Blue skies and unexploded bombs

It’s not the noise of gunfire I’m bothered about, it’s the unexploded bombs …

Our new home at Lulworth Camp in Dorset has been full of surprises. There’s the occasional rattle of gunfire, but with a sea view from almost every window, I’m not complaining. I’ve also nabbed the room with the best view as my study – so no excuse about lack of inspiration for writing.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_194aThe night before we moved in we enjoyed a stay in a local hotel overlooking Lulworth Cove. It was a real treat. We were even upgraded and that never happens to me. The suite had its own colour coordinated settee and tea and proper coffee and an enormous bed. The trouble is moving house and all the excitement didn’t equal a peaceful night’s sleep… At 4am we were discussing a nightmare about a crab (something to do with what we’d eaten apparently), when I was unnerved by something and let out a bit of a scream. Moments later there was a knock on the door asking us to, “keep it down in there.” One of us shouted that we were all right, convinced they would think there was a murder happening. Breakfast was a little awkward. Moving scrambled egg around the plates, we wondered which of the other couples had banged on our door and did they know we were ‘the screamers’?

We’re in Thomas Hardy country now, so exploring should be done on foot, or at least by bicycle. The local ordinance survey map shows footpaths galore, with one small hitch; many of the paths crisscross the army ranges that surround us and live firing means they’re only open at weekends and during school holidays.

After the hazy days of unpacking boxes, painting rooms (because you can only take so much magnolia) and finding our way to a supermarket – the first free weekend arrived bright and sunny. Although the garage sort out was beckoning, we turned our back on it and joined two energetic members of the family pedalling east in search of a forgotten village and an almost deserted beach.

The long climb up Tyneham Hill made me dream of an electric bike, but the view from the top and the sausage sandwiches helped. It seemed strange to be cycling through a firing range where cows and sheep grazed in amongst rusted out tanks. There was really very little to show that this was army territory apart from some large florescent numbers that stood out from the gorse on the hillside.

The next surprise was Tyneham village – a place that time forgot. The deserted village is only accessible when the firing ranges are open and lies just up from the sea, nestled in a valley at the foot of a fantastic freewheeling hill. The cluster of stone buildings includes a church, a school, some tumbled down cottages and the remains of a vicarage. When we arrived there were small groups of people wandering between the buildings, but unlike many tourist spots, a hush had descended. People spoke in muted voices as if, Doctor Who-like, we had travelled back in time to the 1940s when the village folk had moved out to allow the army to prepare for D-Day.

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Tyneham Church by Ben Gamble  www.geograph.org.uk 

The story of Tyneham deserves a dedicated blog and I’ve vowed to return for longer next time and soak up that palpable history from the beautifully preserved schoolroom to the church with its colourful tiles and walls lined with photographs from the past. A remembrance service is held there each year, which must be very poignant. Part of the sign left on the church door by parishioners in 1943 read: “…We have given up our homes to help win the war to keep men free. We will return one day thank you for treating the village kindly.” Sadly, they never returned.

After a tough cycle, for some of us, and an exceptionally hot day for October, we were looking forward to a dip in the sea. There was a slight hitch as no-one had brought a bike lock and a zealous ranger told us we couldn’t even push our bikes on the range path to the beach. Undeterred we hid the bikes in some bushes and hoped for the best.

Warbarrow Bay emerged around the corner glistening in the sunshine and we all stripped off and plunged into the very cold crystal clear water. Five minutes was long enough for me to say I’d had a swim to the anchored boat and back. It was amazing to think we were swimming in the bay we could see from our house.

The next weekend wasn’t quite as warm, but we decided to explore the other end of the bay on the range walks and battled our way up a very steep hillside on the cliffs, while a sharp northerly wind made me pull my woolly hat down over my ears.

We spotted a sign warning us to keep off the barb wired beach due to unexploded shells, which we dutifully obeyed. Further up the cliff the path broadened out and with no-one about one of us decided it was safe to venture off the path a few metres into some shrubbery to… you know, call of nature. It turned out this was a bad idea. Catching up with me a few minutes later I heard how he’d spooked himself after kicking over a piece of metal, only to read the words: ‘Danger unexploded shells – keep out’. At which point he looked around and spotted dozens of pieces of metal poking out from the undergrowth in all directions.

Oops!

Lesson 1: Use the facilities before you venture out on the ranges. Unexploded anythings deserve respect.

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Lighting fires

You may not have a bucket list, but you must have a top ten of ‘stuff you like doing best’. Last week I ticked one of these off for 2018.

It was a belting hot day in Devon and we decided to cycle to the sea. It seemed a good idea at the time; it was down hill all the way. The beach was deserted, the sand was warm beneath our feet and as you might expect the water was flipping freezing.

The downside of the easy ride to the beach was the journey back. Cycling up hill isn’t one of my favourite things, nor is pushing my bike, or even falling into a bank of nettles on a narrow lane as a car squeezes past. The hill from the beach seemed to go on forever and there was a lot of panting and stopping and swigging from water bottles and gasps of “I’m not doing this again!”

The lanes levelled out eventually and the hill was forgotten. Back at Wild Goose Barn the sun was still shining and it seemed a perfect night for a BBQ. So, without much hesitation we dropped the bikes and jumped in the car, heading back to the beach laden with the essentials – beer, sausages and matches. Half an hour later after a stroll across a field and down through a wood, we were sitting on our own private beach beneath the trees, while the sea lapped at our feet and the BBQ sizzled and cracked.

It was practically perfect as we munched on charcoal sausages, baby tomatoes and crusty bread. But the best was yet to come.

As the sun began to sink and biting midges appeared we scavenged bundles of sticks and lit a fire above the glowing embers. Birds calling to each other in the trees and the lap of water were the only sounds. I sighed, what could be better than a summer night and a fire on the beach with someone special at your side?

Then across the channel on the other bank of the estuary two men appeared. They were in the shadows and looked like they were picking things up on the beach. We wondered if they were smugglers who had waited for the cover of darkness. What could they be doing? A few minutes later a glowing light appeared in the trees and a curl of smoke rose up into the sky. They’d lit a fire. Now there were two fires on the beach – it was beginning to look like a signal.

fire on the beachAs dusk settled into darkness and the tide had begun to ebb we let the fire die, bundled up what was left of the food and followed the sandy banks of the estuary towards the sea and the lane where the car was parked. As we rounded a ruined tower we saw yet another fire set back on the sand. A lady in a long skirt was fuelling it with sticks, while her dog wandered in the shadowy undergrowth. Now there were three fires on the beach.

“How many more fires do you think there are?” I pondered. Sure enough, further up towards the cobbled slipway, yet another fire was smouldering on the beach with a young couple crouched over it.

There were four fires on the beach that night… there may have been more.
We’d thought we were all alone, tucked away in our secret rock and tree-lined bay, but  fires had been springing up all around us.

I can’t wait for our next fire on the beach – who knows what will happen or who will appear?

 

Scars with a story

I am scarred, bruised and a little bit achy today. It’s been caused by a combination of activities on boats and bikes, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Were you one of those children whose knees were always bleeding or scabbed? I was. I also remember standing by the sink on numerous occasions and that awful sting when someone tries to dab them with a paper towel. Most people grow out of this. But my legs and arms chart a tale of adventures over the years, which have included a long white scar on my arm from being caught on the anchor chain of a yacht, an angry red mark on my shin from a mini cycling accident and more recently another deep scar on the other shin from tripping on ancient stone steps in Cyprus.

There have been a lot of these kinds of incidents over the years. The most memorable or dramatic from my childhood was on a cycling expedition in Kent with my brother and some friends. We were hurtling down narrow winding lanes, screaming with excitement, when suddenly a Tjunction appeared in front of us and my breaks failed to stop me. I flew off the bike and wound up with my chin impaled on a barbed wire fence and quite a lot of blood around. After being lifted off the fence, dusted down and told to ‘man-up’, I cycled slowly home and went to find my mother at the bottom of the garden. She was doing something with vegetables and I was looking for sympathy and shock. I told her the dramatic tale. She chuckled, barely glanced at my rapidly healing chin, and said it didn’t look too bad. This must be where I get my sympathetic maternal approach.

Last weekend I tested out my sailing skills in a little dinghy, which turned out to be great fun but very slippery. After sliding around in the bottom of the boat as I tried to tack the bruises were accumulating and then on a rather unplanned speedy arrival at the shore I tried to jump out neatly and grab the boat before it hit the side. After slipping on the mud and rocks as I slid out and spectacularly failing to stop the boat, I found both my knees were bleeding when I stumbled ashore.

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Yesterday two of us cycled round the path on the edge of the island. It was bumpy and very narrow at places – there was even a section a bit like a velodrome where we had to cycle fast to stay upright on a concrete bank which sloped away to the water. I thought like an Olympian, looked straight ahead and kept peddling fast. I hadn’t fallen off for several miles until we reached a gate by a marina where we had to push the bikes for a few metres. After inspecting the boats for sale I got back on as the gravel path widened and within a few seconds the wheels skidded from beneath me and I was lying on the ground with the bike on top of me. My cycle buddy was standing a few feet away holding his bike and laughing. “I saw the gravel and decided to get off,” he said… More matching scars and scrapes on my shins to join the bruises and scabs on my knees.

Now what shall I do today to make my arms blend in… mowing the lawn or cutting trees?

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If I had a truck

I want that truck… This is what was going through my mind as I embarked on an afternoon bike ride to the seaside yesterday. So much for enjoying the lovely green scenes in the fields as we pedalled past, or having time to look at flowers by the roadside and even watch some hungry sheep tucking into massive bales of hay in the middle of a dusty pasture. I was mainly engaged in ‘truck envy’. 

First I noticed one overtaking me as I pedalled hard against the wind, consoling myself with the thought that coming back would be easier. It was a lovely red pick-up truck with loads of space in the back for surf boards, bikes and ‘stuff’. Once I started thinking about trucks, it seemed like every other car that past us on the road was a truck. And they came in all the colours of the rainbow. Why was it that everyone in Cyprus seemed to have a truck except me?  After cycling through a village, I glanced to my left and saw a yard packed with cars for sale – high up on display was…you guessed it, a big blue truck.

Most of the journey was then engaged in thoughts of… if we had a truck.

If we had a truck… we could easily go off road across the maze of tracks to some of the most beautiful, remote areas of the island. Throw a tent and camping gear in the back and we would be all ready for any kind of adventure.

If we had a truck… there would be no problem moving anything anywhere – we could buy a BBQ or a dish washer and take it back from the shop, pick up friends with large suitcases from the airport and just throw them (the suitcases!) in the back, even pick up driftwood and logs for the fire without any worries of ‘spoiling the car.’

All good things come to an end and so my truck day-dreams were curtailed by my fellow cyclist stopping short to complain about the hardness of his saddle and wondering if his padded lycra shorts were on the right way round. This led to some chuckling as bottoms were examined, and reassured that everything was in the right place, we set off again. On arrival at the beach, we dismounted slightly unsteadily and sat on a bench overlooking a rocky bay where waves were crashing on the golden sands. We re-energised with bananas and water and contemplated the cycle back. The route home was uphill at first and after a particularly taxing hill the Major pulled in – I thought to considerately wait for me – but he was shaking his head gravely and it turned out there was a flat tyre which couldn’t be fixed. It was quickly decided I would cycle back as fast as I could and fetch the car to recover him and the bike, while he walked the bike until I reached him.

On the cycle back my thoughts inevitably turned to…if we had a truck. Of course, recovering the bike would be no problem, it would just get bundled into the back and there would be no need to search for ropes or bike racks in the shed. As the pedals turned and my thighs began to burn, I wondered why I was so keen on trucks. It wasn’t just ‘Top Gear’ and their proof that they couldn’t be destroyed, it was in my blood. I was brought up with vans and Land Rovers and even took my driving test on the family long wheel-base Land Rover, much to the amusement of the examiner. Tough cars that have big wheels, four wheel drive, low gears and the height to let you look down on the traffic and the scenery is what I like in a vehicle. Never mind the odd scrape against a gatepost, or bumps in the road – we have a truck. We can go anywhere! Give us a boat, a caravan or just a trailer and we can hitch up and set off, no problem. Hills? We eat them for breakfast. Mud and rivers? We can ride through them.

Beyond all this sheer practicality, I have a plan. The plan really requires a truck. Ssh, don’t tell anyone, but I am hatching a plan to drive back from Cyprus overland through Europe, via a ferry to the mainland. Here is my trump card in the argument of why we definitely need a truck. The truck would be rugged and able to go anywhere, it would enable us to take excess baggage,camping gear, and even animals or a small canoe back to the Uk easily. Besides all this, a truck would make the journey fun, so how could we even contemplate making this overland adventure without a truck?

Back home the tiny Toyota was waiting patiently in the drive. It isn’t a truck and it never will be, but if I had a truck