Muchos excitement for Team Matilda as we headed to the south of England for a week’s tandeming in the New Forest! Regular blog readers will remember that a year ago I became ‘best pals’ with another tandem called Bluebird crewed by Jane and John Taylor who live near Southampton in Hampshire. Team Bluebird had travelled north to enjoy a memorable Tour de Perthshire du Tandem and we all enjoyed ourselves so much that we became self-proclaimed members of the Nutty Tandemers Club!
Such was the success of the inaugural tour that an event in John and Jane’s home territory was put into planning immediately after the Perthshire event. You see the crews have so much in common. Firstly Team Bluebird run their own blog called Travels with Bluebird – but more importantly have the same views as my dynamic crew on not taking tandeming too seriously.
As so much nuttiness and fun tandeming happened during the busy action-packed week, this blog is a kind of Musings photo special – complete with Strava maps and Relive 3D videos – as I recount the best bits of Le Tour de New Forest du Tandem…
TdNF Day 1 – introduction to New Forest and Lepe Loop
Me and my crew arrived at Jane and John’s lovely home in the village of Dibden Purlieu after a long drive south in Matilda Transporter on Sunday. A tasty welcome dinner and toast to the tour made Team Matilda feel very welcome. So Monday – and the first day of the tour – was planned by our hosts as a gentle introduction to the delights of the New Forest.
Check out the details of our Day 1 route by clicking on the Strava map below.
Before the off I had some very fetching laminates attached to my frame featuring the official tour logo – which John had cleverly created. And my crew donned their official tour t-shirts which featured the same design – complete with names on the sleeves – which they are pictured in throughout this blog.
Now although I had caught up again with my pal Bluebird, the Pino semi-recumbent tandem, our hosts decided to take Henry – the vintage member of their growing tandem collection – out for today’s spin. I can’t say that I was disappointed because as an “old lady” I am a bit of a classic vintage tandem myself and (whisper it) but I hear that Henry is a bit younger than me and has an eye for the ladies! And I have always been attracted to toy-boys! … or should that be toy-tandems?!
We headed off out of the village and within minutes we were tandeming across roads in the New Forest National Park – almost immediately getting our first of what would be regular sightings of the wild ponies on the heath. And the first impressions were that the roads were flat – which meant the “old gal” had a big wide smile on her face!
First stop was Lepe beach and time to pop the cork and have the first prosecco picnic of the tour! Although the sun was out, there was a fair breeze blowing off the Solent – but it didn’t stop everyone enjoying their picnics, washed down with fizz, drinking in the views over the Isle of Wight. After the picnic we explored the headland overlooking the beach – part of Lepe Country Park – and found it much more protected from the wind. Temperatures rose and even the “old gal” removed her cycling jacket to bask in the sun for a series of fun photos overlooking the sea with both tandem crews.
Pedalling on we cycled out to the point at Calshot Castle – marking the entrance to the deep channel of Southampton water. My crew popped in to see the velodrome at Calshot Activities Centre – built by converting the old Sunderland hangar which used to be part of the RAF Calshot base for seaplanes and flying boats. Fortunately both crews wisely decided that viewing from the spectator gallery would suffice instead of riding the tandems around the track. Which is just as well as it features sweeping 45 degree bends and claims to be the second steepest velodrome banking in the world!
So after examining the velodrome it was time for a coffee and cake stop at the cafe before heading back for showers and dinner. But not before the sampling of our new local surroundings ended at Hythe for a celebratory drink on the balcony of Seashells overlooking the water – and a toast to the fact that tandeming just doesn’t get much better than days like this!
A great first day of the TdNF covering 25.2 miles with the route brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below. (Remember if you are reading this on email, you need to click on the blog first – via the link at the bottom of the email – to view the video.)
TdNF Day 2 – Independence Day ride to redwoods and vineyards and stay at Filly Inn at Setley Plain
July the 4th and Independence Day and a day with a bit of an American theme naturally! The weather station at John and Jane’s house was promising bright warm sunshine so it was time to slap on the sun cream and pack the panniers for an overnighter at a traditional English Inn deep in the heart of the New Forest – via a visit and tasting at a vineyard.
Check out our Day 2 TdNF route by clicking on the Strava map below.
I was delighted that Team Bluebird had in fact selected the tandem that bears their name for the two-day trip so I was going to have plenty of company en route! It was already a good bit warmer than recent temperatures back home in Perthshire when we tandemed off – heading across the heath to the picturesque village of Beaulieu – which is home to the National Motor Museum. It hosts the original Bluebird CN7 car in which Donald Campbell set a new World Land Speed Record of 403.10mph in July 1964. Not sure if that’s what John and Jane named their Bluebird after – but if it was, surely it must have been with tongue firmly in cheek! Or maybe its just because Bluebird’s frame is blue!
No time to visit the classic cars however, as Team Matilda and Team Bluebird headed into Brockenhurst for a welcome morning coffee stop – before we had fun filming me and my dynamic crew pedalling through the Watersplash ford, where as the name suggests I got my wheels wet! Whisper it but Jane – who was responsible for taking the video – managed not to record anything the first time so we had to repeat the process for “take 2”!
After the video shenanigans we pedalled on to the much anticipated Rhinefield Ornamental Drive where we saw the two tallest trees in the forest – a couple of giant Redwoods. I must say that even though they are a bit smaller than their American cousins in California, it was still an impressive sight. And given that in America, giant Redwoods are known to be up to 3000 years old – these two are mere youngsters being only about 150 years old! Mind you that made me – despite being an “old lady” – feel a right young thing!
Pedalling back we found a lovely sheltered and deserted spot by the river for the prosecco picnic – which I had carefully carried in my stylish la bouclee bottle carrier.
The “old gal” cleverly used her initiative and found that the river provided a natural way of keeping the prosecco chilled! When it reached the required coolness the cork was duly popped – with Jane given the vital job of having the glasses ready to ensure not a drop was spilled!
After a very tasty alfresco French style meal of bread, hams, cheese and grapes – oh and did I mention the prosecco?! – it was time for one of the daily highlights when John got his extendable tripod out to take some pictures of both teams! This involved two bikes and three riders set up in position with John running in to shot before the ten second timer expired! Which he always did with cool aplomb!
With the tripod safely away for another day, we crossed the bridge and headed onwards enjoying the cycling on flat roads with my crew really enjoying the scenery of the New Forest. The “old git” had to stop when a couple of ponies were on the road – and the “old gal” even quipped that he was obviously looking to get some extra horsepower to drive me on! Well at least I am sure she was joking! …
Next stop was one of the highlights of the week – a visit to Setley Ridge Vineyard. Now as regular readers of my blog will be well aware, me and my dynamic crew are no strangers to visiting vineyards – but until now these have always been in France … in Burgundy, Bordeaux and the Loire Valley. But Team Matilda had never visited a vineyard in the UK, so this was a first.
Jane had arranged for their fellow Pino-owning tandeming friends Pam and Ken to join us as she had kindly fixed up a tour of the vineyard with Paul Girling, the owner. We were all treated to a highly informative and excellent tour of the vines and their on-site winery – and with the sun beating down my dynamic crew could have been forgiven for thinking they were in France!
The tour ended with a tasting of three wines – a refreshing rose, a dry white and my crew’s favourite … an oaked red made from Regent, Rondo and Triomphe grapes. All three were delicious, but my crew chose a bottle of red to take home to add to the wine collection at Matildas Rest! They also made a few purchases from the Farm Shop which was literally groaning with wonderful New Forest produce. Amazingly this included locally produced gin and tonic ice cream – which purely in the interests of research for this blog had to be sampled! Let’s just say that it seems the jury is still out over whether there was any noticeable taste of gin in the “unusual” flavour!
Pam and Ken headed home as we tandemed a few hundred yards from the vineyard to our base for the night – The Filly Inn which describes itself as a a forest gem in an enviable scenic location. First task after a friendly welcome was a cooling drink in the gardens – before showers and evening meal.
Given it was Independence Day, the choice had to be burgers! And what was produced were some of the largest – and tastiest – burgers the crews had ever seen. My dynamic duo both had beef burgers with blue cheese, which looked like a massive tower when they arrived. Team Bluebird’s crew had halloumi ones and they were so big that they said they could have easily shared one! Oh and there were chips in case they weren’t filling enough!
Obviously no room for dessert – but time for a short post meal walk for both tandem crews in a vain attempt to walk off some of the food! But they did get to experience a wonderfully colourful sunset before a nightcap at the bar brought down our own sunset on what was another fabulous day’s tandeming covering 20.5 miles with sunshine and laughs all the way! Great memories! Check out the Relive 3D video below.
TdNF Day 3 – Return tandem with lots of New Forest ponies and donkeys
Day 3 started with the sun already bright in the sky and it was clearly going to be a scorcher out on the open heath. It was a day for lots of suncream, and a route back home from our overnighter which promised lots of sightings of New Forest ponies and donkeys.
Check out the details of our Day 3 route by clicking on the Strava map below.
After breakfast – which none of Team Bluebird or Team Matilda really needed after last night’s massive burgerfest – it was time to pack up the panniers and take our leave from the highly recommended Filly Inn. It was already so warm that only the light Nutty Tandemers t-shirts, which John and Jane had got printed for the tour, were required. And temperatures were forecast to hit 30C today!
The start of our return journey was a lovely forest track which gave a welcome bit of protection from the sun. First stop was at a woodcarvers area with some carved creatures including a crocodile – but the big attraction was a pair of stocks! Now it was obvious who was going to have to have a shot in them – yes, how did you guess … the “old git”! And I am delighted to say after being a good sport he was allowed out again! After all – who was going to be my Captain if he had been left behind?!
Back on the saddles we tandemed on to Lymington and cycled down the busy high street before the crews headed on some lovely rural lanes towards East Boldre. Nearly every corner we pedaled round resulted in a view of a thatched cottage – each more beautiful than the next. This really was magnificent fun tandeming – under clear blue skies.
It was laughs a plenty as Team Bluebird and Team Matilda joshed with each other from everything from our average speed to our next refreshment stop to whether lunch would be required after last nights food intake. And as we tandemed along the roads we were deep in wild pony and donkey country. It was both amazing and fascinating how tame they were – happy to be wandering around outside the village shop – and indeed just how inquisitive they were. In fact so nosey that I thought at one stage I was in danger of having my top pannier eaten by one of the ponies!
As temperatures rose Jane decided it was time to stop and top up our alcohol levels so we diverted into the beer garden of the Turfcutter’s Arms and relaxed under the sun umbrellas while having a nice chilled Crabbies Ginger Beer. And believe it or not – no one had the slightest appetite for food – yes, not even the “old git”!
Another application of suncream, and back on the road for a mainly downhill dash to Beaulieu – where us tandems were parked up to while our crews took a touristy stroll up the pretty village street, making a few purchases in the shops. The stomachs of my dynamic crew were rumbling at this point and they indulged in a traditional cream tea … well a cream coffee to be exact as they prefer coffee to tea!
To add a few miles to the trip Team Bluebird then led us towards Lyndhurst to a lovely grassy and wooded area where the famous pony sales take place after the New Forest pony drifts – where all the ponies are rounded up. The Beaulieu Road Pony Sales is where the Commoners (owners of the ponies on the New Forest) sell their ponies by auction. It has been the sales centre for semi feral and handled stock for over 60 years.
John got his extendable tripod out again for some more fun team pictures opposite the stockades for the pony sales – before we tandemed back to John and Jane’s via Ipley.
After returning to base for a welcome shower – both crews shared an even more welcome magnum bottle of nicely chilled Saumur white wine while sitting in the shade in the garden for pre dinner drinks. It disappeared amazingly fast as they recounted the fun, laughs and smiles of the overnight tandeming adventure. And the delicious Saumur wine naturally turned the conversation to Team Bluebird and Team Matilda’s joint desire to one day attend the Anjou Velo Vintage cycling event based right in the heart of Saumur wine country. Now that would be fun!
All in all, a brilliant third day of the TdNF covering 24.0 miles – brought to life in our Relive 3D video.
TdNF Day 4 – All aboard on overseas leg to Isle of Wight and lots garlic at garlic farm
The schedule provided by our wonderful hosts (and tour guides!) for day 4 said: “All aboard! Time to don the old sea legs and head overseas to the Isle of Wight for lunch at the Garlic Farm where it’s garlic with everything … including the beer!” What an amazing voyage of discovery it was going to be!
Check out our Day 4 TdNF route by clicking on the Strava map below.
Now today I had yet another new partner tandem – after making another new acquaintance – this time with Siggy who is the most recent purchase of Team Bluebird. You see Siggy is very clever and he has couplings which allow him to be separated into 3 sections – making it much easier to transport. And given that John and Jane are heading to India next February for a tour by tandem, I can see why Siggy was an essential purchase!
Another day where sunscreen was essential as we headed to the local Hythe Pier for the first of three ferries we would be taking each way today. And regular readers of my blog will know how this “old lady” likes ferries – although my experience so far has been limited to the Cal Mac ferry to Millport! But today I was assured I was going on a proper big ferry!
The “old git” decided that since it was so bright and sunny that this was a day to reveal his much coveted polka dot King of the Mountain jersey (known in France as a maillot a pois) – and all somewhat tongue-in-cheek as it is a replica of the one worn by the best hill climber in the Tour de France! And as you know going up hills are not my dynamic crew’s strong point! But John had promised that today’s route was relatively flat, so the “old git” was sure he could just bask in the attention the eye-catching cycling jersey would bring without having to prove his (lack of) hill climbing prowess!
Mind you the first ferry – from Hythe over to Southampton – was actually smaller than the Millport ferry I am used to. But then we tandemed a few hundred yards to the Red Funnel ferry – the biggest I have ever been on – and it was straight on board with us tandems being locked up on the lorry and freight deck while our crews retired to the passenger decks for morning coffee.
In less than an hour we were on the Isle of Wight – where we had to board our third ferry – called the Floating Chain Bridge which took us from East Cowes to West Cowes. After all the excitement of getting on and off ferries it was nice to get tandeming and the island is an ideal place for cycling.
Almost immediately we were on the Red Squirrel Trail – a wonderfully scenic cycle path which goes right across the island on a disused railway line. We weren’t going that far but my dynamic crew really enjoyed the ride – which was very flat with lots of great views, particularly along the Medina river and through the main town of Newport.
Tootling on a bit further on the cycle path Team Bluebird and Team Matilda soon rolled up to one of the island’s star attractions, The Garlic Farm near Newchurch, which describes itself as “the complete garlic experience”! Our arrival neatly coincided with lunchtime – where the tandem crews had a veritable garlic extravaganza. I am going to leave the pictures and captions to do the talking as they describe the meal to …. well to a clove or two of garlic really!
After all that divine garlic, the “old git” as Captain sitting up front, warned the “old gal” – who sits very close behind him as Stoker – that there was to be no burping … intentional or otherwise, as he had quite enough garlic flavour of his own in his system! So much in fact that when he re-applied the sunscreen he was sure that his skin was oozing garlic!
It was very warm now on the ride back and the tandem crews decided on a stop for some water and also another of their Nutty Tandemers Club fun photo shoots – which resulted in more laughs and smiles! Last year on the Tour de Perthshire the “old gal” John and Jane took up the role of the three monkeys with an unforgettable image, so naturally the first shot had to be a new version of that!
Moving on we retraced our tyre tracks and headed back into Newport where both crews unanimously agreed it was time to stop for a liquid refreshment! The huge Bargemans Rest provided the perfect opportunity for a chilled Crabbies Ginger Beer while watching the world go by.
Back into West Cowes and this is where the travel arrangements via three ferries went a bit awry. The Floating Chain Bridge had just pulled away as we arrived and it took longer than normal to return from East Cowes due to a surprise visitor in the area in the shape of a dolphin – which my crew sadly found impossible to photograph.
Back in East Cowes we raced round the corner only to see the Red Funnel ferry to Southampton pull away from the dock! The next one wasn’t for another hour so it looked like a pub stop to pass the time – but the one at the ferry terminal has seen better days, and my crews decided instead to stock up at the nearby Waitrose for the next day’s picnic!
On board the ferry back to Southampton the journey passed while enjoying a welcome glass of wine. Then we realised that there was only a few minutes to get off to catch the small ferry back to Hythe. It was a bit like the start of the Tour de France (well nothing like the start of the Tour de France actually!) as the crews waited for the big ferry to dock. We were allowed to disembark first and cycled round to meet the link to Hythe with just seconds to spare! Phew! It’s hard work catching these ferries!
One steep hill to climb back up from Hythe before showers and a lovely meal made by Jane. The evening saw Team Bluebird and Team Matilda reflecting on a sensational day’s tandeming on our overseas trip – which was another prime example of tandeming at its very best … great fun with great like-minded friends!
Strava notched up the trip as covering 41.4 miles – but that did include 11.0 “ferry” miles due to operator error – so the official distance tandemed was 30.4 miles. Watch our Relive 3D video below.
TdNF Day 5 – Grand finale Nutty Tandemers Club ride to gin tasting and prosecco picnic before 2000 miles on Matilda celebrations
The schedule for the final day said: “Friday is Nellie night! But to earn a pint in the old pub we will complete one of our well cycled and favourite local routes using quiet lanes.” Ok then, if you insist!
Check out the details of our Day 5 route by clicking on the Strava map below.
All too soon the last day of Le Tour de New Forest was upon us and both tandem crews were keen to make the most of the sunshine for the final trip. And I was delighted that my good friend Bluebird was the tandem chosen by our hosts John and Jane for today’s outing!
We headed off west with the “old git” determined to start the day with a personal best on the hill climbing out of the street where John and Jane lived! And yes we achieved it! So he was a happy Captain! And my crew were delirious when on the steep downhill section into Beaulieu we hit a new all time Matilda speed record of 34.0 mph! There’s life in this “old lady” yet!
We then followed the route of the river – although the water was not always visible. But when it did appear – at the tourist attraction of Bucklers Hard – it was very scenic. This was a ship building village in times gone by and it seems several of Nelson’s ships were built here using the oak from the forest. There is a museum and some of the houses are open to the public – but the crews just wandered down the grassy slope of a street and took some suitable Nutty Tandemers pictures. Just for a change!
Next on the final day’s route was a quick stop at Needs Oar Point, a former WW2 airfield, before hitting the coast again at the bottom of Tanners Lane. Both the temperature and the colours made the “old gal” feel as if she was in the Mediterranean rather than the south of England!
We rode on into Lymington where we wandered round the cobbled streets of the Quayside which were fairly busy with tourists. No time for coffee – as John and Jane had a treat up their sleeve for the “old git” and the “old gal”- a visit to a gin distillery for some gin tastings! We pedalled round beautiful country lanes towards Pennington Marshes where we found the Dancing Cows distillery which has only recently starting producing artisan gin and describes itself as “the spirit of the New Forest”.
Now my dynamic crew consider themselves to be gin aficionados, so this was right up their street. They tried three – their Lymington Gin, New Forest Gin and Myristica Gin. The last which is infused with vanilla, raspberry and nutmeg was by far their favourite and amazingly a bottle was purchased and just happened to find its way into my panniers!
After that the crews were feeling a bit peckish so picnic beckoned and we stopped at the nature reserve at Pennington Marshes and found a suitable picnic bench where we could sit, eat, open the prosecco I had been faithfully carrying, and …. dance on the table! You see my dynamic crew had picked up a small sign in Lymington which said: “Time to drink prosecco and dance on the table!” And obviously Team Bluebird and Team Matilda were not going to disobey an instruction like that!
It was an idyllic spot and both crews enjoyed their picnic as the reeds swayed in the breeze, listening to the birds singing, and looking out to sea and the sailing boats in the Solent, with views of nearby Hurst Castle and the Needles on the Isle of Wight. Both team were feeling quite mellow after the prosecco and could have sat there for the afternoon! But there was more tandeming to be done with the return journey to be completed.
It was at this point that the “old git” discovered that I was just 17 miles away from racking up the landmark total of 2000 miles since Team Matilda was formed. He kept a beady eye on the milometer on my handle bars – and guessed that the total would be hit just as we emerged up one of the few steep hills on the tour … a slow grind of a climb out of Beaulieu.
And he was correct so as the climb flattened out he persuaded the “old gal” to pedal and we increased speed so we could break the 2000 mile mark at 20 mph. Just as we hit the speed the numbers rolled over to 2000 to a much cheering and high fives from my crew!
Team Bluebird soon caught up with us after my dynamic crew’s euphoric exertion and suggested a celebratory drink so we pulled in to the beer garden of The Glen pub – a whole mile from the finishing line. The crews dutifully toasted the 2000 miles … and the 2000 laughs and smiles along the way!
What a fantastic final day of the TdNF covering 39.8 miles – including two new landmarks … a new best ever top speed of 34 mph for me! Wooo! And then clocking up 2,000 miles in total with my dynamic crew! It just gets better and better! Today’s final route is brought to life in our Relive 3D video below.
So after the drinks it was home, showered and my dynamic crew joined John and Jane for one of their Friday institutions – a visit to the Lord Nelson pub in Hythe – aka The Nellie! – for the tour finale pre dinner drinks! No tandems involved as the crews walked! So I was able to have a good final get together with Bluebird, Siggy and of course, Henry!
Suitably refreshed it was time for the crews to enjoy the grand Tour de New Forest finale – a celebration meal at the Thai Corner restaurant to mark a fantastic week with fantastic company creating fantastic memories. And the Thai food was fantastic too, I am reliably told, as was the wine selected to wash it down!
Naturally there was a toast (or two, or was it three or four!!) to an unforgettable tour! And the good news is that all members of the Nutty Tandemers Club agreed unanimously that we need to meet up for another tour before too long. I don’t know if it was induced by the free flowing wine – but I am told that a suggestion was made for the tandem teams to do a Tour de Western Isles by taking on the Hebridean Way – a trip on the newly established Sustrans Scotland NCR 780 which begins on the Island of Vatersay and ends on the northernmost point at the Butt of Lewis, and takes in 10 islands, six causeways and two ferry crossings! And of course another time, there is the long standing goal of a trip to the Anjou Velo Vintage!
So on behalf of Team Matilda, it was a real pleasure to be hosted by Team Bluebird to their amazing part of the country and a real privilege to spend a week enjoying the company of John and Jane – who proved they are real kindred spirits to my dynamic crew!
It really was an utterly fabulous week – a time where you can honestly say that tandeming just doesn’t get much better than this! But don’t just take this “old lady’s” word for it – you can read Team Bluebird’s two-part account of the Tour de New Forest in their Travels with Bluebird blog posts on Facebook here and here.
So to pull this bumper blog post to an end – a comment from Team Bluebird’s crew John and Jane: “A very successful week – only about 150 miles but some of the best for weather, laughs, good company and memorable nuttiness!”
Couldn’t put it better myself! Guess we best start the planning process for the next Nutty Tandemers Club tour then…..! Till the next time! Cheers!
p.s. After returning home, the “old git” pulled together this video – a montage of the pictures of a memorable week on Le Tour de New Forest in July 2017.