Cycle Touring – Bath to Salisbury

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Day three of our little cycling tour was from Bath to Salisbury. You can read about the first two days here and here.

A great night’s sleep and a relaxed breakfast at the Youth Hostel meant that we didn’t set off until after 9 am. It was fine as this was going to be our shortest cycling day with less than 45 miles to Salisbury, although the start did continue up Bathwick Hill from the previous day. This was followed by a decent descent and five minutes of confusion at the junction with a main road, as my route indicated we should go straight on at the T junction. There was a small farm track which with trepidation I cycled down, which was all good as it ended at the Kennet and Avon Canal. Flat and no traffic for a few miles to get us out of Bath. Perfect.

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We stopped to take a few photos of a heron looking for breakfast before he flew off. I then spotted a ring. It wasn’t fancy or valuable and I did post a couple of photos on Facebook on the off chance that someone might claim it, although my wife has her eyes on it.

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Leaving the canal we found the steepest hill ever! Both of us were off our bikes and walking. Thankfully it wasn’t too long. At the top there was a sign saying that it was unsuitable for coaches. There must be a story behind that sign.

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A few miles later we hit an A road, but we knew that we would only be on it for one mile. I had done some checking on my routes to ensure that there were no nasty surprises. After that the roads were great as we stopped to take a couple of photos of the white horse at Westbury. I hadn’t realised that there were four different horses in the area. Most famous is the white horse at Uffington created over 2,000 years ago, followed by the Cherhill horse from 1780, the Alton Barnes horse from 1812 and finally the horse that we spotted near Westbury from 1778. You can almost make out the white horse in the background of the photo below (almost).

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Not being in a rush we stopped for a brew and cake at the Ginger Piggery.

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Carrot cake was good but the lemon cake not so good, although we could have stopped to watch the pigs for ages.

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We then ambled our way towards Salisbury, passing through Wilton, the former capital of Wessex and home of expensive carpets. A short dog leg up a hill to avoid the busy road into the city and we were at my parents by 2.15 pm. I then had to fight my way through the wild and jungle like garden to find the shed for our bikes.

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After some food we walked into Salisbury and had a look at the world famous cathedral before making our way back to my parents for more food.

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After three good days cycling we were both looking forward to a rest day tomorrow.

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Cycle Touring – Cheltenham to Bath

A good night’s sleep, coffee, some breakfast and we were out of the hotel and ready to go by 8 am. Finding your way out of a strange city at rush hour is never easy and Cheltenham was no exception. With only a couple of wrong turns we soon found ourselves on the busy A46 towards Stroud. Thus began the second of our five days of cycle touring. The previous day can be found here.

Not having fully checked the route created by Strava Route Builder I assumed that we would only be on the A46 for a mile or two at the most, and not the whole way to Stroud. Words cannot express how awful this road was; too busy and too narrow for bikes. We were both a bit frazzled by the time we dropped down into Stroud.

In hindsight I should have checked the route better, or at least have been able to re-route if we had needed to. We had pushed on hoping that my route would improve, but it didn’t.

Once we had safely made it to Stroud we had a sit down alongside the canal. I had a look on Google maps for an alternative route, just in case our route continued along the A46. I didn’t realise at the time that I could have looked at the route on Strava on my mobile app.

We set off blindly following our prescribed route, once again on the A46. Two very close passes saw Helen try to catch one car to punch him repeatedly in the face, and then have a small meltdown after the second very close pass. We pulled over to the side of the road and Helen threatened to catch a train home. Understandably she wasn’t happy, and to be honest it was my fault for not checking our route. I had another look on Google maps and noticed a disused railway line that had been converted to a cycle path running parallel to this section of the A46. Helen’s anger slowly dissipated, although a jogger not looking where she was going and a family with four dogs blocking the whole path didn’t help.

Fortunately at the town of Nailsworth our route joined a much quieter B road. From there the roads became quieter, the villages quainter and the rain more drizzly. We also cycled past a small housing estate called ‘Field View’. Not the most awe inspiring name. Ocean View or Mountain View would work, but Field View feels a little dull.

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Just after midday we pulled into the incredibly posh village of Sherston, and declining the expensive looking hotel/café we grabbed a couple of sandwiches from the post office and relaxed on a bench in the mizzle.

From there we joined the Fosse Way, an old Roman road that originally ran from Exeter (Isca Dumnoniorum) to Lincoln (Lindum Colonia). This meant that our route was now an almost straight line all the way into Bath. The Fosse Way is unusual as many sections are very quiet back roads, probably because it is very undulating. Most Roman roads have evolved and become busy A roads, so this section was a good road for cycling, apart from the one very steep hill which reduced Helen to walking. Being a gentleman I didn’t just wait at the top, I walked back down to meet Helen and pushed her bike up to the top. From there the last six or seven miles were mostly downhill, all the way to the centre of Bath. There were also a few cycle lanes which help us negotiate the traffic.

There was one final sting in the tail, a very big sting. Anyone who knows Bath will mention the hills, and the Youth Hostel was near the top of Bathwick Hill, a particular beast of a hill. It felt never ending at the time, but it probably explains why we saw so many e-bikes.

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As with many Youth Hostels, the one on Bath was an old building, clean and tidy with very friendly and helpful staff. They were having some renovation work going on, so there wasn’t a bike store, but a safe place for our bikes was found. We had a small en-suite room with bunk beds, me on the top. After a shower we walked back down the hill into Bath for a look round and some food.

Suitably fed and watered we headed back to the hostel for a couple more beers and to see if we could watch Bake Off on the telly. It was showing but the bar was too busy to hear it, so by 8.30 we were tucked up in our bunks, all ready for a shorter days cycling the next day.

 

Cycle Touring – Kenilworth to Cheltenham

Last summer, my beautiful wife and I cycled most of the Highland 500 up in the remote wilds of north Scotland. We loved it, even though it was wet, windy and hilly.

This year, partly due to my wife starting her own cake making business (Bunny’s Bakes in Lancaster), we couldn’t get away in the summer, hence why we cycled in September. We also decided that our touring holiday should include a bit less cycling and a bit more sightseeing and enjoying the view. To that end we planned our route to include visiting a few relations, starting with Helen’s brother near Coventry and including two nights with my parents in Salisbury. Initially we had wanted to visit more of my relations in South Wales, but it was a struggle to obtain enough time off work, plus my sister was in the process of moving to Portugal.

Therefore, our cycling holiday would be eight days long; five days would be cycling, two rest/sightseeing days and one day travelling to Kenilworth. Same bikes as last year, a Jamis Aurora for Helen and a Trek 920 for me, although I had new yellow Ortleib panniers, a birthday present from Helen.

With Nelly, our loyal English Pointer taken to stay with Helen’s youngest son and our bikes loaded onto the car, we headed down to Kenilworth. It was good to see Helen’s brother Phil and his wife, especially as we were plied with good food and a beer (or two), followed by an early night.

The next morning and Phil had gone off to work while Helen and I had a relaxed breakfast. Just after 9am we set off through Kenilworth, before quickly finding ourselves on some nice quiet back roads. We pootled along, enjoying the pleasant weather.

Our first stop was after about 15 miles; well it is hard work heaving those heavy panniers along. Luckily we pulled over underneath the Edstone Aqueduct, the longest aqueduct in England and part of the Stratford-Upon-Avon Canal.

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We walked up the steps to have a closer look. The aqueduct was made using large iron troughs welded together, with a lower walkway on one side (which made me think of the log flume ride at Alton Towers) and no barrier on the other, which must be a little disconcerting for the boaters.

Back on the bikes and it wasn’t long before we criss-crossed the route of a sportive that we had done two years ago. Deliberately making each cycling day a little shorter than last year, meant that we could have a laid back lunch in the town of Mickleton, watching the expensive cars clog up the place.

Unfortunately the roads then started to become a little busier, mainly due to road works and diversions off the A46, although the roads weren’t too bad. We continued into Broadway, which was an archetypal Cotswold chocolate box village; very posh and full of tourists. We continued on to another similar village, Winchcombe, which nestled on a long climb with idyllic cottages with names like Pear Tree, Toad Hall or Brexit Haven.

The road then continued up, and then up a bit more as we climbed Cleve Hill, and although the descent was brilliant it was over too quickly. We rolled into Cheltenham just before 3pm and surprisingly found the Premier Inn without too much of a problem. It was clean and tidy and they let us keep our steeds in the room.

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A wander around Cheltenham, a meal at Bill’s, some take-out cans from Tesco and we were ready to hit the sack by 9pm. A good first days riding.

Commuting Hell

There’s been a great deal on the news and in the press about just how rubbish the trains are in the UK, especially Northern Rail. So I thought that I would blog about my experiences. Last month the company that I work for moved offices from Leigh to Horwich, which I no longer have an cycling on my commute, but I know have to use Northern Rail instead of Virgin.

My wife and I share a car so I don’t have to use the train every day, in fact yesterday was only the fifth time that I’ve used the train to get to my new office. Four of those days I’ve ended up applying online for a refund using the ‘delay repay’ system. The other day the train was ‘only’ 25 minutes late, so no refund.

It gets worse, the trains are old, very old. Buses on rails. There aren’t enough carriages, so it’s not uncommon for them to be cattle truck busy.

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The photo from Preston doesn’t really show just how many people were waiting at the station, but it was  too cramped for me to get my phone out of my pocket once I was on the train.

There’s more. It’s 45 miles from Lancaster to Horwich, for which I have to pay £22.60 per day. Someone is making a fortune. Northern Rail are owned by Arriva, who in turn are owned by the German National Railway, so the hundreds of millions of pounds in profits are used to subsidise the German railways. This should make you really angry, and is probably why over 70% of people in the UK want the rail network to be nationalised again.

Book Review 2018 – Part XI

You all know that I’m a sucker for a round the world bike ride book, so as soon as Mark Beaumont had finished writing his latest book there was never any doubt that I would be buying it.

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This is Mark’s second round the world book. His first detailed how he broke the round the world record, taking it down to about 180 days, although he was riding unsupported. This book is all about taking the record down to 80 days, following in the steps of Phileas Fogg. The difference this time is that Mark was fully supported with two camper vans following him all the time. This allowed Mark to concentrate on averaging 240 miles per day and sometimes more than 16 hours of riding. I have ridden over 200 miles in a day on a number of occasions, and I can tell you that I didn’t feel like doing it again the following day.

I avidly followed Mark during his attempt as his team uploaded his route each day to Strava, and I was just one of thousands of people to give him Kudos each day.

The book doesn’t just cover the round the world section, it looks at the team and the fundraising, as well as the two week trial run around the coast of Britain, where not all of his team made the grade.

I literally rushed through this book, much like Mark did around the world, and thoroughly enjoyed it, finishing it in a couple of days. The dynamics between Mark and his team on the road, and between the team based in the UK was riveting. It will be interesting to see what Mark does next, and also interesting to see if anyone tries to break what is surely an unbreakable record.

Free e-books

I’ve had a Kindle for many years, and one of the features that I love is being able to browse the website for the best selling ‘free’ books. In the last few weeks I’ve read three sport related short free e-books.

The world’s biggest cycle race by Paul Stevens

How running saved my life by Andreas Michaelides

The bike ride: Diary of an incompetent cyclist by Graham O’Neill

All three books are short, which is great for when I’m commuting by train and I need a distraction. The first book describes a large sportive in South Africa, which I had never heard of but does sound intriguing to do. Maybe one day when I cycle through the whole of Africa.

The second book, as the title suggests, is how one man turned to running after gaining weight and losing motivation. Again I enjoyed it, even though it was short.

Finally, Graham’s short free e-book was the best of the three and I would definitely consider buying an e-book from him. This book is all about a small touring adventure in the south of England, and is humorous and well written, so much so that I am now going to have a look and see if he has written any more books.

If you have a Kindle I would suggest looking for some free books, as there are some hidden gems. My cycle adventure short book was downloaded over fifty times when  I made it available for free, although Amazon don’t allow you to offer books for free for too long.

Barbondale

Barbondale Valley is quite probably one of the greatest roads to cycle on. Located in south Cumbria it climbs gently from the Village of Barbon with spectacular views until a steep drop down into Dentdale.

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This photo of my lovely wife doesn’t really do it justice, especially as it was dull and overcast last weekend, but even then it was amazing. I’ve written about this valley a couple of times in the past, once on a 212km Audax, where the guys I was riding with had never been there (read about it here). The annual Coal Road challenge also uses this road, but in the other direction, with the steep climb out of Gawthorpe and the long gentle descent. This climb is mentioned in Simon Warren’s book ‘cycling climbs of the north-west’, although it only gets a 7/10, and is called Stone Rigg Outrake, which no one ever calls it. I’ve also blogged about the Coal Road challenge (read about it here).

If you are ever in the area there are so many great roads, but this is one that is often overlooked, which is a shame.