DATE OF THIRD RETURN: 5 September 2001
MILES CYCLED: 2497 haphazard ones
NUMBER OF PUNCTURES: 2 inconveniently placed sharp-stoned ones
NUMBER OF BANANAS EATEN: 510 mostly pannier-squashed ones

‘WELCOME TO PORTSMOUTH’, declared the sign, ‘FLAGSHIP OF MARITIME ENGLAND’. Yes, following my wobbly-kneed false start day, I had set out again with determined and renewed vigour and miraculously made it. But, alas, with no support-cycling-crew mother in tow. I think she was still suffering from a bout of Sussex Downs Stonehenge syndrome that she’d contracted the day before.

Josie and Bike

Josie and Bike

A large yellow sign planted in the pavement on the approach to Southsea’s King’s Road Roundabout announced an ‘EXPERIMENTAL SCHEME AHEAD – BEWARE OF CYCLISTS’ which made us two-wheeling souls sound like dangerous creatures from the Alaskan outback: WARNING – BROWN BEAR CYCLISTS CAN BE DANGEROUS. DO NOT GET OUT OF YOUR VEHICLE. And anyway, I wasn’t so sure I liked the idea of being used as a roundabout’s ‘experimental scheme’. What if the experiment went wrong and I ended up being blown up by the bunsen burner?

A little light relief was found to be had in an immaculate Public Convenience situated on the seafront which a wall plaque graciously informed me had won the much prized ‘LOO OF THE YEAR AWARD 2001’. What an honour to use such a cleanly convenience! Made one almost proud to sit upon such sparkling thrones.

Hail, Hayling Island, which came and went (lots of traffic and holiday homes intermingled with big ostentatious houses with electronic gates ? but nice bushfuls of blackberries) as did Thorney Island, Chidham, Bosham and Chichester where I rendezvous’ed with my bicycling builder. Together we got lost in Bognor, muddled in Middleton and camped in Littlehampton.

postcard from Guernsey (reverse)Worthing’s WC’s proved a far cry from the splendours of prize-winning Portsmouth’s: ‘DUE TO VANDALISM THIS CONVENIENCE IS CLOSED’ read the inconvenient notice pinned to the doors of countless conveniences spread along the seafront. The builder, who by this stage was in need of a convenience just as much as me, consoled himself by tucking into a takeaway from MACARI’S FISH & CHIPS where they also sold ‘Pukka Pies’. We sat eating with crossed legs on a bench on the pier in a bright shaft of draughty sunshine.

My coastal ride came a bit adrift at Newhaven where, on overshooting the seafront, we ended up in France. For a week. By the time we’d found our way back to England’s chalk-cliffed coast, the builder had to get back to building, so once again I was left to eat bananas on my ownsome.

Not long after cycling over the crown of Beachy Head, the mid-September sun was replaced by ravaging storms and floods which chased me on and off up the east coast of Kent. The next stage of my jaunt ? heading west up the Thames estuary towards the mighty maws of London, proved not the most scenically conducive for cycling or camping. It felt like all the cars and container trucks in the world had descended upon my route, all seeming intent to crush me into the gutter. My nights left a lot to be desired, camping among a profusion of power stations, power lines, scrapyards, derelict buildings, landfill sites and wastelands. Congruously, every now and then I would pass through fat-cat commuter’s territory ? big money, big houses, big cars but still little scope for grand panoramic camping.

Once the other side of the Thames it was the same overpopulated and industrial story until I’d emerged north of Southend. Ahh for the outback of Essex! I could take a deep breath once again. Seemed like a rural backwater in comparison to the overwhelming effluence and affluence of the estuary up the Thames.

I thought I’d be flying through flat(ish) Essex in no time (never count your blessings til they’ve hatched) but discovered it was full of meandering river estuaries to follow (Roach, Crouch, Blackwater, Colne and Stour). Suffolk started out on a similar watery footing with the rivers Orwell, Deben, Alde and Blyth. And then it was full steam through Lowestoft (easternmost point of British Isles ? only two more ‘points’ , not to mention a few thousand islands and Ireland, to go), Great Yarmouth (but not so great traffic), California (no, not that one but the windy one south of Horsey), Stiffkey (more stiff wind but nice salt marshes), Sandringham (site of large royal beach hut) and King’s Lynn (another royal-sounding place just inland from Breast and Bull Dog Sand). Suddenly I felt I was moving up the map, so much so that I could almost smell those wee bonny kilts of Scotland.

From King’s Lynn took an unprecedented swing south down to Downham Market to catch the train as I’d been once again summoned to give a bout of cycling (book-flogging) talks around the country.

Am now back at basecamp and contemplating lying low in a think-I-better-try-and-make-some-money sort of mode for the long, dark, wet, bit-chilly-for-camping days of November and December so as to avoid ending up in Scotland at the snow-stormy height of winter.

Will set out again once my toes and fingers have thawed.