Friday 13 April 2012

LEJOG (End to End) Day 3 - The Heart of England

Leg 3 - Royal Wootton Bassett to Ladywood (Birmingham)

Looking back, our cycle though the ‘Heart of England’ was probably my favourite part of the trip in England.  It was a great day, as far as the weather was concerned.  We rode on some historic roads and saw plenty of sights.  It was also a great time for catching up with old friends.  The morning was made very special by having the chance to spend some time riding with my cousin Karl on the run out of Royal Wootton Bassett and up towards Cirencester.  I always had a slight (superstitious) doubt about how we were going to get through the day event free when it was Friday the thirteenth.  However, we had absolutely no problems, and this was one of my best days out cycling if not one of my best days out generally.

We started to feel the ride in our legs now.  The descent down my cousins stairs was a bit tricky.  I eventually opted for coming down sideways to lessen the pain.  The prospect of getting back on the bike now was a bit daunting.  It was a much shorter distance today (about eighty five miles), but still a pretty long one with the panniers and luggage.  I had a very pleasurable evening the night before, and stayed up a little bit late catching up with my cousin considering we were needing to put in a substantial ride day after day.  Fortunately, nobody was needing to rise to early for work.  Karl’s wife only needed to be on the go at about nine, his daughter was off school and he was on our timetable, as he was riding with us.  We had a relative ‘lie-in’ before we got up for another cooked breakfast.  We got the bikes out, took advantage of a fellow cyclist’s track pump and got on our way with the local escort.  It was very sunny, with lovely blue skies, but a little bit chilly to start with.  Surprising, the legs were less painful riding than walking.  That was a great relief.

A Bit More Pressure Before We Go - Nice Track Pump 

Can we not Take This Bike Instead?
We had a route on the back roads up to Cirencester planned, but had a slight blip early on as we met some road works and had to turn back a bit.  We’d seen a road closed sign on our approach, but assumed that getting through on foot or by bike would not be too much of a problem.  However, the workmen were adamant that we could not pass for safety reasons.  It wasn’t too much of a drama, as there was an alternative road not to far back on the way we’d already come.  However, our ‘local guide’ did open himself up to a bit of stick.  He’s already been pushing the pace a bit early on until he realised that we just couldn’t do eighty plus miles at twenty mile per hour with the luggage and we’d have to pace ourselves.  If he wanted to blow out the cobwebs, he needed to wait until his return home without us.  It was strictly fifteen miles per hour for Paul and I, as we didn’t want to blow-up later.

The Cousins Before Departure
The detour was a minor inconvenience, but I am glad to make it.  We would have naturally bypassed a place called Ashton Keynes, and it would have been a pity if we did.  It was a very picturesque little place and the river that ran at the side of the road was crystal clear with lovely little bridges crossing it periodically.  I just regret not stopping, getting the camera out and taking a few snaps.  Soon back on the original track, we carried on up to Cirencester.  Karl accompanied us as far as the East side of the town and the junction of Burford Road and Stow Road and we continued up the A429.  A bid farewell to Cousin Karl and prepared myself for a leg on Fosse Way.  Roman roads can be a little bit disconcerting to ride on.  They’re sometimes so straight that you don’t feel that you are making any progress.  The stretch out of Cirencester was particularly bad, as it was quite undulating too.  

Paul and I ended up being separated for a bit on this stretch.  I think I’d progressed through some traffic lights and he’d been caught when they were on red.  However, I stopped for a natural break and it still seemed a long time before Paul appeared.  When we did eventually meet up again, it turned out that Paul had experienced a little bit of Friday 13th Bad luck and had been on the deck.  He’d stopped on some wet leaves at the side of the road and slipped off when starting off again.  Fortunately there were no injuries (other than hurt pride) and the bike was OK.  However, he’d needed to backtrack a bit, as he’d dropped one of his pannier bags in the fall and hadn’t realised until a passing motorist pointed out the problem.

The Unicorn Hotel - Stow-on-the-Wold
We got to the end of the long, straight road and arrived at Stow-on-the-Wold, we didn’t stop for long, we just had time to have a quick look around and decide the next part of the route.  We decided to head out Eastwards and get away from the A429 for a bit.  As well as the long straight sections it had been pretty heavy with traffic and we hoped to find a road that was less travelled by motorists.  We went a few miles out of our way, but we weren’t concerned as this was going to be one of the shortest days on the entire trip.  We headed along the A436, but knew that we’d need to head back Westwards at some point.  Our new route took us into Oxfordshire for a short while.  We did our usual County border updates here.  However, the roads taking us up to Cirencester had failed to point out that we were entering Gloucestershire, so we’d already missed on of the borders already.  Continuing on, we soon picked up a back road, which linked to the A3400 that was destined for Stratford-upon-Avon.   I’m glad we found this road.  It wasn’t a particularly planned thing, but often the best events aren’t.  It was an extremely picturesque part of the route and relatively traffic free.  We passed through a little village called Long Compton and decided to take a break here.

Ash Checks in at Oxfordshire
Paul at the Oxfordshire Border - What Happened to Gloucestershire?
The road (A3400) heading into Long Compton had bee very pleasant.  The sun was shining, but the arm warmers were still on.  The scenery was very picturesque, not stunning but what some would say is ‘typically English’.
Views from the A3400 in Warwickshire

A View of the Road (A3400) Heading Towards Long Compton

We stopped to get supplies at a little local shop aptly named ‘The Stores’.  Yet again, Paul and I were separated for some time.  We’d decided to enter the shop separately, so that the other person could keep an eye on the bikes.  Paul had gone into the Stores first.  I’d been sat outside in the sunshine, but after a good few minutes I was confused as to why could be taking so long.  I had a quick look through the window and could see the shop staff talking to a lady with a baby, I presumed this was causing the hold up.  However, the lady came out the shop and somebody who had entered after Paul also did.  This didn’t seem right.  I’m sure it had been more than ten minutes now.  Had Paul been abducted?  A few minutes later Paul reappeared outside, clutching a few more supplies (the usual chocolate bars by the dozen), which included a freshly made sandwich.  After the ’where the heck have you been/what the heck have you been doing?’ conversation, it became apparent that the lovely old ladies working in the shop had disappeared into their kitchen to make Paul a sandwich by special request when it transpire they didn’t have any on first asking.  After this delay, I though better of going through the same thing again with them.  They had been very helpful and accommodating, but I though I’d just grab a few bits of fruit, cakes and flapjacks etc.

Long Compton in Warwickshire
'The Stores' in Long Compton
We continued tracking back North-Westerly and on our run up to Stratford (upon-Avon).  This wasn’t the final destination for the day, but was one of the key points.  We passed though Shipston-on-Stour and (I think) inadvertently came off the A3400 for a bit as we passed over (crossed) Fosse Way.  We travelled though Ilmington and then got back on our initial road choice for the last section up to Stratford.  We didn’t need a stop in Stratford, but it would be a shame to stop in such an historical place without having a look around.  I’d been in this part of the country before, but I’m fairly I’d never been to Stratford before that day.

Paul Updates Followers on Facebook in front of Shakey
Paul Surveys His Surroundings in Stratford-upon-Avon
In Stratford-upon-Avon, we had a brief stop to update our social network followers, and this happened right next to the Gower Memorial, which has a statue showing Shakespeare seated on top of it.  I took the chance to photograph the views of other tourist enjoying the area generally and specifically the river.

Paul Paying Homage to Shakespeare 
In Stratford-upon-Avon, we had a brief stop to update our social network followers, and this happened right next to the Gower Memorial, which has a statue showing Shakespeare seated on top of it.  I took the chance to photograph the views of other tourist enjoying the area generally and specifically the river.  Even though it was only a fleeting visit, we did feel like we had time to soak up some of the atmosphere and history.  The views of the river, and people boating on it, were particularly satisfying.

A View of the River Avon in Stratford

To some extent, it was reverse tourism.  We knew where we needed to get to, and roughly the direction, but each day we would decide the route as we rode along.  This meant that before we left Preston we hadn’t considered that we would be passing through Stratford and what we might see when we got there.  Most of what I know about the places of interest on the route have been learned since we completed the ride and returned how, rather than the usual sightseer’s way of planning what you might look at first.

Gower Memorial, Stratford-upon-Avon (statue showing Shakespeare seated)
We just had to accept that with the limited time we had (eight or nine days, ten at the most) the primary focus of the trip would have to be the cycling and anything else we stopped and saw along the way would be a bonus.  Taking this into account, we were very lucky with what we did eventually see.  We may not have stopped anywhere long, and we may not have ventured off the road, but we did enjoy a lot along the way.  Whichever way you look at it, touring by bike give you much more chance to see things as compared to travelling by car.  Things don’t pass you by too fast to even notice them when you are touring on a bicycle.

Tourists and Local Enjoying the Area on a Lovely Spring Day

We left Stratford using the A3400 again, and we passed “The Saxon Sanctuary“ of Saint Peter’s in Wootton Wawen.  It was another quick fuel stop for Paul (more chocolate no doubt) whilst I took the opportunity for some more ancient building photography.  By this point, I’d started taking some flak from Paul about my apparent interest in the architecture of old churches, abbeys and monasteries.  Undeterred, I continued to capture these land marks to further study on our return home.  We were creating some great memories along the way, but it was nice to capture some of them digitally.  It was also good to be able to be able to send some of these views home people who we interested in tracking us on our little journey.

The last section of the day pushed us along from the North of Warwickshire and into the heart of one of the largest cities in England.  We still had the rural feel for quite some time and passed through places such as Henley-in-Arden (also known as simply Henley), before hitting the big Metropolis at the back end of rush hour on a Friday evening.  It was quite a contrast, but still a great adventure in a different way.  We sped into the city with the rest of the traffic easily having only ridden a mere eighty five miles on this day.

Passing through Henley-in-Arden - a small town in Warwickshire
In a similar way to how I’d been in frequent contact with my cousin the day before trying to organise our arrival at his home, it was Paul’s turn today to keep in touch with his friend Dave (known as Dufus - I still don’t know why).  It turned out that that Dave was Paul’s ex Brother in Law.  They had previously married two sisters and Paul’s was the only marriage that had lasted.  Dave’s  marriage hadn’t lasted, however, the friendship with Paul had.  Dave greeted us, and I must admit I was slightly concerned at the time.  Paul had exclaimed something along the lines of, “hello my darling” when Dave appeared, and I wondered just how close these two guys where.  However, my fears soon subsided, as I realised that Paul was speaking to his wife on the phone at the very same moment as Dave had come out of his flat to meet us.

We were treated to a rather large meal of home made lasagne at Dave’s with garlic read and a rather strong red wine.  Dave was a professional cook and, as it turned out a keen collector (and consumer of) strong red wines.  I believe the one we had was in the region of 15% by volume.  Freshened up and suitably stuffed the very generous helpings, we decided to venture into the city for a few drinks as it was the start of the weekend.  Dave’s place was within walking distance of the centre, which was a bonus.  After visiting a local pub, we move on to the town and a few bars on the main socialising area of ’Broad Street’.  A checked in at home, and my girlfriend knew of the area, when I mentioned where we were, so it was too late to pretend that we were having a quite night in.  We had a good night, nothing too crazy, but hectic enough considering we were in the middle of a cycling marathon.  After a few beers we headed back, but we couldn’t switch off straight away as Dave insisted we had a night cap.  Apparently, single malt whiskeys was also one of his hobbies and specialist subjects.  Possibly not the best way to counter dehydration, but enjoyable all the same.

A Nightcap at Dave's

The following day we had to ride a reasonably straight forward leg back to Preston, our home, our friends and our families.  Hopefully this was going to be OK as our bodies dealt with the alcohol?

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