Monday as ever is my allotted time in the laundry, I stuffed the washing in the machine. Breakfast was then followed by some less enthusiastic housework.
The maid was standing in front of the housekeeper, who had just drawn a finger across the top of the sideboard then proceeded to show a pristine white glove – now with one rather dusty finger, to the girl she proclaimed,
“I could write my name on the furnisher in this room”
To which the girl retorted,
“Isn’t education a wonderful thing?”
The bicycle had taken priority over anything close to serious housework, the day was still and overcast but I really needed to be out and about once more. Not a long run, down to the Eden, up to Dairsie, and home, but today if felt like 100 miles of cycling, recovery, from whatever alls me, will be slow.
Back home I started looking through some more of my old runs, that had been stored on CD, can’t remember if I mentioned the run Tim and I did down the Grand Union Canal, but If you have read it already stop now.
This was written when I was living down in Yorkshire so a while ago. I had just recently turned 65 and had all sorts of plans for myself, no longer a white slave from Monday through to Friday, free at last, free at last, thank you lord, free at last. Mum had other plans for me she suffered a stroke, not deliberately I’m sure, but it did put pay to my plans, I became, by default, my mother’s carer.
Although a thankless task most of the time and very tiring, as much mentally as physical, all of the time, and financially unrewarding, I never regretted one moment of that quality time spent with my mother.
Mum had gone into rest care so I could go off for a wee holiday, just get away from the seven-day routine. The position of carer for mum, also gave me custodianship of mum’s little Yorkshire terrier Tim. Wherever I went Tim would go too. With Youth Hostelling now ruled out, it would be a camping trip. I had bought a ‘new to me’ children’s bike trailer for Tim to travel in, but Tim was having none of it. I then purchased a basket, this was fixed to the rear carrier, allowing Tim to ride up at my back. Tim was in his glory, sitting high in his own little castle, anytime I left him to guard the bike and trail, that had now become a depository for our camping gear, outside shops or visitor centre. Tim was quick to exploit the situation, busking for attention from all who passed by.
Since much of the route chosen would involve off-road and since I would be pulling a two-wheeled trailer loaded with all our camping equipment, and Tim’s chunky meaty bites, I chose my off-road bike, with no rear carrier his basket was now strapped to the handlebars.
Tim and I journeyed overnight down to Thame,
which is just east of Oxford and found a safe spot to leave the van (a converted van that would take mum’s electric buggy) ideal for all our needs. I later found out that I had parked opposite the home of a member of the Bee-Gees, for all my younger readers, the Bee-gees was band big in the 1960s.
The melodic bell in the church tower had just chimed seven o’clock as we set out to stretch our legs after the long journey south. Tim introduced himself to a little Jack Russell and then to the dog’s owner, who then introduced himself as Tom. Tom, like his dog, turned out to be ever so friendly and offered to show me where I could join the disused railway track at the start of our cycling adventure. As we walked Tom kept up a running commentary on the village and from his enthusiasm clearly a village he dearly loved. History oozed from every building from its church, barn, and pub, named ‘The Bird Cage’, a timber-framed construction in the towns Corn Market. I was told it derived its name from having once been used to house French prisoners of war during Napoleonic times. Finally, we arrived at the cycle track, Thames best-kept secret since it is found by making one’s way through a modern housing estate on the outskirts of the village, out of sight and with no guiding signs.
Back at the van the trailer was loaded and attached to the bike then off we went on our ‘Big’ adventure a round trip that would take us through some of the most beautiful countrysides in England.
By midday, we had travelled via Princes Risborough, Owlswich, Kimblewick, Marsh Mill, and on to Ellesbourch. It was here as we sat eating ham sandwiches, or more correctly, I was eating bread, Tim was scoffing the ham from my sandwiches. We were approached by a lady delivering the parish newsletter, Tim had that magnetic charm. In answer to my inquiry about a distinctive hill, not too far off, I was told it was Beacon Hill, overlooking Chequers.
Tim’s eagerness to go when I lifted his lead soon turned into disillusionment after half an hour of climbing in grass a little long for his liking. However, the view from the top was magnificent since we were now able to see for miles in every direction and certainly well worth the effort to get up here.
Near the little village of Tring, we turned off for the Grand Union Canal, but not before vising the village and its magnificent church in the centre of town.
First recorded in The Doomsday Book as a church and belfry in 1089, the lovely church of St Peter and Paul on the high street is open every day. As a magnificent medieval church, of St Peter and Paul is the place to visit to learn about the church’s architecture, the medieval Tring Tiles and the Victorian Gore Memorial, and our George Washington connection.
Turned off onto a path that would lead us onto the Grand Union Canal towpath. On reaching the canal we found it a little short on ‘Grand’, more an overgrown ditch. The water was shallow and crystal clear with small islands of vegetation scattered at random along its length. The banks were covered with self-seeded hardwood in autumn profusion. The towpath, that we would now follow was deep in fallen leaves that dappled sunlight played upon. There was an abundance of water hens that scurried into their moat surrounded fortresses as we approached. The chunky shoulders of our tyres caused the dry leaves to spin up and dance unrehearsed alongside our wheels in an exhilarating manner, then billow in a kaleidoscope of streaming colour in our wake. One small boy, his faithful dog, and a bicycle all setting out on a great adventure, it does not get much better than this.
We joined the Grand Union Canal proper at Bulbourne
where we stopped for refreshment. Tim had a large bowl of water me a large pint of keg beer. The next part of the journey down the canal towpath was uninspiring when you’ve seen one canal you have seen them all, so when we reach Uxbridge, I had already made up my mind to throw caution to the wind and take to the minor roads.
As we pulled into camp that night, fellow campers must have thought they had sighted the Grey Man of Ben Macau. The limestone hardcore, which made up the path on which we had spent the day travelling had left us covered from head to toe in fine white dust. My first task, after establishing the camp was to head for the toilet and shower room. Picking up a towel and soap bag from the back of the trailer sent Tim hot-footing it into the tent, where he hid inside my sleeping bag. Like all small boys, he has an allergy to soap and water. I had most everything I owned tumbling and spinning in the washing machine so it was now time to set about washing down the bike and trailer at the same time checking them over for any signs of breakage of problem tyres. Sitting now with only the light of the campsite to see by we ate supper and I downed numerous cups of tea. It had been a long day, still, I felt very fresh and if light permitted could easily have pressed on, Tim, however, was more than content to curl up in the tent, one eye open less I go off without him.
By daybreak we were packed and ready for the road, in Slough I found a greasy spoon café and sat down to a full breakfast, the first for some days and certainly a tribute to ‘hunger’s good kitchen’. From Slough to Windsor Great Park then into Windsor itself where the Tourist Information gave us directions to a campsite. It was early yet but we were in no hurry so booked in, did the chores, then off we headed for the town and a few pints, just to clear the dust from one’s throat, you understand.
By sun up we were once more on our road, heading this time for Wantage,
in the vale of the White Horse, for a land that is so flat all around, the road down the valley to the hill on which you find this incredible sculpture is anything but. We parked the bike and started the long climb to the hill fort. a group of lads were flying stunt kites, they looked impressive. a fair distance to the top of what would have been a Bronze Age fort. Yet again, well worth the effort. It was dark O’clock by the time we reached our campsite at West End near Stanton Harcourt. Batteries recharged we were off next day into Oxford, not a dog-friendly town, no dogs allowed signs at every park and riverbank. In fact, the only dogs I saw belonged to the Big Issue vendor.
All to soon the sands of time had run out on our holiday, so on back to Thame and our transport home. It had been a great trip, the weather warm, sunny, and windless. We had only two punctures, both in the trailer, which had no puncture protection in the tyres. The first was on the Grand Union Canal. With the new tube fitted and the tyre reinstated I was searching in the trailer for a pump. When we set out everything had its place and a place for everything, now it resembled a midshipman’s sea kist, everything on top, and nothing to hand. Just then a chap pulled up on his bike, it had two large panniers front and rear. The halo effect said cycle tourist but as it turned out he worked at a cafe in the nearby park and presumably his panniers were full of goodies for the cafe. Anyway, he whipped the pump from his bike and started attacking the wheel before I had a chance to retrieve ours. Off he went again, at a great rate of knots, with my thanks ringing in his ears. The hand drying machine in the campsite was used to help in the repair of the tube which would be required the following day. Once back on the roads however no further problems were encountered.