Being an adventure with Swindon Smallwheels in November 2002
On a rather damp 16th November I made a last minute breakfast time decision to catch the train to Swindon for the Smallwheels ride. The plan was to go on the ride and then cycle back to Cheltenham. A phone call indicated a train at 9.30am, which gave me about forty minutes to wipe the sleep from my eyes, saddle up the Brompton and ride the two miles to Cheltenham Spa station.
With ten minutes to spare I joined the queue that emerged from the booking office door; one booking office hatch was in use. Fortunately there were few enquiries of the, 'How do I get to Aberdeen next Friday with twenty Tesco coupons and by the way what happens if I want to go via Peterborough?' variety, and the queue moved relatively smoothly.
Whilst waiting I met a friend who has been actively involved in Cheltenham's cycling campaign for many years. When I explained my intentions, his response was, 'You'll never get all that way on those little wheels will you?' to which I replied, 'I've been all over Wales on this. We averaged 25mph over Plynlimon, marvellous!'. I'm not sure he believed me. It's amazing how many experienced cyclists think small wheels mean hard work. However, Mike Hessey may agree with him after trying my Brompton, which has the original tyres.
After a smooth journey I was soon unfolding the Brompton in a damp grey Swindon morning. I was aware that a right turn outside the station led to the Great Western Railway works, now the Designer Outlet Centre. Brunel's ghost, with tears in his eyes, is said to walk the aisles buying shirts at bargain prices.
Unfortunately an immediate right turn was one way in the wrong direction, so not wanting to get lost in the Swindon one way system I set off walking and pushing. After overtaking a family heading in the same direction, taking an abortive diversion round the old GWR carriage works, and re-overtaking the family, much to their bemusement, I found the tunnel under the main lines I was looking for.
Emerging from the tunnel, which brought back memories of youthful visits to Swindon works, the nirvana of the railway museum and the Designer Outlet Centre opened before me. I soon discovered the enigmatic Mike, 'How many bikes has he really got?' Roberts sipping morning coffee. Mike, who organises these rides on the third Saturday of each month, informed me that Chris Dent had also arrived.
By 11.30am there were still just the three of us, and we set off on our usual exit route from the Outlet Centre. This took us along cycle paths past Archer's brewery, which had the enticing sign 'Beer To The General Public - Call In'.
As I was to leave the group and set off for Cheltenham soon after lunch, Mike kindly planned a route that took us to the north west of Swindon. After many intriguing back ways we finally emerged on a hill above the town with good views through the murk across the surrounding countryside. A run down the hill took us along new cycleways, under a striking new bridge to a pub for lunch. On the way Mike promised us a treat, with tales of exciting prospects round the next corner. Then suddenly, spread out before us was a giant Asda/Waitrose. Mike proudly informed us that it was the biggest shop in the world, or was it Europe, England, Swindon or just the biggest shop there? I can't remember.
Toby, for the pub was his carvery, provided us with a filling lunch. I can recommend the carvery sandwich, which mysteriously seems to have everything the standard carvery has plus bread, but costs about £3 less.
To help me on my way it was suggested that we head out for the Cricklade railway where it was rumoured that tea and apple pie and cream could be found. From the pub we had an interesting ride up a road that had been closed to traffic. It was a good tarmac road, but the surface was covered in a thick layer of leaves, twigs and branches. However, it did have the bonus of absolutely no motor traffic. At the top the road closure became evident in the form of a very large mound of earth and a high wire fence. A slippery carry on a muddy bank and a squeeze past the fence soon brought us to the road to the Cricklade railway.
A down hill run had us in the yard of the preserved railway in no time, and we were soon ordering tea from two charmingly eccentric elderly ladies in a railway carriage. No apple pie I'm afraid, but there was crumble. A friendly CTC rider from Swindon joined us for tea and appeared to fit the stereotype perfectly. Mike is usually heard to enquire on these occasions whether those big wheels slow you down, but remained silent.
Not wishing to cycle too long in the dark, I left Mike and Chris with their crumble and headed off towards Ashton Keynes. I expect they will have joined the CTC and be riding Dawes Galaxies by now.
During the whole journey I was accompanied by spitting rain. It was as though there was about a square metre between each drop and it never gave me any cause to consider stopping and donning waterproofs. The autumn afternoon was very atmospheric with trees and hedges standing out starkly against a changing sky that contained ominous dark clouds. Not far from Cricklade, lanes leading off my route were like lakes and I hoped that my way would not be barred as I approached the low lying Cotswold Water Park. Road side ditches were overflowing into the fields and water was lapping at the road sides. At one point the road was soaked, as though the water had only just receded.
Ashton Keynes and Siddington came and went and I was soon on the outskirts of Cirencester. Poor navigation had me hoping I could pass as a child on a fairy cycle as I rode by mistake through the town centre park past the no cycling signs (small wheeled bikes do have their uses).
I was glad that the busy Gloucester road out of Cirencester had a cycle path as I headed for Daglingworth and the Duntisbournes. The path gives up at the first sign of difficulty, but at least it's not far to the Daglingworth turn off and quieter roads. The Brompton purred along into the soggy gloom of a November afternoon and I was enjoying every minute of it. Who needs warm sunshine to appreciate cycling? (OK, it's a fair cop guv, I got carried away a bit then.) At Daglingworth a friendly local pointed me in the right direction when I stopped to read the map.
Up the hill out of Duntisbourne Abbots, I entered a white silent world of thick mist. The cold clamminess made me stop to replace my gloves which had been removed earlier. I also fixed my lights. Before long the muffled roar of the A417 could be heard and I slipped unobtrusively under it near Five Mile House. A section of the old road running parallel to the new dual carriage way soon had me on the lanes to Cowley. By this time the mist and gathering darkness created a surreal landscape of skeletal trees with an atmosphere that was white, but at the same time strangely dark. Ghostly spinneys loomed into view and strange Halloween like objects could be seen out of the corner of my eyes - glowing faces, witches, giants. At one point there was definitely a giant beckoning to me from a small wood, but I wasn't going to stop and investigate.
In no time the mysterious white world was shattered by the roar of monsters and I reached a junction shrouded in trees. A black glistening strip crossed my path. On this, wild beasts with blazing eyes shot past, oblivious of my presence. The rear of each beast glowed with evil red fire. I waited for a gap in the procession and then made a dash for it. I was soon away into the silence of the mist, which by now had lost its whiteness as darkness closed in.
A rapid descent into Cheltenham proved to be the dampest part of the whole day and I was soon taking tea, toast and marmalade in the comfortable warmth of Regency England.
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Last updated: 21 November 2002