I wanted to write something about my bike ride that reflected the journey as a whole, and not just as a reminder that some of you now owe me money (could I have it ASAP please?). I wrote a blog post about the word “staycation” that has entered media parlance this year, and I’ll be building on from some of the discussion.
The journey was mostly full of the familiar on the first day, at least as far as Doncaster. The Rother valley isn’t a place I’ve taken a bike before, but trains have taken me there often enough. Day two was interesting, starting with a huge climb (ok, not quite Mont Ventoux, but huge for me) and I paced on Chesterfield, Derby, Burton on Trent, Tamworth and Birmingham. The list might seem familiar: its the route the cross country trains take, and I saw the line several times, reassuring me that if my bike failed totally, I wasn’t more than a couple of hours from a station.
But then I got beyond Birmingham. In getting to Cheltenham, I passed through places I had heard of, and places I hadn’t, many of which surprised me. Alcester, for instance. Until it appeared on the map, I’d never heard of it. I work my way towards it, discovering it had some Roman history, a market town I think. I saw signs to numerous “Roman Villa (Site of)”s and several more recent country estates. This is an area of England I have only ever swept through by train, and cycling through was a real eye opener. Evesham was no less surprising, particularly as I previously knew it only for a make of computer.
Day 4 yielded stunning views between Gloucester and Stroud and along the A46. Stroud was a welcome rest, nestled in the valley I dropped into from Edge, a village on the very gables of a line of hills diving one river valley from another. I expected so many of these places to have been utterly destroyed by the expansion of homogenous chain stores, but instead, I found businesses thriving. Its here though that I must confess my choice of outlets in Stroud probably made matters worse: Costa Coffee and Greggs.
And then I came to Bath. After a descent that had me riding at 30mph down a dual carriageway and taking an exist ramp more out of fright than need, I found the town centre at 5.30pm. I came to a stop looking over a wall and down into the river valley, the lifting my gaze up past the station. My thoughts could be summed up as “wow”, followed by “why?”.
Why had I not been here before? This was such a wonderful place to be and there was so much going on around me architecturally that avoiding crashing into people was an effort. I parked my bike, rang Mum, went to Evensong in Bath Abbey, got an ice-cream, poked my head around a few streets and began to climb out, following the steep road until I had to get off and walk, then following valleys and admiring villages all the way to Frome, where I would finish my ride.
Even Shepton Mallet yielded exciting views and a chance to pop inside the church, as well as use the laundrette. And so I finished my ride with the 2.5mile stretch down to the main site gate and found my camping village for Soul Survivor Momentum, with views of the Mendips, now some of the most familiar hills in England. I realised I want to actually see more of the area, including Wells and Glastonbury.
For a special bonus, my parents, driving me back from Greenbelt, took us in to Lichfield to see the cathedral. A tiny cathedral city, it would easily have had enough going for it to fill more than one day, and has a 3-times hourly train service from Birmingham. In short, if you’re in Birmingham, go visit it.
People are complaining about having to holiday in Britain. But if you really want a sedate few days, why bother with the hassle of flying and instead, go visit a part of England you’ve never seen before? You might be surprised as to what you find if you avoid the big-city lights.