Sunday, July 15

An ambulatory day in Frome, the least lonely town in the UK, then to Pewsey, and home. Part 2 of Episode 2

If you've just joined me on my little bike tour, this is Day 3, where I don't do any cycling! And days 4 and 5, where I do.

In fact, this is the day where I get hot and lost..........

I was up early, pottering about doing this and that until about 8.30, when I walked into Frome town centre, via lots of lovely interesting backstreets and postmen that said a friendly "Good morning!" So far, not feeling lonely! Let's see how friendly everyone else is, I thought to myself. Some of the route was on NCN Route 24, which I thought I'd explore in case I wanted to go that way tomorrow, through Longleat park. I assume the famous lions are firmly separated from cyclists and walkers. Personally I think they'd be a lot happier if they were in their own countries.

I didn't take photos in Frome, but if you google places like Catherine Hill and Cheap Street you will find lots of them. These steep, and in places, cobbled streets are full of lots of little independent shops, and Cheap Street even has a leat running down the middle of it. Has no-one heard of Health and Safety in Frome? I mean, I ask you, an open watercourse running down the street?? How dangerous! A very small person, or someone's ornamental chihuahua or pug, might fall into it and drown. Or someone might feel like emptying their chamber pot into it. None of that happened, I'm happy to say.

I had a cup of coffee and a chocolate brownie in the lovely little garden of an organic cafe, which I chose precisely because it had this nice cool place to sit, rather than for its organicness, although I am a very organic sort of person. (Elder Son, who used to work on the deli in Waitrose - or was it Younger Son, who worked there too? - used to have a customer who was known to the staff as "Mrs Organic", but that wasn't me.) However, here I experienced the first bit of Frome unFriendliness!!!! The waitress was not at all friendly, in fact a smile did not flit across her face at all. I felt as if I was not welcome, and could feel the loneliness coming on......

I then wandered round all the little shops looking at things which were very lovely, but which I couldn't afford. I would say that four out of the five or six shopkeepers I spoke to did nothing much to dispel the feeling that maybe this wasn't actually the least lonely town in the UK, although to put in a good word for a couple who ran an "emporium" (I like that word), they were friendly, and I would have spent longer in their shop if it hadn't been so hot.

Some other people who were friendly were the ones who were running the "Back to Blue" exhibition at the Black Swan Arts Centre. This exhibition was right up my street, being all about cloth and dyeing, both of which Frome (which they told me was once pronounced to rhyme with either room or  roam) was once famous for. And, even better, it was free!  I chatted to one of them, Carolyn Griffiths, who wrote this book that accompanies the exhibition - Woad to This, and the Cloth Trade of Frome, and I came away with some free woad seeds which I shall sow in our garden. After that visit, I felt much uplifted.

I visited a greengrocer's and the Co-op, for fruit and yogurt and milk and sandwiches (which I ate on a bench next to a lady who was reading on her Kindle - no marks for friendliness there!). I drank the rest of the 500ml of water I'd brought with me, and set off back to my place of lodging, having had enough of shops, and finding it just TOO hot to explore any more. We are talking temperatures of 30 degrees C at least. Unfortunately, I have a tendency to get lost, and this I did magnificently. I hadn't got the phone-with-maps-on with me........ I thought I could remember my way back, but at some point I went wrong. I tried to stick to the shadier parts, but after a while I ran out of both shade and water, and was beginning to realize that I didn't know where I was, or how much further I had to walk. I asked a lady who was just getting in her car if she knew where the road was that I was trying to reach. She had a quick google and gave me loose directions, but I still wasn't sure how far it was.  I was now feeling very hot, and very tired, and probably a bit dehydrated......and before long, I sat down in the only bit of shade I could find, on the verge by some houses, thinking -

"I need to go to one of these houses and ask for water."

But I just couldn't summon up the energy, as going to any of them meant walking out into the heat again and up steps, but across the road from me, the front door opened and a couple came out. The man turned to go back in the house, and I thought -

"I really need to go across there and ask for water before he shuts the door."

But once again, the thought of getting up and walking into the heat and up steps put me off. Then the lady opened the boot of the car in front of the house, to put her dogs in, and I got up and said -

"Excuse me, I'm a bit lost and exhausted...... I wonder if you can help?"

I told her where I was trying to get to and she, bless her cotton socks, and 10/10 for friendliness, said she was going that way and would take me. A few minutes later I was back in my nice cool airy attic room downing glass after glass of water. And there I stayed for the rest of the day............... I even watched an hour of TV!! I understood, prior to this, that if you watched daytime TV you turned into a cabbage; I now know this not to be true, although don't intend to make a habit of it.

This incident made me think. Of course it wasn't clever to have got lost and to run out of water on such a very hot day, and we all should prepare ourselves so that on the whole these things don't happen. Yes, I should have had a map, and I should have had more water, but I'd managed my risk in the heat of the previous two days very well, and somehow just didn't expect to suffer like this while wandering slowly about Frome. But, as I said in the last post, people often want to help, and maybe if this sort of thing never happened, we'd never find this out and experience that kindness of strangers that is often written about.

As well as watching daytime TV, I went over the route that Husband had kindly planned for me for the next day, in order to get to the lovely Huntlys B and B (and no, before you tell me I've missed out an apostrophe, there just isn't one) near Pewsey , where I had stayed last year, and where I had decided to head for. I spread my maps across the bed, and wrote down the main villages I'd be passing through, an aide memoire which I would keep in my home made bar bag. Knowing the forecast was for the heat to continue, I planned a very early start while the day was hopefully still cool, so bed was before 8 pm!

A bit about Airbnb - I have only stayed Airbnb twice, and the last time I did I had such trouble trying to get them to let me even sign up, let alone book somewhere, that I had to ask a friend who is a local Airbnb host to do that booking for me. This time, though, the whole process was much easier (perhaps they'd had complaints) and I am now signed up. The huge advantage of my room in Frome  was that I could be more independent than a traditional B and B allows. Here I could come and go at my leisure (I had a key) and not having to wait for breakfast meant I could set off the next morning whenever I wanted. My one complaint perhaps is that the price that initially comes up on the website is not the one you pay, because there are also cleaning and service charges added on, so at first glance you think Airbnb's a lot cheaper than it actually is.  I actually paid  roughly £51 for my first night (booked beforehand through Airbnb) and then the basic charge of £36 for the next night, which I hadn't booked, so I simply paid that to my host directly. What is provided in the way of refreshments is variable from place to place - I had cereal, and there was some fruit and a pint of milk in the mini fridge on my arrival (though these weren't topped up for the second day).

I had privacy, but my host was also very friendly (up went the score again!) and helpful - and she painted furniture, so we had a good natter about that. I went downstairs at one point, and found her six year old son, straight out of the paddling pool and nearly naked, drying himself. I'm glad he was just a sprog of six or I might have had an attack of the vapours.

So, at 3.50 the next morning, I got up (no alarm, just the light to wake me up), ate breakfast of raspberries, yogurt and muesli, and was out of the door at 5.20. It was amazing to be out so early! I even had to don my windproof, it was so cool. I turned left out of the house, and set off at a cracking pace, down a hill, thinking -

"I'm glad I'm going down this hill and not up it!"

Can you guess the next thought that ran through my head, given that I am one who is prone to getting lost?

"I'm going in the wrong direction!!"

Plonker that I am, I should have turned right out of the house and not left! However, after much map consulting and even compass consulting (I've got one on my bell) I got myself back onto the right route, heading east, into the almost blinding morning sun. Once I knew I was back on track, I had a lovely time pootling along, stopping to look at this beautifully painted "tin church" at a crossroads at Brokerswood -

Crossing the A350 at North Bradley south of Trowbridge was horrible, and I was almost cut up by a lorry at a roundabout, but once across I happily pootled a few more miles into Steeple Ashton -

Here we have the village lock-up, used in the past for local miscreants. Bring them back into use I say!

The lock-up
One thing I love seeing in the summer in the villages I cycle through, is open windows, and, very occasionally, an open front door. It makes a village seem more alive. In the Cotswolds, not so far from us, the villages are often dead during the daytime, with rarely an open window, or an old boy leaning on his garden gate, and as for children out playing, well - you rarely see any of them. And no-one walks to the village shop because they haven't got one.....

Last year, the man who delivered our oil, told me of the Cotswold village where he was brought up, but where neither he nor his brother could afford to live any longer. It is a sad fact that the poorer people are being pushed out of many villages in this country. In our own tiny village, where we have lived for nearly two years, but also lived from 1981 - 1984 (in this same house) there were once four cottages tied to agricultural work.  One of those four we live in, as, following Husband's redundancy from the farm in 2003, we were entitled by law to stay on in a farm cottage. Two of those four have now been sold, and are being extended by the new owners, and in the fourth, the long-term tenants are to be given notice, undoubtedly so that it too can be sold.There were also four council houses in the village in 1981 - they have all been sold, bar one, and have been extended and "improved". Even back then, though, when we came, things were changing in both this village and the one nearby that we lived in for 32 years. Workers who retired were not replaced (not even the sheepdog....) and cottages that were no longer required for workers were sold or rented out.Wherever I cycle round the local villages, the same thing is happening - farm cottages, often with bigger gardens than most and thus ripe for extending, have been sold off and before long they are hardly recognisable as the more humble abodes they once were.

However, back to the open windows, there were quite a few in Steeple Ashton. In general I got the impression that this was a friendly village, though I suspect it was also a wealthy one.....

And here is - the friendly cafe!

At this wonderful village shop and cafe (it even has wi-fi for the use of those who can't exist for a minute without it) I entered and was greeted by a man in an apron who stood back to let me in on his way out -

"Come in, Madam, come in!" he said.

They were advertising sandwiches so I asked the Tilley-hatted man behind the counter what sort they did, and he then got the be-aproned man who had just gone outside back in to attend to my needs.

"What sort would you like? Tell me and I'll make it!"

It was only 9.30, but it was more than five hours since I'd had breakfast, and by now I was practically salivating over the thought of some bacon.


I really thought he'd say that was one sandwich he couldn't do, but no!

"Certainly madam! Sit down while I make it. Would you like a drink too?"

He brought me a mug (oh the joys of a mug and not a cup!) of coffee, and then cooked me the most wonderful bacon sandwich EVER! I would go back there just for their bacon sarnies.

I had another wonderful stop at a place that I wouldn't have found if I had stuck entirely to Husband's route. I took my own advice and diverted slightly in order to make crossing the next A road easier, and came to St Barnabas' Church at Easterton, where I did my usual thing of looking for an outside tap. I couldn't find one. In this country there used to be such things as public drinking fountains, and Elder Son tells me that they are common in Austria. As I wandered disconsolately into the church, I thought that it would be a great idea if travellers knew they could always find water in a church. But then, a notice in the porch caught my eye -

"Tea and coffee available in the church"

My photo isn't brilliant (I think I need to learn how to use my new camera better..) but that sign says -

"Tea and coffee this way"

So I went that way, and, after using the toilet facilities, more to wash my grubby mits than anything else, I made myself a mug (yes, nice mugs provided!) of tea, in this kitchen, and spent a restful half hour or so in the nice cool church drinking it. I then filled my water bottles, washed up my mug, left a donation and a thank you note in the visitors' book, and wended my happy way ever onwards. How wonderfully trusting and hospitable this church's congregation is to leave it open and share their facilities with passing travellers.

The hall and kitchen adjoining the church

I reached my destination of the villages called the Manningfords, near Pewsey, in plenty of time to rest and eat in the local recreation ground, keeping my beady eye on some local youths in the far corner, who weren't actually up to any mischief as far as I could see, but you never know.... At least here they were out and about!! I was staying in Manningford Abbots (there are three Manningfords) and later while reading a book about Wiltshire villages (The Wiltshire Village Book, by Michael Marshman) I came across this passage about these villages -

"I have known these villages for nearly 20 years. Despite this, I still get lost when walking or driving around their footpaths and lanes without the aid of an Ordnance Survey map."

I understood what he meant, as I had had to keep consulting the map to make sure I didn't get lost (again) even though the area is tiny and I had been here last year.

And so to my B and B. I love this place. It's much more homely than the one I stayed in on the first night, and it reminds me of my childhood and the places we stayed in on holiday, in England and Wales. My parents rarely booked anywhere - they just decided where they were going and then set off, and found somewhere to stay once they got there. I suspect that this was not so unusual in the 60s and 70s. I remember some places with great affection, usually I think because the owner was particularly kind and welcoming. I also remember the feel of soft old well-washed cotton sheets in one place that we found rather late on in the evening, and also a Welsh farmhouse, approached up narrow and twisting lanes after dark, the big long oak table where we had breakfast, and where my dad whispered to us -

"There's a fairy at the bottom of the garden!"

We didn't know quite what he meant, as my dad was not one to try to convince us that there were such things. I still have never heard anyone else call it this, but he was referring to the toilet, which was, indeed, at the bottom of the garden!

Last year when I stayed here, I had had a large room with an en-suite of shower and toilet, but this year I had the other bedroom, with my own private bathroom across from it. I had seen this bathroom last year, and thought - ooh that looks nice! A bit of tongue and groove and sensible taps. And this year it was mine for the night, and although there was a shower I made the most of the bath by having one (a rarity these days!), with the window open and the blind half down but with lots of light still coming in. This was bliss after cycling 40.28 miles (once again, not forgetting that fraction of a mile!).

Regarding the comfort of one's rear end, and the Brooks saddle, today I had worn padded undershorts, thinking that maybe my rear end would appreciate them.  I then washed them out at the end of the day and hung them out of the window to dry, using the extra long bootlace that for some reason I happened to have had in my rucksack, and had thought, when setting off - I'll leave that there as it might come in handy. Which it did! However, I'm not convinced that the padding in the shorts is actually under my sit bones (I must investigate) and so am not sure if they really helped in that area. I did not wear them the next day, so that was three days of cycling without them, and only one with.

I shall give a very brief account of the next day's journey home, which was basically very hot and very tiring. I set off after a delicious breakfast, not a cooked one this time, at about 9 am. Earlier would have been better but you can't expect B and B hosts to get up before dawn to serve you! I stopped for coffee and cake at the Engineman's Rest Cafe at the Crofton Beam Engines, about 17 miles into my journey. Lunch was sandwiches taken in the shade in a park at a village called Froxfield - where I saw an open front door!

It was then just a question of battling against the heat and getting home. More than once I looked at the map to see where the next bit of shade was, where I could stop and rest, all the time making sure I had enough water. I used it not just to drink but to pour over myself to keep cool on the stretches of road that had no shade. When I reached the village of Bishopstone, about 7 miles from home, I sat at the side of the road and dangled my feet in the village pond for several minutes. That last 7 miles seemed very long. I got more and more angry with commuters (it was that time of day) who overtook me too close and too fast.

I thought I knew the hills of this bit of road well enough to say to myself -

"Just one more hill...."

But the heat must have fogged my brain as there always seemed to be one more!

Here's a somewhat shattered me, finally home, at 6.20, -

When can I go again?