The night before I had had to decide on which of two routes I would take today - either to take a slightly shorter route and go south towards Frome, taking in Longleat park, which would mean doing The Collier's Way clockwise the next day, or to cycle west along the Kennet and Avon canal (part of NCN Route 4) towards Bath, and take the Collier's Way anti-clockwise as originally planned. I had left this decision until now as I wanted to see how I felt after the first day's ride. Some of that was to do with my newish Brooks saddle, which I was still breaking in. I'd been pleased with how comfortable it had become, but a few days constant riding might mean some soreness.
I made the decision to take the second option (which proved, by the end of the day, to have been the best one for various reasons) even though that would mean I'd have to do my own navigation as I hadn't got this route on my Garmin. But it was mostly NCN routes, for which I had the Sustrans map. So at Seend, west of Devizes, I joined the canal path, which in places was quite rough and overgrown, and occasionally so perilously close to the water that I got off and walked. Progress was therefore slow. I greeted a young woman, perhaps in her late twenties, with her bike, who politely pushed herself into the hedge to get out of my way. Afterwards I thought that I should have done that thing that all the best cyclists do and asked her if she was OK, in case she needed help, although how capable I am of giving whatever help might be needed is another matter! However, later on we arrived at the same spot at the same time and got chatting. It turned out she lived on a boat on the canal and was just cycling to Melksham to do some shopping. I could have happily spent the next hour in conversation with her, but I didn't like to hold her up for too long. She worked part-time in a cookery school in Bath, not needing to work full time because the boat bills weren't very high.
I also chatted to a man in his seventies, who had sailed past me on his bike earlier, at a point where I had dismounted in order to walk over one of the steep and rough parts of the path. These occur now and then where there is a bridge over the canal. Sometimes you can't see what the surface is like over the other side so I got off to be on the safe side. It turned out that he knew the path and was also on an electric bike, although to be fair he said he often didn't use the electric assist function. He was in his 70s and loved going along the canal on his bike, not having really used a pushbike since he'd got his driving licence at 17. I am all in favour of electric bikes if it means that people get out of their cars and onto a bike, or if it means that people who could no longer cycle due to age or infirmity can now do so again.
Here the canal path is good and wide and a decent surface -
My first stop, apart from to drink water, was at Bradford-on-Avon, where I sat in the garden of the Canal Trust Cafe, and instead of my usual-at-this-time-of-the-morning coffee, I had tea, being more refreshing, and the most enormous and delicious scone, with cream and jam. Cream first, then jam - no arguments please! It was probably one of the best scones I've ever had. Oh, and scone rhymes with gone, not bone, despite what my Yorkshire brother-in-law says. I was just gutted that I couldn't finish it; I had to leave some of the cream and jam although I wrapped up the leftover scone in a napkin and took it with me to eat later. Again I got chatting - this time to an oldish lady who came and asked me how far I was cycling. I suspect that she had slight dementia as she asked me the same questions more than once.
|Bradford-on-Avon. My bike on the right! And my Tilley hat!
"Oh yes, it's that way. I used to cycle the Collier's Way to go to work. Now I walk it sometimes with the dog."
I could, at that point, have got out the phone-I-only-use-for-the-OS-maps, found my GPS position, and looked for my route, but then I wouldn't have got into conversation with that man. Nowadays people will google something, or ring up their mother (I have been rung in the past....) rather than doing what we always used to do and approach a stranger and ask for directions, or whatever. I like this old fashioned practice, partly because I believe that people actually like to help. It can lead to some happy and interesting experiences, like last year when I asked the farmer's wife who I was buying cherries from if she knew where I could get a cup of tea, and lo and behold she gave me not only tea, but toast and home made jam as well. I could have just googled it......
I reached the Dundas Aquaduct not long after. This amazing feat of engineering carries the canal over the River Avon -
|Canoeists on the aquaduct
|I'm not sure if boats still go down here
|A very pretty garden
A few hundred yards up a track there are loos (nice and clean), a cafe and bike hire place. I was infuriated at having to spend £1.40 for a 500 ml bottle of water. Rip-off!!!! However, I couldn't afford to get low on water, and wasn't sure where I might get some for free, so I just had to bite the bullet and pay.
And then it was onto the Collier's Way at last. Nine miles to Radstock it said. Well, that's not too far, hopefully a nice easy path I thought.........I should say here that if Husband sometimes says, before I set off on my bike - "It's a 16 mile an hour wind, you'll be cycling into it, you'll find it tough" then I don't take much notice. Neither had I taken much notice when he said before I went on this trip -
"There's some steep hills round there".
I sometimes think it's best just not to know...... It was indeed hilly, hills of the short sharp variety. I did have to get off the bike at times, but I'm not ashamed of that, and in fact as the days went on I got better at getting up hills and therefore didn't dread them so much. It's all in your head, Husband also has a habit of saying. In places, too, the road was so shaded that I had to take my sunglasses off in order to see the potholes! As in this bit -
At this point, on this very hot day, and when I would have liked to stop more than I actually did, I began to go over in my head exactly why I was doing this ride. I was beginning to feel hot and tired and it felt as if this bloomin' Collier's Way was going on for ever. Nine miles to Radstock it said at the aquaduct. Then the next sign - six miles.
"What? Another six? Surely not - I must have done more than three!!!"
Was I doing it because I really, really enjoyed cycling for miles and miles? Not really - I'm not one for going out for a ride just for the sake of it, or to be able to say "I've done [insert huge number] miles this week!" What for, then? Answer - in order to see different places, and to get there by bike, which is fantastic exercise, is non-polluting, and feels like a real achievement to me. But I was beginning to feel now, at this point in the day, as if I was just cycling in order to get somewhere, instead of being able to cycle, stop, cycle, stop, look round, cycle.....and generally enjoy the journey, although I did in fairness to myself do quite a bit of all those things. Actually the heat necessitated stopping a lot. Looking back on it, I think that heat was getting to me.
The funny thing is, that a lot of the rest of the ride is a bit of a blur, and so I can't remember the name of the village where I bought an ice cream and fruit at the shop, and went into the churchyard to look for a tap. There is usually one tucked away behind a church, but I couldn't find it, so, on spotting a workman on a nearby bench I asked him if he knew where I could get water. It turned out he was on the Parochial Church Council and he said -
"I can get you some"
whereupon he took me round to the back of the church and showed me where the tap was! How could I have missed it?! I filled my bottles. If I'd been on my own I probably would have stuck my hot feet under it too. That's another thing smartphones won't tell you - where there's a tap!
There was a primary school down the road and a youngish mother ran up the road to her house, gasping something about having forgotten her son's football boots that morning -
"I always forget them!" she said.
Well, what you need to do is write yourself a note then, and stick it on the door, so that you will see it before you go out, and then you won't forget. If only she'd stopped for my advice.....
Then she ran back to the school with them. She had a very short dress on, and it flew up as she ran, revealing more than one should reveal.
I will cut things short here, and say that after missing a turning on the route - not a serious error, but it made the journey seem even longer - I finally arrived in Radstock. From there the signs said another nine to Frome, the route taking the path of the old railway for about seven of those. It was a bit more interesting than the Marlborough railway path, particularly as in various spots there were benches, and signs indicating the different varieties of apple trees growing nearby. In the good old days of trains with windows that opened, passengers used to chuck out their apple cores, and they have seeded themselves along the path and grown into fine looking trees. A good route to cycle in the autumn then - free apples!
I thought I'd finished with the hills for the day, but about two miles from Frome, having been flat for the last few, it started getting hilly once more, and again I found myself thinking -
"Surely the mileage signs must be wrong. How can it possibly be another two miles?????"
For the last hour or so my one thought had been that I hoped I could stay a second night in Frome, and not just the one I had booked, because I was shattered, and did not want to have to do this again the next day. Part of my reason for coming had been to look round Frome, and as I was much later arriving than I had planned, I wouldn't be able to do that unless I stayed another night. I was so grateful for this lovely Airbnb room, with ensuite (oh the bliss of a shower after a hot day's cycling, even one that didn't work very well!) -
and yes, I could stay a second night.
I had ridden 36.6 miles, and let me just add that I had been riding without padded undershorts so far. I could see red marks where my sit bones were, but I hadn't actually felt sore, so all in all I was pretty pleased with the Brooks saddle.