Disaster to minor inconvenience and not so famous five re-united …

Day 10  Culgaith, Cumbria to Dumfries – 68 miles.

What a day! With dire warnings from the BBC that storm Aileen would blow us off our bikes, half drown us or both, we set out in weak sunshine with an odd gusty blow. The fast flowing, muddy waters of the Eden and Esk rivers, struggling to remain within their banks, were testament to Aileen having done her worst overnight.

Distaster then struck in this gloriously pastoral corner of England, Keith’s bike started limping, a curious sight to see. Having been around the world once literally and many times over in distance, the frame had broken where the chain stay joins the rear wheel dropout. With his panniers redistributed to Gavin and me, Keith managed to ‘limp on’ the three miles into the bustling little town of Brampton. In less than the time it took Gavin to check out public transport options, the first local accosted proved to be our guardian angel, a mechanic on the sandwich run from a nearby garage. Anticipating our arrival, our new friend and his colleague had the welder on standby, and in the time it took Gavin and me to pedal the half mile back to town for our own lunch supplies, Keith’s bike had been fully repaired with a test ride successfully completed. Our saviours at C&C Barnett had to be pressed with ‘beer money’ in lieu of the payment they steadfastly refused. The virtue of a steel frame for a touring bike is surely proved; it would have been game over had Keith been riding an aluminium or carbon fibre frame. Bike restored, lunch consumed and tour back on track in less than an hour! From here on Keith’s steed will be known as Lazarus having risen from bikey death.

Only 500 miles to get here ….

Fifteen miles and the odd heavy shower, including a hail storm, later we reached Scotland at Gretna. A sharp downpour saved the obligatory photograph from bring photo-bombed by the local Parks and Gardens man, as he scuttled back to the shelter of his van. The final twenty odd miles, heading west on quiet but relatively level roads along the Solway Firth, were a hard slog against the wind. It was a relief to finally roll into the town of Dumfries and welcoming embraces of our good friends Maree and Phil who join the adventure north.

Day 9 from Slaidburn Lancashire to Culgaith a distance of 58 miles on a dry day with sunny spells was truly spectacular. The first 12 miles saw us out of the Trough of Bowland across heather clad moorland. Two huge, steep, climbs were more than rewarded by exhilarating freewheeling down the other sides, dodging the odd sheep along the way. Surprisingly our arrival at High Bentham, truly remote, was impeded by a substantial traffic jam – a long line of farmers with trailers full of new season lambs heading to the market.  Eau d’lanolin filled the air.

Beautiful Cumbria

What a contrast in a few short days, from the mayhem of traffic and density of population west of Manchester to absolutely tranquility as we entered Cumbria. Tracking to the east of the M6, wide green valley bottoms, with fields bounded by perfect dry stone walls run up to the fells, beyond which lie Yorkshire and later County Durham. Whilst this was our most hilly day so far, by some margin, it will take some beating in terms of the so, so beautiful scenery.

Our billet for the night, The Black Swan at Culgaith in the fabulously fertile Eden Valley took us through sleepy villages, delightfully named: Crosby Ravensworth, Maulds Meaburn, Kings Meaburn, Temple Sourby …. Supper was a chance to catch up on old times as we were joined by my friend and former long-term colleague David and his wife Judith from their home in the nearby town of Appleby.

With a little help from our friends & wet, wet, wet

Day 8 has dawned to a much needed day off in the Lancashire village of Slaidburn situated in the Forest of Bowland, an area of outstanding natural beauty.

Day 6 was a 67 mile ride from Market Drayton, Shropshire to Glazebury in Cheshire. Although relatively flat, it was a tortuous route to avoid the motorways and major roads that radiate from Manchester. Given the density of population we managed to stay on lanes in countryside most of the way. The day rounded off with a convivial evening meal joined by my good friend Soo and her delightful children, Sophia and Jonathan, from their home in nearby Sale.

Bridge over the Manchester Ship Canal

Day 7, Glazebury to Slaidburn; wet, wet, wet! Only 50 miles, but a game of two halves. The morning was a trawl through the urban sprawl to the west of Manchester between Wigan and Bolton, however being a Sunday, the traffic was not too bad. Heading north into rural Lancashire we were once again in open countryside but becoming distinctly more hilly. Without exception the cows and horses were huddled under hedges with their backs to the wind. We just got wet; very wet. Fortunately, the wind was coming from the south which was a bonus going up the hills – always a bright side somewhere. Homemade chocolate brownies, a gift from Jonathan, proved excellent cycling fuel besides being very yummy. The scenery here in the Forest of Bowland looks pretty spectacular, moorland hills with lush green valleys -must come back in better weather.

Day off in Slaidburn between the showers

A day off is proving a tonic for all three of us, a chance to rest weary limbs, do some laundry, maintain the bikes and enjoy the company of Gavin and Keith’s long time cycling friend, Ray, who took time out of his group tour to have lunch with us. Oh and an extra bonus, to watch the rain run down the windows from beside an open fire in the cosy bar of The Hark to Bounty pub where we are staying. Forecast looking grim for tomorrow ….

History, hills and hospitality …

Five days in, having reached Market Drayton in Shropshire, we now have 288 miles under our belts. Friday, Bewdley to Market Drayton, was a 67 mile, coats on and off sort of a day. Mostly warm, if not sunny, but with some sharp showers to dampen enthusiasm not to mention our under carriages. Hilly terrain climbing out of Worcestershire, through Kidderminster, with just a few miles in South Staffordshire, brought us to Shropshire. Although, mostly a rural county, a mix of grassland and cereal cropping, our lunch stop at Ironbridge harks back to this, self claimed, seat of the Industrial Revolution. The first bridge built from iron in 1779 still proudly straddles this scenic gorge in the Severn valley.

On the Ironbridge at Ironbridge, Shropshire

A series of busy A roads necessitated some lengthy detours, but revealed adjacent quiet lanes and quaint villages with some chocolate box, half timbered and thatched cottages; much safer and infinitely more pleasant to cycle along.

Day four, Gloucester to Bewdley was largely a journey upstream alongside the Severn. A swift detour around Gloucester’s compact city centre, first laid out in Roman times, culminated with a very brief look inside the City’s magnificent cathedral, what incredible heritage we a fortunate to have. The recently cleaned stonework leaves one awestruck at the skill and ingenuity the stonemasons and builders of old.

By way of contrast, a couple in a small village just south of Tewkesbury invited us to join their coffee and cakes event on the green to celebrate the addition of a seating area paid for by the fund Tesco has made available since charging for carrier bags. With time pressing we didn’t avail ourselves of the refreshment.

We took a chance on the intermittant small ferry boat that takes passengers across the Severn at Even Lode, saving a long detour to get to Tewkesbury. Although the regular ferryman wasn’t due in for another couple of hours, the handyman at the waterside pub volunteered. It was altogether a precarious adventure getting the bikes, bags and us in and out! The ecclesiastical theme continued with a quick look in Tewkesbury’s stunningly beautiful and serene Abbey.

A picnic lunch on a bench by the Severn in the centre of Worcester rested weary limbs as we watched the passers by and a huge bank of swans. Upstream, via quiet lanes and canal tow paths we passed through Droitwich and then Stourbridge, which was horribly busy with traffic, finally arriving at the best bed and breakfast in the country. The fabulous Kateshill House at Bewdley, a third visit for Gavin and me. Keith, so impressed with the Tudor named rooms, amazing furnishings and friendly reception, thought we should spend the rest of the trip there.

Approaching Stourbridge on the Canal towpath

Soggy bottoms and chocolate cows… 

Three days in,  we have 160 miles under our belts having reached the charming city of Gloucester,  with its glorious Cathedral and regenerated docklands.  Our entry to Gloucester was simply lovely and so easy along quiet lanes and sections of the Gloucester-Sharpness canal tow path; Sustrans Route 41. Odd sections of the tow path required a cycling equivalent of a trapeze walker,  so narrow and rutted was the path.

Having set out from Radstock,  North Somerset we took a combination of lanes bypassing Bath on our west.  A very bumpy section along the Kennet and Avon Canal,  exiting at Bathampton,  cost me my mirror which had worked loose and fell off. Not knowing quite when it went and given the long distance to go,  returning to look for it was not an option.

Nunney Castle Somerset

There are so many lovely villages, Marshfield and Wickwar, where we enjoyed our picnic lunch on a bench in the playing field, to name just two.  Progress was marked when we passed over the M4 and, heading West, the M5 at Thornbury,  junction 14. The countryside sandwiched between the A38 and river Severn is relatively flat,  a joy to  roll along. The grassy fields are abundant with glossy beef cattle who look up as we pedal by and cows whose milk make Cadbury’s chocolate according to the farm signs. Altogether a great day blessed with warm, dry weather with frequent sunny spells, a stark contrast to day two…

Waking to light rain at the Piddle Inn,  the dye was cast from Piddletrenthiden; three very soggy bottoms made the distance to Radstock on day two. Despite the persistent heavy drizzle,  it was an enjoyable ride,  if somewhat hilly at times.  Heading largely north-west the route took us through the delightful village of Milbourne Port (miles from the sea)?? Wincanton and Bruton.  At the little village of Nunney we stopped for a wander around the ruins of a 1300’s Castle. A Sustrans route along a disused railway line was an easy and pleasant run in to Radstock,  a Somerset town which celebrates a coal mining heritage – who knew?

Leaving the Piddle Inn in the rain

And we’re off…. 

Our good friend Keith’s arrival from New Zealand heralds yet another cycling adventure.  Planned and plotted by Gavin,  this alternative ‘end to end’  (Lands End to John O’Groats) will take us from Portland Bill to Unst in the Shetland Islands over the next four weeks. We are looking forward to being joined next week in Dumfries by Maree and Phil, fellows of St Malo to Nice in 2015 and Corsica/Sardinia last year.

The train journey from Newton Abbot to Weymouth,  changing lines at Castle Cary was not without stress! An instruction by the train manager to put the bikes in the Buffet car was overturned by the ticket collector by the time we hit the coast at Teignmouth,  resulting in a helter-skelter dash to the guard van,  bags everywhere, at Exeter.  The two carriage train from Castle Cary required us to carry the bags and bikes up and across the over bridge to get to the right platform then manhandle them into a reasonably crowded space.  Just as we settled down to enjoy the scenic countryside rolling by,  one of the bikes fell over causing consternation from fellow passengers and a hero dash by Gavin to sort the situation. Our arrival to the sedate Victorian resort of Weymouth in the sunshine was not a moment to soon.

A ten mile cycle out of town,  behind Chesil Beach and over the causeway took us to the Isle of Portland where a very long,  very steep, heavily trafficked hill proved the first test of our metal.  All passed and progressed in a less strenuous manner to the official starting point,  the lighthouse at Portland Bill on the southern most tip of the island.

Only 1,100 miles to go….

Our billet for the night was a delightful room at the charmingly named,  Piddle Inn at Piddletrenthide, arriving on fabulous cycle paths and quiet lanes from Weymouth, through Dorchester and beyond. The countryside screams ‘harvest’, with fields of corn now mostly gathered in spite of August’s awful weather and hedgerows laden with an abundance of juicy ripe blackberries. A convivial supper was enhanced by Gavin’s university friend,  John who joined us from his Dorchester home,  recounting tales of his cycle touring youth on a bike and with equipment that makes our sound positively lightweight.