Eery predictions of imminent gloom: (Clearwell - Bidford-on-Avon, Warks) - When we were two little boys - CycleBlaze

May 7, 2012

Eery predictions of imminent gloom: (Clearwell - Bidford-on-Avon, Warks)

Rain jackets dry before the fire. Rain was the theme of the day
Heart 1 Comment 0

THERE WAS SOMETHING a woman said to me. I forget where it was but she was crossing the road in blue jeans and a black sweater, with a plastic mug of coffee in her hand. She was struggling to stop it slopping on to the road and I suggested the neighbourly thing would be to let me have it instead. But these are ill-mannered times and she declined. She insisted her need was greater than mine, which of course was ridiculous.

"I've got no end of flowers to sort out," she said, stepping on the pavement and opening the black side door of what I hadn't noticed, in my coffee lust, was a florist's shop. "Got a busy day today with all the weddings. And there's a couple marrying on Monday of all days."

I thought she meant it was unusual to marry on a Monday rather than a weekend, even though Monday was a national holiday.

The idea vanished from my head as quickly as she - and her coffee - vanished into her shop. But today, Monday, I realised what she'd meant. It poured with cold, hard rain just as the forecasters had been insisting for the past week that it would. And the Forest of Dean didn't get there because of an arid climate. If it will rain anywhere, that's where it will be.

We left a sad village that had resigned itself to life's not getting better. It had rained all night and it was to rain all day. We began climbing immediately, up through dripping trees. Water ran down the slope to join us and then hurried by. Mud striped down from the fields. It was a morning for bunkering down inside waterproofs and sturdy gloves.

All morning we saw drooping cardboard signs announcing in stencilled letters the fun of village fêtes that would never happen. A man in a yellow jacket  sat morosely in the entrance to a field, waiting for the moment he'd reluctantly leave his car to direct an advertised running race we never saw. A farmer, knowing the way things would go, had roped off a meadow that was to be used for a car boot or garage sale (that great weekend passion for the British) and hung a sign that said simply CANCELLED. The ink was running. So many ruined hopes, and presumably so many drenched weddings.

We climbed straight away today through the woods that surround the tight, complicated and above all slate-grey villages of this Wesh border. We struggled up a narrow hill where coal smoke was already rising from spindly roof chimneys.

They no longer dig coal here, or pretty much anywhere else. Few people use it, much of Britain having long since been declared clean-air country. But here it burned, perhaps for old time's sake. They don't dig for iron either, although they used to. A peeling and rusting line of trucks from an underground railway stood on a shallow ridge beside the road, beside a driveway. It was intended to entice us to what a small wooden board called "The Ages of Iron Experience." Museums have become heritage centres, tips have become environment centres and now, it seems, big holes in the ground have been renamed an "experience."

Tired and hollow-cheeked while Mike goes off in the ecstasy of discovering a signal box
Heart 1 Comment 0

Two belittling valleys later, there was another reminder of the past. We sensed a whiff of coal dust and steam as we rode into Parkend and there, sure enough, was a line preserved by rail enthusiasts. A cycle-hire business with its own café stood beside the repainted station, although all three were closed, and beyond them a magnificent wooden signal box with its original huge levers.

I longed to see some Puffing Billy make its way up the tracks but the sight of a signal box was all Mike had dreamed of. This, after all, was a man who'd made his life of such things.

"In the old days", he said as he stood in religious awe beside the road, "there was a limit to how long a piece of wire a signalman could pull to operate a signal or a set of points [switches]. When signalling became electric, the control centre could be anywhere and the signal boxes weren't needed. I used to be part of crews dismantling them and we just threw everything that could be carted away for scrap.

"That'd all be worth an absolute fortune on the nostalgia market now. I wish I'd realised that at the time."

We were grateful to leave the climbs of the forest and pass into gentler country of cow pastures and grazing sheep. But the rain fell and the temperature rose only slightly. We had sodden shoes, gloves and hats. We dripped into a pub for coffee, found it had a log fire, and stayed for lunch.

Barely anybody was about on what should have been one of the busiest weekends of the year. We skirted Ashton-under-Hill, supposedly inspiration for Ambridge in The Archers, a British institution and the longest-running radio serial in the world. We trespassed our way down to the main Evesham road with its accompanying bike path, confident that nobody would come out in a downpour to wave a broom at us, and rode half happily, half despondently on to our night's rest.

It was on this day 50 years ago that we fell out over the capital of Holland. Today, we had more important things to grumble about.


The other Little Boy recounts:

This was a day that turned out to be the toughest day (for me) for two specific reasons. First it rained heavily and continuously for about six of the eight hours or so that we spent on the road. Secondly, the route was easily a record for me for a day's cycling, 110km.

The first part of the route through the Forest of Dean was spectacular and reminded me a lot of what we saw in the New Forest at the beginning of our trip. We emerged at Pope's Hill continuing through Tibberton and Hartbury, then Tewkesbury and Evesham, arriving in Bidford-on-Avon late, cold and very, very wet. This is just 2km from Broom our destination in 1962. So, we were pretty close.

Our host at the B&B kindly gave us a lift to town where we had a Balti meal to warm us up!

Today's ride: 108 km (67 miles)
Total: 1,609 km (999 miles)

Rate this entry's writing Heart 2
Comment on this entry Comment 0