FF Cycling Hol 2010: Bath to Malmesbury

August 26, 2010 at 5:48 pm | Posted in Cycle Rides, Cycling, Dick, Eating and Drinking, George, Timmy, Travel | Leave a comment
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This year’s cycling holiday took me, Dick and my replica Timmy (small, plastic, attaches to bike basket and yes, utterly un-Timmylike) from Bath to Oxford, via Malmesbury, Cirencester and Burford. We decided to travel from west to east in the hope that the prevailing south west winds would help blow us some of the way back, a strategy which did partially pay off. Forsaking the Brompton (little wheels and poor luggage-carrying capacity), I loaded up the Bobbin on Saturday morning and set off from Hackney to Paddington.

It’s only 90 mins by train from London to Bath, so upon arrival I met Dick and in homage to the Kirrins we immediately went for tea and buns. We went to the famous Sally Lunn tea shop where we had half a warm Sally Lunn bun each (they are huge) with melted cinnamon butter and with extra clotted cream for Dick. The tea shop is set out over several floors and for 30p you can visit the ‘museum’ below the shop and see the old kitchen and a scary mannequin Sally. Although it’s in the cellar now the kitchen was originally at street level – I was fascinated to learn that there is in fact a whole subterranean, pre-Georgian Bath waiting to be discovered

Saturday was spent wandering the city, visiting the famous Royal Crescent and planning the next day’s route. There is no way to avoid some steep climbs out of the city and by Sunday lunchtime, a mere two hours after setting off, I was almost in tears. Being Dutch, the Bobbin has minimal gearing and it also weighs a ton, even without five days’ worth of luggage piled on the back. There was much pushing, which was almost as hard as pedalling. It was especially embarassing when groups of lycra-clad cyclists on racers sped past me, barely breaking a sweat and casually chatting to each other as they went (okay, okay, modern cycling has some advantages).

The sweeping views and eye-wateringly fast downhill bits made it worthwhile though. After an exhilarating whizz down the hill to Ford, a painful climb back up out of the river valley and another fast stretch back down, we stopped off in pretty Castle Coombe (left) for a much needed ginger beer and an ice. There are two pubs on the market place (for GB and lemonade) and there is a lady who sells tubs of ice cream out of her house by the market cross (she is also an excellent quilter and a selection of her work can be seen while you choose your flavours). Next door, another resident makes and sells gorgeous loaf cakes (banana, lemon drizzle and bread and butter) for £1.50 – money through the letter box with proceeds to charity. Cakes are individually wrapped up so are excellent to take away as provisions for later on when a touch of the bonk feels like setting in.

After Castle Coombe the terrain levels out a little: lots of winding lanes which are still up and down enough to be interesting but not enough to break your spirit. In fact, I would recommend this route [Bath-Batheaston-Colerne-Ford-Castle Coombe-Grittleton-Foxley]. We encountered very few cars, the surfaces were generally good, the villages picturesque and the countryside spectacular. On the approach to Malmesbury (from Hankerton onwards) we joined National Cycle Route 48. I don’t know if we should have tried to have followed this more on our way out of Bath, and travelled along the Roman Fosse Way, but on ‘our’ route we did manage to avoid all major roads and have some very nice stretches of cycling. In terms of Blytonia, we also passed a secret airfield (no hills shaped like Billycock hats though) and found ice cream and ginger beer (but beware! Colerne’s village shop is GB free).

Upon arrival in Malmesbury we dropped off bags and bikes and went in search of refreshment. I wish we could have tried the ‘Abbots’ afternoon tea at the Old Bell Hotel next to the abbey but unfortunately we’d already eagerly stopped at the first decent looking cafe we passed. The abbey is beautiful – part ruined, the rest very much still in use – and houses the tomb of Athelstan, first king of all England and grandson of Alfred the Great. In the graveyard lies Hannah Twynnoy (left), an eighteenth century barmaid who was unfortunately killed by a tiger (possibly the first person in England to die in this way – thanks to Anne for telling me about this).

Every year Malmesbury has a carnival and this year the town is celebrating the efforts of Eilmer, a monk who attempted to fly back in 1010. Launching himself from the abbey tower, Eilmer made it 200 metres before falling to earth and breaking both of his legs. The Athelstan Museum has fascinating exhibits on all of this and much more, including a small collection of old bicycles. It is also the first museum I’ve encountered that has a website written in the first person from the museum’s point of view. Yes really. See for yourself here.

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