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England - 55 miles, Saturday, July 23
Golden and amber wheat fields whispered in the slight breeze as we cruised the Wye River Valley past Hay-On-Wye, Blacksmere, and Madley towards Hereford, England. Top heavy trucks ladened with hay bales continually chugged along and overtook us. England is currently in a dry spell. We sit under a shady tree for lunch noticing the earth is cracked in spidery patterns.
|Farming near Hereford. Photo credit: 4 Hotels|
As in Wales, it’s our custom to stop at a store for lunch goodies and pick up a fresh loaf of bread. Bakeries deliver daily to these convenience stores, loading shelves with unwrapped rolls and bread still cooling, the aroma overwhelming and comforting. We look forward to this every day.
Hereford was a busy area and we didn’t stop other than to consult signs. I thought it odd to not see the brown and white Hereford cows, but rather the city is a market center for cows of any kind, sheep, and pigs. It was less hectic east of the region where hop fields lined the flattening landscape. We reminisced about riding the Willamette Valley in Oregon, the pungent aroma of hops a fragrance we both love. So much of everyday life in the British Isles revolves around the local pub that it was somehow fitting, riding alongside the loaded vines.
My allergies have been acting up in the drier air. A steady wind whips dust and straw from the hay trucks along with stirring bugs from the roadside. Stopping to purchase groceries, we are suddenly covered with loads of tiny insects. Many follow us indoors and we swat and brush them from our limbs in the grocery aisles.
It is often tiring to navigate at the end of the day. Tempers are short and directions often misunderstood. We stopped at the wrong campground first then reorient ourselves and plugged up a half mile hill. Ready to knock on someone’s door to get further directions, we spied a tiny black and white sign on a tree.
|Downtown Ledbury. Photo credit: Ledbury England Flickr|
The campsite is in a backyard complete with shower and washroom facilities. It was odd a first, feeling like trespassers as we’re the only campers, but it’s deliciously quiet. The owners run an outdoor activity center, like Outward Bound, and expect students arriving soon.
England - 40 miles, Sunday, July 24
The morning humidity settled like scorching pea soup as we continued east to Tewkesbury then north. We lunched at a roundabout in Broadway sitting at the base of a WWI monument so common in every town. As we prepared to leave a guy alerted us to a major bicycle race that would be passing through in another hour. Since our day’s destination was only 20 miles away we hung out and retrieved a cold drink from a store.
We chatted with a young member of a local bicycle club. Their group was hosting the Tour of The Cotswolds. 100 racers entered the 120 mile race which loops the mountains. Andy and I’d been looking at a rising ridge in the distance all morning, apparently this was the renowned Cotswolds. On the other side of us a guy stood holding a glass pint of ale. He’d strayed from a nearby pub to take in the race.
|Broadway village, Cotswolds. Photo credit: www.cotswolds.info|
A motorcade of police, an ambulance, and team organizers lead the lead pack of riders. We remained in the middle of the roundabout watching the colorful racers corner the turn, shift in their seats much like Andy and I after many hours in the saddle, then spin off in the distance down a flat road. Our beer buddy helped out in the street, diverting traffic. When there was a lull he rushed back to the green to take a drink.
After three packs went by the motorcycle police sped off to the next intersection, we presumed, to manage traffic again. The local who’d told us about the race remained in the roundabout with a neon green vest, alerting pedestrians and drivers to the remaining straggling racers. Due to heat, hills, or other problems many cyclists had dropped out.
The thunder bugs were thick on our arms and legs, not biters thankfully, but annoying just the same. We’re told that the insects swarm just before a storm.
|English 3-Wheeled vehicle. Photo Credit: Flickriver|
All morning we’d seen 3-wheeled vehicles much like a VW Rabbit with one front wheel, limping along. They appear unstable, listing in both directions before coming to a halt. The pub guy compared the car with our Polish jokes; they take the brunt of many a funny chat. After the racing excitement finished, the two guys said, “Cheerio,” and we went on our way.
We cruised through quaint brick and tan stone villages before arriving in Stratford just as thunder rumbled. Without warming rain pelted us and we quickly pulled over and shoved our backpacks inside green garbage bags then re-strapped them to the rear rack. The storm wasn’t going to let up anytime soon so we ducked under a hotel awning and waited out a half hour of lightning, windy gusts, and sheets of rain, then hail. At the first crack of thunder car alarms went off. People ran into the streets to their cars, shirts soaking in seconds as they hopped the rushing curbside torrent. And then as quickly the storm disappeared, leaving a steaming roadway.
|My wonderful biking buddy. He's a keeper.|
At the campground we joined a group of cycle tourists tenting on the lawn near a hedge. Jens is a young German man pedaling around England for a month and Frith hails from New Zealand. She spent the last two years in San Francisco and is cycling through Europe before returning home at Christmas time.