When that sorry bunch which pass as an excuse for a rail service cock things up, they really cock things up…
I left Southend at 7.17, arrived on time at Liverpool Street, cycled to Paddington and was there before 9, only to find that every single train listed on the departures board had beeen cancelled. This was, apparently, due to a points faiure somewhere outside Paddington.
I’ll gloss over the rest of the morning (maintenance work and a dead train at Swindon were amongst the talking points for the incomprehensible announcers) but I finally arrived at Oxford at 11.45, having alerted Bikenrrrd of my delay, a full hour after the ride was due to have left to find them all waiting for me. Bikenrrrd, Crumbling Nick, Chris S, Mega10 and Comet (not riding, but visiting friends and nursing her broken rib).
We set off almost immediately, and of course the rain began to fall, but not enough to trouble the goretex. The first task was to climb Cumnor Hill: not vicious, but certainly persistent. “Here we go again” I thought, and I had visions of this fine group of people having a bit of a thumb-twiddiling day waiting for me at every top as I dragged my corpulent self up the various hills which rural Oxfordshire had in store for us. As it happened, I didn’t need to worry too much as Cumnor Hill was about the only climb of any note before the lunch stop. I can keep up a reasonable pace on the flat, and the weight:surface area ratio is definitely in my favour on the descents, and we reached the Fox and Hounds in Uffington after only 90 minutes’ riding, a distance of either 32 km or 20 miles, depending on whether you believed my computer or Bikenrrrd’s.
There was a small but pleasant surprise in store for us as two bicycles of unknown vintage were parked outside the pub. By the time we had organised ourselves, the owners had appeared: one of the machines was a pre-war fixie Joe Cook, the other a Dayton with 3 speed Sturmey Archer, and it had been in its present owner’s possession for sufficiently long that he could remember being chased by a doodlebug while riding it! These chaps were members of the Vintage Cycling Club, and they recommended the Sunday Lunch.
So can I! Roast topside with 4 veg followed by apple crumble and custard, all washed down with hand-pulled Marston’s Pedigree. Total cost £10.35. Discussion over lunch was about saddles and sit-bones.
Eating such a large quantity is one thing, but doing so in the full knowledge that after leaving the pub you have a 1 in 8 to climb must be regarded as something else all together. However, we all made it to the top, and once again I was impressed with the hub gear on my Ridgeback. I was last, of course, but who cares? I managed it and from this point on the ride was a series of swooping descents giving enough momentum for us to get a good way up the climbs again. My top speed was only 29.5mph all day but Mega10, on his fixie, came hurtling past me, his legs going like a faster version of the pistons on the steam train I had watched idly at Didcot that morning while waiting for my connection to Oxford.
We were treated to the sight of a red kite over East Hanney. I love watching these magnificent birds. It’s easy to see where they get their name. Nothing which puts so little apparent effort into flight should ever be allowed to stay in the air but they do, quite majestically. Combine that with the striking colours and you have probably Britain’s finest bird (we’ll gloss over the small point that the Chiltern red kites are all, apparently, of Spanish descent!)
We continued to make good progress and in spite of one or two doubtful moments when a little navigational discussion took place, we kept to the route and it was a shame that Nick had to make a break five or so miles from the end as he was booked onto a specific train. He missed his ice cream as a result of my late arrival earlier in the morning: I owe you one, Nick.
A small but memorable moment occurred on the home straight as my Cateye cycle computer registered its one thousandth mile.
We eventually rolled up to George & Danvers’ Ice Cream parlour around 5.30 p.m. and found a most convenient stainless steel structure outside the adjacent church to which we could lock our bicycles. For me, three large scoops (Oxford Blue, Raspberry and Vanilla) alongside a large café latté were just about right and I was preparing to head off towards the station when Comet, dear girl, mentioned casually that she had overeard someone saying that the trains to London were all up the proverbial, and would I like a lift to Pinner station?
Of course, I jumped at the chance and after Mega10 had shoehorned our bikes in the back of the Land Rover Discovery, we were on our way, another triumphant day courtesy of the Association of Champion Fellows.