Tuesday, 31 March 2015


I love the British Isles. It is full of stunning scenery, beautiful villages, varied wildlife and interesting people. It also has weather and it is not always good.  My second journey to celebrate these islands took me from the edge of suburbia at Aylesbury to Cheltenham last weekend, a distance of 107 miles along rural byeways and some farm tracks. I follow wherever possible the National Cycle Network and these are designed for the touring cyclist when out in the countryside. I went with my friend Jaana from Finland but who lives in London.
Aylesbury was a sea of new houses lined up like a builders' beauty contest. Jaana asked where everyone comes from and where do they work? I could not answer that but the tiny train station seemed woefully inadequate for its purpose transporting people to London.

Our route took us to Winslow, Buckingham and on to Banbury for the first night. These towns each have their slices of history. The centre of Banbury has a statue of a lady on a horse in celebration of the children's nursery rhyme "Ride a Cock Horse to Banbury Cross" while Buckingham is home to a once infamous jail. The cycle route wibble wobbles around seemingly intent in finding as much of the countryside as possible. We cycle through little villages with houses old and new mostly made of brick. We find coffee stops in Winslow and a remote farm shop.
The second day took us into new terrain. The headwind was powerful and blowing in gusts. Every now and again, it would rain but occasionally the sun would peek through as if in apology. We discovered several stretches of farm tracks to overcome and no ordinary road bike would cater for these.

Our bikes slithered and slipped along these trails gathering large accumulations of mud as we went. A huge panorama opened up and we saw two deer dart out of some woodland. They ran across the open fields like a pair of athletes in competition until disappearing in the distance. We were now in the Cotswolds where the villages were now made from beautiful warm stone. We passed Evesham and stayed in a pub that looked reminiscent of the wild west but everyone was very friendly asking about our journey.

The final two miles to the train station at Cheltenham were a cyclist's dream. We cycled along a well constructed path that had no junctions with cars. Cycling in cities is so often tortuous with cars overtaking too close that it is not enjoyable.  Not so in Cheltenham as the route starts in the outskirts and follows an easy route into the city and train station. The distance cycled was 107 miles and most of our journey can be found on Sustrans map

Tuesday, 17 March 2015


My first journey this year to celebrate the British Isles was last weekend and what a stunning ride I found. Leaving Taunton, I joined the National Cycle Network (NCN) route 3 to follow the Bridgwater Canal. We set off as a threesome and our plan was to discover hidden places on the Somerset Levels and Dorset Downs.

 It was about 9 miles alongside the canal where we had far reaching views to the east. This is the land that was devastated by macro flooding in early 2014 where villages were cut off and farms abandoned for weeks. There was even an express train marooned in the middle of the floods. The canal showed nothing this. We found much of a byegone age with elderly bridges, old houses and pill boxes, relics of the last war.
Leaving the canal at NCN339, we came to Moorland, one of the flooded villages and the cycle route
crossed a dyke still under repair where we needed to carry our bikes.

Burrowbridge is a small village in the middle of the Levels. In front is an articial drain and behind is the Mump, a mound with a church on top. "Shall we stop for lunch?" I ask. "It is too early" comes the reply but it was 2:1 and we stopped.
The King Alfred must lay claim to be a national treasure. It turns out that this unassuming inn was the centre of activity during the floods helping people with food and shelter. A girl on a bike with electric gears was outside and said she was hoping to reach Simonsbath. Inside it felt very homely with log fire, many guests, welcoming staff and meals for a fiver. I had a Somerset Smokie, smoked haddock in rich creamy sauce cooked as if it had just come off a North Sea trawler. The girl with the electric geared bike said not go to Muchelney as the cycle route was completely impassable.

We carried on to Langport where we joined the South Somerset Cycle Route through Somerton and overnight at Sherborne. The Levels turned into light hills and the hedge rows were alive with primroses. There was one large hill to climb just before Sherborne.
We now follow NCN26 and want a coffee. "Nothing will be open. It is Sunday" I hear. "There might be a pub but are we too early?" We arrive at the small village of Halstock where The Community Shop is open. This is another delightful sleepy village and we were made most welcome with coffee costing just 50p.

We cross the Dorset Downs and drop into a valley to discover the River Frome. Much of our path is now truly off road meandering along farm tracks. Some of the houses are made from flint. The river is a chalk stream and I wonder if it is full of wild trout and possibly grayling.

We ride on to Dorchester for a late lunch and NCN26 takes us into the centre of Weymouth, journey's end. The total distance for this ride is 85 miles and is on Sustrans Dorest Downs map 


Sunday, 8 March 2015


This year I plan to cycle as much of the British Isles as time will allow. It will be my celebration how wonderful these islands are. My pictures will be my ride and birdsong will be my music. Wherever possible, I will use the National Cycle Network to celebrate its 20th anniversary of inception.

I hope that you will follow my travels and maybe enjoy these islands as much as I do.  I hope also to meet other people and find out what inspires them. Why not follow on twitter?