Sunday, August 11, 2013

Taking Our Time. Chepstow to Worcester

Sunday 9 and Monday 10 June, 2013
My last word on head-winds – Rugby... and the state of England today – Symonds Yat – Back to Birdwood – Worcester – Pizza with Neil

My last word on head-winds

We're off to Worcester, about 60 miles away and easy rideable in a day but we're splitting the trip in two: today we have a lunch date at Ross on Wye with the lovely Sharon and husband, Brian, my sister/brother in law ( both always hugely hospitable to us on our visits to England) and close friends of David's. 

Once, long ago, David and Brian flatted together in London, got two new flat mates, Sharon and Gabrielle, and have congratulated themselves ever since on their brilliant choice! Because it soon came to pass that Sharon got married to Brian and Gabrielle to David. 

One thing I love about life on the road is that if you get into good habits early, life is simple. So, each night before dozing off, and that's usually quite early, I pack all gear, fill water bottles, sort out the required maps and guide pages for the next day, polish my apples and nibble the edge of my pastries and chocolate to check that they're not stale. Then I can sleep. Doesn't stop me having disturbing dreams, though. Last night I dreamt that the roads I had chosen bore no resemblance to the roads on the map! Weird, but most nights I had similar dreams about the trip.

On the road by 8 and onto the A 48, encouragingly introduced by the guide as follows: “ riding along the Severn Estuary will take nerve. The road is plagued by heavy trucks and overtaking cars.”

 Enough to make you stay in bed, really. Or take a bus.

Maybe because it was a Sunday, the traffic was light, with few trucks. The going was rolly, with a steep climb out of Blakeney and a welcome zoom into Newnham where the road, having climbed far from the side of the Severn, drops back to the estuary.

The wind blew in my face, shrieking in my ears, flapping my jacket sleeves, slowing me down. For hours each day, it whistled up my nostrils and made my nose drip like a leaky tap.

Don't you know about the farmers' handkerchief?” asked Michael, one of my riding mates on the Lake Constance trip. Without waiting for an answer he put a finger over one nostril then blew out the drippy residue onto the road. Take it from me. It saves on handkerchiefs!

Rugby..... and the state of England today.....

At Westbury on Severn, I turned left off the A48 onto narrow lanes. At Upper Ley, two riders saw the NZ flag and wanted to talk rugby. Dad and son were warming up for weight training in the afternoon, the young man in the local rugby academy. They would love to send him to New Zealand, the “best rugby playing country in the world' ,were optimistic about the state of British rugby, and thought the Lions would beat the Australians ( they did). Then they pointed me in the direction to Birdwood.

After half an hour of easy riding along hedge-bordered trails, I stopped outside a cottage and asked a man mowing his lawn.

Excuse me. I'm looking for Birdwood.”

You're in it!”

We got into a long conversation, more talk from him than from me. He had a son in Sydney, doing well, just packed up all the machinery for his stone cutting business and took the lot with him. He'd never come back. And he had a nephew in New Zealand.

They were lucky they escaped this place. It's just not the same here as it was 30 years ago. I used to like it here, good health care, good public transport and it felt like a good place to live. People looked after each other. Now there are too many immigrants, not enough money, the government don't seem to know what they're doing. Too many restrictions. My niece is a teacher. Can't even give her little kids a hug these days or she could lose her job. Cost of everything way up there.”

He was a very nice man but very disenchanted. Maybe his son wrote him letters, as emigrants have for centuries, in praise of his life in warm, wealthy Australia and maybe the letters made his father restless and dissatisfied. 

Symonds Yat
We drove from Birdwood to Ross on Wye, a market town about 12 miles west, had a very happy reunion with Sharon and Brian who had driven 45 minutes from their Broadway home in the Cotswolds: we heard about their trip to Barcelona as we lunched on pork casserole and lemon and meringue pie, then drove south to Symonds Yat where David had booked us into the Forest View Lodge: beautifully located on the banks of the Wye, it was a little run-down and dated, just the sort of place Basil Fawlty would have felt at home in.

The ferry at Symonds Yat on the Wye River. Centuries ago, many rivers in England
would have had a ferry like this with a boat-man hauling the ferry across on a rope.

Weather - fair with a strong north easterly wind.

Distance today
Odometer, trip
2h 36m

Back to Birdwood – Monday 10 June

Big hills and a head-wind = slow, below- average riding.

No hills and a tail wind = glorious riding. And so it was today for the 50 kms from Birdwood, where David dropped me at 8.30 to Worcester: only slightly crinkly and very beautiful countryside and locals happy to talk..... the two mature women at Hartbury who told me that I sounded a long way from home when my accent betrayed my homeland. the cyclist from Malvern who I met in Ashleworth who recommended trekking on Mont Blanc, who would pay anything for a good cup of coffee but who was shocked at the 16 Euros he had to pay in Italy for an expresso. the totally charming, delicately perfumed, elegantly dressed woman at Forthampton who stopped her car at an intersection, walked over to specially ask me if she could help with directions.

Much of the riding into Worcester was along roads like this. I had stopped to talk to the ducks
 when the most charming woman stopped her car to chat and give me directions.

And like Jackie and her co worker, Paul with whom I ate lunch beside the river in Upton on Severn, whose narrow main street, old stone buildings and river-edge location started me thinking that I could live here for a while. Jackie had created a display of flowers in pots along the river and in town and Paul was painting the railing at the jetty. They had no desire to live anywhere else. “What more could it offer us?”

Jacqui on the river's edge at Upton on Severn with examples of her floral artisty.
Her co-worker was painting the railings in the background.

David had arranged to meet an old school-friend, Neil, who had traveled from his home in Wales for the rendez-vous, so I just had time to unpack and shower in the Severn View Hotel, buy a pair of cycling shoes, pose next to a statue of composer Edward Elgar, one of the town's favourite sons and bone up on the town: it has 100,000 citizens; is home to the Lea and Perrin Sauce makers ( guess which is their most popular sauce); was the site of the final 1651 battle between Oliver Cromwell and Charles 2 which marked the end of the reign of Charles who fled to France; and is known for its 12th century cathedral.

The Severn River at Worcester, looking towards the cathedral.
Towns were often built near rivers so that the river could sluice away debris, sewage....

With composer Edward Elgar whose father owned a music shop in this street.
Many of the medieval buildings have been cleared from the centre of Worcester.

Pizza with Neil
We dined on pizza, drank cider and the local ale, talked a lot. I found Neil excellent company, and learnt a lot about the EU, about Wales, Poland where he had lived, about conservation – he has planted trees on a wetland on his farm in Wales. Relationships between the Welsh and English were at times fractious, he said and told us of someone he knew, English, who bought a holding in Wales with oak trees along one border. Soon after he settled in, he found them cut down. He asked the neighbor who angrily affirmed that he was the culprit: “ this will show you what we think of English bastards” he sneered.

Pizza with Neil.

Weather-fine all day with a light TAIL wind which was most definitely welcome.

Distance today
Average Speed
Riding Time
Trip odometer
17.7 (tail wind)
39.5 (flat terrain)
2h 55m

Evening shot of the bridge over the Severn at Worcester.

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