Tour of Europe Planning Blog

Sunday, 25 December 2011

London(England)-Newport(Wales) - August 5-7, 2011

I took off to London by train on Friday, August 5th, 2011. Arriving in Fenchurch Street, I left at 9am.

The route west through London was more successful than my previous attempt of cycling out of London (the cycle to Paris), partially as the early part ran alongside the river Thames. I got within a stone's throw of Richmond and had a breakfast in a local pub. From there I went on and passed through a park, which I think was Old Deer Park.
The stretch from there began to get confusing, as typically the cycle signs were infrequent or confusing. The route along the waterfront in Staines was one of the highlights of the trip, but from then on till Reading it was difficult to keep on track, the cycle tracks kept getting me lost. In retrospect, I should have taken to one of the mainroads at this stage. I wasted hours cycling around in circles, especially when I got to Windsor, which was miles out of my way.  Despite cycling till 8pm, I didn't make much progress - what can I say, it was a tough day. I stayed at a Travel Lodge in Ascot. (I couldn't really go camping in the private grounds of the Royal family).

The next day, Saturday I finally made it to Reading, home of Ricky Gervais! It was a nice town, but with no time to delay, I carried on towards Newbury. Having had enough of the cycle paths that got me lost so often on Friday, I stuck to the A4. I stopped on the way in an open part next to the road for some dinner, which was much enjoyed.

Weather was a mixture of dry spells and showers. It began to rain heavily as I passed into Newbury, so I took a break with a coffee at McDonald's. Arriving in Chippenham late that day, I went looking for accomodation. It was like the "no room in the Inn" story, but I found a really cheap B & B near the centre of the town. It was run by an Indian man. I saw his photos from when he was younger and it was sad to see him looking a shadow of his former self. He re-counted how he used to be very fit in his younger days, but had suffered with years of back pain and operations that only made him worse. It made me think how lucky I was to have the opportunity to experience a tour on the bike. Then, I went out and ate a burger and chips! (I was starving and the smell of the chips while looking for a place to stay made me eager to come back for grub). I saw a wallet fall out of a man's pocket, while i was there and told him. He was very grateful. Next morning, as I had breakfast, a man there said my mobile had fallen out of my pocket, I am sure had he not said, I would left the B & B without knowing where it got lost.

Sunday morning, my objective after breakfast was to reach the Severn bridge by late morning and then get across as much of Wales as possible that day, with the aim of reaching the Fishguard ferry next morning. It would be tight, but doable if all went well. The morning was very wet, but at least I was heading in the right direction. I eventually got to Chipping Sodbury and just as I was about to pass out of the town, two things happened simultaneously, it rained very heavily (cloud burst) and my back tyre went flat. It was at the worst possible moment! It took me ages to change the tube, all the while getting ever more wet. I hadn't replaced a tube since I was a teenager. I lost a lot of time and I became demotivated with thoughts of packing it in and taking a train tantalising in my mind. Eventually, I put the tyre back on, pumped it up and to be honest, contrary to my expectations, it worked. I got going for the Severn Bridge, but at Alveston, I missed the left turn for it, then cycled down what was a 10 degree incline into Thornbury, only to discover my mistake. What made going miles off course worse was that I would need to back up an incredibly steep hill, which was going to be slow and hard. It was midday or so at this stage, I decided to take a break from this string of bad luck and found got some pub grub. I got back on track and eventually found the Severn Bridge. It was an incredibly exhilarating cycle across, it lashed rain and a gale blew in my face, but it was great.

Reaching Chepstow, my trainers and socks were soaked through, which is not a pleasant feeling when cycling. I cycled some of the cycle path available, but it was slow going, so I decided to get back to using the main road. I reached Newport at about 5pm. I decided to be realistic about whether I could reach my 11am ferry the next day. It was still a long cycle ahead, the rain kept falling, and I was cold and wet. No, time to pack it in and get a train to Fishguard, I thought. I went to the train station and bought my ticket. The train wasn't leaving till 9.46pm, so I had plenty of time for a bit of R and R. A big problem now was that all of the places I considered to eat in were not suitable for leaving a bike and gear safely outside. Luckily, I found a wonderful Indian restaurant that was doing an "All You Can Eat" buffet. (Really places like this should exclude cyclists with monster appetites!) The men at the door were friendly and I asked them sheepishly whether I could leave my bike in the hall. They were happy to look after it. I then took a bag to the toilet and changed into more appropriate clothes and dry socks(!) in dry shoes(!). I don't think I have enjoyed a meal as much as that - and guilt free too! I had burned a lot of calories that day. It is amazing that when cycling you can easily manage 2 big meals in the same day! 

I had a few hours to wait at train station afterwards. A toilet cubicle provided me with an opportunity to dry my socks and trainers thoroughly. I brought my bike, and all, inside it. The fresh pair of socks had got soaked by the wet trainers from earlier. The lesson is either bring a spare pair of shoes or waterproofs for your shoes. I would love to know how those traveling in a downfall in Asia manage it. Later, I met a woman on the train who was going to Pembrokeshire to do a solo walk around the coast. She was a Christian too and was doing it for a charity. We had a great chat and it passed the time sharing stories. I learned a lot from her, as she worked in a Millets store and knew all the tricks for travelling light. Arriving 1.30am, I found loads of benches ideal for sleeping out on till the morning ferry. I rolled out my sleeping bag and I noticed some people were boarding the ferry. I asked a guy who was passing, whether I might be able to get on with my ticket (which was for a later time). He said that there was no problem and he was the guy working in the office, so within minutes I was onboard and had a bit of a sleep. I arrived in Rosslare and cycled the 16km to Wexford, where I was met at a delightful hotel by a friend. It was a great trip, but I wished I had booked the ferry booking for Tuesday morning, so that I might been able to make the whole way by bike.

The lesson I have learned from this is not to be too ambitious with the time needed to reach ferry connections, it only takes a few mishaps to throw a spanner in the works. I hope you enjoyed my story.  

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