Tuesday, October 1

Cycling from Derbyshire to home in Oxfordshire, Part 2

Day 3, at my B and B south of Leamington Spa, started at 5.50 am; although breakfast wasn't until 7.45 I like to have plenty of time to get everything ready for another day. I was hoping I'd really enjoy today's cooked breakfast, as there were only 24 miles to cover so I knew I could relax more, but in fact despite its being beautifully cooked, once again I would have preferred to have been eating it about 2 hours into the ride. I've learned my lesson - next time I will try and negotiate a discount for not having breakfast, and will take my own.

I really took it nice and easy today, being determined to enjoy it after yesterday's events. In fact I was positively lazy and stopped after less than 6 miles for coffee in the very interesting village of Kineton, still in the county of Warwickshire. I'd travelled from Derbyshire to Leicestershire on my first day, and then into Staffordshire and Warwickshire on the second. I actually rather liked the fact that as I travelled along, I often didn't know which county I was in. I wandered around Kineton, half looking for somewhere to have coffee, and was just about to give up and cycle on when I spotted this -

It was a florist's - Flower Thyme - with a little cafe round the back. My coffee came in a lovely pottery mug and with a free biscuit, which I didn't eat, preferring my Kit-Kat, but it will go in the jar of free biscuits at home, along with the jar of free sugar sachets! I sat out the front in the sun, so that I could watch the world go by and also keep an eye on my bike.

Incidentally, the previous evening I had washed one of two pairs of padded knickers, but despite hanging them up at the window overnight they were still very damp. I remembered what my mum used to do to dry wet socks when we went on holiday; she would dangle them out of the car window as we drove along! A bike was even better for drying wet clothing - when I stopped later on to change behind a hedge into cut off trousers (it was getting hot) I rigged up my washing on one of the panniers, and found good use for the safety pins that I'd brought - I knew they'd come in handy!

Airing my (clean) laundry in public.

On my return home Husband was appalled that I'd cycled along displaying my underwear in this fashion. But it worked!

I had guessed that today would be more hilly than the previous two days, and I was right. This area is, after all, the Cotswolds, "a range of rolling hills" according to Wikipedia.  I started quite well but got off near the top of one hill and a man with an e-bike standing in the lay-by there said -

"Didn't your battery help you up the hill?"

He thought my bike, too, was electric. We chatted for a few minutes and he told me that he was 76, lived locally and did an 11 mile circuit every day, which I thought was pretty good, even if his bike  was electrically assisted. He mentioned the hill up to Whichford, and said -

"You'll be pushing up there!"

I said that sometimes I prefer not to know what's coming in the way of hills..... I cycled on to Upper Brailes, which I learnt later is on the side of Brailes Hill, the second highest point in Warwickshire. There I spotted a little bakery and stopped to buy a filled bap (baps, butties, rolls, confusing isn't it? Especially as in some places baps are plimsolls....) then to Lower Brailes, lower down the hill (obviously....) and then, although I'd intended to eat the bap much later, I couldn't resist sitting in the sun on a bench at Sutton-under-Brailes to eat it. I must have been hungrier than I thought, as I enjoyed every mouthful.

The weather by now was sunny and warm, and today was definitely a day for stopping wherever I fancied, so when I saw a sign for the Cotswold Distillery (with cafe) I popped in. A very posh place. I noticed a sign just inside the door where there was a cask of whiskey and a sign that said something like "Fill a bottle for £84.95"!!!! Hmmmmm, well, Husband does like a wee dram sometimes but that was not quite within the budget I'd set myself for this trip! On I went up those rolling hills towards Whichford, and although I got off near the top of one, I was feeling very smug (dangerous...) about doing so well after what Mr E-bike man had said, who incidentally I had seen a second time, and waved to, as he returned on his circuit.

At the top of the hill there was another sign, this time for Whichford Pottery - also with cafe. I knew I'd heard of this somewhere, and later concluded that I must have found it online when I was looking up the prices of large terracotta pots, the reason for which (which, Whichford....) was that I had fished one out of a skip and wanted to know how much it was worth before I attempted to flog it!

Look at all these pots! -

The place was actually a lot more than just a pottery, and had beautiful courtyard gardens, a workshop which you were, amazingly, free to wander round, and a cafe called The Straw Kitchen, very rustic, quite hippyish -

Once again I resisted the cafe, preferring to spend the time wandering round the courtyard gardens, although I did spend some money in their lovely octagonal shaped shop. One thing that attracted me was the coloured spools of Nutscene twine, and I bought one for a present for the sister who had organized the weekend. I hope she appreciates having a ball of string for a present.  I had no idea that Nutscene produced their famous garden twine in so many colours. That was another thing that I rescued out of the same skip the pot came from - various half-used spools of Nutscene green twine. I actually have a bit of a thing about string! String and notebooks.

I also trespassed, quite by accident, in a part of the garden that was private; I had gone through a door which happened to be open, and assumed that that part of the garden must also be public. I did wonder if I was mistaken though, when I saw chainsaws on view, in this most amazing building -

The painted walls were incredible. I'd love to know the history and significance of this building. I wish now that I had taken more photos, but somehow I got the feeling I shouldn't be there - and I was right! A gardener appeared, and when I asked if this was all public, he said no, but without seeming very bothered that I was there! He had left the door that I had come through open when he had gone to get a ladder. I made to leave but by then was a bit lost, so he directed me back to the door I'd come through, on the front of which it said "Private Garden"!

My smug self then had several more hills to contend with...... one was horribly busy and I missed my  right hand turn near the bottom of it , so to avoid going back down and having a sharp left turn to negotiate, I carried on and took another one on the right. My last hill was up into Chipping Norton; I slogged up it, then, seeing traffic lights for road works, I decided to be kind to the drivers and get off the road. As I crossed over to the pavement, the driver behind me shouted something. No, not something abusive, but -

"Well done!!"

And he gave me a big smile and a thumbs up! Whoever you were, kind sir, you made my day!!!

It was a long time since I'd been to Chipping Norton, which is built on the side of a hill, as a grandmother at Whichford Pottery had reminded me, telling me how the car door slammed on her granddaughter as she got out of the car, parked on the slope, on a recent trip there. It's also the home of the Chipping Norton Set, i.e. a load of rich posh people amongst whom is David Cameron. When I told someone I had booked an Airbnb place there they wondered if perhaps it might be Call me Dave's home, but no, it wasn't. I doubt if he's down on his luck enough to need to let out a room. Another member of this set is Jeremy Clarkson, and judging by the enormous volume of motorised traffic going through the town, there must be quite a lot of other petrolheads in the area.

My room was in fact a very tastefully furnished one in a modest house on the Burford Road; it was very noisy but it did quieten down eventually, though long after my bedtime! -

Notice the "things to be charged" section on the chair

I had a bathroom which was right up my street, given my liking for plain and sensible baths and basins. Have you noticed how that word "basin" is disappearing? Once upon a time the thing you had in your bathroom to wash in was a basin, and the thing you had in your kitchen to wash up in was a sink. Now it seems the thing you have in your bathroom is also a sink. Fancy mixer taps are also a pet hate of mine (sorry, Younger Daughter.....). Half the time you have to work out how to use them; up, down, turn one way, turn the other. Why not just go for the good old fashioned one hot, one cold, like these? Simplzzzzz!

There was a separate shower too.
When I had arrived in Chippy, as I believe it is known to locals, I had had a burning desire for pizza and a glass of red wine. In the end I thought wine might keep me awake, and as I'd no way of heating up pizza and wasn't prepared to go back into town later and visit a pizza take away, I made do with buying muesli, milk and natural yogurt, a bowl of which I enjoyed before I indulged in a bath. In fact it really wasn't much of an indulgence, as on the rare occasion I have a bath I can never seem to get out of the habit of only having about 4 or 5 inches of water in it! It doesn't help that in our own house the bath takes ages to even partially fill, but I think this habit stems from my upbringing; at home we had a large hot water tank with a "sink" switch and a "bath" switch. In other words if you only wanted a sinkful of hot water, such as for washing up, you put the sink switch on. If you wanted a bathful of hot water, you put the bath switch on. (How this system worked, I don't know.) However my economical mother always put the sink switch on, even for a bath...... so I grew up totally unfamiliar with the idea of having a long hot deep soak.

Today's 24 miles seemed like a lot more, but that was indeed all I'd done. At 7.20 I got into bed - so early! - and read/wrote until 7.45, when although I was very tired, sleep was difficult until the traffic died down much later.

At 5.40 am it started up again! So I got up and started the preparations for another day on the road. Another bowl of muesli and yogurt, but again no tea, as unfortunately the tea bags provided made a ghastly brew. I will defnitely take my own next time and have added it to the spreadsheet! The weather forecast was good again, so this time I went for the cut off trousers straight away, to avoid having to change behind a hedge again later on. The night before, realizing how much traffic there would be on the first couple of miles of my ride, I had planned a different route for this section. At 7.30 when I set off, even these minor roads were quite busy, and clearly used as cut throughs by commuters. I soon passed through the village of Chadlington, where I rejoined the route on my Garmin, and where there was a very tempting cafe, but I decided to wait for my coffee until I'd done a few more miles. This was another day for pootling and I was really enjoying the ride. As I travelled on through Cornbury Park I thought to myself - oh, so this is where Cornbury Festival is held, but no, I was wrong, it's further north east at Great Tew.  You could tell that the Cornbury Estate was wealthy as the signs were plentiful and expensive looking, not like the battered ones on the sold-off estate where we live!! Then I went round the edge of Wychwood Forest towards Leafield.

Incidentally, yesterday, although I wasn't aware of crossing the county border into my home county of Oxfordshire, I felt sure I must have done, because the state of the roads got a lot worse. Before that, in the other counties, they were in a much better state of repair. It surprises me that in such a wealthy county the roads are so bad.

I encountered another problem with my route at Little Minster, where part of it had very recently been made one way, but I was now nearly on home territory and so, with the aid of the map, finding an alternative route was easy. And this is the great thing about cycling - you find you can't go a certain way but then the alternative route leads you to somewhere you wouldn't have otherwise found, in this case an amazing cafe in the nearby village of Brize Norton. I had asked a couple if there was a cafe nearby, and they pointed me to a sign for one about 100 yards down the road. Humble Bumble Cafe had a notice up saying "Cyclists and walkers welcome" - always a good sign! It didn't look all that impressive from the outside, being an old sports and social pavilion, and I did think maybe it might be the sort of place that sold filtre coffee which had been kept warm for hours...... but I was in for a surprise! Inside it was wonderfully cosy and welcoming, and there was plenty of outside seating which I took advantage of on this sunny day.  I ordered a bacon butty, coffee, and banana cake, and it was brought to me outside, where I had the company of this lovely dog, who I think must belong to the owner of the cafe -

He looked as if he had a bit of Golden Retriever in him, and certainly had the gently and friendly temperament of one. He sat by me all the time, looking longingly at my bacon butty, and I would have given him some bacon but didn't think I should. He'd soon end up fat if every customer fed him tit-bits.....

After that feast, I continued on down the road past the RAF base, and saw a few plane spotters at one of the crash gates, so called, I believe, because emergency vehicles need to be able to exit them in the event of a crash away from the main site. I wondered if something might be due to land or take off; I have to admit it is quite thrilling to hear and see these planes overhead and I decided to stop. I was amazed to see these men, Dutch judging by their number plates, up ladders (folding ones which they bring in the boots of their cars) with their huge telephoto lenses poked under the razor wire. I was surprised that this was allowed, and in some countries it isn't, so I was told, but apparently the razor wire and boarding behind the fence wasn't there until more recently, making it easier then for the public to see in -

Outside one of the crash gates at RAF Brize Norton

I waited there for over an hour, chatting to one of the spotters, and learnt that a big old German plane that was apparently quite rare was currently over the Atlantic but was due back in, as it was lunch time and the crew usually wanted to get back for lunch! I got quite an education talking to him; when I asked how he knew all this stuff, such as when planes were due in, and what sort they were, he told me that there is a military plane tracking app which gives you the information. I had seen Youngest Son looking up into the sky, seeing a passenger plane and then identifying it with an app on his phone, but didn't realize you could do this with military aircraft. I really hoped to see this one that was due in, and get a photo to impress both Younger and Elder Son (the latter studied aerospace engineering) but unfortunately, despite the long wait, it didn't appear. It was still mid-Atlantic when I left. Either something interesting was going on over there or the German crew weren't that hungry!

Later I couldn't resist calling in at one of my favourite charity shops in the village of Bampton, which is the ficitious Downton of Downton Abbey fame, of which I've never watched a single episode. In the shop it was "fill a bag for £5" so I did, and here is said bag on the back of my bike -

I wondered if I'd get up a local hill (Buckland Road hill if anyone local is reading this) with this extra load, but I'm pleased to say I did. And then it was a mere twelve uneventful miles to home. I find that sometimes the home straights can be the worst; I'm usually tired and there's a certain two mile stretch that I often dread, but today all was fine - it was a good end to a perfect day's cycling of 35.25 miles.

In the last few months I have been experimenting with different tyre pressures  and was a bit worried that Husband's recommendation of pumping them up a bit harder for the trip would prove a mistake. Another slight cause of anxiety was shoes - the day before leaving home, I rode it to Younger Son's for him to put in his van, wore a different pair, and found my feet seemed to be slipping on the pedals. Was it the bike/pedals and not, in fact, the shoes? Panic, panic!!  On the Sunday night in Derbyshire I also had to decide what shoes to keep with me and which to give Husband to take home - and one, or two, pairs? I chose to keep just my Keen sandals, as I could wear them with or without socks. But in the end all went well, and I was really pleased at how comfortable the bike was. And no saddle soreness, even though on the day my washing was drying I had had to go without padding......

The trip in total was 152.25 miles. Now, where can I go next..........?

Friday, September 27

Cycling from Derbyshire to home in Oxfordshire, Part 1

At the end of last year one of my sisters organised a weekend family get together in Derbyshire for this month. I immediately thought - "Oh wouldn't it be lovely to cycle there!"  However, I never got round to organising anything, and come September, I was feeling disappointed that I hadn't had a proper cycling trip this year. However, the weather forecast for the days following the weekend was very good and I knew this was my chance. Younger Son would be travelling up in his van which would easily accommodate my bike....

So three days before we were due to drive up - to Carsington Water not far from Ashbourne -  I got busy. I had thought of using https://cycle.travel/ to plan a route, but in the end accepted Husband's offer to plan a quiet route for me. He did what I myself would do if I had to plan a long route by myself, and drew a straight line from home to the destination, and then took me round the quietest roads nearest to it. He loaded it onto my Garmin, which for anyone who isn't familiar with Garmins meant I just had to follow an arrow on the screen in front of me and it would show me every turn I had to make. This makes it much easier than having to keep looking at a map. We went through details, such as when I'd have to go off route to the  accommodation I'd booked for each of the three nights. The journey would be about 150 miles in total and I decided to do it over 4 days. If I did it in 3 that would have meant 50 miles a day and I'd just be cycling from A to B each day and not really have time to enjoy the journey. The first day would be 40 miles, the second 50, the third 24 and the fourth 35. This would be the first time I'd cycled as many as four days in a row. I hoped my rear end would be OK.

I packed my panniers using a spreadsheet which I created the first time I did an overnight trip, though this time, as it was later in the year, I had to add some slightly warmer clothing. I had bought three new items since then, which proved to be extremely useful. They were a Torm long sleeved cycling jersey a Rab Kinetic Plus jacket, and some Equetec Dressage Briefs. I will do a separate blog post on those items in the near future.

On Day 1, the Monday, I set off at 8.20 from Carsington (my alarm clock hadn't worked or it would have been earlier). I had about 40 miles to do and Husband (who had gone home the previous day) had said it wouldn't be hilly, so I took it easy. The weather was cool and rather damp, but actually good for cycling. At this time of year there is plenty to forage; I soon found a well-laden damson tree and ate several. I could easily have foraged some strawberries here too, as there was a very convenient gap in the hedge to these polytunnels -

On this road there was literally a side of strawberries!

but I think that would definitely be stealing and not foraging!

I don't use a smartphone, except Husband's old one for OS Memory-Map, but I'm sure if I did it would have told me of places to stop for coffee. Instead I use the good old fashioned method of asking a real person. I had in fact stopped to ask a man if I could get through a closed road; he said the signs had only been put up that morning and he had seen another cyclist go past and not come back, so he guessed I could. We chatted a bit more, about his daughter who cycled, had done End to End and like me, enjoyed cycling on her own. I said -

"Yes - you can go wherever you want and stop for food whenever you want."

He then told me about a cafe not far away, called, simply, The Shed. I cycled off and found it, but just as I was thinking  "Ah, this is my sort of place!" - literally a shed painted in a very colourful fashion - I found it wasn't open that day. Gutted! However at Rolleston on Dove another real person, this time a friendly postie, told me that the pub across the road served coffee. I would never normally go in a pub on my own, but when I am out cycling I seem to gain a confidence that I don't usually have, and in I went, though it helped that it wasn't yet busy with lunch time drinkers.

My route then took  me around the west side of Burton upon Trent, where at one point another cyclist saw me taking a photo, came over and we had a good old natter. He was a member of British Cycling, having got disenchanted, I believe, with the CTC when it became Cycling UK. Then it was south and south-east to the youth hostel here near Swadlincote in the National Forest. I'd done a very easy 40 miles. Maybe it really was all downhill from north to south! My private room was only £29 with an en-suite. It was clean and did the job but was not as cosy as the older youth hostels.  I booked breakfast but then changed my mind as they didn't start serving it until 7.30 am; I knew that by the time I'd eaten and conducted my usual after-breakfast routine - not just unmentionables, but re-packing the panniers and getting the bike out of the shed etc. etc. - it would be later than I wanted. I found it rather an inconvenient arrangement that I had to ask for the bike shed key, lock away my bike and then return the key, meaning that if I wanted to return to my bike, I'd have to ask for the key again. There were also no staff in the hostel overnight, so I definitely couldn't get to it once they'd gone home for the night.

I always find it very hard to eat in the evenings on a trip like this. All I can think about is having a shower, speaking to Husband on the phone (he needs assurance that I'm ok....) making sure I'm familiar with the next day's route, making some notes about the day's ride, and getting to bed. After about 4 o'clock I struggle to eat a proper meal; I'd tried to eat a dried packet meal (mashed potato and chicken....) but couldn't manage much of it. Apologies to Elder Son-in-Law who had given it to me a few of these dried meals. In the night my stomach was rumbling and I got up and ate an apple and two cheese biscuits, which stopped the rumbles until morning, when I attempted to eat another  packet of something fruity and custardy, but without much success. And next time I stay at a youth hostel I will take tea bags - I sorely missed my morning cup of tea!

I set off at 7.45, and first stop was to buy a pint of milk at a local shop; Husband thinks milk is a good thing to keep you going so I took his advice and bought some. I quite enjoy milk nowadays, but as a little girl I loathed the stuff, and missed chunks of playtime at primary school because I was stuck in the classroom, trying to force down the free milk we all had back then in the 1960s.

Today being 50 miles, I didn't hang around. I was navigating this first part without the Garmin but it was fairly easy. After about 14 miles I spotted a sign for a farm shop and cafe - just what I need, I thought! I cycled on with renewed enthusiasm looking out for further signs, and was mystified when there weren't any. Eventually, after asking a couple where it was, they directed me - back the way I'd come. How on earth had I missed it? This added on another 3 miles, and I wasn't sure whether it was wise to back track like this, but I really needed a proper breakfast, so I did. It was worth it; I had a fry up, and both tea and coffee, and that set me up for many more miles.

At this point things went just a little wrong.......... I attempted to rejoin the original route on my Garmin, and thought -

"Uh oh, it's not there............."

And not only that, but it seemed that Husband had neglected to work out the route for Days 3 and 4 as well. Fortunately we had taken the belt and braces approach and had written a list of places I would go through, and I also had the map on the smartphone to check, with the aid of GPS, where I was and where I was going. So I then cycled another 15 miles in this way, constantly checking road signs and the map. I crossed a busy dual carriageway fairly quickly; we had looked on google earth and knew that there was a safe crossing. At some point then I texted Husband to say what had happened, and shortly after, when I was on the very edge of Coventry, he rang me and said -

"The route is on your Garmin!! Why didn't you ring me?!"

"Well there would have been nothing you could do and you'd only have worried...."

He couldn't for the life of him understand how I had made the mistake of thinking it wasn't there in the "Courses", and said -

"But we went through it all!! I told you where you'd go off route and where you'd get back on it!" etc. etc.

Yes, we had gone through it all, but that had been several days before, and in the intervening interval I had completely forgotten that he had done the whole 4 days' route as one. I'm sure a psychologist would be able to explain why this had happened! In fact just recently I read an interesting article in the paper on memory, and apparently the phenomenon of going into a room only to forget what you've gone in there for is very common, and is known as an "event boundary"; the act of going through a door makes the brain believe that a new scene has begun and that there is no need for memories from the old scene. I think this applied to me, as I had gone through a lot of doorways since having that conversation with Husband!

Anyway, at last I re-connected to the route and made up for lost time. Coming into Kenilworth, I was amazed to come over the hill and see the spectacular ruins of the castle looming up ahead of me. Soon after that I reached Warwick, and from the outskirts I rode all the way through the town on a cycle path, apart from one small section where I did as other locals were doing and rode on the pavement. NCN Route 1 took me through to Leamington Spa, where there had been the possibility of a cup of tea with one of Elder Son's cycling friends; that didn't come off in the end, and it was a good job it didn't, as time was ticking on and despite having the course to follow turn by turn, it was pretty tricky following it as precisely as I needed to through housing estates in Leamington Spa, and I kept having to retrace my steps.

Today's only photo - cyclepath alongside the Grand Union Canal at Leamington Spa

But I did it, and took the road out of the town south to a village called Bishop's Tachbrook. I was getting quite tired by then, and when I saw what looked like a possibly long and certainly steep, busy hill, I was a bit worried about going up it, but once I'd told myself to just get on with it it turned out to be short and I was soon at the top. Another few miles, and another very steep hill, and there at 6.45 pm was my B and B, near Lighthorne, which was small but very clean and comfortable. And I was delighted to find there were some decent tea bags!! A tiring 52.56 miles.

Next episode - home, via Chipping Norton.

Wednesday, August 28

This is why I love cycling......

We'll get to the point of the title later on, but first here's what I've done since this post on August 5th.

Sunday 4th - a really interesting ride round Oxford, led by the chairman of Wantage CUK, called "Oxford Urban Safari". A clockwise route round backstreets and canal and river paths, starting and ending at Seacourt Park and Ride. One of the other riders kindly picked me up and drove us both there. Part of me thinks that driving to a ride is cheating but I did it anyway! About 16 miles.

Link to the route - https://ridewithgps.com/trips/38167267

Monday 6th - Shopping, normally 8.8 miles, but with an all-round-the-houses route home. 18.31 miles.

Thursday 8th - A Wantage CUK Family Bike Ride, 8 regular riders plus one mum and her 3 children, the youngest of which was only just 7. The ride itself was about 10 miles so she did very well! 18.93 miles total (that includes my ride to the start, and then a slightly different route home after leaving the group early on the return).

Monday 12th - a solo ride to Shrivenham, with the intention of trying out a cafe there that I hadn't been to (see review on my Cafes page) and also trying out a route for when I become a ride leader (that's all going through now - eek!). 22.53 miles.

Thursday 15th - missed my usual group ride as I had some shopping and a lot of other bits and pieces  to do. Bought a new adjustable stem for my Trek, to raise my handlebars up a bit, in my local bike shop Ridgeway Cycles. 10.17 miles.

Saturday 17th - I had a parcel to collect, plus I wanted to try out the new stem which Husband had fitted. I like it! 13.22 miles.

Tuesday 20th - Shopping. Also did a bit of exploring of a local path, again with the possibility of using it in a future group ride. Home a long way round, incorporating a local hill of some renown, which I usually manage on whichever bike I am on.  However, I find that sometimes when I approach a hill, even from a good distance away, I know whether I am going to get up it easily, or struggle, or not make it at all. This time was one of the latter, which is quite rare I'm pleased to say. It didn't help that there was a large vehicle coming up behind me which I knew would be edging to overtake me. I just gave up and got off! Sometimes one has to admit defeat.... 11.47 miles.

Thursday 22nd - another Wantage CUK Family Bike Ride, with the same family that came last time (3 children including the 7 year old) and another couple and their 10 year old son. About 14 miles for the actual ride (well done the 7 year old again!). Then I visited my daughter and baby granddaughter in Wantage, so my total was 27.89 miles.

And now we are nearly up to date, as we get to the Bank Holiday, Monday 26th. 

It was extremely hot.......... I had decided to cycle to a little village called Garford, in our local Vale of the White Horse. There were two reasons for this -

   1 To find and possibly ride a bridleway eastwards to Drayton and Abingdon. To get to those two      places in the past I have always cycled on what is known as Cow Common, a rather busy road from  East Hanney to Steventon. Recently while reading the map (I love reading maps!) I noticed this bridleway, and after looking on Google Earth found that it appeared to be more a road than a track. You can get on to it via Garford, with just a short stretch of the busy A338 in between.

   2 To find a footpath which goes from Garford across to Millets Farm, which is, apparently, "Oxfordshire's number one family day out for food, shopping and entertainment"!! Hmmm, well yes it is a nice place to go, and has a good cafe, where you get a free biscuit with your coffee (always good!) but as with all these places most people go by car. I have cycled there but that involves a stretch of road that, although not horribly busy, would be nicer avoided. This footpath would provide that alternative route. 

Well, I found the number 2, pushed my bike along it and easily negotiated two gates. But you never know with footpaths whether you are going to come across a stile or a kissing gate that's too tiny to get a bike through. I got to this bridge - [*]

Rats!! I tried to lift my (quite heavy) bike over but didn't think it was a good idea as I might hurt myself. I climbed over and walked a bit of the path, which even though not particularly rideable was  pushable. But there was nothing for it but to turn back. 

So, off to find the number 1. To cut a rather long and hot story short, I found the bridlepath that leads to said bridlepath that leads to Drayton..... but decided against going down it as it was very exposed and by that time Noel Coward's words about mad dogs and Englishmen were going round in my head. Mad Englishwomen too. 

So I left that adventure for another cooler day, and headed off back home. However, this particular mad Englishwoman hadn't had quite enough of exploring, and when I got to the little village of Lyford, I decided to veer off down another off-road shortcut to the village of West Hanney. I'd walked down here before and had it in my head that this was a bridlepath, and therefore legally rideable, and passable, with a bike, but after a mile or so I got to a stile..... and then realized it wasn't a bridlepath but a footpath. Oh dear, another about turn. Then I really did go home, but it was so hot that I had to keep stopping and resting in shade (which was rather lacking in this area) and both drinking water and pouring it over myself to keep cool. At the lovely little village of West Challow, about 3 miles from home, I paddled in the stream and took advantage of the cool bottles of water that I knew were to be had in the church - what a thoughtful gesture! I made it home, rather exhausted.

The thing about this ride was that I really did not enjoy it! This was mainly, but not entirely, because of the heat. Even two miles into the ride I wasn't enjoying it, although I thought things might improve, as they often do, but they didn't really. Why am I doing this I thought? But - as I always say, even the worst bike ride is pretty good! I did, after all, achieve what I set out to, which was to find those paths, even though I ended up not going on one of them. And I found two tennis balls! 24.87 miles.

And now we really are up to date, Tuesday August 27th - 

I had to go to Wantage today to get some elastic for a customer's sewing job. Our local sewing shop has been closed for holidays and the last time I bought elastic online proved to me that I need to see it first, or I end up with something unsuitable. I did other bits of food shopping too, returned some books to the library, and had free coffee in Waitrose, where I sat outside and enjoyed people-watching. (Interesting observation of the day - most women were wearing sandals of some sort, with bare feet, whereas hardly any men were.) It had hotted up since I left home at about 9, but wasn't as bad as yesterday. 

And now the explanation for the title. I had taken my camera with me, and on the way home I stopped frequently to take photos of my usual route home to explain what went through my head as I rode, which was -

"This is why I love cycling......!"

And here are those photos - with a bit of farming information as well..... 

1 My route takes me down Locks Lane in Wantage towards the ford, then over across that wooden bridge over Letcombe Brook (a chalk stream - more than 85% of the world's chalk streams are found in the UK) - 

2 Up this path past a row of cottages. See the cat? I always say hello to passing cats - 

Up the main road for a while, and then I walked up a footpath, at the bottom of which was a man unloading firewood which was packed up very neatly in a wooden crate. None of your slung-into-a -builder's-bag sloppiness. This was a work of art! (Why didn't I take a photo?! I nearly turned back to do so.) I told him it was like an artwork and then from somewhere nearby came the voice of another man, unseen, asking -

"Is she in a rush?  We  could do with a hand.... "

I hesitated....

"Would tea and cake persuade her?" said the voice.

 I was tempted......

"Is she hesitating?"

Yes I was!

I replied that if I hadn't just had coffee and a Kit-Kat in Waitrose I might well have been persuaded!

3 Just past the school at East Challow - I think you can just make out 6.02 miles on my Garmin at this point. Just after this the road officially becomes a bridleway - 

4 Here the school is on the right. Look closer - see that apple tree? It has the most delicious apples ever! I tried one the other day - not quite ready yet. Even my husband likes them, and that's saying something! He's very fussy when it comes to apples. Remember this tree....there's more about it later. The solar powered light is recent and I can't see the need for it - just another light to spoil the dark skies.

5 Further along the bridleway wheat was being harvested; I just had to stop and watch as it took me back to the days when, during school holidays, I used to take my children to watch the combines, and the tractors carting the corn, on the farm where my husband worked. He would have been one of the ones driving a tractor.

This is looking back whence I'd come. I had watched the combine coming up the field and was waiting for it to flash its light to signal to the tractor driver that he was ready to empty his load of corn. Here in the distance he has just done so and the tractor on the right has moved into position -

The combine's auger is out now and the wheat shoots down into the trailer -

That tractor now leaves the field with his load of corn -

 And the other one that was waiting in the field drives over to receive the next load from
the combine -

Another tractor and trailer comes in to replace the one that's gone -

Here you can just see that the combine has gone back down the field, and the two tractors are awaiting their next loads -

 Quite a nicely choreographed operation really.

Now I'm looking ahead to the next bit of my journey. The Ridgeway is in the distance. Look into that corn field on the left - see a tiny dark spot? That is a hare running away as fast as his long legs will carry him! While I was watching the harvesting I was amazed to see him suddenly appear on the track in front of me, but as soon as I moved to take a photo he ran off.

6 I'm now in the village of Childrey, where I passed the time of day with a man who I often see walking, either on his own, or pushing his grandchild in her pushchair. Childrey not only has a lovely pond but a lovely VW camper van too! And a rather, dare I say it, upmarket village shop and cafe, which is very popular with walkers and cyclists -

The pond. There's just something about a village pond.....

This is my last downhill section, heading towards Sparsholt, where I have never yet managed to get up to more than 20 mph. Further down on the right hand side, there are some woods whence cometh the most lovely fragrance in spring.  Every time I cycle by I breathe it in and go "Ahhhhh.....". About 8 years ago I went walking with a friend who pointed out to me something called Poplar Balsam, and when I first noticed the smell coming from these woods I instantly recognised it as that. They say you remember smells even when you haven't smelt them for years.  My plan is to sneak in there and pinch a cutting and grow my own -

8  Oh, and here is the local library, in the phone box! I've read books from there and also donated some, as well as my Cycling UK magazines!

Remember that apple tree? I now have 7 trees growing from its apple pips I sowed last year!

Apple trees, with a side of orange buddleia.

The beautiful orange buddleia is one which I discovered growing locally, and took some cuttings from. It's Buddleia Weyeriana "Sungold". Buddleia is incredibly easy to grow and I love seeing the butterflies on it. Just today another cutting I took has come out in flower at the bottom of the garden.

This is just my very ordinary cycle ride to go shopping and although I couldn't ask for a much nicer route,  I wouldn't miss it for all the tea in China even in the winter. I could have used the car today as Husband didn't need it, but if I'd done that, I'd have seen none of this, as my route would have been all on road. No stopping to watch the harvesting, no sighting of that hare, no banter over the firewood artwork, no passing the time of day with the man with his grandchild, and certainly no exercise or fresh air.

So there we are, that's why I love cycling!

*Apologies for the change of font - I just couldn't get it to change back although as you can see eventually it did by itself!