Days pass slowly when preparing for a trip. Endless sorting, arranging and preparing has to happen and the day when we start never seems to get any nearer. But it has finally arrived.
On Saturday I got my second Covid vaccination. Only time will tell if this is a passport to freedom or a temporary licence before the next virus variant arrives and we all go back into lockdown.
Then on Sunday we put the panniers on the bikes, hugged Becky (who was up to see us off) and set off, cycling from home to Kidderminster station. Of course, the heavens opened and rain descended on us aplenty. We arrived duly soaked. This is cycling in the UK. We have cycled through hardly any rain on our trips in the last few years as we have chosen “dry seasons”. There is no such thing in the UK – rain has the potential to fall throughout the year. It is just mildly warm rain in the summer (at least that is what we hope).
Drying out on the train we ambled towards Birmingham on the Chiltern line – masks duly worn. Once we reached Snow Hill the train stopped and the guard informed us that a death on the line at Haddenham had, in effect, closed the line. This type of news always sets off mixed emotions. Sadness for a person we have never met who chose to take his or her own life – imagining the private hell in the mind before that happens. However, that is tempered by the immediate recognition that our travel plans need to be changed.
Luckily there are 2 train lines to London from the second city and so we cycled across to New Street and presented our tickets to the barrier staff who seemed to know that Chiltern service was suspended and they had to accommodate the oiks who had opted for cheaper services on their fast (but expensive) “Avanti” trains. I still think of this as the Virgin line but, of course, they lost the contract to run the service a few years ago due to having a deficient pension fund. I imagine the accountant who thought that was a good way to save a few millions is now pursuing career options elsewhere.
But the main line was much busier and we felt a tad uncomfortable being in close-ish proximity to so many people. The virus has led to social distancing and that has changed the mindset. However, we persevered and were soon on the way. As we headed to London, Bernie decided (rightly) we should do lateral flow tests to check we were virus free and so we did the checks.
Then to Lewes on the train and a reunion with Bernie’s sister and her husband and our two nephews. It was great to see them and catch up. we have not seen them in person for 18 months although they have observed us growing older on zoom at regular intervals. They are busy planning for Katie’s wedding next weekend. Unfortunately numbers are still restricted to 30 so our attendance will be restricted to zoom. We hope they have a wonderful day.
We left at about 8.30am the following morning – all packed up and ready. First stop was Tescos in Lewes for lunch stuff and then adjustments to Bernie’s gears. Train travel always seems to put out the gearing and so fiddling with the settings is needed.
Lewes is a lovely town (home to the famous Professor Chris Whitty I am told – everyone has to live somewhere) but the hills in the town are mega steep. Town planners please note – having 18% hills in the middle of a town is pretty anti-social for cyclists. A little planning and forethought would be appreciated, particularly as we were hardly warmed up. But the architecture made up for the gradient.
Then off along a route to the North of the downs. Most of the roads go north-south around here and so there is a limit to the number of east-west roads as we cycled with these hills on our left hand side. Some were delightful minor roads, with hugely expensive houses and well-kept gardens which we peeped into as we passed. Others were more major roads. The South East of England is, of course, densely populated and there are lots of cars, vans, trucks and even a few tractors. Most commercial vehicles gave us a fair berth but some 4×4 drivers do not seem to understand the width of their own vehicles. In a famous scene from Ben Our there is chariot racing in ancient Rome where some of the chariots had bits sticking out of the axles which they then steered into an opponent to cause mayhem. There are times when I feel the paintwork of a close passing 4×4 could do with the same treatment.
We stopped for coffee at a beautiful pub, nestling at the foot of the downs. There we met 2 women riders from the Brighton Mitres cycling club who were sussing out rides as leaders of women only cycling trips. They were great company and were full of stories about life on the road. To our slight embarrassment they insisted on buying our coffee for us – we can just about cope with that level of embarrassment! If either are reading this – thanks, happy cycling and it was a pleasure to meet you.
We ambled on towards Steyning, at which point there was a cloudburst. Raining in Steyning! It cleared and we pottered on and, just outside the village we climbed a delightful minor road towards a large country house. But the road finished at Wiston House, in Wilton Park, a manor house maintained by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for international diplomacy events. They may be able to sort out world peace here but they could, may I suggest, do that without closing the road and causing cyclists to have to divert back about 5km into the village! We meekly obeyed the disembodied voice on the entry-gate who told us that entry was verboten.
We reached Storrington for a sandwich lunch – memories of coming here to see the Bishop of Arundel and Brighton in a former life came back to me as we sat on a bench in the sunshine. Lovely village but lots of traffic.
Then we made our mistake of the day. When planning this ride I had set the route to go along a gravel track to avoid a major hill. It was still a minor hill but much smaller. But I had misremembered and thought it was the other side of Arundel. So, we carried on along the road to avoid the little hill and tackled the much bigger hill instead. At one point we stopped and looked back to a sign which said the hill we had just climbed was 17%! But the good side of this was a glorious descent.
It was lovely and sunny as we pedalled into Arundel, passing the cathedral, castle and a priest floating along the pavement in full top to toe garb (giving the distinct impression of moving on wheels of course). Legs were feeling weary but we had the glorious moment of being able to go inside a café for the first time in so many months and had tea and delicious cakes.
The next section was flat and sunny – but wind against us of course – but part was along the coast. We arrived at old friends Al and Catherine for a lovely evening and delicious home cooked curries. A great ending to our first day on the road and the first real day out in the world.