21 August 2010

B2Y2: Dolgellau to Shrewsbury: Rain stopped play

Bah. Got as far as Shrewsbury and then gave up.

It had rained incessantly since I started from Barmouth, and I was soaking and miserable. Mending punctures in driving rain with trench-foot is no fun.

En route I went over the Bwlch Oerddrws on the A470, one of the highest road passes in Wales, except all I could see was clouds of November grey and the tail-lights of lorries that had just cascaded me with puddle water.

I'd been aiming to stay at one of the youth hostels at Ironbridge, but they were closed for school groups, and the only alternatives were prohibitively expensive. With rather less liquidity in my pocket than there was in the air, I gave the whole thing up as a bad job and came home, smelling of wet road.

I'll do this route again properly when I'm in a better frame of mind. And when there's less of the Atlantic on top of me.

Miles today: 60
Miles since Barmouth: 72

19 August 2010

B2Y 1: Barmouth to Dolgellau

I'm now en route, as we say in English, from Barmouth to (Great) Yarmouth, as the second of my series of coast-to-coast bike tours between rhyming English towns.

My train arrived at Barmouth around 4pm, just in time for the torrential rain to start.

Barmouth's tourist info was closed for staff training, so I couldn't ask them where to buy the once-famous biscuits. Perhaps they all ended up in my grandma's airing cupboard.

The most notable attraction in Barmouth is not the beach, but the Carousal cafe (supposedly a mis-spelling of 'Carousel') whose initial letter dropped off a few years ago. It has become so famous for its truncated new name that they haven't bothered to replace it.

The second most notable attraction in Barmouth is the historic wooden bridge that carries trains, pedestrians and bikes across the Mawddach estuary. The Victorians built it and it survived being eaten by worms in the 20th century.

On the other side is a lovely traffic-free rail trail running all alongside the estuary ten miles or so to Dolgellau, where I'm staying, and where it's raining. Hard.

Miles today: 12
Miles since Barmouth: 12

06 July 2010

P2G 4: Newark to Goole

From Newark up to Goole was a flat trundle alongside the Trent. Pleasant cycling on a warm morning, but the Danube it's not. The Trent valley consists largely of power stations - you keep expecting the Super Mario Brothers to pop up out of the cooling towers - relieved by the odd high-security mental institution. I hope that today is the nearest I ever get to Rampton, but the way things are going, you never know.

En route I went through the village with the biggest sign in the land: North Leverton with Habblesthorpe is, according to the Guinness Book of Records in the days when they listed such things, the longest place-name in Britain.

Finally arrived at Goole, which is every bit as good as it sounds. The purpose-built port town at the orifice of the Humber was opened, along with its canal and docks, in 1826, and has gone pretty much downhill since then.

I arrived at 2pm and set out to explore all the highlights the town had to offer. I took a train to Ferriby at 2.12pm.

Miles today: 60
Miles since Poole: 301

05 July 2010

P2G 3: Leamington to Newark

A long hot haul up the Fosse Way today. Unfortunately, the speed I cycle, I couldn't even get this ford to splash me with cool water.

Ab Kettleby is a nondescript little village near Melton Mowbray. But it's Britain's top village - alphabetically - thanks to the way computers sort their gazetteers.

(And yes, it's sideways. Blame Blogger. It's OK on my laptop.)

Staying at a Travelodge just outside Newark (which has a surprisingly continental feeling Grand Place, except everything was shut when I went through at quarter past five). Convenient bike parking here.

Miles today: 87
Miles so far: 241

04 July 2010

P2G 2: Bath to Leamington Spa

After living there a dozen years, but leaving in 1999, it was funny being in Bath for a night again. Half the shops I knew had gone, replaced by chainstores or upmarket shopping courts. Rather like meeting an old partner who has now married someone richer and more successful, who is very polite, but has clearly not missed you.

I set off on the Fosse Way, which goes excitingly straight - and therefore, in this bumpy landscape, in rollercoaster ups and downs. Up to the M4 it's lovely country lanes, and from there to Kemble it's gravel byways with the occasional historic ford (above). This is what cycling in Roman times would have been like.

(And yes, I know it's sideways. It's a bug in Blogger; the image is the right way round on my laptop.)

The source of the Thames is at Kemble. That's the Thames there, winding its way through a field and under that little stone bridge, except it isn't because it's dry, as usual. But nice to know it's downhill all the way to our house from here.

I'd forgotten how many beautiful towns there are north of Bath - how come I never visited them before? Cirencester, Bourton-on-the-Water (above, packed out with families and kids paddling in the Water) and Moreton in the Marsh are all delightful places.

In Leamington Spa tonight, in a £19 bargain Travelodge room that's just ace. A big double all to myself in a grand Regency building overlooking the main street, and all the action. Mind you, in Leamington on a Sunday night, that's evidently not very much.

Miles today: 80
Miles so far: 154

03 July 2010

P2G 1: Poole to Bath

Set off from Poole at 9.30ish, having taken a ludicrously early train from Waterloo.

At Wimborne I dropped in on the Model Town. This is a one-tenth replica of the town as it was in the 1950s. You can walk up the streets and lanes and imagine being sixty feet tall. The shops have little models of what would have been in the windows. There are two bike shops. If the model is anything to go by, bike parking in 1950s Dorset was non-existent.

At Blandford Forum I could ask one of my favourite questions. The town was rebuilt in Georgian style following a fire, and the architects were William and John Bastard. So you can point to any building and say, which Bastard designed that?, and you're asking a very intelligent question. Anyway, at Shaftesbury I re-enacted the famous Hovis TV advert on Gold Hill.

Via Warminster and Westbury I got to the canal towpath. Just past Bradford on Avon is a string of narrowboats, some of which are shops. You can get your hair cut in one of them, but I was more interested in what this one had to sell.

I overnighted in Bath.

Miles today: 74
Miles so far: 74

08 June 2010

Rhyme, but not much reason

This occasional blog will cover an open-ended series of rhyming bike rides in Britain.

It will start in July 2010 with Poole (jewel of the south coast) to Goole (fag end of the Humber estuary); swiftly followed by Barmouth (biscuit-tin pride of the Welsh riviera) to [Great] Yarmouth (haven for the natural world - well, natural gas rigs, anyway).

These cycle routes have been chosen for two essential qualities. They must rhyme; and they must form some sort of natural endpoints.

Barmouth to Yarmouth for example: not only does it possess that sonorous, near-A-to-Z lexicality, but also spans Britain's lower beam horizontally from west to east, considerately following the prevailing wind.

It's a satisfying coast-to-coast ride, and a natural successor to the Cape Wrath to Dover adventure that I did (and blogged about) in May 2010, along with several companions.

Poole to Goole works too: a nor'-nor'-east line, agreeably complementing Barmouth to Yarmouth, largely following the Roman Fosse Way from England's seaside south to its north-eastern container-port orifices.

We'll no doubt be adding more bike rides to the vowel-harmony couplet roster as we go on.

Meanwhile, stand by for blog updates on the rides above, starting with the train to Poole that I've just booked on Saturday 3 July 2010...