Tags: Akeman Street, bell ringing, Burford, C H White & Son, Cirencester, Coln St Aldwyn, Cycling, Fosse Way, National Cycle Route 47, right to roam, Tolsey Museum, Welsh cakes, White Way
The second day’s cycling got off to a bad start when we fetched our bikes to discover a puncture. Quelle horreur! After my previous foolhardy comment about Dick’s susceptibility to punctures, it was of course my Bobbin that let us down, and with a rear wheel affliction no less. I was saved by (and am eternally grateful to) C H White & Son, Malmesbury’s cycle shop. Although the shop was technically closed for holidays, the proprietor was there and kindly agreed to do a quick fix on the Bobbin so we could get to Cirencester.
We set off as soon as possible after this, fearful of the predicted ‘wall of water’ (our hearts sank when we heard this phrase used by the BBC weatherman). After a few miles in lovely sunshine the skies rapidly clouded over and the first few heavy drops began to fall. We donned waterproofs and pushed on, hoping to come across a pub, teashop, barn etc etc. By sheer amazing coincidence we did actually find a barn to shelter in, and with perfect timing as the aforementioned ‘wall’ hit. Wondering ‘what would the Famous Five do?’ in such a situation, we turned to our knapsacks and found something to nibble on while we waited for the storm to subside.
After that it was mostly blue skies to Cirencester, ancient Roman capital of the Cotswalds. Everyone we met on this holiday was so friendly it was actually quite surreal (and a welcome contrast to last year’s nasty pub landlady in Buckland). While we stood on the outskirts of Cirencester pondering if there was a bike shop in the town centre (for reference, yes there is, in the Woolmarket) a passing man who was walking his dog overheard our conversation and pointed us in the direction of a man just down the road who fixed bikes. As I’d been warned that my puncture may have been caused by the combination of an old tyre and a heavy load, I wanted to have it properly looked at so I took it to the wonderful Derek who lives on Chesterton Lane (there is a sign on his house indicating bicycle repair). For a few pounds Derek spent two hours fully checking the Bobbin and making sure it was road worthy. I didn’t need a new tyre and I’m pleased to report I was beset by no more punctures.
While in Cirencester we visited the museum (impressive Roman mosaics and amusing waxworks including some ‘fearsome’ Celts) and the ampitheatre, the oldest surviving Roman ampitheatre in Britain. Dick was not overly impressed by this grassy mound but liked the museum waxworks.
Next morning we headed for Burford, our last stop off before our return to Oxford. The ride from Malmesbury to Burford was an excellent one – good roads (again very few cars) and less hills than the Bath to Malmesbury stretch. From Cirencester we took the White Way north (a National Cycle Route) before crossing the busy Fosse Way (an old Roman road) and following the Welsh Way through the fabulously named Ready Token and on to Akeman Street (another Roman road). Coln St Aldwyn has a nice looking shop (right) but, like Colerne, is a ginger beer-free zone. Shortly after this we stopped for a picnic lunch (egg sandwiches and Welsh cakes) at the bottom of the Leach valley. This is nicer than it sounds. You can access the land here under the ‘right to roam’ so we sheltered from the blustery winds just off the footpath and watched swooping swallows (some Blytonian alliteration there) while we ate. As good law-abiding citizens we did not feed livestock, use a metal detector, engage in any organised games or let plastic Timmy run wild, all of which are forbidden under the right to roam legislation. For any cyclists travelling this route, and who are thinking of picnic-ing in the vicinity, there are also good views from the seemingly accessible fields about five minutes ride beyond here, after another steep hill that takes you up out of the valley.
For the final stretch of our journey, we chose not to go the quickest way but to divert via Little Barrington and pick up National Cycle Route 47 which travels alongside the River Windrush towards Burford (and out the other side towards Witney – but that is another, and less pleasant, story). This route is very nice and brings you out in middle of Burford, a pretty and bustling town with a serious car problem at rush hour.
If you like quirky small museums from a past age of museology I strongly recommend you visit the one in Burford. Rather poignantly, entrance used to be 70p but is now free. The museum is full of unusual artefacts relating to the history of the town including an ancient iron chest, a town charter, needlework samplers, old photographs, displays relating to bell making and brewing, and a doll’s house that is based on a real Georgian Burford building. A number of the bells in Burford church were cast in the town and can be heard on Friday evening (practice night) between 7:30 and 9:00pm.
Final stretch: Burford to Oxford!
Tags: Bath to Oxford cycle ride, Britain by Bike, Burford, Cirencester, Clare Balding, Dick, Five Get into Trouble, Harold Briercliffe, Malmesbury, punctures
I’ve been watching and quite enjoying Clare Balding’s current BBC4 television series, Britain by Bike. She’s been following a series of rides recommended by 1940s cycling guru Harold Briercliffe and, in the words of the Beeb’s press release, is trying to re-discover Briercliffe’s ‘world of unspoiled villages, cycling touring clubs and sunny B roads’. So far his routes have taken Balding across North Devon, the Welsh Marches, the Isle of Wight, West Yorkshire and the Costwolds, and there is now just one ride left to go. While Mr Briercliffe may be inspirational (see the review of his collected guides on the excellent Cycling Books website), my own 1940s cycling gurus are, of course, the Famous Five.
Clearly Timmy runs rather than cycles, but he is nevertheless an enthusiastic participant in the variety of rides undertaken by the cousins (he even keeps up with them as they attempt to cover a ‘gentle’ fifty miles a day in Five Get into Trouble – is this even possible for a dog? Should the RSPCA be consulted?).
As some of you may recall, last year I went on my first Famous Five style cycling holiday with my friend James. It was modest in distance and James and I vowed to attempt something slightly more ambitious this year. So on Saturday we are setting off for a four day trip from Bath to Oxford (serious cyclists may laugh at my conception of ‘ambitious’ but beware, I will set Timmy on you if so). We’re only planning to cycle around twenty miles per day, giving us ample time to stop off and explore along the way. We’ll be going via Malmesbury, Cirencester and Burford and staying in a series of bed & breakfasts and coaching inns (full reports on their breakfasts and cycle-friendly credentials to follow). The Bobbin has been brought out of retirement and continuing my perverse urge to give my friends FF pseudonyms, James will henceforce be Dick (hello James, I hope you don’t mind). I won’t actually be able to keep a straight face and call him that – it is in spirit only, as James is often hungry and is good at solving mysteries, climbing down wells etc. I just hope he’s not as prone to punctures as Dick is…