Since our tours of the Netherlands the last couple of years, we had decided to fully embrace the tandem touring lifestyle, and after much research, we ordered and took delivery of Twolula, a bespoke Thorne touring tandem which has S+S couplings so she can be split down for easier transportation. Talula (our first tandem) is still going strong, but it is her sister, Twolula, who will now be our beast of burden for the long journeys.
So what have we planned for this year? Well Mr V and I had a yen to go on an adventure from our front door and back again – so today was our first day on our round trip to and from John O’Groats (or JOG for those in the know!). We are not though simply going there and back to see how far it is, but shall be taking the short hop over to Orkney for a few days with Mr V’s brother, then taking the overnight ferry to Aberdeen with the intent to cycle down the east coast, before cutting across country to make our way back to Gloucester. We estimate this will be about 6 weeks and are looking forward to discovering new horizons.
Today’s leg of the journey was though for the initial part, travelling along very familiar highways and byways. We have as our bible the Sustrans official guide to the Land’s End to John O’Groats (or LEJOG for those even more in the know!). Reference to the guide though had us travelling from Gloucester via Maisemore and involved a ferry across from the Lower Lode Inn over to Tewkesbury. We have experience of this ferry, and the term though applicable as a verb, does not apply if the expectation is of a substantial vessel that will accommodate a fully laden tandem. Fortunately our local knowledge meant that we did not have to slavishly adhere to the designated route, for we knew a different way.
Our usual Tewkesbury run though would see us going to the town for our coffee stop in the grounds of the Abbey, however we took a left before the town and headed towards the village of Twyning along a relatively busy road. These are our least favourite sections of any route as motor vehicles are not alway patient or courteous to cyclists, but wait, there is a nice wide path on the other side of the road and a recollection of reading of this in our guide, so we crossed over for the relative safety off the main carriageway.
We progressed well initially, however it became clear that this was not a well used pathway as the hedge encroached further and further leaving very little room for us until we had to push Twolula around a particularly large bush. Re-mounting, we made the fatal error of wobbling when there was no room to wobble, resulting in us ending up on our side in the carriageway facing oncoming traffic – I was unable to move as the weight of the panniers had me pinned down, there was also a considerable amount of concern that a car would come hurtling along and that would be the end of our adventure – hardly out of our backyard. Disaster was averted though and we lived to peddle another day, with just some bruises and scrapes. A very lucky escape, and valuable lesson learned.
We stopped to recharge with coffee settling on a bench on the village green at the charming Twyning, which though not familiar as one of our cycle destinations, is where I have a dear friend who is a wonderful massage therapist and sorts my back and shoulders out for me at the end of any work contract. Beyond Twyning we enter new cycling territory and both feel that this is where the journey actually begins!
The countryside was lovely and quiet, with the byways to ourselves for the main part, we were delighted to turn a corner and find a large rabbit dispensing words of wisdom at a garden gate. You really never know what you are going to find off the beaten track. Onward to Worcester we rode, our guide had advised of a 600yd stretch of the route that was of ‘rough surface’ that could be difficult to traverse in wet weather. With the extremely inclement weather we have been experiencing recently, we encountered this stretch probably at it’s worst. It soon became impossible to peddle and even pushing was a constant battle to prevent the bike sliding away from us. We exited caked in mud and had to spend a good 20 minutes excavating our shoe cleats and digging the accumulated mud from the mudguards.
Onward to Worcester, crossing over the M5 which until recently was my usual work commute, I revelled in the far more uplifting leafy lanes we travelled today. Though we shall be camping on this trip (fingers crossed for good weather), tonight we had opted for a comfy bed in an Air B&B hosted by the accommodating Clive, who is a keen cyclist himself and kindly provided us with the wherewithal to give Twolula (or more importantly her brakes) a good clean after her mud bath.
The next leg of the journey takes us to Bridgnorth, but as there was a dearth of suitable accommodation we have opted to travel the 5 miles further to stay in the youth hostel in Coalport. This may be an experience as I have just been informed that there is a school party also staying – we do though have a private room to ourselves. And earplugs.
Today’s leg was relatively short at 35 miles, tomorrow will be considerably longer at 50 miles. There will also be some real hills – our first ‘leg burning’ leg.