Friday, February 13, 2009

London (well, Staines) to Oxford

My mate Barry and I cycled the Thames Valley route from Staines to Oxford this weekend (with an overnight in Pangbourne). As you might expect, the weather added some interesting aspect to the ride, but it was still do-able (with some pushing, some slow cycling and some giving up the official route and just taking the road). It's a mixed route taking in Thames-side cycling, some lovely rural bits on Berkshire and a bit of the usual "creative accounting" off-road routes that Sustrans specialise in (through housing estates, car-parks, etc)

4 Bad Things About This Weekend.

1. Mysterious Exploding Inner Tubes. Before we'd even left London, Barry had destroyed two inner tubes (waking up his neighbours in the process). Had they got caught on the rim ? Was there something sharp inside the tyre? Was the gauge on his track pump a couple of bar low? We suspect the latter, but can't say for sure. Oh well, it only seemed to set us back an hour-and-a-half.

2. Snow and Ice. A lot of the route was surprisingly clear or gritted, but anything that took us through Windsor Great Park, round the back of Didcot Parkway or down pathways into Oxford was a treacherous landscape of thawed and refrozen snow. Good job I put my new slick tyres on last week!!

At best this took our average speed down to 3 or 4 mph while we struggled to keep upright and at certain points we just had to get off and push.

3. Trying To Get Our Bikes On A Train From Reading to Pangbourne With 50 Million Reading Town FC Fans. Barry got on, I could not. At least it meant I got to bomb along the A34 on the bike trying to catch-up the train.

4. No Local Beer in Pangbourne. Half the fun of a bike ride away from home is being able to drink Ye Olde Goat's Nadger's Ale from the local brewery. Only London Pride and Courage in the otherwise good George Hotel, although I did end up remembering how much I like London Pride.

4 Good Things About This Weekend

1. Cycling Through The Snow Covered Landscape of Berkshire. Most of Sunday morning involved cycling down nicely cleared country-lanes, surrounded by pristine snow-covered fields and woods. In particular,
at one point we came out of a wood onto a hillside that seemed to look down onto much of Oxfordshire, with Didcot Parkway being the only thing to break up the white blanket covering the landscape. London seemed very far away and it felt far more like the Peaks or Lakes than the South-East.

2. Slicks Coping On Ice and Snow. No punctures either

3. Wildlife Following Us. As well as rabbits running across the frosty fields to our side, a bird of prey (possibly a Buzzard) followed us on-and-off for a couple of miles around Wallingford. Obviously we must have been looking weak and vulnerable at this point (at least until our pub-lunch)

4. Getting 15 "Mornings". When overtaken by the local cycle club out for their Sunday morning run.

Overall it was a good ride, with the Sunday morning the undoubted highlight. Inevitably for a Sustrans route going through urban areas, some of it tended towards alleys and pathways that can reduce your average speed somewhat and aren't necessarily that picturesque. If I was doing it again, I'd probably try and swap some of these out, for more rural lanes.

If you go expecting something like the C2C or the Devon-Coast-to-Coast, you'll probably be disappointed by the extent to which our crowded corner of the island is now dominated by man's footprint, but for an easily-organised weekend out of London, it was a lot of fun.


matt said...

For anyone else thinking of doing this route, I'd add the following tips.
- the route is generally well signposted, but the Sustrans Thames Valley map is worth it's price
- the London-Oxford Bike Ride book had loads of errata pasted in the back, but was nice to have for background on the places we went through and points-of-interest. Not as necessary as the map though.
- remember if weather's been bad, any of the off-road bits may be quite slow-going

baz carter said...

It's been a long time plan of mine to do London to Bath via the Kennett and Avon canal. Have you tried this?

matt said...

I've done part of that (Bath to Hungerford) as part of a ride from Gloucester to Hungerford. Unfortunately I planned my time quite badly and ended up cycling along the canal from Bath to Bradford-on-Avon in the dark, missing the apparently pretty Dundas Aquaduct, as well as struggling to spot the signs directing me off the canal (I ended up in someone's back garden).

The 16 locks at Caen Hill are fun, although if you coming *from* London you'll be whizzing down, rather than slogging up :-)