Banksy, Beer and a Bag of Nails

Day 134: Bristol England, Thursday August 31st

What a glorious end to August. Sunny and warm. We saw Bristol at its best and we loved it.

The first people I noticed when we set out were a couple of big older dudes, one with a short mohawk and the other with a large nose ring, just back from a shop. I knew right away that Bristol would be interesting.

The city feels vibrant and exciting. It’s an excellent place to people-watch. We walked all the way back into the centre of the city and saw the ruins of Bristol Castle. We popped into St. John on the Wall, a church and crypt built right into the old, original walls of the city.

There is street art everywhere, and much of it is excellent. This is Banksy’s city, and part of our tour was seeing his work around town.

 

Banksy downtown

 

Stik and others

We had a pint on the Grain Barge, a floating craft beer bar. From there it was only natural to walk around the rest of the waterfront, which is full of interesting shops, cafes, bars and artist workshops.

Deb surprised me by taking me to Aardman Studios headquarters: the people who created Wallace and Gromit. There’s no gift shop, but Deb bravely asked the receptionist if we could pop in for a photo with the life-sized models of the characters. We got buzzed in and I nearly peed myself looking at what an amazing space they have.

At the M Shed, museum of Bristol, we saw another Banksy, and lots of other things about the city. It’s home to Sustrans, the organization responsible for all the national cycle routes, so we saw displays about the long history of bicycles in Bristol.

Jasmine had recommended a pub called the Bag of Nails, but only if we liked cats. Sure enough, the place is crawling with them. Real Ales and friendly kitties. We loved it. I also loved all the rules posted on the walls: No stupid xmas sweaters, no selfies, etc. I took note, in case I ever open a pub. The owner was a crank after my own heart.

The long walk back to Easton involved hunting out the rest of the Banksy works. Some of his earliest stuff is in Easton, so it was like a trip back through his (their?) history.

That evening we met Jasmine’s partner, Dan. They were preparing to have guests over to watch the season finale of Game of Thrones. They kindly invited us to join, and we would’ve loved to, but we haven’t seen a single episode of this season yet. They even offered to close the door to their living room so we wouldn’t hear spoilers, but we just plugged our ears and said “la, la, la” for the duration.

Distance: 0

$107

Easton Eden

Day 133: Gloucester to Bristol England, Wednesday August 30th

Tony provides breakfast: cereal, toast, and a delicious cheese omelette, all washed down with real coffee. It really helped us get started on a day that looked to be pretty dark and rainy.

We rode all day on NCN 41 and 4. The rain was really just a light mist, and we got a little show when we reached the canal. A couple of small boats were going by and a guy was operating the swing bridge. We didn’t mind the wait. We chatted with the guy about how the canal system works and it was interesting to see how he hand cranked the old mechanism to swing the bridge back into place.

The route along the canal was a bit rough, but pretty. After that it was mostly quiet roads. The rain stopped and we took our lunch break in a town called Hill, which didn’t really have one.

A road closure forced us to take a busier road a little out of our way, but we ended up getting a very good view of the Severn Bridge and the Welsh coast.

When we got to Bristol we hit big hills. We had to push our bikes a couple of times, and there was very little time spent on level ground until we got on the Bristol/Bath cycleway which follows an old rail bed.

Our Airbnb was in Easton. Our host Jasmine was very nice and we settled in quickly. She gave us some Bristol tips, including where to shop for food.

On our shop we discovered Easton’s main street, which is a little like Queen St of old. The grocery store had a lot of Indian stuff, and we ended up having some boil-in-the-bag curries and rice.

Elderberries grow along the roadsides here. Couldn’t resist picking some.

Distance:

$81

Loopy

Day 132: Worcester to Gloucester England, Tuesday August 29th

There was a light rain falling as we rode through Worcester looking for cycle route 45. Once we located it we made good progress along the canal to the pretty Diglis Marina and then out into the countryside.

We had noticed on the Sustrans site that the section of the 45 we were doing had two loops – places where we could take a left or right fork. The route description says absolutely nothing about this stretch of the route. In fact, I think it worth mentioning that the description of cycle route 45 is three paragraphs long (for 270 miles of cycle route). There is not one word about the route between these two cities. We love you Sustrans, but come on.

With nothing else to guide us, we decided to take the shorter of the two options at both loops. At the first loop, just south of Pirton, I missed the turn where the diverged paths met up again, and we continued back around the other side of the loop. We almost did a full circle before Deb realized what was happening and we turned back. Did I mention that it was raining and that my phone was broken?

The fork we took at the next loop took us into Tewksbury, which is a fairly big town. We figured that the other fork was longer, but avoided the busy streets. We needed to buy something for lunch, and Tewksbury seemed pretty enough, so we were still happy with our decision.

But after we left the high street, we couldn’t find any markers for route 45. Deb struggled with her phone and we had to turn back to find the little road we’d missed. Then that little road turned into a dirt path. This can’t be right, we thought. Deb checked again. The route was supposed to cross the river we were riding beside. But there was no way across. Back to where the little road starts we found a tiny note stuck on a pole, with a number for ferry information. Deb couldn’t get a signal, but we’d just been down the road and seen no sign of a ferry. A ferry? Where on the map does it indicate a ferry? Nowhere.

Even backtracking proved difficult, and when we got turned around again, Deb just about gave up. It was still raining.

But my warrior princess figured it out. And though it was a long detour, it was actually a pretty pleasant ride. And the rain stopped. Still, it was a pretty quiet lunch we ate in front of St. Peter Church in Bushley.

There were no more major problems (though there was a very muddy bridle path) until we got to Gloucester. We muddled our way though the city without too much difficulty, and even stopped at a canal-side brewpub near the docks.

The rest of the ride was along the canal, with no cars, just joggers, other cyclists, and dog walkers. We had to stop a couple of times to work our way through the suburban neighbourhood of our Airbnb, but we managed to get there before the sun went down.

We were greeted by Tony Latham, a retired filmmaker who now writes books, makes beer and wine, and has an incredible little garden where he grows more stuff than I would have believed possible. He also keeps a pretty great two room B&B. Our room had a view of the canal and an en suite shower and toilet.

Tony made us tea and we got to know each other. His movies were multi-language development films made in third world countries. He has been to many amazing places, including parts of Africa that are not easy for foreigners to see. His favourite places were Tuvalu and Bhutan. And he cans the fruit that he grows himself and fishes in the canal. I think Deb really felt at home.

Distance: 72 km

$124

 

Another Phone Bites the Dust

Day 131: Stratford-upon-Avon to Worcester England, Monday August 28th

Cycle route 5 out of Stratford is very nice, but it also goes a long way north before coming back down into Worcester. We decided that we’d take the 5 for awhile, and then make our own westerly route along some small roads, cutting the corner.

At one point we saw signs for a ‘ford’ and weren’t quite sure what it meant but it soon became clear. The river just ran right over the road. Thankfully there was a path around for pedestrians and bicycles.

One annoying thing we’ve encountered lately on the cycle routes are gates that are nearly impossible to get through with our loaded bikes.

In the tiny, pretty village of Sambourne we had lunch on a bench on the green. Across from us was an intriguing place called the Green Dragon Inn. We had to check it out.

After an ale in the beer garden, we left route 5 and headed west. It started out great: through Astwood Bank and Feckenham. And then Google Maps sent us down a dark steep hill filled with potholes. The juddering shook my phone free of the garbage mount I bought in Berlin (do not purchase a PNY phone mount!). Deb retrieved it for me, but the glass was shattered and it would not turn on. I even managed to get a tiny shard of glass stuck in my thumb, which I didn’t get out until we were in our hotel room.

Now with two dead phones in my handlebar bag, Deb was left as map girl, relying on her trustworthy, but relatively ancient Nexus 4. Without a mount of her own (and there was no way she was putting her phone on mine!) we had to stop a few times to check where we were, but it wasn’t too long before we found cycle route 45 and it took us right into the heart of Worcester.

We stayed at a hotel, a rarity for us, but it had an affordable room (better than the Airbnb places available) and it was right downtown. It was an old place, but really very charming, with a nice central staircase. Our room was stuffy, but big.

We hurried out and found a mobile phone repair place. The guy said it wasn’t worth fixing and tried to sell me a new phone. A few doors down was the Carphone Warehouse, which is the outfit I bought the phone from in Aberdeen. No, it’s not insured. No we can’t wait seven to ten days to get it fixed. The nice young man said I should try yet another mobile repair joint, where it likely could be fixed faster and cheaper, but voiding the warranty. We rushed a couple of blocks over, as everything was starting to close. This guy gave me two quotes, one for a new Samsung screen, one for a knockoff, and both were higher than Carphone Warehouse. I didn’t even bother asking how long it would take, it just wasn’t worth the money. I’ll live without a phone for a few weeks.

It was the last day of the Worcester festival, which meant that when we did our usual walkabout, we discovered a pretty good Dixieland jazz band playing at a riverside square. People were already picking our their spots to watch the 10 pm fireworks. We sat on some stone stairs and listened to the music while people watching but didn’t last until the fireworks.

Distance: 50 km

$106

Wisely and Slow

Day 130: Long Itchington to Stratford-upon-Avon England, Sunday August 27th

When we woke up sunlight was streaming into the tent andwe were starting to cook. I’m not complaining; it was fantastic. We ate breakfast at our picnic table in short sleeves. We had found summer at last.

It was a short ride west on cycle route 41 to Royal Leamington Spa, which is a posh little place. We stopped and took a break in a big park full of picnickers and families out for walks.

A little farther west we hit Warwick, which has a strange break in the cycle route. We discovered that it was likely because the streets are narrow, busy, and steep. I think the Sustrans people responsible for UK’s cycle routes just threw up their hands and said, “There is no good way through this town, we’ll just let the cyclists figure it out for themselves”.  We pushed our bikes on the narrow sidewalks for several blocks. Even then, there were places where crossing the street was tricky. We also popped into a pub.

Deb found us the 41 on the other side of town, and we were now headed pretty much south to our destination: Shakespeareville.

Our Airbnb in Stratford-upon-Avon was pretty fancy, with a big, bright room and washroom all to ourselves. No kitchen access though, and though our hosts seemed nice, we didn’t really see much of them.

We walked into town, stopping at a Tesco to buy sweet potato pies and a discount sandwich for dinner. The city was full of people out enjoying the weather.

They don’t have food trucks here, just food boats

We toured the streets, and took pictures of Shakespeare’s birthplace. At the Garrick Inn, a pub which claims to be both the oldest in Stratford, and haunted, we had a cask ale before walking back to the B&B.

Distance: 

$

Long Itch

Day 129: Leicester to Long Itchington England, Saturday August 26th

That’s not a typo, we camped in Long Itchington, or Long Itch to locals.

Our day started with a simple breakfast in Leicester, followed by the making of beds and vacuuming the room. Stewart, the Airbnb host gives you a choice: do these chores or pay a £7 cleaning fee to his paypal account. Naturally, we went the cheap route.

Getting out of Leicester started out well. It took us little time to get on the cycle route by the canal. But then we missed the rail trail entrance and ended up having to haul our bikes up some stairs to get on it later. Good thing we’ve had so much practice doing that.

It was sunny and bordering on hot. We took cycle route 6 and 50 almost straight south on trail and quiet roads through quaint towns. Then we cut west toward Rugby to find the 41. We barely saw any of Rugby as the cycle route dropped into forest to follow a stream. It did come back up at south edge of town, where we saw some guys playing rugby in Rugby.

The route took us through a couple more little towns, and along the way we met up with an older gent out for a ride of his own. We rode with him for awhile and he told us it was his first day out in three months due to illness. He was a character, and I was happy to finally meet a cyclist who goes our speed! While we all laboured up a hill he chirped, “It’s only gravity.” He also helped us out with directions to Long Itch.

Another gentleman helped us find the local grocery store, and then we arrived at the Marton Rd Farm campground. Some of the online reviews made it sound pretty terrible, but it was perfect for us. Although there was only one working shower for the whole place, there were no lines when we needed it, right after getting the tent up. The field was flat and the grass was soft. There was a fence to lean the bikes against. And there werepicnic tables! Enough for everyone!

Deb and I shared a bottle of wine and had a cold dinner of “reduced” (discounted) food from the Co-op at our own table, next to our tent, in the sunshine.

The sun is setting much earlier on our campsites now, so we turned in pretty early.

Distance: 60 km

$

House of Rules

Day 128: Stamford to Leicester England, Friday August 25th

Miranda gave us some advice about where to visit, and where to avoid, on our tour. We adjusted our proposed route to Bristol accordingly.

Breakfast was great and the weather was perfect again (not regretting the train ride expense at all). We continued on route 63 all day. Quiet country roads mostly, which meant few good places to stop. The hills were helping us burn off our big breakfast in a hurry, and we finally had to just lean our bikes against a farm gate and eat our lunch standing up (bread and cheese).

Leicester is a little rough around the edges and our Airbnb host’s list of rules and demand for extra ID verification made us think that maybe we’d booked into a flophouse. When we arrived on our street, we found 352A had glass shards strewn in front of the door, and a rather unsavoury looking woman smoking in the doorway. I groaned. Then we realized we were staying at 352, next door, which looked much better.

Stewart, the host, is really running the place as a budget hotel. It has 7 rooms to let, with a kitchen and lounge on each of the two floors. Apparently, he’s had a couple of bad guests, which explained the crazy long list of rules and the extra level of security. The doors all locked automatically, and since he didn’t live in the building, he got sick of hearing “I took a shower and locked myself out of my room”. His solution was to install small key safes outside every room and insist that the key only come out to unlock the door, then go right back in.

Deb and I went out and bought frozen pizzas for dinner. After eating we walked down into the core of the city. We explored a bit, and then went to a great pub called the Blue Boar. Deb was tempted to steal her glass (it had a boar on it) but she already has two souvenir pint sleeves in her bags.

The old town was busy with people going to bars and restaurants, and just sort of hanging around. We walked around a bit more, then headed back to our room.

 

Distance: 60 km

$

Stamford … even the toilet blocks are Grade II-listed

Day 127: Peterborough to Stamford England, Thursday August 24th

Today felt like a new beginning. It was sunny and warm, with no rain in the forecast, and we had no idea what the cycle route would give us. Very exciting.

Cycle route 63 took us north and east, meandering through some park areas and mostly quiet roads. We got a little turned around in the old winding streets of Stamford, and ended up having to roll carefully down a flight of shallow stairs.

Our Airbnb was, yet again, excellent. Miranda and Mark had a beautiful house and they made us very welcome in it. They had a golden doodle puppy named Olive who was also keen to meet us. Our room was really nice, so nice the antique piano in it didn’t seem out of place. They gave us some advice about exploring the town. It had been a fairly short ride, so we had time to be tourists. We showered and set off.

Stamford is very Niagara-on-the-lake, but with older buildings. It was a perfect day for walking the pretty streets.

We stopped at a pub attached to a brewery. It was full of little cosy sitting areas, and the pints were very cheap.

We bought a couple of postcards, and stopped again for another pint at a pub that we found out later was renowned for having a very surly barman. He wasn’t mean to us.

When we returned to the Airbnb for dinner, Miranda and Mark said they were also about to eat, and they asked if we’d like to eat with them and have some wine. They were really interesting people, and we talked about Brexit (strongly opposed) about travel and Airbnb, and much more.

Distance: 28 km

$

Campaign for Real Ale

Day 126: Peterborough England, Wednesday August 23rd

Today was pretty much all about the Cask Beer Festival. Our hosts provided breakfast and we got a chance to hang out and chat with Hannah. We also got to do a big load of laundry, emptying the monkey house.

We walked to the festival, which was in huge tents in the downtown park known as the Embankment. We went early, so it only cost us £2 each to get in. No plastic sample cups at this event; instead, you chose a half or full pint glass. Fortunately, you could purchase 1/3 pints, otherwise we would’ve had a tough time walking out of there.

Unlike Toronto beer festivals, this was a very much a family event. People brought their kids, put down blankets or folding chairs, and made a day of it. There were carnival rides.

Deb had a tough time choosing, and really examined the guide with all the beer descriptions. I chose based on two criteria: what style I’m in the mood for, and the name. I also just copied Deb a couple of times. We had some truly excellent brews.

Afterward, we walked around Peterborough’s impressive cathedral before returning to our Airbnb.

Distance: 0

$

Backwards to go Forwards

Day 125: Maybole, Scotland to Peterborough England, Tuesday August 22nd

We got out fairly early; too early to say goodbye to Chris and Shaun, who were still sleeping. Julie-Anne helped us with our gear and saw us off.

We needed to get back to Ayr to get a train, but we decided not to go over the mountain on cycle route 7, opting for reasonably quiet “B” roads instead. It was much, much better. It also meant we rode through Alloway, with the Brig 0’Doon, and the birthplace of Robbie Burns.

At the train station, Deb got us tickets. It turned out to be more complicated than we’d hoped, as the train between Edinburgh and Peterborough that we were going to take had no bicycle spots available. We’d have to take an earlier train, which meant going to Glasgow first, then walking to a different station for a train to Edinburgh. These first two trains would have some room for bikes, but you can’t reserve a spot, which made us nervous.

The first leg went smoothly, we were the only bikes, and we got seats right next to them.

We pushed the bikes on the busy Glasgow streets and reached the other station with time to space. The next train came, and this time the only other bicycle was a folding one.

Edinburgh was simple, because we had reserved seats, and reserved spots for the bikes.

It was strange seeing so many places we’d cycled go flying past through the window. The feeling that we were going backwards would not go away until we were in Newcastle. It would have felt much better if there had been a train from Maybole going south, but everything goes out of Glasgow and Edinburgh.

We were very happy to get out of the stuffy, noisy, and rather smelly (a guy ate a tin of fish) train car. It was a ride of only about 2 km to our Airbnb, and we immediately appreciated the warm air.

On the doorstep to greet us was Selma the cat. Hannah, our host, welcomed us and got us settled. Her husband Keith rode home from work not long after we arrived. They were great and we talked for quite awhile. Hannah is Swedish, and had an interesting perspective on the area and England in general. Their house was very nice too, and they made us feel at home.

Distance: 17 km (bike) Lots more by trains

$