Author Topic: Getting to Strong  (Read 1649 times)

Getting to Strong
« on: May 01, 2018, 10:41:25 pm »
Way back in December, when the winter was yet young, I bought some theatre tickets for the far distant future. Count Arthur Strong is something of a legend in our household so tickets were ordered for April in Buxton - an easy journey from my mum's. Who knew that the winter would barely be over when this date became imminent. I had been riding fairly regularly between extremes of weather and being sociable and attending 'spin' classes in between. I felt I was on course for taking part in a well known 'ride to Skeggy' Audax event a week previous to the comedy gig so booked that week off work with a view to building a holiday around these events. Further weather and then a crash saw me off the bike for three weeks and then a similar time regaining confidence.

Skeggy was off. However, a weekend course in Oxfordshire came up and I saw the opportunity for a different sort of cycling which really excited me. Version one involved riding from Oxfordshire to the Peak district in time for the gig. Riding around conurbations with lack of camping or hostel facilities put me off though, as did the familiarity of the areas I would be riding through. I wanted new places. To that end I plucked a destination out of the sky and decided to ride to Taunton, where a train was available to Stafford, in order to complete the ride to Count Arthur.

Campsites were located and noted on the map (very difficult to find ones without 'Glam' in the name these days!) Train tickets were bought using the system of random journey splitting shown to me by my frugal student son. Also bike reservations made (Cross country seem pretty good in this respect) My trusty Dawes was brought out of semi retirement and lightweight bits and pieces were packed into panniers.

A misty dawn start on Friday 13th sounded ominous but was lovely. The birds were wide awake and singing and I acclimatised to the load during the undulating ride to Morfa Mawddach station. Three trains later and I was in the culture shock known as Oxford. I do not know the city, but managed to navigate myself west along Botley Road to Waitrose for a free cuppa and an hour of chat with a retired academic! The course was some fifteen miles hence and the only issue was having too much time on my hands so I stopped at a community shop for coffee and croissants halfway. This was all feeling very decadent and leisurely compared to the time limits of Audax riding which I have (almost) become used to.

Forty eight hours later and I was released back into the lanes of rural Oxfordshire, full of Sunday lunch ready to move in variously south and westerly directions for a few days. Night one was only ten miles away in the Vale of the White horse near Uffington. I navigated the pot holed lanes at leisurely pace and found the campsite without difficulty. There was a cafe in the barn which offered respite from the drizzle. Between showers I pitched up and went to find the famous horse. This turned into a substantial walk taking in Uffington Castle. Slipping on my daft sandals on the damp path, I was aware I was on the Ridgeway's chalk down.

Packing up a damp tent is little fun yet I was excited about my first full day 'on tour'. For anyone unfamiliar with the south of England, the language use do describe topography can be confusing - 'Down' usually means 'up', Salisbury 'Plain' is far from flat, and the Somerset 'levels' are surrounded by hills! Arriving in the 'Peak' District afterwards felt very straightforward (and steeply up!)

Lambourne was close but seemed a good place for coffee and toasted tea cake. Many villages didn't have cafes or shops and in three days I would only visit two town. A few miles on and a Coop provided supplies enough for up to a day (a day of bread and hummus, bombay mix and instant porridge!) Soon after, crossing the M4 felt significant. A monunent symbol on my road atlas page turned out to be Chisbury Chapel, a 13th century manor's private chapel. In disuse but still intact, it was a handy spot for lunch. The local farmer stopped to chat and I heard my first west country accent - I think I had just crossed into Wiltshire. The afternoon turned into more sightseeing with a look at Crofton beam engines (and a walk through the spooky tunnel under the railway to the Kennet and Avon canal) and Wilton Windmill. The final 'b' road to Bruce Inn pub for camping was pretty fast and busy and I arrived at this peculiar location feeling a bit apprehensive. Two men were fettling with motorbikes and neither was obviously the owner/manager. I cautiously pitched my tent, avoiding the more heavily dog turded areas and waited for the pub to open. After a ginger beer and a few rounds of patience I felt able to relax and retreated to my tent at dusk. Sleep wasn't far away when a helicopter circled close overhead and I felt afraid for the first time. It was circling for hours and I had to talk myself out of a near panic attack. My leg was jumping and I became concerned I had taken on too much. Tomorrow would be 100km and if I was like this after just 70km?!

I needn't have worried. Although the wind was strong and against me, I made good progress south along the edge of Salisbury plain, through a mixture of pretty villages and purpose built military towns. Explosions in the distance reminded me of the dominance of the military presence in this area. I crossed the A303 into Amesbury and got very muddled before eventually finding a Wetherspoons in time for a late breakfast. This was very welcome and fuelled a beautiful afternoon of riding west through the 'Woodfords' and then along a railway valley. A cafe was closed and I held out hope for a village a few miles ahead to such an extent I made a song for it (now forgotten, as the village should be - there was nothing!) Over a big 'ill and to Bruton for a brew and stock up with foodstuffs. Over another 'ill to Castle Cary and another pub campsite where my computer told me I had ridden 101km.

And then the sun came out! I was in Somerset now and it felt like summer. I was down to shorts and short sleeves for a beautiful ride. More sightseeing today with Lytes Cary Manor for coffee and cake and the Willow and Wetlands centre for afternoon tea and a stroll. I needed to find a shop and opted for Somerton over Glastonbury or Street as it looked smaller and easier to get in and out of. It was a good choice; the people were friendly, I got my phone charged up in the library and sat outside the shop with my lunch.

My final night of camping in the south was effectively in someone's garden/orchard. The view was immense, across the levels to the Quantocks and I was alone. I felt the draw of the pub and my first proper dinner since Oxfordshire. I would be sad to leave Somerset. This was a lovely area. The ride to Taunton station was also a delight, first through villages then a few miles of towpath right into the centre of town.

A new railway journey always excites me and this route was beautiful, first to Bristol then views of the Forest of Dean to the left and the edge of the Cotswolds to the right. A crawl into Birmingham from a new direction afforded views of Bourneville Village with it's purple station sign. Onwards to Stafford and the confusion of an unfamiliar town. Getting out was confusing and busy but after a few miles, the lanes were quiet. The combination of town, heat and hills made this the toughest day in the saddle but it got better as it cooled down and I relaxed a bit. I didn't know what to expect in Rocester and was taken aback by the thousands of JCBs! My campsite was at Brund, near the noisy A52. It was a friendly site with views of Dovedale to cheer my evening.

Friday was my final day riding. From Brund, I retraced yesterday's tiny lane to avoid the trunk road and skirted round to Waterhouses and joined the Manifold trail. I had been fantasising about Staffordshire oatcakes and the cafe at Hulme End obliged. Up and up now through Sheen, Crowdicote and Earl Sterndale to Axe Edge, then a cheeky descent the wrong way down the one-way Goyt Moss and over the final hill to Kettleshulme. Tea, food, shower, washing machine, company - all very welcome that afternoon.

The sense of achievement was fantastic Count Arthur Strong was pretty good too! ;D ;D

Jaded

  • The Codfather
  • Formerly known as Jaded
Re: Getting to Strong
« Reply #1 on: May 01, 2018, 10:42:50 pm »
Great thread title too.

Got me frothing  ;D
If you don't like your democracy, vote against it.

Re: Getting to Strong
« Reply #2 on: May 02, 2018, 09:32:18 am »
Quite an adventure.
Get a bicycle. You will never regret it, if you live- Mark Twain

Re: Getting to Strong
« Reply #3 on: May 02, 2018, 10:06:56 am »
Cracking write up, for future reference be very careful (I'm sure you were) about descending the wrong way on the Goyt, the local boy racers use it as a hill-climb course, the alternatives of course are bastard hilly.

Cudzoziemiec

  • Solar powered, tea fuelled cycle-wol
Re: Getting to Strong
« Reply #4 on: May 02, 2018, 01:37:39 pm »
I enjoyed reading that.
A cup of tea is the perfect bridge between real life and cake.

Re: Getting to Strong
« Reply #5 on: May 02, 2018, 08:43:35 pm »
So did I  :thumbsup:
the slower you go the more you see

Re: Getting to Strong
« Reply #6 on: May 07, 2018, 06:13:30 am »
Great read.... I do need to make some oatcakes now although my Name always called them North Staffordshire Oatcakes.

Re: Getting to Strong
« Reply #7 on: June 02, 2018, 09:44:59 am »
Good to meet you at the course and a great read and great ride - even though I didn’t envy you as you departed Charney with so much rain forecast.
Old fat and slow