Simply glad to be alive: (Bidford-on-Avon - Bletchingdon, Oxon) - When we were two little boys - CycleBlaze

May 8, 2012

Simply glad to be alive: (Bidford-on-Avon - Bletchingdon, Oxon)

You go as fast as you can and hope for the best...
Heart 0 Comment 0

MIKE'S WIFE has threatened to kill me if I don't return her husband alive "and in workable condition." She hasn't quite thought that through, of course, because that would leave her with not one corpse but two. Nevertheless I think my life is safe and that we shall get to see Milton Keynes and Mrs Watkins without trouble.

Continuity of life is something that appeals to us all, probably in equal quantities. Or maybe not. Little about my life has been consistent, which suits me, but because of that I sometimes yearn for what I don't actually want. Which is a sign of inconsistency if not of madness.

Peter at the bed-and-breakfast in Bidford, for example, is a tall, slim, gentlemanly almost patrician man who has served on the village hall committee for 40 years. He and his wife live in his boyhood home. That is consistency.

"I moved here when I was five," he explained in his polite, self-effacing tone, mixed with a hint of a Midlands accent. "It's where I grew up. When my parents died, my sister inherited it and eventually I bought it from her."

"And do you still recognise it from your childhood days?", I asked.

"Oh,"he said, astonished I should ask, "nothing ha schanged."

Mind you, I'd live there happily, too. It stands, only a little younger than Shakespeare, back from the road out of the village, behind a garden which has an arching footbridge and a slippery stone path and in front of lawns expansive enough for a heliport. It is all low and crooked beams and rooms bundled for comfort rather than on any architect's plan.

It was from there that we set off in sunshine, going back into the village and over the bridge where a sign advised looking out for cyclists coming the other way.

"Are you going through Dorsington?", Peter had asked as we loaded ourpanniers. We said we were.

"It's a beautiful village," he said, "not a thing out of place. A man called Felix Dennis lives there. He made a fortune in, er, men's magazines..." He gave a half-apologetic smile, as though we gents would understand the hint. "But after that he moved into more general publishing. He's done wonders for the village. He even has his own security staff patrolling it. Live there and you never get a break-in."

The name was vaguely familiar. I looked him up and found why. He was one of the editors of an underground magazine called Oz, which had the idea in the early seventies of asking children to send in pornographic sketches of an otherwise innocent character called Rupert the Bear. Britain's youth took to the challenge enthusiastically. And the police, too, because it ended with a trial that went on for ever before Dennis and others were cleared of 'conspiracy to deprave and corrupt the morals of the young of the Realm.'

Dennis recorded a ditty with John Lennon to help pay his defence costs. And, having had sentences for other charges quashed a little later, Dennis went not into gentlemen's novelties but what became known as lads' mags, including Maxim. He now not only looks after Dorsington but has created a forest for the region among other works.

The place was indeed immaculate, just as Peter had said. Fields impossibly precise in their inaccurate beauty held sheep and cattle fresh from a child's farmyard kit. They knew their role and grazed beneath trees or where the sun would catch them best. The houses weren't thatched but crowned. It is a chocolate-box village and to live there must be as much pride as self-conscious embarrassment.

Rural hey-nonny-no
Heart 0 Comment 0

The Avon which flows through Bidford passes along a broad valley at the foot of the low but jaggedly steep Cotswold hills. The climbs were pretty but their repetition made them tough. The novelty was soon lost on Mike .I'd been wondering if he was enjoying this cycle-touring lark as much as he said. Was he being polite? Was he putting a brave face on hurt pride, or perhaps a hurt bottom?

Well, today I handed back one of the day's maps and clipped another to the holder on my handlebars. We have been sharing the weight of the maps and this one belonged to his set rather than mine. As he took it, he said: "I think I'm going to keep these and see about going away again for two or three days."

My heart leapt. All along he has been talking of this ride as a single adventure, a challenge, a novelty not to be repeated. Now he has changed his mind. There may never be another nine days on the road but there could be shorter adventures, more easily planned, more simply achieved. He is also thinking about a new bike, one more suited to touring. I don't think his bike shop quite understood when it advised him to buy the one he's been riding. Not knowing, he ordered another just like it, to use in France. But, not having paid for it, the chances now are that he'll cancel it and buy a more conventional mount.

You can imagine my excitement, if not necessarily Geneviève's.

The repeated hills led through a water splash and along roads which normally saw nothing but tractors and cattle. We went off course and paid heavily for our - my - error by grovelling back up to where we should have been. We came to the crossroads where we'd gone the wrong way to be treated with shy smiles and uncomprehending looks from neatly uniformed pupils trooping out of a school for Quaker families. The good thing about Quakers is that you know they'll never throw stones at you.

Just as we'd both had enough of turning the gears one way and another, we passed the final insult the Cotswolds could give us and began the long and gentle run down to the edge of Otmoor. It's there, on the northern edge of Oxford, we shall spend our last night on the road.

Tomorrow I shall return Mike alive and in workable condition.


The other Little Boy recounts:

The following day turned out to be fine in spite of the previous day's forecast which suggested a second dose of heavy rain. Bidford-on-Avon is directly to the west of Milton Keynes, but to follow the original route as far as possible, we had to finish the ride around Oxford to the south-west before returning to Milton Keynes.

Surprise find: a miniature railway
Heart 0 Comment 0

The route we took passed through Long Marston, where we stumbled on a miniature railway with a tiny station. We could see no locomotives or other vehicles; they were probably secured in a large steel container next to the railway.

End of the line
Heart 0 Comment 0

We continued via Shipston-on-Stour where we joined national cycle route 5. We thought this would take us to Hook Norton where we had decided to take lunch. However, at some point we realised that route 5 didn't pass through Hook Norton, but by the time we realised the mistake, we had passed the point where we should have turned on to the road towards Hook Norton. Working our way back we were running out of time to reach Hook Norton before the pubs were due to close at 2pm. Then my chain came off and I wasted a few precious minutes to fix it. We arrived at the pub at 2.05 and were told there was no more food being served.

Luckily, there was a local village shop, so we were able to fuel up with sandwiches and pork pies. We then made our way via Great Tew, Wootton and Bletchingdon arriving at our final stop in Heathfield Village at the Oxfordshire Inn.

Today's ride: 81 km (50 miles)
Total: 1,690 km (1,049 miles)

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