After eating my tea and tidying up I decided to ride down the towpath to the “Cape of Good Hope” pub beside Cape 2 locks in Warwick. I bought a pint of very pleasant Wye Valley ale and put my 'phone on charge.
My last visit to the Cape of Good Hope was, I think, in 1987 on "Lilith"s first busking tour for Green Deserts.
We were being towed by a Warwickshire Fly Boats motor boat and chanced upon my old friend Rod North.
There was some kind of party going on, but it wasn't really my scene. Why do people get so excited about singing "Delilah", a song about a man making excuses for murdering his girlfriend?
This time I quietly enjoyed the scene, and enjoyed eavesdropping on two women discussing friends and family, not because I was interested in what they were saying but because I liked to hear my native accent being spoken. A large bird landed on the top of the telegraph pole across the canal, sillhouetted against the sunset. I cycled back up to my tent in the gathering dusk and turned in for the night.
I slept like a young log, but woke fairly early. I made my strange early morning drink of camp coffee mixed with cocoa. It was pleasant but I had forgotten that the camp mixture is sweetened. I'm not sure if I'll get any more.
Parallel with Hatton locks is the Hatton bank, a 1 in 70 incline on the London to Birmingham route of the old Great Western. As it grew light I listened to trains working hard to get up the gradient. An approaching deep throated roar from the railway prompted me to open the flap and look out. I saw a pair of class 20s, locomotives of 1950s design, dragging a rake of London Underground stock up the bank, with another two class 20s at the back being hauled dead.
Eventually I got up and started packing. My back tyre had been rather soft so I got out the pump and started to blow it up,then noticed with alarm that there was a developing split in the tyre and the tube was sticking out. It was only a matter of time and miles before it would blow. I toyed with the idea of risking carrying on the Stratford, but caution got the better of me and I loaded up then pedalled back down the towpath to Warwick.
Enquiries about a bike shop got me directed to Halfords on a retail park near Leamington. I got there at 8.30, but, as they didn't open until 9, I got myself a second breakfast of scotch eggs from Sainsburys.
I could either get them to fit the tyre or buy the tools to do it. In fact the fitting charge of £9 was probably less than the tools would have cost and, as the man said it would be done in 20 minutes , I left him to it.
He didn't do a brilliant job as I soon noticed a bumping, indicating that the tyre wasn't quite seated all round. This was exacerbated by the fact that he'd blown it up to about 3000psi! Nevertheless, I was mobile. I cycled back up the towpath to resume my route. Leaving the canal I headed towards Hampton on the Hill, noting that the lane I was on was called “Ugly Bridge Lane”. Presumably this is related to the concrete bridge built when the waterway was widened in the 1930s. From Hampton I went on to Sherbourne, then opted to deviate along the Avon valley rather than follow the busy A46.
This was a pleasant ride if a bit up and down. My initial problems with puffing and blowing on the slightest hill seemed to have subsided as my heart and lungs have got into their stride, but I was carrying a lot of weight and hills were a bit challenging.
Hampton Lucy is a delightful village. Like every settlement around here it oozes affluence.
I made a mistake in choosing to ride in a westerly direction parrallell to the river. My line went through the village of Alveston on the South side of the river. The map appeared to show footpaths approaching the river from opposite sides and I surmised that there must be a footbridge there. I descended the steep river banks to an overgrown smallholding but could find neither footpaths or bridge. Disappointed, I rode back to Hampton Lucy, passing for a second time the decomposing corpse of a fox. I crossed the river to Charlecote and passed Charlecote Park, where young Will Shakespeare once, allegedly, got caught poaching deer.
I was moving into the lands where the rich people live. A land of private. Private drives, private fishing, private property, private ownership, private schools, private tax arrangements and so on. After the successful re-instatement of navigation on the Avon from Tewkesbury to Stratford (allowed to fall into disrepair by the Great Western Railway), there was a scheme to open up the Higher Avon to navigation, from Stratford to Warwick, where a flight of locks would connect to the Grand Union Canal. This was stymied by private interests who don't want the riff raff on their river.
I had deviated a little from my line, partly to avoid the busy road and partly to find a river crossing. I was also interested in finding the remnants of the Stratford & Moreton Tramway which went near but not quite on my line. This horse drawn line connected with the canal in Stratford and ran to Moreton in the Marsh with a branch to Shipston on Stour. Built in the 1820s it was part of an ambitious plan to connect with the Thames at Oxford, then carry on with a railway to London. Alas, these extensions were never built and the line remained a rural backwater. Overtaken by time and technology it was bought up by the Oxford Worcester & Wolverhampton Railway which reached Moreton in the 1850s. They built their own branch to Stratford from Honeybourne, presumably the old route was too bendy for their trains. The Moreton to Shipston section was eventually converted to a steam railway and the whole lot came under the omnipresent aegis of the Great Western, who took over the OW&W. The remaining route through to Stratford continued in use to serve limeworks around Newbold using horsepower to the end, which came in 1880. The track remained in place until a wartime scrap drive in 1916, but it was still technically still open until 1926!
Shipston on Stour became relatively less important over time and its railway was just a meandering rural branch. In 1929 the Great Western substituted a bus service for the passenger trains, but occassional goods trains lingered on until closure in 1960. I remember visiting Shipston station with my brother in about 1962. The track was still in place, red rusty, and all was derelict.
I had noticed a lot of light aircraft
flying about and guessed there must be an airfield nearby. My route
took me past it and, as there was a plane taxi-ing out to the runway,
I decided to stop and watch it take off, which it did, its wings
wobbling unsteadily in the strong crosswind. Several flying schools
seemed to be based here. I noticed a Vulcan bomber parked at the far
end of the airfield. I doubt if they give flying lessons in that.
There was a stiff climb out of the Avon valley to the village of Loxley, and an even stiffer climb through the village. I asked a postman if I was on the right road as I find it very distressing to labour up a hill then find I've gone the wrong way. My route was correct and soon I was on relatively flat ground approaching the main Stratford to Banbury road, which I had to travel along a short way. Here the road used to do a dog leg for a bridge over the old SMJ railway, now straightened out and the cutting filled in.
Onward and Southward. A hectic plunge into the Stour valley brought me to Alderminster and the A 34 road. I was low on water so I entered the grounds of the delightful church to find the tap provided for people to water flowers. Topped up i carried on along the main road, looking out for traces of the old tramway, for I knew it followed this road to Newbold. I was looking between the road and the river, then I realised that the road had an extremely wide verge on one side. This was probably the tramway route. Approaching Newbold I diverged down a little road to get supplies from a farm shop. Using another lane to rejoin the A34 I came across what was obviously the tramway crossing. On one side the trackbed had clearly been used as an allotment, now derelict, on the other was a big back garden for a house that could well have served the local wharf (the term goods yard was still unknown when this line was built).
I took a good if juddery bridle path from Newbold towards a long thin woodland marked on the map that I suspected to be the old tram route. Indeed it was. I found an embankment and the abutments of a bridge.
After following the route for ¼ mile or so its route became unclear and I followed paths across the field (which might have been the tramway route), towards Ilmington, then whizzed downhill along a road signposted to Shipston. A signpost to “Wharf Farm” was another sign of the old way and an angle gateway suggested the site of a level crossing. To follow the old line I knew I had to take a right turn, but I turned too early up a road that was marked on my map only as an unmade track. I faced a stiff climb and passed another likely crossing site before turning South, almost on my line.
A left turn took me on to unmade roads
again. An area of field was growing a crop of blue flowers, woad?
At Scorpion Manor Farm a remote controlled electric gate blocked my way. I checked the map then noticed the bridleway gate and waymarkers alongside it. A smartly dressed woman came out of the house to ask if I needed directions. Through the gate I crunched across the gravel then had to control my speed as I headed downhill on the bone shattering stone driveway. After another electronic gate I emerged on to the road to Paxford.
In this area nearly every junction has a signpost to some Business Centre or other, usually located in former farmyards. The roads are busy with vans and small lorries servicing their transport needs. Though apparently rural, this is in fact a highly industrial area. The B road to Paxford was up and down, then a steep descent into the village. I turned left following a signpost to Aston Magna, but then I ignored an unmarked left turn that looked like it went nowhere and followed the road most travelled, which brought me on to a bigger road. I didn't realise until I reached a level crossing where there should have been a bridge over the railway that I had in fact rejoined the B4479.
I stopped at the level crossing. It was 4.30, there was a long climb ahead and my calf muscles were telling me it was time to stop. The problem was, where to camp. There seemed to be no cover anywhere and the last thing I wanted was for a raging farmer to turn up shouting “Oi git orf my land” halfway through cooking my dinner. Between the road and the railway I noticed a meadow infested with ragwort. This is deadly to many animals so I surmised that the land couldn't be being managed. A closer look revealed that the access gate hadn't been opened this year and the corrugated iron buildings, obviously shelters for animals, were in disrepair.
I unloaded my bike and lifted it over the gate, ranging my belongings against the overgrown hedge that hid me from the road. There was little dry wood in this field, but a foray into the wheatfield next door procured more than enough fuel for my fire. Whilst I was busy with this task a twin rotor army helicopter flew directly over me at treetop height
When wild camping the most dangerous time for attracting unwanted attention is when you make a fire. In a dry summer it's also important to take care not to ignite your surroundings. I picked an area where the grass was too moist to burn and, with a bit of paper, dry grass from elsewhere and dead sticks, I soon had a useful blaze going. My routine is to cook my meal, in an old wok rescued from the scrap, then boil a kettle to fill a flask for the morning. Surplus water is used to make a post meal brew, then the fire is allowed to go out.
It hadn't rained all day and the sky was clear so I elected not to unfurl the tent but to sleep in the open. Next to the field ran the Oxford to Worcester railway which carried a boring succession of diesel multiple units. On the other side was Blockley Brickworks, where the activity died down as the day shift left at 5 pm but whose chimneys seemed to get smokier after dark.