I’ve just hit the southern coast of England, and while I crossed the salty sea an hour ago I found myself reflecting on the experiences over the past few days. The weather has improved somewhat, and with it I’ve been able to explore the scenic countryside, prehistoric Stonehenge, historic Bath, the waterside of Bristol, and a series of lively gorgeous English towns (Marlborough and Salisbury being the pick of the bunch). I hope my snaps have captured the beauty of the region:
Many months ago I made the decision to invest in a GPS, and by using the online bikeroutetoaster I’ve been able to plot my roads through England and Wales. It’s quite exciting travelling without a map (yes that’s right- across the world without a map) and not knowing what’s coming up ahead. Luckily, I’ve been latching onto many routes of the National Cycle Network. In contrast to Australia, European nations have wisely invented extensively in safe cycle routes. In my last blog I mentioned the Taff Trail (number 8), and since then I have cycled along numbers 4 and 45, taking me through quiet country lanes and picturesque valleys. The most impressive section of these routes was the Bristol & Bath cycle path. When the railway line closed in the 1970s Sustrans fought hard to replace the sleepers with cycle friendly tarmac… and they succeeded in style! A few nights ago after exploring the beauty of Bristol waterfront I stumbled across this path, and for over twenty kilometres I had a smooth flat surface to the city centre of Bath. Australia could learn a lot from Sustrans.
In Bath I visited the incredible Roman Baths. Even tripping over hordes of tourists didn’t detract from the splendour of the site, and although it blasted my budget for the day it was well worth it. A nearby café kindly held my bike for me all morning, so I was able to wander the Georgian and Victorian streets for a couple hours. At times it can be difficult combining touring alone and sight-seeing. However, I didn’t have this problem in Stonehenge as the road was surprisingly close to the massive rock structure. Balancing precariously on the frame of my bike, with my belly against the fence and the camera lens extended fully, I was able to happily capture the tourist site on my camera. Why a backpacker would pay the entry fee is beyond me (although it does support the National Trust).
Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting the journalist Nigel in Marlborough. It was the first time I have had a press meeting on the trip, and I found myself posing with Wilson and the local mayor Alexander (the article is to be released next Thursday). It made those mighty hills from Bath well worth it, and I was still buzzing when I was hit with my second hailstorm ascending out of town.
There is a persistent stereotype (that I have until now agreed with) that those in the south of England are not as nice as those in the north. After the past few days I now categorically disagree with the very notion… as well as countless donations to AICR I’ve had coffees, beers, drinks and all sorts of food bought for me. Camping above the River Avon this morning I woke to croissants and juice under my bike sign; and when I stopped to ask for water in Dunbridge this afternoon a lovely couple had me for a cup of tea, cake, and a delicious homemade soup. Cathy also insisted I use their shower too, so I’m now feeling quite refreshed after not cleaning since Cardiff.
Last week I had the unfortunate time of eating uncooked porridge in powdered milk for breakfast, then crunchy pasta for dinner. I have since accepted that my cooking skills with an MSR petrol stove are virtually useless! My other worry over the past few days has been the pain in both my knees. I’ve put it down to too much cycling and a silly amount of scrambling recently in The Lakes, Snowdonia and the Brecon Beacons. I dropped into Hub Cycleworks in Southampton a few hours ago to readjust my seat (thanks for those delicious protein bars fellas!), so hopefully with smaller distances in the coming days my knees should be back to 100%.
On the subject of knees, a British couple who have just finished their 27 037 km ride from England to New Zealand experienced similar problems in Europe. Throughout much of their Europe leg Bex had to get trains due to a persistent knee injury… so what does one do after cycling across the world? Fly home? Nope… she has decided to fly directly to Munich to complete the section- what a champ! I’m really glad they made the choice, and it’s been great following their wonderful journey.
I now have six days to get to the ferry in Bath, between which I will be hosted twice through warmshowers. It’s going to be quite strange cycling on the opposite side of the road and being in non-English speaking countries for the next eighteen months. But for now it’s Friday night, and with complementary beers and a band coming on in twenty minutes life is good!