“This was for the gentry.” We all looked down at what appeared to be a lidless coffin. “They didn’t want to get wet, so they were floated under this arch in this box. We’re not the gentry. You’re gonna get wet.” We walked to the end of the show cave, which terminated with a gate barring a steep descent through a mouth the size of a two elephants joined trunk to tail and extending far enough that we couldn’t illuminate the bottom with our headlamps. “Can you imagine this in flood? The water comes right up to this gate.” I tried to imagine it. How many aquariums would I have to drain to fill this hole? We opened the gate. Continue reading
Two minutes in and my shins were nettlestung and I was watching as my tire tread clogged full with mud. This was my welcome to the South Downs Way, a trail in use for thousands of years extending 100 miles through chalk hills from Winchester to Eastbourne. I had been warned that the ride demanded the right tires and low gears, but emboldened by my bouncing through Thetford Forest, I waved aside the warnings as caution for families and older riders who couldn’t push as hard as I can. In another few minutes I’d cleared the wooded path and was onto my first climb. Huffing and puffing, chest heaving, I dismounted on a small level patch while two older riders cycled on. “You’ve done the hardest part!”
(First day’s route in blue, second day in red.)
Last weekend I finally went on a cycle trip that I’d been planning before I even arrived in England. My travels have taken me to mountain tops, rushing down white water, and left me lost in thick wood, but I’d never yet ventured into the Earth. So I set my sight on Grime’s Graves, a neolithic flint mine in the midst of Thetford Forest.
(The route of the first day is in blue, while the second day is in red.)
Something strange brews in the Senne valley. In the cooler months, brewers open the shutters of their breweries and welcome in whatever is borne on the breeze. Foaming wort bursts forth from old oak casks, spilling over the cobwebs networked between barrels. Some of the beer has been aging here for three years. The master brewer takes stock of each vintage and blends them together into a final concoction that springs to life once more in the bottle. Lambic and gueuze are the defining drinks of Brussels and Brabant, and this small patch of earth is the only place in the world where it can be brewed. Continue reading
After a rousing breakfast surrounded by sonorous Flemish voices, I cycled my increasingly heavy bike through the Brouwershuis’ verdant gate. In one day I’d added the weight of a dozen beer bottles, and it was starting to take a toll on the handling of the bike. Fortunately I hadn’t much farther to go, and quickly I came to the city of Poperinge.
I left Johannes’ home bound for breweries and hop fields. My second day of riding (the map of my full route is in Part 1) would take me past De Dolle Brouwers and De Struise Brouwers before having a rest at In De Vrede, the café of Sint-Sixtusabdij, and finally coming to Brouwerij Sint-Bernardus where I would spend the night in the heart of the hop-growing region of Belgium called Poperinge. Unfortunately the first two breweries only open up their taprooms and tours on weekends, but as Johannes said before I pedaled away, “You never know – maybe they’ll see your cycle and the rain and feel sympathetic.” With that hope, I headed in the direction of Esen.
I took off from Brugge along a broad canal headed in the direction of the Zwin. By my guess, the channel used to bring ships in from the coast via the Zwin back when Brugge was a major inland port, but over time the Zwin silted up and Brugge lost its status as a hot spot of trade. But the Zwin still sees its fair share of comings and goings, only these days the traffic is comprised of birds rather than ships. It brought me to the northernmost corner of West Flanders, so much that I crossed into the Netherlands and back into Belgium twice in the course of cycling there.