It was a cool, clear morning and the harvest moon was there to greet me as I rode to Kelmscott (former home of William Morris) along the A40 cycle-path to Witney, and then down the A4095 to Bampton and my destination. The nearer I drew to Kelmscott the cooler it became. I felt that familiar chill that I’d experienced on PBP as the summer began to give way to autumn. A low mist hugged the low-lying landscape: in the distance, Brize Norton airfield blazed away as it surely would on the return leg of the Upper Thames.
I arrived with just enough time to grab a cup of tea and some toast and then it was time to gather outside the charming village hall to be unleashed, once again, into the early morning lanes. Having already put 40km into my legs I was already warmed up and had no problem moving to the front of the field where I was in good company with Lee (who was naturally riding fixed). All was going well until I hit a stone going down that familiar descent that drops down from the disused Chedworth airfield towards Compton Abdale that forms part of the Poor Student and also the Heart of England; the inevitable puncture, the first in many months, and well before PBP, soon followed.
It was now a fine sunny morning and it was almost a pleasant break to sort out the rear wheel and watch the others whizz by as I used the opportunity to also lose my base-layer.
It was a clamber up to Snowshill along familiar lanes and I encountered a musician cycling to a beer festival riding a fine steel steed with a Rohloff hub. He stopped to chat as we crossed the charming ford at Sevenhampton where I stopped to take a couple of pictures.
The pub at Snowshill was the first control. The coffee was most welcome, but the homemade cakes were sublime. Here I met Quentin’s friend Barbara and a young chap, William, with whom she was riding (I believe it was his first audax).
From here we lost altitude rapidly and descended onto the Evesham plain where ancient gnarled apple-trees lay in overgrown orchards in neat rows that looked long abandoned. Along Earls Common Road was another ford, more substantial than the first – I felt confident and plunged through it. This part of the ride meandered around flat low-lying lands that, after some perambulations (o, was that Lee riding down the road in the opposite direction?) led us to Hanbury Hall, the rather sumptuous setting of our second control. After receiving a stamp on my brevet from a slightly befuddled ticket clerk (this was, after all, deep in National Trust territory) I made the mistake of wheeling my bike around the splendidly manicured ornamental gardens to seek sustenance at the restaurant. Being a blisteringly hot lunchtime by this point, the queue was exceedingly lengthy and a flushed NT-lady advised me to take my bicycle (“I take it that’s your bicycle?”) and myself down the road where more suitable viands might be obtained.
And she was not wrong. Back on route and a short distance up the lane was the Jinney Ring Craft Centre serving all-day dinners and puddings. Being a meat-and-two-veg-man I almost stumbled over some of the craftwork on my dash to the restaurant: my tray positively groaned with the additional slab of fruit crumble and cream washed down with a strenuous brew. Here I once again met Barbara and William, in addition to Rebecca, with whom I was to spend much of the remainder of the ride.
It was a sweltering hot afternoon and the gently rolling lanes fell back onto the plain and it was so pleasant to spin along making good time while my body adsorbed the Worcestershire stodge. At one point, we passed Mary Arden’s Farm – Shakespeare’s mum – clearly cashing-in on her son’s fame. I was sort of hoping that we would be going passed the Pashley factory in Stratford, but that was sadly not to be.
Eventually the Cotswolds reared up in front of us and it was heavy going to Chipping Campden for a mystery date which formed the answer to the info control. More steep climbs followed before tumbling down into Bourton-on-the-Water as dusk began to fall. I grabbed something relatively quick to eat from the store as Rebecca came and went, and then Barbara and William pulled up on a mission to find fish and chips.
I headed off into the night again, and after clambering over some familiar hills and down the valley into the Barrington’s it was time to cross-over the A40 once again onto what was presumably an old Roman road. The moon appeared once more – big, round and bright lighting the lane leading straight ahead – it’s silvery light shinning back off the smooth dry road surface showing the outline of the hedges on either side. Soon the lights of Brize Norton came back into view and it was back to the welcoming village hall where Peter, hot drinks and trays of sandwiches awaited us.
I said farewell to Rebecca, and then Barbara and William arrived and we chatted about this lovely ride which will hopefully become a regular feature on the audax calendar.
An uneventful ride back home – not as cool as it had been in the morning. I arrived home just after midnight having put 315kms into my legs, and took no rocking.