Friday, August 19

Can I do 65 miles in a day? Or will it be a call of shame.....(with pics this time!)

Let's just backtrack a bit, if you don't mind!  Husband finally managed to bluetooth my photos  across from the old phone to his new phone, and from there to the PC. Isn't modern life complicated sometimes.... The first one is at Windrush, near Burford, where I stopped for lunch on my first day. I just put this one in as it's the best one I've got of what I was carrying on my bike. Incidentally another last minute decision before leaving home the day before was to carry the rucksack (on the bench) my Deuter speed lite 5 litre, rather than using my home made cotton drawstring one which I normally stuff in my panniers and then just take out and carry when necessary. It was all to do with freeing up space. I thought I might find I got sweaty with it on my back, but in fact it was fine and didn't bother me at all.

My beast of burden

Now here is the campsite at Aston Somerville, a few miles south west of Broadway, called Manor Farm Glamping, where I stayed the first night. As you can see I was most definitely not in the glamping bit, but the wild camping bit. I knew very little about campsites before I went, and found this one just by searching the internet. It was £10 a night.

My pitch

Compost toilet straight ahead, washing facilities (with shower) on the right, my pitch over to the left.

Now on to my ride home.

I'd asked for breakfast as early as possible today, which was 7.15, and was up about an hour before. I didn't sleep as well as the night before – the kind of tiredness you get from wandering round the NEC all day obviously doesn't make for as good a night's sleep as cycling/awful camping/more cycling did on my first night there! I polished off the same breakfast again, and left about 8.30. As I was attending to my bike outside the B and B the same Mature Redditch Lady I had spoken to at the bus stop the day before passed by, walking her dog, and we chatted again.

Then it was off down the road opposite, towards Sambourne, and very soon I was on the West Midlands Cycle Route. It was chilly but promised to be a lovely day, although it was still windy. The first few miles I was sailing along thinking “Oh isn't this lovely!” - the countryside was beautiful, particularly where the road crossed over a ford at Coughton. Some dogs rushed into the lovely clear water, swam around and then ran off again to find their owner, who probably didn't realize that I was there or he would have done his business a little more least he had his back to me. 

The ford at Coughton

The route passed over a footbridge, where I followed it to Great Alne and then I left it and headed south towards Welford-on-Avon, Long Marston and Mickleton. As usual I went a bit wrong and did two or three extra miles as a result. I thought -

Better not do that too often or I really won't make it home today....”

I'd resolved not to stop properly before I'd got 20 miles under my belt. I did have a banana break and a salted peanuts break, but that was all and I was sorely tempted to stop for coffee before this as there were several enticing signs to cafes. I even resisted the temptation to branch off a short distance to Hidcote Gardens, not that I'd have paid to go into the gardens – I just thought there might be a very nice National Trust cafe there with, you know, very nice facilities.

I actually stopped after 22 miles in a little village called Ebrington (Gloucestershire - by that time I wasn't sure which county I was in so checked with the lady watering the hanging baskets) where I had coffee in a pub garden – and what a lovely garden it was too! 

Pub garden at Ebrington

 I'm sure it was as good as Hidcote would have been..... Good coffee too, and in a nice mug! By then I'd already used hedgerow facilities so didn't need the pub's. As I was pausing down the road afterwards to text Husband to let him know where I was (as pre-arranged), two cyclists appeared and I saw them looking down the hill at me and joking - 

Well she's looking at her compass so she's lost too!” (Compass? No, my ancient Nokia.)

I called back that I wasn't lost! They boasted that they'd got maps. I said I'd got maps too so na na ne na na!

Beefore I pootled off again they called out, kindly -

So you're not lost then, you're all right?”

Yes thank you, just texting my husband to let him know I'm not lost!”

By then it was warm and sunny, though that pesky wind was still there, and I cycled off on my way towards Moreton-in-Marsh. I came across the two cyclists again, sitting on a bench, and they said -

Are you sure you're not lost?!”

No, just checking my map!”

Then we chatted a bit. They were working out a route for a bike event, and were quite impressed when I told them about my ride. They pootled off again, arguing a bit, and adding -

We're like an old couple – we always bicker!”

Then I did get lost........ and finally gave in to technology and to save any more lost time (pardon the pun!) I turned on the GPS to find out where I was. Having sorted myself out, I turned round and cycled back, only to pass the two cyclists again! This time they were sat outside a pub having lunch and they called out -

You ARE lost aren't you!”

Well I was but I'm not now!”

Not long after this I stopped to obey the call of nature again. I climbed over a gate into a field, did my business behind the hedge, and then got the shock of my life. No, not someone watching me, or a bull approaching, but literally the shock of my life! For some reason I had put my hand on the fence wire......not realizing it was electrified!! Quite a jolt to say the least. There was no warning sign – I suppose there didn't have to be as it wasn't by a footpath, but all the same I did think that maybe the farmer out of the kindness of his heart could have labelled it, just to be nice to potential climbers-over-his-gate-and-users-of-his-hedge.

Just before Moreton-in-Marsh there was quite a long hill - 600 feet of elevation to be precise. I did do quite well in getting up hills on this ride generally, although I wasn't averse to giving up and pushing either. The wind by then was VERY strong and it was quite tough going. I was very glad when I finally reached the top, although because of the wind I found I was still pedalling when I should have been freewheeling. That weather expert of mine told me later that the winds might well have been up to 30 mph.

I spotted a Budgen's supermarket just near the junction where I came into Moreton-in-Marsh, and made a beeline for it. I really wanted cherries again and thought they were bound to have some nice English ones as we were not far from the fruit growing area, i.e. the Vale of Evesham, where I'd got my lovely freshly picked ones at Boston Farm, but would you believe it they only had SPANISH ones! How stupid, I thought, and refused to buy them. Too many food miles. Instead I bought a punnet of ENGLISH strawberries. Then I spotted the hot cooked chicken counter, and thought that I could very happily gnaw on some drumsticks, so bought a couple of those, and then got some freshly squeezed orange juice and a bottle of water. I'm putting in this foodie detail because I find it very interesting knowing what other people eat, or don't eat, when they are cycling, or running. I read a fascinating book recently by the ultra runner Scott Jurek all about his vegan diet. Not that I have any desire to go vegan.

And the reason for eating the salted peanuts earlier was because our next door neighbour, who is one of those cyclists who does MILES AND MILES every day, had recently done a 200 miler (nutter!) and got cramp near the end of the ride, but had solved the problem with salted crisps and Coke and finished the ride. As I have a tendency to get cramp anyway I thought eating salted peanuts would be a good idea. And I didn't get cramp.

I relaxed on a bench in the middle of the main street, eating the chicken and some of the strawberries, drinking the juice, and doing a bit of people watching. Moreton-in- Marsh was a handy place for me to refuel and rest, but like Bourton-on-theWater on my first day, it's spoilt in the summer by all the cars.


Then it was off into the wind and sun again towards Milton-under-Wychwood. If I'd had time I would have gone through Adlestrop rather than just skirting round it, as Edward Thomas's words were going round my head – Oh come on, let's have a poem, it's not very long -

Yes, I remember Adlestrop
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop -- only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

As it was, I, like Edward Thomas, only saw the name.

Did he see willow-herb in “late June”? If he meant Rose Bay Willow Herb, it's actually flowering now, in August.

It was pretty hot by now and when I saw a sprinkler at the side of the road I thought

Well how kind of someone to provide a passing hot cyclist with a nice cooling shower!”

Can you see the water jets just there on the left?

and I dashed through it a couple of times, before riding off again much refreshed. Actually it was there to water the verge which I thought was ridiculous. What a waste of water! It also seemed to be watering the road as much as the verge! Verges won't exactly die from lack of water. But this was probably a bit belonging to someone rather rich who clearly didn't want his verge brown.

By the way, on this day I did so enjoy the sights and smells and sounds of harvest - the smell of freshly cut corn, the chugging noise and dust from the combines, the tractors hauling trailer loads of straw. It all seems so familiar, even though Husband has not worked on the farm since 2003. He says he sometimes misses the work, but not the long hours. Now he knows when he starts (7 am) and when he finishes (3.30). It's a rare day when he has to work an extra hour in the warehouse, and he can map out his days off for months ahead. It's hard physical work though and there's that thing of - are the workers achieving their rate? No? Well why not? Work a bit harder even if you are already working as hard as age and health permit! (even though some don't.....) It's just like in the Amazon warehouses.There's a cost to cheap food in the supermarket.....

I paused again at Kingham, for more strawberries and juice. And then it was pretty much on into Burford, another oh so pretty village utterly spoilt by cars. I wouldn't want to live there, especially in the summer. Here they are, blocking both lanes, at the top of the very steep hill I'd just pushed up and where I stopped for yet more refreshments. My supplies were now getting low but I reckoned I had enough to get me home.

Cars blocking the road both ways at Burford

Now I was beginning to feel that I was really getting near home, as I only had about another 20 miles to go. I can't believe I'm writing that as only a few years ago I thought I was doing well to cycle 5 miles into our local town, and back! 

I skirted round Carterton, and came south through Clanfield (stopped to dig deep into all pockets and polish off almost all of my last bits of food) and Faringdon, still with very strong winds, and finally - home at 8 pm, 11 1/2 hours since I'd left Redditch. 66.7 miles, the furthest I've ever done in a day. Then straight into the shower. Husband dished up food for me, and then I just about managed to clean my teeth before collapsing into bed.

I was really pleased not only to have made it home but to have done so without experiencing the bonk. I think I've learnt a lot about what to eat and what not to eat on a long ride.

And now I can't wait to go on another tour.......

I hope you've enjoyed reading this!


Wednesday, August 17

To the Festival of Quilts, by bus and train

Day 3 at F of Q

I don't like rushing breakfast so I'd asked for it at 7.30 so that I would have plenty of time before I got the 9.01 bus to Redditch station.  I scoffed - orange juice, blueberries and strawberries with yogurt, two poached eggs and two rashers of bacon, 3 half pieces of toast and marmalade and 3 cups of tea. With side dishes of Olympics on the TV and light conversation with Frank, the other guest, who was a coach driver. That day he was taking his party of scouts to the West Midlands Safari Park and a theme park. Didn't sound very scouty to me, unless they were going to practise survival techniques whilst actually roaming around amongst the lions etc.. 

At the bus stop I got chatting to another fine example of Mature Redditch Lady. We discussed the pub behind us that was being converted, rather tastefully I thought, into flats. From Redditch I got the train to the Festival of Quilts at the NEC and arrived about 11. First stop - coffee, and bar of chocolate as a treat. Coffee only average. Chocolate very nice.

My sister, Kate Dowty, who I was meeting later had warned me that the first day was always the busiest, and oh boy it certainly was busy. I whizzed round lots of quilts trying to avoid getting in the way of people taking photos of them, and nearly getting run down by mobility scooters. (Now here's a very politically incorrect thing to say, and obviously some people have very genuine reasons for using these things, but do SOME people use these things purely because they are, er, overweight and can't walk far for that reason? Hmmmmmmm, I wonder......) I don't dawdle over quilts that don't instantly attract me, I just speed past to the ones that do.

I also made a beeline to Gillian Travis, whose work I only recently discovered and like very much. She also cycles! What is it with cycling and sewing? I just keep meeting people who do both!

I have to say here that the Festival is HUGE, and you really need two days to take it all in (like the two ladies I chatted to over coffee who were staying the night in a nearby hotel). I know I missed a lot, but thankfully I did see lots to inspire me. One of my favourite quilters is Kim Porter of Worn and Washed Fabrics and I stayed at her stall and looked and chatted for quite some time. [In fact, I looked at her website this morning and there I am doing just that! The one peering over the end of her glasses...]

I also loved the work of  Ingrid Press. Something about the colours and fabrics and simplicity of them all. Some of her quilts were hanging up specifically for people to handle, which as you will know if you go to quilty things you are not allowed to do! I actually got told off for touching a quilted garment because I had completely forgotten you weren't supposed to. Immediately a nearby person-in-white-gloves accosted me and asked me not to touch, but she did so very nicely. I was the first person she'd had to tell off! Anyway I had a good handle of Ingrid's lovely quilts.

And then, while browsing the stalls, who should I spot but Florence of! I recognised her from her photo on the blog, and we had a lovely chat about sewing and children's books. Florence was as nice in real life as she appears in her blog.

My sister treated me to lunch of chicken and vegetables and orange juice, just what the recovering cyclist needed. How she survives 4 days of the F of Q, what with teaching and all I don't know! I'd had it by fact I was so tired I couldn't think straight and had to ask various people -

"How do I get out of this place?????" I just couldn't remember, or work out the map in the guide......what was that I said in an earlier post about being a good map reader?

So, back on the train. Now this is what gets me - I reckon that 80% of people at the stations were holding their smartphones out in front of them. You know how it is - a bag slung over the shoulder and the other arm stuck out in front with the phone in the hand. I am the sort of person who has an ancient Nokia and only uses it infrequently, and I wanted to grab all their phones and chuck them across to the other platform. And all these city dwellers look so unhealthy and miserable. I got on the train, which was packed, and asked one Young Person -

"Is anyone sitting here?"

as you do when someone is taking up a seat with their bag and not moving it even when they can CLEARLY see that the train is packed and someone needs that seat.................(there's even an official notice up at the station about not leaving your baggage on the seat!)

Oh what an effort it was for her to even begin to move that huge bag.........she looked as if she was thinking something very nasty about me...........  In the end I spotted another seat and with a "Oh never mind" to Young Person I sat there instead. Her very large friend, sat opposite her, was quite definitely taking up more than one seat and the poor lady sat next to her was being edged off hers.

Back at Redditch bus station, I asked Redditch Lady on her Mobile if there was a loo nearby I could use. She just about managed to distract herself from said phone long enough to tell me that I might be able to use the ones in Macdonald's upstairs. I ran upstairs (didn't have many minutes before the last bus went) and dashed into Prezzo's instead, apologising and asking if I could use their loo. I made it back to the bus just in time.

On the bus I asked the driver if he could tell me where to get off, informing me that I was staying in a B and B near some shops at Astwood Bank. He looked at me, in between biting his nails, as if I was mad. I don't think he actually spoke. He just shook his head. I said -

"You're not local then?"

Shake of head and more biting of nails.

Honestly, aren't bus drivers supposed to be knowledgeable and helpful? To give them their due, a lot are, but not this one. By the end of the journey I certainly felt like telling him where to get off.

I purposely sat next to what I thought might be another kindly and knowledgeable example of Perhaps Slightly Less Mature Redditch Lady, but she proved to be not quite so kindly and knowledgeable, and was also staring at her phone, so when I put to her the same question that I had put to the driver she just said -

"Sorry, I'm not going that far".


Anyway in the end I just kept looking at the numbers on the buildings and I got off with just a short walk to go to my B and B. I did not thank the driver.....

Back at Corner Cottage, which incidentally is conveniently close to the start of the West Midlands Cycle Route, I spoke to Husband on phone. He had tried to get me booked into a B and B for Friday night, so that I could stick to my plan of cycling home in two days, using the West Midlands Cycle Route to and through Stratford-on-Avon and then travelling south on that route to Shipston-on-Stour, then home via Burford. (Here I should add that I will try and sort out adding route maps to any future posts on cycle rides, but meanwhile you can request to follow me on Strava if you so wish!) However, despite trying for two hours, everywhere was booked, so he had worked out a new route for me to cycle home in one day, about 65 miles, which was further than I've ever done in one day, but he said that if I felt I had to give up I could ring him and he would come and pick me up. So that's what we agreed I would do. I was looking forward to it.

I knew I wouldn't be making that call of shame unless I was really desperate!!! 

And so to bed, at the very grown up time of 9 pm.

Tomorrow - did I make it???? Don't miss the next episode!

[Have finally managed to upload my pics, so in the next post you can see my campsite, and loaded bike. Must get my camera sorted out before next trip....]

Monday, August 15

Day 2 of bike tour, Aston Somerville to Astwood Bank near Redditch

Well, as I said, I set off from the campsite at 7.15. It was still quite cold and although I had warmed up considerably I still wanted my winter jacket on.To start with I had to mainly push my bike uphill for about a quarter of a mile of the track from the campsite to the road. This part of the track was covered in loose grit and I would have skidded on it. Not long after reaching the road I discovered that I then had what turned out to be a mile or two of newly (as in the day before!) resurfaced road to cycle on. Fortunately there was little traffic about to chuck up grit at me.

After about 7 1/2 miles, and being now in one of England's fruit growing areas, I spotted a sign outside Boston Farm, just west of Evesham, advertising cherries for sale, along with "Knee Knocker Cider" (I'll go back for some of that one day perhaps......oi loike a noice drop o' coider - especially without any additives). Ooh I thought, now fresh cherries would just slip down nicely! As I was looking for somewhere to lean my bike, the farmer's wife leaned out of the window and called "Leave it up here by the wall!". So I did, and she then led me to the building where the punnets of cherries were.

She kindly asked if I'd like a drink. I said -

"Well I've got water but is there somewhere round here where I can get a cup of tea and something to eat?"

She replied "Oh I'll give you a cup of tea. And would you like some toast?" Aren't some people just life savers?

So I spent the next hour or so in her cosy 4 oven Aga kitchen (she got it for her birthday), being fed the most delicious toast (two rounds of brown) and home made apple jam, and a mug of tea, which I can tell you tasted as good as the one I was given after the birth of our number 3 in our local hospital. (After 9 months of everything tasting abnormal, for each of my four pregnancies, immediately I'd pushed the sprocket out everything miraculously tasted good again!)

I got the feeling that she and her husband were used to intruders like me, and it reminded me of the dozens of times we too have had strangers in our house, either to feed them, or even in one case to put up overnight, because it seems that where we live is just the place where people break down ("Come in and wait for the AA") or have an accident (cyclist fell off his bike once, air ambulance landed in the field over the road, I gave sustenance to his friends) or get trapped in a flood on the way to a wedding (Husband took them on to the wedding while the trapped car stayed put in the flood). Or, in the case of the overnighter - a Canadian girl cyclist -  asking where they can find accommodation. This sort of thing has not happened to us so much in more recent years, and I am convinced that it is because everybody these days has mobile phones and no longer needs to ask strangers for help. They just ring up a friend instead.

Anyway, after that I felt a whole lot better, and cycled on much more gaily. The weather was much better that day, still a bit windy but not so bad, and I knew I didn't have so far to go so I could relax a bit. The roads I was cycling on weren't so busy either.

After various stops for the call of nature, and to eat cherries, the next stop of significance was at Inkberrow; I only realized when I looked at the pub, called The Old Bull - that this one was famous. The Bull of Radio 4's Archers' fame is based on it. I'd love to have popped in and chatted to Eddy and Clarrie and Jo (my favourite characters) but there just wasn't time. Instead I went to a nearby shop and scanned the shelves for something I could eat and ENJOY. I was getting wiser by this time to what I needed. I knew I needed small quantities of the right things. I wanted egg sandwiches but they hadn't got any so I bought a pot of cottage cheese and polished off the rest of my cherries with it - what a delicious combination! I had mislaid my one spoon so I had to use my finger to dip into the pot. Maybe in years to come there will be a cherry tree growing on the green by The Old Bull, where I discreetly deposited the pips.

It was also here that I really felt I was somewhere different, as the accent had changed to a much more West Midlands one. I've always loved regional accents. As a child I always noticed them when we went on holiday to various different parts of England and Wales.

From there it wasn't far to Astwood Bank, the village just south of Redditch where I had booked into a B and B. I had cycled 25.3 miles, at which point I stopped my Garmin as the battery was running low. My plan was to cycle on into Redditch town centre, get some more food, and maybe find the needle museum I had heard of - but stupidly hadn't looked up the location of prior to leaving home. I then called in at a Salvation Army charity shop and asked if there was somewhere nearby where I could get a cup of coffee and something to eat, and if it was a long way to the town centre - more research I hadn't done, but then sometimes it's better that way. The two lovely ladies in there said it was quite a long way, and so I said "Oh I don't think I'll bother then". The needle museum was quite a long way away too, so I also gave that a miss. Another time maybe. They leant on the counter and had a think, digging around in their brains, and then remembered that a place down the road had recently opened a cafe,  so off I went. I found it, parked my bike round the back, and then went and tried to find the way in. It looked a bit closed, probably because it was. A lady came to the door and said that they had shut at 2, but again she was very helpful, had a think and then said -

"Ah, Tesco's!"

I NEVER thought I'd be so glad to hear the word "Tesco's", and hear also that it was very close by. I cycled off again, but despite the closeness of it (just over the other side of those trees the lady had said) I still had to ask directions again, of another Mature Redditch Lady, again very helpful) and enjoyed lasagne (vegetable, would have had the meat version as I had a craving for meat, but they'd run out) with garlic bread and salad, and coffee, and iced water. I texted Husband to let him know where I was. Re-energised again, I set off for the B and B, but couldn't remember how to get back to the road I needed. This time I came across an example of Young Redditch Lady, as opposed to Mature Redditch Lady of which I had spoken to several examples. She was looking at her mobile, and was not so helpful -

"Excuse me, I'm looking for the road......"

"Which road?"

All right all right, give me a chance and I'll tell you....

"Well the one that goes to Astwood Bank. I came off it just now and can't remember how to get back on it."

"Oh I dunno where that is."

Sneaky look at mobile. Obviously someone far more important than some lost middle aged cyclist on the other end.

 "You'd best go that way to (Something) Cross."

I thought - well if you don't know the place I'm going to how can you tell that's the best way to go? Or perhaps you just had to go to (Something) Cross in order to get anywhere else at all in the whole world. I did actually go that way though, as I'd heard of this (Something) Cross place and thought she might actually be right. Which she was.

So, back on the right road, I cycled all the way along the pavement back to the B and B (perhaps two miles) as there were no pedestrians and it was more pleasant than riding on the rather busy road. I'd said I'd arrive at the B and B at 5, and still had time to kill. I was too tired to do any more cycling so went and sat in a local park, but the conversation of the local only-just-teenagers hanging around on the nearby bit of play equipment was not pleasant (I'll leave that to your imagination) so I left and just waited in a gateway to a field and watched the sheep.

When sheep have maggots at their rear end they twitch their tales and fidget a lot. One definitely had maggots as it was doing this a lot. Maggoty sheep - better company than rude teenagers. Then eventually I saw the lady of the B and B go in the front door, so made my way there.

The lady in question (I can't remember her name!) was looking after the place for her friend who was the landlady, and who I noticed had won the "Friendliest Landlady of the Year" award from the AA. Well her friend who was running the place was very friendly too, and showed me where I could keep my bike safely for the next day (I'd asked in advance) before showing me to my room. Oh what bliss to see such a lovely, clean, comfortable room after a freezing night camping! After recharging the smartphone, and my Garmin, I recharged myself with a lovely hot shower, a cup of tea and biscuits, and pranked Husband's phone so that he would ring me, which he did. I told him of my disastrous night's camping and asked him to try and book me another B and B for Friday night, somewhere near Shipston on Stour, as I couldn't face another night's freezing and hip-bruising camping.

Soon I was completely ready for bed and decided to sit up against the pillows and read, as it was only 7.30 and therefore a bit early to go to bed. But I could hardly keep my eyes open and so I thought -

"I think maybe I will just go to bed rather than trying to read even if it is only 7.30."

So I did, and the next thing I knew I heard the only other guest go to the loo at 3.20 am. I had slept solidly for nearly 8 hours. I can't remember the last time I slept like that. And this is someone who never sleeps well in a strange bed on the first night! I dozed off again, slightly disturbed by noises in the hot water tank in the cupboard next to the bed, but otherwise thoroughly enjoying my rest until I got up at 6.10.

Tomorrow - the Festival of Quilts

Sunday, August 14

An upcoming house move, and a bike tour to take in the Festival of Quilts

Just to say at the start of this post, that I'm hoping to be able to add some photos, but if I don't then it's because either I couldn't get them onto the PC from the smartphone I used as a camera on my trip, or they just weren't good enough. In which case apologies, and I hope my words can paint a reasonable picture.

Since I last posted, quite a lot has happened one way and another. Back at the beginning of June we asked the estate where we live if it would be possible for us to move back into the house we lived in for 3 years when we were first married a mile away from here. It would be a lot smaller, should be warmer, and has less garden to look after (though still quite big!). The answer after a while was yes, and after much thought we decided to do it. It will be quite hard to move from this lovely, shabby, big old cottage where we have lived for 32 years (we came here with just our eldest son, and then had three more children) but it makes sense to move. We can't afford to buy in this area, and don't feel it right to move a long way away from family in order to be able to do so. When we moved here Husband worked on the farm, so the cottage was a tied one. He was made redundant 19 years later, taking a job in a warehouse, since when we have paid rent. Moving to the smaller house will save us some money, and once there we will think again about our future.

So since then we have been clearing out this house....... putting stuff on Gumtree, Freegle, and Ebay, and filling up the garage with stuff for passers by to buy or have for free. We have cleared out our outhouse and various sheds which were full of stuff that you keep because you've got the space to keep it! We also kept our firewood in there – that will be going with us. Youngest son has taken a couple of vanloads of scrap metal etc. to the recycling centre for us.

In the midst of this I seemed to get more sewing jobs than ever (not much time to do any of my own sewing...) but there came a point at the beginning of this month when I decided I would have to stop, partly because of all the sorting and packing there still was/is to be done and partly because I needed to start packing up my sewing room.

Our lovely granddaughter Lily is now a very smiley little person of going on 8 months, full of baby chatter, and we have another one on the way – our other daughter is expecting in January!

The Lovely Lily

Earlier in the year my bike was off the road for a while. A tyre blew and I realized that my ancient tyres really did need the end I went a bit further than new tyres and Husband put new wheels, derailleurs, chainset and tyres on it for me but for a while I had no bike, and felt very lost without it as it's my main means of transport. I began to think again about visiting Oxford Bike Works, not far from us in Steventon....... more on that in a future post! 

Meanwhile I also began to think that if I didn't get on and plan something then what with all the moving business and sewing jobs I was not going to have the bike tour that I'd been wanting to have this year. So then I thought, well what about if I treat myself to a visit to the Festival of Quilts again this year (last visit was 2012) and, er, cycle there? I knew there was an NCN West Midlands Cycle Route which I could pick up further north in Oxfordshire, which would take me into or quite close (depending on how brave I was...) to Birmingham and the NEC where the Festival takes place. So after much planning and changing of the route, and buying a very lightweight tent, that's what I've just done!

So come with me on my first ever bike tour.....

Day 1

I had originally planned to pick up the West Midlands Cycle Route at Shipston-on-Stour (after camping there the night) but that didn't really fit in with the plans to go to the Festival of Quilts unless I took the brave step of cycling right into Birmingham, which I didn't think was a good idea as the route doesn't go right to the NEC, though I'm sure it's possible to use other cycle routes to get there. So instead Husband and I planned that I would go from here to my first camping stop at Aston Somerville, west of Broadway, roughly via Faringdon, Filkins, Burford, and Bourton-on-the-Water. I changed the route slightly as I got closer to Aston Somerville to what were quieter roads. The next day the plan was to cycle to just south of Redditch, where I would spend two nights in a B and B, travel from there to the Festival on the Thursday by bus and train, and on the Friday to set off back home, spending another night camping, probably near Shipston-on-Stour, before cycling home the rest of the way on the Saturday.

I had pieces of map printed off from Husband's OS Memory Map on the computer, and I also had his old smartphone (not using as phone) with Memory Map on it, so could use that and the GPS signal if I got lost. I do tend to get lost, despite being, actually, quite a good map reader...... I read a book recently by a man who had done a lot of running who also had a habit of getting lost, but had come to accept it as part of his running life. I like that. Getting lost isn't always bad. I like maps and can happily sit and read one for pleasure. My father worked for the Ordnance Survey when he was young – perhaps that's where I get it from.

I'd done most of the packing of panniers the night before, using my lists from last year's overnight stay in, and ride back from, Winchester as an aide. Let me just say one thing here which proves important later on...... several days beforehand I had taken the sleeping bag out of its stuffsack and left it to air, and then stuffed it back in the day before the ride. I then realized that it was rather big – not that heavy but big in dimensions. I could have got it on the back rack with the tent but it would have made getting into the panniers very difficult, so at the last minute I decided not to take it, but instead took 3 pairs of Husband's leggings and Rab waterproof overtrousers, plus my Primaloft winter jacket, aiming to put all that lot on at night instead of using the sleeping bag. So on the bike I had the rear panniers, the tent on the rear rack and the small homemade bar bag I made last year. 

I set off at about 8.10, slightly later than I'd hoped, but it wasn't for want of getting up early (5.30) – it was just all the pfaffing around with what to take to sleep in that delayed me (eldest Son, note – Mother pfaffs too...). The weather was warmish, but windy, which made for quite a struggle riding. My first stop was at Filkins, about 15 miles away, at the Cotswold Woollen Mill, which I can highly recommend for refreshments (I had coffee and a scone) and toilet facilities, and a lovely garden (or cafe) to sit in. 

Next stop was Windrush, near Burford, where I made my first mistake regarding eating. I thought I'd have what I'd planned for lunch, which was one of my John West tuna fish meals, which I normally like, but I just couldn't stomach it, and ended up wasting half of it. Then at Bourton-on-the-Water I stopped again (WARNING: Stay away from this place in summer!!! Chock a block full of tourists and CARS!) wanting a cup of tea, and thought I'd better try and eat again, aware that I hadn't actually eaten that much, but could only fancy cake, so asked for fruit cake, which they didn't have. I had carrot cake instead, but left half of that too......

Unfortunately this all left me feeling rather bloated, and together with the strong wind (no not me, I was bloated but not windy...) I really struggled on the next part of the journey. It took me past the Cotswold Farm Park (fans of Countryfile will be familiar with it as Adam Henson's farm). There were also two quarries up this road as well and so lots of lorries were thundering past me. I wouldn't use this road again if I had the choice.

I made more stops to obey the call of nature, and to drink and eat some fruit and nuts that I always take with me on bike rides. Last year on the way back from Winchester I experienced the “bonk” a few miles from home and I was conscious that I didn't want this to happen again, hence the constant nibbling.

I finally reached the campsite at Aston Somerville ( just after 6 pm (51.6 miles). It was their “Wild Camping” bit, with a compost toilet, a washing/washing up area, and an outdoor shower (not literally outdoor, but in a wooden shed!). At first I thought I was the only camper there, but then in the adjoining field I found two ladies camping, and chatted to them a bit. Even so I was surprised to find the place so empty. I pitched my tiny tent in a sheltered spot in the same field as the loo etc., so I wouldn't have to walk far if I needed to go in the night. I didn't really feel like eating any of the food I had left, although I drank plenty of water, which the two ladies had kindly given me to save me walking quite a distance to the farm to get drinking water.

I think I got into my tent about 8.30, as I was very tired. I had on merino leggings, my cycling trousers, and the waterproofs over the top, plus the vest top and shirt from the daytime, a windproof jacket and the winter jacket, plus my shoes and socks. No camping mat by the way..... Then I took the winter jacket off and draped it over me as I thought I might prefer that. I had the flaps of the tent at least partly open at first as I do not like being totally shut in (I always like the curtains drawn back at home at night in the bedroom, and the window open summer and winter). After a while I began to get a bit chilly, so put the jacket back on, and zipped up the flaps a bit. Later I zipped them up completely.

I then spent the next few hours very cold indeed. Throughout all this I was both praying and constantly trying to think of the best way to try to prevent myself from getting any colder. Stay in the tent, get out of the tent (but let cold air in) and jump up and down, even go and disturb the two ladies and ask to share their tent??!! Believe me I was desparate, and I kept looking at my watch longing for the dawn to come. I thought – do people who get really cold go to sleep and never wake up? I also thought of homeless people trying to stay warm. At one point I got up and went for a wee (not to the compost loo I'm afraid, just a squat by a ditch....) and got a large plastic bag out of my panniers to put my legs in back in the tent. Eventually I also got all my spare clothing out of the bag I was using as a pillow, and my towel, and draped it all over my legs.

I knelt up at one point (the tent was too low to sit up), put on my head torch, got out pen and notebook and forced myself to scribble things down, to pass the time and to keep my brain occupied. It was also warmer kneeling up than lying down. Oh and to cap it all the ground was very hard....(bruised hip the next day) and my tendency to get cramp in my feet was worse than usual, perhaps due to the cold. Here's some of the rubbish I wrote -

2.25 am. Kneeling in tent writing with headtorch. ABSOLUTELY FREEZING. Can't sleep so trying to be vaguely active.”

Ate one bite of Nakd bar which I had in rucksack which is in tent with me but it tastes weird but will try to eat more.” 

Now 2.44. Might try and sleep again. Traffic noise awful even though in distance.” [Must have been the way the wind was blowing as the main road was quite far away].

Well, I thank God that I got through it.  Husband, who's a bit of a weather expert due to his hobby of paragliding, told me later that it probably got down to 5 degrees that night.... At 4.15 I got up, even before the birds, and started the whole process of packing up etc. etc. Once again eating was very difficult – I had some muesli but had to put most of it in my bag of rubbish (properly disposed of at the farm later) as I just couldn't get it down. But I got the energy from somewhere to cycle on my way, leaving the campsite at 7.15. I'd seen an early morning dog walker but no-one else at all.

I was going to skim over this awful camping experience and pretend it didn't happen.... 

I haven't been put off camping. I'll just do it differently next time!

Tomorrow - a kindly farmer's wife sustains me with tea and toast!