Tuesday, October 1

Cycling from Derbyshire to home in Oxfordshire, Part 2

Day 3, at my B and B south of Leamington Spa, started at 5.50 am; although breakfast wasn't until 7.45 I like to have plenty of time to get everything ready for another day. I was hoping I'd really enjoy today's cooked breakfast, as there were only 24 miles to cover so I knew I could relax more, but in fact despite its being beautifully cooked, once again I would have preferred to have been eating it about 2 hours into the ride. I've learned my lesson - next time I will try and negotiate a discount for not having breakfast, and will take my own.

I really took it nice and easy today, being determined to enjoy it after yesterday's events. In fact I was positively lazy and stopped after less than 6 miles for coffee in the very interesting village of Kineton, still in the county of Warwickshire. I'd travelled from Derbyshire to Leicestershire on my first day, and then into Staffordshire and Warwickshire on the second. I actually rather liked the fact that as I travelled along, I often didn't know which county I was in. I wandered around Kineton, half looking for somewhere to have coffee, and was just about to give up and cycle on when I spotted this -

It was a florist's - Flower Thyme - with a little cafe round the back. My coffee came in a lovely pottery mug and with a free biscuit, which I didn't eat, preferring my Kit-Kat, but it will go in the jar of free biscuits at home, along with the jar of free sugar sachets! I sat out the front in the sun, so that I could watch the world go by and also keep an eye on my bike.

Incidentally, the previous evening I had washed one of two pairs of padded knickers, but despite hanging them up at the window overnight they were still very damp. I remembered what my mum used to do to dry wet socks when we went on holiday; she would dangle them out of the car window as we drove along! A bike was even better for drying wet clothing - when I stopped later on to change behind a hedge into cut off trousers (it was getting hot) I rigged up my washing on one of the panniers, and found good use for the safety pins that I'd brought - I knew they'd come in handy!

Airing my (clean) laundry in public.

On my return home Husband was appalled that I'd cycled along displaying my underwear in this fashion. But it worked!

I had guessed that today would be more hilly than the previous two days, and I was right. This area is, after all, the Cotswolds, "a range of rolling hills" according to Wikipedia.  I started quite well but got off near the top of one hill and a man with an e-bike standing in the lay-by there said -

"Didn't your battery help you up the hill?"

He thought my bike, too, was electric. We chatted for a few minutes and he told me that he was 76, lived locally and did an 11 mile circuit every day, which I thought was pretty good, even if his bike  was electrically assisted. He mentioned the hill up to Whichford, and said -

"You'll be pushing up there!"

I said that sometimes I prefer not to know what's coming in the way of hills..... I cycled on to Upper Brailes, which I learnt later is on the side of Brailes Hill, the second highest point in Warwickshire. There I spotted a little bakery and stopped to buy a filled bap (baps, butties, rolls, confusing isn't it? Especially as in some places baps are plimsolls....) then to Lower Brailes, lower down the hill (obviously....) and then, although I'd intended to eat the bap much later, I couldn't resist sitting in the sun on a bench at Sutton-under-Brailes to eat it. I must have been hungrier than I thought, as I enjoyed every mouthful.

The weather by now was sunny and warm, and today was definitely a day for stopping wherever I fancied, so when I saw a sign for the Cotswold Distillery (with cafe) I popped in. A very posh place. I noticed a sign just inside the door where there was a cask of whiskey and a sign that said something like "Fill a bottle for £84.95"!!!! Hmmmmm, well, Husband does like a wee dram sometimes but that was not quite within the budget I'd set myself for this trip! On I went up those rolling hills towards Whichford, and although I got off near the top of one, I was feeling very smug (dangerous...) about doing so well after what Mr E-bike man had said, who incidentally I had seen a second time, and waved to, as he returned on his circuit.

At the top of the hill there was another sign, this time for Whichford Pottery - also with cafe. I knew I'd heard of this somewhere, and later concluded that I must have found it online when I was looking up the prices of large terracotta pots, the reason for which (which, Whichford....) was that I had fished one out of a skip and wanted to know how much it was worth before I attempted to flog it!

Look at all these pots! -

The place was actually a lot more than just a pottery, and had beautiful courtyard gardens, a workshop which you were, amazingly, free to wander round, and a cafe called The Straw Kitchen, very rustic, quite hippyish -

Once again I resisted the cafe, preferring to spend the time wandering round the courtyard gardens, although I did spend some money in their lovely octagonal shaped shop. One thing that attracted me was the coloured spools of Nutscene twine, and I bought one for a present for the sister who had organized the weekend. I hope she appreciates having a ball of string for a present.  I had no idea that Nutscene produced their famous garden twine in so many colours. That was another thing that I rescued out of the same skip the pot came from - various half-used spools of Nutscene green twine. I actually have a bit of a thing about string! String and notebooks.

I also trespassed, quite by accident, in a part of the garden that was private; I had gone through a door which happened to be open, and assumed that that part of the garden must also be public. I did wonder if I was mistaken though, when I saw chainsaws on view, in this most amazing building -

The painted walls were incredible. I'd love to know the history and significance of this building. I wish now that I had taken more photos, but somehow I got the feeling I shouldn't be there - and I was right! A gardener appeared, and when I asked if this was all public, he said no, but without seeming very bothered that I was there! He had left the door that I had come through open when he had gone to get a ladder. I made to leave but by then was a bit lost, so he directed me back to the door I'd come through, on the front of which it said "Private Garden"!

My smug self then had several more hills to contend with...... one was horribly busy and I missed my  right hand turn near the bottom of it , so to avoid going back down and having a sharp left turn to negotiate, I carried on and took another one on the right. My last hill was up into Chipping Norton; I slogged up it, then, seeing traffic lights for road works, I decided to be kind to the drivers and get off the road. As I crossed over to the pavement, the driver behind me shouted something. No, not something abusive, but -

"Well done!!"

And he gave me a big smile and a thumbs up! Whoever you were, kind sir, you made my day!!!

It was a long time since I'd been to Chipping Norton, which is built on the side of a hill, as a grandmother at Whichford Pottery had reminded me, telling me how the car door slammed on her granddaughter as she got out of the car, parked on the slope, on a recent trip there. It's also the home of the Chipping Norton Set, i.e. a load of rich posh people amongst whom is David Cameron. When I told someone I had booked an Airbnb place there they wondered if perhaps it might be Call me Dave's home, but no, it wasn't. I doubt if he's down on his luck enough to need to let out a room. Another member of this set is Jeremy Clarkson, and judging by the enormous volume of motorised traffic going through the town, there must be quite a lot of other petrolheads in the area.

My room was in fact a very tastefully furnished one in a modest house on the Burford Road; it was very noisy but it did quieten down eventually, though long after my bedtime! -

Notice the "things to be charged" section on the chair

I had a bathroom which was right up my street, given my liking for plain and sensible baths and basins. Have you noticed how that word "basin" is disappearing? Once upon a time the thing you had in your bathroom to wash in was a basin, and the thing you had in your kitchen to wash up in was a sink. Now it seems the thing you have in your bathroom is also a sink. Fancy mixer taps are also a pet hate of mine (sorry, Younger Daughter.....). Half the time you have to work out how to use them; up, down, turn one way, turn the other. Why not just go for the good old fashioned one hot, one cold, like these? Simplzzzzz!

There was a separate shower too.
When I had arrived in Chippy, as I believe it is known to locals, I had had a burning desire for pizza and a glass of red wine. In the end I thought wine might keep me awake, and as I'd no way of heating up pizza and wasn't prepared to go back into town later and visit a pizza take away, I made do with buying muesli, milk and natural yogurt, a bowl of which I enjoyed before I indulged in a bath. In fact it really wasn't much of an indulgence, as on the rare occasion I have a bath I can never seem to get out of the habit of only having about 4 or 5 inches of water in it! It doesn't help that in our own house the bath takes ages to even partially fill, but I think this habit stems from my upbringing; at home we had a large hot water tank with a "sink" switch and a "bath" switch. In other words if you only wanted a sinkful of hot water, such as for washing up, you put the sink switch on. If you wanted a bathful of hot water, you put the bath switch on. (How this system worked, I don't know.) However my economical mother always put the sink switch on, even for a bath...... so I grew up totally unfamiliar with the idea of having a long hot deep soak.

Today's 24 miles seemed like a lot more, but that was indeed all I'd done. At 7.20 I got into bed - so early! - and read/wrote until 7.45, when although I was very tired, sleep was difficult until the traffic died down much later.

At 5.40 am it started up again! So I got up and started the preparations for another day on the road. Another bowl of muesli and yogurt, but again no tea, as unfortunately the tea bags provided made a ghastly brew. I will defnitely take my own next time and have added it to the spreadsheet! The weather forecast was good again, so this time I went for the cut off trousers straight away, to avoid having to change behind a hedge again later on. The night before, realizing how much traffic there would be on the first couple of miles of my ride, I had planned a different route for this section. At 7.30 when I set off, even these minor roads were quite busy, and clearly used as cut throughs by commuters. I soon passed through the village of Chadlington, where I rejoined the route on my Garmin, and where there was a very tempting cafe, but I decided to wait for my coffee until I'd done a few more miles. This was another day for pootling and I was really enjoying the ride. As I travelled on through Cornbury Park I thought to myself - oh, so this is where Cornbury Festival is held, but no, I was wrong, it's further north east at Great Tew.  You could tell that the Cornbury Estate was wealthy as the signs were plentiful and expensive looking, not like the battered ones on the sold-off estate where we live!! Then I went round the edge of Wychwood Forest towards Leafield.

Incidentally, yesterday, although I wasn't aware of crossing the county border into my home county of Oxfordshire, I felt sure I must have done, because the state of the roads got a lot worse. Before that, in the other counties, they were in a much better state of repair. It surprises me that in such a wealthy county the roads are so bad.

I encountered another problem with my route at Little Minster, where part of it had very recently been made one way, but I was now nearly on home territory and so, with the aid of the map, finding an alternative route was easy. And this is the great thing about cycling - you find you can't go a certain way but then the alternative route leads you to somewhere you wouldn't have otherwise found, in this case an amazing cafe in the nearby village of Brize Norton. I had asked a couple if there was a cafe nearby, and they pointed me to a sign for one about 100 yards down the road. Humble Bumble Cafe had a notice up saying "Cyclists and walkers welcome" - always a good sign! It didn't look all that impressive from the outside, being an old sports and social pavilion, and I did think maybe it might be the sort of place that sold filtre coffee which had been kept warm for hours...... but I was in for a surprise! Inside it was wonderfully cosy and welcoming, and there was plenty of outside seating which I took advantage of on this sunny day.  I ordered a bacon butty, coffee, and banana cake, and it was brought to me outside, where I had the company of this lovely dog, who I think must belong to the owner of the cafe -

He looked as if he had a bit of Golden Retriever in him, and certainly had the gently and friendly temperament of one. He sat by me all the time, looking longingly at my bacon butty, and I would have given him some bacon but didn't think I should. He'd soon end up fat if every customer fed him tit-bits.....

After that feast, I continued on down the road past the RAF base, and saw a few plane spotters at one of the crash gates, so called, I believe, because emergency vehicles need to be able to exit them in the event of a crash away from the main site. I wondered if something might be due to land or take off; I have to admit it is quite thrilling to hear and see these planes overhead and I decided to stop. I was amazed to see these men, Dutch judging by their number plates, up ladders (folding ones which they bring in the boots of their cars) with their huge telephoto lenses poked under the razor wire. I was surprised that this was allowed, and in some countries it isn't, so I was told, but apparently the razor wire and boarding behind the fence wasn't there until more recently, making it easier then for the public to see in -

Outside one of the crash gates at RAF Brize Norton

I waited there for over an hour, chatting to one of the spotters, and learnt that a big old German plane that was apparently quite rare was currently over the Atlantic but was due back in, as it was lunch time and the crew usually wanted to get back for lunch! I got quite an education talking to him; when I asked how he knew all this stuff, such as when planes were due in, and what sort they were, he told me that there is a military plane tracking app which gives you the information. I had seen Youngest Son looking up into the sky, seeing a passenger plane and then identifying it with an app on his phone, but didn't realize you could do this with military aircraft. I really hoped to see this one that was due in, and get a photo to impress both Younger and Elder Son (the latter studied aerospace engineering) but unfortunately, despite the long wait, it didn't appear. It was still mid-Atlantic when I left. Either something interesting was going on over there or the German crew weren't that hungry!

Later I couldn't resist calling in at one of my favourite charity shops in the village of Bampton, which is the ficitious Downton of Downton Abbey fame, of which I've never watched a single episode. In the shop it was "fill a bag for £5" so I did, and here is said bag on the back of my bike -

I wondered if I'd get up a local hill (Buckland Road hill if anyone local is reading this) with this extra load, but I'm pleased to say I did. And then it was a mere twelve uneventful miles to home. I find that sometimes the home straights can be the worst; I'm usually tired and there's a certain two mile stretch that I often dread, but today all was fine - it was a good end to a perfect day's cycling of 35.25 miles.

In the last few months I have been experimenting with different tyre pressures  and was a bit worried that Husband's recommendation of pumping them up a bit harder for the trip would prove a mistake. Another slight cause of anxiety was shoes - the day before leaving home, I rode it to Younger Son's for him to put in his van, wore a different pair, and found my feet seemed to be slipping on the pedals. Was it the bike/pedals and not, in fact, the shoes? Panic, panic!!  On the Sunday night in Derbyshire I also had to decide what shoes to keep with me and which to give Husband to take home - and one, or two, pairs? I chose to keep just my Keen sandals, as I could wear them with or without socks. But in the end all went well, and I was really pleased at how comfortable the bike was. And no saddle soreness, even though on the day my washing was drying I had had to go without padding......

The trip in total was 152.25 miles. Now, where can I go next..........?