Day 5 -- Banbury to Stratford-upon-Avon
Route for day 5
Elevation profile for day 5
I think of this day in three different segments. As you can see from the elevation profile, the first third was moderately difficult, the second third moderate, and then the last third essentially coasting down to Stratford-upon-Avon.
The day dawned cool and partly cloudy as we cycled out of Banbury on some roads and paths. Soon, however, the Sustrans path led us to a closed farm gate, beyond which we couldn't see any path. Once again, should we or shouldn't we? And once again, there was nowhere else to go. What was different about this gate was that it really looked like we were unwelcome, and beyond the gate there were sheep and cows. So we unhooked the gate and pushed it open, and began walking and cycling through grass and animinal droppings up a hill through the farm. Our own tracks were very plain in the muddy field, and again we noticed that there were no other tracks at all. It was inconceivable that we were the only cyclists on this national cycle path, but it was the same everywhere we went. We saw no other cyclists, and we never saw any other tracks in places where they should have been very plain to see. This was a whole week in the middle of July -- prime holiday season.
Up the hill, through the farm
When we came over the hill a path became more apparent, and we cycled through empty farmland. A couple with a dog (always a dog) was walking towards us, and as we approached I thought of how many people in this country enjoyed a walk, and always how unusually well dressed they were. We stopped and talked for a while, and they asked us the universal question: "Where are you cycling from?"
When I get this question, I always have two thoughts in mind. The simple answer was that we had come that morning from Banbury, which was only about 6 miles away. But this is unimpressive. It also seems relevant to answer the way I did. "We've cycled from London," I replied.
"London!" Now this obviously impressed them. London was like another world away. I was impressed myself.
The other thing that impressed everyone we met was our GPSs on our bikes. This seemed to unheard of, and everyone was amazed and fascinated, as was this couple.
The path eventually connected to a road and a big hill. When I got to the top of the hill, Len was already there, off his bike, and talking to two young girls on horses. While we didn't see any other cyclists, we saw girls on horses everywhere.
Young girls on horses everywhere
I loved the road signs and the town names in England. Here is a typical example, showing the little cycle path sign (cycle route 5) as well as directions to several well-named towns. The town of Chipping Norton reminded us that we had now come quite near the Cotswolds.
Quaint road signs
Right here we weren't sure which way to go (the cycle sign pointed back the way we had come), and we ended up resting and eating lunch. Lunch in this case was my last nutribar and a little water. One nice thing about England was that it was possible to picnic practically anywhere along the road. During our trip in Ireland it had been almost impossible to get off the road. Everywhere there were fences and hedgerows at the border of the road.
A small picnic with a nutribar
A man was walking by, which seemed kind of strange given that we were in the middle of nowhere, but I asked his advice on directions. He pointed us in the direction of Sibford Ferris (where do they get these names?). I was remembering that there was a hill on the elevation profile coming up, so I asked whether there was a big hill soon. "Oh yes," he said, "very steep hill." That encouraged me a lot as we set off again.
Indeed, there was very steep hill right ahead. But it was downhill! I had neglected to ask whether the steep hill was up or down! And after that the route leveled off into the second third of the trip -- modest ups and downs.
A quiet road on a Sunday afternoon
We came into the town of Shipston-on-Stour and stopped at a grocery store on the main street. We took turns going in the store and doing our things. Len bought some water, and I bought an ice cream cone. The town was fairly empty this Sunday afternoon. An old lady walked by and we started up a conversation. She was very nervous about flying in an airplane to New Zealand to visit her daughter. We tried to reassure her, but I think we failed.
This gives me a chance to show my GPS display as we left Shipston-on-Stour. Our "breadcrumbs", showing the track we should follow, run from right to left -- and slightly upwards -- across the screen and through the town. The arrow pointing up on the screen shows where we are. You can also see the river Stour and the major road A3400. This was a small town, and the GPS was set to show only major roads, so it is fairly legible in this picture. The problem came when we got into bigger towns, where it was very hard to distinguish the track from all the roads. A color display would help a lot, but all these units have is black and white.
The GPS display as we left Shipston-on-Stour
After all the work loading all the England maps into the GPS, during the trip we talked contantly about finding some way to turn the maps off to simplify the GPS display. We loved having the tracks, but we never, ever, used the road maps. They were just in the way, and the GPS seemed to give us no way to turn off the maps.
We passed a very English scene -- sheep grazing in the foreground and men playing cricket in the background.
Sheep and cricket share a field
A little later we came into the town of Lower Quinton. We argued about whether we had actually passed by Upper Quinton, but we weren't sure. There was an old church and cemetery, and we stopped to look at the tombstones.
A country church and graveyard
It doesn't show up very well in this picture, but the tombstone here was really very sad. There are two small granite teddy bears in front of the monument to the young girl buried there.
The last six miles into Stratford-upon-Avon were on the "Greenway", a pleasant cycle path near, but not adjacent to, a canal. There were many walkers, many dogs, and a jogger or two. We had to pass through a half dozen or so gates that were really very awkward to manage.
Gates on the Greenway
We had negotiated these kinds of gate elsewhere, but we never did it very well. It was like having to go through an airlock or something. Our bikes barely fit in the space allocated, and we had to turn them awkwardly to fit through. We kept saying, "What are they trying to keep out?" We never settled on an answer to that question.
At the end of this Greenway we came into Stratford. We followed our GPS breadcrumbs through the city streets. The breadcrumbs told us to turn right at an intersection, but when we got there we saw that the road we were supposed to turn on was on a bridge over our heads! I'm sure the roads crossed on the computerized map -- it just didn't know that one road was up in the air.
Shortly after this the breadcrumbs had us cycling down a very busy main street going the wrong way on a one-way street. Something else the computer maps didn't know about. But the street led us to the front of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, where there were hordes of tourists. Hordes. We had hoped to attend a Shakespeare play there, but on this Sunday night there was no performance. I've seen a couple of plays there in the past, and they are very special in this setting.
Our bed-and-breakfast, the Croft House, was across the river, and here I am, walking my bike across the bridge, happy that once again I have arrived where I was supposed to be.
Arriving in Stratford-upon-Avon
The Croft House had a convenient location, and it was relatively inexpensive. Make that cheap for this town. My room, though, was the smallest of the trip. In the closet was the world's smallest shower, and the bathroom was shared across the hall.
My room in Stratford
After cleaning up, we walked around town a little. We passed by Shakepeare's birthplace and all the other tourist attractions without being tempted. There were lots of tours lined up outside everywhere. I've been there, done that, but that's not the reason we weren't tempted. When I'm biking I'm not really a tourist. The guidebooks tell you all about the museums you're supposed to visit and things like that, but in my experience the joy in biking is the ambiance of experiencing a country mile by mile. It's the overall experience, not the tourist sights, that matters. Anyway, that's my two bits.
Remembering our delicious dinner at the Italian restaurant in Banbury the previous night, we succombed to yet another Italian restaurant in Stratford. I was embarrassed to order yet another spaghetti Bolognese. Len did too. He said it was ok, because our bodies were craving carbohydrates. It tasted good, too, but not as good as the previous night.
Walking back to our B&B the daylight was dying over the river Avon and Trinity Church in the distance.
The last vestiges of daylight along the Avon