Buckle up folks, I’m afraid this is another epic blog post. After days of no wifi, there’s a bit of catching up to do, so this one’s a long one!
Tuesday, June 9
Time to move on from our friendly guest house in Bourton-on-the-Water and continue our travels through the Cotswolds. Our last conversation with friendly Marco, the guest house owner, was last night as we sat in the lounge waging a three hour battle with the temperamental wifi that kept dropping out. He walked through, “How are you today? Y’oright? Everything alright? Have you done any cycling today?”
“No, we had a rest today.”
“Have you managed to put on any weight while you’ve been here? I do hope so. You can probably tell I like my food.”
“We gave it a darn good try!” I laughed.
I then told him what an absolute delight it had been staying there, from our first meeting in the car park, it had been a lovely stay. He thanked us and said it had been a pleasure and he left us with a cloud of friendliness and over all good cheer, wafting through the door behind him.
We rode off with the sun beginning to shine and with a forecast of 19C we were optimistic for a warm and pleasant ride. The wind was still making itself well and truly known though. We cycled out of the village and up the hills and came to the intersection for Upper Slaughter and Lower Slaughter. I had wanted to visit these villages because the names seemed so quintessentially Cotswold. We turned right and wheeled down into Lower Slaughter, which was one of the most enchanting villages we have seen so far. Very small, very quiet and peaceful and with chocolate box stone cottages. We swerved to avoid an elderly couple walking across the street, who had stepped off without looking. I thought it showed what a peaceful village it was, that they didn’t even think to look for traffic, much less silent traffic such as bicycles, they just strolled around and across the street without a thought to anything that may be on the road. I like the thought of a place like that!
We rode up a hill into Stow-on-the-Wold and the weather had turned decidedly chilly. Steve stopped to put on some socks and I added another vest to my layers. We stopped in a tea room for a cuppa and to look out at the village square. Stowe was another village that was very nice, but had its share of the tourist trade, so was a little less storybook than some of the others and a little more full of coach travellers. Nevertheless, it was a lovely village and we strolled around under grey skies and a biting wind, before rolling out of town.
As we were wheeling down the hill, we stopped again. Steve added a fleece to his layers and it was now absolutely freeeeezing!
“That’s an Arctic wind,” said Steve, and he was right, it sure felt like there were icicles hanging off it. The downhills were the worst because the freezing wind rushed at us and it was becoming a very uncomfortable ride. When we got to the bottom we stopped again and I added a puffer jacket. I was now riding in multiple layers, topped off with a layer of puff and Steve had multiple long sleeves. On we went.
We climbed a hill and looked across at the beautiful scenery again and past a paddock that was obviously the “nursery”, since it had three horses and three little foals lying down, all worn out from their new world exertion.
As we rode along I had now lost feeling in my toes! Despite socks, my feet were completely numb and felt like they’d had a shot of novocaine! I also had numb fingers, despite gloves.
“I can’t feel my feet!” I called to Steve.
“It’s freeeeezing,” he replied.
We rode into Moreton-in-Marsh to discover it was market day. The village was busy with market goers and coach arrivals, so we found a quiet little spot away from the bustle for a quick bite of elevenses.
We walked the bikes through the market and I enjoyed watching the people and listening to the store holders spruiking for trade. As I walked along, a lady saw us and said to me, “You’ve got the heaviest load!”
“It’s my turn to carry the kitchen sink,” I replied.
She gave a laugh and toddled off in the direction of the butcher who was letting all the shoppers know he had “Soom loovly pork chops terday.”
We rode on along quiet tracks and trails, through trees and along lanes and rode into Chipping Campden. This was a nice little village, a bit quieter than the others, with beautiful buildings. We sat on a bench to have some lunch and looked down on the comings and goings on the street. I looked across at the roofs and realised why, in any TV program that includes a vicar as a character, they always seem to be raising money for the church roof fund. I looked at the roofs on some of buildings in the main street and their centuries old slate and tiles did indeed look like they could do with some restoration! We had passed a few houses being worked on and people up on roofs doing maintenance or replacing entire roofs, and I’m sure they’re kept extremely busy with a job like that!
We continued on in the freezing cold, with me looking to the sky and willing the sun to peek out. It did every so often when a small chink in the grey appeared, but it was a short lived appearance.
“Come on sun! You can do it! Don’t be shy!” I called. It didn’t listen.
We took a turn West to have a look at Evesham and rode into the town and found a seat by the river to investigate campsites. We found one a little further on, out of town, and set off to see if we could find some shelter from the icy wind. The man who ran the campsite greeted us with a lovely, melodic Welsh accent and showed us to the section where we could pitch the tent. We found a spot beside a hedge, giving us a bit of a wind break and set up home, before warming up with a cuppa. It had been a nice ride, even though it had been a somewhat uncomfortable ride due to the Arctic temperatures we were riding in. It’s summer!
The day ended on a perfect note. We sat in the tent, rugged up with hoods over our cold heads and even colder ears, looking out along the grass and row of trees and hedges when an older man came walking along with his little terrier dog. He saw us and began walking towards the tent. I waved and said “Hello.”
“It’s goin’ ter be a cold one t’night,” he said, “six degrees it’s goin’ ter be.”
“Oh,” I said, and made an expression of resignation, while I stood up to greet him.
“Six degrees they said, a cold one. You coom far on those?” and he gestured towards the bikes.
“Yap, Yap, Yap, Yap, Yap, Yap, Yap…..” contributed the little terrier.
“Oooh, coom now,” the man said, reassuring the little dog that its alpha dog behaviour wasn’t necessary..
“Only 58km today,” I said, “but we’ve been on the road for three and half months, travelling through Europe and now we’re here in England and absolutely loving it.”
He was now standing right in the opening of the tent, with Steve sitting on a chair beside me and I was standing near the opening to talk to the man.
“Are you Australian!?” he asked with a tone of ‘by jove I think I’ve got it!’
“Yes,” I said, “from Tasmania.”
“D’you know what, I know soomthin’ of Australia.” That nice, friendly man then began singing Slim Dusty’s song ‘Pub With No Beer’! I joined in with the only few words of the chorus that I knew, “there’s nothing so lonesome, morbid or drear than to stand in the bar of a pub with no beer…” So there I was, standing in a quiet campsite on the outskirts of Evesham in England, with an elderly gentleman in a baseball cap, and a small black and tan terrier wearing a khaki winter doggie jacket, singing a duet of Pub With No Beer! I could never have foreseen experiencing that!
“I used to sing that one on stage,” he said after we’d concluded our musical partnership. “People used to coom and ask me for my lyrics and I’d say, it’s from Australia! It’s an Australian song! I know another one too.” He then began singing about mustering.
“Oh, I don’t know that one,” I said.
“It’s on t’other side. Pub With No Beer is one one side and Mustering’s on t’other. On t’other side yer see, it’s Slim Dusty y’know. Slim Dusty.”
“Yes,” we said. I clapped, “That was marvellous.”
“We’re from Coventry. Me and the wife.”
“Oh, we’re heading that way.”
“I’ll tell you a story about Coventry…” he then told us about the church beside the cathedral and how it had survived the bombing during WWII while the cathedral had burned, because the vicar and the verger had stood on the church roof all night throwing the incendiary bombs off, as each one fell and they managed to save the church. “There’s a plaque in there if you go in.”
“Well, we definitely will.”
“We’ve been coomin’ ‘ere for twelve years now.”
“It’s a lovely spot,” I said.
“Twelve years we’ve been coomin’. We coom on a Fridee and go home on a Thursdee, come on a Fridee and home on a Thursdee. But then the wife said that wasn’t givin’ her enough time to do the washin’, so now we go home on a Wednesdee and back on a Fridee so the wife has forty-eight hours to do the washin’.”
“It sounds like a perfect life,” I said.
“Well if you coom to Coventry, stop by for a cuppa tea. Stop by 17 Middlemarch Road, I have a view from the hill right across to the cathedral.”
“Well thank you very much,” we said.
We continued chatting. I tried to pat the little terrier but it wasn’t having a bar of us and just continued its vocal protests at having to stand there beside two obviously dodgy foreign characters such as us.
“ He’s ‘ad five owners ‘as this one,” the man said gesturing to the little terrier. “Five owners and he’s thirteen years old. We’ve ‘ad ‘im for eleven. I know why he’s ‘ad five owners, because he ‘as fits y’see. He ‘as fits and I reckon the other people didn’t want the ‘assle. I ‘ad two chihuahuas though that ‘ad fits so I was used to it. I didn’t give up on ‘im. I just give ‘im lots of love and affection and he loovs ‘is dad. He’s a real daddy’s boy.”
“Well, it looks like he’s found the perfect home now,” I said and it sure did, as the little fella stood beside the nice man, warm to the bone in his doggie version of a country squire’s jacket.
We finished chatting and that wonderful, friendly man strolled off with his little dog. “Well, ‘ave a good night,” he said in parting.
“Thank you,” we said, “thanks for popping by.”
I sat back down and saw Steve begin to count down with his fingers, as if he was expecting something to happen. One…two… He didn’t get to three. “I just love it!” I said. …three, counted Steve’s finger. He had been expecting my so often spoken words of delight and had been counting down in readiness. “How special was that!” I said, “these people! They are just so wonderful. I can’t believe that. What a special thing. What a lovely man. I just love it.” It was indeed a perfect end to the day. A delightful encounter with a friendly man and his little dog, who regaled us with song and story! Special.
A nice day. A scenic ride. Pretty villages. Friendly people. It just keeps rolling on!
Wednesday, June 10
We left our little camp by the hedge and headed back into Evesham for a look around, before moving on. This was a bigger town, less “Cotswolds” in its appearance and feel and without the lines of Cotswold stone houses and buildings. There were more timber framed buildings in the streets and the river ran right through the middle, which was lovely. We rode along the path by the river, passing some people walking, and we stopped by the river for a photo. As we stood there, a man walked up to us, wearing faded strawberry corduroy trousers, a calico shirt, small Moroccan style skull cap, a long beard and a friendly smile.
“Have you come far?” he asked, looking at the bikes.
“From Australia,” we said.
“That’s amazing,” he replied. He told us he’d done some long distance cycling too, through Turkey and Afghanistan. I thought that was amazing!
“You could have found somewhere nice than here!” he said, “you should have gone South!”
“Oh, we’re going to lots of different places,” we said, “we’ve been through Devon and Dorset.”
“Beautiful,” he replied.
We chatted a little more and he wished us well, gave us an enormous smile and a wave and off he went. We walked through the streets, looking around and spotted this same man again as he walked out of a shop. I waved, he gave a wave and another broad grin. The people are wonderful!
As we rode along the river in Evesham, I saw another sign that made me chuckle. I do like a local council with a sense of humour…
…decisions, decisions…how desperate are you for that pee? 75 yards desperate or can you hold on for the 750?
We left Evesham and made our way towards Stratford-Upon-Avon. For some reason we lost the cycle route, so we ended up on a main road for most of the journey, which didn’t leave much opportunity for photos and the time was mainly taken up with speed-pedalling with traffic behind us and traffic speeding past. It wasn’t too bad and we’ve ridden on busier roads than that, it was just a change from our peaceful cycle route. We also had another fierce headwind to contend with.
I saw a sign that made me stop and wonder about Steve! Are all the miles he’s clocking up with our travels not enough? Has he decided to do some moonlighting and fit in some extra miles as a cycle guide as well!?
We stopped in Bidford-on-Avon for a snack. The bridge was being repaired and was closed to traffic, but another bonus of travelling by bike is, at times like this we can cease to be “traffic” and shazam!… abracadabra!… kerpow!… turn into pedestrians! We walked the bikes over the bridge and passed some people walking towards us. One lady looked at me and said, ”By gosh, that’s a big load and you’re only little!”
A man said, “Gee you’re all loaded up!” I laughed and then after passing me, he passed Steve further down the bridge and I heard him ask Steve about where we were from. When Steve said Tasmania, I saw the man give a thumbs up and say, “Good on you mate!” I know I keep talking about the people we meet and repeating conversations, but honestly, the people are such a highlight, I feel like they deserve a mention!
The wind was still strong and we stopped beside the road to check out a possible campsite. As I pulled up beside Steve, he was bent over his handlebars and puffing. “I need to get out of that awful wind,” he said. It had been hard going. We decided to ride into Stratford and check out some more options for places to stay. As we rode in we saw the nice old timber framed buildings and if we looked beyond the touristy things, it was all really charming.
We stopped at a cafe, had some lunch while we did some research and set off to our chosen campsite…at the racecourse! We rolled in, found our pitch and set up tent looking across the racecourse. Our campsites have now been forests, fields, farms and…furlongs!
We walked along the River Avon to stroll back into the town for a spot of roaming and site seeing, but in the end it was getting a bit late and our roaming was cut short because we did something else instead, which was fantastic! We went to the theatre! We called into the box office to see what was playing and bought tickets to the evening’s performance, so with only 90 minutes before curtain, we power-walked back to camp, wolfed down some food and then rode the bikes back in to the theatre.
The performance was at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, home of the Royal Shakespeare Company and we saw a performance of Othello, with an absolute who’s who of a cast. It was BRILLIANT! Othello was played by Hugh Quarshie, who’s been in a string of TV and movies and was recently on Who Do You Think You Are. Iago was Lucian Msamati, who I’d remembered from an episode of Inspector George Gently and from his role as Mr J L B Matekoni in The Number One Ladies Detective Agency. Desdemona was Joanna Vanderham, who I’d seen as the lead character in the TV series The Paradise and the character of Emilia was played by Ayesha Dharker, who I’d most recently seen as the doctor’s wife in the TV series The Indian Doctor. The performances were just outstanding! I laughed, I gasped, I sat on the edge of my seat, I applauded and then applauded some more. It was so excellent and a fantastic experience. There we were in Stratford-Upon-Avon, home to Shakespeare, sitting in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre watching the Royal Shakespeare Company perform Shakespeare’s Othello, with an amazing cast and knock-your-socks-off performances! How special is that! We are so, so lucky!
It was a super day. A slightly shorter ride of 38km, a busy ride, but with a fantastic day’s end! We still haven’t had any time for really looking around Stratford, so we intend to do that tomorrow before setting off. So…with a Shakespearean “how now” and a “hey nonny nonny” we pedal on through our land of memorable experiences!
Thursday, June 11
“That’s an impressive looking tent. A very good design. It must do well in the wind. I’ve had wind blow my tent over. Now that reminds me of the great wind of 1989, or was it 1987? I think it was…1987. We had a hurricane here in England. Not here but down south. It blew trees over. The trees grow in chalk and they blew clean over and all that could be seen were lines of white, where the tree roots stuck up in the air, with all the chalk on them. Now, that makes me think about the great storm of…I think it was…1932, was it 1932?…Yes, I think it was 1932…great winds and flooding. You must have had a lot of wind on your ride so far…”
That was just a small part of the grand chat that began our day! A man who had camped next to us at the racecourse, strolled over in his khaki jacket, scarf knotted around his neck, grey beard glinting in the morning sun and carrying his thermos bottle of something pale pink and began talking to us about a whole range of things! He was so nice and friendly, but unfortunately he arrived while we were in the middle of trying to pack up and we were getting close to the time when we were supposed to have left the campsite and this friendly gentleman had well and truly settled in for a talk!
“I’ve just discovered these juice places [holding up the pink liquid in his bottle]. I’ve only just discovered them but someone is bound to tell me they’ve been around since 1934, before I was born, but I’ve only just seen them and they’re marvellous. The girl stands there and puts the fruit in the top of this amazing industrial looking machine and then uses an enormous conical device to push it all through the machine and VRRRRR…VRRRRRR…VRRRRR it goes and the pulp spits out one way and then you’re left with this marvellous juice. Now what have I got in here? Let me think…there’s spinach and sweet potato and beetroot and apple and pineapple and…now what have I forgotten..lime…now what else was there…let me think…
The conversation went on! He was a lovely man who liked to share very specific details about things and liked to stop and make sure he had got everything right and included every small piece of information! Steve and I, as politely as we possibly could, began edging towards the tent, hoping he may be starting to run out of conversation, because as much as I was enjoying the chat, we really did need to get packed up. He continued talking about all manner of things…his camping…his tours…the weather…Brighton…German tourists…Australian tourists…wind and his collision with a lamp post… It was a half hour conversation and it could have continued for a lot longer. He had settled in. It was a start to the day that really required seating and multiple pots of tea in order to give it the attention it needed and deserved. He was such a friendly man and it was so nice of him to just pop over for a chat. I wish we hadn’t had to worry about the packing up. So that’s how the day started!
We eventually loaded up and rode in to have a bit of a look around Stratford before beginning our forward progress. We rode over to Anne Hathaway’s cottage, then through he town streets and sat in the park in the sun for a while. Yes, it was another sunny day and a warm one too! It was great!
Our plan for the day was to ride to Harbury, near Royal Leamington Spa to visit Steve’s cousin Mike and his wife Rosemary who we had met for the first time recently when we had met up with Ghislaine. We rode out of Stratford and through the small village of Loxley. We were on the lookout for Robin Hood and scanned the forest, trees and vales to see if Robin of Loxley would make an appearance and swing gallantly from the trees in a pair of green tights and a fetching feathered cap, but alas, he did not appear. He was obviously off somewhere being merry with his men!
The ride then took us on some busy roads, but we also had some more lovely scenery. We stopped at a grocery store for Steve to pick up some lunch and there we met some more lovely, friendly people. As I stood with the bikes, a lady walked past me and said, “By golly that’s a load. You’ve got more than him! That must be tiring.”
“Yes, it can be going up the hills,” I agreed.
“You want one of those trailers. You know the ones, the trailers that you tow behind the bike. That’s what you want.”
“Yes, I’ve seen people with them,” I said.
“You want one of them,” she added again.
All I could think was, then I’d have the added weight of the trailer on top of the weight of all the bags, to lug up a hill! It was so nice of her to have had my interests at heart though! These gorgeous friendly people are everywhere!
With lunch now gathered, we rode around the corner and sat beside a sports field to have our munch and chew. As we sat there, a spaniel cam running up to say hello, with a cricket ball in its mouth. It walked around our legs, wagging its tail and soon a lady came along and called it.
“There’s nothing like a spaniel’s smile,” I said, “they have the best grins!”
“Yes,” she said, “she’s only just had an operation too, so she’s doing well.”
The lady then stayed and talked to us, asking about our trip and telling us about her two spaniels, her son in Scotland and suggesting places there for us to go and sharing stories of other Australians she’d met and her nephew that lives there. It was lovely. We sat there in the sunshine, with a this very friendly lady and her even friendlier spaniel and just talked about this and that. The “people highlights” just continue. It’s wonderful.
We continued riding and then a significant event happened…we both took OFF layers, instead of putting them on and for the first time in months we were both riding in a t-shrt! It was that warm! Magnificent! We pedalled into the village of Harbury and rode up to Mike and Rosemary’s house, where Rosemary welcomed us warmly. We stayed the night with them and their daughter Juliana and Rosemary made the most awesome vegan meal, and I had my fill of beans and vegetables and sautéed mushrooms and couscous with smoked peppers and kale salad and then went back for seconds. It was amazing! Then we had another treat of sleeping in a real house in a real bed and it was fantastic. Thanks Mike and Rosemary! We had a very pleasant evening of chatting and getting to know each other, meeting their menagerie of animals that ranged from chickens, to cats, dog, pigeons, fish and a bearded dragon and it was all thoroughly lovely, to feel welcomed and included in a family home.
It was a beaut day. It was full of enjoyable conversations with strangers and new family, nice scenery again and a leisurely, unrushed ride in the beautiful sunshine!
Day by day, things just continue to be wonderful and special and my grin is becoming somewhat fixed on my face! I think I’m adding some new wrinkles to my face as the smile lines become well and truly fixed in place! I think I’m happy to have those sort of wrinkles! If one has to look aged, it might as well happen with a smile!
Friday, June 12
After a super night’s sleep in a comfy bed, with no dawn light and tweeting birds penetrating the tent to force me from my slumber, I slept beyond 4:00am we arose and had a leisurely morning and breakfast with Rosemary, Mike and Juliana. All too soon though, it was time to leave and continue pedalling. We were heading for Coventry, only a short ride away, but the plan was to arrive early so we could catch a train to Birmingham, so Steve could go to the Brooks factory and get a replacement for his broken bike seat. The beginning of the route took us along the busy Fosseway, which Mike had only just warned us about the day before, telling us not to cycle on it because it was so dangerous and narrow and winding and the drivers were lead foots and used it as a racetrack and there were multiple accidents every year! We now found ourselves on this terrifying stretch of bitumen!
“We’ll just go steady,” said Steve. I hugged the line on the side of the road as closely as I could and the trucks and cars seemed to nudge my elbow as they zoomed past. The drivers were actually quite brilliant though. Yes, they were flying past, but they also sat behind us patiently and waited until they could go around us and then gave us a wide berth. They were very gracious and even though it was a slightly unnerving start to the ride, I have nothing but thanks and gratitude for those drivers.
We eventually made it onto a quieter road and ploughed into a fierce headwind. We’ve decided to hire ourselves out to yachtsman and wind farms and anyone else who needs a strong gust of wind. It doesn’t matter where we go or what direction we’re going, we always have a headwind! So yachties…here we are…just set us up on some rails on the deck and we’ll start pedalling and you can be assured that a mighty wind will blow directly into our face! Whatever direction you need to go, just turn us around and the wind will change and keep blowing into our face! Maybe that’s the one and only way we could make it to the Olympics or the America’s Cup! Forget that secret winged keel, we can be the new secret weapon! The country that has the pedalling Tassie Tourists on their boat, will have a definite performance enhancing addition to their team!
Pretty soon we arrived in Coventry. We sat on a bench to decide where to stay. Steve said he really wanted a “slob day” this weekend. “I just want a day to slob around in a hotel room and rest and catch up on things,” he said. So we found a hotel and, since the weather forecast for tomorrow is for heavy rain, thunderstorms and a temperature of “13C feels like 10C” issued by the Met office, it’s probably not a bad time to be within solid walls. We also needed to find somewhere with wifi, so we had to be in hotel again, just for that!
We wheeled the bikes into the foyer and checked into the hotel. While Steve was at the counter, I stood beside the bikes and a couple of police officers walked in. I then had a lovely chat with them, when one of them commented on the load on the bikes. They asked where we’d been and one told us about his trip to Australia and how much he loved it and hadn’t wanted to leave. It was a very nice chat to a couple of friendly members of law enforcement!
We went for a stroll around Coventry and visited the ruins of the cathedral that had been bombed during the Blitz. It was quite a moving experience to sit there in the ruins. I think the fact that the ruins are still there, rather than a rebuilt cathedral, made it particularly emotional. It was almost eerie to look up and see the broken stained glass windows, the holes in the walls and stone and I just thought to myself, how terrifying. How utterly terrifying that night must have been. I sat on a bench and just looked up at the shell of the building around me and tried to put myself in that place during that event. It was now a peaceful place and a very moving place.
After roaming around the city, we strolled back to the hotel and settled in. I know Steve is looking forward to his so called “slob day” tomorrow, but I reckon we’ll still venture out and explore a little further. We’ll wait and see if the thunderstorms make an appearance! Oh, and we didn’t end up getting to Birmingham to collect a new saddle for Steve, because the factory closed at lunch time on Friday! Thwarted again! Steve’s sore rear end continues a little longer. We’ll have to come up with a Plan B! In the meantime we shall have a Saturday of rest, comfort, shelter, warmth and no wind…is that cheating? Is a little extra treat allowed? I reckon so.