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Sunday 27 December 2020

Cycling 200 Miles to Portland: Why You Shouldn't Let Me Navigate


I am never quite as organised as I think I am. Just when I think I have nailed being organised and am practically a proper grown up who DOES THINGS, I realise that I have forgotten something crucial. 

I am winging life. I am winging work. I am winging adulting. 

The thing is, I always THINK I have it nailed. That I know what I’m doing. Then life gives me a kick up the arse and reminds me that I have NO CLUE what I am doing. 

It’s like that time I was SO SMUG about having scouted out the Cowman triathlon route several times. That this was going to be The Race. And then it turned out that the swim was in a different lake to the one I’d peered at, I’d recced the bike course from 3 years ago (and they’d since added in a MASSIVE HILL) and the run route I had so carefully run was raced in the opposite direction so instead of having a staircase type hill and a sharp descent, I had a long steep hill to run UP and a gradual descent. Oh and the toolkit fell off my bike halfway round so I had to shove it down my trisuit so in all my bike photos I looked like I had a MASSIVE MONO BOOB (race report). 

Basically that race is like a metaphor for my entire life. 

Although without the massive mono boob.

I’d planned the trip to Weymouth so carefully. It was going to be epic! I’d looked at at sea temperatures, average air temperatures and the best places to swim. I’d spent ages poring over the work rosters for me and Rach and matching up our rest days so we didn’t have to use holidays for our girls trip! I’d nailed it. I was so confident, I even booked the hotels …

... and it turned out I was working off Rach’s old work roster. She was now on a new roster where she was working on ALL the days I’d booked the Weymouth adventure for. And couldn’t get those days off.


So. It was going to be a solo trip then. 

And I worked out the mileage. About 199 miles. No. NO. This is not a thing.

This is the equivalent of finishing a 10 mile run on 9.99 miles. 

I added a loop of the island of Portland in. I was NOT cycling all the way to Dorset from the midlands and come in at 199 miles. Besides, finishing a bike ride on a number of miles starting with 2xx makes me automatically 200% more awesome. 

Plus it totally meant extra cake. I was not cycling 200 miles and having ONE cake.


The night before I was due to leave, I was impressed at how organised I was. I had made lists, I had ticked items off lists and I had laid the items out in the BEST piles. It was just the small matter of actually putting the stuff in the bags and then putting the bags on the bike. Such a small matter.

The stuff DID NOT FIT.

The dry sac rubbed on the front tyre. The rear camera light didn’t sit on the seat post properly. The saddle bag kept obscuring the rear camera. I broke the strap on my trusty old saddle light. My top tube bag was clearly drunk and kept sliding sideways. Bugger it. I shoved everything on, used some gaffer tape and threw everything else into my rucksack. Which weighed a bloody ton. 

However, I had a well-founded suspicion that a couple of kilograms of that rucksack weight was snacks. Only one weigh to remedy that. I was just going to have to snack the whole way. 

What a terrible shame.


Bike is packed, I am kitted up, map is on Garmin and … Garmin app is down. GARMIN IS DOWN! Not a drill! GARMIN IS DOWN!

Luckily in a moment of actual organisation, (they do occasionally happen) I had uploaded the route to my watch a few days ago. So in terms of navigation, the watch would guide me. I just had to make sure I followed the directions as I wouldn’t be able to check the route … and if I got lost then I wouldn’t be able to recalculate. 

I am a QUEEN of getting lost. I could get lost on a straight bit of road. Hell, I am capable of getting lost on a staircase. 

I was going to have to IGNORE all my instincts and actually do what I’m being told. By my watch. C’mon, Sarah. Sarah? Stop looking at that squirrel and FOCUS. 

As I couldn’t check my route, it was even a mystery as to which direction, the watch would take me from my front door. The 12kg of the rucksack weighed heavy on my back but the sun was on my face and I had an adventure in front of me. 

I made it approximately ONE mile before I had to stop to rearrange the front handlebar bag as it was rubbing on the front wheel as the huge amounts of kit and snacks settled. I managed to pull it up to get about 5mm of space between the front tyre and the bag. Not enough. In a moment of inspiration, I whipped out my phone cable and boy-scout knotted the dry sac to my handlebars.

Perfect. No more concerns about setting my arse on fire from friction, the snacks were safe and I’d always know where my phone charging cable was. 

And back on the road.

It was lovely. Sunshine, quiet roads and … oh … a road closure sign! This is pretty much Standard-Sarah-Route-Plotting fare. It’s like the universe knows about my appalling sense of direction and decides to hit me where it hurts. Right in the map reading. Luckily I managed to sweet-talk the workman into opening the fence and letting me scoot through – haha screw you, with your confusing, confusing lines maps! - and on the 2nd road closure, I managed to get the bike on the path and do similar but the third? Nope. This was a PROPER closure. No kindly workmen, moveable fences or paths. 

OK. I can do this. I’m only about 15 miles from home. I’ve cycled here before. I should know these roads. 

I totally DO NOT know know these roads. 

Garmin maps wouldn’t help as the app was still stubbornly refusing to load. Plan B: Googlemaps. OK, I’m here … I chose a little lane which should intersect my original route. Keep going straight, then do a wiggle on those roads and I should be back on track. Easy-Peasy Garmin-Teasy. 

I took the lane. I did the wiggle. Garmin told me I had 0 miles to go until my next junction. OK. Maybe I am just awesome and it’s thinking about where to take me next. That happens, right? No. It was still telling me I had 0 miles to go. Weird Garmin. Hopefully it would sort itself out shortly. It was running on a pre-loaded map route so shouldn’t be too hard.  

Kept cycling … and got to a road closure. 



Well that explains why it was saying I had 0 miles to go. I was cycling the original route... backwards. 

Massive facepalm. Turned the bike around and headed back in the direction I’d come. 

Fucks sake, Booker. This is going to be a long old day if you do this at every junction. 

I set my face to the road and carried on pedalling. The drivers weren’t doing too badly today. I had 2 close passes and then just to mix it up a delivery van gave me so much room, it forced the Range Rover driver coming the opposite way onto the verge. It was like the universe was the wrong way round. Delivery van giving a cyclist too much room? Range Rover pulling over for another vehicle … bizarre. 

Pigs would be flying over the horizon any minute … and I would stop getting lost. 

Pedalling through the trees and  on the road in front of me, I spotted a slow worm! Hadn’t seen one of these for years and it was a treat to see its silvery sleekness as my wheels ticked past.

Maybe it was because we weren’t long post-lockdown, but there seemed to be rather a lack of open cafes. I tend to run on caffeine and quite like to keep my veins topped up and I’d been severely lacking on the hot black stuff. Besides, I quite a fancied a coffee to go with my snacks. 

I decided to get to Broadway Tower first. I’d be about 2hrs 45 minutes into my ride and would definitely have earned a cuppa. Besides eating a few of the snacks would lighten the load. My backpack weighed 12kg and every little bite to take some weight off would help!

The Broadway stop was lovely. My coffee was from a tiny green chalet just down from the tower and I enjoyed it on a picnic bench with a variety of snacks. It started raining but that just cooled the coffee down for me. The downside of drinking your coffee black is that it comes like lava, so a small top up with cold water is appreciated. Even if it IS falling from the sky rather than a tap. 

I drank up and headed onwards before I got too damp. If I kept cycling, I’d stay warm. I headed through the woods and onto a lovely undulating section of roads. A lovely fragrance filled the air and I realised I was passing lavender fields. It was divine. I wish I could have bottled the air and kept it with me. The purple of the fields looked almost artificial against the green around them and it looked a though a child had painted a stripe on the landscape. 

Coming towards Cheltenham I realised I was nearing Cleeve Hill. I had been particularly dreading this hill as it has a fearsome reputation and the elevation on Garmin looked particularly daunting. But I put my head down and started grinding my way up it. There was a chap a little way in front of me on a bike with touring bags even more laden than my bike. I was slowly inching closer to him but didn’t want to have to overtake as it would be so horrifically slow that it would be like a slug and a snail race. If slugs and snails had wheels. And a guilt complex about REALLY slow overtakes.

Luckily the cyclist in front pulled into a layby for a drink and I didn’t have to do my glacier-slow overtake but carried on inching my way up. I would like to say I flew up the hill but the bike and I were so laden down with kit and snacks that there was no flying, no swooping and absolutely no speed going up the hill at all. However, Cleeve was nowhere near as bad as I’d expected it to be, it was just a slow and steady climb … And going down the other side was AMAZING! Absolutely amazing! The extra weight of the kit really helped with the momentum and we were hitting around 40mph. After crawling up all the hills, the speed was a welcome change! The hill was made more lovely by the view of Cheltenham which was laid out below like a patchwork quilt.

Coming into Cheltenham, the roads were busier and the traffic lights and roadworks started. It was a shame to get back to reality after the lanes and fields, however I was greeted like a rockstar by Cheltenham.  Coming up to one of the industrial estates, I looked up and saw a 9 foot sign; “Booker Cheltenham’. It was like they knew I was coming and laid out a banner. Thanks lads, but you didn’t need to go to all that trouble. A massive coffee and a slab of cake would have gone down just as well.

I was following the Garmin conscientiously and in return I was getting a tour of the roughest areas of Cheltenham but there WERE cycle paths most of the way. They weren’t in great condition but took me out of the rush hour traffic which was much appreciated. Cycle paths tend to be slower than cycling on the road as you have to stop at junctions as you never have right of way and there tends to be signs and bollards in the middle of the paths. However, the look of THESE neighbourhoods improved my average speed dramatically. There was no way I was stopping here. I could see the locals. And they looked contagious. 

Unfortunately I DID have to stop for a map check as I couldn’t work out precisely where my hotel was. And the food was there. The hotel was IMPORTANT.

However I managed to time it well, before the Corsa drivers or feral kids on pushbikes managed to spot me. I did have the urge to put to a grey tracksuit though.

Managed to orientate myself in right direction (good old Googlemaps!) and got onto what must have been the busiest roundabout in Cheltenham. And more frustratingly, I could see the hotel but not get to it. There was a roundabout, 3 lanes of traffic, some apparently impassable roadworks and some REALLY grumpy drivers between me and it. Dinner. So close and yet so far. 

Like a cake on a hook.

Get that cake, Booker. 

Managed to navigate the roundabout due to a combination of hand signals and shouting at the driver of a white Mercedes who either didn’t see me or didn’t realise that bikes were actually allowed on roundabouts and I made it onto the other side safely. And without getting wedged in the wheel arch of an elderly Mercedes driver. 

I checked in and despite the assurances of the reception staff who told me my bike would be perfectly safe on the cycle racks outside the hotel, insisted on taking it to my room. I had SEEN the locals, thank you very much. And they looked like they’d be able to get the wheels off quicker than a F1 team 

I had an additional treat that evening when Charley and JJ came to see me. Tri buddies and friends and it was bloody lovely to see them. We ended up chatting for about 2 and a half hours and they were even polite enough to ignore my bizarre outfit of flip flops and Clothes-That-Are-Light-And-Small-Enough-To-Pack-In-A-Rucksack.

I settled down for a well-earned sleep … and was rudely awoken up at 2am at hotel by some godawful drunk woman screeching and banging the door with a coin screaming “Baaaaaabe!! it’s ME! Let me in!!” She kept at it. 

I was in 2 minds whether to answer the door to tell her to bugger off but decided it wouldn’t end well so I put the pillow over my head which muffled the ”Baaaaabe!”s enough for me to go to sleep.


I awoke to a bright day and bags under my eyes on fleek. Thanks to Baaaabe at 2am. The first stop was Asda for some suncream where it was the first day of compulsory mask wearing in supermarkets. I’d managed to leave my sun cream in Rugby where it was absolutely no use and I wasn’t braving a day on the bike without any. I was going to have a sore arse anyway, there was no reason to be pink and sore all over from the sun too. 

I made a good start after a breakfast at the hotel where I avoided eye contact with anyone who looked as though they might want to call me babe or bang on the door with spare change. I did not want to spoil my good mood. It was sunny, there was time on the bike ahead of me and all I had to do was snack, pedal and try not to get too lost. It was shaping up to be a good day. 

I stopped at a cafe at midday for an orange juice, a coffee and a wrap. Lunch of champions, clearly. Who those champions might be, I had no idea but I’d bet they’d be eating this for lunch. A cyclist pulled up next to me as I was siting outside and asked if I minded if he put my bike next to mine. No I don’t mind. My bike’s pretty sociable and she’d probably like a chat to another bike while I’m having lunch. Exchanged a few words with the chap. He was cycling Weymouth from Birmingham too. I wasn’t sure what the chances were of us both being in the same cafe on the same day doing the same route. But it had to be fairly high odds. 

I paid up and got my bottles re-filled with water. Face to the sun, a swoop down the hill and … I realised I’d left my drinks bottles on the counter. Dammit. Back up the hill. 

I was back in the lanes and away from the towns. I passed through an occasional Cotswold village of sandy stone and green, well-kept gardens every now and then but my views were hedges and flashes of fields through gateways. To add to the Garmin issues, my watch decided to keep me on my toes with a bit of a glitch. It would tell me I had no turn offs for 8 miles then would beep at me in an irritated tone for missing a right turn it had forgotten to tell me about. I guess the Garmin was a bit tired too ... 

And yes. It’s perfectly possible for my watch to beep at me in an irritated tone. 

After nearly having a heart attack, I started doing maths in my head to work out how far I was from The Beast of Bodmin. I’d glanced through a gap in a hedge and could have sworn I saw a black panther in the field beyond with its tail curled up behind it. I did however start doubting myself when in the next gap I saw 2 springer spaniels. Hmmmm. Maybe not a panther then. Maybe a black Labrador. I also decided that that there’s a reason all these big cat sightings are from people my age or older. Clearly this is the age when eyesight starts failing …

I stopped for a snack in the afternoon sunshine at a quiet t-junction which led into a tiny and hopefully not aptly named Rough Street. I propped my bike up and sat on a drystone wall and unwrapped a snack while listening to crickets and grasshoppers in the long grass and enjoying the late afternoon sun. I had hours of daylight, happy miles to go and no pressures. It was a perfect moment. 

I cycled onwards. The lanes turned smaller and narrower and the trees overhanging the single-track lane made it dark underneath their twined branches overhead. I randomly stopped at a narrow gateway for a photograph of my bike and just as I pulled over, a delivery van barrelled down the single track road at a heart-stopping speed. Lucky I’d pulled over just at that moment. Sometimes you wonder if there’s someone keeping an eye out. 

I carried on down the steep lane, it was very twisty and the dimness of the lanes made it feel quite Tokien-esque in places. I came out onto a crossroads and saw a gateway where Rach and I had sheltered from the pelting rain last year; Grittenden Hall. It looked quite different in the afternoon sunshine. 

The lanes were dry and dusty and the hum of my bicycle tyres on the road was the only sound as I cycled onwards between the overgrown summer hedges. The route took me over an old railway bridge and as I glanced to my right at the top of the bridge, I saw the East Somerset Railway laid out below. It was picturesque and old-fashioned and as though a 1940s brochure picture had been made real. 

The last few miles were flat after the gentle undulations but my legs were fatigued now. The roads were fast and the cars seemed to be playing a game of who could pass the closest without knocking me into the hedge. The road margins were narrow and each time I rounded a corner I expected a car to come up behind and knock me into the ditch. It took the joy away a little. However, I was seeing signs I recognised now. I’d grown up 20 miles away and seeing familiar names on the road signs made it easier. I was on home ground … even if it was no longer home. Just a few more miles and I’d be able to have dinner and settle down for the evening. 

Hopefully baaaaabe was a long way away too. 

I made it to the hotel without being knocked into a ditch which was pretty much the best thing about it. It was a one-level 1990s structure with a petrol station opposite and a closed Greggs attached. Well … it made the dinner choice a lot easier. And who wants difficult choices after a long day of cycling? Not me. 

I went for ‘Petrol Station Sandwich and Pot Noodle Medley’ with ‘Ready Salted Crisps’ on the side and a prime orange ‘Calippo’ for dessert. I hear it’s what all the Tour de France champs have pre-race. 


It looked likely that Day 3 would start the way Day 2 ended … but the Greggs was open so instead of a petrol station sandwich breakfast, it was a Greggs breakfast vegan steak bake & sausage roll breakfast. With a full stomach and a lighter backpack, I set my face towards Weymouth and Day 3 started.

The weather forecast wasn’t looking too bright so a quick shift around of the kit meant that I put as much as possible into dry bags and the waterproof bag on the front of the bike. I wouldn’t need much after today but I reasoned that wet kit would weigh more than dry kit and I wanted to be pushing as little weight as possible up the hills … particularly the steep climb up into Portland. 

Within half a mile of leaving the hotel for the lanes, I passed a pub. Bloody hell. Petrol station dinner could have been a pub dinner. With a trembling lip, I kept pedalling. 

And tried not to think of a cold pint of cider and hot food.

The skies were dark and brooding today. It didn’t seem that there would be much opportunity for sitting and snacking in the sunshine but who knew? The British summertime was notoriously fickle and dark skies in the morning could be boiling sunshine by lunchtime.

I could hope. But kept my waterproof jacket to hand.

With the tick of my bike wheels, I passed through pretty Somerset villages built in hamstone, soft and yellow. Zipped through hamstone tunnels with the road cut through. My lights were needed in the dimness as dark in the cuts, with the trees leaning over the road. The lanes were quiet and peaceful and it felt a long time away from the busy roads of the Midlands. 

The high stone walls and hedges opened out and with a flash of shimmering grey, Sutton Bingham reservoir was next to me.  I was on home turf here with childhood memories of my dad windsurfing on this stretch of water. The white sail against the blue sky. 

With Sutton Bingham falling behind me, the skies opened and the rain started in earnest. This was a job for the BIG rain jacket and as I zipped it up, a local in a high vis jacket came past on a bike. We exchanged a couple of words and he mentioned he was on his regular 12 mile circular loop. Sat with him for about a mile and then I turned off towards Halstock and left him on his loop, returning home through the puddles already forming on the roads.

Today was a day of falling rain, rolling hills and high hedges. The road surfaces were fairly decent under the sheen of water, but there were a lot of drain covers which I had to keep an eye out for as they were slippery in the downpour. I didn’t want to end the final day with patches of my kit and skin left on the roads of Somerset. 

I made a few wrong turns while I had my head down against the rain, going up the hills. Who checks for a turn off halfway up a hill? I’m just trying to get myself and the insane amount of kit I packed up this (not a) mountain. I’m supposed to navigate too? (yes)

In between the rain, the sun came out and with it, lots of butterflies. Which begged the question … Where do they go in storms? Do they hide in trees? Do they just carry on, fluttering around but I wasn’t noticing them in the rain? Why do I not know the answer to this?

There were wide puddles in the lanes and rivers of rain water running down the drains but I was still smiling. Legs felt good and I was on the final section of my mini adventure. Whatever happened today, tomorrow was a chill out day. It makes it so much easier mentally when you’re on the last day of anything. It doesn’t matter if you get tired out or push too hard on the hills, tomorrow would involve lots of sitting. And not on a bike.

I had no views from the top of the hills today. Everything was shrouded in a grey mist from the rainclouds and the drizzle hid the beautiful Dorset views that I knew were there. 

The roads were surprisingly busy for a Saturday and I struggled to cross a few roads where they intersected with my quiet lanes. I waited at an intersection at the top of a hill and the gusts from the wind and the damp draughts from the lorries passing rocked me backwards. There didn’t seem to be any pause in the traffic coming either way and I started to doubt I’d be able to get across to the lane opposite that I needed. I was getting wetter and wetter waiting in the rain and the cars passing on the main road splashed me and my bike as I waited.

Eventually, with a slower camper van holding up the traffic one side and a slower car coming the other way, I managed to make a dash for it and finally made it to the sanctuary of the lane and my onward journey and the high hedges on either side shielding me from some of the sideways rain. 

After my high climb, I had a long steady downhill into the village of Maiden Newton and the brightly painted houses. At a petrol station, I saw a car I recognised as I passed - Mum and Dad had driven out the 20 miles from their house to say hello. No hugs unfortunately as Dad was shielding and having to be careful due to COVID but it was amazing to see them. So pleased, that I completely forgot to get a photo of us all – but I just managed a pic of their car as they left. 

I was pretty soaked through by now but I was still reasonably warm so long as I kept moving. I would have loved a coffee, but decided against a coffee stop as I’d get too cold and with my kit being drenched in rainwater and muck off the lanes, I wouldn’t get warm again if I stopped. 

The rain got heavier and heavier. My hair was hanging in rat-tails, my kit was flat to my skin and my glasses were so covered in muck kicked up from the road that I had to lean down and rinse them in rainwater running down the side of the road to clear them. 

Cycling uphills was ok but the downs were treacherous. There was a huge amount of water covering half the road and sweeping debris down with it. Branches and dirt was coming down and it meant that half the road wasn’t safe to cycle in. The water also covered any potholes or drain covers that might be treacherous to a cyclist. The danger though wasn’t from cycling in the weather but from the other vehicles who expected me to cycle at the road edge in what was being swept down and made punishment passes when I didn’t or who passed too fast the other way, throwing up the debris and water. 

I made it into Weymouth, although coming in on lanes meant I had no dramatic ‘Welcome to Weymouth’ sign, and hopped onto the cycle path. There was a section where I was within 2 miles of the hotel in Weymouth that I had booked … but I put my head down and ignored it. I needed to get to Portland and ignore the wind and rain ... I wanted that 200 miles. 190 miles just wasn’t the same. 

I followed the cycle path signs towards Portland... then lost them totally. The path and signs just seemed to vanish. Or rather I was too busy sulking about the rain or concentrating on my next snack and missed them. Googlemaps came to the rescue and I found where the cycle path intersected the road I was on. Right! Onwards.

And upwards. 

I got to the place on the map where it showed the cycle path intersected the road ... but the cycle path was 30ft in the air on a bridge. 

Lacking a catapult to throw myself and bike onto the bridge or a handy giant who could life me up, I followed the road along until I found a place where I could join the path. I SWEAR the path onto the bridge was a 30% gradient. I have NEVER cycled anything like it. But I was NOT going to NOT get to that path. Path or death. Potentially both.

Made it. The path was smooth and clear and it was a disused railway line which ran all the way to Chesil Beach which joined Portland to the mainland. The Merchants railway was built in 1865 and carried Portland stone and passengers until 1965. The route passes Sandsfoot Castle which is ruined but beautiful and it was just visible in the grey drizzle. I was grateful for the old railway tunnels when the route passed through them and offered a respite from the rain and wind in my eyes. 

The route ended at Ferrybridge which is at the start of Chesil Beach and as I passed onto the causeway, the side wind was so fierce, I found I was cycling along at an angle. Halfway along I saw another cyclist and we both waved and did mad grins as if we couldn’t believe another lunatic would be out cycling in this weather! 

I finally made it to the roundabout at the bottom of Portland. The Garmin had ceased to give me any direction instructions so I had the choice of 2 roads to take me up to Portland. I chose one at random. The Garmin beeped halfway up the hill to tell me I was off course. A moment of indecision, then I chose to listen and did a u-turn. 

OK. The other road then, I started to climb the hill and then halfway up, it turned into a one way street - the other way. Bloody, bloody Garmin.

I turned off the one-way street onto a lane next to a church … in what turned out to finish in a narrow alley. A dead end for vehicles terminating in a LOT of steps. It seemed that it would intersect the other road so I hoisted the bike over my shoulder and started climbing. 

After my quads threatened to finally die, I got to the other road and was greeted by a beep from the Garmin telling me I was on course. Garmin nearly learned to fly. 

The hill up to Portland is steep but manageable and it winds in a set of sharp alpine bends to manage the steep face of the cliff. Fun on a bike and you’re greeted by an amazing view looking over Chesil Beach and Weymouth. 

Or so I’ve been told. 

Today not so much. 

My furthest point South was Portland Bill, which is the famous light house on Portland island. The Garmin had woken up but was still refusing to tell me which junctions to take so it was a bit of a gamble every time I got to an intersection. Each roundabout had 2 exits. And I managed to choose exactly the wrong one each time. 

The Garmin seemed to enjoy beeping at me in an irritated way though. 

It was a nice surprise though that it was almost all downhill to Portland Bill. My legs appreciated the rest but I found that without pedalling that I was getting quite cold in the fierce wind and rain. 

I made it to Portland Bill and the euphoria hit me. I had made it! Rugby to Portland! I wanted to share my joy and tried to phone my Dad to say I’d made it but my phone was so waterlogged it wasn’t working properly (an iPhone X which is apparently waterproof) however this then set off a flurry of calls from Dad which I couldn’t answer. 

It appeared that both the Garmin and the phone were sulking today.

Portland is so beautiful and desolate. It’s rocky, heathery beauty and when the wind and rain comes down, it’s quite clear how brutal it must have been living here in the past. I had a steady climb back up to the high point of Portland which warmed me up nicely and then a squeaky bum descent down to Chesil Beach. There were a lot of drain covers on this road which were like ice in the wet and an impatient driver behind who just had to wait. However my reward was going back along Chesil Beach with a tailwind! It felt like the bike had a motor and I just had to move my legs occasionally to keep up the momentum. 

After Chesil Beach, I hopped back onto the old railway line which was an insidious uphill. I hadn’t noticed this on the way but all the pedalling warmed up the rain inside my kit. I managed to lose the cycle path again when I got to the seafront so took my dignity in my hands and asked for directions at Rossi’s ice cream shop and was directed back into the right road after navigating the subway with the bike. Yep. I had to pick up the bike again to climb the stairs. And yes… I found the ramps AFTER I’d done this. 

Cyclocross eat your heart out. 

Past St Johns church and zipping around the one way system onto Greenhill Gardens … dim and grey in the drizzle, the sea was on my right as I followed the signs to the Sealife Centre.

And there … finally there. My hotel.

Warm, dry and ready to welcome a smelly, damp cyclist and her filthy bike. 

Sunday 13 December 2020

Skinny Food Co: Less Calories, Less Taste or Sensational Snacking?

I was sent a box of Skinny Food goodies to try. They sent them to me for free and I don’t get paid for reviewing them but I was asked to pop a review on. It’s an unbiased review – I’m saying exactly what I think as usual …!* 

So … a few years ago I was 5 stone heavier. That’s a lot of excess weight to carry around. And it was definitely excess for me. I’m short and that weight put me firmly in the obese category. I lost the weight using a calorie controlled diet and I’ve tracked my intake ever since. 

I’m not as strict with my food as I was initially coming out of the diet phase, but I’m mindful of what I eat. I’m aware that my idea of portion control isn’t what it should be and keeping an eye on my calorie intake helps me stay on track. Calories aren’t the be-all and end-all … I can be unhealthy at any weight, but it keeps me mindful and aware of fuelling with healthy foods rather than eating empty calories.

This was part of the reason that when Skinny Food Co contacted me to see if I’d like to try a box of goodies, I accepted. That and I LOVE food. I was curious to see what they could offer and whether I could make any healthier swaps. 

First impressions

The items came in a really funky box design and everything was really well packed. Also the box was a small size for a decent amount of items – not a massive box for a shoelace like Amazon tend to send. The items were also packed in REALLY securely – Royal Mail would really have had to go to a lot of effort for anything in the box to get damaged. 

First impressions of the items – the packets and jars looked like premium options. The packets weren’t screaming at me that they were a low calorie option – I didn’t get the feeling that I was going to get a lesser alternative to my normal option, which was good! When I have a treat, I like to have a TREAT!

Then I read the back of the packets … and couldn’t believe the calories. Treats but without burning off the long bike ride I’ve just done or ruining my daily calories! Surely … they couldn’t taste decent with this percentage of the normal calories …?

A nice touch was getting a recipe card in the box with the goodies. I am an APPALLING cook so the more cooking tips I get, the better! My recipe was Bombay Potatoes and while there were sauce options from Skinny Food Co recommended to go on them, the recipe didn’t need any Skinny Food Co products to make them so it wasn’t just a sales tactic which was nice! 

6kcal per serving 
(For comparison Heinz Burger Sauce contains 56 kcals per serving)

The Fake Away Burger Sauce had the colour and consistency you usually get in a burger sauces. Comparatively, it was sweeter than I’m used to and a little less creamy. I could tell that it wasn’t my  normal burger sauce option but for 6 calories a serving, this would be a very good option particularly if I was focusing on calorie intake. 
Additional Benefits: Gluten free, low sugar.

2 kcals per serving
(Kraft Honey BBQ Sauce contains 60 kcals per serving)

I love BBQ sauce and liked that this was a HONEY BBQ sauce too! I added this to some halloumi and was pleasantly surprised. The taste was spot on, consistency was perfect and it was 2 calories compared to the 60 calories and handful of sugar I’d normally get from a bbq sauce. I’d definitely add this to meat or a burger as it was delicious. It was sweet rather than spicy but this was the only difference to my regular BBQ sauce.  
Additional Benefits: Gluten free, fat free, zero dairy, vegan, no added sugar, diabetic friendly.

0 kcals per serving
(Nestle Hazelnut Creamer contains 25 kcals per serving)

This is recommended to add to coffee, tea, smoothies, porridge and desserts. I used this in my coffee as as although I don’t take milk or sugar in my coffee, I love syrup in it as a special treat. The Hazelnut creamer is very sweet – just as if I’d added a syrup. It did initially look like it would curdle but it mixed in well and turned the coffee exactly the right colour. The creamer smelled delicious and it was very tasty. It would be a very good substitute if you’re trying to reduce milk or sugar in your hot drink as I found it was sweet and creamy enough to satisfy a sweet tooth!   
Additional Benefits: Gluten free, fat free, zero calorie, vegan, sugar free, diabetic friendly.

7 kcals per serving
(Regular Strawberry Jam contains 56 kcals per serving & 10 grams of sugar!)

I found this sweet and delicious and tasty. I wouldn’t be able to tell that this isn’t full calorie or full-sugar jam. It was full of taste and a really lovely consistency. I will definitely buy this again particularly while I’m being a bit more calorie conscious as it tastes like a proper treat while being much lower sugar and lower calorie than traditional jam but with all the taste!
Additional Benefits: Gluten free, fat free, low sugar (85% less sugar) diabetic friendly.

0 kcals per serving
(Regular Golden Syrup contains 60 kcals per serving & 10 grams of sugar!)

I was initially a little disappointed in this as I didn’t get the sugary taste that I’d hoped for. It was a lot thinner than usual golden syrup – it wasn’t the syrupy consistency I’d expected and I managed to squirt it all over the kitchen by mistake. I was quite disappointed with the taste as it tasted very much like I’d expect a spoonful of syrup in a pintful of water to taste – and it had the consistency to match. It was, however, good with pancakes and as a sweet dipping sauce but it’s not really thick enough for ice cream or on fruit. However, I then tried it in coffee ... SOLD! I don't take sugar in coffee but love a syrup in coffee as a treat. And as this was zero calories and sugar-free it felt guilt-free! 
If you don't mind it not being identical to the high calorie, high sugar Golden Syrup then it is a good substitute for most things that you would use golden syrup in. 
Additional Benefits: Gluten free, fat free, zero calorie, vegan, sugar-free, diabetic friendly.

21 kcals per recommended serving
(Regular pancakes contains 175 kcals per serving)

I found that the recommended portion size was too small for me so I doubled up to bring this to 42 kcals per pancake, however I was massively impressed! Very easy to make and it mixed well and the pancakes came out better than my usual ones! They were delicious with the Skinny Golden Syrup and Skinny Strawberry Jam and even my 11yo also preferred them to ‘normal’ pancakes!

Any down sides to the skinny treats?

LOTS of marketing emails from the company. Really. A silly amount. 11 emails between order being placed and order arriving. 

Not everything tastes exactly the same as a high calorie option. You’ve got to decide whether having zero calories or fewer calories, is worth choosing a different texture. However, I found several of the low calorie products superior to what I’m used to so it is a case of choosing what treats you want and are happy changing.

The items are very sweet so if you’re on a calorie controlled diet or watching what you eat and have a sweet tooth then they may be a perfect match for you. They taste very close to the full calorie options so definitely a good swap for the these. Low in calories and low in sugar – a good option! I was particularly pleased with the jam – I’m definitely going to try the other flavours and I’ll definitely buy this again! I’m currently training with lower carbs and higher protein so these treats with low sugar and low carbohydrates work well for me as well as being lower in calories. I’ll definitely be buying the jam and the pancake mix again and will be enjoying trying the other options as a low calorie treat.