Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Salisbury, England

Friends: I was prepared to make my introduction to England's roads, and my first hunt for an English campsite, in the twilight of post-sunset, as the ferry from Cherbourg wasn't due to arrive at Poole until 10:15 pm. But I didn't realize that England time is an hour behind France, even though it lays no further west, so 10:15 English time meant pitch dark. At least I didn't have to fret when the ferry took longer to load than anticipated, delaying our departure by half an hour, making our arrival time 10:45, near midnight my body-clock and French time.

The late arrival meant less traffic on the roads, letting me ease into biking on the left side of the road. That was the least of my concerns though, not that I had any to speak of. I've had plenty of experience riding on the opposite side of the road in India, Nepal, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, and, most recently, Japan.

I, and better than a hundred vehicles, waited more than an hour, sorted into five or six lanes in the ferry parking lot, to load. I was in the two-wheeled section, which included 11 motorized bikes, and me, the lone pedal bike. I plopped myself down on the tarmac to rest my legs and have a picnic of my remaining bread, pate and cheese. I was feeling great having had a free hot shower at the ferry terminal and making this connection with ease, eager for a new country and its fresh variety of stimuli.

It was all English license plates about me, other than a few of the 18-wheelers with French plates. England has little draw for the French, except for those who can find higher-paying jobs in London than they can find in France. I already felt as if I had crossed the Channel when I picked up a ten pence coin at the entry and check point to the loading area and with the chatter of English all about me. Many of the English were well-tanned from a sojourn in the south of France.

One fellow wandered over with his camera and said, "Pose for the press?" Another commented,"Now that's what I call a relaxed camper." If either had been French they would have given me a 'Bon appetite,' a frequent French aside I hear while sitting just about anywhere, dining on whatever, even a can of cold ravioli.

But I appreciated the English variety of wit, which has continued unabated, even though I've barely been here half a day. A librarian in a small town, whose library's Internet was down, gave me directions to the library in the large city of Salisbury, five miles away. And she insisted that I visit the church there, saying it had the highest spire in England, 404 feet. "I'll be very disappointed if you don't," she said. When I bought a road atlas, complete with all the country's speed camera locations, at the Salisbury tourist office, the woman helping me spiced her dialogue with all sorts of excess, endearing verbiage.

I inadvertently found myself at the small town library following a sign to the town center of what I thought was Salisbury. Earlier in the day I saw a sign indicating Salisbury was 24 kilometers away, a mere 15 miles. After I'd gone 18 miles I feared I'd missed it, which was highly unlikely considering its size. I began wondering if the English road signs could not be trusted, as those in Italy. But as with the time difference, I'd made a fatal miscalculation. That distance of "24" was miles, not kilometers, as England, like the US, is in the small minority of non-metric nations.

Otherwise, the road signs so far have not fooled me nor led me astray. I had no problem last night staying on track, finding my way out of Poole out towards its airport, about 10 miles from the ferry terminal, where the map indicated a forest. Just as the street lights along the highway ended, I came upon a forested area that I could slip into for the night. It seemed ideal until half an hour after I'd slipped into sleep I was awoken by a barking sound, though not that of a dog. It
was a deer, upset that I had usurped her domain, perhaps encroaching upon a nesting area where she had a fawn. The barking was 30 or 40 feet away and growing closer. It stopped after a couple of minutes, and then started up again a bit later from the other side of my tent. It continued off and on all night until daylight, when it was replaced by the roar of traffic.

I could have made my first destination a T. E. Lawrence museum, ten miles west along the coast, rather than the northerly direction I had chosen. I would have surely done so if he had been killed while riding a bicycle, rather than a motorcycle, just several miles from the museum...or if he had tramped about Arabia on a bicycle, rather than a camel. And I would have been curious to learn more about his adventurous life too if I weren't so intent on getting up to the wide open spaces of Scotland and back down to London in just a little more than three weeks for the start of the Tour de France.

Stonehenge is on the way. Its just seven miles north of here. Much as I prefer to avoid sites that attract hoards of tourists, that will be my first destination before I swing over to Wales and its National Cycling Museum.

Later, George

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