Author Topic: Æthelstan, Alfred and the Oddballs  (Read 3999 times)


  • Ride adventurously and stop for a brew.
Æthelstan, Alfred and the Oddballs
« on: 08 July, 2021, 06:11:56 pm »
Æthelstan, Alfred and the Oddballs

Also Isambard and others

The journey out.
It started on Thursday but you could also say it started several years ago. It was all on my own but in a way it was started by someone else; it might have been Butterfly, perhaps. Whoever it was, I'm sure it was here that I first heard of the Fell Club and now I was setting off to meet them. Why? Just to find out who they were. Who are they? Well, read on and you'll find out.

The meeting was a long weekend at White Mark campsite in Watlington, Oxfordshire, a site many of you already know. I set out on Thursday and the first leg of my journey, planned by, was a short one: to Malmesbury. Malmesbury Abbey is the burial place of King Æthelstan. It was also the home of Eilmer, an eleventh-century monk whose human-powered flight (I suppose he might say God-powered) preceded Gossamer Albatross by almost a thousand years. I didn't try attaching wings to myself but I did enjoy watching a kestrel swoop down on a small rodent in the campsite where I'd pitched my tent by a small river.

The next morning I was woken up just after 4 o'clock by the dawn chorus. I couldn't begin to identify the birds I heard, but I don't think the kestrel was among them (the pigeons were though!). I decided to ignore's pretty but longer route through the lanes to Swindon and just follow the B4042; I was on the road early enough that there wouldn't be much traffic (it's not a bad road anyway). Getting through Swindon was a different matter though. This took almost as long as getting there from Malmesbury. I started off on a cycle path through the suburbs, then roads and another path which took me under the railway and then a grid of back streets near the station. What would those houses look like if Isambard had designed them himself?  Eventually out on more shared-use stuff alongside a series of dual carriageways and then out across the Common Head roundabout. I was pleasantly surprised in Swindon to see these paths quite well used by transport cyclists, mostly school kids and mothers with younger children but also some men. I did not see Roger!

Immediately east of Swindon I hit the hills. The outer ridges of the, well, Ridgeway. But I wouldn't be using that today, I had Didcot to get to. Yes, Swindon and Didcot in one day! (No, I didn't see MattC either. Perhaps Roger had noted my absence from the forum and warned him to stay at home?) The western approaches to Didcot, or perhaps it's the no-man's land between Wantage and Didcot, are guarded by Harwell with its Magnox fortress and ever-changing but always pleasant network of gravel, mud and concrete paths. Many commuters here, cycling, walking and running, none of them visibly Ready Brek but you can't be sure. Into Didcot on a post-Beeching rail path and out on a possibly Isambard-era path alongside the Great Western Main Line, its overhead line electrification standing proudly ugly grey as a symbol that the 21st century might be catching up with the past's vision.

Across the Thames at Wallingford (nice bridge, shame about the minuscule cycle lane) then lanes and (finally) some Ridgeway to the campsite. And there they were: the Fell Club. So who are they?

Riding a concrete path through the nebulous and chaotic future.


  • Ride adventurously and stop for a brew.
Re: Æthelstan, Alfred and the Oddballs
« Reply #1 on: 08 July, 2021, 06:14:47 pm »
The Weekend
Well, you read the title, didn't you? They're like you, only more so. Mostly middle aged, mostly men, mostly cyclists with some hikers. Spending their weekends or longer in small tents, going places under their own steam, cooking on portable stoves powered by gas cannisters or twigs, drinking lots of tea from plastic mugs and (surprisingly little) beer from the bottle, talking about random stuff, geeking out about tents and bike parts and places. Just like a YACF camping meet without the cars, without the larger tents, without the kids (yes, ian, you would fit right in!) and as noted, less beer. But at the same time somehow more so.

I think it started with tea. Something like this:
Fellist 1: It's a pain keeping milk cold in a tent, so I have to drink my tea black.
Fellist 2: Oh, I always drink it black anyway.
Me: So do I.
Fellist 3: Well, I'm vegan, so…
Fellist 1: It's unusual to find so many people who drink black tea.

And it continued with TV:
Fellist 1: The sound effects the BBC uses on its wildlife programmes really annoy me.
Fellist 2: I wouldn't know, I don't have a TV.
Me: Me neither.
Fellist 3: I haven't had a TV since 1972.
Fellist 1: Okay. I guess it's quite common not to have a TV nowadays but it used to be really weird.

And so on until it was established that if something was weird in society at large, it was the norm among the Fell Club. Of course this culminated on the last morning when I turned out to be the freak for being the only one who hadn't cut their toothbrush handle in half (it's a gram-saving measure)!

I could add that as far as I could make out, there's a general anti-Brexit sentiment (further chimes with YACF) and I will definitely add that the vast majority of them were really rather likeable. They did manage to make YACF look like a hangout for fashion victims, so I'll leave to your imagination their clothing sense.
Riding a concrete path through the nebulous and chaotic future.


  • Ride adventurously and stop for a brew.
Re: Æthelstan, Alfred and the Oddballs
« Reply #2 on: 08 July, 2021, 06:15:45 pm »
The journey back

But all good times come to an end (or so people say). In some cases they can be prolonged a little. So on the last day (having cleaned my teeth with my cumbersome full-length toothbrush) I was somehow talked into riding back a little of the way with three of them. We parted ways in Wantage, they heading north to Worcester, I west to Bristol, but not before I had got us all lost in the deserts of Harwell. It all worked out well though, they wanted to head into the town itself so we took a new (to me and newly constructed: “temporary surface till autumn 2021” read the signs) series of gravel paths through some very pretty villages.

Wantage was King Alfred's capital. I didn't meet him either… The town could be rather pretty but is spoiled by the entire central area, which presumably used to be a market square, being a car park surrounded by chain shops.

I had intended to camp on the Ridgeway as an easy wild camp place. But first I needed some food. Stopped in the first village the other side of Wantage, was told there was a shop in the next one and I could get there quicker by following the cycle path (tarmacked shared-use footpath but beats the road on this occasion). I found the shop but it was closed, so rode on to Uffington. Got some goodies at the shop there then up Woolstone Hill. Okay, I pushed the steepest bit. Passed the police attending to a car break in, back window and one side window gone.

The Ridgeway itself was empty. Seems people only walk along the bit immediately above the white horse and through the fort there. Wasn't sure of a decent place to camp, wanted somewhere north of the ridge itself as there was a fairly strong wind from the south and rain was forecast. Eventually settled on a broad flat verge on the Ridgeway itself, or rather about 30 metres off it on the D'Arcy Dalton Way, in preference to the woods. It was only about six o'clock, way too early to pitch, so I made a cup of tea (black of course). A bloke walked past, probably he'd come up from Uffington or one of its neighbouring villages. “You've got about an hour before the rain comes,” he said. “I checked it on the radar.” I took this as tacit acknowledgment that it was okay to camp there. Half an hour he later he walked past in the other direction. He was the last person I saw for over 12 hours; I'd been expecting a few late evening dog walkers, but no. He was spot on about the rain, too, so I got the tent up quickly and ate my couscous.

In the morning the storm had passed and the path was clear, sunny and totally empty. I'd been expecting early morning dog walkers even more than evening ones, but I saw no one at all till half past seven.

Getting back through Swindon was way harder than on the way out due to the one-way system. And the other side of Swindon, the wind began. Dead west and getting stronger. It got to the point where I was faster up hill, where it was sheltered, than on the flat.

And then I got home, had a shower, another cup of tea (in a nice ceramic mug) and watched the football with my son.
Riding a concrete path through the nebulous and chaotic future.

Oscar's dad

  • aka Septimus Fitzwilliam Beauregard Partridge
Re: Æthelstan, Alfred and the Oddballs
« Reply #3 on: 09 July, 2021, 06:02:11 am »
Very good!

I'm getting quite interested in the whole Æthelstan and Alfred thing is we're slowly making our way through The Vikings on Amazon Prime.  Yes I know its the telly and not historically accurate but its given me a flavour of the times.  Also we've just come back from a fortnight in Northumberland, with the caravan of course  ;D , and St Cuthbert was very much in evidence.

Anyhow, good write up, an enjoyable read, and your new mates in the Fell Club sound like a fantastic bunch.  Top marks  :thumbsup:

Re: Æthelstan, Alfred and the Oddballs
« Reply #4 on: 19 July, 2021, 10:02:29 am »
This sounds great. I once wild camped, in a very similar tent, pretty close to where you were - walking the second half of the Ridgeway and on to Glastonbury festival.