Zarutz to Bilbao on the Camino del Norte.

The view after climbing out of Deba.

Is the Camino del Norte tough? Yes! Yes it is. Long days and lots of up and down. Add to that some rocky, muddy, rain soaked trails and you have long days that feel even harder than 15 miles/24 kilometers should.

An ancient stone road out of Zarautz.
Looking back towards Zarautz.
Cecily making friends with calf number 2570.
The churches with wide verandas made excellent places to stop and rest, this one is near Getaria.
A well placed vending machine was also a good place for a break.
Taking advantage of a farm cider opportunity did not make the remaining distance to Deba any easier.
After so much up and down on steep slippery trails, the public elevators of Deba were a very welcome sight.
These boat owners must be very sure footed. Deba harbor.

We had cloudy weather, but still mild. We hiked in some light rain, and some nice sun. It warmed up as our week went on, and by the time some of us hiked all the way into Bilbao on Saturday, it was warm. 80f/26c

Rocks left in memory and honor of lost loved ones.
The mountains provide a stunning backdrop.

Wait, some of us hiked into Bilbao? Yes some of us. One of us, me, Cheryl, ended up with tendinitis in my left foot. The day from Guernica to Zamudio was increasingly painful so I took a train the last short day to Bilbao, with Cecily.

Happy travelers leaving Altzaa.
A classic Camino photo. Happy to have four pairs of feet on this journey.
The days can be very long, but the company is great.
You look up and see a postcard perfect scene.
Over old stone bridges.
And by historic churches. I was wishing for a suspension bridge across this valley, but what a view back to the church.
Some of the cats are petable. Thank you for the photo Christine.
Leaving Guernica with smiles all around.
Our fearless leader.
The downhill was really starting to hurt my foot. But still smiling.
Last morning in Zamudio. Two of us are smiling because we’re headed for the train! Cecily is feeling run down and joined me on the train. Rich and Christine are looking forward to the hike into Bilbao.
Ticket to ride. Me and my bad foot.
Masks still required on public transit in Spain. Enjoying moving but not hiking.
Cecily enjoying the view.
The Camino route comes right past our hotel so Cecily went out to meet our Pilgrims, Christine and Rich.
Recovering with tea and wine. Ibuprofen and ice and rest came next.
Thank you Cecily and Christine for the Camino time with us.

When we decided to leave San Francisco and travel it was our hope we would be able to meet up with friends and go on adventures together. This was an adventure, and we were so happy to share it with such good friends. Christine and I met the first day at University a good many years ago. The joy of long time friends.

The happy travelers in Bilbao old town.

Rich and I will be in Lisbon next, after a few days enjoying Bilbao with Christine and Cecily, and on to New York City and New England. Visiting friends and family there and in Chicago, and then, Thanksgiving with family. Looking forward to that very much. Happy fall.

How to take a vacation from your travels. And on to the next adventure.

It’s been over a year since we’ve been nomading, vagabonding, wandering – whatever it is we’re doing. The transitions can be very challenging, city to county side, country to country, bike touring to backpack travel again. How do we do it without burning out, or driving each other bonkers? Our secret superpower is a home base in France, thanks to wonderful friends who hopefully know how much we appreciate it. There we can swap gear, relax in familiar and comfortable surroundings (Oh, comfy couch, we love you.), and actually be in different rooms from each other! For hours!

Those are the smiles of travelers who get to be somewhere familiar and cozy, and swap out some gear.

We are super fortunate to have a private home where we can recharge, but we also have places which are familiar and comfortable that provide the same mental break. Bristol, in the UK. A city we love and have been to three times. Hove/Brighton will be one of those places as well. Both have good public transit, lots to do and see and good for getting around the area. Izmir, Turkey is probably one of the places we’ll go back to again and feel happy knowing our way around, and what we like to do and eat. Our home town of San Francisco, of course. A place where you can navigate without a map and know the bus routes and bike routes. That feels great, wherever it is.

The relief felt when encountering French bike infrastructure again is massive.

But wait, how did we get here? As Rich mentioned in the previous post, Hove to the Haute Savior takes about 13 not always easy steps, with loaded touring bikes. Trains, a ferry, rides to and from hotels, to and from trains, trains to trains, and finally a lift the last few steep miles. We love the UK, but the French have really zoomed ahead of the British with safe, comfortable bike facilities, especially in urban areas and to connect town and cities. From getting off the ferry in the dark and rain, and directly on to a protected cycle way to our hotel, to the next morning riding the riverside path that led us into Caen for our train to Paris, it felt easy and relaxed. We both breathed a sigh of relief. Oh yeah, this is fun! Bike touring with no safe route is so stressful. Bike touring with lovely pathways and signage? A joy.

Headed from Ouistreham where the ferry docks, into Caen.
Arrived at Gare Paris Saint-Lazare via train. Tick off another step.
Rue de Rivoli in Paris at rush hour. Headed to our hotel in the 12 arrondissement.

Let’s take a moment to recognize what an amazing transformation Paris has undergone. 10k at rush hour with loaded touring bikes and it was not at all stressful. Even though we probably caused some near misses as we stopped at red lights and the cyclists behind us kept going – there was no cross traffic so they were being safe, just not expecting the big old loaded American touring bikes to actually stop! We got the hang of it. The quiet of Rue de Rivoli was like a forest bath. The sound of voices and bike tires. No loud engines. No car horns. Just the lovely sound of people. I’ll say it again, cities aren’t loud, internal combustion engines are loud.

Gare de Lyon, waiting for our TGV platform to be announced. One night in Paris is too short a stay, but still fun.
Three trains later, yada yada yada, we made it!

So, now that our legs, backs, and bottoms are totally adapted to bike touring, after four months of travel by and with bikes, let’s mix it up!

Load up that backpack, lace up the boots, and let’s Camino.

While down in town at the weekly market, where we walked with our packs which have scallop shell Camino patches on them, a young man said to us – you have a long way to go. And then after I used my one good French phrase “I’m sorry, I don’t speak French.”, he said it again in English. (Oh, to be bilingual.) Why thank you for thinking we could and would walk all the way from the French border with Switzerland to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, but no. We will actually fly to Bilbao.

My Camino pack. Getting some air.

We try quite hard to not fly places. This will be our first flight since returning from Turkey in May. Unfortunately, avoiding air travel means you must have time, and more money than the cheap flights cost. But, we do what we can, and sometimes our chosen lifestyle means airplanes.

Lunch break on our first training day out with our packs.
Second day hiking. Ready for the rain.
And rain it did. We were grateful to find this shelter by a glider field so we could enjoy our lunch.

With packs on and trekking poles in hands we started walking. And walking some more. Hopefully we’ll be in good enough hiking shape for the long Camino days.

Third day. Up into to the fog we go.
A very helpful and beautiful orientation table at the peak of the climb. It did clear a bit on our way back.
He’s ready to Camino.
Practicing the Camino picnic. My Cleverhood rain cape doubles as a ground cloth for sitting.

What a place to be able to train for the Camino. The Lower Alps are simply stunning. Varied terrain, nicely signposted routes, amazing views. And beautiful cows. Making all that delicious cheese.

Respect our cows. Words to live by.
Who could not respect you? Gorgeous.
The Happy Travelers on our final training hike. The sun came out to bid us farewell.

By the time you read this we will be headed to Spain. We’re meeting dear friends from California to hike part of the Camino del Norte. Adiós y Buen Camino!

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

UK Heatwave! Bikeways, Bunnies, and Bristol

When traveling long term, you strangely become both more tolerant of discomfort (especially when out of your control), and obsessed with small comforts. And sometime the smallest things can give you a feeling of satisfaction in an often disorienting lifestyle.

Trying to cool off in a top floor hotel room in Clifton/Bristol, UK

For example, our little down travel pillows always provide a modicum of comfort, even over the hardest “pillow” found in some lodging. Carrying our own salt, pepper, picnicware, and hot sauce brightens otherwise dull meals or take out on the road.

Wait, we’ve seen this cat pub before!

Another way to ease the stress of constant travel is to return to a place…maybe a few times. It’s always easier once you know the lay of the land, favorite neighborhoods, and how to get out of the train station in the right direction. In the past year we’ve been lucky enough to visit London and Paris multiple times, in completely different neighborhoods. Plus, you can venture deeper into new places, see obscure sights, and generally settle in with the more relaxed lens of a quasi-local.

Arriving at Liverpool Station by train from Harwich…our arrival port from The Netherlands

As we left the Netherlands for the UK, the warnings of an impending heat wave across Northern Europe were growing, so we thought about where we could ride it out as we approached the next leg across of our planned 4 month summer European cycling, train, and boat tour.

Along the Thames; Cheryl looking much more London than me in my high viz helmet cover!

Our primary goals in the UK were to see our friends in Wales, and connect to a ferry to Ireland, so we did not plan on too much cycling. The heat wave clinched the decision to settle in somewhere for a longer stay. So we looked back on places that we could (somewhat) easily get to with our bikes on trains…our train from the ferry landing in Harwich went to London, but London would be too hot(100+) and is $$$ in August, plus we wanted to get further west where it would be a bit cooler, and closer to a house sit we had scheduled in Gloucester.

Love the Thames Cycle Superhighway!
This area near Bank was the only part of our 10km ride sharing the streets with cars and buses
And Big Ben will be on your right!
Is that the Queen over there?!

So we decided on Bristol for a third visit, via a single train transfer in London. The only catch was one train came into Liverpool Station and the other departed from Paddington. But no problem on bikes, as the 10km ride across London on a Saturday morning was a pleasure due to all the new cycling infrastructure. London’s wide new paths, protected lanes and bike signals have made cycling a much more viable alternative in the Capital.

10 relaxing kilometers later at Paddington, ready to catch (Brunel’s!) Great Western Railway to Bristol. Quiet here, but the station was packed inside.

Bristol was also a good base for some day cycling trips and we could go back to our favorite falafel stand, noodle restaurant, and cat pub!

Heatwave exploration along the Avon River towards Bath …shady and you can swim in the river!
A very welcome cold and drippy tunnel along the Bath Bristol Cycle way

And yes, we could go back to the S.S. Brittanica and Brunel Museum…and for free! Ha, even the staff was impressed (and a bit surprised) when Cheryl pulled out our printed tickets from last year, which they sell at the relatively high price of £20 each, with the caveat that the tickets are good for a year.

On deck at the SS Great Britain

Of course, most non-locals never make it back within the year…but these frugal Americans did! (Thanks to Cheryl -:) We enjoyed seeing more of the museum that we missed on the first visit due to school groups and also took another walk through the ship. This was a small satisfaction for these frequent travelers!

A rather scruffy Isambard Brunel
Still love this bridge and this woman!

We spent one warm night in the top floor of a old school hotel in leafy Clifton (nicely near the Suspension bridge), but then strategically moved to an air conditioned room downtown for the peak days of the heat wave.

Bristol Harbour….so familiar on a third visit, and hey, our favorite brew pub is right there!

It WAS hot and the Hilton Garden Inn’s British AC system could barely keep up, especially when the sun bore down on our windows in the afternoon. Luckily we like this hotel due to its adjacency to a small park with nice mature trees that cooled it down a bit.

Tracking down Banksy’s street art in Bristol was a goal of our third visit
Banksy’s take on improving the planning process
Our Banksy hunt led to more great street art in Stokescroft
It certainly is!

This heat wave set all-time records throughout the UK…43c/104f in a land not adapted in culture, architecture, or A/C systems to such heat. Southern England is now experiencing a drought along with about 50% of the rest of Western Europe. The adaptation to the climate change that seems to be happening is going to be difficult, expensive, and disruptive to life as we know it….and of course, we are the lucky ones that can afford to move and adapt, while other poorer and more impacted nations suffer unduly for greenhouse gases they contribute little to generating.

The Cornubia Pub…a nice old pub in the heart of redeveloped Bristol
Cheryl’s heatwave adaption? Outdoor pomegranate cider at the Cornubia

But let’s move on to happier topics, like house bunnies. We had a nice 70km cycle from Bristol to Stroud, a pleasant historic canal town on the edge of the Cotswolds. It was a little hectic getting out of Bristol as the cycle infrastructure is spotty and confusing to the first time user.

Heading to Stroud

But the ride was generally pleasant, and Stroud made a good overnight stop, with the convenince of pub lodging….drinks, dinner, sleep, breakfast…check. We then rode back to the Gloucester Canal via the Stroud water, where we house sat for a nice young couple for the weekend, with primary duties looking after their two bunnies. The bunnies were super cute and lots of fun. Who knew rabbits had such personalities!? And Gloucester has an interesting revitalized docklands area and a spectacular cathedral.

Bunny dinner time in Gloucester

So one of the surprises of our first cycle touring days in the UK was the fact that it wasn’t that bad! After spending the better part of last winter in the UK, we had not deemed the roads, drivers, or train system too hospitable to bikes and basically decided that we’d use our precious cycling time elsewhere where the cycling seems safer and offered more freedom to discover. However, a critical law enacted in February mandates passing clearances of 1.5-2m for cars, as well as improved cyclist and pedestrian rights at intersections and crossings. Way to go UK!

You need a Canal and River Trust Key to work the locks….hmmm?

There is a also nascent national cycling network (with gaps), as well as local tourism loops and other marked routes in many cities and towns. But it’s hard to find online cycling maps and data, despite downloading and paying for the Ordiance Survey (OS Maps) App at the premium level. We had to piece together routing from Komoot, Google, and some of the National and local signage to find a good route. It should be easier.

On the Gloucester Canal

And many of the A or B roads are still absolutely no go in my view. For example we crossed a few primary roads (A roads) that Google had routed us on, and spent a km or two on some, but quickly bailed or found an alternate route as they were just too high speed with no shoulders. Some have bike lanes that disappear or are just way too narrow for traffic speeds.

Better signage along the recently restored Stroudwater Canal

As we alway say, England is a pretty crowded place and car use has run rampant since the 1970s, without the concurrent development of connective cycling infrastructure. It’s a similar pattern to the USA; the cities have led the way, while the suburban and rural areas have been neglected or fallen through the planning/funding cracks. In the UK, the physical challenges of the narrow roads are also harder to overcome, whereas in the US it is often more a lack of political will.

Cycle touring allows you savor all the small sights along the way

On the quieter backroads though, the cycling can be very rewarding as the small scale and undulations of the historic road system is perfect for cycle touring. And millions of British cycle frequently and we saw many out there….but they are mostly in high vis vests and it feels like a bit of a road warrior mentality that is not going to get the other 98% of the population out on bikes.

Gloucester Cathedral…part of the original Abbey dating back over 800 years
The magnificent modern stained glass tribute to Gerald Finzi done by Thomas Denny in 2016. The cathedral has some of the best stained glass in the world

The other huge positive was that almost all the drivers are respecting the new laws, so this did make it feel safer and more pleasant on many roads. However, heading up a steep narrow road with 5 cars stuck behind you waiting to pass safely is still not exactly the relaxing experience of a 5m wide Dutch cycleway. So we decided that we will try out a bit more of the National cycling network next time through the UK in September.

On the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal, ultimately opened in 1827 after 30 difficult years. It provide boats a safe navigation past the dangerous tidal reach of the Severn River

So we headed out of Gloucester by train to Carmarthen, Wales, where our kind friends picked us up in their van for the final leg to Tenby. It was great (as always) to see our friends and we still are so thankful for their kindness in providing us some grounding for our European travels. Cheryl has known them for almost 40 years, and we feel especially close as generations age and kids turn into young adults. But somehow, we stay the same age, right?

Everybody smiling…except the dog!
We definitely get by with a little help from our friends…the drop at Fishguard
Beautiful Tenby Harbour at sunset

The swimming in Tenby was particularly pleasant in August and we enjoyed recuperating a bit before moving onto our next adventure; cycling and exploring Ireland, so we packed up our bikes and gear and our kind hosts shuttled us again to the Stena Line ferry in Fishguard, Wales for the 4 hour trip to Ireland. I’ve heard the Irish are pretty friendly too, but more on that next time.

My favorite traveling companion enjoying the views leaving Wales

Happy travels!

Car Free in the Lake District in Winter?…Why Yes!

We moved on from lovely Liverpool late last week and arrived Keswick by train and bus (locally pronounced Kehz-ick) on a spectacularly snowy day in the Lake District.

Dramatic winter skies ascending near Grasmere

We were very glad that our professional bus driver was plying the slushy mountain roads, especially on the sheer edges of deep lakes; nevertheless, we did take note of the emergency window systems on the bus! (avoiding what I called a double decker bus watery grave…-;)

Can we do this without a car?

Our decision to base in Keswick was based on a number of factors, but primarily that we could get there by public transit, and numerous lines route from there to other parts of the National Park. It also has a few museums, nice shops, and many services in town, including a great regional supermarket, Booth’s.

Our row cottage in Keswick came with a friendly outdoor kitty neighbor no charge and a 5-10 minute walk to town or the bus
Cheryl trying to cajole an adorable Lake District sheep to follow her home

Oh, it also happens to be very quaint, with a lovely pedestrianized core and footpaths heading in every direction, including along the large Derwant Waters, what we in America might call a lake!

Morning light on Derwentwater in the Lake District NP

We actually wavered a bit about whether we “needed” to rent a car, but then read about many others visiting car-free and thriving with the great regional transit system. After 6 days here, we know it was 100% the right decision for us.

The 78 bus to the end of the line at Seatoller…schedules, a shelter, and multiple trailheads
Cheryl ready to hike…the other friendly passengers were day tripping photography buffs from Manchester

Our decision also considered the fact that this area is heavily impacted by car traffic, much like the National Parks in the US. Nevertheless, the car parks and road are still surprisingly busy here mid week in January, as driving is still seen as the easiest and best way for most to experience the park. Despite some pay parking in many of the towns and villages, the roads are still free and there is an abundance of free parking available.

Hey, there goes our bus!

But it’s not just about the carbon footprint of driving for us. We’ve seen the impacts automobile congestion, noise, and pollution have on communities. When practical, we don’t want to contribute unnecessarily to the problem. Although traffic is fairly light in the middle of winter now, it apparently is extremely congested most of the year, and a nightmare in holiday periods.

On the way to Styhead Tarn; did we mention there is water everywhere!

The typical scenic two lane roads barely fit two bus widths (they slow to pass) or even some large cars and trucks! Luckily most people in the UK still drive pretty small cars, but they still impact the safety and experience of the bikes and walkers that also use most roads. Many drivers here go too fast for conditions and it can be nerve wracking even on small unmarked country lanes.

Fragile sub-alpine tundra above 500m
The surprising alpine world of northwest England…Styhead Tarn near the Great Gable

National Parks and holiday areas have specific problems, and many have now taken to managing traffic through various methods, such as fees, closures, parking management, and shuttles/transit. The Lake District National Parks is no different and really is trying to address the problem by providing a really good bus system at fairly reasonable (but not cheap) prices.

Returning on the upper deck just before the early winter sun set
The backbone 555 bus runs throughout the core of the district and will connect you to the train in Windemere…closed double deck BTW

The buses are reliable, extensive, clean, and even a joy with double deck service on the some lines and 1/2 open top double deck service on two shorter lines through very scenic areas. So the buses really do double as sightseeing and transit for locals and visitors alike.

Yes, it WAS chilly on the open top bus, but the views will keep you warm

The other key is easy payment. The Stagecoach bus system offers payment by any tap cars/Apple Pay, etc for single/day trips or you can buy a loadable smart card right from the driver £1 fee for week or month passes.

Information is key! Most stops had schedules and route info.

We bought the 7 day gold pass form £29 each, which allows unlimited travel on the entire systems, which extends to the coast and all the gateway/border cities of the whole district.

Less sun, more dramatic colors
Walla Crag view on a misty winter day
But the sun was out today!

The only suggestion we would make to the Stagecoach bus system is to make the pass an 8-day or 7+1 trip pass, as many holiday rentals are 7-nights, so you generally have 8 days of travel. We are going to have to buy another day pass for our last day out of the park…. a minor annoyance. Let’s make this an even easier decision for people.

Gourmet Scotch Eggs from the Keswick farmers market are the ultimate winter hiking food

So we highly recommend coming to the Lake District in the winter. Although the transit system runs a little less frequently, and a few of the lines to very remote areas are peak season only, you will have a lot of the typically crowded places to yourself. Just make sure to always bring your waterproofs, and leave the car behind.

The intrepid travelers press on despite some serious hat head