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Monday, July 31, 2017

July 7th: Bridgnorth to Worcester

Under partly cloudy skies we departed from Brignorth, following the signs along National Bike Route 45. At the first intersection where the bike route signs differed from the GPS directions, I decided to take a chance and ride the bike route, as the road looked smaller and quieter. To my surprise this was a mistake:
The bike route quickly devolved into single track, and I hoped for relief when the bike route finally re-intersected with our GPS route, only to discover that the GPS route at this point also took up the bike route single-track around the Chelmarsh reservoir. The single track was mostly rideable, but the stinging nettles by the side of the path would occasionally brush against my bare legs and hurt! Fortunately, Bowen was wearing pants over his bike shorts and was spared some of the agony.
After the single track was over, the route descended and brought us onto Hampton Lodge, where the Severn Valley Railway had brought us to the evening before! The path was guarded by leaning gates that were narrow at the top and wide at the bottom so our panniers would clear, but still necessitate a stop and wriggle to get through. Once on the railroad grade, however, the path was very pleasant, shaded and woody with no cars in sight.
In the town of Highley, the bike route went on the Highley Trail, which dumped us out into a parking lot with a sandy playground. Bowen took some time to spend on the playground, which would warm and cool depending on whether we had cloud cover.
To my surprise, after the playground the bike route did some gentle climbing and then quickly descended back down to the river. At the river, the road dead-ended, but it turned out that we had missed a bike route sign directing us to get off the bike and get onto a pedestrian bridge over the Severn river.

The bridge was pretty, but a group of passing cyclists warned us of the steep grade ahead. We climbed the grade, which while steep was nowhere near as hard as the single-track hiking trails we'd already traversed that day. In fact, we caught up with the group when they rested at an inn after the steepest section, whereupon they said, "We did not expect you to catch us!" I took the opportunity to get them to shoot pictures of Bowen and I while we were riding, something that happened only rarely.
In the town of Bewdley, the route looked like it was going to cross the river again, but it was near lunch time, so I stopped a pedestrian and asked about a local bakery, whereupon he walked us to the nearest one! There, we bought a selection of savoury and sweet pastries, and asked about a picnic area. "Just walk across the street, through the visitor center/museum, and there's a nice park there!" Before doing so, I stopped at the local pharmacy to buy a replacement toothbrush for the one left behind at Market Drayton.

Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee Gardens turned out to be a wonderful place to have a picnic. With shaded benches, a garden pool, gorgeously tendered flower gardens, and even statues of bunnies, it was very pretty. There's a frequent statement that children don't appreciate scenery, but Bowen has always liked flowers, and was happy to look at them after finishing both his sweet and savoury pastries. Passerbys would stop and ask us about the bike and where we were going, and never failed to be impressed that we were on a long trek from Manchester to London. One even made sure that I understood that Hindhead was past London and we'd have to double-back to catch our train, he was so concerned that we didn't know what we were doing.
After lunch, the ride took us into Burlish Top Nature Reserve, where more single-track riding awaited us. Fortunately, this wasn't lined with stinging nettles this time, and we made reasonably good time. Past Hartlebury, the route took us on the side of a busy A road once more, which meant that the riverside bike path alongside thee Drotwich Canal provided us with relief when we found it.

 To our chagrin, the bike path soon left the river, through a series of increasingly rough hiking trails, and finally terminated in a steep inclined which forced Bowen to dismount and me to get off the bike and push with all my effort (I was straining so hard that Bowen felt compelled to help push) to get off the bike path, where at the top we saw signs confirming that yes, we were indeed still on National Bike Route #45, and tourists following the route were indeed expected to get off and push! I don't know who the people are who designate the National Bike Routes in England, but they clearly have no expectations that anyone's going to ride tandems on these trails. They might be well-signed, but reasonable they are not!
Fortunately, that was the last of the crazy bike routes for the day, and the approach into Worcester on the bike route had us on quiet side streets without many grade changes until we got to our AirBnB. Our hostess, Jain, was clearly in the middle of either a remodel or a move, and was busy clearing the house. She was happy to do laundry for us, which is a sign that the major hotel chains are missing the boat when it comes to servicing customers: for the rest of the trip, we would abandon hotels and stay with AirBnBs whenver possible because when you stay in somebody's home, you almost always got access to a laundry machine, which is a big deal when you're touring with a 5-year old. While adults might not get their clothing so dirty that hand-washing was straight-forward, a 5-year old manages to get stains on their clothing that a hand-washer would be hard put to fix. I asked Jain when the shops downtown closed, and she asked me what I was looking for. When I mentioned that I needed a USB charger (so our devices could charge even when I was using the CPAP machine), she didn't even think twice and pulled out an old Apple charger for us. Wow.
We walked to the local supermarket but on the way there, saw a newly opened bike shop. I asked if they would take a look at our shifting since I'd failed for 3 days in a row now to fix the indexing on the tandem. They said they'd do it while we waited, and so we brought the tandem to them, bought ice cream, and visited the local playground which was full of kids since it was a Friday afternoon and it was late enough that school was now out. Bowen's been spoiled since he'd gotten all the playgrounds to himself thus far, and said: "This playground is too crowded!" I learned that school lets out in England somewhere around mid July to late July, and only starts in September, so American school districts usually let out earlier and start school earlier than English school districts by 6 weeks. This is nice, because Americans vacationing in Europe during the summer don't have to compete with locals for lodging, etc.
When the bike was returned to us the shifting now felt better than when we'd left the USA, so I was happy to pay the fee. We then took the bus downtown, where we bought some Hydrocortisone cream for the stinging nettles, and sat in a cafe drinking drinks while searching for our next destination on AirBnB. wanted $500 for some hotels that were in pretty poor places for touring, so I compromised on an AirBnB in Winchcombe, which was some 27 miles away. I figured we could make up the deficit on another day, and risking no lodging on a Saturday night wasn't acceptable, especially since we knew that the Costwold was heavily touristed.
Bowen had a hankering for duck, so we went to the Singapore Restaurant in Worcester, which actually had pretty good reviews and delivered duck in plum sauce that Bowen devoured with unusual enthusiasm.

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