Saturday, September 23

A Four Day Bike Tour around Four Counties

 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 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 -  

Then on along the Bourne Rivulet - completely dried up, and looked as if it had been for months. Stopped at Hurstbourne Tarrant church for water. Successful again, this time indoors. A wooden cover had been left open revealing a sink, at which I washed my face and filled my bottles. I was just leaving a note in the visitors' book, thanking them for their water, when I noticed a man in a mask in the porch, clearly slightly reluctant to come in when he saw me. We greeted each other and he did come in. I have never worn a mask, or had the jabs. I am very aware of how the events of the last 3 1/2 years have divided people, and I really felt I should try and have a conversation with him about his mask wearing. I had walked away from the church but knew that if I didn't go back and attempt to talk to him then I'd regret it. So I turned round and went back and did so. He did admit that in this sort of situation a mask "isn't really necessary " but he said I would never convince him that they didn't work. However, at least we had managed to have a civilized, though short, conversation about it. He wished me a good day. [Can't get that paragraph to align left - grrrr!]

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".

Thursday, June 29

Bob the Brompton goes to Devon!

  Last week, Husband and I planned to go to Cullompton, in Devon, to visit our daughter, and I realized this was a good opportunity for me to take the Brompton in the car and cycle/take the train home.  As happens so often when I am considering a longer or more unusual bike ride, I find myself getting nervous and mentally backing out, thinking of all the possible difficulties, and that's exactly what happened, emphasized by the newness of this adventure with Bob. However, as our 2 year old grandson has a habit of saying - "Did it!".

My original thought was to cycle to the station at Tiverton a few miles from Cullompton, get the train to Bristol, cycle the railway path to Bath (I've long wanted to ride it), wild camp overnight nearby, then get the train the next day to Swindon and cycle home from there. However, I realized that this was too much new-to-me activity in one go, too much luggage to think about getting onto the train, and I only had a couple of days to plan it, and so I decided instead to do the whole journey home in one day.

Cycling trips like this take me ages to plan. I've got a spreadsheet of what I need to take but it still took me a good few hours over a couple of days to plan exactly what I needed for this particular trip, and the first leg of the route. I knew what the second leg would be, having already cycled it here, (4th paragraph down) 

Regarding luggage, I had to think about the act of getting the bike onto the train; I needed both hands free for this, one for the bike and one for the bag - a Brompton Borough bag, which easily contained all I needed - which goes on the front of the bike, so the best place for any other bags was on my back, hence I also took my small 5 litre rucksack, strapping it to the rack when cycling. So, for the first part of the route, I needed to get from Cullompton to Tiverton Parkway, which was a choice of either a fairly straightforward one out of the town and then onto a cycle path which takes you straight to the station, or a slightly longer, but more scenic, route, but one which needed a bit more navigating. 

On the morning of the Monday when I left my daughter's, I had a rough timetable in my head of the day. I decided that if I got away soon after 8, I would take the longer more scenic route. If it got to 8.20 I'd probably take the shorter route, which, once I was on the cycle path, would be straight there without needing to look at the map. Neither of the two routes were very far, one about 5 1/2 miles and the other 7 1/2, but as I said, with the longer one I had more to think about as I had to navigate more, which meant memorising as much as I could but no doubt having to stop and check the map as well.  I found out that when you're suddenly cycling in a different area, rather than having cycled to it, it's very different. I wanted to buy a railcard at the station too, so that would add on some time, though I'd already filled in the form.  In case you're wondering, I obviously hadn't got time to wait for one to arrive in the post, and I don't have a smartphone so couldn't get a digital one, which I wouldn't want anyway....I do possess a mobile phone but it is about 14 years old. All I want it for is the odd phone call or message. And even that I could happily manage without!!

 As it happened, by 8.20 when I left  I had already decided to take the cycle path anyway. I was a bit concerned about the roads in that area being quite busy, and both narrow and hilly in places. I'm still getting used to the Brompton and to knowing what I can manage in the way of hills on it, so this decision was all about making life easier for myself!

You might by now be thinking - "Get on with it!" But I am always curious as to what goes through other cyclists' minds when they are planning a trip, hence my detail in case you are curious too! 

Now follow me out of Cullompton if you will....  I was too intent on getting to the station to take photos at this point unfortunately. Trying to find a different road out of the town to avoid the busier road wasn't successful, but I know where I went wrong so next time I'll get it right. I had to get off on a hill as I hadn't engaged the right gear; I stopped at the top for a drink and my second clementine of the day (more on food later). Finding the cycle path out of the neighbouring village of Willand wasn't as easy as it looked on the map. Back at home I'd done my research on where it was, and I checked the map again. It was only when I saw a postman driving down a tiny lane between two buildings that I realized that that must be where it started. I also saw a blue NCN sign  - I hadn't realized it was part of an NCN route.   Why are the blue NCN signs so small and hard to see, and why aren't there more of them?!!!!! "They" want us to cycle more so why don't "They" make it a bit easier by spending more money on better signage, for a start.... I wish I'd taken a photo of the usual tiny hard-to-see sign at the start of the path just to show anyone who's not familiar with them how ridiculously tiny they are.

I got to the station a bit later than planned, so I gave up on buying the railcard that day and just bought my ticket (a real paper one....). Then the moment of folding the bike in public for the first time came! And yes, I did mess it up slightly! but I sorted it out and was rewarded as I got on the train with the lady behind me saying - "I think you're very brave!" I felt rewarded anyway! The train wasn't crowded and I successfully put the bike on the bottom of the luggage rack, and then found a seat right in front of it, where I could keep an eye on it. Some people actually lock the bike to the train, so I've read, to deter opportunist thieves. Phew, Stage 1 of the journey successfully completed! The only eventful thing that happened was that later I went to the loo, came back, and after a while  realized I hadn't got my rucksack - which contained all the important stuff. My stomach turned over as I imagined that someone had pinched it when passing down the aisle. Then I realized I must have left it hung up in the loo, went back, and there it still was - thank God!

I had to change at Bristol Parkway, and again I was nervous about this, having only 12 minutes to change, and not being familiar with this station. As it happened all I had to do was cross a matter of yards from one platform to the neighbouring one - no stairs or lift involved. Again I got on the train and put the bike on the bottom of the luggage rack, and found a seat  in front of it. Stage 2 successfully completed! About 40 minutes later I arrived at Swindon, and, breathing a sigh of relief, immediately made for the cafe, where while waiting to be served, another cyclist, and owner of a Brompton he didn't use any more, came up and chatted to me about mine. I can see that it is definitely a bit of a conversation starter - like dogs and babies! I think I'm going to get a lot of enjoyment out of it.

Up to that point I had only had two clementines, plus water and tea to drink. The reasons for this are  to do with what's called "intermittent fasting" - leaving a longer gap between your last meal on one day and your breakfast on the next. It was also to do with feeling nervous about a ride and wanting to just get on and go rather than trying to force myself to eat while in that nervous state. Once upon a time I used to feel almost sick if I didn't eat before going out in the morning, but  I have discovered now that I feel much better when doing this, even when I go out on my bike. The other day I went 15 miles before stopping to eat. So, I ate my lunch, trying not to wolf it down in my hunger (origin of that expression - the digestion of dogs starts in their stomachs, not in their mouths as does ours, so for them "wolfing it down" is fine!), bought an apple for later, and then for the first time in my life used the lift (well, obviously I've used a lift before but not at a station) to get down to the exit. 

Then to unfold the bike, again for the first time in public. I think by now I was getting slightly more confident and I did it correctly, and off I went on my cycle ride out of Swindon. Please forgive the awful quality of these photos - I'm putting them in just to give some indication of what my ride out of the town was like. My camera has stopped working and I was using Husband's old smartphone.

Just left the station. Beautiful Swindon...

This is the world famous "Magic Roundabout", in the middle of Swindon, and is actually 5 roundabouts, if I remember rightly. It's OK once you are used to it, but if not.... I remember a friend telling me that her husband used to go quiet when negotiating it...When I took this photo there wasn't much traffic about, surprisingly.

The "Magic roundabout"!

Shrivenham Road - getting greener...

As I said, I'd done this ride before so didn't need to consult the map, but, yes, you've guessed it, I still managed to go wrong. but that isn't necessarily a bad thing, because it teaches you to use your brain! I looked round me at my choices, and realized which direction I needed to go in, and was soon on the right path. 

Apart from some quiet roads and backstreets, I rode on cycle paths, and over this bridge -

Over the A419 near Go Outdoors

until I got to the Cop Shop on the A420 -

and then I was out of town and onto this bridlepath - 

Bridlepath (where the yellow arrow is) to South Marston 

From South Marston I went through Nightingale Woods to Rove's Farm, to buy some more food to keep me going.

Brompton Borough bag on the front, rucksack on the back, home made bag on the stem.

Incidentally, I made this stem bag, to put my water bottle in, from a chalk bag -

I was able to push the bike right up to the cafe/farm shop (behind the buildings in the photo) where I felt it was safe to leave it while I went in. They have a drinking water tap where you can fill up your bottle, as well as loos. Then it was on through Sevenhampton (Ian Fleming is buried there) Shrivenham, Longcot (stopped again for water - there was  a tap outside the church. The water from these church taps is always deliciously cold!) and Uffington (John Betjeman lived there) to home a couple of miles away. I did not attempt one last local hill, because by then I was tired and hot and again because I'm not sure of what I can do on this bike, and now didn't feel like the time to try. I got home at 5 pm, having left my daughter's house at 8.20 am. About 27 miles (peanuts!) in total on the bike, but a long day! 

I am amazed by how comfortable the Brompton is to ride. It wouldn't be the bike I'd choose out of my 3 to go on a long tour - though plenty of people do - but I'm more than pleased with what I've been able to do on it so far. 

Money - about £1650 with the bag and a couple of upgrades - well spent!!! I don't mind being honest and revealing how much things cost sometimes. but you know that noise that people make when you've told them the cost of something and they think it's a lot? Well, someone did just that recently when I told them the price in answer to their question. I could have spent a long time in conversation about it...

In conclusion - what a great way to travel!!

Friday, June 16

Cooking breakfast outside on my Trangia stove

Before I explain the title of this post, let me just tell you about my trial run to Swindon railway station. I'd already ridden to Didcot station on Bob the Brompton and wanted to compare it to a route to Swindon station, which is a bit further away from us. I didn't ride the Brompton as I wasn't at all sure of a part of the route I'd chosen, which was a bridleway, so I rode the Koga. I cycled via Uffington, Shrivenham and Bourton and then on a bridleway to the village of Horpit, on the outskirts of Swindon, after which I had to negotiate unexpected building works for a new road near the Commonhead roundabout.  Despite there being no signs for pedestrians or cyclists, I found my way through, and then it was on to the cycle paths, or quiet roads on NCN route 45, in Swindon all the way to the station. The whole journey there was 19 miles and took me about 4 hours.... but I didn't set out to do it as fast as possible, but to explore a possible route and to enjoy it. And to chat to people like the lady with a dog who came along just as I was emerging from a field,  having been looking for a bit of privacy to obey the call of nature (unsuccessful) and asked me, probably because I was well off the footpath that runs through the field, if I was lost! We had a nice chat and then further on I was successful....

The bridleway was very muddy in one or two spots but I got round them, and by now they will probably have dried up. It was a really lovely route as far as the roundabout, and even after that in Swindon town it was mainly traffic free. It's rather an odd feeling to cycle somewhere you've only ever driven to before. "Did I really get here on my bike?" I found myself thinking.

I would just like to add a note about Swindon here: As a child I had some friends who lived down the road from me, in a flat over a shop, and when they moved to Swindon my mum made a negative comment about it (I can't remember the comment specifically) and ever since then whenever I think about Swindon, in my mind it is a grey's that thing of associating names and nouns with colours. 

My route home was to go out of Swindon through Lower Stratton and past the police headquarters, and then I was out in the countryside again and going through the village of South Marston, then Nightingale Woods and Rove's Farm (had cup of tea in the cafe and looked round the farm shop) , Sevenhampton (burial place of Ian Fleming), Watchfield (home to the Defence Academy of the UK - I wouldn't mind a snoop round there..!) Compton Beauchamp, and the hilly and winding B4507 to home. 39.46 miles in about 8 1/2 hours....

So - back to breakfast outside. I'm not someone who just goes for bike rides for the sake of it - I like to have an aim and a purpose behind it. As well as cooking breakfast outside, I wanted to see if some bridleways and byways were rideable on my bike, for future rides perhaps. With reference to the stove, I have often used my Trangia burner with cross members, and kettle, to boil water for coffee (and no I don't pour it on boiling, I leave it to cool for precisely one minute) when out on a ride, but had only ever used the whole stove (a Trangia 25 Duodossal) to cook breakfast in our garden, and it hadn't been particularly successful. I knew that I had to challenge myself to take it on a bike ride and cook in the wild (with the hope of doing a spot of wild camping this summer) so that was the aim of this ride. After much map reading I decided on a route, and while preparing to go I remembered that on that route there was a very beautiful and peaceful wooded burial ground at Sheepdrove Organic Farm. This is it - Sheepdrove Natural Burial Ground. Jus' perfick! as old Pa Larkin of The Darling Buds of May would say.  There were two good climbs on the way there, one of which I knew I could do, and did, and the other I knew I couldn't (up to the Ridgeway) and didn't....but I like to have a go.

The owners of Sheepdrove Farm,  Peter and Juliet Kindersley, of Dorling Kindersley Publishers fame, live in the house below, on the byway - the house is very unusual, surrounded by trees on three sides,  and the garden is beautiful, though my photo doesn't do it justice.

And opposite. Not a bad view to have from your house.... 

I chose a nice spot on the edge of the wood, with a fairly new grave (the mound in front of the bench, complete with dead tulips. Incidentally, none of the graves are marked with names.) and a bench. As Mrs Armitage would say - "What every campsite needs is somewhere to put your stuff!". If everything has to go on the ground, including yourself if there isn't even a log to sit on, then it all gets a bit tricky, I have discovered. A bench served the purpose of both table and seat. 

A bit burnt but still very tasty, and  better than my garden attempts - 

I also had yogurt and banana and my home made elderberry syrup, and two small chocolate digestives -  I don't often have biscuits these days but my son and family, who have recently been staying with us, had left them behind and I took upon myself the onerous task of finishing them. It was a lovely spot to sit and eat, and I thought - I must do this again!  However..... I was just packing up when a group of mourners appeared on the path ahead of me, which shocked me a bit! I wondered if the smell of bacon and coffee was lingering in the air..... Fortunately they weren't visiting "my" grave, and in fact they didn't even glance in my direction, though they were only yards away. 

Having had quite a chilly start (it's been like that for many days now, chilly days that take ages to warm up, and I have only just stopped wearing winter clothes) it was now getting pretty hot, and after leaving the wood I removed two layers from on top, and the zip-off bits of the zip-off trousers I'd recently bought. I am always interested in what other cyclists wear (unless it's lycra...), so in case you are too, these were Peter Storm men's ones. They actually fit me really well, though I don't think I've got a manly shape.... The men's clothing in Go Outdoors, where I bought them, is always in colours much more to my liking than the women's, and they also seem to have a better choice of styles and fabrics. I bought some women's Brasher trousers a while ago, in a synthetic stretchy fabric, although I don't normally go for fabrics like that, and for a while I really liked them for cycling in, as they were very comfortable. I even bought a second pair. However, they have gone out of shape and look terrible. The Peter Storm ones are a much nicer cotton mixture fabric. I used to like Craghoppers trousers and shorts until they too started using synthetic stretchy fabrics.

And after that I rode on bits of bridleway, and parts of the Ridgeway, going east. Some were easily rideable, like this part of the Ridgeway (you can see why it is called a white road) and some I had to get off and walk. I nearly fell off once, but recovered myself and bike in time.

In the photo below, looking down from the Ridgeway, the arrow on the left is pointing to new houses (there are thousands...) built on the east side of Wantage, the one in the middle points to the road to Wantage from Newbury, and the one on the right points roughly to Didcot power station.

Another part of the Ridgeway, looking east.

I took a byway down from the Ridgeway towards East Hendred, and then turned off onto part of NCN route 544 and headed west to Wantage, and then home, refilling my water bottles with lovely cold water from a tap outside Ardington church.

I am glad to have completed the challenge of cooking outside in the wild, and I really enjoyed doing the off-roading. I wouldn't want to do it in the winter on my bike, but at this time of year it was fine, and made a lovely change from riding on the road all the time, and I don't mind at all having to get off and walk. About 26 miles - in 8 hours!! That's my kind of cycling!!