England with an Englishman

2014/09/10-20: LHR Terminal 5 to Weymouth: A wedding, family,  and friends. 520 km

Didn’t you see any Branston pickle?” asked Chris as we put chutney into our cheese  and cucumber sandwiches at a quiet intersection.  I’d bought the chutney as per his instructions as I dove into a Tesco Express, but he was clearly having a bit of food nostalgia as we rode through southwestern England.  He may have fond memories of certain foods, but I wish his memory served him a little better for which side of the road to keep to.  After a week I still find myself yelling “LEFT” at him as he drifts right when coming out of an intersection.

We’ve been here for about 10 days, and we reached Weymouth yesterday from where we plan to cross to the Channel Islands and France.  After a short sleepless night to Heathrow, we began with a heavily loaded trek from Terminal 3 to Terminal 5 , because one can ride away from it with no tunnel. This meant hauling large  bike boxes and duffels first on a trolley, then onto the train, then onto a new trolley.  I was reminded that English humour can be formulaic and predictable. “Travelling light, are we?” came the quip. I might have been amused the first time, if I’d had some sleep. By the second and subsequent times I heard the same quip, I was gritting my teeth.

We assembled our bikes and reconfigured ourselves near the parking for commuter cyclists. Using the GPS feature of the smart phone (with new British SIM card)  we made our way through some ugly cycling onto a bike path that followed the Thames past Eton, and collapsed into a B&B in Reading.

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We have only an overview map of Southwest England, but the GPS took us onto bridle ways, cycle paths, along canals, and quiet lanes all the way to a family wedding in the Cotswolds, even putting us onto the Chiltern Way for a wooded stretch. Despite selecting the bike option, we once found ourselves directed across what was marked as a pedestrian pathway across an expansive establishment that trains steeplechase horses. Not easily stopped, we engineered first bikes and then bags through a turnstile, and proceeded. We were later stopped by Mr. Official, was said there was no cycling here. Dismounting, Chris asked “May we walk?” I could hear a stubborn edge to his voice. His mother was the staunch defender of everyman’s right to walk across British countryside. Yes, came the reply, but no cycling. So we pushed our bikes across the grandiose an near deserted estate, and engineered our belongings over a stile before continuing on quiet roads.

The Oxford Canal

The Oxford Canal

In Kemerton, the wedding of Chris’s cousin’s son meant two days and three nights of extended family and a social whirlwind. Chris’s sister took us on outings to Tewksbury Abbey, a tithing barn restored by the National Trust,  and The Picton Garden which specializes in asters. Then we headed north to see an old friend of Chris’s in Church Stretton, where she and her husband operate a B&B tucked against The Long Mynd.

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Turning south, we had a wonderful afternoon tea stop in Bromyard. It’s always reassuring to hear a spade called a spade! Fuelled by cakes and scones, we rode on to Ledbury that evening.

Still a bit jet lagged, we hadn’t been rushing to move into camping mode. When we ran out of energy and out of daylight in a docklands area west of Bristol, we were ill-prepared, but we set up the tent just off the cycle path in the glow of an aging a coal-fired power station. After a thunderstorm abated in the wee hours, the power station began to rumble ominously. We ate cheese and crackers as we rolled the sodden tent, and set out in search of coffee. A commuting cyclist was kind enough to report on the all-important results of the Scottish referendum.
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The day’s ride took us along  the “strawberry line”, former rail bed of The Cheddar Slug, which ran by Chris’s old boarding a school. The old train platform at Winscombe had been landscaped to create a pleasant green, and we stopped there to eat and for Chris to reminisce. We continued to Ilchester where we found comfortable digs after a bit of a search. An easier final day took us to Weymouth, where we were welcomed warmly by Chris’s cousin. From here we plan to cross to the Channel Islands and to France.

But first, let’s have some fish and chips by the harbour!

M

One response to “England with an Englishman

  1. Whereas I’m envious of the appealing green paths you photographed, I don’t envy the lack of warm house and a beer with which to watch the Scottish results come in.
    Re getting in a pickle: Do look for the special edition Marmite with real gold flecks in it! Much better than a Branston pickle!

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