Friday, September 8

An overnight bike trip to the Vale of Pewsey, and a rant on fancy basins.

Having bought my Koga Traveller back in June, I wanted to do a longish trip to really test it out. Some time ago I had been given, via Freegle, some bike path leaflets and maps, and one of them was for the Collier's Way from south of Bath to Frome, via Radstock. This was pleasantly doable from here in south west Oxfordshire in about 4 days, with 3 overnight stops. Unfortunately, I hadn't really got 4 days, or at least not by the time I'd got round to actually planning the trip. This was partly my fault - I find that unless I actually look ahead and properly set aside time for a trip, it doesn't happen; other things get booked in but a bike trip doesn't. So instead I decided to do a shorter route, which would serve as a partial testing of the waters for riding the Collier's Way in the future.

On the subject of cycling alone, some people reading this will feel like I do and love it, and others will feel quite the opposite. I refer you to my cycling hero Josie Dew who, in one of her early books, decided that cycling alone is preferable to cycling with someone else. I wish I still had the book so I could quote her verbatim, but I haven't.

But basically, when you are on your own, you can go where you want, at whatever speed you want, eat when you want, stop at a nice cafe and have coffee/tea, take a different route, stop and chat to someone, look at some weird sign in the middle of nowhere (and photograph same!).... If you're with someone else you obviously have to compromise. Husband and I only occasionally go out together (he's more of an off road rider, anyway) on our bikes, usually when we've got to go somewhere together and it's a shortish distance and I have said "I'm not going by car!". What then often happens on the journey is that he says things like -

"Did you look when you turned that corner?"

Duh, obviously - but he doesn't think I looked properly.

"Go up on the pavement so that car can come past."

By the time I've heard what he's said it's too late.

"Try a higher gear. You might find it easier. "

But I'm quite happy in the one I'm in, thank you.

Etc. etc........... whatever would we be like on a long ride.............!!!!!!!!!

So we don't go out together on our bikes very often.

(Note: I/We only cycle on pavements when it's a good idea. We never get in the way of pedestrians. Sometimes there are very good reasons for cycling on a pavement, even it's not technically legal.)

Anyway, my destination was Pewsey in Wiltshire, south west of Marlborough. Husband and I had been to Pewsey recently and I discovered that it has an excellent wool shop called "Miss Lemon's Wool Shop" and I wanted to return and have a nice long nose around and buy some yarn. Two days beforehand I booked a B and B in a village nearby called Manningford Abbots.

A note on packing and panniers - 

Before one of my previous trips I made a spreadsheet of everything I needed to take, and exactly where everything goes in my panniers. I find it very helpful to refer to this and not have to think twice about where everything goes. Essentially I put my overnight stuff in a plastic bag (my panniers aren't waterproof) in one pannier. Bike stuff, small rucksack, maps and food goes in the other - this is all stuff that I need to get to during the day. A jacket of whatever sort I'm taking goes in either pannier, if I'm not wearing it. Other bits and pieces go in the small pockets on the outside of my panniers, or in my homemade bar bag. Incidentally, my panniers are Karrimor, which are not made anymore. Here they are on a previous trip -

I bought them in an outlet shop over 20 years ago when I knew very little about such things, and it's only since cycling more that I've found how good they are. Lately while browsing for a second pair of panniers for my old bike I've realized just how good other people must think they are too, as they fetch a very good price on Ebay.

I set off at 7.45 am, and it wasn't long before I was thinking - "oh maybe I'll turn round and go home". Not good! I wasn't feeling exactly energetic, and I made two or three stops pretty soon because of this. My brakes were also squealing terribly. Not long ago the bike had developed an odd noise which Husband and I had been unable to identify, and although that had disappeared (and we had come to the conclusion that it wasn't anything serious anyway) the noisy brakes just made me think "Oh what's wrong now?!". They are Magura hydraulic brakes and while they are fantastically smooth and quiet (normally!) I'm not at all familiar with how they work so I was bit worried. I also felt very embarrassed when braking.......I could just imagine the thoughts of anyone close by -

"She needs to get her brakes seen to!"

That is, after all, the sort of thing I think when I hear a noisy bike!

I began to feel better physically, and made my planned coffee stop after about 12 miles (I know, I know, 12 miles isn't that far, but it was a convenient place to stop) at the Three Trees Farm Shop which is just at the start of  Sustrans Route 482, the old railway line into Marlborough. I'm half thinking of doing a separate page on cafes, and giving them ratings, but we'll see. Anyway, I always have an Americano, and here it was £2.25 (average for round here) and I'd give it about 7/10. That's only because it was not to my liking particularly flavour wise, and I always prefer a mug rather than a cup. In my vast (well quite vast...) experience of coffee drinking I have noticed that different types of coffee are served in different types of vessel, and if the Americano is going to come in a cup, in which it gets cold too quickly for my liking, I often ask if I can have a mug instead, but here I forgot. But the cafe has a lot going for it - inside and outside seating, nice clean loos - !! - and probably some nice food but I had my own so didn't really notice. There's also, of course, the farm shop bit.

I asked a young mother at the cafe, who had clearly cycled there with her two young children, if she was cycling that path and what the surface was like. She said it was good, and that her children had basically learned to cycle on it. It was indeed good, at least as far as she was going, to Ogbourne St George.

Looking back along the path 

After that it was a bit variable - still fine for my bike, although in wet weather it might have been more difficult. To begin with I thought how lovely it was to be cycling away from traffic, and it was, but the trouble is that the path, being the old railway line, was rather enclosed by trees, and after a while it felt a bit claustrophic and uninteresting. It was about 7 miles like this. I think I would have preferred the minor roads through the villages of Ogbourne St George and Ogbourne St Andrew.

The Route then joins the 403, which takes a private road - Capability Brown's Grand Avenue, at 4 miles the longest avenue in Great Britain - through the Savernake Forest. Never again. Perhaps it was just the weather that day, not all that bright, but the forest seemed to me rather dark and enclosed - tall trees with very little birdsong, or any other sound for that matter. The road went straight (I suppose it would, being an avenue!) up and down, up and down, and I was glad to get out of it at the end. It didn't help that the Savernake Forest conjures up one thought in my head every time I hear the name, and that is of the Hungerford Massacre in 1987. The shooting started in the forest; two children of four and two saw their mother shot dead. At the time my eldest two were that age and it was horrible listening to the news on the radio, and realizing that it was all happening not all that far away. Perhaps subconsciously I rode through there on purpose to rid myself of those feelings about it -  to see if it felt like I imagined it would feel, or whether I was just being silly. I probably won't ride there again. I wonder if other people feel this way about places where murders have taken place.

There was no NCN sign at the end of the road through the forest showing you which way to go. Of course I knew my direction but it's always reassuring to see the signs. I do find that sometimes the NCN signs generally are not all that obvious, or rather old and faded. I was now on Route 403. The roads here through the Savernake Estate were almost eerily quiet, with heavily locked gates and "Keep Out" signs with photos of brutal looking guard dogs. Maybe best not to climb over and obey the call of nature round here....

As I turned south west a lovely old house on the corner caught my eye. I chatted to a man who had stopped nearby and who told me that the building used to be the "Forest Hotel", but had been divided up into individual dwellings. I took this picture of these windows, as I love shutters, which are, in my opinion, very sensible.  The windows are pretty nice too. No PVC in sight......


I arrived in Pewsey in the early afternoon, and stopped by the river Avon to let Husband know I had arrived safely. I had already spoken to Husband on the journey at some point, probably when I stopped to switch my phone on and texted him to tell him so (I knew he didn't like me having it turned off) and he'd immediately rung me. Now don't get me wrong, Husband is a fine husband, but I don't want to have to stop and answer my phone, even to him, unless it's really urgent! Here's the scenario -

I am gaily cycling along, and I hear the phone ring. It might be him, with some urgent reason to speak to me. Now, I don't use my mobile much, so there's not much chance of it being anyone else, but it COULD be, in which case I shall be foaming at the mouth with annoyance at having had to get off my bike, put my glasses on, search for said phone, and then answer it - and probably find that it's stopped ringing anyway because I couldn't get to it fast enough - only to find that it isn't Husband, it's some random person who has somehow managed to get my number. And between you and me and the gate post, usually even if it is Husband, it's not very important.......... It will be something like "Oh I just wondered where you are" and that's why I prefer to have it switched off. Saves battery anyway.

By the River Avon

Regular readers might notice (what? You didn't?!) that I have changed my handlebars. I swapped the multi position trekking/butterfly bars for these Thorn Comfort bars, the same as I've got on my other bike. I just couldn't get on with the trekking bars. I knew which handlbars I wanted, but then I had to decide which grips to get. Lots of choice isn't always a good thing....... that's the trouble with the internet! I'd have loved leather but couldn't afford it, so went with these Lizard Skins ones, and I'm really pleased with them.

Then it was off to Miss Lemon's (no website but it has a Facebook page) where I browsed all the lovely yarns and bought four balls of chunky yarn - Debbie Bliss, reduced. Also one of sock yarn, which is enough, apparently, to make a baby's cardigan; given that our baby granddaughter is now 7 months and growing fast (as they do) I had better get a move on as I am not a fast knitter. The other granddaughter, by the way, is now a runaway toddler.....

Time for a cup of tea next, at the Craft and Tea rooms, where they had a notice in the window saying cyclists were welcome, and where tea was £1.30 for a pot for one (bargain!!) and where the kind lady said she wouldn't give me hot water now as it might go cold, but to just come back and ask if I wanted some. They had delicious looking cakes but I refrained as again I had my own snack to eat.

I then had time to spare before going to my B and B so pootled around a few miles, looking at the canal and its boats amongst other things, and then came across this.

Swanborough Tump

It was in that year, 871 AD, that he fought the Battle of Ashdown, not far from here. Was he on his way there when he stopped here at Swanborough Tump?

I do know a few facts about King Alf.

He was born in Wantage, where we have a statue of him, and he died in Winchester, where there is an even better statue of him. I was born and brought up there so maybe I'm biased..... He fought with invading Danes. He should have used a timer when waiting for the cakes to bake. And, he is reputed to have blown the Blowing Stone at the bottom of Blowing Stone Hill (where we used to live) to call up his troops, except that in those days it was not where it is now, but up on the Berkshire Downs somewhere.

Then it was on to Huntly's B and B, which was lovely! I couldn't have asked for better! I'd been thinking on the way there - "Hmmmmm, I haven't brought a book to read. I hope there will be some." and there were scores of them! And a very comfortable bed. And (here we go) - you may remember me saying that shutters are sensible. Well, I felt the same about the basins here!  Prepare ye for -

A rant on fancy basins and unnecessary cleanliness

I cannot stand basins which are only designed for washing your hands and doing your teeth, or possibly rinsing off, under a running tap,  the fancy facial cleanser that is no better than water. (I've used just water for decades) and  I like a basin in which you can actually have a wash, or even wash your hair, albeit with a shower attachment on the taps, but it seems it is the trend not to "have a wash" any more. People have showers every day, which in my opinion is totally unnecessary and a waste of water, and it's not healthy to be too clean! Maybe we could all do with a little bit more dirt hanging around on our bodies. I never bathed my children every day. Along with my three siblings, I was brought up on one bath a week (yes, really!) on a Sunday night, and I survived, though I did start having them a bit more often as a teenager you'll be glad to hear. Mind you they were never very deep as my parents had two switches on their immersion heater, one labelled "sink" (for washing up) and one "bath" (for baths!). I'm not sure if my memory serves me correctly but I never remember them switching on the "bath" one, so you didn't get much hot water......

But I did teach my children to wash the important bits (feet, for instance!) in between baths, and to wash their hands before eating. Now, in their own homes, I believe they all have showers every day. Where did I go wrong? My daughter's even just had a "fancy" basin installed!

Having said all that, when one has been cycling all day, a shower is I did use it......but if I hadn't been cycling all day, then I probably wouldn't have!

Here's a pic of my lovely room - there were twin beds -

You can just see the sensible basin....the door led to the en-suite

The door on the right led to a single bedroom, with a cabin bed, and another sensible basin!

I had tea, biscuits (my host apologised profusely for the fact that she had run out of home made cake) and clementines on arrival, in the garden. After that I wasn't all that hungry, but ate one of the packet
meals I had brought with me anyway, which was one of this range - John West Creations . I think these are even better than their Light Lunches tuna fish range, which Husband and I have previously kept a stock of  - I buy either product when it's on offer -  to take on bike rides or paragliding (him). They really are delicious. 

The forecast for the next day was wet, so I was dithering as to whether to stay a second night, and take a train the next day and spend it exploring somewhere under cover, and go home the next day when the forecast was better. But I didn't really want to as my self-imposed budget was really only for the one night, plus I would have felt a bit of a wimp staying on just because a bit of rain (well maybe quite a lot) was coming, so as I went to bed it was a question of -

"Wait and see and talk to the weather expert (Husband) again tomorrow".

I did. Part 2 to follow!


PS 38 miles today.