Oct 14, Ironbridge
I left my Inn in Nantwitch into a drizzly morning. It took a bit of street navigation before I stumbled on the road out of town. I was headed for a YHA in Ironbridge, south of Telford and so that was my rough direction. But at the same latitude as Telford, Shrewsbury was also of interest to me, and I thought it would not be too much further to have a visit there before heading onto the hostel. I left the A road for some back road wandering and to get away from the traffic and as it would happen I ended up on a road that would lead into Shrewsbury. I got there around noon and locked up my bike and wandered around the central part for an hour. I didn’t get too much out of it, but took another hour in a busy pub for a light lunch and a half-pint thinking the hostel would be an easy ride down the Severn. Shewsbury and Ironbridge are both on the Severn River.
I left the busy centre of Shrewsbury looking for the B road that would lead to Ironbridge. I found it somewhat away from the Severn which made at least three significant loops while in Shrewsury. I headed along my selected road for about 45 minutes and then hit a busy A road that didn’t belong there. I had passed through a couple of small towns that did not ring a bell for me, but that is not really unusual. I stood, with my map trying to figure out where I was and then, a bit late, used my compass, which is on my watch and so always very handy. Finally I determined that the towns I had passed through were the wrong direction. The grey drizzly day and the many twists as I went through Shrewsbury had completely turned me around, and when I hit the B road I was looking for I turned the wrong direction. I now had to turn around and head back to Shrewsbury to try to find my proper way through and on to Ironbridge. This was an hour and a half, 30 km error.
The easy ride down the Severn also proved to be not so easy, nor as short as I had hoped. The river kept meandering with many ox-bows on its path. So, the road made no effort to follow it and instead many steep climbs up the hills to pick up the towns along the way. What should have been about a 60 km day turned into a 100 km day, made worse by self-directed anger at my stupidity. What I saw of Shewsbury was not worth this added effort. If I had gone throughTelford instead I would not have had this incredible mistake. Oh Well!
As I finally saw the Ironbridge hostel, well into the steep Severn gorge still occupied by an enormous coal fired power plant, I also saw a pub, The Shakespeare, which got me into the hostel a little less upset. By the way this is the third Shakespeare pub I have visited. I was somewhat disappointed when I was told that I could not stay two nights at the hostel. Ironbridge is a world heritage site and has numerous museums and points of interest. It is thought of as the place where The Industrial Revolution began, and I wanted to spend the day learning about its history and relaxing a bit after five straight cycling days.
It was now becoming apparent that I would need to make some reservations in order to make the best of my remaining time in Britain. I spent part of the evening on the internet looking for reservations but was only partly successful.
Oct 15,16 Clun
After a breakfast too big for comfort, I had a short ride along the river to the Iron bridge, which I used to cross the Severn. I took a few pictures and then headed on. I had two nights reservation at Clun YHA, a small hostel up against the Welsh border. I could not find any other place to stay in Ironbridge and so I had to move on. I pushed my bike most of he way up the steep minor road out of the gorge and onto some quiet back roads., heading south and west. I hoped that I would not make any navigation mistakes as I knew the quiet roads would be very winding and steep. I know also that I am getting a bit tired, maybe as much mentally and physically. It turned out to be a very nice, if tiring ride, through the Shropshire hills. I made no major mistakes and had a nice early lunch when I was within striking distance of the hostel, arriving there at about 1:00 pm. This is a low service hostel (no food or internet) and so no one would be there to let me in until 5:00. I left my bike against a shed, put on a dry top and walked into town to the nearest pub, to use the internet, still trying to make advance reservations. Luckily they also had some beer to help in my searches.
This would be my practice over the next day and a half of my delightful stay in Clun. The volunteer hosts were a retired couple from Yorkshire who drive Citroen 2CVs. They have had many and the one they are now driving is red and about 35 years old. They have driven them to India and are contemplating Africa. They did everything to make me welcome and comfortable. I also became good friends with another of the guests and we ate together in the pub, also joined once by a couple of similarly aged women. The people staying at this type of hostel are quite different than those in the bigger more popular places.
I know the people I have met, mostly in pubs and hostels, in Britain are not necessarily indicative of the people as a whole, but I have such a positive feeling about them. I guess I will leave with that impression and not worry about whether there are other groups less enjoyable to be with. I think about the people Paul Theroux writes about in his observations about the British and think that there must be another Britain somewhere else.
My day off, I walked quite a bit, but most productively I made reservations for all of my remaining nights in Britain. This is important because it also sets my riding route. The big difficulty has been connecting with and finding reservations at YHAs. Some are closed and many are filled , mostly with school groups. Along with the much needed rest after six fairly tough cycling days the mental relief I have, now that the plans have been made, is significant. I was not able to get to all of the places I might have gone, but am very happy with what I have arranged. On this day off we had possibly the worst rain that I have experienced, so it was nice not to be out in that.
Oct 17, 18 Riding the Welsh Border
On a warm somewhat clear day I headed off from Clun feeling much renewed. Today I was heading to Hay-on-Wye, and it would be mostly a very minor road excursion. In part I picked out the actual roads for the next two days from a Lonely Planet bike book. It meant that I would be stopping very often to consult my atlas and that the roads would be steep and winding; this theme will persist. There is no possibility of predicting riding distance or times on this kind of route, so I just keep chunking on. The little towns and road segments get ticked off as the day progresses and as the weather is pretty good I enjoy it immensely, even though I question my sanity, while pushing my fully loaded bike up yet another 15% hill. The route I have chosen for my remaining time here is all in the hills. I will leave Britain not knowing what it is like in flat land.
My lunch stop, again in striking distance of Hay-on-Wye, is in a little Inn advertising 30,000 used books. I spend my time waiting for lunch perusing their shelves. After a funny little toll bridge over the River Wye (10p), I rode into Hay-on-Wye and found my night’s stop, Kilverts Inn. I had a shower and a beer and headed out to look at books at about 2:00. Hay-on-Wye is a used book town. There are purportedly 30 used book stores in a town with not many more people. I think both might be exaggerations, but I did visit about 10 used book stores, at least 4 of which had enormous stocks, all well organized. There are also specialty stores; Children’s, Poetry, Mystery for example. I am only spending one night here but my three hour peruse was probably enough. I did not come to seriously find books, I was mostly curious about a world that is so enthused by books that it would create a town like this. I do have a number of types of books I look for and would buy, if one of special interest popped out, but I didn’t find anything here. Having left Calgary with no paper books, I am now carrying seven, and so It would really have to be special for me to add more, when I still have 1000 hills left to climb. It is a delightful town, with many interesting antique type shops, eateries and of course a big castle which every Welsh border town seems to have.
My Welsh Border ride continued the next day as I was riding to Welsh Bicknor, where I am booked into the YHA for two nights. Again it was similar to the day before with many stops to check my location and choose a turn from my atlas. And again I was on no end of roads that I hoped would actually turn out to get somewhere and not end up in a farmers field. If I meet any vehicles on these roads they are usually a big tractor or other farm implement, where one of us has to stop to allow the other to pass. I am still riding strongly after my day off in Clun and possibly I am finally getting some riding shape.
At about noon, at Goodrich, I saw a YHA 1 ½ miles sign, next to a big country castle like Inn, so I went in and had a long lunch, killing some time as I knew the hostel would not be open for registration until close to 5:00. My muscles had cooled off and quit working, or possibly it was the pint I had, so I had to push my bike up the first part of the ride, The Dead End sign on the road meant that I would be coming back out this same way. And this began to bother me when the road turned very bad and began to drop, and drop steeply down to the Wye. The road was so bad and steep that at one time I was close to flipping over. The final bit to the hostel was mud.
The hostel is a big 150 yr old manor house sitting on the Wye, next to a lovely old deserted church. There are no other buildings anywhere. Some of those staying at the hostel are doing some or all of the long distance hike along the Wye River. They come clumping in quite covered with mud as the trail has suffered greatly from the heavy rains.
My day off at Bicknor was spent walking. I checked out the muddy path along the river to a foot bridge that crossed over to a road on the other side of the Wye from the hostel that would take me on down the way. I could push my bike along and out this way, rather than using the steep road I came in on. But it was very muddy. I then walked back up the road and onto a trail going to the top of Coppett Hill. It was a nice forest walk and gave many nice views of the Welsh Border hills. Then it was down the hill into Goodrich for a visit to its castle and lunch. It was a pretty nice day and the easy walk did me a lot of good.
Oct 20, 21 The Cotswolds, Stow-on-the-Wold
I decided to push my bike up the hill from the hostel at Welsh Bicknor, rather than avoiding the hill by crossing the river on the muddy path. The push went quickly and soon I was riding through the forest, where I was delighted by two little deer for a ways, the male drawing me down the road away from the female. I then had to drop right down again in order to cross the Wye for the last time. And then back up to get over the last range of hills on the Welsh border.
I had an hour and a bit of relatively flat fast riding, some of it on lovely roads. One road, called Upleadon was particularly fun, as I had a bit of tail wind. I had lunch in Bishop’s Cleeve and then had trouble finding my way out of town onto the right little road. So I ended pushing my bike up a very steep road before hitting the road I was after. I was entering the Cotswold Hills now. As soon as I hit my target road it plunged right back down and then along for about half an hour until a long easier climb got me up onto the Cotswolds proper. I had a second snack as this was turning into a longish day. My guest house is a mile away from Stow, which is a bit awkward as the walk into get some food is along a fairly busy road which I had to return on from dinner in the dark. Tomorrow I will do something different. I was in Stow for two nights.
The next day, a day off, it was clear cold and incredibly windy. The vestiges of an Atlantic hurricane was sweeping Britain causing all sorts of mayhem. I had planned a short ride around to some of the little towns, but I only did about 15 km in the horrendous winds. I did have a nice chat with a used book store owner, and I did add one more book to my stack.
Oct 22 Oxford
This day was still cold, but clear and much less wind than yesterday. I lucked out not having to move on in yesterday’s wind. This is my last full day of cycling. From Oxford, where I will spend four nights, I will take the train to London. The ride went well, still with a few steep hills but less than on almost any other day. I was less impressed with the Cotswolds than with the other hill regions I have been. They are not as severe, which would be fine by me, but I do not think they are quite as picturesque. The towns, however, are quite sophisticated, as they have been kind of taken over by the wealthy. By the way, I read in the hostel at Welsh Bicknor that the word picturesque was coined in use to describe the Wye Valley.
At any rate, my selected route into Oxford was great in that I missed any heavy traffic and I got here at noon, and am now settled into the Oxford YHA, planning my visit to Oxford.
This marks the end of my bike ride in Britain, pretty modest compared to many of my bike trips, just a little over 1000 km, but still very enjoyable. I was tremendously lucky to avoid the rain in the last three weeks. I got hit badly only once, with a number of drizzly days while actually riding. The heavy rain always seemed to hit when I was off the bike.
All for now…