Yorkshire back to Heathrow Airport
References to CTC Guide
Heathrow Airport to St Albans
At Albans to Stevenage
York to Harrogate
Harrogate to Ripon
Route 131 (into the Vales)
Ripon to Richmond
Richmond to Osmotherley
Osmotherly to Oswaldkirk
Oswaldkirk to York
(see above map)
York to East Butterwick
East Butterwick to Lincoln
Route #63 (The Roman Road is very busy & narrow)
Lincoln to Oakham
Route #64 (The short ride on A1 is bad & should be avoided)
Oakham to Castle Asbhy
Route #54 (We modified the route to avoid A5)
Castle Ashby to Stewkley
Stewkley to Oxford
Oxford to Henley on Thames
Oxford to Henley on Thames
Route #21 (Busy road into Henley, we rode on the sidewalk)
Henley on Thames to Heathrow
Route #18 (We stayed in Colnbrook then to the airport in A.M. Less expensive hotel here)
Whirlwind Trip through Cotswolds, Wales, Chester & Scottland
Heathrow Airport to Henley On Thames
(see first trip)
Henley On Thames to Oxford
Oxford to Chipping Camden
Chipping Camden to Cirencester
Cirencester to Bath
Bath to Newport (Wales) by train
Newport to Chepstow
Chepstow to Hereford
Hereford to Ludlow
Ludlow to Shrewsbury
Shrewsbury to Chester
Chester to Bangor (Wales) by train
Bangor to Holyhead and back to Bangor
Bangor (Wales) to Edinburgh by Train
Then to Oban in northern Scottland by Train then by Ferry across to Craignure. (Isle of Mull)
Craignure to Gruline
Gruline to Salen
Salen to Corran
Corran to Spean Bridge
Spean Bridge to Invergarry
Invergarry to Inverness
Inverness to London by train
Connect to station for Windsor in London by bike. Train to Windsor and by bike to Heathrow Airport.
Heathrow Airport to Henley on Thames
Henley on Thames to Oxford
Oxford to Chipping Campden
Chipping Campden to Cirencester
Cierencester to Oxford
Oxford to Henley on Thames
Henley on Thames to Heathrow Airport
** See maps for Whirlwind May 1989 trip. – Same routes.
Flat is Dull
Remember this—and believe it—should you find yourself in Devon or Cornwall, England.
By Peter H. Blommer
“How did you get to find this place?” the lawyer from London asked. “Even Englishmen from outside this area aren’t aware of it, he said, showing pride in the fact that he knew of it.
The place was the Rugglestone Pub, just outside Widecombe on the Moor on a one-lane road in Devon, England. Margaret, a sixtyish spinster, was the third generation proprietress. She had told my wife Sally and me, earlier, that there were maybe five of these traditional type pubs left in all of Britain.
There was no “bar” as such. Margaret said that the bar was introduced in the 1890’s. Here at the Rugglestone the unrefrigerated beer barrel was on a stand in a small room with a half a door over which Margaret served the beer. The beer was drawn directly out of the barrel through a spigot. The patrons then chose to sit in one of three adjoining rooms at communal tables.
It was at one of these tables that Sally answered the lawyer’s question. We’re on bicycles. It was getting late and we liked the town. We found a Bed and Breakfast available through the man in the Post Office/General Store. Mr. Booth, the B&B owner, told us about this place.”
It was the pace at which we traveled on our bikes that allowed these kinds of discoveries throughout Devon and Cornwall.
While biking around Britain that spring, we were always asked “Have you been to Devon?” or “How did you like Cornwall?” Time constraints had kept us from these Southwestern districts then. Now, in September, we were back to ride through this area exclusively.
When we arrived at Heathrow airport, we rode our bikes to Windsor as we had on our previous trip. We then took the train to Exeter and rode west from there, occasionally making additional use of the trains.
We rode on the one-lane back roads. These were quiet, scenic and relatively well maintained. But they made no allowances for hills. You’ve heard of classic English understatement? The Cyclist Touring Club guidebook called this area’s biking “strenuous.”
The English grade hills differently. Whereas American signs will warn of a percentage grade ahead, English signs declared ratios. A 10:1 ratio equals a ten percent grade, 8:1 hills got the heart beating, 5:1 hills were barely rideable, heavy breathing and lots of sweat, a 4:1 hill got us off our bikes to push. Finally, near Budde, we encountered a 3:1 hill. It was a wall; impossible to ride. To even push our bikes up was “strenuous.”
There were, however, rewards and occasional respites. Along the southern coast near Dartmouth where we had spent the previous night, we got a break from the hills. As we rode along the long sandy beach, we stopped at a little grocery store for a snack. The proprietor, noticing we were Americans, felt compelled to unfold for us the history of the area.
“This is Tor Cross and the Yanks trained here for the assault on Normandy Beach before 1944.” His voce lowered as of telling a secret as he continued, “The little known part of this history is that a few German U-boats sneaked up on these raw recruits and inflicted upon them a disastrous loss. However, for the sake of troop morale, the American leadership decided to keep this from being publicized.”
After we left the store and resumed out ride we passed an old burned-out American tank left on the beach as a memorial.
We stayed each night in Bed and Breakfast accommodations each night. The B&B’s in Cornwall and Devon were generally very clean and comfortable, but they did vary.
When we reached Dartmouth we realized that the whole town was fully booked with a yacht regatta underway. After calling one place after another, we finally found a room, the last in town as far as we could tell and immediately it took a sight unseen. It was a single room with only one small single bed. The only way we could possibly fit into bed was to pull the mattress off the box springs and lay it on the floor forming two beds. The box springs were not comfortable, but I could have slept on nails after that day’s ups and downs.
Later in our trip, in St. Ives on the northern coast, we stayed as Mrs. Mason’s B&B. Although the B&B was delightful, it was the owner who most impressed us. Mrs. Mason was a gregarious and spirited 85-year-old who loved to demonstrate her fitness by running up the two flights of stairs to show her rooms to patrons. She was also atypically demonstrative and outgoing and even hugged and kissed us as we were leaving.
Generally, as we approached a town, we’d have a radical downhill since most towns were situated on a river stream. These rivers turned the wheels of industry during the Mercantile Age and this determined where the population settled. In our approach to Great Torrington, however, we climbed into town. This city was built on a medieval site when defensive position was the primary concern.
In the center of Great Torrington, we found the Black Stallion, a B&B above a pub. This rustic half-timbered building dated from the 16th century. It’s ancient floors rolled like the terrain we had biked over that day. Even Sally had to stoop to pass through the low doorways, evidencing the stature of their original clientele.
Later, downstairs in the pub, we met a patron who, like most Englishmen, had a keen awareness of history. We would often be teased about the comparative brevity of our American history. This man’s interest, ironically, was not English but American history. His special interest was the American Indian. In spite of never having been to American, he entertained us with vivid histories of the Apaches and the Pueblos. His great-grandfather had written one of the original books about the American Indian over 100 years ago. He, himself, had a renowned book collection on the subject.
Perhaps it was our American instinct for pioneering that took us off the roads shown on the map the previous morning. We left Bude, where we had spent the night, realizing that there was an area on out map which showed no through roads near the coast. Our bicycle guidebook recommended retreating inland about 8 miles and then returning to the coast on the other side of a large gorge. We were determined to go straight along the coast and we put our faith in a dotted line on one of our maps, which crossed this gorge. We asked directions with more frequency as we approached the gorge. The paved road headed down, turned to dirt and finally to mud, but there was a path which headed back up. We pushed out bikes through this part but this was nothing new.
As we emerged from the gorge on the other side we spotted a charming chapel which we went over to investigate. We met an elderly English lady, Mary, resting on the steps of the beautiful chapel overlooking the gorge. She was hiking and looked wind-blown and tired. Mary told us of the hiking trail near the shear cliffs of the coast where the winds gusted and the rain swirled. We marveled at her fitness and stamina to have hiked all the way from Bude where we had started that morning.
We were high above the sea as we rode along on a plateau. We thought of the hardy Mary as we looked down the steep cliffs to the windswept sea.
We reached Clovelly about 2pm that day. This was an old town that spilled down the cliff to the sea. We left out bikes at the top and walked down through the town. There was one road that descended straight to the sea. The houses were white-ashed in Mediterranean style with window boxes full of bright colored flowers.
The sun, that day, was also Mediterranean—warm, and we were protected from the wind. We stopped for “Devon Cream Tea” at an outside café near the sea. Cream Tea consists of tea, scones (like our biscuits), strawberry jam and clotted cream. We had hesitated until now to try “clotted cream” which is a cross between unsalted butter and unsweetened whipped cream. This definitely filled us up and prepared us for more hills. We hiked back up to our bikes and then rode up some more. At this point there had been no free wheeling on this trop but finally we started down the side of a river with the wind at our backs. This trip into Great Torrington had to rate as the best rie of the trip.
We only took our chances the following day and rode on the highway to Blickleigh, a tiny community with a delightful inn. It was a trade-off; more traffic but better graded roads. We were amazed at the distances we covered by avoiding the very steep hills.
The next morning we again covered more miles than we had become accustomed to by using the highways instead of the one-lane back roads. We were in Exeter early and connected with the early faster train to Windsor.
That afternoon, realizing we now had some extra time, we decided to leave our bikes at our B&B in Windsor and go into London by commuter train. Sally and I live and work in a city and have always help London as one of our favorite cities in the world. But the contrast of harried, noisy London to Widecombe on the Moore in Devon was overpowering. We fled from London that evening and retreated to the relative peace of Windsor where we had dinner.
Riding into the airport the next morning, I recalled reassuring Sally that the hills of Cornwall and Devon would give us vistas, perspective, and exhilarating downhills. “Flat is dull,” I summarized for her then, never thinking that the hills would be so unending and severe.
“Well, it sure wasn’t dull,” Sally commented later. We reminisced about the quaint out-of-the-way places and fascinating people. We never mentioned the hills.
Our First International Bicycle Trip
Our bikes, boxed properly for air travel, appeared at a side door just as the rest of the luggage from British Air 31 from Chicago to London slid onto the baggage carousel. My wife Sally and I unboxed and adjusted our bikes, changed clothes, and rode out of Heathrow Airport into the English countryside.
It was still early morning so we had the whole day in front of us. We used our thorough and accurate guidebook from the start. “Bicycling in Britain,” put out by the Cycle Touring Club of Britain, even directed us out of the airport on a special biker’s route.
The Guidebook maneuvered us onto back roads immediately. Twenty minutes out of Heathrow we were pedaling past quaint villages with thatch-roofed pubs bearing names like the “Bull and the Bear” or the “Dog and Fox.” We fought the temptation to stop for a pint of beer just five miles from the airport.
Our first destination was the Cottswolds, the picturesque and traditional hill country west of London. Jet lag took its toll on us this first day and we overnighted in Henley-on-Thames.
Throughout our trip we had no set itinerary. Our pans were made day to day by consulting our guidebooks and the people we met.
After touring the Cottswolds for a few days, we ended up in Bath. Avoiding the urban sprawl of Bristol, we took the train to Newport in Wales, then rode to Chester with a side trip to Holyhead. Finally, we took the express train to Edinburgh, visited the Isle of Mill, and ended up in Inverness.
At one point, for an example, we were at Holyhead on the coast of Wales. We rode past the landing for the ferry to Ireland. If the ferry had been there, we probably would have gone to Ireland,. Since it didn’t leave for five hours, we started riding through Wales. Out only limitation was our flight back to Chicago in two weeks.
We covered from 60 to 100 miles a day on out mikes but we also made liberal use of the excellent British Rail system. We could transport out bikes in the luggage car at no extra charge. In May, the days are very long in the British Isles. It is late until 9pm and this served us well on out ride from Henley to Chipping Camden on out second day.
That morning dawned warm and sunny. Pedaling along one-lane country roads, we passed the estates of the local gentry. Horseback riders passed us riding up the rolling hills. Going down, we watched the manicured gardens flit by. We stopped to watch a local farmer direct his tree sheepdogs through precise exercises controlling cloud of sheep moving across the green hills.
Only a flat tire interrupted our morning rode to Oxford. There we found a bike shop to patch the tire while we took a walking tour of the city.
As we pulled out of Oxford, the clouds moved in. Now we were in the Cottswolds and the hills grew steeper. We were pushing steadily higher toward the headwaters of the Thames. Our recommended route became more obscure. At one point, we were directed through private estates where we had to open road gates and then close them behind us. Eventually, we found a hiker that assured us we were headed for Chipping Camden.
The maze of back roads frequently required is to get directions from the locals. The common language quickly expanded these directions into extended discourses about local weather, geography, history, and politics. The strange pronunciations of British place names often required us to point to the printed name to make ourselves understood. Other than this and the strange slang expressions, English (the language) obviously allowed us a great opportunity to communicate. Full-blown discourses, however, we reserved for the pubs.
About 6PM, while we were pulling up yet another hill, the rains came, We had no fenders. The English more accurately called them “mud guards.” “Don’t you need mud guards?” was a common question along the way. We did.
Hail followed the rain. We were totally soaked at 9PM when we teetered into Chipping Camden. Fortunately, darkness arrived late. A carnival was sent up along the main road. It was, by chance, the annual Spring Festival of Chipping Camden.
After a few inquiries, we found Mrs. Bendell’s Bed and Breakfast. Every B&B we stayed in was neat and clean, but this was the quintessential sparkling clean guesthouse. We actually left grimy tracks on the driveway as we approached the house. Mrs. Bendell eyed us with suspicion but allowed us a room. Our shoes squished as we entered the foyer where we were admonished by a printed sign “Please wipe your feet.” We removed our shoes.
The rules of the house were posted throughout. “No Smoking”, “Please clean washbasin for next guest”, “Remove dirty towels”, “No shoes on furniture”. There we were, feeling illegal, just to be there.
We showered (“Place shower curtain in tub”), put on dry clothes and headed toward the quaint town center. The festival highlight was to be the world’s longest torchlight parade (listed in the Guinness Book of World Records, we were told). We watched the procession snake down the hills above the village into the town square. We then retired to the pub on the square where we could listen to the politicians speak and bands play.
Later, wearily walking home to Mrs. Bendell’s B&B, I said to Sally “This has been a long day.” She replied, “Yes, but all in all, a good day.”
Two days later, we were in Bath, an ancient city built in a valley which offered endless impressive vistas. It was here that we discovered the Indian restaurants of Britain. We had grown tired of the standard English fare: fish and chips, meat pies, and roast beef. From here on, if a city had a Indian restaurant, we found it.
We had not tired of the British beer, however. The pub was the perfect travel laboratory after a day of attacking the hills of Britain. The local clientele was generally curious, well informed, polite, and entertaining. We were amazed at the variety to be found in Britain. Each area proudly held to its own politics, its own accents, its own attitudes, and its own beer.
The conversations started with the weather then evolved to the beer. And beer was serious stuff. There were traditional beers and bitters, the European –style lagers, the flat beers straight from the kegs, the lively beers under pressure, the locally brewed and the national brands. Everybody had his definite favorite. For us, almost all were good and some were great.
Throughout the trip, we enjoyed our chance meetings with a variety of British characters. The English people were ever courteous and curious. One biker (and Englishman) we met actually called them “nosey.” In any case, conversation, whether in the pub or along the road, was always available and interesting.
The Welsh were more taciturn. I asked directions of a Welshman walking along the road near Herefond by saying, “Excuse me sir.” His curt reply was “What do you want!” Later, biking through Scotland, a simple inquiry regarding directions could precipitate an all-day, wide-ranging conversation.
The Scots were earthy and generous. After a day of riding under cloudless skies along the usually stormy coast of the Isle of Mull, we overnighted in Tobermory.
After checking into our B&B, we headed for the town pub. The Scots overwhelmed us. They would not let us leave. Another round of Scottish ales would always appear. Our benefactors were other patrons of the pub besides those we were conversing with. As the beer flowed, we found it easier to understand the Scottish brogue.
In the morning, with clear skies and clouded heads, we got the ferry off the Isle of Mull. It was s small boat, maybe 18ft. long, which only took foot passengers (and bicycles). There were six passengers on the motorboat, all bikers. We had met two the night before. Jack and Diane were from the Midlands. Jack was casual and fun loving, Diane, fiftyish but very fit, was immaculately dressed with pressed slacks and every hair in place. Jack drank a beer with as Diane thoroughly checked out the haphazard ferry service.
After landing on the mainland, Sally and I encountered them regularly since they would stop for ten minutes (sent your clocks!) every hour to have a snack alongside the route.
As the sun climbed that morning, Diane complained about the excessive heat. It was 65 degrees. About noon, we finally split up with these intrepid English bikers.
We wheeled along in out last gears as 25 mph winds propelled us through a valley toward Inverness. We road past Lock Ness and, yes, we met the monster. Not a huge amphibious animal but a sheer 2000 ft. climb along the shores of Loch.
Time was short when we arrived in Inverness. Even on fast British train, it would have taken a full day to get back to London, so we broke up the trip with a stop in York. We left our bikes with a friendly shopkeeper while we took a walking tour of the city.
We had learned to trust the English. We respected their sense of integrity and honesty. Early in our trip, I kept my excess cash rolled up in a pair of socks. One morning, waking up in a daze at Mrs. Hutt’s B&B in Chester, I unconsciously unrolled one of my pairs of socks and put them on. I packed and unknowingly left my money on the floor. That night I realized that my money, presumably still rolled up in a pair of socks, was missing. I called back to Mrs. Hut inquiring about the socks. “No,” she answered, “I didn’t find your hose.” My heart sank. “But I did find some bank notes on the floor of your room.”
We had no intentions of riding through London but once we arrived, we realized that our train connection to Windsor left from a station on the other side of London. So we rode through the city, past Piccadilly Circus, Buckingham Palace, and Westminster Abbey. But after two weeks of rural riding, the chaotic traffic had us pushing our bikes along the sidewalks frequently.
We caught our train and got off in Windsor. We rode back through a few miles of tranquil English countryside, along the Thames and through the small villages whose quaint pubs had almost persuaded us to stop on the way out of the airport two weeks earlier.
Our trip ended, just as it began—without a hitch. We rode up to the terminal, checked our bicycles and boarded British Airways Flight 31 for Chicago.
On the way home, we reflected on how hassle-free bike travel had been in Britain. From the extensive network of secondary roads to the convenient train system; from the thorough CTC guidebooks, to the common language, bike touring in Britain had been a breeze. But it was primarily the people: the English characters, the gregarious Scots, and the intriguing Welsh that had us planning our next bike trip to Britain before we arrived home from our first.