Happy coincidences always make life interesting. Over the years I've had my share of chance encounters with friends and colleagues in unexpected places. The first time of note was as a child while travelling through Europe with my parents. On a back street in Paris we chanced upon a friend of mine who lived up the street from us in Vancouver. He and his family were returning from a trip to Israel with a brief stopover in Paris. The experience was very surreal and left a huge impression on me.
This is a tale of another such encounter, possibly even stranger than that just described.
For the past year I've been making regular trips to work with clients in Exeter and Bournemouth in the UK. Exeter is a fantastic cycling town and I've enjoyed many great rides along the Exe, out to the Double Locks or the Turf Hotel for lunch, even a round trip to Exemouth, taking the ferry from Starcross and cycling along the Jurassic Coast for a bit before returning along the east shore through Topsham. My colleagues often provide great tips for out of the way places to visit and I usually try and follow up on them.
Bournemouth also provides ample cycling opportunity, particularly when the Isle of Purbeck is brought in to the equation. Before this particular trip my good friend Nic, who had spent much of his childhood holidaying on the Isle of Purbeck and had a deep love for the area, provided me with some recommendations on where to go. Of particular interest, he said, was to get out to the Square & Compass pub and Corfe Castle. I fired up Google Maps, checked the route and considered it a long but doable day trip on Pippin, my red Brompton.
Shortly after I arrived in Bournemouth I was contact by an old friend from grad school who happened to be in the UK. We decided that it would be great fun to hang out for the weekend. Realising this would impact my objective of riding out to the Square & Compass we agreed to rent a bike for her and have a go at it. We walked over to Kool Cycle Hire on West Cliff Road where Tony set her up with a comfy bike for 24 hours for a very affordable £12. We then set out along the promenade on a blustery April day, pedalling into a stiff headwind with an occasional rain squall.
As we neared Sandbanks we were both feeling a bit chilled. Fortunately one of the refreshment stands along the promenade was open and, of course, had tea on the menu. We sat under the overhanging roof, enjoying a hot cuppa while watching the waves crash on the beach and people wandering by with their dogs. It was very pleasant.
Continuing through Sandbanks we reached the chain ferry where, for a paltry £4, we bought two return tickets for the crossing. The Sandbanks chain ferry is one of the grooviest bits of transportation engineering I've ever encountered. I was fascinated as I watched it haul itself across the opening of Poole Harbour by its enormous chains.
All too soon we landed on the other side and were launched along the road through Studland. We found ourselves pedalling along an open landscape of shrubs and sand dunes with picturesque views of small lakes and ponds in the distance. Most of the time we were the only souls on the road, except for every twenty minutes as the ferry dumped off a fresh load of cars to whiz by. The road is unfortunately narrow so less experienced riders may want to pull over to let the cars pass.
It was along this stretch that the weather decided to turn from blustery to down right wet. The rain came down with a vengeance while we were climbing the hill out of the marshlands toward the village of Studland so we decided to abandon our objective of reaching the Square & Compass and stop at the next dry opportunity for some food and, hopefully, a pint of real ale. To our pleasant surprise we found the Bankes Arms Country Inn, a short way off the Swanage Road. The pub was quite busy as I set our gear out to dry near the cozy fire. There was only one table with two seats available next to another couple, so as Slam (yes, that is the name she answers to) claimed it I ordered food and beer at the bar. We sat and laughed about our wet ride while enjoying the beer and watching the rain fall outside the window for about ten minutes when all of a sudden a voice to my right says “Jay? Is that you?”
I almost died.
Sitting right next to me was the project manager from my client in Exeter! We had worked closely on several projects but had yet to find an opportunity to socialise. I was so shocked to see him in this setting that I popped out of my chair and had to walk around the pub for a moment. He and his fiancée were visiting Poole and had made a last minute decision to come out to Studland. We enjoyed several more pints of good local ale before parting ways and heading back to Bournemouth.
It was several days before I finally stopped giggling about the coincidence and the shear randomness of the events that lead up to it. It was another one of those special occurrences that makes travelling with Pippin and getting out to explore so thoroughly rewarding.