Today began a little gloomy but with the promise of both sunshine and rain – the question was the proportion. We had no idea but we set off after saying our goodbyes to our wonderful hosts.
The first part was flat as we ambled across the flat coastal plain towards Chichester. It was a “B-road” but anything but quiet. A steady stream of cars patiently waited behind us and then overtook when it was safe and they could give us enough space. Most British drivers have become far more cycle-friendly in recent years; there is always the impatient one but the vast majority are prepared to wait the few seconds needed to avoid a close shave.
The final route to Chichester was along a canal toe path. We passed a young woman taking her pug dog for a walk in a pram. There is a story behind every sighting and we don’t say “surely the dog would prefer to walk”, mainly because she was engrossed in a telephone call at that point (or possibly all the time). It amused us anyway.
The city was lovely in the morning light. Faded splendour along the High Street and then we stopped at the Cathedral. It was 9.30am and it did not open until 10am; but it seemed open and so we ambled in. A beautiful peaceful space, mixing ancient walls with modern art. There was a Graham Sutherland portrait in a side chapel and stunning tapestries behind the alter that exuded colour to whole building. The nave was empty of chairs, perhaps showing that the thousands don’t attend on a Sunday. These buildings are the symbol of a collective faith that has now left us as a country. They are monuments to past ways of seeing the world – not necessarily better or worse – but no longer with us.
After Chichester the route wound through a series of wonderful villages and back lanes. We glimpsed the occasional country pile with obligatory tennis court and then wound our way to Rowlands Castle. This is a slightly mythical place for both of us as we spent our childhood years commuting to school by train. Hence we learned the names of the stations all the way down the line to Portsmouth but, of course, never visited them. Rowlands Castle was one of these but we had no idea who Rowland was and why he had a castle. Better than that it had the superb Bubblebee café – excellent coffee and our favourite meal ‘second breakfast’.
From Rowlands Castle we climbed up a beautiful wooded valley towards Petersfield and then skirting westwards past the town. We hardly saw a car for about 20km. We had lovely sunshine interspersed with a couple of sort showers. Then our second sightseeing stop of the day at Hinton Amphner.
As we started strolling round the gardens the heavens opened but we were able to shelter in the little shop. The rain stopped as quickly as it started and we continued round the lovely garden with magnificent views over the Downs. The final stretch was along a lovely river valley to arrive at Winchester.
The overwhelming memory of the day was of colour. All the trees were in new leaf and an incredible array of greens. There were bluebells, vivid yellow fields of Rape, the white ‘candles’ of horse chesnuts and reds and maroons of magnificent copper beaches. Here, pink and red of arrays of tulips. Clouds of the whole pallet of greys broken by bright blue skies. All twinkling and glittering from the recent rain. All stunningly beautiful.
In Winchester we stayed with David’s godson Stephen and wife, Katie (about 8 weeks to go to the birth of their first child). The day ended by going out to a lovely restaurant…..sitting inside! Good food and a lovely evening.