Homeward Bound

Today we had a 30 km ride to Brussels, a Eurostar journey to London and a 15 km ride to my parent’s flat in west London.  We waved goodbye to Alex as he headed off to work on his motorbike.  It was great to see him and a nice end to our trip.

We found a bakery and breakfasted before the ride to Brussels.  The 30 km seemed to be really long, mostly I think because we were on quite busy roads and it wasn’t that enjoyable.  But we were lucky to escape the forecast rain and the sun even came out when we arrived at Brussels Midi and found a cafe to wile away an hour in.

Taking the Eurostar with the bikes is actually quite good (although you have to pay £30 for each bike!).  We dropped them off no problem but then had to tackle security and boarding with all of our panniers on a trolley!  Not ideal but at least the luggage racks are plentiful.

The journey was only two hours and I had a sleep whilst Dave read his book and then we were in London!  That’s where it got annoying.  Dave piled all the bags onto the platform whilst I went in search of a trolley.  There were two on the platform that had both been commandeered by Eurostar staff to help old people with their bags.  There were no other trolleys to be found, and a few other people looking for them, so I followed one of the staff helpers and his trolley until he got to the lift and decided that the one wheely bag on it could just be wheeled and I could have the trolley!

We loaded up and walked out through customs, through the whole of St Pancras station to find Despatch at the end of the Earth where our bikes were waiting for us, by this time 40 minutes after the train arrived!

Now for the fun bit – a 15 km ride through central London with touring bikes at rush hour.  Gulp.  It was actually pretty fun though.  Dave navigated smoothly and we zoomed out of town past Hammersmith and into Chiswick, feeling at home again amongst the kind of traffic we’re used to.

I thought it was going to be strange or uncomfortable to be back, but I actually feel pretty good about it and I think Dave does too.  It’s nice to see everyone again after 5 months and I actually feel pretty at home being back in this city.  We’ve got quite a long time here before the next tour, so hopefully the feeling lasts!

After our return, I was hoping for a rest, but I’ve got a job interview tomorrow and Dave’s going to start helping out with the flat and there are people to visit and things to organise and no time to catch up on sleeping in a bed!  But it’s good to keep busy and I’m looking forward to the next few weeks.  (But also boo! The tour is over! I can’t believe it!)

Until next time 🙂

-Anna

Crazy hills and Dr Alex Wood

On Tuesday we took the train from Kaiserslautern (K-Town!) to Aachen, near the border with the Netherlands. When we got off the train we had a short 15 km ride into the Netherlands and our campsite for the night. It was a pretty nice evening as we rode out of Aachen. Anna went into a little shop to get some food, and got given complimentary bagels, onions and garlic. That stuff never happens to me!

As we got near the campsite we saw a big hill (by Netherlands standards). Anna said “I hope we’re not going up that”, which of course we were. The hill turned out to be a 14% gradient, which makes it officially the steepest hill we’ve tackled on this tour. In the Netherlands?! We started up it and as we did, three Japanese guys came past on road bikes. Two of them disappeared past pretty quickly, but the third was a bit out of shape and unwillingly kept us company as we ground our way up. At least it was the end of the day!

Whaaaaaat?

Whaaaaaat?

Made it!

Made it!

The campsite turned out to be a bit soulless, but on the plus side the owners basically told us that if we cleared out before 8 in the morning we didn’t have to pay. Sweet! We had showers and went to bed, planning for an early start. We had a long 95 km ride to do the next day, all the way the Leuven in Belgium.

We rose with the lark and enjoyed the view of the sunrise across the valley. I didn’t enjoy getting soaked with dew from the tent as we exited (totally Anna’s fault), but the lovely view from the top of the hill, and the subsequent race down the hill cheered me up a bit.

Good morning!

Good morning!

Dutch countryside

Dutch countryside

We got back on our route to Leuven and basically settled in for a long slog of a day. The road we were on was pretty busy and pretty straight, mostly through suburbs with the odd few kilometres of open countryside. We crossed the border into Belgium early in the day, which meant giving up the glorious Dutch cycle paths for the substandard Belgian ones.

Food stop at the Belgian border

Food stop at the Belgian border

The cycle path was alternately bad or worse, sometimes on the road with a good surface, and sometimes on the pavement with a rubbish surface. Cycle paths in Belgium are a bit frustrating. It’s like they’ve done 80% of the work and then just got bored, so often the path just runs out, or goes out into traffic. Sometimes it’s been put in, but then left to subside into the ground. Still, we persevere! Anna managed to find a nice little detour at one stage which gave us a few blessed kilometres of relief from the traffic, noise and potholes.

Respite

Respite

We finally rode into Leuven and headed to the town centre to wait for Alex, who is Anna’s university friend and our host for the night. Leuven has some amazing public buildings and a really nice feel to it. The old town hall is verging on the ridiculous with its incredibly intricate facade and its four towers bristling with statues and other embellishments.

Leuven old town hall.

Leuven old town hall

When Alex got home we went off to meet him, had showers then headed back to town for dinner and drinks. It was a great evening, we tried some more delicious Belgian beers and had a good catch up. We headed home too late (obviously) and settled down for a kip on the sofa bed before our last little bit of European riding into Brussels tomorrow.

– Dave

Jigsaw day

Today I finished off cutting out the wooden animal templates for the open day. It was a long day, but pretty satisfying when they were all done! Anna drew out some of the templates for me to cut, edited the English language version of the Project website and applied for a job as a London cycle courier for when we get home!

Artist at work

Artist at work

Lunch break!

Lunch break!

Team photo

Team photo

After work we went round to Caro and Lea’s place for a grill (barbecue). Marten was back from his long weekend so he came as well. There was delicious food and beer, and we chatted about films, music and German versus English sayings. We found out that Germans “make an elephant out of a mosquito” instead of a mountain out of a molehill, and they go mad like an elephant in a porcelain shop instead of a bull (maybe a bull elephant?) in a china shop. We also found that someone who digs holes for others soon falls in!

Fully laden grill

Fully laden grill

We got home a bit late, and I definitely had one too many beers, not really looking forward to getting up tomorrow. It hasn’t really struck me yet that this was our last day at a rewilding project, and the last day before we start our journey home. The people at this project are so nice and they’ve welcomed us so warmly here that it feels like a stupid thing to be going already!

– Dave

Palatinate Forest Weekend

This weekend we planned to do a walk with Julian to a place called the Teufel Tisch (devil’s table), a strange rock formation in the forest. Julian had a late night last night and so we had the morning to ourselves and caught up with some reading and writing whilst he caught up on sleep. When Julian got up, we had lunch together before heading to the forest. It was about an hour’s drive to get to the car park and 5pm by the time we started the walk! But the weather was so hot, we were glad to be past the heat of the afternoon.

We set off gently uphill through the forest, chatting about the lynx’s return and what it would mean for people and wildlife. Then the path wound up some steep switchbacks and we sweated our way to the top. From there, it was gently undulating all the way to the devil’s table. It was quite a sight to behold! The stone here is sandstone and the erosion at this location happens to have left a rather large piece of rock standing on quite a skinny plinth. There’s even a tree growing on top, which is lovely.

Nice bit of climbing

Nice bit of climbing

Cool formations

Cool formations

It really is a spectacular rock

It really is a spectacular rock

After a water break and a few piccies, we headed back down to the car park, talking about the local landscape, people and history.  The evening light was beautiful, the orange sunlight glowing through the leaves on the beech trees and bringing out the red bark of the Scot’s pine.

Beautiful evening

Beautiful evening

Scot's pine in the evening sun

Scot’s pine in the evening sun

Then we zoomed back to Trippstadt in time for last orders at Julian’s local Italian. It felt good to have a hearty meal after a hot hike!

On Sunday, I went for another walk with Lea and Caro and their dogs whilst Dave submitted a job application for some winter work, which is exciting.

Tomorrow is our last day at the lynx project, then we’re on our way home!! Can hardly believe it.

-Anna

Working hard

Today we had chatty breakfast with the guys in the house before back at the castle offices to help out with some jobs. Everyone was busy in the morning, so we took the time to try and plan and book our journey home. I don’t know why it’s so bloody difficult to travel on the train with your bike, but it is. Some trains don’t take bikes, so you end up having to go hundreds of miles out of your way, spend more than twice as long on your journey, make four times as many connections, and then pay double the price for the privilege!

After phoning Eurostar and Deutsche Bahn several times, we weren’t really getting anywhere, so we left it all to mull whilst getting stuck into some jobs. We were helping them make some wooden cut-out animals, based on ones owned by the hunting committee. We placed the existing animals on top of ply-board panels like a jigsaw puzzle to find the best fit, then traced around the edges so that they could be cut with an electric saw. I did the drawing and Dave did the cutting, managing to finish a wild boar piglet before we were going for lunch with Julian.

After lunch, I left Dave to his sawing whilst I tried to sort out the travel arrangements. 4.5 hours later, he had cut out a hare and a fox and I had found a route and booked the necessary trains. Phew! Feeling exhausted, we picked up some oven pizzas and headed back to Julian’s place for a beer. Then he was going out but we declined the party in favour of watching Soylent Green (so weird) and getting an early night.

I feel a lot better that our transport is all sorted and I’m sort of looking forward to being back in London…

– Anna

To Trippstadt

Our efforts of the last few days put us within easy distance of Trippstadt today – we only had 20 km to go. We headed out of Hochspeyer and were immediately confronted with a 4 km hill. Knowing that the hill comprised 20% of our total journey for the day took the edge off it however, and we cheerfully ground up to the top of a lovely forested ridge.

Caption

Woodland riding

The ridge went around a big basin with Trippstadt at the other end of it, and we enjoyed rolling through the trees with a forest vista occasionally opening up to our left. We were struck with the size of the forest, in our experience you just don’t see miles of unbroken woodland in the UK. We were a bit sad to see a tiny bat dead at the side of the road, we took some photos in case it had white-nose fungus (link), but I don’t think it did. I guess it got hit by a car. We also saw the remains of a bad car accident with skidmarks off the road up a steep bank, and then a bit of road with murky brown stains; the entirety colourfully marked out with police spray paint. It makes you feel extra vulnerable on the bike when you see that stuff and think what would happen if you were in the way of it when it happened!

We climbed one final hill to the outskirts of Trippstadt, and since we were early for our meeting with the Project Team, we settled down at a bench and table under a spreading oak tree for some lunch and a read. I was reading Kith, a book about childhood by Jay Griffiths, working my way through some particularly horrendous accounts of bad parenting, when a landrover pulled up, and a khaki-covered guy jumped out. ”Anna and Dave?” This is becoming a common occurrence for us! The guy turned out to be Michael, one of the Project employees. He was on his way home to get some sleep before going on a night-time red deer count in the forest. We had a nice chat and he welcomed us to town before heading off. We decided we should just go along and see who was in at the Project.

Caption

Last uphill

We rolled up to the address we’d been given, which turned out to be a rather grand castle, reminiscent of the Swiss National Park offices. Not sure what it is with all these stately homes containing rewilding projects! Sylvia welcomed us in, and we spoke briefly about the project before a local journalist arrived to ask us some questions about our trip. I think we were a little more coherent this time; we’ll soon be media-savvy rewilding spokespersons if this continues! All good for the UK rewilding revolution!

Caption

Posing with a lynx!

Julian, our contact at the project, arrived a little later, he’s just come back from a holiday and came straight to the office to welcome us. Dedication! We are also staying at his place while we’re in Trippstadt, thanks Julian! We jumped on the bikes and followed him back to his apartment. There we met housemate Marten and Marten’s friend Konrad. We had a lovely evening eating dinner round the kitchen table. I’m afraid I might have bored Marten and Konrad with my garbled ranting about British politics; Anna just isn’t interested in that stuff, so those poor guys got everything I’ve been saving up since the General Election in May!

We eventually settled down on the sofabed at about midnight and got some sleep ready to help out at the project tomorrow.

– Dave