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Holiday 2011

  1. Worthing to Farnham
  2. Farnham to Oxford
  3. Oxford to Stratford-Upon-Avon
  4. Stratford-Upon-Avon
  5. Stratford-Upon-Avon to Ashby-De-La-Zouch
  6. Ashby-De-La-Zouch to Peak District
  7. Peak District
  8. Peak District to Home

Last year I rather impromtusly decided to cycle hundreds of miles for a holiday. Many think me mad for that, but I am the type that has to be doing things, and cycling gives an unbridled freedom of place and mind which cannot be found lying on a beach.

As I travelled alone, I took my netbook with me and blogged along the way for the benefit of visitors to this site. However, this year, I had managed to rope my friend Prenuntius into joining me on this mad journey. Therefore this time, I did not bring a computer along and decided to be a bit less technology-bound. For a more technical breakdown of the trip (distances, equipment &c.) and plenty of photographs (I didn’t take quite as many this time as I was doing so just for myself rather than specifically for my blog) see the last year’s article.

Rather than following the structured format of last year, this will be more general now that that I’ve done it all and am writing up afterwards.


In the months leading up to my trip there’d been a lot weighing on me and a few upheavals. I wanted to be able to get away from all of this to be able to sort it out in my head.

Where as last year the trip was a spur-of-the-moment thing (deciding randomly to do it two weeks before going!) this year I knew what to expect at least in terms of travel. Prenuntius coming along with me added an element of the unknown as though we are good friends, I don’t think we’ve ever been in each other’s company for this amount of time and I was worried that he would annoy me or I would annoy him. We both talk a lot about complex things and both have strong but differing opinions, which is fine for a good debate, but not possibly for any great length of time :P I didn’t want to spend the whole journey debating technology and philosophy as we cycled but my fears were unfounded as the sereneness and beauty of our surroundings chased away any thoughts we might have had.

One of the things I valued the most about the trip last year is just how much it helped clear my mind. This is the aspect that most are not able to see when I say that I’m going to cycle half way across the country because I want to. The hours of cycling are quite inconsequential. It’s not for everyone though unless you can distance yourself from the goal and only see the journey instead.

Worthing to Farnham

See photos from last year of this part of the journey.

Setting off on such a journey is always interesting. I hadn’t given myself much time to prepare so it all came together rather quickly out of necessity, but this time the extra time I had to prepare only made me more anxious. It never helps that the last few days of work just before my holiday were extremely long and tiring (57 miles cycled in two 12-hour days).

The weather was the same as last year, being a little grey and damp but hot and sunny by mid-day. The only two course-corrections from last year (Google sending me places I couldn’t physically go) led us up two very major hills :P

Heather near Frensham Great Pond
Alternative shot. The purple of the heather was far more intense and visually dense than these pictures convey
The road aside Frensham Great Pond

We stayed at the Heath Lodge B&B, which is excellent, homely accommodation with excellent beakfast. My fried egg was cooked to perfection, the best I’ve had in my life. This is the kind of B&B I prefer, rather than a more formal and “samey” hotel-feel guest house. I like character in buildings and in people.

Farnham to Oxford

See photos from last year of this part of the journey.

Both this day and the next were hard cycling because of the extreme heat. My calves got sun-burnt and we were positively knackered when we arrived. We didn’t visit anything in Oxford and just opted for simple fish and chips in the evening.

The Bel & Dragon restaurant in Reading
Nearing Oxford
Other side of this pic from last year

Last year the accomodation at Oxford was pretty poor (The room is small, ugly and thought out as bout as well as a punch to the face) so this time I booked somewhere else that was well rated, but I found it hotel-like and impersonal and I dislike that in accommodation.

Oxford to Stratford-Upon-Avon

See photos from last year of this part of the journey.

Again, a rediculously hot day that made progress hard. We stopped off twice for a drink, once at the picturesque Falklands Arms in Great Tew and then at The Peacock, Oxhill.

The ride from Oxford to Stratford-Upon-Avon is absolutely glorious and definitely the best of the whole week. It takes you through the heart of the cotswolds, some of the most beautiful countryside and villages in England.

As we were in no rush and the ride was a bit shorter than the other days (I made exceptionally good time last year), we decided to extended the route through Wheatly on to the B4027, adding another 15 miles to the journey.

Dry stone walling
They’ve been at this for two years
Complete wall section. See pic from last year for comparison
Look ma, no mortar! The whole wall is kept in place by gravity and will easily last 100 years.
Pub garden
Liquid lunch
Pub ceiling
The Ambleside Guest House, Stratford-Upon-Avon. Stay here, it’s fantastic.

The Ambleside Guest House is outstanding in just about every way. It’s very close to the centre of Stratford-Upon-Avon, the price is excellent even without its prime location, the place is absolutely immaculate like nothing you’ve ever seen, the hosts are nice and very helpful and the food is great too.

Stratford-Upon-Avon

Unlike last year I decided to not do four days cycling 50+ miles on-the-trot. I could probably have handled it, but it wasn’t easy and Prenuntius is much less experienced than me at cycling these sorts of distances. We used this opportunity to spend an extra day in Stratford-Upon-Avon since there’s more to do there than can easily fit into an afternoon.

We decided to visit Anne Hathaways’s Cottage first, as it was outside the town centre and going early would avoid the other tourists. We were first through the door, so that proved right.

One of the gardens at Anne Hathaway’s Cottage
Swans—lots of them—on the river Avon

Throughout this holiday I wanted to use the time to buy a gift for my girlfriend but I am stubborn and had some specific criteria. I didn’t want to buy any old tat because she was busy doing some decluttering at home whilst she had the time off and that I don’t think such throwaway gifts actually benefit people. Being such a tourist hot-spot I wasn’t holding out much hope of finding anything, and I wasn’t left disappointed.

The problem is that in such a heavily consumerist economy, and esepecially with tourism, it’s impossible to find anything original and unique. I was stunned at how every shop was just full of produced goods. Clothes, tourists gifts and nick-naks. Absolutely nothing you couldn’t go and buy somewhere in any other town in the country. Not a single piece of craftmanship to be found anywhere, just machine-made mass-produced stuff shipped from somewhere else. We have completely lost the sense of value in this country. I couldn’t see a thing for sale that had any value what so ever. There were expensive things, yes, but everything—cheap or expensive—was just material cost and markup, no craftmanship, no singular talent, no imagination or skill to be found. The spewings of an unending production line churning out mediocrity. How can I give a token of love if there was no love in the making of something? The junk I saw were just tokens of profit.

Stratford-Upon-Avon to Ashby-De-La-Zouch

See photos from last year of this part of the journey.

After two blisteringly hot days cycling we were very glad for the days rest but also for the wet weather that greated us on day 5. We had come prepared with waterproofs so it wasn’t an issue with it raining. The route was much flatter than any of the other days and for whatever reason I seemed to remember it from last year far more clearly than the other days.

House on the way to Ashby-de-la-Zouch. Close up shot from last year here
The centre of England monument in Meridan
Plaque on the centre of England monument
Compare with shot from last year
No post-production on this, it’s just a steamed-up lens

We were rained upon for six hours so by the end of the journey our waterproofs had given up and we were soaked through. We had to use hairdryers to dry our trainers before we could go out for something to eat in the evening.

Ashby-de-la-Zouch has an interesting mix of shops, so in the morning we agreed to whip around the shops quickly to look for a present for my girlfriend before setting off. I’m glad I did look because I wouldn’t have had any hope later on getting something nice (details on that later). I settled on a silver bracelet, a very elegant, simple continuous circle with no adornments. Now I have no idea about jewelry, or even what kind she wears, but it was just the sort of design that communicated the message I wanted to convey, that our relationship is one that is honest and truthful and straight to the point and not hidden behind complex ‘granish’ or some façade.

Ashby-De-La-Zouch to Peak District

See photos from last year of this part of the journey.

No rain today and things were milder and at least not on the other extreme end of the scale with the burning heat at the start of the week.

Not much to say about this ride other than as you hit the peak district, it’s unavoidable that you’re going to meet some very serious hills. I think we coped rather well thanks to the mild weather.

Unlike last year, I decided we should go around Derby as it’s not exactly pretty and navigating the roads to get out was awful.

Right side…
Left side…
Other side
View from bedroom window

The B&B we were staying at, Woodside, is absolutely outstanding; even better than our stay in Stratford-Upon-Avon. The price is far too low for the level of service, fit and finish and scenery you get. We even had an en-suite with a bath, a total joy after 250 miles of cycling.

Peak District

See photos from last year of this part of the journey.

We now had a whole day to explore the peak district and even though it’s very touristy, Bakewell is a good starting point for cycling. If Stratford-Upon-Avon was bad for being touristy, then Bakewell is the worst. There were only four kinds of shops that I could identify: Bakers (selling Bakewell puddings, what else), outdoor equipment shops, home decor shops and gift shops. Nice location, but not a single thing of interest.

From there we joined the Monsal Trail, a dismantled railway now a trail for walkers and cyclists. Being previously a railway, it’s flat all the way (though apparently considered very steep for a train, even though the gradient is practically inperceptable). We took this as far as we could go and then came back via road routes.

Couldn’t work out what these signs were actually for
Part of the Monsal Trail

This day and the day before, when we were in a local pub in the evening we were developping a new card game and finally made a break through that formed a complete, playable game.

Peak District to Home

See photos from last year of this part of the journey.

Last year, the journey home was completely mental. Whilst I was better prepared this time, it wasn’t without its own events. We had given ourselves more time to make the journey from the B&B to Chesterfield station, so didn’t arrive with mere seconds to spare :P

The crooked spire at Chesterfield. A terrifying and fascinating thing
Has to be seen in person for the full effect, it’s surreal

A three-hour train journey, this time thankfully with the comfort of seats and plenty of time to play some Court Wars. When we arrived in London we decided to cycle to Picadilly Circus to go get something to eat at the Japan Centre. Now cycling in London is uterly insane at the best of times, I can’t even fathom why anybody would want to drive through it in the first place, but it didn’t help that it pissed down with rain so hard that in 10 minutes I was more soaked than six hours of cycling in the rain on Thursday.

I could have taken a ton of pictures in London—just about every inch is interesting and there’s much variety and craftmanship of the buildings from every decade in the last few centuries—but I didn’t want to risk being run over and I wasn’t in a tourist mood after the soakening.

Some humour in London

Over all the holiday has been a great experience. We cycled 310 miles in all but I think that’s quite inconsequential for the experiences had.