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