The South & South-West Farewell Tour

With redundancy rather inconveniently (in more ways than just timing, it must be noted) for me being timed for the middle of summer, I didn’t waste any time in moving out & leaving the area before heading off on my European bike travels lest the weather get colder.  As such,  I never really said a proper goodbye to all the people in the south & south-west that I’d spent so much time with over the previous three years.

So, another little bike tour was in order to do so.  At least as winter approached & then took hold, I had the luxury of knowing I’d be staying with friends & family – & therefore could carry more clothes in place of sleeping bag, mattress & tent. Luxury. I managed to see many people & almost all that I really wanted to see.  Most of the riding was a means-to-an-end (except for two great final MTB outings around Winchester & on Exmoor), but pleasant as the leaves are all sorts of shades at the moment and the English countryside doesn’t fail to be pretty.  I also managed to time rides so that I’d mostly miss the rain.

Schedules dictated I depart a day earlier than I intended, but as the weather was strangely warm and the first of only two big days was spent riding all day & into the night in shorts & short-sleeve top.  Threading my way across south London & then beyond I followed the Basingstoke canal to the eponymous city before taking the train to Bournemouth.

The next morning it was around 20oC, so I hardly needed much persuasion (actually, it was probably my idea) to get some gelato.

Popping back into the plant (former-work) that afternoon, it was eerily quiet and all rather strange. A couple of hours was enough it was so silent. But it was nice wandering around chatting to those that still survive, for however long that may be.

Great to get out for one last ride on the trails around Winchester with Dan & Chris – my only regular riding buddies I had in the area.

Chris recommended an American burger joint, Seven Bones, excellent food & value. Once again, riding so much just provides an excuse to eat excessively.

Due to timings of visits, I ended up crossing the New Forest four or five times – here along the Bournemouth beachfront as the sun sets.

And my last look at the Isle of Wight – I had some nice long & hilly MTB trips out there.

After a couple of nights in Poole, I used the other half of my return train ticket to get back to Basingstoke and ride north of Reading to Rich’s.

I’m going to miss the history of being in Europe; this a typical discovery while just riding along – a Roman amphitheatre seemingly in the middle of nowhere.

As I was riding through a park in the north-west outskirts of Reading I heard a loud & obnoxious ringing – eventually I saw that it was coming from a phone on top of a bin. Thinking that someone had probably lost it, I answered it feeling I was in some strange bicycle-touring Spooks crossover. I was right, a woman had lost her phone & I tried to describe where I was not really having much idea. I wanted to hand it in at a nearby business and carry on my way as the light was fading fast, but she insisted I wait ten minutes. Eventually, a rather old Ford Galaxy rolled up and I was almost forced to take a tenner from a large roll of cash as payment for my waiting around doing nothing. All rather weird, but it paid for my lunch.

Startling pheasants of the game variety was becoming more normal as I continued; I must note that the pheasants in Berkshire and Oxfordshire are much more handsome – darker colouring. And just rolling down the hill to cross the Thames, again, on a quiet country lane I came across the largest bouquet (who knew?) of pheasants I’ve seen.

The goal for the next day was Bristol & it promised to be one of my longest on a bike.  But as I planned to do most of it alongside the Kennet & Avon Canal, it wasn’t to be too hilly.  Rich kindly plotted a route for me to follow on my GPS that would take me most-directly to the canal on quiet roads.  With rain overnight, the tow-path was decidedly wet – and the rain that continued to fall didn’t help all that much.  Unfortunately, the National Cycle Route I was following left the canal for quite a while and seemed to insist on gradually climbing into a stiff sou-wester – not some of my favourite moments on a bike.

In time I reached Devises and what turned to out to be the end of the climbing. Deciding I was much too muddy & wet for the cafe recommended by a passing cycle tourist, so I quickly snacked before rolling quickly down beside the Caen Hill Locks.  With sixteen locks all in a row here, they do form a rather impressive staircase – navigating in a boat must be tedious, five to six hours apparently.

The rest of the way into Bath was pretty flat, but with about twenty miles to go on top of what I’d already done wasn’t particularly fast. As the night closed in I decided I didn’t have the light or energy to ride for another couple of hours – so I took the train to north Bristol to arrive at Laura & Luis’s. I was quite pleased with about 145 km/90 miles for the day and over eight hours moving time. While I had remembered that L&L’s first house is undergoing extensive work, I’d forgotten there was no shower – one was much needed after all the mud & work into the wind. Never mind, nothing a walk in the rain around the corner to the gym couldn’t fix.

A most enjoyable weekend catching up, watching the All Blacks narrowly beat England, checking out a local fireworks night, ripping the kitchen ceiling off and popping down to the centre of Bristol to learn a bit of the city and walk in the sun. I’m still of the mind, if I was to come back to England for any length of time, this is an area I’d try to live.

Builders turning up early Monday morning meant an early start to my departure from Bristol for Winscombe. But this did mean that I got to see the day dawning on Bristol as I rode across the Clifton Suspension Bridge.

Carrying on through Ashton Court I enjoyed trying to spot bits of the course I rode & rode for six hours last year in the Bristol Bike Fest – six hours of riding the same short lap is rather boring. It was a pleasant dry morning for a ride across Somerset Moors and through cider country; I was pleased to do the half of the Strawberry Line that Mum & I didn’t ride in April (that is, the Yatton – Winscombe half).

While Andy & Jo were still at work I managed to occupy myself getting stuck into War & Peace, wandering around the village, cleaning the mud off my bike (an exercise in futility considering the subsequent ride to Taunton), sitting out a truly miserable Tuesday of rain and generally relaxing. Somehow I found myself recounting my travels since April (my previous visit) in greater detail than anyone else has been subjected too – for once I became a very slow eater.

Across more of the moors on the Wednesday I once again escaped the rain before reaching Taunton – which must be one of my most visited places over the last five years, considering how much John & Anna have had me to stay under the guise of popping over from Hampshire for many great rides in the south-west with the Combe Raiders. Unfortunately, Thursday was rather wet so John & I couldn’t get out for a long ride while Anna was at work and Lydia & Esther were at school – a much needed bike maintenance session wasn’t all that successful for my creaking pedal.

The Final Pheasant ride for the Saturday Combe Raiders outing was back on Exmoor – where I first rode over six years ago with John, Andy & Rich. It was great to have all of them back for my farewell ride and with a few others we had a good group of eight to head out on a day that promised all sorts of weather. A very enjoyable and memorable ride that had some decent climbs, stunning views over the Bristol Channel, some rain, the standard navigational debate, a short very muddy hike-a-bike section (that turned out not to be on the route) and much fun on some long rocky descents. Near the end the cloud really rolled in and above Dunster the woods were so misty one could hardly see twenty metres in front – it was all rather eerie. With one last pastie stop in Dunster my Combe Raiders riding career was over; I’ll miss it all the more as I don’t even get to defend my Christmas Hill Climb title this year.

Map discussions – my stopping to take photos was rather woeful throughout this whole trip.

Before long I’d said all my goodbyes to many friends & family in the south & south-west and I was on the train back to Paddington and then riding across London (which I really enjoy, I suspect I’m in the minority) – home for a couple of days’ breather. Thanks to all who took the time to see me & especially those that had me to stay – it sure beat wild-camping in winter! For the record – it was quite a leisurely tour: nearly 800 km/500 miles in two and a half weeks, only two big days over 120 km, the rest nicely between 30 and 70 km.

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