29 October 2009

London-Edinburgh-London 2009, the prologue I...

LEL - the prologue...
So my LEL preparations started in earnest in September 2008 when I paid the fee and submitted my registration form for LEL. I began the winter training in December 2008 or so, and rode a 200 km ride at least twice a month until May/June. I also did a few longer rides, 600km, 300km, just to check out the legs and gear, and then I slowed down from early July. 

I had decided to go to the UK one week before the ride began, in order to catch up with friends from when I used to live there. I flew out on Friday 17 July 2009 and arrived in Heathrow Terminal 5 the following day around lunch time. Then it was on the train towards the south-west...

My LEL preparations increased in intensity as I arrived in Crediton, a 10-minute train ride outside of Exeter in beautiful SW-England late in the afternoon on Saturday 18 July. My friends Biz & Pete from my time at Bangor University picked me up at the train station and we walked to their house, about 200 meters from the train station. After European standards it was a short walk but I bet that 99% of all Americans would have expected to be picked up by a car for the trip...  Biz & Pete of course knew that I used to walk 2.2 miles to work and 2.2 miles home from work every day when I lived in Bangor, and that the tiny trek wouldn’t be a problem at all.

Anyway, I hadn’t seen any of them since March 2008 when I was last in the UK so once I was installed in their spare bedroom we had a couple of Carlsbergs or 3 in their garden to celebrate my return to dear old Blighty.  After a few pints in the sprinkling British summer weather we retreated to the indoors, where Pete fired up under us with an excellent Chili Con Carne.  

They informed me about Exeter’s nightlife and the plan they had laid out for me for the evening (unless I wanted to go to bed early and rest). No way! Staying up till 2 in the morning while drinking numerous pints with your friends is by far the best way to get over the jet lag quickly.

Therefore it was inbound for Exeter and it’s Ex-iting nightlife when we had finished the Chili and another Carlsberg. We started out at Wetherspoon’s  with a couple of Fosters and comparing the dress code of the locals in Exeter with that of the locals in Bangor (far less track suits and fewer super-overweight teenagers in Exeter than in Bangor). Also, the Wetherspoon’s in Exeter, being located in an old orangerie, was far better looking than the one in Bangor, with a HUGE panorama window with cast iron glass panes. But, Wetherspoon being what it is, and with Biz & Pete promising that there were much more exciting pubs in the city centre we broke up and headed towards the downtown area (as the city centre is known in the US of A). 

In Coolings Cellar , where the downstairs lounges have ceilings that are roughly 5 foot and a few inches above the floor, we sat down with a Heineken in plush leather seats and enjoyed the spectacle of lanky young brits trying to avoid banging their heads into the arches. I did feel the jet lag rather strongly by now, so we didn’t stay for too long in the plush decor - or I would have drifted off to la-la land...

Consequently we went for a place where chances were that we wouldn’t be able to get a seat: Timepiece , which used to be Exeter’s prison but now has been converted to a 3-story night club and pub. We had another Foster’s while standing around, but suddenly a table opened up so we were able to actually sit down. Fortunately I was able to stay awake. It was really a cool place, as were the other pubs we had visited during the night. Massive oak tables and benches provided the right feel for a former prison, I thought. 

The last pub that night was Amber Room  (I think, forgive me if I’m wrong, but I’m writing this from the memory 15-16 weeks after I actually visited). It was a quite hip place, but the fact that we now were getting close to closing time meant that the hipsters had or were about to leave - apart from Biz, Pete and I, of course. We got our pints (another round of Foster’s) and once again sunk into soft leather seats while reminiscencing our Bangor past and what had happened since (a lot, actually, but that is not the topic of this tale - at least not yet). 

As we emptied our drinks we looked out the window onto the street and saw a taxi pull up in front of the bar - it was ours; we had ordered it 8 hours before, before we even left Crediton. This was one of the many wonders I never fully grasped about England: How is it possible to order a taxi to pull up in front of a pub at 1.30 Sunday morning 8 hours in advance, and then have it actually happen? Surely that would never have been possible in Denmark, and I also very much doubt that it would be possible in Seattle. Regardless, the taxi was there, it was in our name, and 15 minutes later we were back in Crediton and on the way to bed.

Beer tally for Saturday 18 July: 3 Carlsbergs (Crediton), 2 Fosters (Wetherspoon), 1 Heineken (Coolings), 1 Carling (Timepiece), 1 Fosters (Amber Room) for a total of 8 pints on a pleasant night out. An Ex-cellent start to my final week of preparations for LEL! (I take hydration seriously...)

Upon getting out of bed rather late on Sunday and enjoying an excellent breakfast with bacon, sausages, toast etc. etc. etc., prepared by chef Pete, we took the train to Dawlish on the coast (the channel coast, in case you were wondering [the *English* channel coast for the slower readers]). 

Dawlish was a peaceful little seaside town with a couple of secluded beaches, red rocks and cliffs. The weather was typical English summer weather, so I was happy that I had brought my wet weather gear along. We went for a walk along the promenade, which took us to one of the beaches where we could admire the red rocks. They are made up of loosley consolidated sandstone with angular pebbles in a matrix of fabulously red sand-sized grains. The pebbles were really rather loosely embedded in the matrix and it was easy to pick them out if you tried. 

Then it was back to Dawlish for a quick lunch (pastries, what else?) before we walked along the seaside walk to Dawlish Warren. The walk is only a mile long or so, but it is on the seaside of the railroad tracks. If you have ever taken the train from London to Plymouth you will undoubtedly have noticed a section where the train is right on the edge of the water - that is this stretch. As it turned out, the seaside walk is indeed to the seaside of the railroad tracks, with waves from the channel washing over the walk, so you had to time your walk carefully if you didn’t want to get wet feet!

We made it to the other side, close to Dawlish Warren, without being overly wet, and enjoyed the view from the top of the red cliffs overlooking Dawlish and the Channel. The it was down to the Red Rock Cafe for a well-deserved cuppa. 

Since it was now getting close to afternoon-ish we all started to feel that beer o’clock was approaching so we boarded the train back to Crediton. Or rather, upon our return to Exeter we realized that the next train to Crediton was in 55 minutes, so we headed over to a local pub opposite of the train station - The Jolly Porter .  A few minutes later the first pint of the day was being enjoyed. We had a table next to the window where we could enjoy the great attraction in the neighborhood - a double roundabout (so in the shape of a figure 8).  Almost every car that went through the roundabout went through in a different manner than the previous car. It was a highly amusing sight and I was quite surprised that no accidents had occurred after 15 minutes of car watching.

The pint (a Foster’s) disappeared rather quickly, so after having finished our drinks we decided to go across the street (and the roundabout!) to the Great Western Hotel  for another pint.  In the plush, deep leather seats from another century we enjoyed the second  drink of the day in a relaxing atmosphere designed for conversation about the latest cricket results and the upcoming fox hunt.  Since we could talk about neither we talked about a lot of other stuff and headed out just in time to catch the train back to Crediton. 

Upon our return to Crediton the plan was to head out to explore the local pubs there. Since it was a Sunday our plan was to find a place where we could indulge in that most cherished of British meals: The Sunday Roast. But first a drink, so we had a Carlsberg before moving on... Then we moved on to the Crediton Inn  where I first had a pint of Silver Stallion sharply followed by a White Russian.

It was now getting towards 20:00 in the evening so it was about time to find a pub for the Sunday Roast. The local Wetherspoon  was chosen but when we arrived we discovered to our dismay that they were out of roast for the day! Oh well, fortunately they were not out of Bangers and Mash so I had a large portion of that, together with 2 pints of Pedigree.

Then it was back to Biz & Pete’s place for a well-deserved night of sleep after a great day of outings and pubbing. Beer tally for Sunday 19 July: 1 Foster’s (Jolly Porter), 1 Full Sail (Great Western Hotel), 1 Carlsberg (Crediton), 1 Silver Stallion, 1 White Russian (Crediton Inn), 2 Pedigree (Wetherspoon) for a total of 6 pints and 1 drink on a *great* day in Devon!

Monday was my last day in Crediton before moving on the Portsmouth to see Kathryn. Biz and Pete had to be home in the afternoon as they had some furniture delivered, but we went into Exeter in the morning. We parked and then walked around for a bit to take in the sight of the cathedral and the tons of churches - and there are a lot of churches in Exeter! 

We meandered down to the river, where the riverfront shops were just opening up. It was clearly here that the good people of Exeter came if they wanted to buy heavy oak furniture. Several small shops specialized in the making and selling of sturdy oak bed frames, huuuuuuge oak dining tables (2 inches thick tabletops!) and lots of other furniture of the kind that would last 8-10 generations at least.

It was also close by the river that the parts of the old city wall, dating all the way back to the Romans, were easiest to see. The city wall was no match for the mighty Danish viking army who conquered the city in 876. Unfortunately they were driven out of the city again the following summer, only to try again in 893. But, as unbelievable as it may sound, the Danes were not able to conquer and plunder the city again until 1003 when they were let into the city by a Frenchman, Emma or Normandy. She had married the English King, Æthelred the Unready, in 1002 in order to lighten up the relationship between the English and the Normans.  However, perhaps because of her Normannic heritage she was sympathetic to the Danish invaders (the inhabitants in Normandy are descendents of early Viking raiders in that area in the 800s)? Regardless, it was very nice of her to open the door to the city for my ancestors. I was glad that I had a much easier time getting access to the city than they had. 

But I couldn’t help wonder how an action like that would affect the conversation when Æthelred came home in the evening from a hard day of ruling the English people: 
Æthelred: How was your day, love? 
Emma: Oh well, quite brilliant I dare say my darling: I met up with some distant relatives and showed them around in Exeter. They were very pleased with the shopping! It was frightfully exciting! 
Æthelred: Marvelous dear, I’m glad you had a good time...ummm, are you not of Normannic descent my honey-bunny? Would your distant relatives perhaps be those Danish scoundrels who plundered the entire city today?! 
Emma: But sweetie-pie, they are so far away from home and they need food and clothing to keep up their work...
Æthelred: ...which is conquering England!!! We’ll talk about this tomorrow sugar; you can’t just let anybody in all over the country! It makes me look bad when I confront the people! What’s for dinner?

Anyway, I didn’t try to steal anything. In fact I left a few quid in a camera store for a new card for my camera, as well as 10 quid for a haircut and another few quid for lunch before it was back to Biz and Pete for an exciting afternoon of waiting for their new furniture. Around 5pm it arrived: The largest purple sofa I have ever seen in my life soon lit up their entire lounge. And very comfy it was too! We immediately proceeded to celebrate the purchase with a bunch of Carlsbergs and then we were off to the Crediton Inn for a last round of pints in Crediton before my departure for Portsmouth the following morning.
Tally for Monday: 3 Carlsbergs, 2 Silver Stallions and  1 Regatta for a total of 6 pints. That made it 20 pints of beer and 1 drink for the first 3 days of my stay in the UK. Probably somewhat below my ‘summer-average’ when I used to live in Bangor, but quite respectable nonetheless. And the company had been first class!