Early on Saturday morning I heard my daughter and her friends arrive home from their Friday night out. I glanced at the clock: 3.30am. Oh dear, I thought, only an hour before my alarm goes off.
My bike and I (it doesn’t have a name, or a gender, in case you were wondering) needed to catch the 5.30 train from our local station in order to catch the 6.30 from Waterloo to Southampton. And so it came to pass that I was preparing to leave the house barely an hour after my daughter had gone to bed!
It wasn’t that I really needed to be in Southampton quite that early, but in the micro-universe that is the UK’s railway system the early bird catches the cheap seats!
Leaving Southampton shortly after 8am the temperature was already picking up – it was going to be a ‘scorcher’ as The Sun would say. I headed to the Test Way (aka NCN246), a route for cyclists and walkers following a disused railway along the Test valley.
While it was good to be away from the heaving traffic and industrial hinterland of Southampton, and shaded form the sun, I’ve now experienced quite a few of these railway paths and, delightful as they are, riding along too many can become a bit repetitive. And I’ve grown to feel the same about canal towpaths too: at first the whole environment is quaint, peaceful and impossibly idyllic, but one canal lock is very much the same as another, and there are only so many original double-entendre narrowboat names. Eventually the novelty wears off and you, and your wheels, find yourself yearning for smooth tarmac.
So now I find myself increasingly drawn towards the network of narrow country lanes that criss-cross most of the country. They’re largely shunned by motorised traffic, but take you through interesting villages, some with names that sound more Middle Earth than Middle England. (today, along the way, I spotted signs for Middle Wallop, Picket Piece, Hurstbane Tarrant, Enham Alamein and Crux Easton)
It was way too early for lunch when I arrived into Andover (another cracking name for a town – anybody opening a bank there must be asking for trouble!). But when you’re a cyclist it’s never too early for lunch, so I grabbed lunch there at 11, and was back on the road by midday.
The afternoon involved much more on-road than off-road, and I rolled into my campsite a couple of miles outside Newbury with plenty of time to put up my tent, have a shower and lounge around for a while as the Cow and Cask were not expecting me until early evening. I even found time to take pose-y pictures of myself outside my tent using the self-timer on my camera.
It was then a short ride into Newbury town centre to visit the Cow and Cask. I’ll do a write up about the pub itself at a later date, but suffice to say, landlord Ian has set himself up and excellent little micropub with a great set of customers, meaning that I spent a very enjoyable couple of hours there.
Ian and Karen had also organized a 100 micropub sweepstake which had sold out and raised over £50 for Alzheimers Society. Thanks so much for your support! Curiously, the pub name on the winning ticket was The Just Reproach, one of two other pubs that had also run a 100 micropub sweepstake? What are the odds of that? (I meant that as a hypothetical question, but the answer’s 1 in 50)
At one point a local press photographer came down. He wanted to do something creative so we took all kinds of shots of me riding my bike past the pub doorway with Ian leaning out passing me a pint on the move, a bit like a drive-thru McDonald’s. But without cars, and without junk food… OK, so nothing at all like it really! I look forward to seeing the results – it will certainly make a refreshing change from all the photos of me grinning inanely while propping up the bar with a pint in my hand – Nigel Farage eat your heart out!
Back in my tent, while trying to get to sleep in the still balmy heat, I could hear rumblings of thunder in the distance.