Friday, September 4, 2009

Iron Donkey Bicycle Tour of Wessex

I can't think of anything Iron Donkey could have done to make my 1 week bike tour of Wessex more enjoyable. My rental bike was sturdy and well set up, the maps were probably as precise as one can get in rural England and the B&Bs were truly first rate. I enjoyed a carefree week in a beautiful--and fascinating--part of the world. The cycling routes were well thought out with optional side trips every day. Traffic was generally light. What more can you ask from a one week bike tour?

Iron Donkey offers tours to many European destinations, a few of which have already caught my eye. Why, you ask does one need a guided tour? You don't, if you're willing to haul your own food, bedding and tent and/or negotiate in each village for available space at the end of a long day on the road. It could be pouring rain...

When the sun is shining (most of my tour) you can't do better than rural England. Somebody said that Wordsworth and the other romantic poets wouldn't have romanticized nature quite so much if they had seen places like California's Death Valley and Alaska's Glacier Bay. Of course it works both ways. I grew up in the American west around volcanos, deserts, tidal waves, glaciers and earthquakes——beautiful places all, but if you don't watch your step while sightseeing you will end up dead as a beet. In England nobody dies from the scenery. Yes, it can rain a bit too much but the English have certainly demonstrated that one can write great poetry in the rain. Here in Northern California, I survived 3 (THREE) 7.0 magnitude earthquakes in one night. Poetry was definitely not on the menu.

Say what you will about the typical Wessex roadside attraction above, nobody is going to drop dead because they lingered here too long.

Why, you ask, was a huge chalk horse carved into the hill above several thousand years ago? Good question.

Once upon a time, Slapton Sands was an idyllic hamlet on the English Channel. "Aha!" said the Unified Allied Command back in 1944, "what a perfect place to practice secretly for the Normandy invasion using live ammunition. We'll just aim away from the towm..." If you think D Day was an unprecedented mess, you obviously missed the Slapton Sands rehearsal.

This, Shakespeare fans, is the river Avon. Thanks to the English pastoral poets, so many lovely places look exactly the way you imagined they would.

Wessex views like this were typical of most of my week in the saddle.

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