She contributes to multiple blogs on outdoor activities and sports.
For those of us who do a lot of travelling and adventuring in rough (or chilly… or both!) waters, there’s a kind of natural ruggedness that we grow to accept. We love the challenge of battling choppy waters with kayak paddles, and we embrace the slight sting of sea spray when sailing through a cold water channel. These are the aspects that make these kinds of adventures unique and interesting… well, at least they contribute!
But to those embarking on these types of trips and adventures for the first time, it’s pretty easy to get uncomfortable, both physically and mentally. So we thought we’d share a few tips from experience in outdoor adventures, particularly on the water. So here are a few general tips that can keep you comfortable.
* Keep Hydrating – Okay, so this is about the most basic sporting/adventure tip ever – but when you’re surrounded by water, it’s strangely easy to forget to hydrate. However, particularly on the sea, the atmosphere of ocean travel – particularly if you’re exerting yourself – can dehydrate you pretty quickly. One good tip is to go ahead and invest in a CAMELBAK. When water’s always at your lips, it’s easy to hydrate even when you don’t feel thirsty.
* Accept The Wetness – Basic tip #2: you’re going to get wet! You’d be shocked how many beginners forget this little detail. Wear clothes that don’t bother you too much when soaked, and get yourself in a fun-loving mindset that accepts the wetness – you’re guaranteed to have more fun.
* Consider Gloves – Personally, I don’t like gloves for any of my boating/water adventure activities, but there are those who find them more comfortable. They can help with grip when sailing and when paddling (depending on your mode and specific adventure), and if you’re not used to these activities and you’re on a long trip, they may prevent blisters.
* Consider Your Eyecare – Before you set out on an outdoor adventure, it might be worth your time to check with ACUVUE for valuable information on contact lenses designed for sport and athletic activity. Obviously, you’ll want to see clearly while out and about, and in many cases contact lenses are the best way to do so. Simply put, glasses can be a disaster out on the water – they limit your peripheral vision, slip and slide if you perspire or get wet, and can even become clouded and smeared with water droplets or vapour. Learning more about contacts designed for athletic activity can leave you with a comfortable and convenient corrective vision setup for your trip.
So there you have it! The truth is, every trip and every adventure is different, and if you keep an open mind, they’re all fun! But as an enthusiast for all things that involve conquering the seas (yes, that’s how I think of it… guilty) and getting a bit wet in the process, I thought I’d pass on a few tips to help you enjoy the same activities. Happy travels!
Alarms (anytime of day depending on tides)
Tidy away sleeping bag and pillow to prevent them getting wet as boat leaks
Brush teeth (occasionally)
Sea Sickness Tablets (maybe)
Wash up bowls and spoon if not done the night before
Make Sean’s breakfast
Offer breakfast to the rest of the crew while they motor to start point
Give Sean multi-vitamins and painkillers
Force Sean to drink lots of water with Vitamin C
Turn on paraffin heater we bought in Scotland to warm/dry clothes as much as possible
Prepare Sean’s kit:
Speedos (lucky us)
X3 Thermal Tops
Socks (that he cycled round the world in)
Goggles (either for night of day depending)
Gloves i(f his arms can handle them)
Music Headphones (if he wants)
Make Thermos – 4 scoops of multi dextrin, squash and hot water
Wash up breakfast if time
Get myself ready into kit mentioned here
Flippers and Canoe paddle into rib
Find out point to aim towards in water
Fix lights on myself if night session
Turn on radios and carry one in kayak (until it broke when I capsized)
Turn on spot tracker (third one lucky due to salt)
Five minute warning, Sean and I climb into rib
Empty kayak of excess water, put thermos in and get in
First feed after 1 1/2 hours in the water
Drinking thermos throughout
Second feed after 3 hours (if he can stomach it) hopefully in water to save time
After 4-5 hours we get out
Sean empties litres of pee (nice) from his suit and takes off excess kit
Turn on paraffin heater
Pour hot water on cloth for his to clean pee off himself
All clothes into a bucket
Remaining hot water into a pot noodle or snack
Swim Seal drops in Sean’s ear if water got in
Make shake with x2 scoots of protein, x2 scoops of multi dextrin, some BCCA and ??
Rinse all clothes in Fabric softener and sea water and ring out
Hang clothes in bathroom on hooks we put in (used to hang all clothes outside until Scotland but everything was SO wet and SO cold when we put everything on)
Blast paraffin heater with doors closed
Give Sean massage while preparing lunch for everyone
Wash up everything in bucket from day while Lou and Owain motor to anchor point
Rest hours where we eat, sleep, tidy boat (because I’m OCD) and explore
Then process above begins again for second tide of the day
Day ends with hopefully a proper supper of potatoes and freshly caught fish
Wash up everything for next day
Force as much food and water into Sean
Make sure Sean takes any medicine he needs
This doesn’t include any logistical nightmares and all the other odd events that occur. But just to give you an idea of a day for me on #SwimmingBritain. That’s it…
“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.