Across Continents

Ken's Blog

Tempting aromas

March 17th, 2012

Tempting aromas, I imagined, around the village the previous evening. Trapped by the still, cool evening air. Bacon. Sausages. Mushrooms perhaps. Gently ebbing amongst the cottages. Enough being cooked for hundred or more. If you’d have forgotten the next morning was the communal village breakfast in the Tithe Barn, you’d surely have remembered.

But I’d missed this chance for salivation. Enjoying wandering along the darkened lanes, interrupted only by the odd passing car or the occasional cooing of pigeons, the previous night. Off visiting friends for supper half a mile or so from my own place. Talk of China, of Sandhurst. Been quite a canter around. But no, this particular evening I’d joined my neighbours for a visit to a newly re-opened pub a short drive away.

Interesting I’d been told. And it was. Actually more of a surprise. On the outside the familiar look of a small country pub. But step inside and enter a smart restaurant. Pie and a pint no longer on the menu. No longer the place for the passing walker, the tired traveller or the local with his dog, wishing to quietly sup ale. The man that is, not his faithful companion. Now fine dining. I’d venture bordering on exquisite. And rather reasonably priced for what it was. It just wasn’t what we’d expected.

I’d returned to Fitzhead from a spell of house-sitting on the south coast, ostensibly to lend a hand with the village breakfast. But that’d been simply the excuse to catch up with friends, to reassure everyone that home was in the village. My absence a mere interlude, a passing moment in the scheme of things.

The breakfast seemed to go well. I’d volunteered my services and appointed chief washer-upper. There was only one. The bottom rung of a long ladder to become egg lady. Assuming you got past bean stirrer. I was optimistic, but it’d take a while. And there’d be a sabbatical to do as a table waiter. Let out of the kitchen briefly to tuck into tea and toast, a chance to meet the community’s new arrivals. Emma, Douglas, Monty and Bunny. Convinced I’d never remember their names.

There’d also been a chance to catch up on air with the local community radio station in Wiveliscombe a couple of miles away. It seemed to have gone well, chatting mostly about feelings, of emotions on the road rather than plain facts and figures. Stumped inexplicably only for a choice of music they might play. I’d a track in my head, obscuring all others, but couldn’t remember its name. Obliged instead to try and describe it with remarkably little clarity.

Interview complete, I’d drifted around the town for a while, waiting for my bus. Butchers, hardware shop, the delicatessen. All looked familiar. Unchanged. A small library. Converted from a shop. Thought that was new. Wandered past the open door of a terrace house. Didn’t think I’d been staring in, rather walking purposely past, but the woman inside nevertheless said hello. It was nice to be back.


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Poetic welcome

February 17th, 2012

We had a visit ’round this time

From Ken from Outward Bound,

Who’s cycling up and down the World

Raising money as he goes around.

Four years he thinks he’ll pedal on

Through all the types of weather,

Meeting people everywhere

We think he is quite clever!

If I’d had sense I’d have retired to bed several hours before I actually did. But I was too tired for that. Besides I wanted to chat. Even if I found myself frequently loosing the thread of the conversation. Ever decreasing lucidity.

Earlier, interviews finally completed, photos taken and cake cut, I’d joined my Mum and Dad for afternoon tea with friends in the village. Then a hasty rummage in my panniers, extracting things I’d need for the next few days before loading my trusty steed into the back of my parents car. They’d be taking her back to their garage for safe keeping. I’d follow in a few days.

I’d a plan to spend a couple of nights staying with my neighbours, my own cottage still rented out. If I’d felt at all weary after such an intense day, the rush of emotion as I’d stepped inside their home pushed it quickly aside. For a while at least. Tantalising aromas from the kitchen beyond. Soft heat from the woodstove. Tea in the pot.

A few items of post that’d turned up in my own cottage next door. Amongst them a Christmas card from the Shapland family. I’d stayed with them out near Brisbane. Inside a newsletter with a twist. A poem. Twenty eight carefully crafted verses. Wonderful.

[Quotation above courtesy of the Shapland family – Mike, Mandy and Felicity – with whom I’d stayed back in Brisbane, Australia. And especial thanks to neighbours Jon and Helen, and Sue and Roger, for their generous hospitality]

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Wanderer returns

February 17th, 2012

Ken finally returns to his home village of Fitzhead, 892 days since setting off around the World.

[With especial thanks to Ken’s Mum for capturing events in the village on camera… Danny Boyle look out…]

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Media madness

February 16th, 2012

I’d joked with my escort of young riders that the pull up to the village cricket ground was my very last hill. What I’d been training for. But, in truth, there was one more gradient, a gentle slow curving gracefully along the tall boundary wall of the manor house. A barely perceptible climb now.

Beyond the bend I quickly saw first the finishing tape drawn across the road beneath my own cottage. And then, beyond it, the very sizeable crowd of family and friends, well-wishers who’d taken the trouble to come and welcome me back. Loud cheers. Glimpsing familiar faces.

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A lengthy address wouldn’t have been right. Instead a few words of thanks. Simple and heartfelt. Someone pushed a glass of Champagne into my hand. A couple of quick chats with friends, then drawn to the cameras. Interviews to be given. Local TV and radio. Photographs to be taken. I felt confident, buoyed up by the sheer excitement of having made it. And the warm welcome home.

Fortuitously I’d taken the right road from Halse. Eventually passing a familiar turn to nearby Milverton. Relief. This was not the day to be adrift. Soon at the small grassy knoll. On it sat a bench placed under a fairly mature tree. I might ordinarily have been tempted to rest my steed there, but with less than a mile left I didn’t want to risk an unfortunate encounter with a thorn perhaps hidden amongst the grass.

Ten minutes to two. The appointed hour for a triumphal entry back into the village. Quick call to confirm I was in position. Agreeing I’d set off a minute or two before the hour. Better to be a few moments late than risk arriving before everyone else had finished arriving. Not that I was entirely sure who’d be there. Been very focused on simply getting myself there in unexpectedly challenging conditions.

There’d been a piece to camera for ITV South West. But I found myself most absorbed by an interview with Barry from the local community radio station. I liked his questions and felt our dialogue flowed. Slow to notice my Mum trying desperately to attract my attention. There was cake to be cut. I was quietly pleased.

I’d been unsure how much media coverage there might be. Always the risk of a last minute dead donkey diverting them away. But what had really mattered was whether I could deal with it with the same adeptness my brother had shown during a major offshore rescue some years earlier. I’d admired him immensely for that.

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Uncertain roads

February 16th, 2012

I’d been a bit unsure leaving Halse. It’d stopped there to join my parents for lunch in the village pub before the final few miles back home to Fitzhead. There’d been a warming coffee, and security for my trusty steed in the indoor skittle alley. Of course, I knew a way to go. Done it enough times. Problem was it’d bring me in from the wrong direction. Wanted to retrace the route I’d taken two and a half years earlier when I’d ridden out.

There was another way. A longer affair. Bringing me to a small grassy knoll at a staggered cross roads above Fitzhead. There I’d wait for the nod to ride down into the village. Fairly confident I’d taken the right road from Halse. But not entirely certain. Not for a while. My fault. Just because I might have been expected to know didn’t mean I actually did. Hoping pride wouldn’t be my downfall at the very end.

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Getting close…

February 11th, 2012

Getting close to my home village of Fitzhead. Two and a half years – 892 days – since I rode out, bound for the port of Plymouth and a sailing to France. About twenty miles or so left. Nippy outside. Hard for my brain to compute this – and it is pretty logical!

The blog will conclude over the next few days. Hoping to add photos and videos from my return. Together with a couple of stories from the last days on the road. And a few pieces on lessons learnt, some amusing statistics, and details of what happens next…

In the meantime, whilst the cycling may soon be over, the fund-raising certainly isn’t – still a long way to go with that. So please do consider making a donation to The Outward Bound Trust – simply click on the Donate link above, or the button on my home page. It’d be hugely appreciated.

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Return to Fitzhead

February 4th, 2012

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A plan coming together… Return to my delightful Somerset village of Fitzhead. Riding back in at 2pm sharp Saturday 11 February 2012. A staggering 892 days and close on 20,000 miles since leaving. Makes me weep just thinking about it. Suppose that’s leather saddles for you. Things I’ll do for a generous slice of cake and a glass of bubbly. But staying off the kumus – fermented mare’s milk.

Very much looking forward to catching up with friends, I’d be absolutely delighted if you were to join me at the finish. Rumours even I might have a tear or two in my eye. No bear spray of course. And if you’re unable to make it, you should at least be able to listen online to yours truly chatting earlier in the day about the whole adventure with BBC Somerset’s Emma Britton. About 10.15 am – click here for a link to the BBC iPlayer.

Getting there….

The village lies roughly ten miles west of the county town of Taunton. If you’re coming from afar, it’s usually best approached from nearby Wellington, leaving the M5 at Junction 26, close to Taunton Deane Services. Use the Taunton exit only if you like to be ensnared in traffic…

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Fitzhead is divided into roughly three parts, each with its own focal point – the old church, the manor house, and errr… the other bit.. The official finish is outside the (sadly now closed) Fitzhead Inn (on right hand side in photo above) – pop my TA4 3JP postcode into Google Earth and you’ll land on it.

[With especial thanks to Sue and Roger, Anton, Jon and Helen, Peter, Tony and Sarah and the Fitzhead Community Group, and Emma Britton at BBC Somerset]

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Friends back home

August 8th, 2011

I was intrigued to see what photos Anton had chosen for his presentation to Taunton’s Rotary Club. Curious as to what insight they might yield into someone else’s perceptions of what I was doing. Besides, I couldn’t recall ever being the subject of an entire talk. Torn between feeling honoured and just plain humbled. And I’d an idea he’d be delivering it a few more times before I returned home.

For all the countless examples of generosity and hospitality on the road, I find myself reflecting almost as much on those much closer to home. Quite apart from moral support from fellow village residents, and a fine send-off, there’s been a good deal of practical stuff.

Some generous donations to The Outward Bound Trust. Regular interviews with neighbour Jon on 10Radio, with a bit of technical help from Anton. Sue, helping with my English, and Tony, busy lobbying on my behalf. Eliciting an interview with a journalist just the last week.

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