The last day and the return leg, if you like. As the ride progressed I began to encounter more roads and places I’d been to before. It took a while though. My route out of Stratford was flat and tailwind assisted, it helped no end. In fact, things were going great and at one point I was nudging a 16mph average speed. After ten miles of blissful ignorance, I hit the northerly point of the Cotswold escarpment, heading up via Mickleton Village onto the tops and across the summit of Dover’s Hill. This is the spiritual home of hill climbing, and outside of Winnats has been used more times than any other. It was also where I first took part in the National Hill Climb, in 2010. It was won by Dan Fleeman, who previously rode for Cervelo. I remember coming 24th and getting chastised for not wearing my club jersey. I don’t think I actually had a club jersey at that point though. Maybe I did, if so it was a scratchy Kalas number that I didn’t really take to.
The banner picture of the blog was taken at Dovers and you can see both me (in the crowd) and Tejvan launching his assault, when he came 4th by a very narrow margin to Mike Smith. I imagine Matt Clinton was 3rd. Lots of people were there who I didn’t know, but later came to know very well through the book. It’s the first time I’ve been near the climb since, and didn’t realise until I recognised the turn and place where riders looped round to head back down the hill. It felt strange.
After Dover’s the road carried on rising up to the Broadway Tower, a landmark in this section of the Cotswolds. Apparently you can see for 62 miles and take sight of 16 counties. I carried on, it looked like a slightly gaudy folly, which essentially is what it is. I was content though to have avoided Chipping Camden, or anywhere with the word ‘Chipping’ in the title. For what it’s worth, the term ‘chipping’ means market square, or long market. Maybe I’m debasing such places by association, it’s the David Cameron effect. The tuneless, tootling twat lives somewhere with Chipping in the title, therefore all Chippings must be avoided at all costs.
The route straight over and across was quite arduous. I’ve done worse, but it probably wasn’t the best idea for the third day of a tour. I went up and over Cutsdean, and then intersected the course for the Cheltenham CC Hilly Time Trial. Again, it was a slightly odd experience to cut across a stretch of road I’d previously only raced along. I vaguely remember winning there once, but it might have all been a dream. At Temple Guiting the road dropped down into Kineton. Ominous signs warned of ‘deep water’ and ‘FORD’. I became fearful, the descent was long, long long. The further it descended into the bowels of the Cotswold woodland, the more I resolved to swim whatever raging torrent lurked at the bottom if I had to. It would surely be preferable to returning from whence I had come.
At the bottom the ford was intoxicating; a picture of stillness and tranquility. The only sound was the water running in rivulets over the polished pebbles and birds in the trees above. I can’t recall the last time I was in a place where the only sounds were the products of the natural environment. It felt special, utterly unusual, and deeply soothing. I would have stayed for longer, and in that moment vowed to return again one day.
I was also grateful for the ancient clapper bridge, which meant I avoided a swim.
It was a beautiful day and I lucked out with a tailwind most of the way home. It made pedalling a joy and I almost didn’t bother stopping for lunch, but a fortuitously-placed cafe in Sherston saw a last pasty smash and avoided the threat of bonk.
I got home around 2pm, 88 miles to the good, with 270 complete for the three days. I had ridden back from my Dad’s, a curious ambition I’d held for a while. Admittedly, I am not yet a fully qualified ultranutter, but I have achieved my solo saddlebag touring badge and will be sewing it onto the carradice soon.
It is the sense of adventure, the achievement in doing something like this, and the opportunity to see the countryside and patterns of people and places unfold at a sedate place, that make it such a thrilling, life-affirming activity. It’s good to go with people, but it’s equally joyous to take off and ride on your own, through the heart of the landscape, and to make good your escape for a few brief liminal moments. It makes the return a lovely experience, the reacquaintance with waiting family.