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Bob Moen

Biking from Canterbury to Belfast
Bob Moen's Tour de U.K. 1999
Thursday, May 20, 1999 - Dispatch #2

London & the Cotswold Hills
The last two days have been great rides for me. Each completely opposite of the other, however. Yesterday I covered about 20 miles over mean-streets of London. Today it was 60 miles of idyllic country lane miles through the Cotswold Hills. The temperature both days was in the 70s.

Before I left London I decided I should see more of the city so from my hotel near Paddington rail station I travelled across town to the Tower of London. I am reading the book LONDON, which discusses the construction of the Tower, so I wanted to see it. And see what else was left of ancient London (nothing). I had a blast getting there. On my bike, not only was I able to keep up with the traffic, but much time it was stopped and I wasn't. It turns out that a lot of people use bikes for transportation in London. For about 2-miles I followed a young woman, dressed in a business skirt, who was really teaching me all the tricks until my male ego soon got the best of me. I passed her and struck out on my own and, frankly, did pretty well. The bobby who threatened to fine me unless I got off the sidewalk was just throwing his weight around. His worries about "knocking people over" were entirely unfounded.

Casual business attire has not yet hit London. All the businessmen wear suits. They really look sharp. Had I had my suit with me I would have gotten a tour of Lloyds of London, since the company for which I work, an insurance brokerage, does a lot of business with Lloyds. Darn, I'm sorry I missed the opportunity.

The Tower of London? Forget it. It was crawling with people: waiting in line, eating ice cream cones, milling about and generally getting in my way. If you ask me, tour buses are ruining everything for us "real" tourists. The buses are like human anthills: disgorging hundreds of wanna-be tourists who overrun a site, pick it clean, then move on down the road to their next victim. . .not that I'm bitter or anything. From the Tower I booked on down to the House of Parliament and Big Ben to check them out, then to Paddington where I caught a train to Oxford.

In Oxford I spent my first hour trying to find an available room at any and every B&B I came across. But it was to no avail. The town was booked. Since thundershowers were forecast and I could see black clouds on horizon, I was in a bit of a panic. As it turns out, I had good reason. The rain started slowly at first, giving me a chance to seek out the only shelter I knew would be available for my trusty steed and me, the train station. Smart move. No sooner had I gotten there than the sky lit up with lightening and an explosive downpour commenced. The station was full of people, all giddy with excitement, standing at the doors watching the action. It does not rain like this in England! The electrical power even went out several times over the next hour. But I was in no mood to enjoy the fireworks because there I was on a bicycle at 9PM with no port in a storm. I got a pocket full of change and headed for the pay phone. After several calls I was able to find a room, but at 40-pounds it was about twice what I had hoped to pay. This was not the right time to shop around--I booked it sight-unseen. Fortunately what had began as a night-from-hell ended well: the rain quit, I found a good Italian restaurant (where I was seated next to a couple who lived only a few miles away from me in the San Francisco area so we were able to compare restaurant notes), my room was quite nice and the owner even allowed me to keep bike in it.

Today I got a late start because I was so fascinated with the breakfast conversation I was having with a fellow American. He is an university professor whose specialty is architectural history and is in Oxford on a grant researching the history of the 1683 Old Ashmolean, the first structure in England specially built as a museum. His thoughts and theories were quite interesting. He told me he reads a structure just as one reads a book (as with many academicians, modesty was not his strong virtue). He's especially interested in stairwells because they tell so much about a building. He said that in the 1600s science rather than myth began influencing design, in part because astronomers assisted architects design structures for it was the astronomers who understood angles and trigonometry. He told of one stairwell in France that is elliptical in shape because, he theorises, it mimics the shape of the newly understood solar system.

From Oxford I visited Winston Churchill's grave. He was born in nearby Blenheim Palace - his is not quite a rags to riches story - and buried in the small, peaceful Bladon churchyard. From there, I started my climb into the Cotswolds Hills.

In addition to their beautiful vistas the Cotswolds are know for the stone from which its villages are built. Unlike the usual English grey stone, Cotswold stone is a warm, buff color that looks great in the low morning or late afternoon light. I rode through numerous small, bucolic villages whose way of life seemed to not have changed since the hay-days of the Cotswolds when it was a center of the English wool trade. One of the handsomest villages is Stow-on-the-Wold. Just as I was pulling into town so did three or four tour buses. Need I say more? I was excited when I read that Stow had the highest elevation of any of the Cotswold villages because it would be downhill to my next destination, Winchcombe. So I flew down the road to Winchcombe with elation, until I realised the road was taking me to the wrong side of the hills. To get to Witchcomb I'd have to climb them all over again. Oh, well, such is the life Bicycle Bob, a real tourist.

Tonight I'm spending the night in Chelenham at another gosh-darned 40-pound room. Tomorrow I'll head on to Iron Bridge, one of the sites of the 19th century industrial revolution.

Dispatch #3

1998 Tour-de-UK Dispatches
Dispatch #1: Day 2 - Truro, Cornwall, England
Dispatch #2: Day 4 - Exeter, Devon, England
Dispatch #3: Day 8 - Cardiff, Wales
Dispatch #4: Day 11 - Galway City, Ireland
Dispatch #5: Day 17 - Belfast, N. Ireland
Dispatch #6: Day 26 - Edinburgh, Scotland

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