Catha's Seat

Monday, 11 November 2013

Catha's Seat Shortlisted for a PEA Award

Catha's Seat has been shortlisted for a PEA award under the Responsible Travel Category!!! 

The PEA or People and Environmental Awareness awards are designed to recognise people and celebrate their contributions to the green agenda.

In association with GREEN Magazine, their glamorous green carpet awards ceremony honours those who have demonstrated the importance of sustainability. 

Judges include green entrepreneurs and sustainability leads within organisations such as Mott MacDonald, National Geographic and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

I hadn't even considered being shortlisted for an award was a possibility but one of my close friends, Karen, just nominated us off her own back and we were shortlisted by the judges! Hopefully this will bring even more publicity & awareness to the hard work that has gone into Route 18 and the joys of cycling in Kent.

Image - copyright the PEA awards

Many thanks to Karen for nominating us and to the judges for shortlisting us. The awards will be held on the 26th November so please keep your fingers and toes crossed for the win!

In other news, the thermometer is nearly at the £10,000 mark however, It's not too late to get involved and donate! Any additional funds over the target will go into a revolving Catha's Seat fund for maintenance of the seats and promotion of cycling on Route 18. 

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Catha's Seat - Fresh off the press in the Kentish Express!

News fresh off the press this morning as Catha's Seat was featured in the Kentish Express, our local paper. If you are in the area, get down to the shops and get a copy while they are still hot!

Many, many thanks to reporter James Scott, and the Kent Messenger (KM) Group, for covering our story.
Cutting from page 33 of the Kentish Express published 26/09/2013.
Used with permission from the KM Group.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Councillor Wickham gets behind Catha's Seat and funding breaks £8,000 barrier

The funding thermometer has smashed through the £8,000 mark with your donations!! This is fantastic; thanks to everyone who has contributed so far. 

This leaves less than £2,000 left to raise, on which front there is more positive news we can share. Following a letter I sent to Andrew Wickham, Kent County Council (KCC) Councillor for Ashford Rural East, he has got right behind the project and is looking to support the fundraising from his KCC Member's Community Grant Scheme. Earlier this week it was confirmed that he is able to contribute £1,000 towards the installation of Catha's Seat.

When speaking with Councillor Wickham I was delighted to hear that he has been fully supporting the development of the new "traffic free" section of Route 18. He shares our aim to get as many people as possible out and using these facilities for enjoyment, wellbeing and safe sustainable transport. 

More than just helping funding, having the support of influential organisations and individuals such as KCC and Councillor Wickham is very important for a community project - it validates the need and develops the reach it can achieve - so this is a very exciting development.

Andrew Wickham, Kent County Council Councillor for Ashford Rural East, has got behind the Catha's Seat project.
Councillor Wickham added the following kind comments in his email to me....

"Thank you for your letter with details about your well thought out project to provide a seat along Route 18 near Chilham. I am minded to support this project"

"Good luck with the remainder of your fundraising, I am sure Catha would be proud."

All of us at Catha's Seat would like to express our thanks to Councillor Wickham and to KCC funding officer Annette Haigh for their support.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Godmersham Parish Council give support to Catha's Seat

I was treated to a warm welcome at Godmersham Parish Council's meeting on Tuesday night in their brand spanking new village hall. This has been outfitted with the latest green technology; solar PV and heat pumps, but more importantly a set of freshly installed bike racks where I could park up dad's bike after a twilight ride over from Wye! 

It was fantastic to hear so many positive comments and suggestions regarding the new cycle route and Catha's Seat. I am delighted that the PC have chosen to support the project and our forthcoming bid to the Ashford Borough Council Single Grants Gateway Scheme.

From the short window I saw of the meeting Godmersham PC are dedicated to continuously improving their Parish for the benefit of their residents.

In the board room - Godmersham Parish Council consider and choose to support the Catha's Seat Project
Godmersham PC's Chair, Caroline Spencer, wrote the following comments on behalf of the Council in support of Catha's Seat:

"In our view, Catha's Seat will be a major attraction: a delightful destination to which people can walk or cycle along the traffic-free section from Eggarton Lane, or a stopping point along the way for those passing through.  This can only improve our quality of life as our health and well-being is enhanced through more exercise, and our enjoyment of the countryside improves.

We are excited about the possibility of using Catha's Seat for community events, and you will recall last night that we were beginning to think of ways in which the Council could assist in planning and resourcing such occasions.  In a community such as ours which is short on public facilities, we have learned to make our own entertainment, and are therefore very enthusiastic about a new, outdoor facility such as Catha's Seat to use as a focus."

I would like to express my thanks to Caroline and the members of the Parish Council for allowing me to speak at their meeting and for their support. We look forward to progressing some exciting community events with them up at Catha's Seat in the years to come.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Catha's Seat - some history on the campaigning work of Catharine Keegan

I thought I would share an excerpt from some of the letters we've been sending out to build support for the project. This brings together juicy research I found out about mum's campaigning from conversations with Catherine Hughes, Sue Powell and dad. Seems like she made quite a stir locally.....

Catharine Keegan (Gilmour) was a particularly active member of the community within Ashford Borough and in the village of Wye. As an architect and planner, she dedicated a considerable amount of her time to local planning issues and sustainable transport initiatives. She was instrumental in the early work on Local Agenda 21 and the Wye Village Design Statement, the first Community produced Village Design Statement in the Borough, which is dedicated to her. 

She also made a number of representations to the Ashford Borough Local Plan on cycling and planning matters, which according to Catherine Hughes, the programme officer with ABC at the time, were considered a “benchmark” of good written representations by the Inspectors examining the Local Plan. In fact, her work was admired to the extent that she is - uniquely for a document of this type - mentioned in the introduction to the Inspector’s Report into the Ashford Local Plan 2000:

  • “31. Although I do not usually identify any particular individual that has taken part in the Inquiry process, I do wish to record my appreciation to one person. It has come to my attention that Catharine Gilmore [Gilmour] who represented a number of objectors at the Inquiry and in written representations, died unexpectedly earlier last year. Although I may not have agreed with all of her representations, I found her professional approach to be of the highest standard and presented in a friendly and efficient manner.”

Another picture from the archives - Mum in action surveying at Ashford International Station (photo courtesy of Sheila Webb)

Monday, 9 September 2013

Meals on wheels - the Coop have the right idea!

Spotted in Wye......

Coop pedal powered marketing - wonder if they'll take a ride up to Catha's Seat?

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Catha's Seat Marketing Mission!

Catha's Seat fliers have literally been flying off the shelves! Over 300 have been distributed to date so the message is getting out there!

They have now been spotted in a number of popular Stour Valley locations - why not hunt one down!

Flier with your pint? Propping up the bar at the Woolpack in Chilham, the Artichoke in Chartham and the Barber's Arms in Wye

Nestling into the community. Fliers hanging out on Wye Community notice board, in Wakelins Butchers and Delicatessen in Wye, and Wye Station

Many thanks to the following for displaying leaflets and promoting the project: Wye Bakery, Ticketyboo in Wye, Botanic in Wye, the Artichoke Pub in Chilham, the White Horse pub in Chilham, Perry Court Farm Shop, the Kings Head Pub in Wye, the New Flying Horse Pub in Wye, the Barber's Arms micropub in Wye, Wakelins Butchers in Wye, Wye Surgery, the Woolpack Pub in Chilham, Wye Station and the Dolphin Pub in Canterbury.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Chartham Wanderers hit the New Wye Lane and take a virtual rest at Catha's Seat!

Sheila guided a walk yesterday along the new section of Route 18 with sixteen intrepid members of the Chartham Wanderers. 

We were very glad to hear that they were impressed with the improvements to the path and with the location of Catha's Seat - they even took a virtual sit down as you'll see below!

They were treated to some sweltering weather so the shade of the trees above Catha's Seat provided some welcome relief.

The Chartham Wanderers taking a virtual sit down at Catha's Seat (photo courtesy of Shelia Webb)

This is great stuff - exactly what Mum (Catha) wanted - people using the Route for enjoyment as well as a sustainable way to get from A to B. If you haven't given it a try yet then get your tyres pumped up or your walking boots on, while the weather is still fine!

The group were handed copies of our Catha's Seat leaflet and I understand a number of donations were made, for which we are very grateful. We hope that they will continue to follow the project and join us when we are able to celebrate the installation.

Thanks to the Chartham Wanderers, their organiser Ruth and also Sheila for showing us the enjoyment that can be taken up on the new section Route 18. 

Friday, 9 August 2013

Catha's Seat R&D - the original Sustrans sleeper seats on the Bristol to Bath

At the end of July we went up out west to visit our friends Mez and Anne-Marie. 

We hit the B2B Bristol to Bath cycle path along an old railway line - a great day out if you are in the area - 17 miles of dedicated cycle path with nice stop offs in old railway stations that have been converted into Cafes. 

The B2B features two of the original Sustrans seats, made out of old railway sleepers - the design that inspired Sheila's Family seat and Catha's Seat. 

Look mum, no feet!
Being in the suburban areas of Bristol unfortunately these beautiful seats have had a fair amount of abuse. Catha's Seat will be further out into the countryside so we hope it will have a more gentle treatment however, the design we are using has no expense spared to ensure robustness and longevity. The highest quality solid green oak beams will be individually selected, finding pieces with the fewest faults and no knots. These will be carefully joined and tied together with metal cables and strips. The timbers will be fixed deep into the ground.

The fashion shoot pose!
For a full view of one of these original seats follow this link

Official Launch of the new link of Route 18 - 31st May 2013

Apologies for the drought in posts recently and this latest one is a bit on the old side but nevertheless very important news that needs to be aired......

31st May 2013 was a very exciting day for us. It was the official launch of the new link of Route 18 organised by Kent County Council and Brompton Dock. The latter were also unveiling their new facilities outside Ashford International Station. 

It was an interesting sight... the suited and booted figures of Press, Councillors, Politicians and Company Executives mingled with the lycra and hi-vis cladding of the local dedicated cycle bods; an impressive turnout considering it was a weekday morning.

The MD of Brompton Dock unfolds cycles for dignitaries to try out - apparently his record for setting one of these up is less than 10 seconds!! A Brompton Dock is essentially a set of lockers each with a Brompton folding bicycle inside, which you can hire, making your onward journey form Ashford Station quick, cost effective, healthy and sustainable - a fantastic idea. There are 4 stations in Kent with these facilities (as well as 15 other UK locations) including Canterbury West. This means you can jump on Route 18 at either end - what a great way to see Kent if you are down from London (DFL) - rent a Brompton and cycle the route!

After a fair few late nights to finish off and print a first run of the Seat Leaflet before this event I was running on caffeine alone! Dad and I worked the crowd to get our leaflets and message out about the seat project. Luckily my events skills learnt during my time in sales at powerPerfector put me in good stead, and dad just has a good charm factor, so we ended up getting over 30 flyers out, meeting some exciting movers and shakers including our local MP, Damian Green.

Following the press photo shoots it was time for the serious business of the day, the inaugural ride Ashford to Canterbury on the newly enhanced Route 18, led by Spokes East Kent Cycling Campaign Chairman Steve Fawke. 

Steve kindly let me take the reigns for the ride out of Ashford and gave me the opportunity to say a few words to the group when we arrived at Catha's Seat - many thanks to Steve for accommodating this at short notice.

Time to let the photos do the talking......
Spokes Chairman Steve Fawke leads the peleton out of Ashford on the dedicated cycle paths through the Little Burton estate.
Riders approach Wye via the backroad part of route 18 that goes through Hinxhill and Naccolt. It is hoped that a new section of dedicated cycle path proposed along the Stour between Ashford and Wye will reduce the mileage and improve safety in the future.
New signage - points to the start of the new "traffic free" section off Eggarton Lane in Godmersham
The first tantalising section of freshly surfaced cycle path just off Eggarton Lane
Looking back along Route 18 towards Wye from Pope Street - a very tidy job!
The chicane safely stops riders coming out on to the road at Pope Street too quickly - avoiding any altercations with motor vehicles!
Riding the Great Stour Way closer to Canterbury. This was opened in 2011 and has the surface has settled in fantastically - it's a pleasure to ride; pedestrians and cyclists use the facilities in harmony and there are plenty of seats here! The Gentleman in the orange jacket is a committed cycle crusader in Scotland who joined us for the day - he rode the rolling contours of the route on a single speed brompton, with ease!
A well earned drink after 17 glorious miles. Luckily the Bishops Finger Pub greets you just as you finish Route 18 in Canterbury.
Congratulations to everyone who has been involved in making this new link happen over the last 20 years - the 31st May 2013 was truly a milestone for Kent cycling.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Catha's Seat - Artists Impression and Campaign Acceleration

It has been a while since I have been as excited as I was, when I opened the email from Phil at ARC Creative Design, which included an artist's impression of Catha's Seat!

After quite a considerable amount of time unsure about whether we had the right concept, or if anyone would like it etc., this image made me feel like we are on to a winner and I hope you will agree.

Without further ado; please see the wonderful images of how we expect Catha's Seat to look when it is complete, and for comparison the current view of the ready surfaced site.....

Sneaky peek - An impression of Catha's Seat by the fantastic Phil Rutt of

The ready surfaced site in the sun
The artist's impression, combined with a firm budget, really allows us to put the foot on the accelerator for this campaign. We now have an information / fundraising leaflet*, which we got ready just in time for the Route 18 launch ride on the 31st May (more to come about this in next week's post).

We also have the height of high tech (!); PayPal donation functionality on the blog, a fundraising thermometer and embedded location maps (see right---->)

The major task now is to complete the fundraising. We need to achieve a total of £10,000. So far Dad and I have committed to cover half (£5,000) between us and if all the pledges come in we have £6,500 in total, meaning £3,500 left to raise.

So, If you have made a pledge, please can you make your donation at your earliest possible opportunity. Bank transfer or cheque are preferred (as they do not charge fees) but PayPal is also available for convenience.

If you haven't made a pledge but would like to contribute, you can now skip a step, and go straight to making a donation using the methods mentioned above. (My contact details can be found in the Catha's Seat leaflet)

Please spread the word to anyone you think might be interested. Email a copy of the Catha's Seat official leaflet* and send a link to this blog. If you would like some hard copies of the leaflet to hand out please get in touch with me.

We are aiming to complete the installation in September and we are planning an exciting launch ride and event on the weekend of the 5th / 6th October 2013, so please block this out in your diaries.

News from the 31st May launch event for NCN Route 18 coming soon......

*Note regarding the leaflet download - for some reason google docs is not showing the colours properly when you click the link. Please download the file to your desktop and open with your normal .pdf viewer to get the right colours.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

A Big Week - Local Publicity, Site Meeting and One Week before opening!!

Last week was an exciting one!

Many thanks to the people at who kindly published an article to promote the cycle route, opening event and our seat project. Check out the article here

Dad and I also met the team from ARC on the 24th for a design "look see" on site. The weather was bitterly cold for May (at an arctic 7 degrees!!) with driving rain, so we lost no time in drawing conclusions to finalise the design concept.

Seat site in the Sun - now with a fantastic Ragstone surface, many thanks to EOS contractors.
Dad had to return the next day to capture some sunny pictures of the freshly surfaced site. Many thanks to EOS Contractors for creating a fantastic base for the seat to rest on.

Looking along the Cycle Path with new Ragstone surface
With one week to go before the opening event for this new link of the cycle route, we met the contractors from PP Landscapes knuckling down to cross the finish line on schedule, after some challenging weather conditions.

Some of the team from PP Landscapes working on the link at Pope Street
We hope to see as many of you as possible on the 31st May - when the new link will be officially opened - on what will be a momentous day for cycling in Kent.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Catha's Seat: Progress and Design Update May 2013

In the last progress report in February we left the story with the generous resurfacing contractors poised to clear a space in the shrubbery for Catha's Seat. With a week to go before the nesting bird regulations came into force on March 1st it couldn't have been better timing and I am pleased to report that the area is now prepared. Many thanks to EOS for their quick work here and Colin at KCC for supporting the action.

Area cleared for Catha's Seat. Looking out towards the Stour Valley and Chilham Castle.

Since then we have been working on the brief and design concepts. This involved plenty of cups of tea, google image research on other cycle route seat designs, and a fair few visits to site.

See below for the Design Brief and rough outlines of the current design concept. 

The next stage in the process is to finalise the design with ARC and produce nicer marketing drawings of the seat in situ. These will be used in letters to Councillors and local Stakeholders to raise further support in preparation for installation.

Catha's Seat Design Brief

  • Main objective is to provide a destination for all to view the Stour Valley and see Chilham Castle in the distance. Whilst there to rest and maybe picnic
  • We should accommodate a family on bikes, walkers, couples and wheelchair users
  • Our users may come from and return to London by train, Canterbury (7 miles), Ashford (9 miles), Wye (5 miles), Chilham (2 miles) and Chartham (4 miles)
  • The final design should make reference to Sheila's seat in light of Mum and Sheila's work together
  • Needs to have facilities to have picnics - i.e. side tables
  • No tables or restrictions in front of the seat to impede you from the view
  • Define the space behind the seats such that it is obvious where the bikes go

Design Concept:

The design has been based on two smaller versions of Sheila's design each able to comfortably accommodate two adults or a couple and child. As the Seat is planned as a destination we felt it was important to have the two separate features so there is space if one of the seats is already taken. 

We hope that this set up, angled slightly inwards, would allow users of the two benches to interact and start a conversation.
Plan view of Catha's Seat Area
As in Sheila's design the backs of the seats incorporate slots between the timbers where users can park / stand their bikes.

The area has been designed into a sweeping curve, marked out by gravel boards. This helps guide the user to bring their bike around the back and also creates a more pleasant interface with the cycle path.

Large armrests have been designed in such that users can rest their picnics and drinks on the side rather than having a table in front that would impede you from being immersed in the landscape.

Rough 3D Model of Catha's Seat Area

The Inaugural Mayday Weekend Wyecycle

Once again an apology for the gap since the last post - progress in this area slowed slightly as I started a new job. Nonetheless, this weekend saw the inauguration of the Annual Mayday Weekend Wyecycle - so named as it takes place on the Saturday of the Mayday weekend as the Monday itself is religiously reserved for the Five Church Walk.

Supporters of Catha's Seat joined us for the 40km ride to Canterbury and back along NCN Route 18 (including the new section) taking in the views at the seat location, stopping for  lunch in the wonderfully quaint surroundings of Chilham and partaking of a celebratory drink in the Bishop's Finger; the closest pub to the terminal of the cycle route in Canterbury.

The team braved a brisk morning shower to be rewarded with glorious sunshine on the return leg. I am pleased to say that all cyclists tested clean for EPO and most other performance enhancing substances (unless you count caffeine)!

I'll let the photos do the talking and we hope that you can join us for next year's event on 3rd May 2014.

Wyecycle 2013 team line up at Keegan Towers pre ride - left to right: Me, Eliza, Dad, Kit, Dani, Hil Bob, Sheila, Uncle Mark and Alex.
Over the hill just past Eggarton Lane. Surfacing works still in progress here.

Sheila is a fountain of knowledge about the area and told us the story of Juliberrie Down (upon which we are standing in this photo). According to legend this mound is the grave of Quintus Laberius Durus known as Julius Laberius or "Juliberrie" who was a Roman Tribune who died during Ceasar's second recce to Britain. The archaeologists say however, that this is in fact a Neolithic, New Stone Age, Burial Ground or Longbarrow.

Smooth riding along a freshly surfaced part of the route between East Stour Farm and Catha's Seat


No seat yet but this is where it is planned to be - the team crouch as though they were sitting on Catha's Seats

Fully engaged - the Crichton Family (Sheila's) Seat loaded to capacity. This installation provides a lot of the design inspiration for Catha's seat

9 bikes fill the dedicated cycle slots on Sheila's Family Seat
View from Sheila's Family Seat

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Catha's Seat (previously Mum's Bike Bench) Progress Update Mid Feb

Apologies that there hasn't been an update on this for a while however, I am pleased to report that, after a few hiccups, we are firmly on track. After the last post, the rest of January and early February were quite quiet until Sheila managed to secure a site meeting with Colin, the cycle route project leader from Kent County Council. Since then we have been on a rollercoaster!

By the time the meeting day arrived, in mid February, the resurfacing works were fully underway on the northern stretch on the Old Wye Lane from Pope Street up to Mystole Farm - the section on which the seat is proposed. The contractors, EOS Civil Engineering, were scraping away to give a continuous 2.5m path, leveling the ground and clearing any protruding foliage.

The aim of the meeting was to confirm who owns the land and if possible seek their permission, agreeing the location. In our conversations with Colin leading up to the meeting I had the impression that he was confident that obtaining permission would just be a formality, considering he had maintained a good relationship with the landowner and previous engagements had been positive.

Chris and Phil from ARC also kindly gave their time to come down to have a look, see and move forward with the design process. 

Sheila and I had come armed with biscuits and we all munched away while making our introductions. Colin was very enthusiastic about the project and the spot we had identified, as it was also the place he had envisioned a seat on the route. He introduced us to Steve and Phil, the directors at EOS, who were marking out the 3 metre line, required by the landowner for farm vehicle access, with blue spray paint. 

Phil from EOS left and Colin from Kent County Council on the right.

We all agreed on the location, Colin and EOS kindly offered to clear and surface the area for the seat and they went off to find the landowner. 

Sometimes I get an idea in my head and I just want to get on with it, get it done. I had become fixed on the concept of just copying Sheila's seat in our location. Easy, quick and tidy - bish, bash, bosh. Dad, the great visionary, however, had grander plans. He wanted the design to give the feeling of elevation, being thrown over a balcony into the rolling valley; he was thinking of cantilevered platforms or a steep landscaped drop at the front. His vision was a bigger space, such that the area became a destination of folklore - Catha's Seat  - like Sleepy Hollow, the Devil's Kneeding Trough or the House at Pooh Corner! This I thoroughly agree with - we want people to take a day out to Catha's Seat, bring a picnic, a bottle of wine - a beautiful place accessible for cyclists, walkers, families, the disabled... everyone should be able to enjoy this beautiful spot.  

On the west side of the cycle path there is around 5 metres of relatively flat grass before a steep bank up and then a deep ditch. Past this is a low fence marking out the ploughed fields. Assuming the ditch was for drainage or irrigation we started discussing how to bridge it - steel platforms or landscaped with a pipe set in. I strongly disagreed with the use of steel preferring natural looking materials as were encompassed in the surroundings, such as timber and flint. Wooden platforms wouldn't take the weight without seriously large beams so it looked like landscaping was the way forwards. Chris started sketching out ideas on his iPad. One seat turned to two love seats, with tables for resting your drink and a low flint bank at the back with timber on top to form further spots for resting tired legs.

Steve from EOS rolls his wheelie measure past while the design visionaries look on!

At this point a Land Rover started coming towards us on the track from the North. Pulling up slowly a gentleman rolled down his window and stopped by Sheila. I could see she recognised him - it was Jim Smith, the landowner - he didn't look very impressed. It became apparent quickly that he did not want a seat in the location we had identified. Quite rightly he expressed his dissatisfaction with how it looked like we had already decided to build on his land without his permission. Pointing at the blue line EOS had used to mark out the 3m point he exclaimed "It looks like you've got it all planned out, without even asking me. Well you won't be putting anything there". 

My face dropped to the floor.... through the floor..... possibly as far as Australia! The team could feel it slipping away but Sheila kept talking to Jim bringing us all into the conversation when she could - discussing local issues and Jim's concerns. It turned out that the ditch was, contrary to our hypothesis, there to block "off road" motoring enthusiasts from getting into the fields and spoiling the crops. Any surfacing work there for a seat could jeopardise the effectiveness of the barrier.

Colin came back past with EOS and asked how it was going - "not good" was my reply. Luckily Sheila hailed us at that point - "Jim's had a good idea" - "he's suggested we could try the other side of the path on Mr. Swire's land."

To give you a picture the East side of the path is 15 metres or so deep with hedgerow and trees. It looked like a bit of a challenge but it restored a bit of hope. Colin left us saying he would get in touch with Mr. Swire and check any planning issues with clearing the hedgerows. We continued talking to Jim Smith for a while and eventually we all parted, somewhat deflated. As Dad and I got home and put the kettle on I was ruined - this had been one of the only projects I had got going since I had returned from the cycle trip, still unemployed at the time.

Barnaby Swire is one of the heros of this section of Route 18; in order to solve the difficult link problem he bought up the house at Pope Street where the previous owners had blocked the development. He also agreed to the change in right of way such that the route could go along the bottom of the field rather than right past the house. Even though Mr. Swire is director of many companies - and I would expect a very busy man - he replied to Colin almost immediately saying that he had "no issues" with the seat being on his land, providing the farm manager was happy. Colin kindly let me know at 6pm that evening. Although heavily caveat-ed that we needed to confirm there were no planning issues in the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and that we wouldn't interfere with nesting bird regulations, the hope was back on and I could launch myself into pancake night with a smile on my face! Many thanks to Colin for making that happen so quickly.

As he promised, Colin got back to us two days later confirming that there were no issues with planning. There were a few rules - don't take down any large standing trees, don't go too far in such that you form a route through to the fields behind and make sure there is a good amount of continuous hedgerow behind the clearing to minimise any disturbances to wildlife. We also had to get a move on and confirm with EOS what we wanted clearing, as it has to be done before 1st March when the nesting bird restrictions come in. We would have to wait until winter if we missed that and also manage our own clearance / surfacing works.

It was Thursday lunchtime. Dad was off to the Alps on Saturday morning and I was due to start a new job the next week. There was only one thing for it - get down there asap and mark out the spot.

Phil at EOS kindly agreed to meet us on the Friday at incredibly short notice. He made it sound like it was "no sweat" for him - it meant a huge amount to me and made my day. Dad, Sheila and I met Phil and Slim from EOS. Slim is the man in charge on site and we had met him a few times working in his digger. When it comes to destruction and construction he's done the lot - city projects, the channel tunnel.... but he's now happy out in the fresh air and rolling countryside. 

Slim and his machine

We came a bit further south - from the originally proposed seat spot - so that we could ensure the whole panorama was available. We identified a location between a couple of large standing trees giving us around 6.5m depth by 8m width. Phil and Slim said it would be no problem and they would clear the area before March, leveling out and putting some of the top surface stone down. EOS are absolute Saints for helping us get this going so quickly.

This is where it's going to be. See the tree behind where I'm standing (I'm in the green jacket). The 8 metres or so to the left of that tree will be cleared and surfaced to 6.5 metres from the path.

They will get more thanks as the project goes on but I just wanted to put a heartfelt thanks out at this point to Colin, Phil, Steve and Slim at EOS, Mr. Swire and Mr. Smith. This was a tough part of the ride but with their support we are on the right track - we're on Route 18!

The before shot - the team in front of the view - with Slim (second from left) and Phil (centre) from EOS.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Days 69 to 76: Stories from the edge of Asia - Istanbul

In the end we spent 9 days in Istanbul.

Eliza and Dad came to join us for the first weekend and we were reunited with people we had met along the trip.

I have chosen photos and stories that cover a selection of our unique highlights. Of course we did all the standard stuff; Ayasofia, Blue Mosque, Hammam, Grand Bazaar etc. but I'm sure there are plenty of places on the internet with much more informed viewpoints on these!

The Apartment and the View:

When in Rome (erm... Istanbul surely), we decided to splash out on the best Airbnb apartment. Located right next to the Galata Tower the views were spectacular, especially from the roof terrace. 

If you are ever planning a trip to Istanbul needing four rooms I would certainly recommend checking this place out - it's a real treat.

Our first night in Istanbul on the Roof. The lights of the Bosphorous Bridge on the left and a view over the Old City on the right. It's hard to describe how overwhelming it is standing on that roof - you are immersed in the sounds of constant bustle and the call to prayer, the ballet of perpetual interlocking shipping routes and at least 50 minarets! (Photos by EA Gow)

Breakfast on the roof terrace with Dad and Eliza after their overnight flight - a great way to relax and see the sights without too much walking! Alex tried his hand at making a traditional Turkish breakfast of Menemen, which turned out pretty darn good. (Photos by EA Gow)

Sunrise views from the Roof (Photos by EA Gow)

The success shot!! (although Scott weighs a ton, so it was quite a struggle!) (Photo by EA Gow) 

Big Night Out:

Our host at the Apartment, Alev, previously worked as a band manager. She kindly organised a cabaret style night out for us to see one of the folk groups she worked with. The venue (Perazin) was tucked away up 4 flights of stairs with a secluded entrance within a small Bazaar just of the main shopping street (Istiklal Cadesi). 

We enjoyed Mezes, got sloshed on copious amounts of the local spirit, Raki, and the band were fantastic. Just as we were thinking "what a great Turkish experience with the locals" Dad started making conversation with the next table. They turned out to be Greeks and explained to us that we had in fact stumbled upon a traditional Greek party for ex-pats! 

Our conversation with them broke down the myth that Turks and Greeks do not get on well - it was explained it was more of political tension than something within the people - although they did mention that the Turks do get a bit jealous sometimes because their neighbours know how to party! And they certainly did.... the lead on to the dance floor was made by a charismatic chap who weaved his arms around and slapped his hips. Initially the ladies flocked to him and by the end of the evening the barriers had been broken down and a full on barn dance had ensued.

Eliza (in white centre frame) get's stuck in to the dancing.

Our friends at the next table ended up inviting us to their cafe (Kalimera) for breakfast the next day. There we got talking further to one of the group called Tony, a front-line journalist that enjoys the thrill of being under siege! We ended up renting his flat for the rest of the week, which was exceedingly conveniently located for getting the bikes (in their boxes) to the airport shuttle bus in Taksim Square. 


Our first trip out to the Asian side took us to the house of Kerem. He's a host on Warm Showers, a Couchsurfing type organisation specifically for cyclists. This is where some of our friends from our Couchsurf in Thessaloniki, Devin & Tory, were shacking up.

We partook in another monster meal. Peter and Lindsay (also from the Thessaloniki Couchsurf) came along and we also got a chance to meet the others from their crew, Drew and Kallie. Then a line of bikers just kept arriving and the host was nowhere to be seen - another fantastic, relaxed guy that was happy to trust travellers to share his house. He kindly took us out on our way home to try one of the street food treats we had been worried about - street mussels filled with rice - sublime!

The team at Kerem's place minus one further biker that turned up later! (Photo by Peter Ehresman)
Another reunited moment happened in the Grand Bazaar where we randomly bumped into the French guys we breakfasted on the beach with - small world!

Istanbul Eats:

One of the other great bits about our Airbnb flat was the selection of guide books. It didn't take long to find our favourite though. "Istanbul Eats" focuses on the workers cafes, streetfood and locals favourites to explore the city's diverse culinary delights. We made it our mission to get through as much as possible!

Our bible

Alex in heaven in the Mecca of Baklava -  Karakoy Gulluoglu. We tried a lot of his favourite snack from Bosnia all the way through but this place was something special. Rather than the normal soggy parcels drenched in sugar syrup Gulluoglu's Baklava was flaky and light.

The Turkish Coffee master at Mandabatmaz. You can tell a good place for the local brew when they ask if you want sugar before making it. (Photo by EA Gow)

The two portions at the back are Tavuk Gogsu at Goreme Muhallebicisi. My first couchsurfing host, Massimiliano, back in Italy, raved about this stuff. It is a rich, sweet, rice pudding strengthened with chicken breast! (Photo by EA Gow)

Turkish Pizza type 1: "Pide" (Photo by EA Gow)

Turkish Pizza type 2: Lahmacun (Photo by EA Gow)

Chicken specialists at Kismet Muhallebecisi. On the left Taslik (chicken gizzards) and Menemen on the right. (Photo by EA Gow)

Our favourite sweet shop Altan Sekerleme. This turkish delight specialist received two visits from us as we loaded up on treats to take back - nearly 7kg between us. I would highly recommend trying the pistachio turkish delight and their helva. (Photo by EA Gow)

Istanbul Cycleats:

We weren't getting through the eats fast enough. As I'm sure I mentioned earlier in the blog the major benefit of cycling is an increased appetite so.....

We planned to dust off Scott and Wallace and tour the city, knocking off 9 eats between 8am and 4pm on one day. I'm not going to give any more detail here as this will be written up on a separate blog with feature video in the not too distant future!

Istanbul Cycleats planner!

The Gig:

The main reason we stayed on Istanbul for longer than we had originally planned was the surprising coincidence that Alex's second cousin, Pete, was performing with his band "Get the Blessing" at the beginning of December.

Alex put some considerable effort into getting a crowd together from the people we met along the way. Kerem, Peter and Lindsay came and also Marie (who we met in Sofia) brought along a gaggle of girls who became the dancing sensation of the night!

The band didn't disappoint and a we enjoyed a rip roaring night of punk jazz. Check them out here

Alex's second cousin Pete belts it out on the Trumpet and behind him Clive Dreamer, who was drumming with Radiohead when I went to see them in October, two weeks into my trip. Another of life's circles of coincidence closes! (Photo by EA Gow)

Bartering in the Bazaar:

This nice chap is called Suleyman and used to be a Chemical Engineer in Ankara before moving into the antiques trade. There were some heavy negotiations on price for two pieces and as a prize for getting through the deal he invited us for a cup of tea and a chat! I love this photo - it looks like Suleyman is a Gang mastermind and we are his henchmen!! (Photo by EA Gow)

The End and thanks:

And there it was - 2 and a bit months of travelling - cultures explored, pedalled and eaten.

Scott and Wallace in their boxes safely under the protection of the Airport Shuttle Bus Driver.

At this point I would like to take the opportunity to thank a few people: 

- Eliza and Dad for their daily support and letting me go despite their constant worries about my safety (until security guard Alex joined me!)

- Alex, for breaking the headwind for half of the miles between Ploce and Istanbul, and also being a fantastic road and eating companion

- All of the people that welcomed us into their homes or hosted us during the trip

- All of the kind citizens that stopped to talk to us, show us around or help with directions

- All of the people that have pledged to Mum's bike bench project and took part in the distance / speed estimation competition

- Ultimate Add-ons for making the world's most useless waterproof phone case

and also to all of you, for following this blog, which I hope you have enjoyed. 

Although this marks the final laying to rest of this trip, this Blog will stay alive with news of Mum's bike bench project and developments on NCN Route 18 so please keep checking back!

Here's one last picture for the road (boom, boom, tish, tish)!!

(Photo by EA Gow)