There are some salutary lessons to be taken away from the complex art of route planning. Primarily, by all means plan a 90 miler away from all conurbations and anything larger than an abandoned medieval hamlet, but don’t be surprised if you then find yourself wondering where all the shops are and panicking about what you’re going to eat.
Leicestershire is both prettier and lumpier than I anticipated. I think I ended up riding across the Wolds, a stretch of woldiness up above Loughborough. It is quaint and gently rolling. I found the remote village of Quorn, which is a pilgrimage of sorts to a vegetarian like me. I started slowly on account of some pangs of anxiety, my knee was hurting at the end of the previous day’s riding. It was fine. Once I got up around the 50 mile mark I pressed on and made up time. It’s interesting how distance changes when you embark on a long day in the saddle, or multiple long days. Once you crack the 50 mile ride there’s a ray of optimism, only 40 miles to go… It’s peculiar. You have to forget about distance and just tap along, looking at things and getting lost in the flow of the activity, the gentle pulse of the mind, ambling along in unison with the bike. It’s surprisingly easy to do long days, although I’m not sure how long a ride has to be these days to qualify as ‘long’. No sooner had I uploaded my three day epic than one of my chums spuffed out a 280km day ride just for the express purpose of shitting and giggling. These people (the Baineses, the Silvertons, all of Bristol Audax Club who thought it would be fun to ride home from Rome before tea – you know who you are) shall from this day forth be known collectively as the ‘ultranutters’.
This is the first mini-tour I’ve done on my own, so it gave plenty of time for thinking, but unfortunately yielded no profound insights. I made some observations; inane things like how counties or areas become defined by their county towns in the imagination at least, For instance, I thought Leicestershire would be a bit of a shitty midlands sprawl because that’s what I think Leicester is (even if it isn’t), but it couldn’t be further from the truth, it’s a beautiful county. Once you get out of the towns and cities, weaving a stitched line along the OS map, it’s quite startling how English everything becomes. The rural landscape, imaginative, physical, demographic and imaginative, is very much middle England, punctuated by the flag of St George, villages in thrall to a vision of the past that is at once bucolic, refreshing, but clearly at odds with the more modern subjectivity of the city dweller. The gap is more of a yawning chasm, there is nothing within the villages of Quorn or Cerney or Wymeswold or Barnetby that links even remotely (no pun in intended) to the metropolis. When you ride through it, it’s not hard to see and feel the disconnect between the city and the countryside in terms of modern identity.
The closest I came too civilisation (which now sounds like a contradiction in terms) was the outskirts of Nuneaton. It was also the only place I saw a shop, and the only place I didn’t really want to stop and leave the bike, so i pressed on. I did ride up Gun Hill though, and wondered if it was the same Gun Hill which Harold Worthern and Vic Clark used to ride up in the early 1940s.
Stratford is nice, insofar as they have kept the bits that were important and linked in some way to old Shakey. I was expecting amazing medieval hostelries, but found only Greene King pubs. Mercifully, there is a micropub there, which is one of the best drinking establishments I have ever been to. It’s called the ‘Stratford Ale House’ and occupies an old health food store. Seems apt.
By about 9pm I was absolutely cream-crackered. It took two and a half pints over three hours to wipe me out completely. Hardcore.