Sunday, 24 July 2022

Summer camping again, Day 3 and trip summary

Only a few things to report today.    [Day 1  Day 2]

I arrived at Stokenchurch around 3pm.   Sunset was about 9pm.    So, dear reader, you might be wondering why I didn't decide to push on a bit further.    Well, partly because I've not yet developed the skill or confidence to find potential wild camping sites without access to OS maps, which show access land.   But, also, because I had an assignation.   I planned to drop in on my sister Ruth, the following morning, near High Wycombe.

Stokenchurch is quite a small place.    It has a few pubs, a few shops, and a big transmission tower which you can see from the M40.   I whiled away several hours doing not much, and was very pleased to see Ruth for a meal at one of said pubs, which was very enjoyable.    Then it was nearly sunset and I had to rush off back to my campsite in a nearby wooded nature reserve.  Lovely spot.   My main concern was the holly leaves on the ground, which stuck through the bivi bag, and risked puncturing the airbed, but in fact there was no problem and I slept extremely well, mostly without the sleeping bag as it was so warm.   But there's always a couple of hours before dawn when it seems to get colder, so I did get to use it.  50% chance of rain overnight 10x more than last night, so I put the tarp up, but in the event there was not a drop of rain! Very windy in the trees above, but at ground level I seemed to be very well sheltered.

I almost never see any wildlife while wild camping (if you don't count ants, midges or tiny beetles), but on Saturday night I did see a bat or two flitting around above my head.    And on yesterday's ride, I saw a mother and baby muntjack deer by the roadside, as well as a hare and several rabbits.   And many red kites of course.

Had a lie-in today, until 5.30am, but I was on the road by 6 and, after a few more hills, at Ruth's before 7.30 for a bit more chat and a lovely breakfast.  Thanks Ruth!  I was originally heading back to Amersham to get the train back, but decided to change my plans and ride back home via High Wycombe and Maidenhead - back to familiar territory.   It got very hot on the way home, so I was pleased to arrive home by 1pm.   

A successful trip, I think.   So what have I learned?  Well, with only one pannier, even biggish hills are not too much trouble.   It seems that alternative wild camping sites are not too difficult to find, at least in some places.   I need to do this more often to get confident at it.  And that summer camping really can be a lot more lightweight than winter camping, when you need to take so much to stay warm overnight.  Also, camping means early starts, so you can easily do long distances if your legs will allow you.   Yesterday, I did 80+ miles and a fair bit of ascent before 3pm, and that was after deliberately wasting time in Wallingford.   I could easily have done 100 miles with another decent tea stop.

Sorry, no photos today.  But here's a map showing the planned route (I cut south from around High Wycombe to ride home instead of returning to Amersham)

Day 1: home-Northwick Park & Amersham to Newbottle:  70.5 miles 905m ascent
Day 2: Newbottle-Stokenchurch: 82.3 miles 1010m ascent
Day 3: Stokenchurch-home: 48.3 miles 416m ascent

Saturday, 23 July 2022

Summer camping again, day 2 - Oxfordshire

Today it's misty and damp  very autumnal.  My plan is to head a bit further west, towards Banbury,  then south to about Didcot, then back east to Stokenchurch (big hill...) and find somewhere up there to camp. 
Summer cycling 

After a few lumpy bits, I joined NCN5 near Banbury, with typical mixed surfaces and nice roads (5 gates on a gated "road" through a farmland.  The mist lifted for some glorious cycling on a sort of plain, with huge views to the south west.  Rode past one of the UK's smallest airports, a strip mown in a cornfield,  with a gap in the hedge at the end of the runway.
Cornfield runway, with wind sock

Problems with starting early: it was only 7.30 and I was desperate for breakfast.  I stopped for a chicken tikka slice which had been warming in my bar bag most of yesterday,  but still wanted coffee.  Around 8.15, forlornly searching the streets of Eynsham, I discovered a coffee tuk-tuk, which was open.  Bliss!

Miles upon beautiful miles passed, and I came to Abingdon, brimming with people in the sunshine.  I'd only about 30 miles to my intended camping spot, so I was in the mood for wasting a bit of time. Extensive searches revealed the best coffee shop in town, overlooking the market place, and I enjoyed a two course elevenses, and almost as enjoyable, a proper wash.

Well supported bike repair event
Abingdon, Didcot and Wallingford, the three biggest places on my whole trip, are only separated by 12 miles.  After a delightful Riverside route out of Abingdon, 11.9 fairly boring miles on a cycle path that had the benefit of being flat and direct, and then on some faaverage roads roads.   I didn't  have the full Didcot city centre experience but I did enjoy the sights of the power station, now sans cooling towers, but with several large piles of concrete rubble that have appeared since my last visit.
Abingdon riverside
Abingdon riverside
Highlights of Didcot

Wallingford is a nice place to while away a couple of hours.  But not five hours, even on a bike.  Despite being on the Thames, it doesn't  really have a riverside area where you could sit with an ice cream or whatever.  I reckon the town is missing out on an opportunity  there.
Just across the bridge at Crowmarsh Gifford

Eventually I ran out of things to do, so I had to tackle the hill up to Christmas Common, via Ewelme and Benson, if you know that area.  Nice road, very quiet, and rather hot and sticky, or perhaps that was just me.  I found a succession of excellent spots between Christmas Common and Stokenchurch, so I think I'm ok for tonight.

Summer camping again

"Sitting on a corner in Winslow, Bucks,
Looking for a place to eat, 
When a passing guy in a flat-bed Ford
Says Oi!  You can't stop 'ere."

It's not yet quite as famous as the original, but I'll keep trying.

I decided to head for Oxfordshire this time.  It's warm, so a fairly lightweight  trip.  And no cooking stove, due to the fire risk, which saves quite a bit of space and weight.
Amersham train
Ride to Northwick Park and Metropolitan line to Amersham, about the 9th train to arrive after a long succession of Uxbridge trains.
Chiltern Cycleway 

Following part of the Chiltern Cycleway, typically lumpy and wooded.  Heading sort of north towards Tring.  11s was a half-brick of bread pudding at Aston Abbots,  and lunch was taken in the aforementioned Winslow.  Winslow is blessed by having not only HS2 building work, but also East-West Railway building work.  At least they will get a station on the EW railway.
Winslow, near HS2
Winslow, EW railway

Tea was at Tingewick, eating the remaining bread pudding on a bench, watching the ducks paddling in the nearly dry pond.  Crossed into Oxfordshire soon after, and the Cotswold stone buildings and walls were immediately apparent.  You knew you had changed county.

Only another ten miles to my planned camping area, some woods near King's Sutton.  Bad plan.  The woods were full of nettles and brambles, and surrounded by "no Cycling" signs.  You would need to be fully covered even to walk in there.
Newbottle woods: unsuitable for camping

So I'm a bit stuck.  I've found a couple of field with verges I can camp in, but they're right next to the road.  Not ideal.  All I can do is wait till near sunset, and hope for the best. 

This meant spending a couple of hours in the pub, which was a bit boring to be honest.  I could have ridden further, but I wasn't confident that I'd find somewhere, so I went back to camp on the grassy margin of a corn field, with amazing views south west.
A room with a view

A warm night, only 5% chance of rain.  I just had a bivi bag, and the sleeping bag liner, although I needed the sleeping bag later.  No tarp rain shelter either,  and it turned out I needed that too when the 5% rain arrived.  The bivi bag is not enclosed, so I scrambled to cinch up the opening around my face, and that seemed to work OK.
Woke at 5am after a good night's sleep, and discovered  I'd been sleeping on an ants' nest.  They weren't  happy.

Thursday, 30 June 2022

Summer camping

How hard can it be to camp in summer?  We'll, the problem seems to be finding the time!  A far cry from the lazy, crazy, hazy days of lockdown.  Once again I found myself with just two days of the month left to fit in a camping trip, and very little time to plan it.

I was hoping to head west with Peter B., so that's what we did.  A late start due to me having to pack after just unpacking from our Dieppe trip; 11s at Chertsey, and lunch in Maidenhead.  Peter headed back and I made for Henley, rather slowly with tired legs.
It's Henley Regatta this week. Queues of cars, lots of very fit young things wearing posh frocks, silly blazers, and/or lycra.  I fitted right in, under the lycra category, in case you were wondering. 
Camp site?
I had planned a fairly short ride in view of my earlier difficulties with heavy panniers.  Despite our late start, this meant I arrived at my possible camping site, near Nettlebed, around 5pm.  I can see why it deserves the name.  However I found a likely spot, and set off to find a pub to while away a few hours.  The nearest was closed until tomorrow,  but this led me to find another, the Black Horse, only two miles away in Checkendon.  
The Maharaja's Well
On the way, I filled up my water bottles at the Maharaja 's Well in Stoke Row.  The mechanism was rather stiff.

The pub is the sort of pub you don't find very often nowadays.  Up a tiny lane with no signposts.  Four real ales drawn from the barrel, lovely building (in the family for 118 years, and still seems to have some original paintwork).  No food in the evenings, but never mind.
The Black Horse
I fell asleep to the sound of distant church bells and nearby birdsong.   It was forecast to rain a bit, so I had a tarp shelter over the bivi bag, and my lightweight (thin) sleeping bag.  In my merino cocoon, I was warm enough until the small hours, but never cold enough to put more layers on. 
In the middle of the night, once again I was woken by something strange.  There was a sort of quiet rushing noise, and I was convinced that the earth was shaking, as if a train was passing nearby - which it wasn't.  Could it have been a small earthquake?  I certainly wasn't  expecting the earth to move for me.
Awake at 5, away by 6 for more exploration of the intricate lacework of quiet lanes north of Reading.  Rolling into Reading at 7.30, I wasn't  hopeful but was saved by Greggs, with a coffee and porridge. I left Reading to the south on the canal towpath, dodging the nettles.  Past the Majedski Stadium, and then more lanes on the Berkshire Cycleway circuit, before picking my way through Wokingham and Bracknell.  So many cycle paths, so few signs.  An early 11s at Ascot powered me on my way home on familiar roads.

Sunday, 29 May 2022

Wild camping with company

I was running out of days in May to keep to my aim of camping every month.  I realised I could convert a train-assisted C&M ride to a camping-assisted ride.  Elevenses was in the Alice Holt Forest, near Farnham, and I found a few potential camping sites in the map.

Decision made in the morning, packed in about an hour, and on the train to Guildford at 6pm, timed to arrive discreetly just before sunset.  I thought I'd got the hang of this.  But on the train I realised I'd forgotten a spoon, without which it would be hard to eat my supper, instant noodles.  No matter, M&S food store at Guildford Station had disposable spoons, and also instant porridge.

My target camping area was on a big hill to the south.  Nice ride through familiar roads to Godalming and Elstead, then a steady climb before arriving to a deserted hilltop site with a nice grassy area near some trees for shelter.  It was lovely, except for hundreds of midges, who seemed to think they owned the place.  I had also forgotten my midge repellent!  But luckily I had a mosquito net, which I put on, a little too late.

Supper was rather rushed, due to the midges being hungrier than me, and me wanting to get into my sleeping bag ASAP.  As I finished up, the sun went down on a clear, warm and calm day.  I decided not to bother with a tarp as rain seemed unlikely, so just slept in a bivi bag.  And...relax.  Or not.  Every time I tried to go to sleep, I'd feel a bite, or feel tiny feet walking across my face in search of a meal.  I still had the mosquito net on, but I couldn't work out if the midges were inside or outside.  Possibly I was just imagining them by now.  Very annoying.

Eventually I did get to sleep, only to be woken just after eleven by two different sounds.  A few drops of rain, and, more alarming, the sound of voices.  Midnight walkers, with head torches flashing around my camp space.  I was well camouflaged, but my bright yellow panniers were just scattered nearby.   The walkers, three young men I think, stopped nearby, opened some cans and engaged in general chat and banter for about half an hour or more.  I couldn't make out what they were saying but football may have been mentioned.

It was very unsettling.  Several unlikely scenarios came to mind: would they try to make me pack up and move?  Would they steal my bike?  My panniers? (With all my day clothes, phone and wallet?)  None of this happened.  But there was a weird view to the north or north east of very many twinkling red lights on the horizon.  Could it be Guildford?  London?

Starry, starry night; crappy, crappy camera

Later on the sky cleared to a brilliant  starscape.  I cannot recommend highly enough the experience of lying beneath the stars, even if it is spotting very slightly with rain.  Everyone should try it.

It also got quite cold, so I put all my clothes on and pulled every drawstring up tight.  There were drawstrings for midges, for rain, and two for warmth - no chance of getting out quickly.

Sunrise over London

Woken by the dawn chorus, I was having breakfast when the sun rose, seeming to confirm that it was London I could see in the night.  Packed up and away by 5.30 with a three mile downhill in the cold morning, to Churt and Frensham Pond.  I was going to be early for elevenses...

Frensham Pond

Tuesday, 10 May 2022


I should have entitled my previous post 'Normandy' because that's where I was. I am now in Brittany hence the title of this one. 
After leaving Mortain I crossed over, at some point, from being in Normandy to being in Brittany. The transition wasn't obvious but gradually the landscape and the architecture changed.

This was my third day in France. Ride with GPS told me that the terrain on this section would be fairly flat so I thought I would try to get some miles in the bag. I was aiming for the municipal campsite in La Ville es Nonais, about 110 Km.

Much of the route would be on the Voie Verte (disused railway transformed for non-motorised recreational use).

The route was dotted with old stations and signal boxes that have been converted to homes like this one. 

These Voie Verte are great for cycling. You can get from A to B without encountering any traffic, or other bicycles. It was very quiet. For the most part I had it to myself. However, I do have some issues with them. First, they are very dusty.
Dusty Bags
Secondly, by their very nature of being old railway lines, they tend to skirt round the edges of the towns and villages, I felt I was missing some of the life of the area. It was very scenic, but because there was so much of it, I found this leg to be quite a long grind despite it being quite flat. You can have too much of a good thing.

Thirdly, the roads around here are so free of traffic anyway, next time I would plan to do more on the tarmac. Although, parents on the school run are just as frazzled as they are at home I found.

I must have eaten the croissant already
I didn't come across a cafe on the Voie Verte at the appropriate time, so I made my own by a river, not far from Mont St Michel. Luckily there was a patisserie nearby, so I had a croissant to go with the coffee.
Talking of Mont St. Michel...

I arrived at the municipal campsite in Le Ville es Nonais, next to the River Rance, a few miles south of St Malo, around 4pm where I set up camp and had my final packet of Uncle Ben's Rice (Special Mushroom) for supper.

Still going okay on my own, but I did say good morning to a cow (her name was Madame le Bouef) and I did catch myself talking to myself at lunch. No one was sitting nearby. Would I have done it had there been?...

Over the next couple of days I stopped overnight in Pordic and then Louannec.

Camping at Louannec.
The beach was the other side of the hedge.

Over the hedge

There was not much to report over these couple of days except, the further I got in to Brittany the more hilly it became. I was very grateful for my triple chain ring. The inner ring got a lot of use! 

But the hills were no problem. On the steep ones I just dropped down in to first gear and took my time, saving my legs for flatter sections. 

I was really starting to enjoy being on my own now. I could please myself: stop when I wanted to take a photo, admire a view, have lunch and so on. Having said that I did speak to my wife quite a lot on the phone. She reckons I spoke to her more than I do when I'm at home!

I went through some lovely little harbour towns and villages and there were some great coastal views too. Here are a few pictures:

Morlaix Viaduct
My final stop before Roscoff was to be Morlaix. As usual it was late afternoon and I was heading for the municipal campsite, only to discover when I got there that it was currently closed. A big red sign FERMEE on the gate. Fortunately someone was there doing some maintenance. They suggested I try the Auberge de Jeunesse (youth hostel) back down the hill in the centre of Morlaix. 

This turned out to be an excellent choice close to the centre of Morlaix. I was able to have a beer, watching the world go by, and an excellent dinner at the Le Grande Terrace. 
It was nice to sleep in a proper bed too.

After a good night's sleep and some breakfast at the Auberge, I set off on the short 30km ride to my final destination of Roscoff.
J'ai arrivé á Roscoff!

I arrived in time to have a pre-lunch beer and watch a boules match in progress.
Le jeu de boule

I had to share my peanuts with a local

Talking of lunch, one of the great benefits of cycling several hundred miles in a week is that you can eat whatever and as much as you want, in fact you have to. So, I will finish off with a few photos of food (personally, I like to see photos of food):

Langoustine Galette

Flambee Crepe


My new favourite pastry, Kouign-Amann

Moules Frites

A misty morning departure from Roscoff

Le Route