Thursday, November 29, 2007

Gloucester to Hungerford Pt 2

Continuing from Pt 1

Peering out of my B&B window on Day 2, I could see that the weather had taken a turn for the worse with wall-to-wall grey skies and a distinct drop in temperature. This combined with the extremely (and wind-exposed) landscape of the Severn estuary meant that Saturday morning was probably the low point of the route. Perhaps on a sunny day this would be nice cycle, but even then the Avonmouth bridge (riding alongside the M5) would be a bit of a grind.

Thankfully, once you're over the other side the fun stuff begins. Following the Avon you wind your way towards Bristol through woods and with cliffs rising either side. Suddenly it felt a bit more remote (even though we were on the outskirts of major city). The route pleasantly rises and falls, and you can even (occasionally) kid yourself that your charging through some gnarly single track :-). With the lack of traffic I decided I could not stick my headphones and crank up the music.

Soundtrack: Client - Client

The Clifton Suspension Bridge announces the beginning of Bristol proper and soon you're passing converted warehouses and the SS Great Britain. One thing to beware of (particularly in the rain) are the disused railway tracks on the waterfront in Bristol. Even though they barely poke above the surface, they're treacherour if you don't cross them at an oblique enough angle, something I found out to my cost when I ended up sprawled on the ground.

I combined my need for (a) grub and (b) a spare chain link by visiting the excellent Mud Dock Cafe. It's part bike shop, part cafe and is about 50 yards off the route. Probably the only place I've eaten with a penny farthing dangling above my head and a copy of L'Equipe celebrating Armstrong's seventh Tour win in the bogs

The route then follows the Bristol-Bath Railway path, predictably along disused railway lines. The section immediately outside Bristol centre is a little dull, but the nearer you get to Bath the more rural and pleasant it gets. Fulfilling all my preconceptions of Bath I passed some posh kids cheering on the school rowing teams.

Soundtrack: Electric 80s - Various

After a brief stop in Bath, I push on along the Avon-Kennet canal in the hope of reaching of Bradford on Avon before dark. This turns out to be a vain hope, which is a shame as apparently this is one of the highlights of the route, taking you over aquaducts and surrounded by pretty hills. Also, it's a royal pain in the arse trying to spot 20 cm cycle route signs in the dark, with a weedy front light. Thankfully all the wrong turns I took soon left me in someone's driveway/front-garden/a forest, so I was able to correct myself before going to far off route.

Bradford turned out to be an ideal stopping point, being a well-to-do suburb of Bath with plenty of pubs, two Italians, an Indian and a bike shop.

PS - You can find all the photos of this trip at Flickr

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Gloucester to Hungerford Pt 1

Having previously completed the C2C and the Devon-Coast-to-Coast cycle routes, I decided to use up some holiday doing the "Gloucester-to-Hungerford-via-the-Avon-Kennet-Canal" or "GTGVTAKC" as I preferred to call it. The original plan was to go with my mate Barry, but unfortunately a nasty ear infection meant he had to stay behind in London while I caught the train up to Gloucester.

Gloucester seemed the very model of a sleepy cathedral town, it's quiet streets seeming a million miles (and approximately 3 decades) from modern-day London. Figuring I had an hour to spare, I spurned the cathedral and had a quick look round the (free!) Gloucester Folk Museum. Unfortunately I then had to spend a further 30 minutes trying to attach my new map holder to my bike. I'm not sure if I was doing something wrong, but in the end gave up and just wore the wap round my neck on a strap (which worked perfectly well)

The first part of the route follows canals and country lanes down the Severn Valley with the river itself occasionally hoving into view. Even though you only really see the beginning, it's nice to think you're following the course of the river. Unfortunately time constraints meant I didn't have time to stop at Slimbridge but had to crack on for the Village Farm in Elberton (my B&B for the night)

This first stage was nice enough, but I have to admit didn't really stir the soul. The terrain was mostly flat, 30 miles partially on pleasant country roads and partially on tow-paths. Having said that Elberton was nice, with a decent meal and beers in the White Hart.