As last Christmas wasn’t the most successful Christmas I’ve ever had (Daisy caught 2 sick bugs in 2 weeks and dad suddenly died 2 days before Santa and his merry flock of reindeers landed on the roof) the two week school holiday disappeared without ever much feeling like a holiday. With Molly and Daisy due back at school straight after New Year I asked them whether they would rather go to school or have a bit of an adventure by the sea. Molly, being the studious and conscientious one, said that normally she would like to come but thought it more important she went to school as being her last year at primary school she has SATS this summer (a week of mind-bogglingly confusing government-imposed tests). Daisy, being more like me (i.e. not so studious or conscientious), leapt at the chance of a seaside adventure.
So the day school opened up for the spring term I left Gary and Gran in charge of Molly while Daisy, Jack and me jumped on a train to Portsmouth. The plan was to take the ferry to the Isle of Wight and then follow the coast path for as far as we could get in about five days. Daisy and Jack rode their bikes while I carried a big rucksack and pushed a pram for Jack to climb into should his legs get tired. It was all very spontaneous and haphazard -I had no idea how far we would get in a day so booked no accommodation, just hoping we would find some sort of B&B despite most places being closed for January.
With sea air in her lungs Daisy suddenly looked rejuvenated – her cheeks turned rosy and she flew along on her wheels looking healthier and happier than she had for weeks.
As darkness fell that first night and with no B&Bs yet found, we struck lucky. On deserted Seagrove Bay beach a little yappy dog suddenly ran up to us and promptly lifted its leg on Jack’s wheel. I was about to boot the mutt over the touch line when its owner appeared. ‘You look like you’re on a bit of an adventure with all that!’ she exclaimed.
I said, ‘We are!’
Mrs Yappy Dog Owner told us her name was Jo and we ended up spending the night in her huge modern-build immaculate home on a hill overlooking the Solent and distant Portsmouth.
Entering Bembridge on the cusp of darkness a woman talking to another woman outside the fish shop turned to us and said, ‘My goodness! Now you look like proper cyclists!’
The woman asked how old my mini cyclists were ( ‘3 and 6!’ they chirped) and then told us her name was Margaret and she was 81 years old and ‘a very keen cyclist indeed!’ And so was her husband. They cycled everywhere, all of the time. ‘Always have done,’ she said. ‘I believe cycling leads to a healthy life and a long life!’ She then invited us back to stay with her.
The next day was a long arduous one following the narrow cliff path from Foreland, slipping and sliding in the chalky mud carrying bikes and pram up and down steep steps and over kissing gates through Whitecliff Bay before climbing up and into a wild cold headwind over Culver Down. But despite all this, team morale was good with Jack and Daisy in buoyant spirit and constantly determined to keep forging ahead. We did 8 very undulating miles that day and whenever I asked Jack whether he was tired and did he want to get in the pram for a rest he always gave me a slightly German-sounding reply, ‘No mum. Me on mine bike!’
By the time we got back down beside the sea at Sandown it was dark and every B&B and hotel we came across was closed. The rain was falling heavily now and the seafront was deserted. But then I spotted a lone figure, hood up, hunched over into the wind and rain. I asked her if she knew of any B&Bs that were open. ‘Are you homeless?’ she asked.
‘I might look like I am with all these bags hanging off the pram,’ I said, ‘but I do have a home – only it’s not here!’
Finally, after trying another five places (all closed) we found a B&B way up in the back streets. The woman who answered the door said, ‘Sorry my love, but we’re closed for January.’ Pause. ‘Though looking at you I can’t turn you and your little’uns away in this weather,so come in and let’s dry you out.’
So in we gratefully went.
We were on the Isle of Wight for four-and-a-half days and we did 38 miles. Daisy rode her bike every mile and Jack rode 28 miles and climbed into the pram for the rest. I walked pushing the pram. We’re heading back this month to continue our jaunt around the coast.
NEWS JUST IN: I will be talking at the FESTIVAL OF WOMEN AND BICYCLES on Sunday 5th March in Oxford (East Oxford Community Centre, 44 Princes Street, OX4 1DD). More info from the Broken Spoke Bike Co-op (bsbcoop.org/women-bicycles-2017)