Back in our saddles on home territory

5 May 2023

It’s just over 3 years since we returned from our world trip, and at long last we are on another cycling adventure. This time it’s from London to Buncrana…….via Rosslare and Cork. We still aren’t ones for taking a direct route when there is a longer way to cycle it. So the plan is to cycle from London to Fishguard on National Cycling Route 4, take the ferry from there to Rosslare, head south to Cork, West Cork and the. Follow the Wild Atlantic Way north to Donegal. No set time frame on this but we reckon a couple of months…and I am planning to work along the way. It’s all part of the experiment!

Packing and planning wasn’t as intense this time – and in fact we only really packed the day before we left, which is such a difference from last time when we had packing “practice” to see how much we could carry. As well as needing less kit for this trip, our experience means we know what works and what doesn’t. And that includes food in plastic containers rather than in jars. So imagine our excitement when we discovered squeezy jam, peanut butter and mustard in our local Sainsbury’s the day before we packed…. Honestly we cyclists are easy to please as long as we have enough food!

Thursday, May 4. London to Reading 101 km
So Thursday May 4th we set out from Kentish Town on a chilly but sunny morning. We were so out of practice at this that we got off to a bit of a false start. Nigel packed his stuff onto my bike – and I didn’t even notice so then loaded my stuff onto his bike. It was only when he couldn’t fit the tent below my saddle that he realised what he had done, which meant unloading both bikes and restarting the process. We were waved off by our lovely neighbour Don who appeared just as we were about to leave – and who nicely reminded us that we were just a bit older now than when we did our first trip 5 years ago (Thanks Don!). That did nothing to calm my nerves and as we headed off with the bikes feeling heavy and wobbly I really did wonder if we were mad. I didn’t have the confidence to clip in my shoes and was really nervous cycling through central London, which wasn’t that busy but very stop-start as I kept getting stuck at traffic lights because I was going so slowly. We passed an injured cyclist at Trafalgar Square surrounded by police and her knee at a funny angle and then had to cycle through loads of chaos and police around Westminster as London was preparing for Charles’ coronation. We still managed to stop for a pic though!

In the chaos I kept myself focused on Nigel – my navigator in hi-vis – once we got through that it was a lot easier to cycle, although my heart was still racing and the bike still felt wobbly. And I had mustered up the courage by now to clip into one of my pedals!

We left the relatively busy roads and into Richmond Park which was like entering a parallel universe as we got up close to some amazing deer and stags. Hard to believe we were still in London!

We felt ready for our first tea/coffee stop in Kingston but without going into the centre we couldn’t find anything that looked decent. So we decided tuck into some of our own supplies and sit by the river. Sod’s Law, about 15 minutes later in our journey we were spoiled for choice with options. The same happened when we were ready for lunch in Staines….not a decent place to get a cup of tea or coffee so we decided to keep going a bit further. And that turned into a bit of a nightmare…..route 4 so was badly signposted that we went around in circles a few times before ending up on a really busy road that took forever to dodge the traffic to get to the right side of the road for the direction that we wanted to get to. Neither of us ever really want to see Staines again for a very long time – if ever I think!

Windsor Great Park was our lunch stop which was well worth the wait – before heading towards Windsor itself. The castle looked stunning on the ride in, but as expected, the town itself was chaotic with tourists and coronation preparations including sound-checking for the big concert there on Sunday night.

By this stage it was about 3pm and our destination was Reading so we still had a fair distance left to go. Cycle Route 4 was great in that it was taking us on less busy roads, but it was also not the most direct way, so we decided to ditch that and follow Google Maps instead. The only issue was that Nigel had no phone holder on his bike so it was very stop-start for the rest of the day as he had to keep stopping to check his phone. which was both tiring and frustrating. We also ended up taking a few wrong turns towards the end – probably because we were both so tired. 101km later we arrived on the outskirts of Reading – to be welcomed by tea and ginger biscuits by our lovely AirBnB host, Milcah.

Fri 5 May. Reading to Hungerford. 58km

We set off early this morning as I had a work call at 3.30pm which meant we had to be at base by 2.30pm so I could be ready. We were through central Reading by 8:15 and as Nigel had sorted out a holder for his phone, Google maps navigation was so much easier – even if it was raining, Google did take us on Route 4, which for this part of the journey means a lot of canal paths. Really pretty, but hard to cycle at times because the path was so narrow – in some places it even took us through fields! I was more confident on the bike by now but still wasn’t great so it was hard going and not that pleasant, despite the lovely landscape.

By 9:30am we were ready for a cuppa – and horrah at long last cake-watch is back! Found the amazing Aldermaston Tea Rooms which is owned by 2 lovely cyclists, Liz and Siobhan, who also bake amazing cakes and scones so we indulged in our first cakes of this adventure – and boy they were worth waiting for as you can tell from the smile on my face!

More difficult canalside cycling, which took us into the lovely little town of Newbury, where we stopped for lunch by the canal but the heavens opened so we didn’t sit long. Yesterday’s mileage was starting to take its toll and we were both suffering with sore shoulders, sore “undercarriage”, sore hands and feet from gripping… definitely didn’t feel like we were having fun! A diversion on the road added a few extra km to our day – and coming into Hungerford we cycled through a wide open common with warnings about the dangers of their free range cattle…..

Arrived at base around 1pm – plenty of time for my call but I was absolutely shattered. I think we have both forgotten how hard it is getting bike fit on the road and that we have to get through the pain barriers before it gets better. But we still managed to have a wander around Hungerford, which is a lovely little town on the river Dun….

….before home for a sausage and mash dinner and an early night.

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