Boring trains on my journey to Cardiff 6-10-2016

I travelled separately from Em on my journey to Cardiff to get married. I took a hire car for our holiday and on the way called at the Severn Valley Railway and the Lea Bailey Light Railway in the Forest of Dean.


I arrived at Bridgnorth just in time to see rebuilt  Bullied West Country pacific "Taw Valley" set out for Kidderminster with a train of LNER varnished teak coaches.

The Great Western (formerly Port Talbot Railway) saddletank number 813 was being polished up and was alleged to be in service but I could see no sign of smoke or steam.


At the end of the former line to Shrewsbury (shame that never got saved) stood a Western diesel. I like the Westerns so I took a couple of pictures.

As part of the current vogue for building replicas of loco classes that missed out on preservation the frames, bunker, wheels and assorted bits of a new Standard class 3 2-6-2 tank were on show. Personally I feel that there are now enough steam locos and the resources would be better employed in ameliorating the climatic consequences of running them rather than building more.


From Bridgnorth I drove on through the wonderful countryside of Shropshire and Herefordshire to seek out the elusive Lea Bailey Light Railway.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lea_Bailey_Light_Railway


I like little railways where a small band of volunteers are trying to get things established. Part of the currently very short line lies on the trackbed of the Mitcheldean Road and Forest of Dean Junction Railway, which was completed but never used. The Merry band of volunteers were busy moving rocks as part of a project to relocate their compressor after it was flooded by an unexpected outflow of water from the mine adit. Eventually they hope to be able to run trains up the old route towards Drybrook. I enjoyed meeting this optimistic little group or railway builders and wish them success.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mitcheldean_Road_%26_Forest_of_Dean_Junction_Railway

The Simplex with its short train in the loop. The Simplex hauls the loaded train up a gradient.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MH_LOy09ibo&feature=youtu.be

The Battery Electric in the former gold mine.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hizis44pAd4

Preparing to unload the rocks.


The Compressed Air locomotive.

The Simplex with volunteers loading stone.

The Simplex waiting for volunteers to finish loading stone.

The Battery Electric loco.

Tipping some gravel out of the skip.


From Lea Bailey I travelled through more wonderful countryside until I got to the M4 near Newport, then it was a plunge into the rush hour traffic to get to our friend's house in Cardiff.






Getting Wedded after 27.9 years


I met Em on Ashton bus station in November 1988.  We hit it off straight away but for years and years we lived in separate establishments. Hers a neat and tidy little house, mine a leaky old boat. Eventually, sometime after I became homeless because "Hazel" sank (this was before her restoration) she allowed my scruffiness to move into her house, and I learned to live with her regular cleaning frenzies. Neither of us were really that bothered about being married, being old hippies, and we certainly didn't want a wedding with all the fuss that it entails. The trouble is that we're both getting to the time of life where Google ads frequently send us links to funeral services. When one of us pops our clogs, unwed, the survivor would have an awful time dealing with the legalities of property, pensions etc. We're not going to follow the Hindu tradition of Suttee so, barring horrible accidents, one of us has to go first. We decided to quietly slip away to Cardiff and get a couple of friends to act as witnesses.


There was a fair bit of fuss really, I had to have a bath and wear posh clothes, Em dressed up and carried flowers from Victoria and Springy's allottment. It was a lovely little ceremony and we promised all kinds of difficult things then got a bilingual certificate to prove we'd done it. Thanks to Springy, Victoria, Joy and Ric for being witnesses. Afterwards we all went for a really nice meal in a pub near Taffs Well.


I hope nobody is too upset at missing out on the wedding of the year with carriages and top hats and the blushing bride done up like a meringue. Sorry, but both of us would have hated that.


I'd like to show you the wedding pictures but the only one of her that Em will allow is this one from our honeymoon.



A Busy Weekend

"Hazel" was booked for a birthday trip on Saturday 1st October so we loaded up our guests at Portland Basin and towed her with "Forget me Not" to tie near Marple aqueduct. The weather was sunny and the water up to weir level so it was a really good trip with good company. Our guests really enjoyed it. We left them there as some of them were staying overnight, running back to Portland Basin with "Forget me Not" ready for the recycling trip on Sunday morning. Once again this was in wonderful autumn sunshine, we had a great bunch of volunteers and a good haul of saleable stuff to go to the charity shop.


After the trip me, Tony and Aaron took "Forget me Not" back up to Marple ready to bring "Hazel" back on Monday. For the return trip our only guest was Bridget, who was testing the boat for wheelchair friendliness. She's suggested a few modifications but thoroughly enjoyed the trip and I hope she'll be back as a volunteer. Here's a few pictures of the recycling trip and the Sunday evening trip up to Marple


Passing Guide Bridge Station. Lisa and dog.

Kevin on "Lilith".

Click on the link for a video.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P1K40v_6ULA&feature=share


Into the M60 bridge. Under the M60 Waving to the old folks flats. Past the site of Robertsons Jam Works. Nearly there. "Forget me Not" on the way up the Peak Forest to Marple at Dunkirk Bridge. Manchester Road, Hyde. Emerging from the M67 tunnel. The wharf on the right once served a coal pit. Now it's silted up and clogged with American Pennywort. Approaching Adamsons, Hyde. Passing Captain Jacks. Adamsons turn. Captain Clarks Bridge.

Here's another video link to click.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wr0GYUjPtb4&feature=youtu.be









































BoringTrain Pictures

While we were away at the Bollington Historic Boat Gathering I had to keep popping home to check on the boats as we had no volunteers able to look after the pumps. this involved various train journeys. I like trains, even modern ones. Here's a picture of a Cross Country Voyager set rushing through Adlington as I waited for the local train to Manchester on 16th September 2016.

On the morning of the 19th I got a train from Hyde North to rose Hill then cycled along the Middlewood way to Bollington. As I waited for the train a couple of nodding donkeys (class 142) arrived on a Manchester working.


Immediately out of the station they clatter over the pointwork to join the route from Hadfield (formerly the Great Central Woodhead route)

I was surprised by a class 66 with a train of stone empties heading for the Peak District, carrying on with the kind of work that the Peak forest canal was built for.

Eventually my train arrived.

,


Bollington Trip

We decided to take "Hazel" to Bollington near Macclesfield for a gathering of historic boats. I tried to get some paying guests to help subsidise the trip, but without success. We had the usual problem of concessionary guests dropping out (to be expected when people have depression and similar conditions but very frustrating when you're offering something wonderful for free). At the last minute we got a couple of guests from Greystones  http://greystones-ashton.org.uk/ who seem to have benefitted from the trip enormously. It was a lovely sunny trip up the Peak Forest canal. At Hyde we were stopped briefly by a shopping trolley which can be seen in some of the pictures being carried on "Forget me Not". We spent the first night tied near Marple Aqueduct    http://www.marple-uk.com/aqueduct.htm   


Andy takes an early morning walk over the aqueduct.

Getting ready to move on to the locks.

Crossing the

aqueduct.

after a really pleasant trip from Portland Basin up the Peak Forest canal. We had a really good group of volunteers to get us up Marple locks where "Hazel", being a butty, has to be bowhauled (pulled by human power) up the 16 locks.  http://www.marple-uk.com/aqueduct.htm

Andy in a lock. Waiting for the lock to fill. Hazel (the person) bowhauling "Hazel" (the boat) Mick bowhauling, Andy steering.

At the top of the locks we turned into the Macclesfield canal and, unusually, there was plenty of room on the visitor moorings, so we tied up there.

Tony steers through the old stop lock.

Breasted at Marple.


Next day we had a very pleasant, if windy, run along the Macclesfield Canal to Bollington. http://www.macclesfieldcanal.org.uk/


http://www.happy-valley.org.uk/index.htm


















On My Way Home

Sometime in the dark time before dawn I turned over and woke with my hand on something cold and gooey. My slow brain gradually worked out that it was a slug, Ugh! I picked it off my groundsheet and threw it as far as I could, then found several more and gave them the same treatment before dozing off again.


I returned to consciousness as the first light of day eased itself through a thick layer of cloud. The wind had not abated but its chill was no longer tempered by sunshine. Slugs were everywhere. I was reluctant to get out of my sleeping bag and lay there drinking my coffee and dreading making my first move. With my coffee finished I had no more excuse, so I got up, pulled my trousers and boots on then quickly loaded my bike. I rode slowly along the grassy path whence I had arrived, the grass dotted with more little black slugs than I’ve ever seen in one place.


I descended a bank to rejoin the main track, which had become a tractor rutted chalk road. I tried different ruts to ride in, and the grassy mound in the middle, but all were difficult for cycling. After about a quarter mile I reached a main road and followed it for a short distance before turning into the lane to Yatesbury. After a fairly level and straight ride I passed an old aircraft hangar on my left, and the remains of a second one. This was one of the earliest military airfields, opening in 1916, mainly for training purposes. After some civilian use in the 1930s it once again became a training centre for the RAF in 1939 and finally closed in 1960. The hangars, including some from the first world war, are now listed buildings.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RAF_Yatesbury


I made a 90 degree turn towards the village and had a decision to make. My line went across fields from here and my copy of the Ordnance Survey map showed footpaths travelling quite close to it. However, there was a gap between bits of OS map and my smaller scale map that linked them up only showed roads. My alternative route was to cross the fields to Winterbourne Monkton then follow the A361 most of the way into Swindon. Memories of the footpaths to nowhere in the Windrush valley and the fact that I had already felt the odd drop of rain caused me to choose the latter course.


I passed through part of the village known as Little London and was surprised to see a bus shelter with timetable. This tiny village of 150 inhabitants actually has a bus service.

http://www.cherhill.org/buses/connect2wilts-Mon-Fri.pdf


My route across the fields was another rutted track that was difficult to ride on. A low hill to my right, Windmill Hill, bore Monkton Camp, presumably an iron age hill fort but I can find no information on it anywhere. It seems to me that this area must have been pretty violent in ancient times for it to have been necessary to fortify so many places, at enormous cost in time diverted from growing food etc.


At Winterbourne Monkton I dropped into a valley, passed a derelict farm and stopped at a concrete bridge over a dry river. The name Winterbourne means a stream that only runs in winter. The chalk rock here is porous so rain tends to soak into the ground. Only in winter is there enough rainfall for the rivers to run.


https://history.wiltshire.gov.uk/community/getcom.php?id=251


I used up the last of my hot water for cocoa and ate my morning muesli. A rope was rigged from a tree where children had been enjoying swinging out over the empty river bed.Thus refreshed, I moved on to the A road. This wound up and down through a wide rolling hillscape of mainly arable, the golden crops awaiting the combine alternating with fields already shorn.


I almost missed my left turn, signposted Saithrop, simply the name of a farm on my map. The road zig zagged up a gentle slope among corn fields, horse fields and little bits of woodland, then suddenly plunged down the escarpment that had done for so many of the parliamentary cavalry back in the seventeenth century. In the valley the road flattened and straightened with wooded borders. I reached the route of my old friend the Wilts & Berks canal. A right turn took me parallel to it and soon I was able to pick out a towpath hedge and ditch following the contours to my right.


Where the canal crossed the road my planned route took me along a public right of way straight along my line, but a big notice saying “Private Road Locked Gates” put me off. I elected instead to continue along the road, past Wharf Farm, then turn left over the M4. I found that new roads had been built to access a Waitrose supermarket. I turned past the front of the new shop and found, to my amazement, a stretch of re-opened canal with a little trip boat. There was no way down to the towpath but a friendly cyclist, who I met coming out of Waitrose, advised me of a route. This took me over the hump backed bridge that I could see.


The next bridge was that of the old Midland & South Western Junction Railway, now a cyclepath. I very nearly got the classic photograph of a heron perched on a No Fishing notice, but the bird was camera shy and flew off as I aimed my lens.


https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowUserReviews-g187049-d2350277-r278582692-Wilts_Berks_Canal-Swindon_Wiltshire_England.html


The restored canal petered out at a road junction, but it’s route was clear further on, even to the extent of having left a gap for it in a multi storey car park.

There was no sign of the North Wilts however, which used to drop away down a flight of locks to my left.

http://www.wbct.org.uk/branches/swindon/town-centre-route/


The canal route led me into a pedestrianised shopping area. I was feeling peckish again so I looked around for a fast food outlet. I noticed “Swindon Tented Market” so I thought I’d look in there as I like markets and I’d rather buy from a local trader than a multinational chain. The market is not really a tent, it’s a building that is made to look like one. Inside was a sad sight with more empty stalls than active ones. I found a food stall called Eggilicious and was welcomed by its proprietor who was sitting outside reading a paper whilst someone prepared food inside the stall. He persuaded me to have a minted lamb wrap. His name was Ash Mistry and he had relatives in Ashton, in fact, his brother in law lives on the next street to me. He told me the story of the market. It used to be run by the council but, being good neo liberals, they had leased it to a property company. The property company submitted redevelopment plans to replace the downmarket market with upmarket coffee shops etc. The plans were rejected, but most of the traders had moved out and now, though the company is at least pretending to try to get stallholders back, uncertainty and high rents are persuading them otherwise. At some point the management will of course claim that there is no demand for market stalls.


http://www.swindonadvertiser.co.uk/news/14195754.Tented_market_thrown_historical_lifeline/


The wrap was surprisingly substantial and very very delicious.


http://www.eggelicious.co.uk/


Something was driving me to get on a train and, as my ticket as far as Cheltenham was for any train, I thought I would go there and explore a bit. I found Swindon station and presented my ticket at the barrier. It was accepted and I pushed my bike through and lifted it up the steps to the platform. Soon an HST for Cheltenham arrived. The announcement said that bicycle space was at the front of the train, but as I turned to head that way the announcer, probably robotic, added that only pre booked bicycles could travel on that train.


https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2016-07-11/debates/16071126000002/GreatWesternRailway%E2%80%99SBicyclePolicy


I headed back towards the barrier and asked the ticket collector, “what’s all this about having to pre book bikes”? He said that it had been Great Western (them again) policy since May, like it was obvious and everybody must know. I pointed out that as I had come from Greater Manchester (yes there are places beyond the reach of the Great Western) it was unreasonable to expect me to know. The implied but unspoken question was ‘why the hell didn’t you tell me when you checked my ticket’? I went to the ticket office to book my bike but the booking clerk said that as the next train was a unit not an HST I wouldn’t need to book. “Check with the guard” she added. Back on the platform I headed for the bay where a diesel multiple unit for Cheltenham was waiting. The platform display bore the details of the journey, headed by the dire word “Cancelled”. The guard was on her ‘phone. When she had finished her call I explained my situation. She told me that because of a points failure the HST which had been waiting for ages in the opposite platform had to be diverted. Its driver didn’t know the diversionary route, but her driver did. They had cancelled her train so that her driver could take the more important train to South Wales. Very helpfully she went off to make arrangements for my bike to travel on the next Cheltenham train, another HST. When it arrived, after an hour sitting watching trains and people and typing up an account of the first part of my trip, I found it had six bike spaces, only two of which were taken by my bike and one other.


Back in the bad old pre nationalisation days of British Rail there was a single national policy for bikes on trains. It wasn’t always perfect but at least you knew what the rules were wherever you went. Now with myriad different franchises running the trains, and tickets booked in advance to save money but not necessarily knowing which company’s trains you will be travelling on, there’s all kinds of scope for getting stuck somewhere because they won’t take your bike. Clearly travelling with bikes was getting popular on Great Western so, rather than making more bicycle space, they slapped on restrictions. A very British solution. Of course, increasing bike space might reduce passenger space for no extra revenue which, as the railways are run for profit rather than to serve the public, could not be allowed.


The run to Cheltenham was uneventful. I enjoyed the ride from Sapperton tunnel through the Golden Valley with brief glimpses of the Thames & Severn Canal.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ovym4LPoyL4


http://www.cotswoldcanals.net/1891-sapperton-canal-tunnel-trip.php


Cheltenham station was busy. I negotiated the crowded footbridge to reach the booking office as I wanted to be sure of room for my bike for the rest of my journey. This was to be on a Cross Country Voyager such as I had travelled on from Manchester to Birmingham on Monday. On that occasion I had noted that Cross Country’s bicycle policy was to take just one booked bike and one unbooked bike on each train. I had been lucky, there was a space, but I wanted to be sure for the return trip. With my bike booked I headed out into Cheltenham.

A Voyager at Cheltenham.


My first port of call was a cafe, as it was early afternoon and hunger was creeping up on me. Some of the Cheltenham ladies in the cafe found my bike amusing. After an unremarkable ciabatta I went to explore the former Great Western route, now a cycleway through the centre of the town. Once this was an alternative main line to the midlands, reaching Birmingham via Stratford on Avon. According to Dr Beeching it was a duplicate route, a waste of money, and so it had to close. Much of the route now is used for running steam trains.

http://www.gwsr.com/


I went off cycling down the roads to explore a bit. Realising that my ‘phone was low on battery power I thought I would sample a pub and charge it up. I chose the first one I came to, the Kings Arms. It was not really my sort of place with continuous sport on a big screen and not much in the way of real ale, but I enjoyed my pint of bitter and was enjoying my writing.

http://www.pubsgalore.co.uk/pubs/12378/



With some charge in my ‘phone I went back to the station and sat on the platform writing and enjoying watching trains come and go.


A Train for Maesteg, South Wales, at Cheltenham.


When my train arrived I loaded my bike into its pre booked space, on Voyagers you hang your bike by the front wheel to save space, then found my pre booked seat. I became a little conscious of the fact that I hadn’t really washed for a week. I wondered if that was why the rather posh and fragrant lady sitting next to me moved to another seat.


At Birmingham New Street my bay in the carriage filled up. Opposite to me sat a retired couple returning from a holiday in Penzance to their home in Glossop. Beside me was a Wiganer who reminded me a little of Alf Hall, the stereotypical simple Lancashire man. He had been to visit an elderly aunt in Worcester. A conversation was carried on between the three of them in which everthing that the Glossop couple said they’d done the Wigan man said he’d like to do, then asked all kinds of daft questions about it. This would be followed by an explanation of his bad knees and speculation as to how much they would restrict him. I imagine that the couple were retired teachers as they seemed to have a shallow smattering of knowledge about almost everything. I was tempted to join in when they came round to talking about canals, but decided that I would get irritated by the banality of it and returned to studying the passing countryside.


Suddenly my muscles painfully locked up in my right leg causing me to exclaim “owwwww” and ask to be let out of my seat. I marched up and down the corridor until the pain went away and my leg would work properly again. I regained my seat with apologies, explaining that I had been cycling for 5 days. The Wiganer, of course, wanted to know all about it, then began speculating about whether he could do the same. He started listing all that he would need to carry with him, which would require a support vehicle, to carry it all. He wondered how his knees would stand up to it. I suggested that he start with really short bike rides and gradually build up. The teachers nodded sagely. They were concerned about me camping on private property without permission, very bourgeoise. I explained that I left no mess, though I now regret not explaining to them my rather anarchistic view of land ownership.


“I think”, said the Wiganer, “you must be at least ten years younger than me to cycle all that way”. “I don’t know” I said, “I’m 63”. “Oh bloody ell” he exclaimed “yer older”.


I thought I might be tired after my travels so I had booked a ticket all the way to Ashton rather than cycle up the towpath. They routed me via Stalybridge so, at Picadilly I rushed to the distant platform 13 to catch a Trans pennine train which whizzed me past Portland Basin. At Stalybridge I sat enjoying the cooling evening air as I waited for the local train, until a bunch of noisy smoking swearing pop music playing teenagers, lads and lasses, arrived to spoil the atmosphere. When my train arrived I headed for the opposite end of it for my short one stop ride to Ashton. A brief bikeride from the station and I reached home, where Em had a tasty curry ready for me.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LZcQWnjXEHo





Now you can save money on train fares and help to get wooden boats restored

https://wcbs.trainsplit.com/main.aspx













Caen Hill Beckons.


Go by train, buy your tickets here  https://wcbs.trainsplit.com/main.aspx

I hadn't travelled as far as I intended on Wednesday so I decided to stick mostly to main roads on the Thursday. The road towards Purton was busy with morning commuters as I pedalled along.

I turned off to go through Purton the back way, through an industrial estate, over a level crossing then up a steady hill on a narrow lane past hobby farms of miniature goats, rare breeds and ponies. I came across a horse all done up like it was ready to go jousting. It was busy scratching its bottom on a fence post until it saw me and enquired if I had any carrots.

I waited at the level crossing for a London bound HST to pass.


It was an easy undulating ride along main roads to the next town, Wooton Bassett. Famous for its townsfolks all too frequent spontaneous tributes to dead soldiers returning from Afghanistan, this town has a lovely old wide main street, probably a former market place. I was tempted by the town museum, located in the old Town Hall, but great magnets were drawing me on towards the end of my line.


http://www.swindonadvertiser.co.uk/news/3989429.Wootton_Bassett_pays_silent_tribute/


http://www.visitwiltshire.co.uk/things-to-do/town-hall-museum-royal-wootton-bassett-p1572593

I did stop briefly at the railway bridges for Wooton Bassett junction, to have a drink and look at the junction where the direct route to South Wales via the Severn tunnel diverges from Brunel's original London to Bath and Bristol railway. One way traffic was being imposed on the road as preparations were being made to rebuild the bridges ready to electrify the railway. I took a picture of an HST from Wales, still in front line service after 30+ years but soon to be replaced by Japanese trains which actually go no faster.



http://www.hitachirail-eu.com/super-express-iep_57.html


Up to the 1980s Britain led the world on high speed train technology, then government indifference ( Margaret Thatcher was known to hate railways) and slavish adherance to a free market ideology largely destroyed our train building industry.

http://www.newstatesman.com/culture/culture/2013/01/meeting-our-makers-britain%E2%80%99s-long-industrial-decline


There was nowhere to get away from the parade of growling lorries and impatient motorists so, after quenching my growing thirst, I remounted and went in search of the Wilts & Berks canal, which also ran this way. I found it down a lane, deep in a wooded cutting at the back of someone.s garden.



Lyneham was next on my itinerary, mostly famous for it's RAF base, where the sad cargoes from the Afghan war were landed. The airfield might have been interesting if I could see any aircraft. It turns out that it is no longer an airfield, just a maze of grey buildings and high security fences.  I plodded on towards Calne.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MoD_Lyneham


At a field used for weekend car boot sales there was a huge sculpture of a motorbike made entirely from scaffolding.


http://www.swindonadvertiser.co.uk/news/10571599.Bikers_heading_for_monster_bike_meet_at_Calne/


Calne seemed a nice busy old town. My map showed a branch of the canal terminating near the river bridge, so I went to have a look. The terminal basin has been built on with modern flats called, unsurprisingly,

“The Wharf”. A new gate into a park on the canal route depicts a modern steel pleasure narrow boat. Perhaps one day such craft will be able to navigate to the town.


http://calne-castlefieldspark.co.uk/


nehttp://www.visitwiltshire.co.uk/towns-and-villages/cal-p462553


After Calne I had decided to diverge slightly from the main road, partly to move nearer to my line but largely because I wanted a break from the traffic. I turned down a pleasant lane towards the farming settlement of Broads Green, then on through the nicely unpretentious Heddington Wick and on to a place where my only route was along an alleged public footpath. There was no signpost but there was a very overgrown stile to show where the path should go. I lifted my bike over the gate and followed the field edge to an electric fence, near to which a herd of big cows was gathered.


They were clearly surprised to see me limbo under the wire then drag my bike after me, forming a defensive circle to face me. To say that I was scared of cows would be an exaggeration, but I am uneasy in a field full of them. One nightmare that I still remember from childhood was of being in a field full of cattle that were running about madly and kicking their back legs in the air. Suddenly all went black and I woke up very frightened. As I walked towards the herd it broke it's defensive line and the cattle began to behave just like the ones in my dream before once more forming a circle, this time all round me, shoulder to shoulder. The herd was treating me as a predator. As I walked forward the ones ahead of me shrank back and the ones behind advanced, so the circle moved across the field until, as I approached the far gate they melted away and went back to the serious business of grazing and filling their udders with milk.


Beyond the gate a narrow strip of woodland ran off to the left. Beside the first trees was a pen of young game birds, being raised to be released then shot for expensive fun. To the right was a mayhem of felled and uprooted trees, trunks and wrenched off limbs lying higgledy piggledy like corpses on a battlefield. Ahead was Bromham House Farm, where I could hear tractors manouevering. According to the map the footpath went to the left of the farm buildings, but there was no way through there. I had to pick my way between grey concrete buildings and slurry pits before finding the driveway out on to the A342. The farm workers either studiously ignored me or stared like I had just landed from another planet.


http://bayntun-history.com/BromhamHouse.htm


A turn at the village of Rowde brought me on to a straight fairly level minor road to my destination, Caen Hill Locks. They looked very neat with mown lawns and recently painted balance beams. I had joined the locks at the bottom of the spectacular straight line of locks that is so often photographed. I stopped at the first of these to enjoy the last of my rations, aiming to buy more food in Devizes.


Two steel boats were working down the locks and I fell into conversation with the lockwheeler. She was a woman in her fifties, stylishly dressed with a red hat. She had a grumble about lack of maintenance because the full lock had partly emptied and she had to let some water in so that we could open the gates. I told her she should try the Ashton Canal. She was not happy about the way that the Canal and Rivers Trust (CRT) run the canals, particularly the office based culture that is ignorant of the waterways and their people and will bully mercilessly those who cannot move on because of illness or other unforseen circumstances. There are some good people working for CRT but unfortunately this is the kind of story I am hearing a lot of and experiencing myself to some extent. There is a disconnect between the lovely being nice to everyone and everything surface gloss and the heartless reality on the ground.


We talked about historic boats. It turned out that her son had just bought an 1890 iron butty. She took a leaflet and we went our ways. My way was uphill on the neat towpath, the, leaving the canal, into the centre of Devizes.


It was market day and the town was busy. I had promised myself a meal in a cafe when I reached Devizes, so I locked my bike on the market place and ordered baked sweet potato and vegetable chilli in a cafe' next to a vegetable stall, I sat outside, watching the people and listening to the, often unintelligible, calls of the stallholders.


http://www.devizes.org.uk/index.php/shopping/markets


One call that I did understand was “Five creamy avocado pears for just one pound”. I thought that wasa good deal so I purchased some. I explored the busy town centre and did some more shopping so that I could cook myself a meal. Feeling the need I followed the signs to the public toilets and though it cost 20p I was amazed to find such clean and pleasant facilities with an attendant. I took the opportunity to have a good wash. Such facilities in towns around my area were closed years ago because of spending cuts, but here there seems to be no austerity. I’d even noticed that some villages have public libraries while we’re struggling to hold on to our main libraries.


It was time to move on. My new line to Banbury I would follow as far as Swindon. The first part would involve gaining altitude by following the bridle paths up Roundway hill. The first part was so straight and even in its slope that I thought it must be an old inclined plane. I can find no record of such though. The chalk quarries on the hill were presumably disused well before the coming of the canal as they were used to bury the dead from the battle of Roundway in 1643. A strong parliamentary force was unfortunately routed by a smaller royalist army. The parliamentary cavalry ran away, many of them perishing as, in their panic, they plunged headlong down an escarpment. The poor bloody infantry got left on the hill. They in turn tried to retreat  but ended up being massacred.



The hill was steep and I had to push my bike most of the way up, stopping on the seat above the Millennium White Horse to enjoy the view and use the last of my flask with its foul tasting water for cocoa. I ate the first of the avacados. Camper vans were discreetly parked beside the wooded old quarries. I set off along a white chalk road through arable fields, travelling mostly down a gentle hill with the site of the slaughter to my left. A combine harvester trailing dust rose gradually above the hilltop like a ship breasting the horizon in a dry sea of wheat.

After crossing a main road my route lay along a bridle path through a golf course. I’m wary of golfers. I know a place where golfers (who pay a lot of money to be there you know) regularly attempt to intimidate walkers on the public footpath across their course. I was pleased to see a clear sign for the path, skirting the edge of the course. I followed it up the hill and searched for a gate. The golfers were not hostile, but not helpful either. I eventually found a stile, bridle paths should have gates for horses to go through, and carried my possessions over in several vourneys.


The field I had entered was one of unkempt rough grass which I will not dignify with the title of hay. The only way out seemed to be through a gate to my right into a sheep field. From this I had to scale a steel gate into a wheatfield atop Morgans Hill. I crossed this, keeping to the tramlines left by tractors to avoid damaging the crop, then lifted my bike over a fence and a gate in quick succession to find myself at the ancient Wansdyke which follows the contours of the hills.




http://www.wansdyke21.org.uk/wansdykehomepage.htm

I consulted the map to regain my bearings. To my left were two pylons, to my right Furze Knoll, toped by trees and grazed by black beefy cattle. I should have gone the other side of the pylons but it didnt matter, I was on a footpath again and if I follwed ot I would hit the old Roman road that I needed to traverse. All around me was history and prehistory etched into the landscape.


http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/3102173

The Roman road was nicely surfaced in fine chalk.


I rode confidently along it for about a mile, then turned off up another bridleway towards Cherhill Down, topped by a great needle of a monument. A combine harvester was making the most of of the dry weather to work late into the evening gathering the grain.


I began to push my laden cycle up the steep path on to Cherhill Down. This is a National trust site and the grass is varied and speckled with wild flowers. The monument was passed some distance to my left and I headed for woodland where my map marks Tumulus in gothic script. A family were out enjoying he hills, calling to a daughter who wanted to go a different way.

http://www.themodernantiquarian.com/site/24/cherhill_down_and_oldbury.html


https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/calstone-and-cherhill-downs/features/the-lansdowne-monument?awc=3795_1471467793_48d9652c7ec96a37fd98256df63ab483&campid=Affiliates_Central_Mem_AWIN_Standard&aff=78888



Evening was drawing on and I wanted to eat, but fires were to be “avoided” on this land and there were lots of walkers and runners about who I thought might grass me up. I found a nice spot between two mounds, which I think were ancient burial mounds, parked my bike against a tree and sat looking out at the amazing view. I soon went to get my coat as, despite the sunshine, there was a constant cold North westerly wind. I ate a couple more avacados as I was getting peckish, then the cold wind forced me to take shelter behind a mound and did some typing.


When I got bored with typing I climbed the fence into the wood and collected dry sticks. In the middle of the wood was a concrete surface that could have been the top of a water tank. I carefully laid out the things that I would need to cook a meal. By about 7 PM the hill was devoid of people, so I scrumpled up some paper, covered it with sticks and set light to it. In order to do minimum environmental damage I positioned the fire on a small area anready trodden bare by animals.


Soon I had a good blaze going and I began cooking. When my meal was ready I braved the wind to go and sit looking at the wonderful view. A whistling roar to my right drew my attention and I watched in amazement as the RAF Red Arrows aerial display team flew past in formation, barely higher than my hilltop perch.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DE-A4rLyWW8


By the time I had tidied up and put things away it was getting dark, so I laid my tarpaulin in the gap between the mounds, rolled out my sleeping bag, rolled up my coat as a pillow and wriggled my way into the warm soft envelope of my sleeping bag.

I didn’t know it was the night for the Perseids meteor shower. I woke in the middle of the night and opened my eyes to a wonderful panorama of stars, then one moved. As I watched, pinpricks of light would flash across the fly, the heavens putting on a free firework display for me. I watched for a while then dozed off again.


http://earthsky.org/astronomy-essentials/everything-you-need-to-know-perseid-meteor-shower































The South Cotswolds.

Travelling by train, book your ticket here to save money and help historic boats. https://wcbs.trainsplit.com/main.aspx


One of the delights of sleeping in the open is to wake up in the middle of the night and open your eyes to the stars. That night they put on a particularly good show. At 6 am prompt the activity at the brickworks moved up a gear, then a London bound HST rattled by. It was time to breakfast, pack up and get moving. I was away by 8, over the level crossing and starting the long slow climb through Blockley. I had re-arranged my belongings to reduce the weight in my rucksack, which made for greater comfort.

Blockley

http://www.britainexpress.com/counties/glouces/Blockley.htm

Blockley is a lovely cotswold stone village. Above it the gradient eased, then started to allow me some bits of downhill. I am always wary of places with the 'on The Hill' suffix, and my next target was Bourton on the Hill. Just before the village I joined briefly a main road. A handy garage cum corner shop invited me to stop and stock up on nibbles. I noticed that there were many Indian foods on sale and I was served by a pleasant young Indian woman who took an interest in my journey. I asked for water and she directed me to a tap by the carwash. Thus provisioned I carried on. I didn't actually go through Bourton on the Hill, it is on the side of the hill and my route took me along the ridge, gradually trending downhill. I passed a driveway marked Sezincote Indian house and garden, so I wonder if there is an Indian community here, hence the spicy foodstuffs at the garage.

http://www.sezincote.co.uk/


A short run along an A road brough me to the turning for Lower Slaughter. This was an exciting plunge down a steep road. I was glad I had fixed my back brake. The village itself is lovely, with the river running beside the main street as at Bourton on the Water. Unlike Bourton however, this place does not set out to attract plebian trippers. It oozes wealth and upmarket cars are constantly passing to and from the ho

Lower Slaughter.

http://www.britainexpress.com/counties/glouces/Lower_Slaughter.htm

There was a bridle path following the stream signpsted to Bourton on the Water, soI thought I'd follow it. In fact it soon left the river and made its way through boring horse fields. Part of the route was being surfaced with road planings by a gang of elderly people puffing hard with loaded barrows. I entered Bourton through a housing estate and missed the pretty bit. I've seen it before and visited its tourist traps.

http://www.cotswolds.info/places/bourton-on-the-water.shtml


In my childhood Bourton on the Water was a favourite destination for a day out, either in a bus from school or in our old Austin A30 with my parents. We would traipse around the same old attractions time after time. The most memorable one for me was the Witchcraft Museum, now gone. My mum particularly liked Birdland, where you could see all kinds of brightly coloured birds, including the amazing insect sized humming birds. When she had raised an abandoned thrush nestling to the flying stage we took it to Birdland for release, figuring that a tame thrush would do better there than amongst the rough birds of our village.


In fact I should have gone through the pretty bits. I carelessly took the wrong road, past the Model Village and Birdland,. Eventually I realised that I had taken the wrong road, but I had gone quite a long way and didn't fancy riding back. I spotted a public footpath going in the direction of the correct road and I thought I'd follow it. Bad mistake! I struggled through very narrow bits and forced the bike through prickly bits. The path crossed the Windrush, that was good, but then it followed the river downstream. I came to a kissing gate and had to unload everything, lift the bike over, then load up again. There were about 5 of these, then the path crossed back over the river, not good, and skirted a lake. It crossed the river again and doubled back on itself, then became a farm track. A sinposted bridle path looked like it was going the right way, so I took that route, only to find it deteriorating into rutted field crossings. A herd of bullocks followed me across one field, then stopped at the gate mooing to the herd in the next field, who took little interest in me but engaged in a mooing match with the first herd.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/River_Windrush

In the next field the main track seemed to turn left, so I followed it, only to find it doubled back on itself towards a farm. I struggled across rough ground to another corner of the field but found no way out, having to traverse a third side before finding a gateway on to a tarmacked road. I thought this must be the road I was supposed to be on, so I turned left and was surprised to cross the river again. I asked a man out walking his dog where it went. He said Great Rissington, the village I was trying to avoid. He asked where I wanted to go but I couldn't remember the name of the village. He suggested Sherborne (the second one of the trip). Yes, I said. “Go back the other way and turn left at the top of the hill” he said “mind, it's a bit of a steep bank”! He was right, it was. Eventually I was rewarded for my troubles by a lovely long steady descent to Sherborne. I like it when descents are steady. I can just freewheel at a nice speed. On steep descents I have to use my brakes and I hate wasting all that energy. If I go too fast my hat flies off and I have to stop to recover it. The trick is to keep my head down slightly so that the wind hitting the brim forces it down rather than giving it lift.


Sherborne turned out to be a pleasant little row of cottages, most of which actually looked like they might be inhabited by working people rather than the elite. In fact, as I headed South through the cotswolds the area seemed to get more properly rural and less of a suburban idyll. A short sharp uphill stretch brought me to the main A40. I leaned my bike against a stone wall and got out my flask to make a brew with the last of the hot water. As I sat on the wall a weasel darted across the road straight towards my bike. It stopped on nthe tarmac, stood on it's hind legs, waggled its head a bit then darted back to the opposite verge. I had clearly blocked its regular path for I saw it cross further down the road and start searching for a way through to the woodland beyond.

http://www.geograph.org.uk/gridref/SP1700014000

I only had to ride a short way along the A40, mercifully, before taking another lane. I seemed to be on a bit of a plateau and I fair whizzed through the countryside. There were plenty of lorries about, serving the local agriculture which is pactised on a large scale with big machines here. The air was full of the fruity odours of the countryside and everywhere you could hear the distant hum of combine harvesters making the most of the sunshine to gather in the golden grains.


The valley of the river Leach cuts into the plateau and my speed picked up as I started to plunge downhill, only to screech to a halt as the slipstream of a passing artic had kindly removed my hat.


Three villages cluster together, Coln St Aldwyns, Hatherop and Quenington. In Quenington I came across a co-operative village shop/cafe, run by volunteers from the local community. I stopped to buy supplies. It was all a bit upmarket, but I suppose that's what people want there. It seems ironic that the co-operative system, which began in working class Rochdale, is now seemingly thriving in the wealthier areas but doing very little in the Northern mill towns of its cradle. I noticed as I travelled about that the Co-op itself seems to be thriving in this part of the country, whereas around Ashton it is rapidly selling out to the likes of Asda and Rajah Brothers. Part of the key to community co-operatives is having enough willing, capable people with time on their hands, something that we tend to lack around Tameside.


Quenington Co-op.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quenington

I got the co-operatoors to fill my kettle and water bottle. It was the foulest tasting water of my trip. I hope they don't make tea with it. Outside I got talking to a customer who nearly knocked my bike over with her car door. She explained how the co-op was set up and was interested in my journey and the boats. As we talked a huge low loader, laden with what looked like heavy concrete blocks, stopped to ask directions. The lady explained the route and the driver said he was glad he needed to turn right as he wasn't sure he'd get round to the left.

This is racehorse country and I passed a considerable stable block.

Inow had the scent of the end of my route in my nostrils, but, after all the frustrating meandering about in the Windrush footpaths it seemed unlikely that I would reach Devizes today. I looked at my map for likely campsites in the Wooton Rivers area. My route brought me to what used to be the A419, now bypassed. Across the way my map suggested, lay the route of the Thames & Severn Canal. I went down a lane to have a look. I found a big lake with a burned out Range Rover and a bridge over a dual carriageway, but no sign of the canal.

http://www.cotswoldcanals.net/photo_index.php?cid=ts&page=gallery&filter=&rc=157&rsos=120

It was a straight level run towards Cricklade, but before I got there I came across one of the most cycle unfriendly road layouts ever. There was a roundabout and Cricklade was signposted down a sliproad on to the dual carriageway. I checked and double checked the signs to ensure that it was not a motorway, but with juggernauts hurtling along and no cycle reservation I really didn't fancy it. As I rode down the sliproad I was hooted at by a bus and a lorry, which made me think I shouldn't be there. There was a footpath indicated over stiles across overgrown fields but no cycle route. I went back and followed the pavement over the bridge for traffic from the other direction to see if there was a path on the other side. The path doubled back along the dual carriageway in the wrong direction. There was nothing for it but to brave the speeding motor molochs and set off along the A419. Luckily it was less than a mile to the Cricklade sliproad.


Somewhere in the middle of all this should have been the junction between the Thames & Severn and North Wilts canals, but I could find no sign of either.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cricklade



Cricklade claims to be the first town on the Thames. It has a good shopping street, where I topped up on supplies and on my way out of town I passed the proposed Northern terminus of the Swindon & Cricklade railway.


http://www.swindon-cricklade-railway.org/


This is a preservationist project along the abandoned trackbed of the erstwhile Midland & South Western Junction Railway. This meandering country route provided a way for trains to go from the Midland Railway to the London & South Western railway without too much interference from the Great Western ( you may have picked up by now that I'm not a huge Great western fan. )


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Midland_and_South_Western_Junction_Railway


I left Cricklade Southbound on a B road, looking out for signs of the old canal. At Dance Common I found what looked like a filled in channel, though it may actually have been the remains of Saxon ramparts.

A little further on a sign announced the site of the canal.

The river Key aqueduct has been restored with lottery money but is still bone dry on top. I stopped to have a look and decided to stay. There was a pile of ash from a previous fire so i didn't even have to scorch any grass to cook my tea!

As the map shows, there was once quite a network of canals in this area. Only one is fully navigable, the Kennett & Avon, whose Caen Hill lock flight was my destination. That this waterway survived and was eventually restored was down to the perseverance of one John Gould. I visited him once when I was working on the British Waterways Bill in 1990. He told me never to trust British Waterways, for they promise you one thing then do another. I think the same can be said of any large organisation, private or state owned.


The Kennett & Avon fell into deep decline after it fell into the hands of, you guessed it, the Great Western. They couldn't, by law, close it or forbid traffic, so they knobbled the remaining carriers by malicious regulations, like no cabin fires on a Sunday.


The Thames & Severn was another broad canal which struggled to compete with the railway. This was partly because it was poorly engineered with a chronic lack of water, leaky pounds and a constantly collapsing tunnel. In the early 20th century the county council took it over and paid out a small fortune in repairs, but to no avail. My dad remembered visiting Cirencester in the 1930s and being surprised to see a canal derelict. His local waterway, the Coventry canal, was then thriving. An active restoration project is working on re-opening the route, currently concentrating on the stretch from the Severn up to Stroud.

The Wilts & Berks and North Wilts were narrow canals built, surprisingly, to carry coal. The Somerset Coal Canal was a narrow branch off the Kennett & Avon to tap the Somerset coalfield. It was converted to a railway (Great Western of course) in the 1870s but an amazing lock flight can still be found at Coombe Hay. The railway was just a rural branch but achieved fame after closure as the location for filming the “Titfield Thunderbolt”.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fF56_x2K4f4


The idea of the Wilts & Berks and North Wilts was as a distribution network for the black gold of Somerset. With the loss of this traffic the routes faded away. The last pit in Somerset was served by the Somerset & Dorset Railway (not Great Western) but closed in the 1960s.


http://www.northwiltscanal.org.uk/


It looked like rain, so I unleashed my pop up tent and planted it on what would have been the outside edge of the aqueduct. It did rain, but I was snug and dry and woke up to a bright morning.