York and the Cotswolds, July 17 / August 5, 1993

Michael J. Ferguson

Les Publications INRS-Télécommunications, Montréal

Journal Index


1  Saturday, July 17, Toronto
2  Sunday, July 18, Gatwick Airport, London
3  Monday, July 19, Colnbrook
4  Tuesday, July 20, Longstanton
5  Wednesday, July 21, Lincoln
6  Thursday, July 22, York
7  Friday, July 23, York
8  Saturday, July 24, York to Birmingham
9  Sunday, July 25 / Friday, July 30, Birmingham
10  Saturday, July 31, Birmingham
11  Sunday, August 1, Broadway
12  Monday, August 2, Oxford
13  Tuesday, August 3, Oxford
14  Wednesday, August 4, Bentley Copse
15  Maps

1  Saturday, July 17, Toronto

Today I am flying to Gatwick from Toronto instead of Montréal. I started to make air reservations two and a half weeks before my departure and discovered that I had missed the 21 day advance booking - in the winter it was only 14 days. However, the problem was moot since there were no flights back home until August 11, and that was London via Amsterdam. However, there was a flight from Toronto to London (Gatwick) via Air Transit - a charter company. The fare is right $599 vs nearly $900 for the 21 day advance booking and $1300 for the one for which I was eligible. This meant that I had to drive from Montréal to Toronto, leave at midnight, and arrive at noon at Gatwick. Gatwick is about 30+ miles south of London compared with Heathrow's 20 miles.

I was up at 4:00am to get ready, and hopefully meet Peggy in Toronto at about 1:00pm. It was not to be. My bike did not want to be packed. My new folded handle bars stuck out too far for me to close the bag. When I rotated them out of the way, I broke the platform that I had made to hold my trip computer. I also broke the main sensor when I removed the front wheel. It took while to fix it and get the bag closed. My new arrangement that leaves the front fender and rack on did not leave enough room for the rear rack. That meant I needed my goalie hockey bag to hold all my stuff. I really cut down on the amount of clothes for this trip but I still seem to have incredible quantities of junk - ugh!

I found Peggy at Mandy's house in Mississauga at about 4:00pm and we departed to get photos for her ``Age of Majority'' card and I went off to see Scott Rogers to have it ``guaranteed.'' We passed by Vic where a frustrated director was trying to get some kids to riot over the serving red meat in their cafeteria. He obviously didn't understand about riots. He kept telling them to look angry instead of telling the just to have fun.

I had dinner with Scott, Marianne, and their daughter Sarah (Christine was at camp) and then went over to my sister Joanne's house. She drove me to the airport. I was three and a half hours early - I was not alone. In fact I was four and a half hours early. We left an hour late because the caterers were slow delivering the meals. The plane is not quite full, and the couple beside me moved so they could better see the movie - the thoroughly forgettable The Bodyguard. - and it costs $2.00.

2  Sunday, July 18, Gatwick Airport, London

Today really started before we left Toronto - and the sun rose at 10:30am when we were somewhere over the Atlantic. We took a very southerly route and came in just south of the Irish coast. Some of the Heads were sort of recognizable from my ride from Cork to Kinsale and beyond. Several deep bays could have been where Cork's Lee River meets the sea but I am not sure. There were scattered clouds and sun - maybe England will be the same.

First looks say no - much more cloud and almost no breaks. We are about to land, an hour and a half late. I somehow doubt that this could be crucial for a three to five day ride to York.

** Regularity is not a watch word for English field design.

We are only one-half hour late. The first local time given to us was out by an hour. However, the almost on time arrival was wasted for me and about 30 others. My bike came out but my hockey bag with all my paniers and my camping gear did not. I have been here all afternoon hoping that my bag might come back when the flight returns from Paris. At 3:30pm the baggage handlers had no idea where the bags were or had been. It appeared that an entire container had not been loaded or unloaded. At about 4:00pm I found Steve Mansur, Air Transat's local flak catcher. He had just found out from the Gatwick Baggage service that a complete container had been mis-labeled, went to Paris, and supposedly was on its way back here and will be unloaded. He is hoping that my stuff, and everything else will be here by 5:00pm. It is now 4:40. I am to go back and be escorted into the Baggage Claim area to retrieve my bag.

** My first afternoon on my first bicycle trip to England was spent in the Casualty Ward of the Westminster Hospital repairing my arm. On my second trip, it has been an enforced afternoon at Gatwick. I wonder if there is a pattern.

My bag did come back from Paris and it wasn't until 6:00pm that I was ready to go. The only map that I could get was nicely detailed but did not show campgrounds. No one seems to know if there are any. I am planning to take the National Grand Union Canal Waterway Path to Birmingham. It starts just north and east of Heathrow. I remember from the maps that I left at home that there were several campgrounds along the canal. Perhaps if I can get there, I will be able to follow it, even if it is dark.

Just as I left the terminal, and recovered from going the wrong direction, it began to rain ...  quite decently. I stopped and put on my rain gear and started north. It rained continuously for about 15 miles. In West Ewell, I took advantage of the strange Sunday hours for wine and liquor sales. The pub and off-licence store service closes down at 3:00pm and opens again from 7:00pm to 10:00pm. I got some red South African Pinotage, a wine unavailable in Montréal. It apparently is a varietal unique to South Africa. It tasted like a blend of Pinot Noir and Merlot - or some other? It was quite good. I refrained from buying the Gallo, even though it was a little cheaper than at home. The nice people also filled my water bottle.

I continued north, passing a few decent hills, and arrived at the Grand Union Canal well after sunset. The canal was there, with no sign of a path and no obvious way to get down to it. As I was waiting, a kid asked me if I had seen a girl come by. I said no. I then asked him if he knew anything about the canal path and how to get down to it. He showed me an obscure way down while he was also finding his girl friend. It was a dirt track down and the path was the remains of the canal bank. It was now 9:30pm and very dark. The path was very rough and you had to be very careful to avoid falling into the canal. It was clear that I would not make it to Birmingham this way so I resolved to get off at the earliest opportunity. I was still hopeful that this was just a part that had not yet been developed. The I met a couple of bicyclists coming towards me. I stopped them and asked about the path. They said that this part of the path was quite good, and that further up it became almost treacherous. That was enough - I asked where I could get off. They said that there was a moderately steep bank just beyond the next bridge, and that there was a pub just across the road, where the owner would know whether there was a campground in the neighbourhood. The hill was not too bad and the owner of the Black Bull said he knew of none near there. This is not a nice neighbourhood. I was asked whether my stuff was safe and I replied ``Is it?'' He said he had just scared off two kids who were eyeing the contents. Apparently they stole a radio from a car before they left. The police came when I was rearranging my bags. I left at about 10:30pm - happily it was not raining.

All of the patrons and the owner felt that there were no B&Bs or campgrounds in the neighbourhood. I decided that the best thing to do would be to find the campground in Langley. It was then that I discovered that I had left all of my London maps and my West London Ordnance Survey map at home. I had to navigate by memory. I made my way to Iver Heath where Biddle Lane led, I hoped to my campground. Just before I got to the lane, I spied a B&B and decided that I would try to wake them up. After all, it was only 12:15. They refused to answer - I thought I heard the ring.

I continued on about 100 yards and found Biddle Lane. It was pitch dark, no lights, and no road markings. After about another 100 yards, I decided it was too dangerous, and turned around. The B&B failed to answer again on my second try.

My options were becoming rather limited. The least painful reasonable option would be to spend the night at Heathrow. A second option would be to attempt to disturb the nice people at the B&B in Colnbrook that rescued me on my last night outside Heathrow last year. Colnbrook was just outside Langley on the way to Heathrow. Just as I was entering Colnbrook, I saw the Brands Hill Lodge B&B with a light and noise coming from the second story room. They answered - it was 1:00am - and I had a place to sleep for the rest of the night. I had a shower, tasted my South African Pinotage, was mildly upset about the late service (7:00am to 9:00am) of breakfast and went to bed. It was now 2:00am and I had ridden 52 miles since 6:00pm.

3  Monday, July 19, Colnbrook

I awoke to bright sunshine at 8:30am. I have to hurry not to be too late for breakfast. Breakfast is a nice sausage, egg, brown beans, and toast. I opt for tea since the coffee is the instant. It is 9:30am before I break camp and start off for London. Just to make me feel better, Mr. ?????, the nice Indian gentleman that has just recently bought the Brands Hill B&B, tells me that the weather forecast is thunderstorms. It is raining, and sunny in the distance, as I leave. Since it is early morning, I opt for my dayglow green water resistant jacket. It stopped in about 20 minutes. I was only dampened.

** The margin that British drivers give you is minimal. Perhaps what they give each other is minimal too. I saw two rear-enders, in about 200 yards, where all the cars were reduced by about 2.5 feet. I mentioned to one of the police on the scene that it was a bumper day and he told me to be very careful.

I was able to navigate through London by memory, and few signs to Euston station. Everyone suggested that Kings Cross was the station of choice for Cambridge. Euston, St. Pancras, and Kings Cross were right beside each other. I arrived at 11:45 and left for Cambridge at 12:15 - 12:20 really, the train was late. At 1:30 I was in Cambridge. One of my projects here is to get my complete collection of maps for the rest of the trip. Dillons did not have the one around Gatwick, but they did have every other one I needed. The maps now cost $4.25, and are fair traded. My seven maps cost about $60. I now know where I am going this evening. Longstanton, just north and west of Cambridge has a campground.

Cambridge is really its colleges. There is more of historical interest but the colleges really hold center stage. St. John's College is a delight, even though you are very carefully led away from the private parts. The filagreed Bridge of Sighs leads across the river to the backs. You see it from a nearby bridge of much lesser character.

The architecture of St. John's is very collegial, all except for the gray concrete monstrosity called Fisher Hall. This Hall is, apparently an on-campus hotel. It does not have much medieval ambiance about. The back of St. John's is isolated from the other backs by small moat and fence. However it possible, but rather frowned upon, to cross on the top of a very thin water control dam.

The tour of the back of Trinity completed the front tour that I had done earlier. The final, highly recommended college was King's. The inner courtyard is magnificent study in symmetry. They also have an unusual admonition about walking on the grass near the Chapel.

** ``No walking on the grass unless accompanied by a Senior Member of the College'' Perhaps the professors and other high officials are so exalted that they and their guests manage to walk six inches above the surface of the grass. However, even ``Senior Members'' are not sufficient for the French. In French the sign says ``Défense de marcher sur les pelouses''.

The pedestrian shopping streets are full of real and stuff shops. One real one that I couldn't resist was the Cambridge University Press. They seem to have one of everything they have published - and also a selection from the Stanford University Press. I bought a book on Formal Methods - not exactly bedtime reading - but we shall see.

I left Cambridge at about 6:00pm and arrived at my campsite in Longstanton at about 6:45pm. After setting up camp, I visited the local pub, another Black Bull, and took time to try a bitter and a mild ale, and to write. I started in the game room with the kids, but the owner suggested that it might be pleasanter in the lounge area. He even assured me that the light would be better - the easier to see my computer.

I left there in the real dark and the rain at about 10:00pm. By 10:45pm, I had got things arranged and was dissuaded from taking a shower by the rain - still quite heavy.

4  Tuesday, July 20, Longstanton

The rain has stopped. It is overcast but not at all distressing. Perhaps I have adjusted to local time. I woke at first light (4:30am), had breakfast, and broke camp by about 7:00am. I looked for a place to have real breakfast but didn't find any. Perhaps morning breakfast out is not done in the small towns. The country is a typical good farmland that could be anywhere in the world. Pleasant, but not too exciting. I did see two Peter Rabbits hustling off into the underbrush. It is the only wildlife, other than birds that I have seen.

At about 12:15 I arrived in Peterborough. It is not even mentioned in the Michelin Guide. I had an excellent fish and mediocre chips in the APSA cafeteria in a very new (modern?) shopping centre just at the edge of town.

As I left I stopped at the train station see when the next train to Lincoln left. It was 3:15pm and arrived at almost 5:00pm. I decided to ride instead. I had been following ``B'' roads from Longstanton but here was forced onto the A15, and had to stay on it for about 10 miles. It seems to me that this ``A'' road is much more crowded and trucky than the ``A'' roads I took from Birmingham to Oxford last year. Perhaps it is the road, or the time of year. In fact all of the ``A'' roads seem very crowded - even in town.

It is very hard to find tiny roads that run roughly parallel to the main roads, but I was able to find some, through the Fens that were even smaller than ``B'' roads. It was quite flat until the Fens. These are series of parallel ridge lines that, as you might expect, I had to cross over. They were occasionally steep, but not very high. This is certainly more interesting farm land than the previous 50 miles. The villages were tiny, cute, and totally without pubs. I didn't think it possible to travel 30 miles in England without seeing a pub, but I did. I really needed one to fill my water bottle. The people working in their gardens seemed too preoccupied to be bothered by a bicyclist that merely needed his water bottle filled. I have my water filter but all of the streams had cattle wandering about, and I thought that was pushing things too far.

I arrived in Lincoln at about 9:00pm and finally found Hartshorne County Park by 9:30pm. The custodian had gone to bed but there was plenty of room. The shower facilities were behind combination locked doors but one of the other camper was kind enough to show me where they were, and to let me in. It was nice to get clean.

5  Wednesday, July 21, Lincoln

It is nice and sunny today. I had breakfast and broke camp at about 6:45am. The custodian still had not wakened up, but I think I heard him go by at about 2:00am and say the bicycle was new.

By 7:15 I was up by the cathedral (***) and the castle (*). The castle does not open until 9:00am but the cathedral is now open. It is classic Gothic, with incredibly over designed flying buttresses around the Chapter House - the meeting place of the canons. They have converted St. Hugh's Choir to be the normal place of worship for about 300 people. The main nave is used for Christmas services - empty now, but then they add chairs. I think this is a nice gesture.

** The west tower had a steeple but it blew off in a storm. The east tower has been symmetrized.

The Castle is home to one of the Magna Cartas. I did not realise that there were originally 40 Magna Cartas, one for each county. There are three others in existence, two in Salisbury Cathedral, and one in the British Library. The Magna Carta is housed in the old prison, which also doubled as a court of law when it was still active. The Law Courts of Lincolnshire are at the end of the courtyard. There doesn't seem to be any residence inside. Maybe it became too old, and was only fit for prisoners and judges.

Just as I was fixing up my bike to leave, I fell into conversation with one of the castle tour guides. The standard opening question is ``Where, are you coming from?'' After a reply of ``Montréal'', the normal response is ``Blimey, that's a long way!'' I then had to explain that I had really just come from Cambridge, and was on my way to York. ``Our chief rival'' he admonished. It was acceptable though, when I told him I was going there for a conference. He was very kindly gave me detailed instructions about how to get out of Lincoln on the ``B'' road of my choice. I left at about 10:45am.

The road north runs along the top of a ridge line, by passing the little towns that were all down in the valley. The A15 follows an old Roman Road here and is supposedly flat - it certainly is straight.

** The dead and the sheep share the churchyard in Gravingham - a small town in the valley.

I dropped off the ridge to Gravingham and crossed across the flat valley to the River Trent. The road from here north was smaller than a ``B'' and ran right by the river. I was looking forward to it but was rather disappointed. The river is well manicured with large dikes on both sides. All you get to see from the road is the dike. The Trent is not very wide but has very few places to cross, which I had to do to get to York. I crossed at Gunness - only place I could find for 30 miles in either direction. I followed the narrow and narrower road all the way to the Ouse, which flows into the ocean here all the way from York. Unfortunately the Ouse was diked in the same way as the Trent. I finally arrived in Goule at about 5:30pm. It appears that there is at least 35 miles to go to get to York and there are no campgrounds on the way. I looked for the B1228 north to York but all I could find was the A614. I went back into Goule looking or the other way north and decided I couldn't find it. I then looked very carefully at my map and found that the A614 was the road I wanted. On my way back I saw the Goule railway station. I checked for trains to York and discovered one leaving in 20 minutes. It changed at Doncaster, and arrived in York at 7:40pm. If the timing was correct, then I really had no chance to make it tonight. I took an earlier train to Doncaster, which is about 17 miles south of Goule, and am now waiting for the 7:11 train to York.

Life gets complicated - I was just thrown off the 7:11 train because I did not have a reservation for my bike. There was no indication coming down from Goule that it was necessary. The various parts of British Rail are not coordinated.

I did get a reservation, for $3 and am now sitting on the 7:44. The next stop is York. I have to hustle up to the baggage car to unload my bike. I really don't want it to go to Newcastle.

** I am now passing the nuclear power plants for the third time today. There are at least three in the South Yorkshire, (this county) area. It is surprising that there are so many nuclear plants so close to the coal mines.

In twenty minutes we were in York - about 8:05. A girl from York, took her bike off just as I did. She had just come back from a rainy bike tour of Normandy. With her help, I negotiated the lifts, avoided the stairs up and down to get across the station, and was led most of the way to my campground - Rowntree Park. It was, of course, full but they have small backpacking tenting area in the back. That was virtually full too. We are wall to wall tents, but I am still able to get visual, if not aural, privacy by aiming my door towards the hedge.

The middle-aged couple next door, with a pair of bicycles are from Christchurch, New Zealand. They tour a lot and said I didn't miss anything by not riding between Goule and York. I wonder if they would have had the same opinion of the first part through the Trent River valley - ridge?

It is dry and sunny.

6  Thursday, July 22, York

It is still sunny, very early (4:30am), and has now, (5:40am) become slightly overcast. I have been careful while cooking breakfast not to make too much noise crinkling plastic bags. It is over an hour after sunrise and the gulls, doves, and city sounds are starting to create a nice covering background noise. Today is a touring day of York - and a shopping day. I would like to get a new pair of shower sandals. My brand new, fake Birkenstocks broke within the first hour of use. They are also not too comfortable so a repair is only a temporary respite.

Some Problems

St. Peter's Cathedral, The Minster

I have always wondered why York Minister was a Minster and what it meant. Its official name appears to be St. Peter's .... It is indeed aa cathedral, but it is (was) a minster. A minster is the centre of a multi-point preaching charge. The early ministers were circuit riders. The minster is the central church in that ministry. Unlike Lincoln Cathedral, the nave is full of seats and the choir looked as though it was used only for special services or people.

The glory of the church is its stained glass windows. I haven't seen too many birds with my new binoculars, but I have seen a lot of stained glass windows. Some are quite dirty and others appear to be quite clean. After having watched the cleaning of the windows at Chartres for 15 years, I was quite curious whether they had a plan for cleaning them. The lady at the information desk didn't think so. It appears that the differences are purely an accident of repairs.

One unusual thing, at least by continental cathedral norms, is that the roof was of wood. I think the Lincoln Cathedral also has a wooden roof. I wonder if this is the norm in England.

Most of the notaries that I have seen buried in cathedrals have rather dull lifeless(?) representations above their graves. Here they were bright, colourful, and in some cases, quite arrogant. I was surprised.

British National Railway Museum

This is the second Michelin (***) attraction that I visited. It is housed in a converted part of York station (South Hall) and a new Grand Hall. The South Hall concentrates on cars and the Grand Hall on locomotives. Technically, the Grand Hall was more impressive, with a cutaway version of a full sized steam locomotive. The boiler was a mass of pipes inside other pipes. I didn't realise the technology was so baroque - but perhaps all technologies become baroque when they become mature.

The South Hall specialized in rail cars. The early, natural wooden ones, were incredibly elegant, with varnished wooden panels, even in the second class compartments. Early trains were either first and second class or third class. The railway owners discovered they could save money by putting all three classes on the same train. It was at this point that hard class disappeared and the third class passenger coaches suddenly got cushions.

The Royal Coaches were indeed elegant, although painted inside woodwork rather than varnished natural wood. The passengers looked very calm and steady. I suspect that the reality was quite jumpy and rocky.

The museum is a very impressive place and deserves its three (***).

York Castle

Not very interesting or impressive. The only part of note was Clifford's Tower. I didn't climb the steps to see.

** I am writing this in Shylock's Free House. I have decided that I don't understand English (Yorkshire) any better than I understand French.

York, the town

I am afraid that I agree with the Michelin Guide - York town is much more interesting than Lincoln. It is a very tasteful blend of medieval and modern - a delight to walk in or ride. For the most of the town inside the walls, you must walk (not ride) between 8:30am and 4:00pm. I was properly admonished, officially once.

I had my daily fish (no chips) in the square in front of St. William's College, a very pretty fake half to timbered building.

For supper I will look for an Indian restaurant - I saw one on my wanderings but do not really remember where it is.

We had rain showers on and off but it stopped by the time I got back so I could eat with the door open.

7  Friday, July 23, York

It is a beautiful sunny day. I went through Bishopsgate, by the Castle and on to King's Manor - I am the first to arrive.

The workshop was very interesting but very there seems to be very little on formalizing interfaces.

Some Random Notes

Tomorrow I am off to Birmingham on the 6:00am train. My TUG directors meeting starts at 9:00am. I should just make it if I don't try to check into my dorm.

8  Saturday, July 24, York to Birmingham

I awoke at my usual 4:30am with a slight sense of urgency to make it to the station before 6:00am. It was bright and sunny but my tent was quite wet from last night's downpour and my laziness at not sealing the seams of my rain fly. However, it will dry in my room during the week at Aston University in Birmingham.

I arrived at the station with little margin at about ten to six, only to discover that the lift was broken and the station was vacant. I will surely miss the train if I have to unload the bike. I was standing at the bottom of the stairs in a dilemma when a man, whom I was able to coerce into helping me carry the bike up the stairs, came along. It almost broke both wrists but we made it to the top, and then guided and bounced it down the stairs at platform 11. The train was arriving as we got down. The baggage car was at one end of the train - which one. I guessed the front, because this was supposed to be an electric. There was no time to lose. I jumped on my bike and rode down to the end of the train. It was not an electric, but the baggage car was on the front. The conductor opened the door, and seconds after I had lifted the bike up, the train pulled away.

I was still in the baggage compartment with no apparent exit. The conductor then told me to go through his private quarters to the passenger cars. Car A had all of its seats reserved, as did Car B. Car C was totally unreserved, and virtually empty. Later, I discovered that indeed, all the other cars had reserved seats, but that British Rail is required to have at least one unreserved car per train, and that this is usually Car C.

I picked a table seat and took out my meeting briefing papers, and discovered that my meeting actually started at 10:00am. Since I arrive at 8:40am, I will have plenty of time to get there, even with the complication that I do not know where I am staying. My table companion got on in Sheffield. She was a primary school teacher on her way to a one day conference in the Malvern Hills, someplace south and west of Birmingham. She was distressed about having to get up so early, and getting home so late. The only compensation was that the car was mostly empty, and she got the other half of the table to spread her papers, and order her new books.

The country is very flat, farmy, and industrial. She said that the interesting part is the Peak country, but that the train, perhaps sensibly, goes around it. There were also many power plants, all of the multi-stack nuclear hour glass design. However some of them were definitely coal fired - there were hopper conveyer belts beside the stacks. Others were completely naked. If they were oil fired, the oil storage tanks were below ground.

I asked the lady about the fields of blue flowers that I had seen in Lincolnshire. She said that she had seen them for the first time on a trip the previous weekend and was mystified. Malcolm Clark, a friend of mine at the TUG meeting, later told me that it was Linseed - and contrary to my previous information, he believed that Linseed was not a new crop. By Derby, and the civilized hour of 7:30am, the car was mostly full, but we were still only two at our table for four. It remained this way to Birmingham. We arrived about five minutes early, and waited eight minutes outside the station for the platform to become available?

We arrived. I retrieved my bike and threaded my way through the triangle of one way and pedestrian streets that is Birmingham's central core. This triangle is bounded by New, High, Bull, and Colmore streets - yes, it is a triangle bounded by four streets - and is entirely confusing. Malcolm, who lives in London, said he didn't think he would ever work it out.

I worked it out sufficiently to find my way to Laurence Hall, take a shower, and be only five minutes late, but still early for my meeting.

9  Sunday, July 25 / Friday, July 30, Birmingham

We had a weekend of meetings and a week of conference. This meeting had an innovation that I have never seen before at a conference - a daily newspaper with announcements, notices of schedule changes, and the current daily program. I think that it is a wonderful idea, but doubt that other conferences could find a Steffen Kernstock who would be willing to work from 10:00 to 4:00 at night to make it work.

We also had a week of almost total sunshine, and Wednesday afternoon off. There was an excursion planned for Stratford on Avon to see King Lear. It was an extra $50.00 and I had not pre-registered. I decided to be a Philistine and go and see Jurassic Park instead. There was a 12:10pm showing - I arrived at 12:15 and was given a ticket for the 12:50 showing instead. This was a little surprising. I discovered later that the first 15 minutes of the program was commercials, followed by an intermission. After the intermission, the feature started. Perhaps the theatre had an agreement with the advertisers not to seat anyone after the commercials started. I was told that this bizarre operating procedure was normal.

I spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the canals of Birmingham. Like many other cities, Birmingham likes to point out that they have more canals than Venice. Unlike Venice, Birmingham's canals are an affectation rather than an essential part of the city life. The canal tow paths have been yuppified (upgraded?), mostly for the benefit of tourists. The canals are very narrow and the locks even narrower (only seven feet wide). The narrow boats have been especially designed to just make it - very long and narrow. I stopped at one lock and watched a couple of boats go through. The first was piloted by a young couple who were taking a month or so to ferry it to London. The second was owned by a family. Son number one was taking it to Stratford, son number two would take it from Stratford to the west coast, and mother would bring it back home. I am not certain where home was, but it was somewhere north.

I followed the canal north, made a wrong turn, and ended up right beside Aston. I will take the canal south to Warwick when I leave on Saturday.

10  Saturday, July 31, Birmingham

I am going to go to Warwick along the towpath of the canal and stop there to see the castle. I leave after breakfast, astounding my friends with my load, and my map case, and say goodbye. The canal is right by the university, and I even know how to get there.

Just south of Birmingham, I meet a boat coming up the canal. The lady asks ``How are you going to manage the tow path?'' - it turned out I didn't. In spots, the tow path was quite decent but in others, the branches seemed intent in pushing me towards the edge. In others, it was so muddy that others had put old pickets from a picket fence down to reduce the sinking. After several of these, my fenders were completely encased in mud and it was hard to go forward. Just after that, the real disaster occurred. I was struggling down the path, it went near the edge, I went closer to the edge, and the edge disappeared. I, bicycle, and all my gear went into the canal. The bicycle floated with the hockey bag full of clothes, tent, and sleeping bag, but everything else was drowned. All my paniers were completely under water. My handlebar bag had been submerged before coming up, and my camera and binoculars on my waist belt had been dunked. I should have taken my waist belt off immediately but concentrated on the bike instead. Fortunately the canal was only about 4 feet deep so I could stand on the bottom. I took off my bags so I could lift the bike and finally had everything on the bank. I realise that the wheels needed cleaning, but this was a little too much.

One major effect of this mishap was that my real-time journal was terminated at that point. In fact, it was terminated just as I left York, about a week ago, because I also managed to lose the file that I had written to this point. The journal from York, was written from memory, at home - as is the rest.

The bike was not completely unmuddied so I dipped it again. The front brakes were also jammed. I wonder if that had anything to do with the control problems. I carried the bike up the bank and reloaded it - after draining the paniers. My hockey bag dripped all day.

At this point I had to go on to Warwick, but I had no idea where I was. I had not even made it as far as my detailed map around Warwick. The directions I got from a man loading his truck at the house across the street were quite adequate. The canal had apparently wandered so much that he sent me in the opposite direction that I believed was the right way. I still had 17 miles to go. This was surprising, as I had already gone 15 miles and thought that it was only 20 miles to Warwick. The 17 miles were reasonably flat and I arrived at about noon .... a long 30 miles.

Warwick Castle is obviously the centre piece of Warwick. They go to great lengths to get you to go to the rest of town -- which I did see because I got lost on my way out. It was sunny, Saturday, and jammed with tourists, mostly English. The castle is very expensive $6.75, and very well organized. I think it would make an outstanding student excursion. There was automatic audio many places included the Haunted Tower. There were minstrels entertaining the 3/4 hour queue waiting to get into the state apartments. The tiny kids had a great time, dancing to the jigs. The most surprising wait was at the top of the Crowsnest to get down - no wait to get up but 15 minutes to get down. This was a very strict one way tour, along the ramparts, with an exit at the Clifford Tower, and a very strong admonition of No Entry.

I left the castle via the Victoria rose garden, which was remarkably empty of roses. Perhaps I was too late in the year. It was quite pleasant and more in character with an estate than a fortified castle - then again, there has been quite an evolution since the castle was really a offensive weapon. My bicycle, which I had parked just outside the gate, had deposited a large puddle of water below it.

The next 20 miles were gently rolling countryside until I reached the first 800 foot ridge, just east of my next goal Chipping Campden. There are many Chipping xxxx in the Cotswolds. Chipping is an old word for market. The ridge started on a long, steep hill just outside of Ilmington. Fortunately, I had just been fortified with an excellent piece of whitefish from a Fish Wagon that was making the Saturday evening meal easier for the local residents. I also had some cold white wine with my fish - my thermos and ice allowed for such elegance. The proprietor, as seems to be the case with most of the English I talked with, had a brother in Canada (Alberta) and hoped to visit him sometime when he was able to scrape together enough money. He was very curious about Canada, especially about how expensive it was to live.

It was about 6:00pm when I arrived in Chipping Campden, and everything had shut down for the day. It was quiet, clean, and very Cotswold. I really cannot do it, or any of the other towns justice with mere prose. I don't think that photos do so either, but it is a little better. At about 6:30pm I headed north, and then west up over my second 800 foot ridge of the day to Broadway. It was only four miles, but a very strenuous four miles. This route was part of the Cotswold Way, a walking trail through the Cotswolds. There were frequent benches for the weary hikers and bikers to stop, rest, and view the valleys.

The way up was strenuous, but the way down was an intimidating (for tomorrow) 1.5 miles of 10% grade. Broadway was at the bottom. It is essentially one street, but a thoroughly delightful one. I think that it probably has more charm than its more famous rival, Chipping Campden. Everything was, of course, shut down, so I slowly rode by and went the two miles to my campground. It was right where it should be but listed itself as a Caravan Camp and did not say anything about tenting. I was a little worried, but they did indeed have tenting in a large field at the back. They also had a laundry where I dried out my sleeping bag and some other clothes for which I had not properly sealed the plastic bags. I was totally unsuccessful at drying my maps, books, and other paper. These were all quite damaged. There was a small barbecue, with 60s music, in the green by the laundry, so I was entertained while I was drying.

11  Sunday, August 1, Broadway

At about 7:30am I was able to get away, and spent a little time exploring Broadway, a thoroughly delightful little town. Much to my surprise, there was an open news dealer, where I was able to get two Cotswold picture books and a sweet roll. The ``real'' people here usually were just after their Sunday morning paper.

I was still intimidated by the climb towards Chipping Campden so I went south towards Snowshill - an equally intimidating name. It was up to the usual 800 feet, but the climb was gentler, and the road was, at times, just a single track (3 metres wide). The reward, at the top, was the little town of Snowshill. It was built just below the top of the ridge - I was not over yet - of pure Cotswold stone. At 9:00am on Sunday, even the Church was quiet - very relaxing.

From there it was up some more and then over through Oat Hill and down to Ford on my way to Stow-on-the-Wold. It was here that I really discovered what wold means. There was a long climb up to Stow (as it is called on most road signs), and there was Stow, perched on its wold, or hill. Wolds may be long rolling hills, but they are rather sharp, and quite noticeable. It was about 10:30am when I arrived, and almost every store was open, doing a rousing tourist trade. I reprovisioned at small grocery, and indulged in some sugar sweets at a Sweet shop. A feature? of Stow is the stocks in the middle of the town triangle. There were even park benches for the spectators to watch the stock entertainment. Perhaps they are a recent addition.

My next stop was the twin towns of Upper and Lower Slaughter. The name comes, from ``slohtre, ''an old Saxon word meaning ``muddy place.'' Lower Slaughter was my favourite Cotswold town. It had the River Eye running through its centre with small two foot wide foot, horse, and bicycle bridges crossing it. The town grew slowly on both sides. On my way out of town, I was stopped for conversation by a Mr. Halversham, a fiftyish engineer who currently worked for British Electric, but was about to go back to school to get his PhD in Neural Modeling. He wanted to pursue the ideas of a recent British Nobel Laureate in Medicine who was convinced that the current mechanistic model of the brain could not describe brain or neural capabilities. While we were talking, his wife came along, and became very insistent that they go. He resisted, and she relented, and waited, when he explained to her that he was talking to a Professor from Canada, who just happened to be riding his bicycle through the Slaughters.

One and a half miles later, I reached Bourton on the Water, and had lunch, - fish and chips, and cold white wine - with a hundred or so others, on the grass by the stream that gives the town its name. I watched the some kids play in the stream and the fathers try to control the activities of others. Sunday is visit the country time.

The next ten miles or so took me south and then east towards Oxford along the River Windrush - barely a stream - along single track roads and on occasional parts of the Oxfordshire Cycle Way. The architecture became much more conventional and ordinary, so I was quite surprised to find out when I got to Burford, that it was a Cotswold town. It had some of the look, but not all of the buildings were made of the Cotswold stone.

My road through town was supposed to start just across the and slightly down the street. It was not at all obvious where it was, so I strolled down the street looking. It was middle afternoon and everything, except the pubs, were open. I saw an irresistible ad in the window of one shop for Elderflower Champagne? and couldn't resist. This was actually a sparkling, non alcoholic drink made from the flowers of the Elderberry. The ``?'' on the Champagne was due to a loss of a court battle by the producers over the use of the name Champagne. It was cold, fizzy, slightly sweet, and flowery.

I discovered, after wandering, that the obvious route on my map, was split into a short 100 yard one way section from the east, which I went down, to get on my road towards Oxford. I had really passed the wolds and was mostly in the flatlands around Oxford. Most of the pubs or Free Houses, as they were called usually advertised themselves as having Fine Ales, Good Food. However the Winchester Arms just west of Oxford, decided to indulge in some shock tactics. They advertised Lousy Ale, Rotten Food. Their parking lot was empty, but perhaps it was just the time of day on Sunday.

I arrived in Oxford at about 6:00pm and quickly found myself in the centre of town - St. Aldates and High Streets. The campground was down near the ring road, and they had room, or rather a very crowded tenting area where one could find a place for the tent. They also had a laundry, but the prices were predatory. Instead of the normal 20p for the dryer, they wanted $1.00 and you had to get a token.

I set up my tent and went into town to the Head of the River, a pub of some repute, and just down the street from Peggy's Pembroke college where she stayed for her summer course last year.

Their Guinness on tap is mediocre. I will have to refrain from Guinness until I next get back to Ireland. I went over to Pembroke to see if any of the Oxford Connection people were there. They were all out on the town. The kids had all departed the previous day. However, their sign was still up in the window of their office - tomorrow.

12  Monday, August 2, Oxford

I will spend today in Oxford looking for Prof. Joseph Goguen, who teaches at Oxford, but for whom I have no address and also trying to figure out how to take pictures of Pembroke, with no camera. I started out after a perfectly dreadful breakfast at McDonald's, the only game in town, to look for Joseph. First I went through Christ Church College asking people if they knew where the Programming Research Group was located. No one had heard of it. I finally reached Corpus Christi college and it was late enough so that someone was in their gatehouse. They had also never heard of the PRG and didn't know where this particular group was currently meeting. I finally got somewhere when I mentioned that Joseph was a resident professor at Oxford. He was found in the Oxford University phone book, and I was on my way to St. Anne's college. After I finally found it, I was told that he seldom was there but was instead in the Computer Science Dept. on Keble Road. When I got there, I did indeed find an outside phone where you were supposed to ring up the person in question. No one answered. I mulled this about for a few minutes when a girl came to the door and was about to let herself in. I asked her if Joseph was in town. She said she didn't know, but that his office was on South Parks Road (no number). After wandering up and down South Parks road for some time I asked in the Dept. of Statistics where the PRG was located. The lady said next door, but I had already looked there and could only find ISIS, the Oxford Intellectual Property Company. She thought the PRG had a separate door, and indeed they did. However, no one I could ring was there yet. After about 5 minutes, a lady appeared, and I asked her if she was Frances Parks, Joseph's secretary. She was, and I made an appointment to see Joseph when he was expected to arrive, at about noon.

The rest of the morning was spent taking pictures for Peggy of Pembroke, St. Peter's and other notable spots. I was able to do this with a disposable camera. It only cost $5.39. We will see how well the pictures turn out.

The afternoon, and lunch was spent talking with Joseph. Supper was at an excellent Indian restaurant, the Polash (the national flower of Bangladesh).

Back at the campground, I met a bicyclist from Fort Collins who was on his way back from three weeks of nearly continuous rain in Ireland. he was most envious of my mostly sunny weather in England. He had finished with riding though, and was going to spend tomorrow in Oxford, while I ride towards Gatwick.

13  Tuesday, August 3, Oxford

Today I was able to break camp by about 7:30am and was on my way out of town. I crossed by, what showed on my map as the second campground near the center of town but could find nothing. I finally found the B480 and started down the same road that I used when I was here in February 1991. This is mostly flat except for a killer hill just west of Watlington. It was still a killer hill, even in the nice weather. It was the usual 800 feet high and quite steep. Then it was mostly down to Henley on Thames.

Henley is, of course, well known for its rowing regattas. The town has parlayed that into a tourist destination where the main street shops have a considerable number of stuff shops amongst the real groceries, pastry, video, and even hardware stores. One fun little stuff shop specializes in Teddy Bears. I bought, Baby Bear, of the Three Bears for Peggy. It was unusual in that it had articulated legs so it could be put easily in a sitting position and wouldn't fall off the shelf. Peggy had never seen one that small with movable legs.

I crossed the bridge to the hilly west bank of the Thames - the east bank is completely flat, but has no road - and went south. It is much pleasanter than the last time I was here, during February. The river is quite active, and the marinas full, although I didn't see any rowers. I continued past the steep little hill going up over the ridge at Wargrave and near Twyford, ran into the surprise of the day. I discovered the Thames Valley Winery and even more surprising, they had a Tasting and Sales sign welcoming people in. I found the door and was wondering how I would comply with there wishes of ``Honk your horn to get our attention!'' on the front door when John, the owner/vintner came out of a side door of what used to be the barn, to greet me. I told him that I wanted to see if I had given English wineries a bum rap and wanted to take advantage of their tasting - I have never tasted English wine. He suggested that, indeed, some were awful, but that he was trying to cope with imported ``old world'' technology. He had spent some time learning at the Clos du Bois winery in Healdsburg. He wondered if it was still there. I said it was, as of February, but realised after he had gone, that perhaps only the tasting room was still there.

The wine tasting was patterned after California, with several wines to taste, and no charge. There was a couple from Swinton - a Cotswold town that Dutch bicyclist at the TUG conference said was eminently missable - who were enjoying the tasting and bought several bottles of wine. The winery had won several prizes as the best English wines and probably deserved it. There sweet white Botyris - yes it is a disease - was by far the best and confirmed again, that it is easier to make sweet wines than dry ones. There dry whites were quite good but had a slight aftertaste. All in all, the wines were quite decent, but very expensive. John felt that he could not compete against the cheap imports so was aiming for the premium market, where low volume and high price meant potential survival. I wish him luck and hope that the English support a local winery. They feel that they are the best winery in England. They may be.

I left the countryside just north of Bracknell, and although 30 miles from London, the road spent most of its time in a civilized suburbia. One exception was Chobham Common, which was a wild, unkempt, scrubland, with occasional shooting clubs. The Town of Woking was quite a surprise. It had a very modern, and well?-designed central shopping core stuffed between the Basingstoke Canal and very nondescript train platform, also called a train station. There appears to be a lot of money here, but it is not clear why. My way out of Woking was over another 800 foot ridge line. From the air, the whole area around Gatwick looked quite flat, but not here. It was up and down until I found my campground at Farley Green. This was no longer a campground, but had been converted into a private trailer park. Normal office hours were mornings. One resident said that there had been no camping for several years. My maps showed no campgrounds between here and Gatwick, nor any for more than 15 miles in any direction.

I plotted a new route towards Gatwick, about 20 miles away and started north. It was about 6:15pm so I stopped at the first pub, the King William IV in Albury Heath, that I found, and described my plight to the gathered group. They did not know that the campground at Farley Green, only one mile away, was closed, nor did they know of a B&B in the immediate neighbourhood. However, they did say that there was a Scout camp at Bentley Copse, - a copse is a small wooded area used mostly for cutting firewood - that had showers and probably would let me stay. They said it was only 15 minutes away by bicycle. I didn't believe anything was 15 minutes away, but off I went. I found it precisely where it should be, after about 20 minutes, and was allowed to stay. It appears that you can probably camp at any scout camp - the only difficulty is that they do not appear on any of the maps.

I was directed to Peaslake, about 10 minutes by footpath, a rideable one, to get some food to make supper. The little shop was on Walking Bottom and was open until 8:00pm. I got some ham, hot Coleman's mustard, and some rolls. Just up the street was the local, very pretty, pub. I decided to stop for some real food and ale. This pub was the local version of Cheers. The current local residents were a retired aeronautical engineer who had spent 25 years in Florida at Canaveral, and a couple, the gentleman was a retired editor of the Daily Mail, and his Swiss wife, who was ``insufferable'' - quoting the aeronautical engineer. She boasted of having bicycled over every high mountain pass in Europe when she was a kid. Her husband had suffered a stroke about 10 years earlier, was now in his eighties, and could not speak easily but was fully aware of what was going on. Indeed, they complimented the barmaid on her new wild hairdo, and he was the only one who really heard my comment that her hair was ``delicately wild.'' Their full meals looked like too much, so I asked if they had bacon rolls. They didn't, but the chef offered to make me some, if I would agree to using small dinner rolls. I agreed, and had a nice small supper with strong Dorking ale. I was reluctant to leave, but it was approaching sunset, and I wanted to get back up over the hill before it was too dark to see. I arrived back just in time.

My trauma of the evening was the loss of my watch. I left it in the Boys bathroom when I was taking a shower, and it had disappeared when I went back to look for it twenty minutes later. I was assured by the leaders that the cubs would turn it in. At about, 9:45pm, one of the leaders came by my tent with a white watch that had been found in the ladies washroom. It obviously was not mine.

14  Wednesday, August 4, Bentley Copse

I was up at my usual sunrise time, and had my coffee and fruit loaf for breakfast. Since I had plenty of time to make my 6:00pm flight from Gatwick, I read and waited until the cubs, scouts, and leaders awoke. At about 8:00am, I wandered into the cub camp and asked about my watch. Nothing had appeared but they said they would announce its loss at breakfast. By 8:30am, still nothing, so I started to pack - by throwing things out of the tent. After I stuffed my sleeping bag, and rolled up my foam pad, I stepped outside. My watch had magically appeared in the grass. It was nice to have it back - avoiding the pain and inconvenience of replacing it. I reported to the leaders that my watch had reappeared, and was on my way at about 9:30am.

There were only a couple more ridge lines before the land became hedgerows and fields once again. I arrived at about 11:30am at Gatwick, in plenty of time for my 6:05pm flight - that eventually became 7:45pm. Air Transat opened their counter at 2:00pm and I was the first in line. The advantage was that I could get a window seat by the emergency exit, which meant that I had plenty of foot room. The rest of the plane was typical tight charter seating. Once we were airborne, the flight was pleasantly uneventful. My seat companions were a helicopter pilot for Ontario Hydro, and his wife, a former Wardair stewardess. She said that Air Transat reminded her of Wardair. I remember better service and bigger seats, but that is now all gone.

We arrived in Toronto at 10:30, two hours late, and waited another half-hour plus for our bags. Some came off quickly but the first on were the last off. Joanne was there to meet me, and we were home by 12:30am.

Some Random Comments

15  Maps

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On 12 Nov 2008, 14:05.