Friday, August 31, 2018

29th August (raining all morning, sun and cloud afternoon, mild) 66 km

We were woken by the announcement that the ferry was arriving at Dieppe which gave us enough time to grab a cup of coffee and Pete managed to squeeze in not only a blueberry muffin but also a sultana pastry after our massive meal last night.  I was still full.

We noticed that not only was it still dark outside, but it was absolutely hosing down.  So we went down to the car deck and began dressing ourselves and our bikes in our wet weather gear in preparation for the disembarkation process.  We were the last off but our delay hadn’t seen any change in the weather, so we pulled over in a truck shelter and made some adjustments to our gear and checked where the railway station was, as we figured that would be open and we’d be able to take the bikes inside.  It was about a ten minute cycle away and when we got there we investigated the price of a train fare to Rouen in case it didn’t stop raining.  It’s only 24 euro so that’s always an option if the rain doesn’t stop.  Pretty disappointed in the Dieppe railway station though – no wifi and no toilets!!
The rain had eased off, so I persuaded Julia to forego the twelve euro spend each, for a lovely ride along French country lanes. Of course we had the obligatory climb out of a town, doesn’t matter what country, it’s always the same. 

This time we took a gradual climb, passing an old ruined castle on the way, so photos were in order. The riding was nice, although undulating, when….it started to drizzle. To be fair the sky had looked iffy since our arrival on French soil. Now, it started in earnest. It was if the French were saying { in an outrageous French Monty Python accent }
“We spit on you Inngglliisshh Pig Dogs. You will nah taste the might of zee French wezzer. May your Knickers get very wet and zen ve vill laugh at you…..ha ha ha ….as zee waateerr trickes down your bum crack”
And trickle down our bum cracks it did…. For the rest of the day. In fact, those leetle froggies, saw it running down our bum cracks, it was that intense. We would cycle 10km’s then grab a breather under whatever shelter there was available and sometimes there was nothing, so we would plough on a bit further. It’s been a long time since we’ve cycled in that kind of downpour.
On the country lanes we had no worries with any traffic, but even in such appalling conditions, on the main roads, certain motorists go too fast, cut in too quickly or are generally just too edgy. With 30km’s to go, we were counting down and still it poured. After buying something to munch on at a local Lidl supermarket, the first shop of its kind anywhere along the route, we started entering the outskirts of Rouen. Not that we could see anything of the city as it was chucking it down, so this supposedly beautiful place was still a mystery. 
Through the busy streets, stopping every now and then to get our bearings, until we reached our destination. Hotel Bonaparte is central to the city, just a short walk from the hub. We looked like drowned rats and our check in time wasn’t until 3pm, it was now only 1.30pm, but the nice man on reception told us to unload the bikes and then whip them down to their underground parking area, which we promptly did. With water dripping from us he gave us the room number and we piled the sopping luggage into the elevator. We were supposed to be staying in a campground tonight, but we had specifically wanted to see the light show at the Cathedral at 10pm and there wasn’t a local camping place. We were relieved just to have an indoor stay as everything was soaked. Whilst Julia dived into the shower, I started getting all our gear out, hanging things up from everything, including lights, pictures, door handles, everywhere, just to get them dry. Took coat hangers and opened the window, overlooking the street, to get some undercover airflow to dripping wet clothes. I hadn’t slept on the ferry crossing, so I was shattered. Once everything was taken care of I told Julia I needed a sleep and we both dozed off for an hour.
Every available space is claimed in the name
of drying our gear.  Shoes perched precariously
on 3rd floor ledge!

Upon waking, the room looked like a Chinese laundry, but it was doing the trick. We only have until tomorrow to dry them this way and we weren’t going to spend time looking for a laundry in town. Decided to go exploring as the sun had popped its head out when we woke, so Rouen was there to see. This city is very old with buildings dating back to 1066 [battle of Hastings…only thing I remember from school } and what a fantastic place to visit. History is all around you. Every street, nook and cranny is a photo opportunity and we were in our element.

Palace of Justice - built in 1500's, dessimated in WWII and rebuilt over 50 years

Did that for a couple of hours and the proximity to the hotel, made it easy. Back at our room, we uploaded photos, wrote the blog, ate a pastry and had a coffee, before venturing out at 8.30pm to a Lebanese restaurant Julia had read about, to sample their food. We were both delighted with the place, from the service, the ambience and the food was fantastic.
To end the evening we took a romantic (yes …romantic stroll….there’s life in the old dog yet…aaah ooooh) through the streets, which were now less crowded, except for the bars and clubs, along to the Cathedral, which we had seen earlier on.  It looked beautiful in the daylight, but lit up was even more spectacular.

But then we were horrified to see a bloody great snake writhe it's way out of one of the bell towers!
I kid you not, and we've got the photo to prove it!

Then the snake turned into twisted tree roots, both beautiful and freaky and we began to wonder what the hell was in that delicious Lebanese food.

Next thing you know the whole thing has erupted into flames and there's a giant viking coming for us!  This was some trip!

If anyone is ever intending coming to Rouen, you must, absolutely, see this show. Lasting 30 minutes, trying to describe it would not do it justice. Take our word, it’s amazing. 

Back at the hotel, with a change around for bits of gear that required adjusting, we packed and sorted for tomorrow, hoping that it will be better weather to take us closer to Paris, where we meet dad on Friday. Then it was lights out on a day of two halves.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

28th August (cloudy and mild) 56 km

Today marks our final day in England. What have we seen so far?
The summer which was a cracker in these parts, failed to show itself to us and we have had grey, overcast skies for our entire stay, with the cloud clearing somewhat in the afternoons. For us, that has been ideal and other than the pouring rain on Sunday, we have only had a few drops. It has been mild to warm most days and Julia has been hot most nights, but I’ve been telling her that forever. All in all, great cycling weather.
The flowers are sensational in England and we enjoyed their displays as we cycled through the countryside.
The A AND B roads are extremely busy in general and although we have found the odd one that has been quieter, we stay off them whenever possible. The country lanes are still the best cycling roads in England. Quality is mixed, from fantastic to potholed on main roads where normally, the country lanes have much less traffic, thereby not getting the wear and tear. Overall, traffic in England, like everywhere, is horrendously busy. Vehicles are much more up to date than in NZ and also, much cheaper, that applies to food as well. Courtesy when driving is common place and although there are still idiots on the road, that goes for any country.
Gorgeous houses are everywhere, but every now
and then you have to take a photo.

England prides itself on its history and so it should as it’s everywhere and they do a great job of preserving it. If England were to follow suit with NZ’s ridiculous earthquake ruling for buildings, there would be nothing left standing here. As it is, everywhere you go is eye opening or jaw droppingly beautiful and the country should be very proud.
Like everywhere nowadays, there are people begging on the streets and living homeless. This is not a good look and something definitely needs to be done. To walk through a city or town and see mattresses and tents erected there is extreme, although Julia and I did wonder what would happen if we suddenly decided to pitch a tent in the main street, what the authorities would do.
The people are incredible. Maybe I feel that way because it’s the country of my birth, but we both feel at home here. As in all countries, there will always be an element that are distasteful and cause problems, but the people we’ve met have been warm and inviting.
Pete, Julia and David Peel

This morning Julia jumped in the bath for a soak of tired legs, then followed breakfast with David and generally catching up as we hadn’t seen him since about 2000.   We left about 11am as he was off to visit Elizabeth – he recommended we didn’t go see her, so we didn’t.
The only roads out of Marsh Green, where he lives, are all up and we climbed for the first 2km’s. Even after that, it was a morning of up and down, but we coped very well with it. For the majority of the time we were able to stick to minor country lanes all the way to the town of Lewes.  
Gorgeous old house in Lewes with castle ruins behind
Street in Lewes with white cliffs behind.

Church in Lewes
We had plenty of time so took the opportunity to look around this historic town and take a few photos.  We were immediately struck by how many people we saw limping – it was really weird.
He who laughs last, laughs loudest they say…..well I don’t know how Pete managed to do it but he promised me a surprise today.  All day I wondered what it might be.  A Bounty bar at the next garage perhaps, with maybe even an ice cold coke to wash it down.  We stopped for a Costa coffee, but this was hardly a surprise.  I waited patiently all day for his plan to reveal itself to me, but he outdid himself this time.

The A26 all to ourselves!
As we were cycling alongside the A22 leaving Lewes on the bumpy cycle path, inhaling copious amounts of carbon monoxide from the deafening traffic racing along the road beside us, we came across a roundabout with the turnoff to the A26 to Newhaven.  There was a police van there with lights flashing and sign saying “Incident. Road closed.”
“Come on” says Pete, “Follow me”.
We slid past the police van behind some bushes on the footpath and headed off down the deserted A26 – beautiful road surface, easy gradient and NO OTHER TRAFFIC! Just us!  We cackled madly as we left all the motorists in a choking line of their own exhaust fumes while we sailed merrily down the deserted tarmac to Newhaven.  
OK, they weren't kidding - time for plan B
I was full of admiration for my husband.  I don’t know what he said or what he did to create that diversion and it’s probably best I don’t know and just enjoyed the fact that we had got one over on the motoring public of England.
However, our joy was cut short when after about 6km, we came across numerous flashing lights and police tape across the full extent of the road threatening us with POLICE LINE, DO NOT CROSS.  They’d caught up with us and thought they had us in their sights, but with MapsMe to guide us we backtracked half a km to a small country lane and hightailed it across a train line and over the Ouse River via a walking bridge.  

We were rewarded with a compacted gravel path that ran alongside the river and left that drama far behind us.  We’re leaving the country tonight anyway, so as long as they haven’t closed the borders, we should be in France by the morning.

Once we made Newhaven, we bought our ferry tickets and ducked into a pub overlooking the harbour and had a lovely view as the sun went down and we tucked into our fish and chips, blogged and edited photos.  About 8.30pm we cycled back to the ferry terminal building and chatted to a couple of other cycle tourers before boarding the ferry about 10pm. 
We were one of the first on and sought out some comfy quiet seats so we could get some kip on this overnight crossing.  There weren’t a lot of people on this sailing and this one particular area had about 100 comfy seats, ideal for settling down and getting some sleep.  A couple of other people came and shared our space, choosing good strategic positions that meant we all had our own area.  
We were a little worried when we got our first look at the ferry.

Then our pulling power kicked in once again and we had four people come and choose the seats directly in front of us, all drinking coffee, standing up and talking to each other!  As if that wasn’t enough, we then had about 20 high spirited youngsters come and sit in the lounge behind us, talking and laughing very loudly.
Decided to move and found a very quiet lounge with the only people in there obviously intent on getting some sleep – great, our kind of people!  We’d no sooner settled in when a guy in his 60’s walks down to the front of the room and turns on his computer and starts playing a war game at a very high volume.  We didn’t have to say anything as one of the sleepers very quickly got up and told him to turn it off, which he thankfully did.
Our last evening in England - Newhaven marina

As we settled down to sleep, the very same irate sleeper then began to snore, making more noise than the war game player.  Tried our best to sleep but in the end we moved and found ourselves a quiet space on the carpeted floor with a bunch of other people and I slept quite well, but Pete struggled.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

27th August (cloudy and mild) 81 km

After the deluge of rain yesterday, it was nice to wake to a clearer day. There was still the usual cloud cover that we’ve experienced every day since our arrival in England and I’m beginning to think that the idea of a cloudless day is just a myth. Turned on the tele when Julia woke just to get the weather forecast. Cloudy….funny that… and 19 degrees….that’ll do us.
Another shooting in the States…..this time in Florida. Apparently a guy playing computer games went on a rampage when he lost the game. Something like two dead and fourteen injured. How bad is it when you are becoming blasé about people dying. It just happens all the time now.
Downstairs for breakfast with Steve. Once again it was delicious and the service has been awesome throughout our stay. Chatted about friendships and visits and as always one topic led into another. It’s never been hard to find things to talk about with Steve, which is why we value him so much as a best friend. He has a great sense of humour and always makes us laugh.
Too soon, it was time to say goodbye. We’ve been lucky over the past four years to have seen Steve three times, but it would be nice to have him just around the corner. Gear loaded and off down Ealing High Street to Halfords, to pick up a new inner tube. Even though I repaired the puncture yesterday, figured it would be good to have another back up.  We stayed on the roads heading out for a large percentage of the time today because it was Bank Holiday Monday, so not as much traffic in London as usual.
Travelling at a steady clip, we reached Richmond Park. We had chosen to come through this way as on the map, it was a big green park area with a small road running round the entire perimeter.  When we got there, it had obviously been claimed by the cycling fraternity as their local patch and hundreds of them were flying round this circuit in varying shades of lycra.  There were a number of cars also on this road, but travelling very sedately – perhaps too sedately as one Range Rover was stopped on the road, with an ambulance alongside and his whole back window was smashed in.  We wondered if he’d braked suddenly and received a cyclist in his back seat. 
Hmmmm, should we heed the warning?
In the end it was all in a day's work for us - nothing
more or less dangerous than other hills we'd encountered.

The suburb of Coombe was very nice as was Cheam, with some lovely houses. At this time we were following directions to what we thought was a park, but it turned out to be a golf course. One of the middle aged female players told us that we could cut across the course to get to where we were headed, as the course was common land.  So we did.
At Burgh Heath we stopped at a park for lunch. Whilst eating, a little female Fox Terrier showed up, looking lost. No name, but a tag saying she was microchipped. We rang the number on the collar, but to no avail so left them a text message to tell them where their dog was.  Got a text later in the day letting us know they had found her and thanking us.  On an A road for twenty minutes, far too busy, before coming off to do a short part of the North Downs Way, which was much more fun, even with all the gear on our bikes.
Part of the golf course detour

Back into suburban Redhill and following cycle route 21 when suddenly, my back tyre is going down again. You cannot be serious.  Jason’s prophetic words that punctures come in threes, echoed in our heads.  As we removed the old tube, we noticed it was twisted and ballooned either side of the twist, which we had pointed out to Jason as he was putting it in place, but he assured us it would sort itself out when the air went in – well it didn’t Jason, so no wonder you’ve had so much experience fixing punctures! 
Getting quite expert at fixing punctures now.

Not far down the road, I found that my two small cogs on the back weren’t working…. And my chain came off twice when I was going through the gears…bloody bastard. 
On B roads heading for Horsley, hoping that a bike shop was open to correct the problem, but once again the Bank Holiday was kicking in, with the shop closed. Further on down the line we came upon On Yer Bike, a cycle shop, just after passing Gatwick Airport, in a small village called Felbridge. The doors were open, but when I put my head in, they were just closing (it was 6pm by now).  I asked the guy if he could look at it for a second as we were touring, which he did and fixed it, in five minutes, free of charge.
Pete on the lookout for blackberries.

Forest Way, (an old railway line) a delight to cycle on.

We were getting close now, or so we thought, as it seemed to take forever. At East Grimstead we found the Forest Way, a beautiful old disused railway line, but unfortunately overshot the exit point and then had to backtrack up a farmtrack and had to unload the bikes to lift them over the farmers gate, before reloading them. Finally we rolled into David’s driveway.  David and his wife Elizabeth had Julia boarding with them for a year when she was 19.  Elizabeth unfortunately had a stroke six weeks ago and is now in a nursing home and not in a good way.  David himself is doing remarkably well, although his hearing is very bad now – it has been a problem his whole life.
He had an American friend, and colleague, Bob staying, from New Jersey, who has worked with him often.  After a delicious dinner we all retired to bed. Bob was getting picked up by taxi at 3am to get to the airport and Ju and I were both knackered.  So, an eventful day, not one I would care to do too often.

26th August (rain, rain and more rain, mild) 0 km

If there was a day to be spending tucked up in the lap of luxury, today was the day.  It rained from dawn ‘til dusk, which really didn’t bother us as we weren’t in London to see the sights – we were here to see Steve.  We’d arranged to meet Steve in the foyer to go for breakfast in the hotel dining room at 9am.  We’d been up early again, blogging, messaging and speaking to the kids on facetime. Talked to Brody and Kate and Briana, with all being good, although Briana has only just got over the flu.  Brody and Kate had moved bedrooms and cleaned thoroughly and had their room looking great.
At 9am, we met Steve as arranged and wandered into breakfast. As some of you may be aware, when we travel, I have a rather large appetite and this morning was no exception. We sat and ate and conversed for a couple of hours. That’s one of the best things about coming to see Steve, we always find things to talk about and in between mouthfuls, this was the case.
Steve went back to his flat while we made use of the excellent wifi to check out google maps for options out of the city tomorrow and to work out what ferry we would be catching.  We don’t want to book a ferry however as we know how fickle life on the road can be and don’t want to put undue pressure on ourselves.  In the early afternoon, we donned our rain jackets and walked quickly into Ealing to meet Steve.  We spent the next few hours just sitting in the warmth of a cozy pub, drinking and talking, with a little bit of football watching on the big screen to accompany it.
From here it was back to the hotel, in the still, pouring rain, for our evening meal, which was really enjoyable. Altogether, a very lazy day, but full of memories, laughs and fun.
Thanks Steve - great catching up with you!

Sunday, August 26, 2018

25th August (sunny and mild) 47 km

Ju was awake at 5.45am this morning and began with the wages and bank payments and photo editing. An hour later I finally climbed out of bed and began to get my gear sorted, ready for the off. Downstairs I went outside and hung up the sleeping bags on the line to air out. There was a nice breeze blowing. I then pumped up our tyres and lubed both bikes.
Inside Chris had risen and was talking to Julia in the kitchen. He got stuck into making us bacon, eggs, tomatoes and toast.  It’s been a great stopover – both fully recharged after lots of excellent food and nice to sleep in a bed again. Bikes all loaded, we were ready for our ride into London town, along the Thames cycle path. On certain sections of this ride, the surface is okay. Some is concrete, some grass or dirt and some cinder. Whatever the surface, treeroots growing underneath can cause serious bumping and jolting, not ideal when carrying weight.
Following the Thames was easy....but longwinded

We had estimated that the ride would take us about an hour and a half….but we had estimated wrong…! After we had been riding for some time, my bike started to get a wobbly feeling at the back. Oh dear, puncture time. Tried pumping it up, in case it was a slow leak and I could at least make it to Richmond, where we had arranged to meet Steve (for those that aren’t familiar, Steve is a good mate from Middlesborough, who once lived in NZ).
When it slowly started going down again, we had no option but to pull over and repair. Had the back wheel off (had to be the back wheel with the added complication of the chain and derailleur) and was just about to put a new tube in, when a guy called Jason, who was walking past with his dog, stopped and offered assistance. Fortunately for us, he was a racing cyclist and showed us a couple of techniques to make life easier. Tyre on and off to White Cross, a pub in Richmond.
Jason and Pete fix the puncture - thanks mate!

By now, Steve had been waiting for ages and my mood was pretty sour. It turned almost immediately when we caught up. It was great to see him again and he looks well. It was on our last trip two years ago that we spent a couple of days with him here and normal life for him, has mirrored ours, not much has changed in everyday activity. Enjoyed some drinks and a meal at the pub, which was very expensive, for what it was….but….this is Richmond, London, and the whole experience was very nice, so you can’t put a price on that, well you can actually…but I won’t say.
Steve had arranged our stay at the Premier Inn in Ealing, about 6kms away. Once again, crap cycle paths took us around Kew Gardens before very busy roads led us to our very nice accommodation. The reception staff put our bikes in their lock up for safe keeping and we dropped the rest of our stuff in the room, before heading to another pub, The New Inn, to watch Liverpool beat Brighton1-0. After the game, walked to yet another watering hole called The Red Lion, for more drinks and a delicious meal. 
Hampton Court - couldn't help eyeing up that beautiful green grass, just right for a tent.....but a tad busy 

Unfortunately they were on to us at the back and had locked up
the gates good and tight.

We were both starting to flag by this time, but upon leaving Steve, we watched Sarah Milliken, the comedienne, followed by a bit of Ricky Gervais on TV, very funny.
Then it was lights out to the thought of repairing my inner tube tomorrow and buying another new tube, so that we have a spare ready and don’t have to wait around for glue to set – because as our new mate Jason reminded us today, punctures like to come in threes……..

Good to see you again Steve!

Saturday, August 25, 2018

24th August (cloudy, sunny, mild) 29 km

Windsor township looking very festive with strings of
Union Jacks lining the streets.

Woken in the night by two, what sounded like Polish guys, presumably coming back from the pub. Either that, or they were just naturally inconsiderate, without having to be inebriated to be so. Fortunately, their volume didn’t last too long.
We were surprised when our noisy neighbours were up shortly after us – still just as noisy I might add.  Not a word spoken between them but every noise a body can make without actually talking emanated from their tent as they prepared themselves for work I assume.  Must be a grubby pair as there is no shower on site, and they took off in their van about 7.30am to leave the rest of the campground in peace.
One of the many attractive pubs we have passed.
Up and off by 8am along country lanes and then a very busy B road, taking folk into work. Headed into Windsor to visit a couple of friends who live on yet another hill. Their house is quite spectacular as it’s got turrets on it. Anyway, rocked on up. A fella with a furry hat and a rifle met us on the gate. “Is she up yet” I ask
“Oh aye” he replies
Knocked on the door and this yappy little mutt is snapping around our ankles as it opens.
“Hello there luv…just in time fer bacon and egg butties”
“Smashin” I say….Don’t forget the kettle”
“Calm down..calm down…it”s brewin as we speak”

Windsor Castle

Windsor was bustling with tourists, including ourselves, all trying to take that perfect shot. On the way in, we’d stopped for an early morning coffee at a small Starbucks on the High Street, flags still hanging over the roadway from Harry and Meghans wedding, looked very quaint. From our position in the coffee shop, we could once again see our bikes, but we figured that if anyone were to nick them from this town, Her Majesty would not be best pleased and it would be “Off with the perpetrators head”. Once more, the coffee was of a good standard and we rode into the masses feeling satisfied.

Trying to arrange your photo opportunities whilst balancing a thirty kilo bike amongst so many people does get easier the more you do it, but today was particularly busy and everyone seemed eager to nudge you out of place….well, that wasn’t going to happen. After some good shots in town, we moved out and around the perimeter coming to a big park, not The Long Mile (we’d taken a couple of shots from there on the way in) Here, Julia rode across this great expanse of brown grass to take a full view of the castle, as it’s hard to get it all in from closer.

Then a ride to Wraysbury to meet up with Chris Laiolo and his wife Julie. I knew Chris from my days in Newton in the 70’s. The riding to get there was a combination of B roads and smaller suburban streets, with some very nice homes and your normal run of the mill houses. Arrived at their six bedroom place….always need room for overseas visitors to be met by Julie, who unfortunately wasn’t well, she was losing her voice. Just what she would have needed…. Two Kiwis she hasn’t met before turning up. She was an exceptional host for a good while, as Chris was at a business meeting in London.
It was great to see him again when he finally arrived, by which time we had both showered, aired the tent and packed it away again and hung a stack of washing on Julie’s line. My God, the washing builds quickly. We were served up a delicious lunch and the next ten hours flew by, talking and drinking and learning about each other’s lives from the last thirty seven years. They both have great jobs and we met two of their three kids, James, the youngest and Jessica, the oldest. Didn’t get to meet Nick this time. Julia retired to bed at 10.30pm, followed shortly after by Julie, whilst Chris and I sat reminiscing about our lives. Turned in for a good night’s sleep ready for another catch up with Steve in Ealing, London tomorrow.

Friday, August 24, 2018

23rd August (cloudy morning, sunny afternoon, mild) 78 km

Good Morning Everyone….Yes it’s 5.30am on Farming Radio. And how is the farming community this wet and windy morning? Well …we’ve got the good people over at Farmcombe wide awake now. Yes that’s right…we’ve been driving our jolly little tractors backwards and forwards over a fifteen foot distance with the scoop on the front, picking up dirt and cow muck. And the best part is, everytime we move backwards, the beeping sound, made for stupid people, who can’t see a twenty foot high machine reversing over them, gives off a high pitched constant beep.
That’s great news… we’ve heard that you woke those two lycra clad touring cyclists up real early this morning by driving your utes up and down the driveway.
Too right….we don’t want those townies riding through these parts thinking it’s one big holiday around here, with horses and cows quietly grazing, and the wheat gently blowing in the breeze, giving off a whiff of silage every once in a while. Great…..well we hope they’re up and riding in this wind and rain you’ve laid on, cause it ain’t no holiday round these parts..         
It was 5.55am when I turned on the phone after being rudely awoken by these hardworking farmers.  As we were deciding whether to break camp early, it started to rain so we decided to stay put and have a cup of tea and some muesli and banana in the sanctuary of our little tent – which so far has been a lovely little refuge but hasn’t really been tested yet.
At 9.20am we broke camp hoping for an easier day than the last couple. Out of the gate heading for Lambourn, which started us wondering about what was to come, as there was a small hill into the village. However that was pretty much it for the hills as we now followed the river Lambourn into the affluent town of Newbury.  This ride was thoroughly idyllic, winding its way through one quaint village after another with barely any traffic and hardly a hill the entire way into Newbury. 
Needing to upload the blog for our enthralled public, (a retired butcher from Clapham), we visited Starbucks, who incidentally, serve a pretty good cup of coffee as well, so we indulged, in both coffees and a muffin. We had managed to park the bikes right outside the window where we were sitting, to keep an eye, but this pleasant town didn’t require monitoring.
Loaded up with food from the local supermarket, we rolled out of town, for our first canal journey of the tour and what a days riding we had. Not only had the wet weather cleared, but the Kennet-Avon towpath for ninety five percent of the ride, between Newbury and Reading, was magnificent.  It was hard packed gravel but our 29 inch wheels seemed to soak up a lot of the vibration.  There was a small distance of path covered in pine needles at one stage and they really soaked up the bumps – felt like you were riding on a cloud.

Riding along the Kennet-Avon Canal
Not too far into this beautiful towpath, we came across another bikepacker and pulled up to have a chat.  His name was Chris and not too far behind him was his partner Lorraine.  They had just cycled all the canal paths from Bristol to Birmingham, down the Grand Union to London (sounds like that one hasn’t been improved at all since we cycled it two years ago) and now were heading back to Bristol. Always nice to meet other bikepackers and chat about the common trials we all have on the road.

Had a few tricky gates to negotiate but otherwise it was smooth sailing all the way along the towpath.

We rolled along at a steady pace and around 3pm we pulled up next to a lock and unpacked our soaked fly and groundsheet, draping the latter over the lock gates, as there were no boats in sight. Enjoyed a delicious and filling meal and were just getting ready to pack up, when two canal boats chugged into the lock.

Lunch stop
As we watched them go through the routine, we discovered that the woman driving the first was from Liverpool and her name was Mary. She was lovely and invited me on board (while Ju was packing up lunch and keeping an eye on the bikes) for a look over the home that she has been living in for eleven years now. It was brilliant and had all the mod cons, including an en-suite. Enjoyed meeting her, her partner Trevor and their pal Paul, whose boat was newer than Mary’s and more open plan. Very nice people. If you’re reading this Mary, it was a pleasure to meet you and good luck on your travels.

Mary's dog - I knew you'd like the sign Shaz

The next 10 kms passed swiftly and soon we were leaving the towpath into the heart of Reading.  Just before we got into the city however, we had a couple of annoying barriers to get round which we managed with a bit of Kiwi ingenuity.  Two older walkers, very laden down with backpacks, admired our skills.  Got chatting and they were also Kiwis and had walked 32km so far that day…..and you think we’re mad!!!
Reading seemed a very vibrant city, with lots going on, especially for a Thursday arvo, however the Reading Rock Festival starts tomorrow, which accounted for the throngs of people.  Stopped at Sainsbury’s to grab something for dinner and as we were loading our purchases into the panniers, we were approached by a woman who looked to be somewhere in her 40’s with rotting teeth – which we instantly recognised as a P addict probably actually only in her late 20’s. No surprises to us she starts a sob story which we knew was just the pre-cursor to asking us for money.  Stopped her mid-flow and told her we’d just spent our last three quid and held up our cans of green beans and beef curry as evidence.  She realised she wasn’t getting anything from us and wandered off while we mounted up and headed east along the canal again for a short distance on our way to Sandford’s Camping. Took the roads again which were all suburban and found that there was in fact no camping ground to be had. The address was a family home…go figure? Whist trying to work out why anyone would post that online, we asked a family standing outside their house, just down the road, if they knew? News to them, but the family were all Liverpool supporters and we discussed the game on Monday, which the “Reds” had won 2-0.

Camp for the night - with adult potty in residence!
By now, time was pushing on and our only other option was a camp with no shower and the equivalent of an adult potty for the toilet and not much else. It was about 10kms away and still we had beautiful riding conditions.  Flat, unpopulated roads with the neighbouring houses becoming more and more grand as we closed in on Windsor.  A lot of them had very enticing lawn areas where we could easily pitch a tent, but we managed to resist the urge, and finished the day with a hill up to the Scotlands Campsite. Thoroughly enjoyable riding today and after setting up and eating we talked about going to Windsor Castle tomorrow morning, (seeing as we’d progressed far further along than we had wanted today due to no convenient campsites), prior to going to see Chris Laiolo, who I haven’t seen for thirty seven years.