My tent was sweating profusely. Gazing up from where I was lying, comfortably ensconced in my sleeping bag, I could see the inside wall of the fly-sheet awash with droplets of dew. It must have been due to the humid air that blew in from the sea.
Camp Vitamin was a quiet place. I had only seen one other tent last night and they had left early this morning. I remembered the couple — American cycle tourers. I remembered because I had asked them if they had a wine-opener, but no luck.
On the way to the campsite, I had stopped by a supermarket to stock up on some groceries and, since it was my last day of cycling on the European continent, I thought I might have a bit of a hurrah, and celebrate the occasion with a 5 Euro bottle of 2007 Malesan Bordeaux, the very same one that I toasted with the Rovens at their home in Marines.
Well, the wine got to age an extra day, and I toasted the night with water instead. Everything in town was also closed by then, so I might as well tuck in early.
The tent may have been damp but the weather certainly looked very promising, even though the early morning wind chilled me to the bone the moment I stepped out of the tent.
The ferry from Dieppe to Newhaven on the Sussex coast only sailed twice a day — 5am and 6pm. Both weren’t the best of options. One was too early, and the other was too late and, if I went with the 6pm option, the 4-hr crossing would mean arriving at night. I had no intention of cycling around looking for the campsite and then setting up tent in the cold and in the dark.
I opted for the 5am ferry, which meant I would have to stay another night in Dieppe … well, almost. The ferry required passengers to check in at least an hour before it sailed, and I wasn’t eager to wake up in the freezing cold of the night, pack up the tent, then ride down to the terminal.
I decided to stay in camp until 10pm, pack up at leisure and then sleep in the terminal until boarding time. But I hadn’t bargained for the evening dew that descended upon my tent like a shower the moment the sun went down over the horizon.
By the time I was ready to start packing, the tent’s flysheet was once again drenched to the seams. Oh well, damp or otherwise, and as much as I hated it packing a wet tent, I packed up and headed for the ferry terminal.
At the first bridge that spanned the bay, I was jarred out of the reverie of my casual ride. Where the heck was the bridge? I could only see a barrier and a ‘route barree’ sign. The bridge, which turned out to be a movable one,was on the other side, and was probably undergoing maintenance of some kind. No choice then but to take a long detour.
At the ferry terminal, I checked in early and headed for the waiting area. Among the pool tables and empty chairs, I unpacked my Thermarest, laid it on the floor and tried to get a few hours sleep.
At 4.50 am, the friendly officer who checked me in told me to get ready to board the ferry. It was still dark and there was a freezing wind blowing outside. The kind man had waited until the last minute ‘so that you won’t freeze to death in the cold wind’.
He was right. Even with a jacket on, I shivered as I made my way across the 200 metres or so to the yawning belly of the ship’s vehicle hold. I was the only cyclist so I was told to ‘park anywhere you like’.
Some mornings are just meant to be lazy, what more with the sun shining brightly through a clear blue sky, and the air crisp, cool and laced with unmistakeably English farm fragrances. All I wanted to do was sit in the sun and drink more English tea and eat more oily English food but … London beckoned …
And so, with the contents of a full English breakfast making its way down the digestive system, I headed out of the farm, passing a pig and a goat incarcerated in a pen going at each other head to head. It was fascinating to watch.
The meadows that I had read about as a kid, and seen so much of on tv, were stretched out on both sides of the road before me. There didn’t seem to be any really flat elevation anywhere, and the roads followed the same. All around, the scenery was as rustic as English countrysides could be. Now I knew how and where the author and illustrator of ‘The wind in the willows’ drew their inspiration from.
Maps I had none, but I had downloaded GPS tracks that would lead me all the way from Newhaven to The Thames river in London. As I rode along, I realised the author of these tracks chose to follow quiet country lanes as much as possible, avoiding the busy secondary roads, which was fine by me. In fact, at one point, I was actually riding on a dirt path through a chicken farm!
Every lane, cottage and farm that I passed seem to have a name, every single one of them …
It was fast becoming dusk, and I still couldn’t find the hostel. When I finally found it, I was still out of luck. It was full. I headed back the way I came into the busiest part of the city and tried another hostel. It was also full. I even tried the Indian YMCA, looking thoroughly out of place walking into the reception (think busy Mumbai).
Apparently, it was a busy Saturday night and all the hostels were full. I was advised to try hotels instead.
I was lucking out big time. I had wandered into Argyll street, near St Pancras and King’s Cross, and which was mostly occupied by budget hotels and yet I was being turned away one after another.
It was already dark and I was at wits end. I was tired, hungry and frustrated to be in such a situation at tour’s end. I decided to knock on one more door which had a ‘vacancy’ sign, failing which, I was going to head out of the city and look for a campsite I knew existed some 16km away. Not the best option but …
I guess my faith was being tested 🙂
At Julian’s House Hotel, I rang the doorbell and a surly-looking middle-eastern fellow opened the door …
‘Hi, do you have a room?’
‘Sorry, no room’
‘But your sign says vacancy’ I reminded him.
‘It’s a family room, I can’t give that to you’ (Actually, what he meant was that he couldn’t let me have the room at single-occupancy rate)
I decided that I was going to be firm and stand my ground….so I put on my most pathetic look and implored him with ‘Please, I only need it for tonight’.
He blinked first. I went for the kill.
‘The family room is £45’ (single was 29)
‘Errr… what about £35?’
He was wavering. I decided to look even more pathetic.
‘Ok’ he finally agreed. ‘But only for tonight’, he added as a last word.
His name was Yamar, and he turned out to be a splendid fellow instead. I ended up staying not 1 but 4 nights…the second 2 nights at the nicer Globe Hotel (also owned by them) just a little down the street.
What a day it had been. Tomorow, I explore London.
Distance today: 131km
Distance to date: 1300km (also the trip total)
Check out the 360 view of Argyll St, courtesy of Google Maps Street View: