Catha's 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)

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

A New Mission and notes on Tights

As an addendum I wanted to add these two videos. The first of which describes our Mission for correct road driving alignment. After meeting the French guys and hearing about their Mission we felt somewhat left out, and this was all we could come up with!

On the first day of cycling with Alex back in Croatia he had reluctantly decided to put on his new cycling tights as it was chilly out. He said initially how he wasn't sure about them - they might be a bit sweaty and look somewhat ponsy. 

By the lunchtime of the same day he said that he was "quite enjoying them" and that they were "pretty comfy". At the end of the day this commitment to tights had become "I'm a convert" and "I love my tights". 

There was not one single day in the saddle when I didn't have to hear about Alex's tights. So this movie is dedicated to those silky swathes of black lycra. 

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Days 65 to 69: The (strangely like) home straight - Turkey

The border crossing into Turkey gave us only one choice - motorway riding. Luckily it was pretty quiet and our first views of our destination country were complemented by an exceedingly beautiful sunset.

Photo by EA Gow
Following the main road into Kesan was ghastly. An unfriendly route with a potholed hard shoulder drove us through an area thick with industry, the associated smog clinging close to the ground due to the cold. All reports had indicated that most people in Turkey would speak English - not true where we were. Dog tired we barely managed to negotiate a room and ate whatever they brought us in the restaurant we chose. 

Glorious sunset just over the border into Turkey. (Photo by EA Gow)
The smog meant we woke feeling like we had smoked 40 cigarettes. It wasn't just us feeling rough - Scott was showing signs of ageing; his tyres battered, scarred and the chain stretched such that I needed to remove another link.

More main road towards the port of Tekirdag, with terrible surface and our favourite headwind. We were cheered up by what must have been the most support from drivers we had in one day, totalling up to 30 or 40 honks or people leaning out of the windows hollering and waving.

After a spate of difficult afternoons - drowsy after eating too much lunch - we employed the "Snackegy" or snack strategy. Regular eats 4 or 5 times during the day's ride. Worked a treat but slowed us down a bit. 

All the way from Bosnia through to Turkey we noticed that Nescafe had eeked out a strange market. In western Europe I cannot imagine anyone ever going out for an instant coffee. In these countries, however, it was on every coffee menu and very popular too, even though it often had a higher price tag than Turkish coffee.
Tekirdag had a bit of the British seaside resort about it. There was a small funfair, a chap selling candy floss, a promenade etc. They were pushing on through even though tourist season was well and truly over - the funfair had europop blaring out, but no rides moving and the candy floss man walked around aimlessly wrapped up in a thick trenchcoat and woolen hat. Arms laden with bags of food ready for a snack we noticed 4 cycle tourers pedalling off in our direction. Normally we would chase after them to make an encounter unfold but we just looked at each other with a knowing nod of "nothing is going to distract us from our food"!

It was almost sunset by the time we pulled out of town looking for a place to camp. The city sprawled along the coastline, too much inhabitation for us to pitch up un-noticed. Just as we had picked out a spot off the road to aim for we saw the 4 cycle tourers up ahead. With new vigour we pedalled to catch up with them and the guy at the rear, Francois, hung back to chat with us. It turned out that they had mostly been asking around to find places to stay and tonight they had been told there was a hotel on the beach that may give them a room for free in low season. We asked if we could join them, even if we had to pay for a room, and Francois seemed positive.

When we caught up with the other three however one of the gang, Paul, had already gone in to broker a deal. When he returned he explained that he had secured a place by saying they were on a charitable mission - the way he said it, made it sound to me like this was something they had made up just to get in there. The staff were trying to sneak them in without the boss knowing and two more people was going to tip the balance over. We were told that the beach just next to the hotel was a good spot and we slipped off to check it out whilst they continued their negotiations. 

The beach was perfect. Nicely secluded it obviously wasn't used much out of season as white plastic furniture was scattered everywhere, half submerged in the sand. After a much needed beer to accompany the sunset we constructed our camp complete with sun loungers and dining table.

Relaxing on our Moon-loungers. (Photo by EA Gow)
Francois came down to the beach all flustered. He explained that they had been smuggled into a room and told to stay in there until the morning. To come out and see us he had to jump out the window. We agreed to meet on the beach for breakfast. 

Chef cooks up a Coq au Biere at our makeshift beach kitchen facility.

Al fresco petit dejuner with the French guys was great. We shared tales of our respective trips and it turned out that they were actually on a mission. They are travelling the world looking to raise €17,000 to pay for a disadvantaged child to have life saving heart surgery in France and also interviewing doctors around the world about conditions / treatment available for young heart condition patients - a very worthwhile cause so please check out

They had been fishing along the way and over our coffees they showed us some pictures of their various catches. Back to business though and with 4 more continents of travelling to go the guys were taking the direct route down the coast to Istanbul on the main road. At less than 110km (i.e. an average day's riding) it certainly seemed tempting, but we followed our plan and ducked inland to approach our final destination from the backcountry hills.

Breakfast on the beach with the French Guys - left to right Alex, Francois, Romain, Paul, Remy and Me.
Pulling out of Corlu we really hit the slums. There seemed to be a positive vibe with people hollering and waving and a couple of kids started running behind us. One surprised me as he almost caught up and I saw him holding onto my solar charger. I smacked him on the wrist and with a gut reaction shouted "get your mits off". He tried to imitate what I had said and flashed a cheeky grin. 

At lunchtime Scott really showed his "tyredness" with another pinch puncture, although this time it was more serious - the tube was now sticking out of the worn gatorskins. This called for a major overhaul with the front tyre moving to the back and the thin spare folding tyre on the front. The roads leaving Cerkezkoy didn't help, having to weave a course through a thick patchwork of potholes. 

And then we reached Istanbul..........

Yes - we were also somewhat perplexed - we were still 80km away on the map!

80km outside of Istanbul! (Photo by EA Gow)
We ended up in a thick wood outside Cayidere that was just like woods in Kent. Low trees and muddy tracks. In fact the scenery on the way into Istanbul was incredibly familiar - just like home. It had been difficult to find our nightly stash of booze and what we did get came at a steep price. We chose a bottle of Turkish wine that looked the part - good label, an established vineyard since 1932. It tasted like wine tastes on the way back up if you've had too much - we couldn't believe they had been in business so long!

A night in the woods and another camp cooking triumph. Vegetable curry with buttered bulgar wheat. We found the kofte meat spice mix worked a treat. In the right hand picture check out the solar panel - this power solution was a kind gift from the team at powerPerfector when I left - many thanks to them for a fantastic and practical present.

The landscape coming into Istanbul was strangely familiar, like the rolling downs and arable land of our shire; Kent.
On day 68 we decided we should stay just outside Istanbul. Ideally a high point so we could sit for our final breakfast watching the sunset over our destination. Our research on Google maps had showed a high point with and an open green space to be just beyond Arnavutkoy. After an impromptu stop for a second lunch at the Rolls Royce of kebab shops it was starting to get dark and the roads were filling up with rush hour traffic. We obviously looked lost and a nice chap on a Dominos pizza scooter stopped to check we were all right. This was somewhat ironic considering that we had fantasised about ordering a pizza out to where-ever we ended up rough camping that night!

The top of the hill was not very inviting at all - actually it was an army training base with men and machine guns making it very clear that we wouldn't be camping there. This was obviously why there was such a large green space in the urban sprawl. We managed to duck down just behind the hill into a forest. We had our worst meal yet and in the absence of any beer shops we resorted to mixing the famous Ouzo we picked up in Greece with sticky soda drinks, sending us a little crazy. We set our sights on an early morning to find our vantage point before sunrise.

The Rolls Royce of kebabs. Lovingly prepared and cooked over an open flame the kebab master first skewers the meat with a fine prong slicing underneath allowing him to toast the individual portions to perfection before serving. Unfortunately, having not asked the cost upfront, it came at Rolls Royce prices. (Photo by EA Gow)
At 5am on the 27th November 2012 we set off on our last leg - the infamous superhighway ride into Istanbul. The main road was 3 lanes by now and we hoped at every hill crest of the approach that there would be an end to the army base and a suitable lookout point.

It wasn't to be and we ended up at a park next to the Golden Horn with the sun already high in the sky. We sat in the park, cooked up our coffee on the stove and ate breakfast while the early morning joggers passed giving us understandably strange glances.

With plenty of time before our planned meeting time at the flat we were renting, we made our way slowly towards some of the main tourist attractions to get some good photos. We stopped off to give the bikes a power wash, took a route through the backstreets of Fatih and then navigated the crowds in the bustling streets around the Grand Bazaar. 

We were heading for the Blue Mosque and Ayasofia and with so many minarets sticking up around the place we thought we had got there a couple of times before we actually did.

When you see the Ayasofia though, you know where you are - and there we were; at 11am on the 27th November 2012. 2,892 miles at an average of exactly 12mph. 2 months and 5 days after I started, 44 days on the bike - an average of 66 miles per day. A top speed of 40.02mph........and luckily not a sore bum in sight!

Yep - definitely arrived in Istanbul - in front of the Ayasofia (aka the Hagia Sophia). (Photo by EA Gow)

My trusty shorts - £5 from Primark back in 2009!