The last blog entry was published prematurely as the result of operator error. What follows is the completed blog for that day including pictures. We apologize for any inconvenience
Saturday, August 8 Bath – Oxford
Another beautiful day. Checked out of University of Bath housing, which was convenient and comfortable then headed down the bike route along the Avon Canal.
It included a “rails to trails” section which went through 2 former railroad tunnels, one that was over 2 miles long.
The terrain was flat as you would expect along a canal and former train line. This is the nicest weather day we have had since Italy and Maggie was able to ride portions of the loop in short sleeves. Long views of the countryside were rare as the trees and foliage obscured the view. The first half was on a hard dirt path that was bumpy because of the imbeded rocks. Traffic was surprisingly light and those who were walking and riding were courteous. The canal is populated by canal boats which are very low and narrow with some being quite long. Many appeared to be primary residences and were decorated with plants and flowers.
Some needed attention and some were tourist rentals. There were no commercial or freight boats. There were many hand operated locks along the way and the canal itself is quite picturesque.
We stopped for lunch at a pub along the canal. It was in a building that was quite old and was well decorated with beer mugs hanging from hooks on the ceiling which seem customary here. What was unique were the other notable items hanging from another part of the ceiling, closer to the bathroom.
We got back to town around 2:30, loaded up our panniers which we had left at the university, and headed to the station for the train to Oxford. The train cars are new and the ride was quiet and very smooth. Upon arrival in Oxford, we found our Airbnb host’s apartment and had our picnic dinner.
Sunday, August 9 Oxford
We spent the day touring Oxford. Oxford is not a University as we all think of it, but 38 separate colleges, um-teen restaurants and the infrastructure to accommodate the thousands of tourists that descend on it daily. On our way to the tourist office we passed the Bodlian Library,
the Octagonal building
and a number of the colleges. We ventured into one.
You go through a short passageway where a security clerk is in attendance and then into a quad surrounded on 3 sides by 3 or 4 story buildings which are student rooms and a chapel/dining room on the 4th side. The Quad itself is all grass except for the walkway around it which is next to the buildings. The grass is very well cared for and not tracked with paths going from diagonal corners. Except with rare exceptions tourists are not allowed in the student residence areas but are allowed in the chapel/dining room if there are no meals going on. In some instances the chapel and the dining room are different. The college that we walked into was one of the latter and so we were able to visit the chapel, but not the dining room where students eating.
After the tourist office we took a 2 hour walking tour of Oxford’s colleges with a student guide who was very animated and entertaining. We visited 3 colleges
and the Bodlian Library which is one of 3 copyright libraries in the British Isles. A copyright library receives a copy of every book published in the UK. It has miles of underground rooms as well as off site repositories filled with everything ever published in the country. At the end of the day (5pm) we packed up our stuff and rode 12 miles to Woodstock for the night. Blenheim palace was a 5 minute walk from our 300 year old B & B.
Monday, August 10
We spent the day at Blenheim Palace. Twenty two hundred acres of land were a gift from Queen Anne to John Churchill in 1704. Yes, that is the same family that gave us Winston Churchill and Diana Spencer, Princess Di. John had won the Battle of Blenheim which ended the then current war between France and England and saved the English monarchy. He was also given almost 300,000 pounds to build his mansion and was made the first Duke of Marlborough. Not bad payment for winning the battle!
It was a good thing we were indoors as it rained most of the morning. After a big day of palace and garden touring, the sun came out and we rode into the Cotswolds (think of the Berkshires in Massachusetts) to the village of Moreton in Marsh.
Tuesday, August 11
Weather is warm and sunny in the Cotswolds. We stayed at a wonderful B & B for the next 2 nights. We rode a loop to the small, touristy village of Chipping Camden and back at the suggestion of our house mother Liz. As with everything around here, it is a very old village with its growth and past prosperity due to the wool trade. There are many thatched roof houses. One in particular caught our eye and featured statues of 2 Labrador Retrievers guarding the front door and 2 peacocks protecting the roof from squirrels and other varmints.
Many old stone houses and buildings around the center of the town. We also visited the old town of Broadway. It is really lovely with fewer tourists. On the ride out of town we came upon a large group of hunting hounds being cooled down after an exercise period. There were 4 attendants and another on horseback tending to them. Really a neat sight,
After a very steep and long climb out of Broadway, we stopped to catch our breath at the top of the hill where another rider was resting. He had just finished a training ride of 65 miles and was at his support camper about to have a cup of tea. His friend and driver offered us coffee and we all sat around visiting along the side of the road. Next month he and a group of friends are riding the 1000 mile route from the southern coast of England to the most norther coast of Scotland (John O’Groats/ lands end) in 10 days. Yes, I said 1000 miles in 10 days!!! He was starting to panic thinking about it.
Dinner was a picnic in the room as we were exhausted from 30 miles of riding and 2800+ft. of elevation gain. Mt. passes are easier than steep hill after hill.
Wednesday, August 12
Again the weather was beautiful and warm so we rode to Stow on Wold, the highest village in the Cotswolds. We just walked around following Rick Steves’ town walk. No thatched roofs, but some very old buildings. Great old church dating to the 12th century on the route. We rode back to Moreton in Marsh in time to have a break in the town square, pick up our bags and hop the train to Swindon. While still on the train platform in Swindon, a woman who had commuted to work by train and bike asked us about our trip. One thing led to another and soon she had called her husband and we were all having dinner at a Greek restaurant.
Three hours later we said goodnight at our Airbnb room and they rode home.
Thursday, August 13
Despite dire predictions for today’s weather we pedaled forth going south from Swindon to Avebury, the village with one of the biggest ancient stone circles in Great Britain. The sky was gray all day, and we did get some on and off drizzle, but the heavy rain and fierce winds that had been predicted never materialized. Instead, we had a decent tail wind and less than 1000 feet of climbing. Avebury is a remote village with much evidence of pre-historic activity. It has medium sized and smaller stones arranged in circles and straight lines (some missing stones represented by small crystal like stone markers), a very large burial mound and moat like excavations that encircle the stone circles. Our ventures into some of the shops confirmed that Avebury a hot bed of new age beliefs.
Our first stop in Avebury was the village church portions of which date to the 10th century and some evidence that the site was first used as a church before that. The church is not in use today, which is not unusual among the ancient churches in the British Isles as the cost to restore and maintain them overwhelms the small villages and the National Trust.
This church is very dog friendly as was evidenced by the water and biscuits left for the furry friends at the front door.
We moved on from church to the stone circles and earthen structures , both mounds and moat like, which are right next to the church and define the town. Little is known about these or any of the stone circles that are found in England and Ireland. Avebury’s stone structures have been carbon dated to 2800 BC which is 600 years older than the structures at Stonehenge and are spread over a much larger area. Seeing the stones in the mist was eerie. One tries to imagine the prehistoric people who lived here clothed in animal skins and bare footed making the calculations necessary to get the huge stones in the proper place for whatever reason they had. It was raining lightly as we walked around the site. We then rode the last 10 miles to the canal town of Devizes. The landscape here is full of large golden wheat fields and sheep. It’s harvest now and one must watch out for the large tractors and combines on the road. As Rick Steves says in the guide book, not all roads and sheep are shown on the map. We crossed good old bike route #4 on the way down to Devizes. Our host for the night lives in a large Georgian house in the center of town. She has her PhD and works 6 months of the year disarming land mines in Laos and Thailand. Very interesting woman. She still has all her fingers and limbs.
We spent the better part of the late afternoon planning the next few days and making a few reservations.