The idea started with a conversation with Peter. He said I sounded tired. And that perhaps a good stint of leave would be good for me. He said to me “why not ride to Wales or something? Make it a pilgrimage (not sure if he said that part?)”
So I booked the leave and planned the journey, loosely.
I told a friend that I wanted to do it as a sort of pilgrimage. On the day I left, she sent me this verse, I quite like it:
So here are some thoughts and itinery of my 6 days away:
DAY 1 (Mon 10th May 2021)
Browns Wood, Milton Keynes – Finstock, Cotswolds (86.63km)
The days before, I was watching the weather frequently and seeing it change constantly (something that is constant in the UK is the inconsistency of the weather). I had an idea of either setting off early (around 7am) or perhaps 9am (after the morning traffic.)
Again, another plan, I held on to, loosely. Be what may.
I woke up around 5am. I guess i was just excited. I packed my sandwiches, made the coffee for my flask. Just before 7am, I was set. And this predicted “bad weather” was nowhere in sight. Yay!
So, I decided I would take full advantage and headed out. I felt good, getting through this side of MK, quickly and out into new area for me (riding wise).
My first coffee stop was a little shelter near a village called Chetwood. It was as if, the shelter was expecting me:
I was feeling fresh at that point. 38km in. (i think before my usual staff meeting at 10:30, I had already done 56km.)
Cycling by the rapeseed fields was absolutely pretty:
I felt truly blessed with how the weather had turned out for me. As you can see, from the above pictures, the sky was blue!! But then, between 40 and 50km, entering Bicester, the heavens opened. I was totally drenched. Head to toe. I even had puddles in my socks. But I felt alive, it didn’t stress me. I just pressed on. And then, amazing, the sun came out in all it’s fullness. (I actually was fully dry on arriving to my first night’s stop.)
The woods near Kirtlington were pretty.
I had my lunch stop at 75km in Church Hanborough.
I arrived a lot earlier than expected. 1pm. Thankfully, the host of the AirBnB was willing to let me check in earlier. That was perfect! I could unpack and rest my body.
(I noticed there was a little niggle in my right knee at around 60km. I had felt that pain before on other rides, so I wasn’t too bothered.)
I had the greatest nap. But then, do you think, I would rest? (Not a chance.) There was a little village to explore and geocaches to find.
And plus a pub meal and pint in one of the Cotswolds villages sounded perfect…
On entering the Cotswolds area, I noted how hilly it got and how quiant and cute the little villages were. Stone buildings.
I was thinking about my approach to this whole adventure thing. The word “pilgrimage” also came to mind. I didn’t want to have an agenda to the trip. I just wanted to achieve my goal. To ride to Cardiff. But I didn’t close off the idea that God would show me something or speak to me in this pilgrimage. But that was up to Him.
I did think it would be fitting to read the book by Paulo Coelho called Pilgrimage.
(Not the best book, I decided by the end of the week, but I did take a few lessons from it.)
it really did seem that God was favouring me with mostly good weather on that first day when it was forecasted to have a lot of rain…
So back to that afternoon: I ended up walking 14km to various pubs hoping for a pint and something to eat… turns out most pubs are closed on Mondays. So I was getting hangry.
And I could feel a blister starting to form under my foot. Aargh!!
(I had to give in, and order pizza using Just Eat) If anyone knows me well, will know that I despise Just Eat – probably because I have heard the adverts so much and it annoys me that Snoop Dogg has sold out to sing jingles… so lame!!
The blister for me was like my first “trial” on my pilgrimage. How would I respond? Would I let frustration take over?
Finally the pizza came around 20:30. I put on a film. (Mile 22 with Mark Walberg)
That night I slept with books.
There were ar least 200 books on shelves all around me in that room.
Day 1 was good. Thank you Jesus.
DAY 2 (Tues 11th May 2021)
Finstock – Swindon (58.10km)
Knowing this was the shortest day, I had a sense of trying to slow down. But I felt like I wanted to race against the weather… I didn’t really want to be caught in the rain. I could go slower and wander and explore… but in the rain… it’s a bit limiting…
So again, I left early-ish from the Cotswolds… 8:20am. I did add a loop that went in the Cotswolds. A beautiful start to the day. Green and quiet.
I was definitely shown favour with the weather again. (Thank you God, so kind.)
Only got a bit of spitting rain for about 10 minutes. Not even drizzle…
On day two, my right knee starting hurting, only 10km in. (I didn’t want to worry my parents about that.) But I pressed on cautiously. I kept praying about. (At the end of the day, I would Google symptoms and see what it is.) – After finding a helpful article, basically saying after “going from zero to hero” – your body will tell you: ‘hang on, take it easy!’ (Also the article suggested leg exercises which I did from Tues night onwards. That made all the difference!)
I did think though, how with worry and lack of knowledge one can fret unnecessarily about things. (A lesson I learnt on this pilgrimage)
I reminded myself of my focus: “10 km at a time.” Just focus on the ride like that.
I finally got my beer at the end of this day in a pub called The Messenger. And a plate of delicious curry flavoured chips:
I arrived at the Armstrong’s residence at 2pm. Jacky and the kids arrived after 3pm.
So I had an hour to unwind and lie down in the sun baked conservatory. My body welcomed that! Kings of Leon as the background soundtrack.
Great afternoon / evening catching up with Jacky and the kids. (Missed Ed though.)
Beer, fire, wors and good conversation. Thankfully, I could say, my body had had time to rest, after day two’s ride.
Here is a highlight reel of that second day:
Day 3 (Wed 12th May 2021)
Swindon – Severn Beach (86.62km)
My leg felt hundreds today!! I really did “relax the ride” and just take it easy and really take in the scenery around me. Again, the weather was epic! Also, I left early again. Just after 7am. I was anxious to get out of the city (Swindon). Thankfully, there was no need to fret, in Swindon I was 90% of the time on little bike trails going through the city, avoiding the busy morning traffic.
The countryside outside the city is stunning! The Quiet. The Open spaces.
I rode past a forest that had Blue Bells strewn across the floor, basking in the sunshine:
I entered England’s longest village: Brinkworth (that’s what the sign claimed!) “The village is sometimes described as the longest in England although others such as Meopham, Kent make the same claim.” (Wikipedia)
My first stop at 28km was outside, a cute little church in a small village named Garsdon. Was so glad, I had packed a flask for my adventure:
This was my favourite day of riding! I saw so much the day. From long quiet stretches:
Here are short hand notes I jotted down in the day:
“Just cycled a nice stretch, seemingly along a ridge / or highest part of the area, so beautiful to peer to the valley to the left.
Stunning hills and open spaces.
This stretched has been so secluded. I’ve loved it. No-one for miles.
I truly felt so chuffed that my legs weren’t hurting anymore and that I had had no hassles so far. No punctures or any other bike problems. And third day in, and the weather was still being kind to me. And I was also making good time, without even feeling rushed.
Then at 76km I stopped for a pint in Old Down.
Only 8.5km left but this pub is so quaint…definitely worth the stop:
“Thank you Jesus!
I’ve loved this ride.
Great sights. Great spirit.”
I arrived by 2pm. It was nice to chill with Carol and just to chat and catch up. I loved my cosy room. The forecasted rain arrived at 4 or 5pm and had set in, so it seemed. But I wasn’t feeling nervous for the next day. ‘I’ll just take it as it comes.’
My Accommodation in Cardiff cancelled. I had to make a new plan – I’m glad it didn’t stress me out. That showed that I’m was in a good space. 🙂
Some photo highlights:
Day 4 (Thurs 13th May 2021)
Severn Beach, England – Cardiff, Wales (74.75km)
I knew the 4th day was a shorter journey (I had 60km in my head. As you can see it was 15km longer. Oops). But I chose to only leave at 10am. So, this morning greeted with me gentle drizzle. I was up, alert and awake for another day – but first I headed for a little stroll around Severn Beach. (Always time to look for a geocache or two.) Some yummy eggs on toast. Then we bid our farewells and I was off, for my last day. Crossing the Severn Bridge was epic! it’s about 2km long.
And then went I entered Wales, it just felt so surreal. It seemed greener. The first bit, I rode in, was very much farmlands, a typical Wales experience.
Some parts on the day was a bit windy. I had to cycle head on through some wind.
My first stop at 17km, tucked in, along one of the farm lanes:
I loved how the hedges were taller than me at some parts of today’s ride. At times, it did feel like “I was in the middle of nowhere.”
“Before Newport, I cycled through a rather “industrious” feeling area called Solar Park.
Reminded me of Holland, lots of little rivers / canals and very green and flat. Except a lot of the rivers today were covered in slime / moss. And instead of windmills there were powerline towers instead.”
I had my last stop and lunch stop in Newport. (I wasn’t too impressed with this town – felt very industrial and common.)
Then I could sense the rain would be coming…
So I headed off for the last 25km in the drizzle. By the time, I got to Cardiff, I was drenched. My legs were a bit sore and the wet weather had dampened my spirit a little.
With just 6km, I heard something rattling on my bike. Thankfully, I wasn’t going too fast.. my pannier rack came loose.. the bags fell off. So there I was, on the pavement, in the rain – repairing the bracket. Surprisingly I was quite calm, not frustrated. (This was another good sign that I was in a good place on this adventure.) I had my google maps, speaking the navigating to me for the last bit (the rain was chucking it down at that point) so I had to strain to hear the directions – then just as I arrived my battery died, but to get the door codes, I had to find a little shelter and put my phone on charge for five minutes. Then, I could in.
I had arrived by 4pm. I spent the next while, taking all my wet things, clothes and bike bags and hanging them all around my room to dry out. The room was alright. Functional.
That night I ate at the local Wetherspoons on the waterfront. A beer and burger went down well. Grabbed some cereal, milk and body wash from a Tesco local on the way back to my room.
Why not flip through my deck of photos from that day:
Day 5 (Friday 14th May 2021)
A day in Cardiff (26km on foot)
I didn’t rush the day. But weirdly each day, this week, I was always up between 5am and 6am. (Crazy, right?)
So, I found a website with places to see in Cardiff for free. So, I plotted a route for the day: City centre, (looking out for street art too), Cardiff Castle, Bute Park, Llandlaff Cathedral, the rugby stadium, a walk along the Taff River (Taff Embankment), then to the Docks at the Waterfront, The Senedd, Wales Millenium Centre, the Norwegian Church Arts Centre and perhaps also walk along the Cardiff Bay Trail.
I left my room, just before 8pm and by 12:30, I had already walked 14km and had found a few geocaches, seen where Roald Dahl lived and even had a sausage bap and coffee at the castle.
I then had a midday recharge – for my phone and me. (After all, how great are these loooong days!) So I read some, whilst my phone charged. then I headed out for part II of my tour of the city. By the end if the day I had done 26km of walking. (Madness!) But I truly felt like I got to see the city. I saw the touristy things and also the “off the beaten path” scenes. I had the same sense I had when I visited Buenos Aires (in 2017) for two weeks – I felt like I was a local. Doing everyday stuff. The Cardiff Bay trail was beautiful. I loved seeing the marinas and also sights of the bay. By the end of the day, I had covered a lot of ground, physically and soulfully. My Toms (shoes) had done their bit. My heart felt full and satisfied. Grateful.
The city feels less claustrophobic than London.
I’m always reminded how I’m seeing this city as a tourist… and locals are array of feelings.
Some tired from a long week.
Some are lonely.
Some are falling in love.
Some are just making ends meet.
Some are excited for the weekend.
Some take this for granted.
At the end of the day, I sat at Hubbox. A place that specializes in burgers and beers. Sounds perfect, right? Yep it was! Their local beers were so delicious!! So smooth.
(Maybe, I was just that thirsty, after that much mileage.)
Flip, those seagulls outside my windows were so flipping annoying!! (haha!)
Day 6 (Saturday 15th May 2021) – The way back…
The train trip back.
I finished the book. (The Pilgrimage – Paulo Coelho) – I sneakily left it on the train with the simple prayer, that the person was meant to read the book, would pick it up and be encouraged.
By the way, it was so good to be on a train again, just gazing out the window. England is a beautiful country!
The bummer thing of the day, was wearing a mask for most of the day – on the platform for two hours. And then on the train itself for another three hours. (I can’t wait till life without masks.)
Riding only 9.5km back home from the train station, was a breeze! 😉
A Disclaimer: I find that I have this weird and annoying habit of switching tense when I write. Sorry about that.