The Western Way is the name of the first part of our summer of ’19 cycle trip. It is from south-east London (Greenwich) to Bristol first along the Thames and then following, where possible, the Kennet Avon canal. We’re near Bath at the moment, maybe 30 km ride from Bristol, waiting out some threatened thunder and rain.
There are three of us: my brother Chris, my wife Bev and myself for a combined total of 192 years. As befits an elderly trio, we are setting a very slow pace with an average of around 40 km per day (not including ‘rest’ days!)
Bev and I set off up the Quietway (Q)1, leaving my mother’s flat in Greenwich, expectedly later than planned, at around 11:30 on Sunday (21st July) morning. We successfully navigated a full couple of kilometres before stopping at an Italian restaurant for brunch and to rendezvous with Chris. After another kilometre or so, we stopped again outside Millwall’s football ground (The Den?) and waited for Chris who had nipped home to pick up a couple of items he had forgotten.
Our route led us through central London on generally quiet roads with only a slight detours to Evans Cycles where Bev bought some cycling shorts and a more functional rear light. Quickly running out of excuses, we had to press on. A nice ride through Richmond Park, very green, deer and their fawns out enjoying a summer Sunday afternoon, with may equally appreciative Londoners. We arrived at Laleham Camping Club a little after 8:00 having ridden 56.2 km. Chris’ first night under canvas in a few decades.
This was both Bev’s and mine first loaded ride of the year. (Indeed, pretty much the first ride of the year, period.) Chris wasn’t used to a load either. We decided that getting horizontal was more important than riding back to a pub for food, and settled in for an early night. A good sleep for me in the tent (as almost always) despite being under the flight path for the nearby Heathrow Airport.
Day 2 was very short. Along the Thames to Staines for breakfast. A brutally (for us) steep path up to the Air Force Memorial that I had visited two years ago. Followed by a very nice ride through Windsor park.
Then back down to the river (in the town of Windsor) and decision time: should we press on into the evening or settle in for the night? Chris did mention that we had just ridden by a micro-brewery: that may have influenced the decision.
Some strange goings-on on the river: rowing-boats manned by men (and women, presumably) in suits constructed from shimmering pieces of mirror-like material. No idea what this was about…but certainly not the only strangeness in this part of the world – after all, Boris went to school just over the bridge.
It was getting late and we were ready for food so we found a house online, put some laundry in the washer, checked out a nearby taproom at the Windsor and Eton Brewery, unloaded the washer and went for a superb Thai dinner in a pub just around the corner. 22.2 km has rarely felt so full a day.
Day 3 was a (very) little more ambitious – pleasant riding to Reading. Where finding accommodation was difficult: we were beginning to appreciate how much summer affects both the availability and the price of a room. A pub where we stopped for a couple of re-hydrating shandies made a couple of suggestions but everything was full. Then someone suggested the Tower House Hotel; three single rooms for thirty pound apiece. Definitely a working man’s hotel, Indian-run and feeling authentically Indian. Very sweet people managing the hotel, very small rooms with a shower but a shared toilet down the hall. A warm night, no covers. Breakfast included :)
Day 4 (Wednesday). Stopped at the Earley Cafe for early coffee and Tescos for buns, then rejoined the canal. Very pleasant, easy riding. Thursday was forecast to be very hot, 36C, so, at noon, we booked the Pelican Inn (outside Hungerford) for two nights, opting for a rest day from the heat. This meant we were committed to a certain distance.
At some point, during the afternoon’s ride, I remembered that I had stayed at the Pelican Inn two years ago. And that I had stayed at the Swan Inn the night before. We didn’t reach the Swan until late afternoon (fully booked, as indicated online) so still had some way to go to make it to the Pelican.
Some hills, steeper than absolutely necessary away from the canal, towards the end of the day but through beautiful Wiltshire countryside. On fresh gravel and tar, past friendly road crews, through occasional tunnels of trees that joined limbs over the road, birdsong. Arriving tired (but not overly) in time for a quick shower and a delicious dinner! Goats’ cheese and strawberry salad!!! 56.3 km.
The Pelican stands alone, out on the old Bath road, but we were happy to stay close to base. The rooms were very comfortable (and reasonably priced for such ‘luxury’), the ale was good and the food exceptional.
Friday was a casual day, even by our standards, finishing early where we could camp out of sight on Fyfield down. We spent a couple of hours relaxing and reading in the sunshine looking over the surrounding countryside before heading off-track a little for the shelter of a downslope and some bushes. (25.0 km)
Uphill gravel to start, then grassy tracks and steep downhill led us to Avebury, known for its stone circle quite different from the close by Stonehenge. We had lunch in the pub and Bev had a quick walk view of the sights. I had wandered around, somewhat underwhelmed, a couple of years ago so wasn’t particularly bothered. And it was a bit crowded for Chris.
We’d booked an apartment in Monkton Farleigh because anything available in Bath was ridiculously priced. And it was already early afternoon with hardly any distance covered so we took a shortcut directly to Devizes; speeding traffic but we caught up some time. Then back to the route along the canal, past the ever impressive Caen Hill Locks, to Staverton and a climb up to Monkton Farleigh, a very quiet Wiltshire village. The apartment was not available for a single night so we stayed for two.
Sunday roast at the King’s Arms was excellent, with a stroll about in the afternoon to burn a little of lunch off.
Then we extended our stay for another two days, one to go into Bath for some tourism and the second because very bad weather was forecast. (That was for today; it hasn’t been as bad as forecast. Hopefully it hasn’t shifted to tomorrow… )