London to Brighton by Bicycle! Hove, actually.

Welcome back and sorry for the delay! After our wonderful 6+ weeks of exploring Ireland, we left Dublin under the threat of rain to catch an early boat to Holyhead, Wales. Our ultimate destination was a house and cat sit stay in Hove, on England’s historic south coast, and part of the lively Brighton and Hove municipality.

Cruising South Downs National Park towards the water and Brighton
Riding to the Port of Dublin, which is really a work in progress.

Luckily the rain managed to hold off while we rode to the massive Dublin port and terminal area, and the Irish Sea was thankfully calmer than predicted. We also decided to try out Irish Ferries instead of Stena Line, but we’ll fill you in on all the nuances of our year of ferry, train and bike travel in an upcoming post. Stay tuned.

Posing with our new friend waiting to board the Ferry in Dublin
Successfully off the train at London Euston, at a very quiet spot at the end of a platform and 10 car Avanti West train! One other intrepid cycle tourist with us.
Central London rush hour cycling was a breeze, even in a bit of rain.

Since we didn’t have time to ride all the way from Wales to Hove, we decided to train from Holyhead to London and then spend 3 relatively short days cycling to Hove via scenic back routes and footpaths. So we boarded the train in Holyhead, and after one transfer arrived in London.

Further along the Thames towards Wimbledon the roads got a lot more hectic

But unlike our last ride across London, which was on a quiet Saturday morning, we had 17km of pure evening rush hour riding from Euston Station to Wimbledon. I had found a nice guest house in Wimbledon that was bike friendly, walkable to dinner, and much cheaper than any part of Central London. It also got us a bit on our way towards Hove, and allowed a bit of the stretching of the legs after the ferry and train time.

Loved the Marple Cottage Guest House in Wimbledon

The irony of our ride was that Central London was still easy peasy due to light traffic, great bikeways, and smooth pavement. But as soon as we left the core and headed southwest into SW3, 11, and 18, the roads got a lot busier and the bike accommodation was less. The reimagined cores of global cities are now often ahead of their more suburban car oriented neighbors. Regardless, we made it to Wimbledon just fine, and were pleased to have a long 13-hour travel day over! It was then an easy walk to a great pub (The Alexandra) for dinner and some libations. We liked that the Alexandra had a sports side, non sports area, and upstairs loft, so you could choose your setting based on your mood. (Or passion for Arsenal or Liverpool!)

Finally, a bench atop Farthing Downs to have some lunch!
Unsuitable for trucks means more suitable for bikes!
A nice dry foot path in Sussex.

We had been to Wimbledon a few times when staying in London, as the area is nice, and walking though Richmond Park via Wimbledon Common is lovely. With easy train connections to central London, it’s a good alternative neighborhood to stay in if you want a bit less hubbub and cost than central London too.

The breakfast at the Godstone Inn was fantastic; Gourmet Full English and Avocado Toast with Scrambled Eggs.

There is no single “route” from London to Brighton and no National cycle network route that gets you there directly unless you divert fairly far east or west. You can head west via the NCR4 and 223 (rail trail-flat!) or east via the Avenue Verte, which is a good route to Paris via the Newhaven-Dieppe DFDS Ferry. We still went fairly directly and used Komoot, and a route on the Cycle.Travel site. I then tweaked each daily route to try to avoid busier roads, take in some sights, and hit sections of quiet lanes tagged by Komoot users. The big advantage of cycle touring on a leisurely schedule is that it is always easier to lengthen a journey and day as desired, but not the opposite. If you’re more time pressed, then you often have fewer choices and can be forced to take busier roads and ride through the worst of the weather.

Ready for Day 2 from Godstone.

The main roads south of London and in Sussex are all pretty busy, so we were happy to have the time to explore via smaller routes. It was also supposed to be rainy, and rain it did, so our schedule allowed us to duck under cover for showers, and not fret about excessively long days out in the wet. About 40-50k a day, but it did feel much longer on wet hilly roads, muddy paths, and stops at little sights along the way. Slow travel for sure.

Sometimes the footpaths turn foul.
Cheryl trying not to shred her legs through the briars…mostly successful.
Heading down into the green abyss near Ardingly via some very steep hollows.

One challenge of routing via Komoot or OS maps is knowing what the real condition of a footpath or bridleway will be. They vary widely! Smooth forest floor, decomposed rock or grass can be easy. Roots, mud, briars, and kissing gates or stiles can be a real challenge….your best bet is to look at notes/markers people have tagged in Komoot and be ready to turn around and divert back to paved roads as needed.

A memorable night at the Ardingly Inn, sharing in the shock of the Queens passing with the locals.

Even with our planning; we inevitably were on some busy stretches of A and B roads to connect up the quiet lanes, but they were not too bad for short stretches, but not recommended for longer distances, with large trucks and often mixed/no shoulders. Some A roads have bike lanes indicated on Google (light green solid lines), but these can consist of 2-3 foot shoulders, and with grit, wet roads, and high speed traffic, are not really anywhere you WANT to be. There is still a lot of work to do in the UK to make safe cycling networks complete and practical for those other than hard core sporty types. Or those with a lot of time (like us-:).

St. Martin’s Church, Westmeston.

The other variable on footpaths is how they are maintained, as clearly some landowners don’t really seem to want to accommodate the rightful access. But don’t get me wrong, the public footpath and bridleway network in the UK is an amazing thing and really allows unfettered and peaceful walking almost anywhere you want to go. We really missed this in Ireland. So as we build our perfect country, we’d take the footpath system from the UK, and the cycling access from the Netherlands.

Ready for our final short day via the Ditchling Beacon from Ardingly
Cheryl’s final assault on the Ditchling Beacon! And about to cross the South Downs Way long distance walking path.
Atop the Ditchling Beacon looking back towards London
Hove’s iconic beach cabins on a Saturday morning as a local triathlon finishes up.

All in all, the three days were very nice despite the rain. Sussex countryside is beautiful and the rains of the past few weeks had regreened the landscape from the late summer drought. (But not enough to fill the reservoirs again!)

The English Channel….France in the far distance!
Brighton’s waterfront quay has been reimagined with eateries and art galleries….but this day required some clean up after much needed rains.
It was a dramatic change from Summer to Fall over our two weeks in Hove
Great old timey rides on the Brighton Pleasure Pier
Steel pilings and railings take a beating on the English Channel
The skeleton frame in the distance is all that remains of the West Pleasure Pier; which hosted up to 2 million people a year in its heyday in the early 1900s.
People were a bit more friendly and laid back in Brighton and Hove
Day hike via the Thameslink to Balcombe…great place to start walking right into the woods.
Approaching the Ouse Valley Viaduct
Another engineering marvel, the 1,500 foot long Ouse Valley Viaduct. Designed by John Rastrick and opened in 1841. It still serves the main Brighton to London line today!
Great rambling on the South Downs
Cheryl with our morning pastries on the Undercliff walk near the Brighton Marina. (The Marina is bit of a 1970s design nightmare)

We arrived a bit early for our house sit, so decided to head to Hove Park, which is a very nice central park with a great cafe. Immediately we were greeted by a friendly cyclist who inquired about our travels and told us that would love Hove. Which we did.

The upbeat vibe of Hove

Brighton and Hove have a temperate and pleasant oceanside climate, long established LGBTQ community, art scene, good restaurants , a walkable grid, and connectivity by bus and train. It’s hilly with both broad slopes and steep valleys that frequently reward you with views. It’s also flush with parks and borders the large South Downs National Park. It really reminded me of San Francisco and is a place we would consider staying awhile.

Sunset on the Regent’s Canal during a day trip to London.
The Camden Canal on one of our easy day trips to London. The narrow boaters yelled to us that it was only their second day on their new boat- they were very excited!
Pub stop in London.

The rail connectivity means you can be at Gatwick airport in 30 minutes, and London in less than an hour. And you can even go all the way through London to Cambridge in 2 hours without a transfer. Getting to France is easy via Eurostar (from St. Pancras) and ferries from Portsmouth and Newhaven to the Normandy Coast.

Lots of space on the South Downs for cows and walking.
That’s Cheryl at the bottom of the fascinating formation known as the Devils Dyke

So, with such great connectivity, we met friends from London on the Thameslink to hike, a friend in London for the day, and other friends in Worthing, an easy train ride west. It was also fairly bike friendly, especially along the coast. It was wonderful to get so much social time with friends.

Another engineer bucket list item? Thanks Joe and Justina for the ride!

The great waking and SDNP adjacency came in handy as we mostly parked our bikes and walked and hiked from our house sit in every direction (except the ocean). The comfy double decker bus system, with USB ports at every seat and easy contactless payment via credit card or Apple Pay (capped day fares!), was the most fun, especially along the coast.

Couldn’t miss a ride on Volk’s Railway along the waterfront. Some dedicated folks (ok train nerds!) keep this running.
We loved the extremely walkable streets of Hove and Brighton…Street party around the corner from us in the Wilbury Villas neighborhood.
Independent neighborhood organic store and coffee….dense and car free living means more to discover around each corner.

The two weeks flew by, and we had to pack up, clean the apartment, and say goodbye to the sweet cat we had bonded with over two weeks. So we caught a train to Portsmouth and a ferry to Caen and another 3 day journey via train and bike to the Valleé Verte.

Our sweet house sit cat…mostly blind and deaf, but incredibly affectionate.
Hove Station at night with a huge new high rise neighborhood being built beyond; a great place for housing given walkability, transit, and weather.
Along the miles long promenade.

But where to next you ask? Let’s just say we’ll need all the walking fitness we can muster. But another update from Cheryl is coming soon. Bon Voyage!

The happy travelers in Hove…ready to move onto France and our next adventure

Good Day Sunshine!

Happy New Year everyone! I think 2022 is going to be great. Why? We woke this New Year’s morning to the rarest of sights- sunlight and shadows; the first real sunshine since we stepped out of a taxi at the Marrakech Airport….20 days ago. (Wait, why did we leave Morocco?)

Some early morning sun in Regent’s Park

Apparently December set some sort of record for gloom in the UK; which is saying something. We’ve been leaning into the dark winter, but have a new appreciation for the Northern European lust for sunshine by January…we even started taking Vitamin D last week, and the tanning bed salons looked a little less repulsive to us. A little less.

Soaking up the five minutes of sun in late December!
More New Year’s Day shadows in Regents Park

But New Year’s morning was indeed a glorious London Day and we took full advantage of it by immediately heading up Primrose Hill to take in the beautiful view and then exploring on foot Marylebone down to the heart of the royal parks of St. James, Green, and Hyde Park. And we were just enough ahead of the masses to experience a very peaceful central London.

Cheryl loving the newly improved sidewalks and pedestrian zones of central London.
New Year’s Day Horse Guard preparations. Beautiful horses, but unfortunately no jousting
Easy to get bike shares anywhere in London with a contactless credit card £2/day for unlimited 30 minute trips

We also had some fun conversations with some local youngsters who had been up all night and just about ready to sleep after taking in the sunrise on Primrose Hill. Oh yeah, we’re hip too kids, we just left out the part of going to bed at 10:30!

Warm winter weather means outdoor dining has still been in play.

So thanks to the kindness of some very generous friends, we have spent the past week living a bit like locals in the beautiful North London neighborhood of Primrose Hill.

Great pubs everywhere…this one above Hamstead Heath

It’s been great to explore in all directions by foot, tube, and bike share, as we continue to discover more of the London magic, and the layers of overlapping neighborhoods, pathways, alleys, and mews

Near the highest point in London at Whitestone Pond…easy views through the mostly bare trees.
The atmospheric Hill Garden and Pergola in Golder’s Hill Park

So we had originally planned (and actually had tickets) to go back to France on the train tomorrow, but that’s been postponed at least a few weeks due to non-essential travel border ban from UK imposed due to Omicron.

Modern Hall Park…the southern end of the Northern Line..more typical weather

It’s all quite political as both sides of the channel have massive case loads and spread, so (tested!) travelers are a blip on the trajectory of the pandemic.

These beautiful Egyptian geese were a little too friendly!

We have learned that it’s very important to look at how countries have responded to different phases of the pandemic to understand how new restrictions may be imposed again. (i.e. Morocco!).

Our favorite pastime…canal walking
I will be Cap’n of a canal boat someday…dreaming at the London Canal Museum
Most of the glorious London Area canals used to be off limits until the 1970s…so hope for all the private canal right of ways in the USA.

So instead we have decided to head to the Lake District for a week to do some nice winter hiking, and exploring…but first with a stopover in Liverpool, which has been reborn and is loaded with great museums and sites, in addition to some famous band apparently being from there.

New Year’s Eve takeout noodles in an Islington Pub beer garden.
Riding on in the New Year!

Stay tuned, stay safe, and Happy New Year to all!

How to have fun in the UK while staying safe? Stay outside.

The Tower Bridge and the recently boostered travelers.

The Eurostar from Paris to London delivered us to a world where Omicron was causing worry and rising cases. Our first task was our required COVID test, and our next task was to find a place to get our booster shots. A bit of on line searching led us to Guys St. Thomas hospital, some standing in line and some waiting in chairs, and two hours later we were boosted.

The unassuming site of our boosters. There was no charge even for foreigners, so we went on line and donated money to the hospital.

While we wait the seven days for our immune systems to ramp up their responses we stay out in the fresh, healthy, bracing, clean, cold, brisk outside.

Family! So lucky to have these two to spend time with. Walking the Regents Canal.
We visit outdoor beer gardens and order pizza, bundled up.
Order your pizza and meet their bicycle delivery person out front.
Walking on Hampstead Heath, the view from Parliament Hill.
Pint of cider at lunch in another pub garden.
Take out dinner in our hotel room. The glamorous side of travel during COVID. This made me feel for everyone who has quarantined in a hotel room during the time of COVID.
Masked up, windows open, enjoying the top deck of a London bus.

No lie, it freaks us out to see pubs and restaurants full of unmasked people enjoying themselves in London. We watch the COVID numbers rise and retreat even further into our safe behavior. With our Christmas plans shifting and changing we get on the tube and to the train station to head to Edinburgh.

Early Sunday tube ride.
The numbers of transit riders are down again in this new wave of Omicron.
At Kings Cross Station to get on a train to Edinburgh.
Auld Reekie. Edinburgh. Hello.
The Happy Travelers out in the fresh air of Scotland.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and stay safe all.