Sept with Sean (and Andy, and also Reg, Verena, Hux and Ralph)

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sean_iow
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Sept with Sean (and Andy, and also Reg, Verena, Hux and Ralph)

Post by sean_iow »

During lockdown Mike had planned this route but not had a chance to ride it. As he had a block of leave in September he asked me if I’d like to ride it with him, the title is the name of the GPX he sent me, not including the list of extras :grin: Andy (Chickenlegs) was also available to join us for the first couple of days.

We’d be starting from Mike’s (from Bromsgrove) so I picked up Andy at High Wycombe, he’d ridden 65 miles in 30 degree heat to get there! I found it tiring just driving in that heat and I had the air-con on. Unfortunately for him (and my wallet) we broke down on the M42 short of our destination :roll: Recovered by the AA to the services and with the issue diagnosed (I already knew it was an injector) the patrol man advised it would be £730 for the replacement part, “would you like to go ahead with that?” he inquired? Well, unless I’m planning to live the rest of my life at the services I don’t see what other options there are :lol: I took comfort in the fact they only use genuine parts and there’s no labour cost, apparently it would have cost £1500 at a VW dealer :o

Once at Mike’s we unloaded the bikes and rode to the nearest pub for dinner and to watch the locals stagger out and then drive off :roll:

DAY 1 – BROMSGROVE TO SOMEWHERE NEAR PINEHAM VILLAGE

Setting off from Mike’s we followed him through the mean streets of Bromsgrove, heading south we were soon in the ‘burbs and then joined the Worchester and Birmingham Canal. I was on the singlespeed and had left my usual 34/18 gearing on as Mike assured me it would be ‘flat’ and this would mean it wouldn’t be too spinney. As soon as we joined the canal, we started climbing, although only mainly in 15 feet bursts as we were riding up a lock flight. It soon leveled out and we were cruising along the towpath and past the sights, marinas and associated canal infrastructure.

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Mike was obviously already hungry as he started raiding the hedgerow whilst I stopped to take the picture of the crane, which on closer inspection turned out to be modern in old livery.

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First target was a café for second breakfast. This we were informed was about 17 miles in, but that didn’t take into account the fact the gpx didn’t start at Mikes as he knew the first bit well, so more like 22 miles. There were plenty of things to take my mind off food, for example…

The canals are flat – so my high gear and loaded bike would be ok…. except when there’s a hill too high for locks they tunnel through, but the towpath goes over, which made for some rather steep sections.

A guy magnet fishing warmed us to be careful as we rode by as he’d pulled out a grenade and it was next to the tow path. Mike thought he recognised him (he didn’t know him) so stopped. The guy then proceeded to pick up the grenade so we could get a better look at the pin which was still in it! We quickly made our exit.

A snake swimming across the water!

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After 14 or so miles we left the Worchester and Brimming and joined the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal.

We made it to the café without getting blown up. It was popular with other cyclists as there were bikes against every bit of free wall/fence. Why do roadies have to each have their own bit of wall? Another cyclist was leaving so we leaned our 3 bikes against each other (much harder to steal if they are tangled up) and settled in for bacon baps and coffee. We had planned the route to be about 60 miles a day so we had a relaxed attitude to progress. Well rested we were off back along the canal.

The quality of the tow paths varies greatly. Close to the marinas or where people moor up they are pretty good but between these they get very overgrown with a variety of vegetation doing it’s best to tear the skin off your arms and legs! Constantly ducking under low branches also quickly became a chore. Andy performed his party piece by picking a crab apple using his exposure light mount whist riding along.

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When I spotted this I thought this was a one in million chance but having removed this one he managed to do it again further on! Mike managed to get one stuck in the vents of his helmet as well. The best I could manage were a handful of berries.

We left the Stratford-Uopn-Avon canal at Lapworth Lock and then joined the Grand Union aiming for Royal Leamington Spa for lunch. We stopped at a cool little pub/café/coffee shop and sat outside watching the world go by. Quite a quirky place, the toilets were downstairs and the door from the café was an old USA style fridge with the back removed you walked through.

Back to the canal, and by now it was becoming apparent that it’s harder work to ride than the lack of climbing would suggest. The issue is that as it’s flat you’re peddling all the time so there is no rest. Add in the vegetation and the concentration required not to fall in and it’s actually pretty tiring. We stopped at a lock side café which was on the wrong side, i.e not the side we were on. The only way across was over the lock gates. It was too hot and potentially too risky to carry the bikes over so abandoned them by the towpath, watched over by the queue of boats waiting to use the locks, it was a small flight with quite a tailback so we figured they'd be safe. We'd chatted to some of them when we got there so that's basically an unwritten rule they'll keep an eye on them. It was also quite an upmarket bit of the network.

As soon as we started off again we were joining the Oxford Canal. Five miles later we reached Braunston Junction which is where the Grand Union Canal joins the Oxford Canal, this junction apparently is the busiest anywhere on the network. I’m still somewhat confused how there are 2 junctions? There was a nice bridge though.

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So we were now back on the Grand Union, but perhaps a different Grand Union to the one we had been on? We stopped for dinner at the imaginably named Navigator Inn, every other pub seemed to be called this. We got chatting to a pair of dodgy locals who live on boats and we’d passed earlier who turned out to be ok lads, and quizzed them about the network and life on a boat.

We’d already covered 65 miles so once on our way we decided we’d stop at the first suitable spot. The tow path had become very narrow with bits missing and not falling in was getting tricky, Andy tried but somehow went over without actually ending up in the water. This task was not helped by the fact it was now dark. One spot was looked at and discounted. At a gap in the hedge we discovered a flat stubble field a wide enough headland. If we discount the local kids we could hear in the background and the main railway line, oh and being under a military flight-path with fast jets and helicopters passing overhead it was almost ideal. I think we all slept ok. We were up early, the local dog walkers didn’t make the effort to come over and say hello.

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Total of 70 miles and a whopping 1300 feet of climbing.

TBC
Last edited by sean_iow on Tue Sep 26, 2023 6:47 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Sept with Sean (and Andy, and also Reg, Verena, Hux and Ralph)

Post by RIP »

:-bd some fun little moments there :smile:
sean_iow wrote: Mon Sep 25, 2023 2:57 pm £730 for the replacement part, “would you like to go ahead with that?” he inquired?.......... rode to the nearest pub.
Two statements not entirely unconnected I would think :o .
The guy then proceeded to pick up the grenade so we could get a better look at the pin which was still in it! We quickly made our exit.
:o
Image
:smile: quite a sight
Andy performed his party piece by picking a crab apple using his exposure light mount whist riding along.
That was amusingly impressive too!
We stopped for dinner at the imaginably named Navigator Inn, ........ a pair of dodgy locals who live on boats
Probably Andy Roobell, that's his manor :grin:
TBC
Look forward to the next instalments :smile:
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Re: Sept with Sean (and Andy, and also Reg, Verena, Hux and Ralph)

Post by psling »

Great 1st installment Sean, been looking forward to reading about this ride :-bd
You're right, there's no let-up riding canals, I sometimes ride the Monmouth & Brecon as a level(ish) route into Brecon Beacons and it's a real arse-acher!


Still wondering why you rode all the way to the Kennet & Avon canal and then all the way back to continue your ride... :???: :wink: :lol:
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Re: Sept with Sean (and Andy, and also Reg, Verena, Hux and Ralph)

Post by sean_iow »

If I'm honest I've not much of an idea which canals we were on, they are quite 'samey' :lol: I'm relying on Strava to work it out.

When I get to the final installment I'll put a map up but I'll save that to keep the excitement for now :wink: although the list of extras should give away some of the places we went through.
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Re: Sept with Sean (and Andy, and also Reg, Verena, Hux and Ralph)

Post by Mike »

Sean iv sent you some corrections pal to your canal locations… the kennet and Avon comes into play on day 4, good work fella enjoyed day 1 :-bd
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Re: Sept with Sean (and Andy, and also Reg, Verena, Hux and Ralph)

Post by slarge »

Sounds like a cracking trip so far. You went past my neck of the woods - would have joined you but I was in Yorkshire
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Re: Sept with Sean (and Andy, and also Reg, Verena, Hux and Ralph)

Post by redefined_cycles »

sean_iow wrote: Mon Sep 25, 2023 7:54 pm If I'm honest I've not much of an idea which canals we were on, they are quite 'samey' :lol: I'm relying on Strava to work it out.

When I get to the final installment I'll put a map up but I'll save that to keep the excitement for now :wink: although the list of extras should give away some of the places we went through.
How far north are you coming Sean. If passing by Dewsbury/West Yorkshire I can sort you out some good grub (assuming you're not vegan as then I'd probably struggle) and fresh grind single origin coffee :grin:

On a side note - the injectors!! The AA vans actually keep such items (good work them lot) or is it due to being a regular problem in the VWs... My BIL got rid of his beloved (to him) Passat for a similar reason (though it was used injectors he gad to put in due to the car being so old).
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Re: Sept with Sean (and Andy, and also Reg, Verena, Hux and Ralph)

Post by redefined_cycles »

Actually ignore me. Kennet/avon... seems like you're heading south :-bd
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Re: Sept with Sean (and Andy, and also Reg, Verena, Hux and Ralph)

Post by ssnowman »

Great write up. I remember having the idea of cycling from London to my homeland of the Wirral, I thought it would be a nice easy pootle. A reccy ride as far as Leamington Spa soon put paid to that idea. Even with 3” tyres and a suspension fork it still beat the hell out of me and as you say, you really need you wits about you with vegetation and ruts and holes in the towpath.
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Re: Sept with Sean (and Andy, and also Reg, Verena, Hux and Ralph)

Post by sean_iow »

Shaf, we were heading south, and I'm back home now, but that's for the offer.

As for the injectors, the AA have a special van that does this, but it's not just VW's, it appears all makes of modern high pressure electronically controlled direct injection diesel engine are blessed with injector problems :roll:
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Re: Sept with Sean (and Andy, and also Reg, Verena, Hux and Ralph)

Post by sean_iow »

DAY 2 – SIDE OF A FIELD TO SOMEWHERE ON THE RIDGEWAY

We were up early and after a quick coffee packed and away. Back on the canal which by now I had seen enough of. The vegetation and lack of width were particularly bad here. Unless some works are undertaken to these sections, they’ll be lost in the next few years, maybe sooner, which would be a shame.

First task of the day was to locate breakfast. Not before a big climb up over the top of the Blisworth Tunnel.

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As hard as it was to climb up over the hill it was a welcome relief from the brambles and hedging, have I mentioned how overgrow it was :lol: Nice info on how the tunnel was constructed though.

Whist stopped at a bridge to take some photos we asked a local walking by if they knew anywhere open where we could get breakfast. They suggested Cosgrove Leisure Park which was right on the canal so we headed there.

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Upon arrival we asked if it would be ok to hang our sleeping bags etc. on the railing around the outside seating area to air in the sun. The very nice lady in the café said that was fine. Only a few minutes later she rather sheepishly came over to say she’d had a call from the office, “there are some cyclists in….” she didn’t need to finish, the office was directly across from the café and they didn’t like our impromptu drying arrangements. My bivi bag was dry so I packed that away. My quilt needed a bit longer so I hung that over my bike which was neatly parked in the bike rack. A member off staff did several passes on his quad bike to inspect this but as it was on my bike I guess he decided there wasn’t anything he could do about it :lol:

Refilled and refreshed we were on our way again. Still following the Grand Union but we did divert for a while for a change of scene going through Ouzel Valley Park. The sun was particularly hot and in the parts with no shade we were basically melting! At one point we stopped to look at a plaque about the history of the place and we all found is very hard to get going again in the sun.

Our next target was a significant one on the trip, meeting up with Reg! Don’t tell Mrs P as she thinks he popped out for milk. Leaving the canal we rode into the centre of Leighton Buzzard to the arranged meeting point. Upon arrival in the courtyard that the café was in I was immediately met by a very excited man, the owner of a shop called Chilli Island. I was wearing my Salsa Cycles jersey with the chillies on and he wanted a picture with me. Celebrity appearance over we sat down with Reg to discuss the trip so far and some other random stuff. They must have been expecting us as they’d put a sign up for Ralph :grin:

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Unfortunately we couldn’t spend all day sat in the shade drinking coffee so it was back to the canal for us and home for Reg, who would no doubt have to explain how he’d lost the milk he’d popped out for.

Mike’s planned route wasn’t all canals, and after about a 100 miles of generally following them we turned off. I realised that in all this distance I hadn’t taken a picture of my bike and a lock gate so a quick snap and we were on the road. The flatness of the last 2 days was about to come to an abrupt end.

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The next target was Ivinghoe Beacon. Although we were now riding uphill as it was on tarmac lanes and there was no vegetation to avoid it was much easier than the canal had been. Andy remarked that with the surface of the towpath, the vegetation and avoiding falling in it had been like riding 100 miles of singletrack, no wonder it was tiring.

Turning off the tarmac on to a grass climb we arrived at the Beacon, we would now be following the ridgeway for the next 87 miles. In no time at all we were relaxing at the café at the Bridgewater Monument. How fitting that we’d ridden 100 miles of canal to get there!

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Sadly this was where Andy would be leaving us to get the train home. Mike and myself carried on and noted that this end of the Ridgeway seemed to be mainly downhill, not that we were complaining. It was also nice to be back on real singletrack, swooping thought the woods and avoiding roots rather than water.

Dinner stop was at the Russell Arms at Butlers Cross. This is the nearest pub to Chequers and there were pictures of old Prime Ministers on the walls. It was very nice as well, as would be expected of the nearest pub to the PM’s country retreat where he/she might pop for a quick pint. This did not stop me having a quick flannel wash in the sink in the gents to get some of the sun-cream off my arms and face.

The locals were friendly (even the one who caught me having a wash) and dinner was excellent. By the time we’d finished our second pint it was dark so we headed off in search of a suitable bivi spot. I had looked up the location of the taps on the ridgeway and so just after crossing Aston Hill we stopped at the office at Aston Rowant Nature Reserve which had one of the listed taps outside. As it was late and there was nobody about we stripped down to our bibs for a much better wash and clean up. From here we rode on, crossed under the M40, discounting the underpass as a suitable bivi spot due to the noise, and settled on a flat bit of sort grass (also contained wild mint and nettles) right at the side of the track.

76 miles for the day and 3450 feet of climbing, virtually all of which was in the last 34 miles.
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Re: Sept with Sean (and Andy, and also Reg, Verena, Hux and Ralph)

Post by sean_iow »

DAY 3 – RIDGEWAY TO HONEY STREET (WEST OF DEVIZES)

After a relatively incident second day, day three would provide much more content for the trip report!

Away early but a slow coffee and slow packing up gave time for the first of the other trail users to pass. It was Sunday morning and we were right next to the track so this was to be expected. Luckily, nobody passed whilst I was applying my chamois cream.

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Obviously the most pressing task of the morning would be finding breakfast. The extra distance covered the night before meant we were only 15 miles from Goring-On-Thames so that would be the first target. We arrived at a pub and wheeled our bikes into the beer garden. A couple of fellow bikepackers were already there drinking coffee. They had a much more relaxed look (think laid back hipster ish London types) and were giving us a funny look. It turns out it wasn’t the sight of two old men in Lycra that had caught their eye, but they recognised Mike. He’d met them only last month on a mountain in Brecon. They were working their way back to London along the Thames.

Breakfast was smashed avocado on toast and a side order of granola plus a couple of coffees each. Only came to £30 a head! George Michael had a house in Goring and the pub has a tribute night once a year which by all account is quite the evening. Even so, that’s quite a price for breakfast, too close to London I guess. After chatting to the couple (the girl was called Dill but I didn’t catch the lads name) we said our goodbyes and headed to the spar for food for the road, I didn’t risk asking at the pub in case I had to leave a kidney to pay for take-out :lol:

A long but gradual road climb followed by a long but thankfully also gradual off-road climb had us back on the ridge. We’d been lucky with the weather (if you can call 30 degrees lucky) and with no rain forecast all week Mike had contemplated not taking a waterproof. Andy and myself thought this might be a bit ambitious for a 7 day tour in the uk so despite the forecast Mike caved and packed it but assured us he would not need to wear it at all. I agreed with Andy that if he did out it on I’d get a picture as proof it was needed.

We were riding along an innocuous looking chalk double track when the first drops of rain started. After a few minutes of very light rain I was just suggesting we might need to stop to put our waterproofs on before we get too wet when, bang, the bike went from under me on the now damp chalk and I landed heavily on my knee, taking the top off. We were about to stop anyway but upright would have been better.

Whist I looked as the increasing amount of blood running out of my leg and deciding what to do Mike donned his waterproof.

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By the time I decided the best thing to do with my leg was ignore it the rain had stopped and Mike took his waterproof off again. Does it count as wearing it if you don’t ride the bike?

We’d had provisionally decided we’d see if we could find a campsite for the night as we both fancied a shower and if possible to wash 3 days of sweat out of our clothes. We both had a spare jersey and shorts with us but planned to save them for the last 2 days. Now I also had a layer of wet chalk and mud all up one side the washing machine seemed all the more necessary.

Setting off, the next section was a downhill which an hour earlier would have been a full speed blast. With a fresh dousing it was now a 16% rutted slope of green chalk with all the grip of a bobsleigh track. It was too slippery to try and walk down and riding was a sure fire trip to the ground again, the wheels went from under me several times in the first few metres. Both of us adopted the technique of wheels in the bottom of the rut and one foot unclipped to the side as a stabiliser. Not long after reaching the bottom we were passed by 2 gravel bikes going the other way, good luck with that. I don’t think I could have got back up the slope if I’d tried, even walking.

As it was a Sunday and we were on the ridgeway we passed more other riders than we’d seen on the trip so far. They were all ages and shapes and sizes which is good to see, and riding an array of bikes of all vintages :grin: We stopped an chatted to a lady riding a classic Genesis which was I was admiring. She was on the KAW and was grateful of the warning of the slippery chalk ahead. As we were talking a chap rode past going the same was a us with blood running out of most of his exposed skin, he'd been down several times. The sun was now out again so by the time she reached the climb I'm sure it would have been ok again but forewarned if forearmed.

Most of the Ridgeway is pretty good going but towards the southern end the ruts start. At least the rain hadn’t come to much so it was dry. I remember riding this section in terrible weather in 2018 and it was hateful. Luckily the end came without further incident.

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We now needed to make our way to the campsite Mike had found. I had ridden the track straight across the road from the ridgeway back in 2018 so that would be our first section. It was much better in the dry and going downhill than it was pushing up in the rain previously.

Some back lanes and a mile long threshold effort uphill on the road (chasing Mike who gets quicker as we near potential food sources) and we rolled into The Barge Inn and campsite, which as the name suggest was right next to the canal. It is £12.50 a night or for £17.50 you get dinner at the pub thrown in. Unfortunately, the pub wasn’t serving food that night :sad: but that’s because it’s pizza from the oven in the garden night :grin: There was a very laid back vibe to the place and the other customers were a collection of hippies, barge type and misfits – we’d fit right in here :smile:

A relaxing pint of shandy in the garden and then we paid the pizza chef our camping fees + the cost of a second pizza to save for breakfast. First pizza eaten we left details of our required toppings for the second and headed off to pitch the tents.

The camping field had a collection of old self-converted campers, including one made from a horse box, and most looked like it had been a while since they’d seen the road or an MOT station.

Once showered we put all our kit in the washing machine and sat down on a handy bench we’d moved over next to out pitch to relax and take in the ambience. We could also see Apache helicopters practicing the pop-up and fire manoeuvre they use on tanks – apparently they are training Ukrainian pilots. As my cycling kit was in the wash and I didn’t want to wear my other bibs for the evening I opted for my windproof trousers – rolled up to 3/4 length – and my sleeping base layer. Normally this might have looked a bit odd but at this location I fitted right in and no one batted an eyelid.

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A young lad wandered round the site announcing there was to be a magic trick at the buskers stage in the pub garden in 10 minutes. I said to Mike we’d better go and make an effort to fit in or we’d find ourselves inside a burning wicker man before the night was over :shock: He did a trick with a dandelion head and a glass of water and then wandered round collecting tips, looks like he was doing well as we all put £1 in :grin:

The rest of the evening was spent sat at a picnic table in the pub garden drinking and chatting to an eclectic mix of friendly locals who were drinking and smoking :wink: including an old boy who was an ex lock keeper who now lives on a boat and appears to drink a bottle of Kraken a night (on top of the pints he was drinking) a chap who maybe owns a company that supplies yurts and tepees for festivals (but he was pretty stoned so who knows) and eventually a poor girl who was a friend of theirs who ended up driving from Bristol via a 24hr garage to bring them some more baccy as they’d run out. Also during this was an incredible electrical storm in the distance which looked like the end of the world.

At some point Mike and myself decided that fun as it was we should head for bed and left them to it. They decided to continue on and relocated to the other end of the camping field and sat around a fit-pit with an excess of drink and the occasional loud burst of singing – luckily only a few key words of a song before not knowing the rest and trailing off and it going quiet :lol: The horsebox camper left their flashing lights on all night and at about 6 in the morning it had a weird motor/clicking noise – I think it might have been a water pump? Despite all this, I had a good night’s sleep and stared the morning with coffee, half a cold pizza and fresh clean clothes :grin: We even gave the quilts a quick air on low in the tumble drier before packing up.

63 miles and 3800 feet for the day.
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Re: Sept with Sean (and Andy, and also Reg, Verena, Hux and Ralph)

Post by RIP »

Enjoyed that :smile: . But thirty quid for a breakfast! Along with the mega-posh pub at Butlers Cross I'll bet you're well skint now gents. Actually the Butlers Cross pub is infamous in Chilterns BBB circles as we went there for a Winter Bivvy meal once. The only utensil they didn't provide was a microscope for finding the portion on the plate :wink: .
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Re: Sept with Sean (and Andy, and also Reg, Verena, Hux and Ralph)

Post by Dave Barter »

I so don't miss the wet chalky section of the Ridgeway in rain. I did it a few times sub-zero, needed airbags.

My friend Andy Linguard would have been one of the hippies, he lives on a barge outside of Honey Street.
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Re: Sept with Sean (and Andy, and also Reg, Verena, Hux and Ralph)

Post by Mike »

:-bd did you miss out the picture of you in your overtrouser on purpose pal :lol:
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Re: Sept with Sean (and Andy, and also Reg, Verena, Hux and Ralph)

Post by sean_iow »

I was worried I'd get a barrage of PM's from the lady's if they saw me in them but if you insist I'll chance it :lol:

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Re: Sept with Sean (and Andy, and also Reg, Verena, Hux and Ralph)

Post by RIP »

Caption Contest...!
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Re: Sept with Sean (and Andy, and also Reg, Verena, Hux and Ralph)

Post by benp1 »

Enjoyed the write up. Green chalk is horrendous stuff

I remember that pub from a Chilterns event. We were comfortably the smelliest and dirtiest folks in there, food was very good on quality but a bit lacking on quantity
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Re: Sept with Sean (and Andy, and also Reg, Verena, Hux and Ralph)

Post by Dave Barter »

RIP wrote: Thu Sep 28, 2023 10:50 pm Caption Contest...!
Isle of Wight prison service promises tighter security
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Re: Sept with Sean (and Andy, and also Reg, Verena, Hux and Ralph)

Post by sean_iow »

Dave Barter wrote: Fri Sep 29, 2023 11:14 am
RIP wrote: Thu Sep 28, 2023 10:50 pm Caption Contest...!
Isle of Wight prison service promises tighter security
:lol:
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Re: Sept with Sean (and Andy, and also Reg, Verena, Hux and Ralph)

Post by sean_iow »

DAY 4 – HONEY STREET TO CALDICOT

Having had pizza for breakfast 1 there would be no rush to look for food this morning. The campsite was right next to the canal so once packed away we were straight back on route. We were now going to follow the Kennet and Avon canal through to Bath some 30 miles away. The canal towpath was better than the Grand Union had been but not by much and in places narrow and overgrown again but got much better past Devizes.

Despite our hearty breakfast it was only 9 miles before we came across the handy café at Caen Hill Locks so it would be rude not to stop for second breakfast and coffee. Difficult to get a decent picture of the locks but you get the idea.

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We shared our table with a fellow bike traveller but I can’t for the life of me remember where he was off to. This section of the canal had a very good towpath but with that came lots of people, a trade-off I was happy to make to not have to avoid vegetation. The canal is obviously quite the tourist attraction and some considerable money has been spent of the infrastructure to support it.

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Navigation (pun intended) is pretty easy on the canal network but it was still possible to get caught out. It was steep drop from the towpath down to get this picture.

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Notice the middle of the centre arch looks a bit wavy, perhaps just settlement after construction. Rode back up the slope and over the aqueduct only to discover the route was down underneath and then back up to get to the opposite tow path :roll: This is where the canal crosses the River Avon. At Bath the canal passes through the centre of the city but from a car you’d hardly know as its hidden away in cuttings and tunnels.

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Popped out at one road crossing to visit the Spar which should be a daily occurrence on a backpacking trip. Whist outside waiting for Mike to take his turn I saw some truly shocking driving and was grateful we were using the canal to get through the city. Bath is the end of the canal so we would make out way across the western half of the city following the River Avon before joining the Bristol and Bath Railway path for the next leg.

Once out of the historic city centre the more modern developments started to appear.

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The cycle route was a great way to get from Bath to Bristol (overlooking the odd strava w***er going flat out) which included this just off to one side.

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Not sure on the original reason for this set back from the line but there were fossils everywhere.

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The cycle path on the route of the old railway comes to an end at Bitton as rather inconveniently these still a railway there. Arrived just as they were unloading this.

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Not that they needed anymore locos/rolling stock as they had a whole yard full and quite a project list I’m sure. This one has already been done by the condition.

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Quite the signal box for a line with no apparent junctions now although it does split from single to double track just before here on its way to the station.

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The cycle route runs parallel to the line where it is still in use and then re-joins the original track. We were arriving in town just as the schools were finishing. Most of the pupils seemed to be using the route, either cycling or walking, all were on the left, aware of what was going on around them and everyone was watching out for each other, just how active travel should be :-bd Much better than sea of cars parked everywhere you normally see at schools where little Jonny is picked up in the Range Rover for the 500m journey home. Once the path ended it was a bit of tricky navigation on road to reach the harbour. Spotted this little boat.

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At first I thought it was a mock-up but that is a real helicopter. A google shows the boat is a private residence, a bit of a step up from the canal barges we’d seen the last 3 days. I should look this up to see what it was previously, a mill or factory of some sort I’m guessing?

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Perhaps a local will know? We decided to call in to the café at the garden centre as it looked like the options for food from here on might be a bit slim for a while. Whist inside I spotted John McEnroe in the queue behind me, well he looked just like him. I even asked if he was to which he replied ‘yes’ so I said thanks and that I wouldn’t disturb him anymore. He then said he actually wasn’t and why would John McEnroe be in the café at the garden centre? Same as me I said, for coffee and cake? He said he was in the crowd at Wimbledon once and people were asking for his autograph. I’m still not sure if it was and he was double bluffing? But the accent wasn’t right but he might have been putting that on :lol: Mike agreed it looked just like him.

Next were two sections which I was really looking forward to, first the Avon Gorge which means I got to ride under this.

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Shortly after we passed so pretty significant street art by Banksy’ less well known cousin.

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Bumpsy :lol: He must be local as there was more later on

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It was now late afternoon and we had decided we wanted to cross into Wales in the light. A section of the NCN on the way was closed but people had obviously been going through so we did the same but it was struggle to get by the barriers with the bike. The area looked a bit run down and deserted so we didn’t hang about. Somehow we timed it just right to arrive at the estuary just as the sun was getting low for the best pictures.

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Taking heed of the warnings it was on to the bit I’d been looking forward to most.

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We stopped in middle for a picture and met another two other cyclists going the other way. I wouldn’t recommend riding right next to the railings and looking over the edge like I did, it made my legs go funny. When riding (or driving) you don’t really notice the bridge moving but when stopped you can really feel it going up and down with the traffic and moving in the wind.

Upon our arrival in Wales the path ducks under the motorway, Welsh graffiti artists are at the top of their game

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Next priority would be dinner. We took the easy option of a chain pub on the outskirts of Chepstow. The food was good and the prices much better than we’d been used to up to now. After dinner it was time to find a bivi spot. A woodland that looked promising on the map was discounted due to low flying helicopters over it, clearly some sort of military activity. We then checked out a little nature reserve but unfortunately it was just a path around the edge with no viable spots to hide away from the likely early morning dog walkers. There was a promising bit of woodland but this turned out to be only about 20 feet from the railway line, a passing high speed train making me jump as I had no idea!

As we were close to the estuary we rode on as our route would take us nearly down to the shore. The first track we followed down came came to an end with a sign warning of cattle, going through the gate there were indeed lots of eyes staring back. Back up to the road and we’d try again further down the coast. This time we struck lucky, right on the coastal path on a section where the grass widened out just enough for our tents. This was our longest day so far and I fell asleep to the sound of the waves in the distance and looking out to the lights of Portishead across the water :grin:

88 miles and 1800 feet
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Re: Sept with Sean (and Andy, and also Reg, Verena, Hux and Ralph)

Post by RIP »

Compliments for taking the effort to do your report Sean, seems a while since anyone's done an epic. Can't believe you didn't bivvy in Cockshoot Wood near Chepstow after my "recommendation" from a few weeks back :smile: .

Does the NCN through Bristol still take you incongruously through a multi-storey carpark like it did when I rode it back in 1984 (*)?

(*) Sanity is not statistical
Last edited by RIP on Fri Sep 29, 2023 6:41 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Sept with Sean (and Andy, and also Reg, Verena, Hux and Ralph)

Post by sean_iow »

We went a bit freestyle and off-piste at times as the signage was tricky to follow. I'm sure we went under a car park at one point, all concrete columns and graffiti.

The closed section was somewhere out of town in the run down to the bridge, cutting through industrial estates. Looked like they were worried about a concrete underpass that might have been weakened by setting light to a car in it :roll: looked ok to me but obviously that's not my professional option as I only glanced at it as we hurried through :lol:
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Re: Sept with Sean (and Andy, and also Reg, Verena, Hux and Ralph)

Post by sean_iow »

DAY 5 – CALDICOT TO HAY BLUF

We woke to an overcast morning but the forecast rain had been early and only light. Last night’s issue with finding a bivi spot, and having to ride on later to find one, had actually resulted in a first class location. We were in agreement that this was the best spot yet.

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Not having any cold pizza this morning the first things was to locate breakfast. There was an RSPB reserve down the coast and only a mile off route, a quick google and a phone call confirmed the café was open. For the first 3 miles we continued along coastal path. This was narrow but the raised position gave a great view across the estuary which was getting wider as we rode onward.

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Turning off the coastal path the going got considerably worse. A rideable, if muddy in places, track became a waterlogged bog, some backtracking, footpaths across fields and more mud and worse and after another 2 miles we were free and on the back roads. Arriving at the reserve I was so focused on breakfast I forgot to say hello to the member of staff outside under the gazebo trying to recruit members. His sarcastic ‘morning’ soon reminded me where my manners were and I apologised for just riding past.

After breakfast I decided I should perhaps do something with the cut on my knee from day 3. I had left it uncovered to air but it now had a layer of cow muck/mud on it and it had stuck to my quilt at night. Cleaned up I fixed a non-absorbent dressing to it with some kinsology tape – spoiler alert – this works really well as the tape is supper adherent and also stretchy so it doesn’t come off when peddling :-bd

Suitable refreshed we headed off, making sure to say goodbye to the volunteer in the gazebo. Another of the trips highlights was coming up next, the Newport Transporter Bridge.

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Four miles later we were at the bridge but sadly it was not running, out of service for repairs/maintenance :sad: We had known this at the end of the road its on but rode down anyway to see it. We’d have to go over the normal bridge. We made a quick detour to Morrisions as Mike was out of coffee. This involved crossing several busy roads but the local motorists seemed to stop for us each time so we could cross :grin:

We followed the cycle path next to the River Usk into and through Newport. I once had a tow bar for sale on Facebook and a chap contacted me to ask if he could pop round to see it that evening. Luckily I’d checked his profile and had seen he lived in this Newport… the towbaw was in another Newport, the one on the Isle of Wight.

This is the first time I’ve been to the 'other' Newport but I can’t really judge what it’s like as we cut through out of the way. We then joined the Monmouthshire Canal. Once off the river section and onto the canal proper it was apparent that this end was no longer navigable. At some of the lock gates stop logs had been used to keep the water in the upslope sections as the gates had rotted away and failed. The riding was pleasant enough but also generally uphill. This was good in a way as I knew the stats for the whole trip and we hadn’t made much inroad into the climbing total, the flatter this section was the more that would be saved until later.

Once onto the navigable section the tow path improved to a wide gravel delight. Once north of Pontymoile the canal follows the edge of the hills so is a non-stop series of gentle bends going left and right, This is great as it’s much less monotonous than long straights and you can never see far ahead so it feels like you’re getting somewhere. This is how I remembered canals from the South Wales Winter Bivi – not the terrible narrow overgrown rubbish of the Grand Union.

A lunch stop allowed us time to dry our damp quilts and shelters. Mike had paid for ice cream with his food but planned to collect after his main. I had to remind him as he’d forgotten :o

Back to the tow path required crossing under the canal and up a very steep slope – we ridden down to it to cross over the café on arrival. Why are the facilities general on the opposite side to the towpath?

Our next aim was Crickhowell which was about 15 miles further on. If only there was some sign of which way to go :???:

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The handy map was no use as Crickhowell is off the canal and so they hadn’t bothered to show it :lol:

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Crickhowell is quite a way down from the canal, but it seemed steeper riding up last December after dinner. Once in town we chose the Britannia pub for dinner and I posted a cryptic picture of the location on the SWWB WhatsApp. Whist waiting for the food Verena called me to let me know she was stood next to us ‘Boners’ :lol: She was passing through with her daughter.

Post dinner we purchased an expensive can of beer from the off-licence which we planned to drink at the summit of Hay Bluf sat outside of shelters watching the sun go down. First there was the small matter of 20 miles of mainly uphill riding to get there. Not long after leaving the pub the weather started to deteriorate, Mike even had to put his waterproof on, and it was decided we’d take the road way up Gospel Pass. This is currently closed during the day but open at night. As we climbed we had to avoid toads sat on the road. They were all facing the same way, downhill/back to the wind. We think they might sit on the road to warm up on the tarmac which has heated up during the day? We didn’t need to lay on the road to warm up as we were riding loaded bikes uphill. I had been concerned before getting to Wales that my chosen gearing would require lots of walking but so far all the hills were manageable. Part way up Gospel Pass is the Priory.

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This is a campsite (popular with Offa’s Dyke walkers) and also has a bar. We called in for hot chocolate and to get out of the rain for a bit. Seeing as we could use the loo for free and didn’t need a shower (I’d only had one the day before yesterday) we decided not to stay and rode on.

It was obvious by the conditions that a summit camp would be out of the question but once at the top of the pass left the tarmac and pushed up to the summit.

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The ground was saturated (there was a moat around the trig point) and the wind had picked up. The beer would have to keep for another day. We retreated to a nice flat section of grass just off the tarmac at the top of the pass. We did look on the other side of the road but as is always the way the spot we’d seen first on the way up was the best. We were out of light of the road and the shape of the ground meant there was less wind.

66 miles and 3400 feet of climbing.
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Re: Sept with Sean (and Andy, and also Reg, Verena, Hux and Ralph)

Post by RIP »

Four miles later we were at the [Newport Transporter] bridge but sadly it was not running, out of service for repairs/maintenance :sad:
Apologies, Sean - Friday thread hijack alert!

'Tis brilliant that bridge. I could ride it all day. In fact, almost did. With impeccable timing, we went to the Forest Of Dean during 2001's "foot and mouth" crisis for a week's family holiday and we were forbidden from walking anywhere or visiting pretty much anything. With two young kids in tow this was a bit of a problem, and after Chepstow Castle, Puzzle Wood, Clearwell Caves, Perrygrove Railway, Caerleon Roman Museum etc (all of them superb in their own way), we were running out of ideas. Cue Reg/Dad - "Oh I know! Newport Transporter Bridge, it's fantastic, I've always wanted to see it". Kids and Mrs Perrin gave me that "Erm" look that long-suffering families do. Turned up on the east bank and boarded the bridge. Nobody else around, what with F&M and so on, so we had our own personal "ride". I say "ride", for those not in the know, it isn't a bridge in the traditional sense, but a 645' long gantry with the top span 242' above the river. Suspended from the span is a deck with room for maybe 9 or so cars, which is hauled across the river by electric motors. The whole thing is wonderfully gothic, a somewhat Victorian-over-engineered but beautifully elegant way of allowing tall ships to continue to navigate the River Usk. Obviously I was like a porcine in excrement with excitement. After popping in at the visitor centre on the west bank, I convinced(?) the family to go back across to the east bank again, then once more to the west. I could have gone on all day. Still got the souvenir mug which I use every day for brews!

As you say, unfortunately closed for maintenance until next Summer. At which point I shall be back for another go. Will be a good BaM outing.

[EDIT: Blimey, there's even a World Association of Transporter Bridges website https://www.puentestransbordadores.com/ ... r-bridges/. Well of course there is!]

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"My God, Ponsonby, I'm two-thirds of the way to the grave and what have I done?" - RIP

The sign outside the asylum is the wrong way round.....

"At least you got some stories" - James Acaster
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