Cycle Touring – Oxford to Kenilworth

Our last day of cycling started a little too early with a fire alarm going off in the middle of the night, but a good breakfast served by the friendliest staff, even at 7am was very welcome. (The other four days can be read hereherehere and here). As we retrieved our bikes from the bike store we were surprised to see two high-end Cannondale road bikes unlocked. Even though the bike store was locked I wouldn’t leave a bike unlocked in there. We opted to leave them there as neither bike had anywhere to put our panniers.

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Once we were loaded up we headed off through north Oxford and past yet more posh houses. Having lived in Oxford and cycled around the area for many years the first 20 miles today would be on very familiar roads. It was over five miles to get fully out of Oxford, but there was very little traffic about. We soon left the main road and reached the small village of Bletchingdon. The Oxford Tri Club used to organise mid week bike and run events from there. Fond memories.

With some flat roads and a strong tailwind we were making good progress, and the only other people we saw were other cyclists. After the first tough climb of the day we stopped for a breather, as did a group of cyclists who had been quickly catching us up. It turned out that they were from my old tri club, Oxford, although I didn’t recognise any of them.

We stopped for some food under an old walnut tree in Upper Tysoe, and with a little over 20 miles to go we expected to reach Kenilworth before 2pm, much earlier than we had planned. Helen sent her brother a text to explain this, but he was probably out on his bike so we didn’t get a reply.

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“Would you like to go to Hampton Lucy?” I asked Helen when we saw a sign. “Yes please, I would like to go to Hampton, and don’t call me Lucy.” Dad jokes are the best.

Reaching the outskirts of Warwick we hit a main road, although there was an excellent separate cycle path that took us over the stupidly busy A46. Note to town planners. If you build good quality cycling infrastructure, cyclists will use it.

The last few miles into Kenilworth were the only nasty roads of the day, but by 2pm we rolled to a stop at Helen’s brother’s house. Coffee, cheese on toast, loading up the bikes and we were ready to head home, stopping off in Hambleton to pick up Nelly, who was very pleased to see us.

It was a great little touring holiday, with just the right amount of cycling for both of us, along with visiting family and sightseeing some great places. The obvious highlights were Avebury and being able to show Helen around Oxford. Thirsty Meeples was an added bonus.

Both bikes behaved impeccably, although Helen’s did need a little gear fettling. Over the five days of cycling we covered 435km with almost 4000m of climbing and 395 new Strava segments.

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Finally, we’ve already started to plan for our next little touring adventure.

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Cycle Touring – Salisbury to Oxford

This was the fourth day of our little cycle touring holiday, and our longest day with approximately 72 miles. You can read about the three previous days here, here and here.

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After retrieving our bikes from the garden that my parents call a jungle, we set off. I made my usual morning joke.

“Come on ya big old beast… and you Helen.”

Steady away, was the plan, and after fettling with Helen’s gears the day before, her bike was smoother and Helen was therefore quicker. Our route had a couple of dog legs to avoid main roads, as we headed north towards Amesbury. Salisbury Plain, just north of the city is full of army bases and is famous for the tanks, so when we came across our first ‘Warning Tank Crossing’ sign, I propped my tank (my Trek 920) against the sign for a photo.

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Helen noticed that there was a rumbling noise, but I dismissed it as distant traffic. Moments later the first tank came into view, followed by another four. I was literally jumping up and down in excitement, hoping that I didn’t get arrested for photographing tanks!

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What a great start to the day, although the weather forecast had said that there would be no rain, so after an hour of persistent drizzle we stopped at a convenient café next to the Avon and Kennet Canal.

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The Honey Street Mill Café was surprisingly busy despite seemingly being in the middle of nowhere. Coffee and a shared cake later, we set off up Pewsey Hill before dropping down into Marlborough; famous for the posh school not cigarettes. I’m sure Marlborough is a pleasant town, but the traffic makes it deeply unpleasant to walk or cycle through. This is one High Street that is crying out to be pedestrianised.

Leaving the chaos behind we headed east with the wind behind us, making good time, before turning north towards Lambourn; The Valley of the Racehorse. Climbing out of the town there is a mock racetrack with the funny white fences and furlong signs. No racehorses though as it was the afternoon.

From there it was mainly flat all the way to Oxford with a couple of miles on a minor A road and then 100m on the busy Oxford to Swindon road. Apart from those two small sections it was minor roads the whole way. As we neared Oxford I started to recognise a few of the roads, even though it was 12 years ago that I left. I definitely recognised one dodgy roundabout near Cumnor, as a driver pulled out even though it was my right of way, just like they used to many years ago. Some things never change. Maybe I should ride with a Go-Pro.

Another thing that hadn’t changed in Oxford was the nose to tail traffic in both directions along the Botley Road. Fortunately we could use the bus lane, smiling to the stationary drivers as we sailed past for the last mile. Why would you do that day after day?

A quick shower at the youth hostel and I took Helen to see my old pub. Why I say my old pub, it was where I worked for almost 15 years and running it for the last two. The Kings Arms is a very bust student and tourist pub opposite the Bodleian Library.

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Nothing much had changed. A new coat of paint, but the smell was the same, as was one of the regulars in the back bar, sitting in the same spot, not moving for 50 years. An old photo of me from 1992 was also still on the wall, looking young, with hair and no beard.

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We stayed for a decent pint of Young’s and had a quick look at the Radcliffe Camera in the evening sun, before heading off for some food.

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We finished off the evening playing board games and drinking craft beer at Thirsty Meeples. A brilliant end to a great day.

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.

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.