Dorset: a couple of short cycle rides (and signs)
Does anybody object to commercial add-ons to normal road direction signs? I do, especially when the original one is a nice old-fashioned type with interesting place names – even when the add-on points to an award winning country pub like the Drovers Inn at Gussage All Saints: Dorset Country Pub Of The Year (which year, which award exactly?). I haven't been to this Drovers Inn but we did stop to eat at the Sheaf of Arrows in Cranborne part-way through a cycle ride last Saturday. Actually, I didn't eat mine. The Sheaf of Arrows 'pub grub' was... hmmm...
My cousin Sally and husband Jimmy live in St Leonards near Ringwood by the south coast of England. Apart from the volume of traffic on main roads this is a very nice part of the country, just by the New Forest – and the Isle of Wight where me and Sandra went cycling with them last year. This time we decided to cycle from their house. Jimmy, incidentally, rides for an hour and a quarter every day before doing some floor exercises and, on weekdays, going off to work at 7.00 am (that is quite something, I think). Anyway the coastal region of Dorset has a pleasant feel to it and makes me think of Thomas Hardy, my favourite author and a native of Bockhampton close to Dorchester – the setting for The Mayor of Casterbridge, his best book IMO. Things are different now, of course, but in quiet lanes you sometimes see a thatched cottage that might be straight from one of his stories.
These rides of ours... Jimmy decides where we go and we ask no questions. Off we pedal with him in front, serene like a keirin pacer. On the Saturday we rode a 40-mile route through Ringwood, Fordingbridge, Rockbourne, Cranborne (where the Sheaf of Arrows is), Wimborne St Giles, Witchampton and Horton. Sandra got her first puncture ever. The weather was dry but the sides of the road were still wet from the night before so I got splattered with mud as I was the only one without mudguards – they are going on this week.
Sunday's outing was even gentler. Lovely! We parked at Christchurch harbour and cycled along the sea promenade from near Hengistbury Head to the Sandbanks ferry terminal near Poole harbour. Property around here is apparently some of the most expensive in the UK but it's a little too close to sea level for me. Hengistbury Head for instance will become an island within (perhaps) the next 50 years and then be allowed to wash away completely because it's too expensive to protect. More about keeping the sea at bay on Dorset Life's website.
Cycling along Bournemouth promenade is very pleasant indeed and illustrates how cyclists and walkers can coexist quite happily (although cycling is not allowed on the promenade during July and August between 10.00 am and 6.00 pm). At the Jazz Café at Sandbanks we thought we might see Harry Redknap drinking coffee, but no... nobody famous was there this day. We rode back east along a road with very expensive houses overlooking Poole harbour and it struck me how there is no relationship between the value of a property and its state of repair. This strange truth has occurred to me before.
The sea front was quieter in the afternoon. Promenading must be a Sunday morning thing. Back at the Christchurch end I asked Jimmy if the Isle of Wight was visible on a clear day (it was starting to rain). "It's there!" he said. True enough, we could see The Needles, and the island's southern coast stretching away into the mist. I took a photo with my smartphone. On these two rides I purposely left my proper camera behind just to see how good the smartphone's is. Well, I don't think it's very good except for rough snapshots, and it really doesn't like grass.
On the drive back north – it's a long one – Emily (Garmin) announced severe delays on the M40 and diverted us west along the M4, then the A419/417 to the M5 near Gloucester, joining the M6 north of Birmingham. What gorgeous cycling country there seems to be around Swindon and up towards Cirencester. Some bad news however. On the M5 we passed a number of huge illuminated billboards. I haven't noticed these things before although you do see unauthorised adverts on the side of trailers parked in fields. I wonder if the illuminated ones are 'official' because it would be a worrying development for the English landscape if they are. I fear the worst. I do not like superfluous signs anywhere and motorways can be a thing of beauty. The illuminated billboards (advertising towers) are aimed only at motorway users, massive enough not to be driven by unnoticed.
[ Added later: (i) OK, Redknapp is spelt with double 'p' and (ii) I have found this Google Street View of an ugly advertising tower on the M5 ]