Friday, September 27

Cycling from Derbyshire to home in Oxfordshire, Part 1

At the end of last year one of my sisters organised a weekend family get together in Derbyshire for this month. I immediately thought - "Oh wouldn't it be lovely to cycle there!"  However, I never got round to organising anything, and come September, I was feeling disappointed that I hadn't had a proper cycling trip this year. However, the weather forecast for the days following the weekend was very good and I knew this was my chance. Younger Son would be travelling up in his van which would easily accommodate my bike....

So three days before we were due to drive up - to Carsington Water not far from Ashbourne -  I got busy. I had thought of using to plan a route, but in the end accepted Husband's offer to plan a quiet route for me. He did what I myself would do if I had to plan a long route by myself, and drew a straight line from home to the destination, and then took me round the quietest roads nearest to it. He loaded it onto my Garmin, which for anyone who isn't familiar with Garmins meant I just had to follow an arrow on the screen in front of me and it would show me every turn I had to make. This makes it much easier than having to keep looking at a map. We went through details, such as when I'd have to go off route to the  accommodation I'd booked for each of the three nights. The journey would be about 150 miles in total and I decided to do it over 4 days. If I did it in 3 that would have meant 50 miles a day and I'd just be cycling from A to B each day and not really have time to enjoy the journey. The first day would be 40 miles, the second 50, the third 24 and the fourth 35. This would be the first time I'd cycled as many as four days in a row. I hoped my rear end would be OK.

I packed my panniers using a spreadsheet which I created the first time I did an overnight trip, though this time, as it was later in the year, I had to add some slightly warmer clothing. I had bought three new items since then, which proved to be extremely useful. They were a Torm long sleeved cycling jersey a Rab Kinetic Plus jacket, and some Equetec Dressage Briefs. I will do a separate blog post on those items in the near future.

On Day 1, the Monday, I set off at 8.20 from Carsington (my alarm clock hadn't worked or it would have been earlier). I had about 40 miles to do and Husband (who had gone home the previous day) had said it wouldn't be hilly, so I took it easy. The weather was cool and rather damp, but actually good for cycling. At this time of year there is plenty to forage; I soon found a well-laden damson tree and ate several. I could easily have foraged some strawberries here too, as there was a very convenient gap in the hedge to these polytunnels -

On this road there was literally a side of strawberries!

but I think that would definitely be stealing and not foraging!

I don't use a smartphone, except Husband's old one for OS Memory-Map, but I'm sure if I did it would have told me of places to stop for coffee. Instead I use the good old fashioned method of asking a real person. I had in fact stopped to ask a man if I could get through a closed road; he said the signs had only been put up that morning and he had seen another cyclist go past and not come back, so he guessed I could. We chatted a bit more, about his daughter who cycled, had done End to End and like me, enjoyed cycling on her own. I said -

"Yes - you can go wherever you want and stop for food whenever you want."

He then told me about a cafe not far away, called, simply, The Shed. I cycled off and found it, but just as I was thinking  "Ah, this is my sort of place!" - literally a shed painted in a very colourful fashion - I found it wasn't open that day. Gutted! However at Rolleston on Dove another real person, this time a friendly postie, told me that the pub across the road served coffee. I would never normally go in a pub on my own, but when I am out cycling I seem to gain a confidence that I don't usually have, and in I went, though it helped that it wasn't yet busy with lunch time drinkers.

My route then took  me around the west side of Burton upon Trent, where at one point another cyclist saw me taking a photo, came over and we had a good old natter. He was a member of British Cycling, having got disenchanted, I believe, with the CTC when it became Cycling UK. Then it was south and south-east to the youth hostel here near Swadlincote in the National Forest. I'd done a very easy 40 miles. Maybe it really was all downhill from north to south! My private room was only £29 with an en-suite. It was clean and did the job but was not as cosy as the older youth hostels.  I booked breakfast but then changed my mind as they didn't start serving it until 7.30 am; I knew that by the time I'd eaten and conducted my usual after-breakfast routine - not just unmentionables, but re-packing the panniers and getting the bike out of the shed etc. etc. - it would be later than I wanted. I found it rather an inconvenient arrangement that I had to ask for the bike shed key, lock away my bike and then return the key, meaning that if I wanted to return to my bike, I'd have to ask for the key again. There were also no staff in the hostel overnight, so I definitely couldn't get to it once they'd gone home for the night.

I always find it very hard to eat in the evenings on a trip like this. All I can think about is having a shower, speaking to Husband on the phone (he needs assurance that I'm ok....) making sure I'm familiar with the next day's route, making some notes about the day's ride, and getting to bed. After about 4 o'clock I struggle to eat a proper meal; I'd tried to eat a dried packet meal (mashed potato and chicken....) but couldn't manage much of it. Apologies to Elder Son-in-Law who had given it to me a few of these dried meals. In the night my stomach was rumbling and I got up and ate an apple and two cheese biscuits, which stopped the rumbles until morning, when I attempted to eat another  packet of something fruity and custardy, but without much success. And next time I stay at a youth hostel I will take tea bags - I sorely missed my morning cup of tea!

I set off at 7.45, and first stop was to buy a pint of milk at a local shop; Husband thinks milk is a good thing to keep you going so I took his advice and bought some. I quite enjoy milk nowadays, but as a little girl I loathed the stuff, and missed chunks of playtime at primary school because I was stuck in the classroom, trying to force down the free milk we all had back then in the 1960s.

Today being 50 miles, I didn't hang around. I was navigating this first part without the Garmin but it was fairly easy. After about 14 miles I spotted a sign for a farm shop and cafe - just what I need, I thought! I cycled on with renewed enthusiasm looking out for further signs, and was mystified when there weren't any. Eventually, after asking a couple where it was, they directed me - back the way I'd come. How on earth had I missed it? This added on another 3 miles, and I wasn't sure whether it was wise to back track like this, but I really needed a proper breakfast, so I did. It was worth it; I had a fry up, and both tea and coffee, and that set me up for many more miles.

At this point things went just a little wrong.......... I attempted to rejoin the original route on my Garmin, and thought -

"Uh oh, it's not there............."

And not only that, but it seemed that Husband had neglected to work out the route for Days 3 and 4 as well. Fortunately we had taken the belt and braces approach and had written a list of places I would go through, and I also had the map on the smartphone to check, with the aid of GPS, where I was and where I was going. So I then cycled another 15 miles in this way, constantly checking road signs and the map. I crossed a busy dual carriageway fairly quickly; we had looked on google earth and knew that there was a safe crossing. At some point then I texted Husband to say what had happened, and shortly after, when I was on the very edge of Coventry, he rang me and said -

"The route is on your Garmin!! Why didn't you ring me?!"

"Well there would have been nothing you could do and you'd only have worried...."

He couldn't for the life of him understand how I had made the mistake of thinking it wasn't there in the "Courses", and said -

"But we went through it all!! I told you where you'd go off route and where you'd get back on it!" etc. etc.

Yes, we had gone through it all, but that had been several days before, and in the intervening interval I had completely forgotten that he had done the whole 4 days' route as one. I'm sure a psychologist would be able to explain why this had happened! In fact just recently I read an interesting article in the paper on memory, and apparently the phenomenon of going into a room only to forget what you've gone in there for is very common, and is known as an "event boundary"; the act of going through a door makes the brain believe that a new scene has begun and that there is no need for memories from the old scene. I think this applied to me, as I had gone through a lot of doorways since having that conversation with Husband!

Anyway, at last I re-connected to the route and made up for lost time. Coming into Kenilworth, I was amazed to come over the hill and see the spectacular ruins of the castle looming up ahead of me. Soon after that I reached Warwick, and from the outskirts I rode all the way through the town on a cycle path, apart from one small section where I did as other locals were doing and rode on the pavement. NCN Route 1 took me through to Leamington Spa, where there had been the possibility of a cup of tea with one of Elder Son's cycling friends; that didn't come off in the end, and it was a good job it didn't, as time was ticking on and despite having the course to follow turn by turn, it was pretty tricky following it as precisely as I needed to through housing estates in Leamington Spa, and I kept having to retrace my steps.

Today's only photo - cyclepath alongside the Grand Union Canal at Leamington Spa

But I did it, and took the road out of the town south to a village called Bishop's Tachbrook. I was getting quite tired by then, and when I saw what looked like a possibly long and certainly steep, busy hill, I was a bit worried about going up it, but once I'd told myself to just get on with it it turned out to be short and I was soon at the top. Another few miles, and another very steep hill, and there at 6.45 pm was my B and B, near Lighthorne, which was small but very clean and comfortable. And I was delighted to find there were some decent tea bags!! A tiring 52.56 miles.

Next episode - home, via Chipping Norton.