After trying to arrange a bike trip for what seemed like weeks, I finally did, setting off on Wednesday, 6th September, the start of the very hot period we had recently, when temperatures rose to 30 degrees C or so. I originally had a vague idea of where I wanted to go, which was on NCN Route 246 south through Andover, and then to Mottisfont on Route 24. After that I wasn't quite sure whether I'd go west or east. I spent ages looking for places to stay, which is the bit I don't like, as it's mostly done in front of a screen. In the end, the B and Bs that looked nice and had vacancies slightly dictated my route, but that was fine. As I was looking for them online, I thought to myself -
"Can't you get booklets listing B and Bs any more?"
My parents used to have such things. It turns out that an organisation called Bed and Breakfast Nationwide does just such a booklet. I have seen it in years gone by but not lately. At my second B and B I was given one, and this is what I will use in future, as well as their website, which I had not seen when I'd searched the internet.
When I write a blog post, especially one covering several days like this, it takes me so long that by the time I've done it there's another ride to write about, so I thought that this time I'd try a slightly different format - the one I use in the notebook that I keep of all my rides. Let me know what you think. Also, sadly I seem to have somehow lost a lot of the photos I took, so I hope I can make it interesting enough with just words!
Day 1, Wednesday, September 6th, home (Oxfordshire) to Appleshaw (Hampshire, via Berkshire).
ROUTE: East Challow, Letcombe Regis (Court Hill youth hostel) Great Shefford, Welford, Kintbury, Walbury Hill, Faccombe, Ibthorpe, Tangley, Clanville, Appleshaw.
WEATHER: Hot by the time I got to the top of Court Hill.
WEARING: Vest top, cotton shirt, Peter Storm zip-off trousers, socks, Hi-Tec shoes, Rab jacket (windproof). At top of Court Hill removed jacket, swapped socks and shoes for sandals, unzipped bottoms of trousers. Vest top also removed discreetly later. Shoes didn't come out of panniers again.
COMMENTS: Left at 8. Had a small amount to eat en route, then at Great Shefford went off route by about 3 miles to Priscilla's Kitchen at East Garston for breakfast. Not quite the marvellous food I was expecting from what I'd heard - in my opinion 7/10 overall. Very good service though, and nice place generally.
Next proper stop was Kintbury, first one at the level crossing, where I watched two goods trains go by, then another at the canal. I love canal boats - the painted decoration in particular - and watching them go through the locks, which I think are amazing, especially considering how old they are. [One of the photos I lost!] Wished I could cycle along the towpath as it looked so inviting. Another day perhaps.
Hilly out of Kintbury, but managed well. Walbury Hill, 974 feet - another story!!!! Probably the toughest bit of my cycling life so far! Always knew I'd have to push but didn't think it would be for this far. Road officially closed so very little traffic. Extremely hot by now but thankfully mostly shaded until the last bit. Then yet more hill, but not so steep, and downhill to Faccombe, through woodland, where I stopped to eat. Got water at Faccombe church - first of many churches to provide me with water. [Another lost photo - a flint built church. Flint buildings common in this area.]
I was following the route on my Garmin so far (though had map as back up. Would never go without one) but missed turning up a track as I was too busy looking around, at some tents by the road and what looked like a gypsy encampment next to them. Nice garden though. Dogs barking. Later chatted to the very friendly couple (man shaven headed and tattoed) that occupied this encampment (off-gridders perhaps?) and they asked me if I was looking for somewhere to camp. I said no, but might be another time (I hope to). They then said I could camp in their woodland any time! They directed me to the track, saying it was the least hilly way to Appleshaw. Eventually found it. Big mistake....it had looked OK on google earth but it was hilly and stony, and I had to push for most of it. The couple I'd spoken to had assured me it was rideable.....well, at the very least you needed a mountain bike, and ideally a fat bike!! Or maybe even a motocross bike! And was it really the least hilly way? I do wonder what some people's definitions of hills are. It's all a bit subjective really isn't it? I took their word for it, but later realized that their opinion of hilly might not have been the same as mine. And a hilly stony track isn't the same as a hilly road!!! Result - lost about an hour, meaning had to rush last few miles to Appleshaw. Pity as they were lovely quiet lanes, with not just weeds growing down the middle, but practically a lawn, and a very lush one at that!
Cleaver Cottage B and B. Clean and comfortable and quiet, but "could do better". Host friendly (husband.) Was able to lock bike up in garage. Tea and coffee selection low quality, no fresh milk, no shelf to put toothbrush etc. on, nowhere to put soap in shower, shower head and basin taps needed descaling. Mug rather stained.... Cleaner one provided the next day while I was out. Had to go into field next door to get phone signal to message Husband. Ate a tuna fish thing. Shower, then bed about 7.30!
MILES: Slightly over 40.
Day 2, Thursday 7th September, Appleshaw to Goodworth Clatford and a bit further
Bed comfortable, but hardly slept. A hot night though a breeze through the open window was cooling. Think I might have had a bit of heat stroke - head aching a bit, face throbbing, heart racing. Put wet kitchen towel on forehead during night. Drank lots of water. Fine by morning though. Breakfast at 8. A relaxed day was my intention.
Host (wife this time) did not introduce herself or tell us that toast was DIY. Bacon, egg, sausage, tomato, mushrooms - not bad. Orange juice (no bits) fruit yogurt, prefer natural but there wasn't any. Tea was stewed. Jam and marmalade cheap as chips - probably from bottom supermarket shelf. Bread for the DIY toast was cheap sliced stuff. One guest had come from Essex to fish at Stockbridge in the famous River Test. Talk of the Test leads me to one of my claims to fame, of which I have a few...) - Norman Thelwell, the cartoonist who drew pictures of fat little girls on fat ponies, lived on the Test, and was a customer of my dad's in his wallpaper and paint shop in Winchester. I met him myself once when he presented me with a magnum of champagne I had won in a raffle (goodness knows what I did with it!) when I worked in Bristol in a bookshop.
Very interesting guest opposite me! Lindsay from Creative Chic [can't get link to her website to come up properly] - a professional kitchen cabinet painter. Self taught, started with painting her own furniture. Is soon to be doing a TV programme with Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen. Has been featured in posh magazines. We chatted a lot about what's going on in the world. She was working in a kitchen with the Aga going - in this heat!!
ROUTE: Towards Thruxton, East Cholderton, Monxton, Abbots Ann, Anna Valley, Upper Clatford, Goodworth Clatford, back to Appleshaw almost the same way.
WEATHER: Very hot again.
WEARING: Same as yesterday.
COMMENTS: Left at 9.15. Original plan was to cycle down NCN Route 24 to Mottisfont, down the Test Way cycle path, a distance of about 32 miles there and back, maybe varying the return route. However, needed to take it really easy after yesterday, so knew I'd probably only get as far as Stockbridge, taking in the villages en route. Cycled south towards Thruxton, then to Monxton. Got water at the church, and went in. A previous rector was Michael John Grylls. Any relation to Bear, I wondered? Beautiful spot by the chalk stream (the Pillhill Brook) with two benches.
Had to just sit and look, as the poet W H Davies said in his poem "Leisure" -
"What is this life, if full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?"
Young couple came over with little boy and older man, father of the dad I think. He was Italian, 81, and sat on the bench by me and told me about his experiences in Italy in the war, how his father had decided they had to leave their house because of bombs getting closer. Mother protested, but father insisted, and when they were 200 yards down the road a bomb fell on their house....they walked to a relative's house, foraging for food along the way.
Then to the pretty village of Abbots Ann, where I had coffee outside the village shop. Very friendly people in shop. Not that far from Winchester , where I was born and bred. I remember this village being mentioned in my childhood, but don't know why. Cycled past the watercress farm owned by Vitacress - never seen so many, and such big, watercress beds. [Another missing photo!]
In Anna Valley I couldn't resist going into Greenfield Farm Shop. I like to support farm shops. Bought tomatoes and a delicious sausage roll. Upper Clatford and Goodworth Clatford both very pretty villages, and clearly popular with visitors. Lovely spots to sit by the River Anton, which is the former name of the River Test, apparently. Never knew that, despite this being my home county. Laid myself to rest - literally, but not literally, if you know what I mean...) in the churchyard at Goodworth Clatworth, where I also filled my water bottles with lovely cold water.
Headed off on NCN Route 246 south towards Longstock, but as I was going uphill I knew I shouldn't even attempt to get to Stockbridge, because of the heat. Turned round and went back. Even though I was taking roughly the same route I didn't mind as I always think it's different when you're going the opposite way. Took a slightly different route, however, through Abbots Ann, then sat with my feet in the icy cold brook at Monxton for several minutes. The cooling effect lasted long after my feet had dried off.
Further on I noticed some fresh figs for sale outside a house - bought two for 50p, ate one. Never had one before, only dried ones. Hmmm... very little flavour. Threw the other one away. Back to Appleshaw, where I cycled up the other end of the village and looked inside the church, then sat on the green and consulted my map as to tomorrow's route. Back to B and B about 5 pm. The lady of the house came over and chatted a bit, which slightly made up for the lack of conversation from her this morning. Shower again (don't normally have this many showers, but I was certainly glowing a lot! I have been saving water since "they" asked us to in the hot summer of 1976), cup of coffee made with one of the Taylor's coffee bags I'd taken with me. They're not bad - far better than the Nescafe instant that was provided. Ate another tuna fish thing. Bed again about 7.30. Managed to get message to Husband to let him know I was ok.
MILES: About 20
Day 3, Friday September 8th, Hampshire, Berkshire, Wiltshire
Slept better, woke about 10 pm but went back to sleep till about 5.30 am. Up about 6. Breakfast at 7.30.
Just bacon and egg today - wasn't keen on the tomato or mushroom yesterday. Orange juice, fruit yogurt, toast. Cafetiere of coffee - I suspected it would be better than yesterday's tea and it was. Lindsay had breakfast a bit later than me but again we had an interesting chat. Also chatted to a couple who were visiting relatives nearby.
ROUTE: Penton Grafton and Penton Mewsey, Upper Enham, Enham Alamein, Little London, Smannell, Stoke, Hurstbourne Tarrant, Ibthorpe, Upton, Vernham Dean, Fosbury.
WEATHER: Very hot.
WEARING: Same, but with change of shirt. As usual, removed vest top later.
COMMENTS: The roads around Penton Grafton and Penton Mewsey were lovely for cycling, and again I took it slowly, enjoying my surroundings.
Next stop was one of those places I'll always remember - Oaktrack Farm Shop. It was in the middle of nowhere and I'd hoped might also have a cafe but apparently it didn't.
There was - a plant nursery, their own meat and veg and eggs for sale, locally made preserves, pigs, sheep and chickens nearby, a small amount of local wool, some cards by a local artist, various gifty things, cheese in the fridge and also something white in jars. I asked what it was, and was told it was lard, from their own pigs, and was 50p a jar (they re-use jars too). I have started using lard again in the last couple of years or so, and very tasty it is too - bacon and eggs fried in it are the best! I do what my mum did, and spoon the hot fat over the eggs. (I also like the edges of the white to be just a bit frazzled.) 50p is a good price (I pay about 60p for 250g in the supermarket) and it's traceable of course. I have seen it much more expensive than that online. I had noticed all the tables and chairs about the place and wondered if they did in fact do refreshments, so I asked and she said -
"Oh, I can do you a coffee!"
Turns out that they can't at the moment run a cafe but they do have events where they do teas either outdoors, under cover of their barn or in a lovely log cabin. So I had a coffee (bit too hot...but the surroundings more than made up for it) and sat in the beautiful little orchard drinking it.
It cost me £2.44 which included the half dozen or so tomatoes I'd also picked up!!!
Then wandered happily round outside looking at the chickens, kids, and sows and piglets - Oxford Sandy and Blacks -
More lovely quiet roads, still very hot. To Upper Enham and then made a slight error in navigation (yes, again...) and ended up in Enham Alamein, another familiar name from childhood. But the thing is, to me this is what cycle touring is about - not worrying if you take a wrong turn sometimes, but just enjoying whatever you come across. Never knew the origin of the Alamein bit of the name, but read about it here -
|Carved from a fallen oak
One of the names on the statue plaque was Simon Weston, burnt badly in the Falklands War. Then another error - !! - and ended up in Little London, where I sat on a style to eat, in the shade. Two cyclists passed and asked if I was OK. Always nice when another cyclist does that.
A school at Smannell looked more like a prison, with its heavy green metal fencing round it. Many of them have this these days. In fact, it's unusual to see a school that hasn't got it round it. I ask myself - why is it considered so necessary these days?
The pub opposite was much more visitor-friendly, obligingly filling my water bottles with cold iced water.
Up a hill towards Stoke (not "on Trent" but on the Bourne Rivulet). Stopped in the shade for a drink and along came another cyclist, and we got chatting. This is what I love about my cycling trips - all these random people I get chatting to! He was a lorry driver cycling home from Whitchurch to Andover, on a roundabout route. The next day he was going to be doing the Morris Major Audax, a ride of 200km starting from Kelmscott Manor (not far from me) with his son. Did they survive in the heat, I wonder???
On to Stoke where I diverted slightly as I'd spotted a phone box library, always hard to resist. Got these two books, despite knowing that it would, of course, add extra weight on my way home -
I had had it in my head for several miles that I fancied scones and jam and tea, even though I rarely eat such carbohydrate-rich things any more. Spotted an open office door with a lovely bicycle outside, and went and asked the two ladies therein if there was a shop in the village, and/or a cafe.
"Yes, up at the garage. And the cafe is behind it."
Surprised that a wealthy village like this only has a shop at the garage. Think they are missing a trick. The cafe was good in some respects - scones and jam and cream scored 10/10. Tea, though in a fancy pot with an infuser in it, was too strong, even when I added hot water (which I requested. Remember the days when a pot of tea always came with hot water?). Sat outside on astro-turf....probably plonked on top of the tarmacked surface to give it more of a garden feel (remember it was behind the garage?) but it didn't really work. Just looked tacky. Service not bad but again - "could do better". I do think that shop and cafe assistants are simply not taught how to give good service these days. Felt rather bloated afterwards....
|Is your mouth watering?
Ibthorpe next (around which I had skirted on that stony uphill track on Day 1) then Upton and Vernham Dean, along that dried up Bourne Rivulet, and finally Fosbury, where my next B and B was. I have sometimes quoted Pop Larkin from The Darling Buds of May before, and will do so again - Talmage House, was "Jus' perfick!" Bike was locked away in garage, then - oh the joy of seeing my cool, calm and welcoming room with lovely en-suite, lots of books, white linen tray cloths, spotless glasses and mug, good quality tea and coffee (coffee bags, same as mine!) fresh milk, fresh water, and a smiling, welcoming host.
Oh and Wi-fi too, but my ancient phone doesn't know what that is, and I'm jolly glad it doesn't. Had shower, went for walk to try and get signal to send Husband message (unsuccessful, but had done so earlier at Upton). Wandered round the lovely garden, said hello to the chickens, and a cat, which ran away from me. Bed 7.45, where I sat up reading about Vernham Dean and its water supply problems of the past. Maybe the dried up rivulet was quite normal. Sounds of owls as I lay in bed, windows wide open.
Day 4: Saturday, September 9th, Wiltshire, Berkshire, Oxfordshire
Despite the lovely room and bed, did not sleep much. Up at 6. Breakfast at 7.30 - had fresh fruit salad and natural yogurt, orange juice (with bits), bacon and egg (could have had other stuff, too), toast (not DIY!) and home made marmalade. Tea good, not stewed! Lovely chat with Jenny, my host, who gave me the B and B booklet. Cat - not the same one as last night - very friendly, rubbing up against my legs. I like cats but had I not then Jenny would have sent it on its way.
Chatted about how doing B and B is really something you do because you enjoy talking to people, and don't mind sharing your home with them. The other place just didn't have that homely feel.
Left at 8.20.
ROUTE: Shalbourne, Bagshot, Hungerford, Eddington, Chilton Foliat, Straight Soley, Lambourn, home.
WEATHER: Hottest day of the year.
WEARING: Same as yesterday (feel the need to mention here that I do change certain bits of clothing each day...)
Long uphill, managed OK, and then down into Shalbourne, another lovely village -
Trouble is it's mainly only the rich that can afford to live in England's villages these days. We only do so because Husband started work on a farm years ago, and when he was made redundant we were allowed to stay on in the house, though had to then start paying rent, which by law has to be less than the full market rent.
Another error of navigation meant I took a bridleway, near Bagshot, that was longer than the one I should have taken. More pushing!! At least it wasn't hilly and stony this time. Looked at the map after getting home and thought maybe it wasn't such a silly mistake, as the bridlepath I think I should have taken looked more like a footpath and there were no signs. Finally got onto NCN Route 4, and saw the bridleway I should have been on, which was more like a road, and thought -
"The Road Not Taken...." by the poet Robert Frost.
|Much better than the one I did take!
I like a bit of Robert Frost.
|NCN Route 4 sign on the left. To Hungerford.
Cycled on into Hungerford, passing cyclists coming the other way. I also saw this lady in her garden at the top of the hill when I got to the main road.....
|Hope she sat down in the shade at some point...
Unlike all the other people I met, she wasn't very chatty...
Locked my bike outside some shops using the AXA lock that's permanently affixed to the back wheel, then got out the extra Safeman lock I'd bought earlier in the year. It's known as a cafe lock, i.e. not terribly thief proof but designed to make nicking your bike take longer and therefore less likely. Very lightweight .Had used it before but not for a while and couldn't remember how to use it!! So I just relied on the AXA lock. Had a chocolate chip ice cream cone (£3.50!!) standing in the shade, by the Kennet and Avon canal I'd stopped by 3 days ago, a few miles east of here at Kintbury.
Don't know what the temperature was by now but it was, to put it mildly, EXTREMELY HOT. After a quick look round a gift shop, I was eager to get out of the town, and away from the traffic. Don't think I've ever seen Hungerford so busy. Found my way out of town through Eddington. Changed my route plan slightly in order to be certain of passing another church, at Chilton Foliat, to get more water. If there wasn't a tap then there was a pub I could ask at. Incidentally, every church on this trip had a tap, either inside or outside.
At the church I noticed a lot of cyclists - it was Ride and Stride Saturday, when cyclists or walkers visit as many churches as possible to raise money for the churches. I felt as if I was doing this on my tour just to get water, but without the sponsors!! They'd come from near Avebury, and they'd all paused for refreshments. They had a back up van and offered me water if there wasn't a tap, but there was, this time inside, over a bucket. Actually now I come to think of it the sign on the open door I went through to the tap had said "WC", but I couldn't see another door to one. Surely the bucket wasn't ...? I don't think so... But I don't know where that WC was! As there were other cyclists resting inside the church I didn't have the nerve to wash my face under the tap.....
I stopped at the top of the hill out of the village, to dowse myself in water again, to drink it, and to eat and look at the map. There was another church further on but slightly off route, but with a short cut to it if I was reading the map correctly, so instead of taking a more scenic route towards Lambourn, I headed to where I thought the short cut started. Couldn't find it (I'd misread the map) so carried on up to the main road. When I got to the junction, and looked to the right, I thought -
"I just can't face an extra hill..."
And so I carried on to Lambourn. I knew I'd probably have enough water to last me until I got there. The stupid thing is that I had brought an extra bottle with me on this trip, a flexible one that didn't take up much space or weigh much, but every time I filled up my two usual bottles I forgot to fill that too! Still, I always had enough. Another rest at the top of another hill, and then a lovely long downhill into Lambourn - "valley of the racehorse". Lots of money here, but also drugs. Our old house got broken into once, on a Friday, when there was nobody at home. It was en route to Lambourn, and the police (who never caught the thieves, of course...) said it was probably someone looking for cash (which they found!) to buy drugs for the weekend.
Into the church again for water!! This time I couldn't see a tap outside, or a sink, or a sign to a WC.... However, when I spotted a heavy wooden countertop on one side of the church, I remembered the sink at Hurstbourne Tarrant and suspected there might be a sink underneath. I opened the cupboard doors below, revealing the underside of the sink! The counter top was very heavy (designed to put off people like me?) but I lifted it up, fixed it in place with the ingenious brass catch on the wall, and filled up again! And washed my face.
I'd also bought a packet of ham in the Co-op, thinking I'd only eat it if I really felt hungry in the next 6 miles or so to home, but in fact I demolished all three slices, sitting on the verge here, outside the garden of the white house being tantalized by the sound of a large water fountain behind the hedge!!
I was dreading this last bit of the journey, as it involved a stretch of about a mile of unshaded road, which in my head, if not in reality ( as it always comes at the end of a ride) - is always a slog. However, by now there was a slight breeze behind me, and it wasn't as bad as I'd expected. Another rest/drink/pour water over me in a shaded spot and it was then on to the last real uphill section before home. Just keep pedalling and you'll soon be home, I told myself. And I soon was!
Some concluding thoughts:
None of these daily distances was anything out of the ordinary, but the heat and the extra stops needed for cooling down made them seem like a lot further. However, I was pleased that despite the heat, I thoroughly enjoyed this trip, and felt I managed well. My only disappointment was not getting to Mottisfont. It was only the heat that stopped me.
However, much as I love a good B and B, I would enjoy the breakfast more if it came after I'd got a few miles under my belt. That thought, and watching this video by Susanna Thornton, about cycling with her 87 year old dad, gave me ideas for my next trip. Instead of moving on each day to somewhere new, they based themselves in Hereford in what looked like self-catering accommodation, and explored from there using buses and their Bromptons. I'd like to try having a base and exploring from it each day.
Here's a quote to end on, from England by Bicycle, by Frederick Alderson -
|I'm all for "wayside rests".
|I like that - the "carefree spirit".