Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Cycle Touring Day 17

Having fallen slightly behind where I had wanted to be after Day 15 and 16, I knew today would have to be quite a long one in order to help me catch up. Although I didn't have a deadline to make it home by and with a least three or four days to spare before the start of the next leg, I didn't want to end up having to camp close to home with only a few kilometres left to go on the final day.

There was a fair bit of rain overnight but the tree protected me from the majority of both the wind and rain, so the tent was practically dry when I woke. I set off early and soon discovered that the biggest of the hills and mountains were now behind me. Although I would not have made the final 30km or so before it got dark last night, not knowing what was ahead of me when I made the decision to camp early last night, was the right one.

The first 55km or so today was very easy going. Plenty of time to enjoy the blue sky and sunshine and snap some lovely, colourful photos. A field covered in yellow rape seed really does add a splash of glorious colour to the landscape - I just wish I had the knowledge and equipment to capture it better. Still, as snaps go, I am pretty happy with the pics I am getting so far although they never really seem to recreate fully, just how beautiful the landscape is.

After a few small hills between 60km and 80km, the riding was again easy and fun and even knowing I had quite some distance to cover today, I knew I should find it no problem as I had already had a long day in the saddle on Day 5. I knew today wouldn't be quite as far as the 150km that day, but with the going so easy, it seemed to be a breeze. I also got to cycle a long a stretch of road I had wanted to for a long time - Ermin Street - which is an old Roman road.

Around the 100km mark, everything changed. A ruddy great hill appeared out of nowhere! The climb seemed relentless and when I thought I was at the top, it changed direction and carried on for half the distance again. At the top the wind had really picked up too but for the next 10km or so I wound my way back down via the scenic route and even enjoyed a tailwind for much of the way. All was good once again. But towards the end of the descent, I realised something was not quite right!

Somehow I had been going the wrong way! How on earth did that happen? The Garmin Sat Nav had been performing perfectly so far. Turn after turn I followed it and I never once put a pedal wrong. I was not letting it dictate my routes though of course, as I had painstakingly mapped out every single ride (as I have done until December this year), so I knew roughly where I should be heading. But on this occasion, rather than cycling south east from Gloucester to Cirencester, I found myself in Stroud!

Initially, I could not figure out how on earth I had cycled south west, in the wrong direction for so long without noticing. Admittedly, I had not been paying too much attention to the Sat Nav and had really just been following the road. Then it dawned on me, the promise of that scenic route had distracted me and sent me off course! Now I was in a pickle. The campsite I wanted to reach was now even further away that it had been an hour previously, so in order to correct my mistake before it got too late, I boarded a train at Stroud and alighted at Swindon. It was only a 30 minute journey but it put me back roughly where I needed to be. Crisis averted, or so I thought, but as we pulled into Swindon station the sky turned black and the heavens opened!

I only had about 20km to cycle to reach camp and still had an hour and a half, of what should have been daylight, to do it in. But it was really dark, wet and windy now too. I struggled up out of Swindon and passed a couple of B&B's, which I briefly considered spending the night in, but pressed on. Just out of town the weather was at its worst so I pulled into a pub, which, according to the road signage offered accommodation, I found out however that it no longer did so. Bugger! I pressed on.

The next 10km took me an hour to do and with another 10km still to go, it was going to be touch and go whether I would make camp or not. The downpour had eased and was now just a light drizzle but I was cold and wet and just wanted to stop. At that point, if I really pushed, I would still make camp just as the light was fading and would have just enough time to set up the tent etc. But then, in front of me, another hill appeared and my heart and energy levels sank to rock bottom. I was now going to have to wild camp for the first time on the trip.

Luckily, however, I was in the middle of nowhere. There was not a soul in sight, so I cycled down a pot-holed track, away from the road and found a little copse. I didn't relish the idea of wild camping, without having psyched myself up for it, but now I had no choice. Besides, I had to get my first wild camping experience out of the way at some stage. The the thoughts of those B&B's I had passed earlier entered my head. I could have been cleaned and be in a warm bed now had I not been so stubborn and pressed on. Even as I was unpacking the tent, I considered giving the hill one last push to reach camp. I even took the bike back out onto the track to have a bother look at the climb, but it was not pretty dark now so I really had no choice but to camp.

I found myself a clear patch, away from all the fallen branches and twigs and was soon inside the tent. I dug out my little wind-up head torch and set about getting changed and organised and into my sleeping bag. Within 30 minutes or so I was all set. There was an owl fairly close by and along with the rustling of tree branches, they were the only noises. I was a still little apprehensive but I felt safe and got ready to sleep. All of a sudden my tent was lit up with lights from outside and I froze! Had someone seen me leave the road? Getting disturbed when wild camping is the last thing one wants, especially the first time! I could also hear a car engine and I must admit that a little bit of panic began to set in. The lights seemed to be shining right onto the tent and I expected to be hearing voices at any moment. After only a moment or two though I was back in darkness. It had obviously just been a car driving down the lane. As it turned out, that was to be the only disturbance all night and other than being woken a few times by torrential rain, my first wild camping experience passed by without incident. Thankfully!

Yet again I had another campsite all to myself. For all intents and purposes I may as well be wild camping.

With colours and views such as these...

...it is very difficult to keep on pedalling by sometimes!

Here's a curious little item - the Bee Shelter at Hartpury built in the mid 19th century by bee-keeping stonemason and quarry master Paul Tuffley and restored in 2002.

The Bee Shelter is situated in the grounds of Hartpury Church.

One particular grave in the churchyard is also curious as it contains the remains of nine Dominican nuns and two of their chaplains. Apparently, it is rare to find members of Roman Catholic orders buried in an Anglican churchyard.

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