With strong westerlies forecast for my final westward riding, I’ve set up four short days. I’m not here to break records, I’m here to have a good time. I’d rather be happy than right any day. I just wish I knew which day.
Today was essentially a one-pattern ride, along tarmac roads through woods and mildly oscillating wheat fields, with cars as rare as times when the headwind dropped. Which wasn’t often.
The most exciting thing I saw in the entire morning was a man riding his bike and walking his dog at the same time. That was the most concentrated pulse of traffic I encountered, too.
I stopped at one village where I saw a sign for a restaurant, just by a picturesque pond. After fifteen miles of rather samey scenery, even a phone box would have appeared picturesque. (Latvia doesn’t have phone boxes.)
LATVIA FACTS 7In Latvian placenames, ‘Vec-’ means ‘Old-’, and ‘Jaun-’ means ‘New-’. I have a theory that every country in the world has somewhere called ‘Newcastle’: Shinshiro in Japan, Nové Hrady in Czechia, An Caisleán Nua in Ireland etc. Sure enough, Latvia has a Jaunpils.
I walked confidently in, thinking to order a coffee and cake. After a glimpse at the menu – and the formally attired staff – I realised this little place in the middle of nowhere was rather upmarket and beyond my budget.
How many Latvians can afford €19 starters…? The country’s economy outside Rīga is struggling, so where does the money come from – Russia? Germany? Anyway, with only low-powered Brexit pounds in my bank account, I walked out somewhat less confidently.
At a village called Stende, which the goblin in my head kept pronouncing ‘shtendi’, as if it was German, I had lunch in the park and admired a roadside installation/ bicycle/ advert.
From there, the last seven or eight miles were mercifully headwind-free, and I could actually enjoy the unusual experience of (a) seeing a road sign in Latvia with a gradient marked – a whopping 6% – and (b) riding same gradient.
And so to Sabile, a village that punches well above its weight in terms of stuff to see and do. I was pleased to come upon Sabile’s cider factory – with its unusual-for-Latvia hills, you could almost be in Dorset – and upon Sabile’s Lella dārsz, ‘doll garden’.
The two-hundred-odd mannekins represent the village and are a private thing on free public view in a domestic garden. I rather liked it.
There’s also a zipwire thing across the river, an outdoor art park, and a winery to visit. But they weren’t on my agenda today. Definitely on my agenda though was the ‘world’s most northerly vineyard’*, Sabile Wine Hill.
It first grew grapes with drinking in mind during the German period of the 14th–16th centuries, and has been yielding vinous stuff since its restoration in 1936. (You can’t buy its wine commercially for strange licensing reasons.)
You can visit the vineyard, compactly situated on a south-facing slope in the centre of town, for 70 eurocents. A bargain, partly because you get a splendid view of Sabile from the top, but also because you get to see a range of unfamiliar grapes whose names sound link aliens from Star Trek: Veina, Guna, Supaga, Jodupe, Jadvigo, Spulga, Zilga, Veldze.
I strolled the village centre, admired the kayakers on the river in the sunshine, had a cheap beer and quite excellent burger at the patio bistro, and checked into my guesthouse a very happy cycle tourer.
Miles today: 39
Miles since Borderland: 279
* At 57 degrees north, Sabile’s vineyard was until recently feted by Guinness as the world’s most northerly. (There’s another one a few miles to the south, home of Abavas wines, which are pricey because of their short runs but apparently very good and interesting quality.) However, Norway now boasts two much further up: Lerkekåsa in Telemark, at 59 north, and Slinde in Sognefjord, at 61 degrees north.