I had completed the main part of the tour, through Wales, but I still had to make my way through England to get back home to Colchester. I knew that the most physical days were behind me and that things should get easier from then on, but this was the part of the tour I was least sure about, mainly because of the maze of roads between me and my final destination.
Coming off tours in New Zealand and Australia, where map reading skills and route finding aren't especially difficult given the lack of roads and wide open spaces, I was worried that I might make quite a few wrong turns or even end up on some rather dodgy roads for cycling in heavy traffic.
I needn't have worried, however, the maps.me app on my phone helped me pick my way back through England mainly on quiet B roads, taking-in sleepy, picturesque English villages along the way.
After an early morning pit stop in Gloucester, my main place of interest for the penultimate day of the trip was The Cotswolds; and area of natural beauty, classic villages and architecture in South-West England. It is exactly what you might picture in your head when you think about old English towns and villages nestled in the countryside.
I stopped at Bourton-on-the-Water for some cream tea, something I had been telling some of my Chinese students to do if they ever went to England during my English classes. The mounds of clotted cream and jam on my scone also provided much needed calories.
|Cream Tea in The Cotswolds|
It was just a nice, peaceful, and pleasant place to walk and cycle around, nothing spectacular, but how one would like to think of one's own country after leaving it's shores. This was as English as it got, and the surroundings were about as stereotypically England as you could imagine.
After my short stop in the tea room, I packed my bags, ready to set off once more, I had a big day ahead of me. I wanted to do some good mileage so I could get home later on the following day in not too much of a rush. As I packed, a couple of cyclists locked-up their bikes next to me. They were doing Lands End to John O'Groats. They were packed much lighter than me as they were staying in B&Bs all along the way. We had a good chat and I was envious of their big trip through the country. They couldn't believe I brought my bike all the way from Australia, something that many people found quite astonishing while I was back home, as they just assumed it would be too expensive. As a matter of fact, these days, most airlines just count it as part of your baggage allowance.
As I said, nothing spectacular, but I was enjoying the ride. The steep hills of Wales were behind me and my backroad route took me through lots of little villages with old pubs and churches. The only break from this was a short stop in Bicester, a slightly larger town, inhabited mostly by Muslims, it seemed to me. There weren't many White faces around, that's for sure. This did feel strange, as throughout the whole trip, seeing as I was going an almost totally rural route, I never saw any hint of the changing demographics of the country.
I had no idea where I would be spending my last night of the tour, but I was keen on making it to somewhere near Woburn in Bedfordshire. Woburn is a very upmarket little town which hosts a famous golf course, abbey, and safari park. All very nice, but not the best place to spend the night if you want to save money. No campsites and no budget accommodation.
I couldn't afford to stay in Woburn and with little cover around for wild camping, I found a cheeky little spot behind a few trees not far off the road in a small forested area not far from Woburn Abbey. The bells rang-out continually for about an hour from 7-8pm. I didn't mind at all as it was just another taste of England on a very English kind of day.
The camp spot was a bit precarious though. I was a little exposed to being spotted from the road (though unlikely), so I covered my bike with branches and made it all into a kind of bush to cover me and my tent from being seen. It worked a treat and I had a comfortable night's sleep after a big day of over 170Km.
I woke up needing to do about another 130Km to make it home. I was keen on getting home a little early so I could have a day's rest before working the following day, not to mention that I needed a wash after two nights camping in the forest and cycling all day. I was looking forward to some creature comforts.
I began the day early, getting away at about 5.30am. It was a cool, misty morning and I got a treat as I was coming out of Woburn, as presented before me were hundreds of dear grazing on the grassland the other side of the forest. It was quite a sight, I had never seen so many in my life.
The rest of the day I continued to pass through countless villages with churches, cricket grounds, and old pubs. It was a nice finish to the tour, and things got progressively easier as I came closer to home, doing less and less climbing, despite regular small hills.
Ironically, my last 25-30Km was down a path that I had trodden many times in the past. Several years ago, I got a job as a science technician in a private school in just outside of Halstead in Essex, not too far from my home. I say not too far, but it was still about 30Km away. At the time, I was finding work difficult to come by and could find no other job. At the same time the petrol prices were extraordinarily high, so inspired by my friend's recent cycle tour from Korea to the UK, I thought I should try cycling every morning. The last part of my cycle tour of England and Wales was to retrace the old route back home from work. It did bring back some memories passing the school again.
I got back home and completed another successful bicycle tour, ahead of schedule, but much tougher physically than I had anticipated. I was very glad that I had brought my bike all the way from Melbourne, it had definitely been worth it.
Total Ascent: 7748m
Daily Average: 124Km
Hiking: Approximately 18Km on day one in Snowdonia and 15Km on day 5 in the Brecon Beacons.