Distance: 81 miles
Weather: Pompey drizzle, driving rain and hot afternoon sun
Southsea to Shillingford (near Oxford)
I’ve thought about cycling this route ever since I got a bike.
I’m not sure why. As people keep telling me, three already today, there is a perfectly decent rail line connecting Portsmouth and Chesterfield, so why torture yourself?
Well, like I said in the preamble post a couple of days ago: it is travelling for travelings sake; a journey for the love of the journey.
No doubt cycling 2000 miles through Asia gave me a taste for it. In fact it has given me that most hideous of traits: complacency. After cycling 100 miles a day for three weeks in conditions usually reserved for internment camp punishment, a ride through the English countryside, albeit for three days, just seemed a doddle. However, this was forgetting one very important qualifier – England is hilly.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s not the Alps, but it has a habit of never being ‘flat’. This means that as well as pushing 80 miles I had to deal with 8 hours of dragon-backing – that term we picked up in Malaysia meaning cycling up and down all day.
Anyway, after leaving early from a misty and murky Portsmouth I cycled 500 metres and had my first accident. With the rain making the pedals slippy and feeling out of practice I slipped off and scraped my shin – crying out in pain in front of a woman and her small child. They looked horrified. Not enough to stop and give my back a rub though and tell me all would be well.
After splashing water on it and rubbing the gash with a sock I was off again – building speed in the drizzly rain. Forgetting already the death heat of Asia and praying for sun.
Forty miles later, having passed hours looking at the same scene of a consistently grey horizon and wheat fields I rolled in to Overton, a small nondescript town in mid Hampshire and the halfway point. Within seconds I was on the hunt for nourishment.
After mumbling to a near-deaf woman who worked in the bakery that I wanted two pasties, she kept on with the same answer, “are you sure you want two love?”. “Yes”, I replied. Twice. To which the woman shouted to the back of the shop, presumably to some equally League of Gentleman-like character, that I wanted not one, but two pasties. By this point, I had my head hung in shame. I don’t know why, I just felt defeated.
Back in the glorious surroundings of the traffic lights I sat and wolfed down the criminal two pasties and noticed, like a theatre curtains being raised, that I was surrounded by scarecrows. One of them blew me away, as far as scarecrow creativity goes, due to the head of said scarecrow being buried in the ground. He was being chased by a stuffed squirrel with a flag.
Another forty miles passed, the rain becoming harder and then stopping suddenly to reveal bright sunshine. I’ve never seen it change so rapidly before – it was like that scene in the Truman Show where they turn on the sun and he looks up with a face bordering on unbridled ecstasy.
Before long I had passed through both Hampshire and Berkshire and had entered ‘twat in Porsche Boxster country’. Otherwise known as Oxfordshire.
The home of both David Cameron and Jeremy Clarkson, within minutes the houses were larger, the gardens were more manicured and every town and village had a pretentious deli selling sunblushed tomatoes. The great thing was I was only called a wanker on one occasion. You’re spoiling me England.
It was, however, stunningly beautiful. Like a Constable painting imprinted on to a placemat this was the England where even though revolutionary changes had taken place in other parts of the country – multiculturalism, decimalisation, the Internet – it would seem, on the face of it, that no one told them here.
For now, with love, Tommo.