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Wednesday, August 02, 2017

July 9th: Winchcombe to Oxford

The morning took us past the entrance to the Sudeley Castle, which wasn't open for us to visit this early. Immediately past the castle, the road climbed steeply out of Winchcombe towards Guiting Wood and the village of Guiting Power (which wasn't actually a power plant!). The steep climb at grades in excess of 12-14% felt terrible, and I was mortified when we arrived at the top and I discovered that we had a rear flat tire!
All that riding on random dirt paths often lined with thorny plants must have taken its toll, for as I checked the tire casing, I found and dug up no less than 3 thorns from the tire. I found one hole in the tube and patched it, but had no confidence that I'd patched the only hole in the tube, so inserted one of my two brand-new-in-box spare tubes into the rear tire. While fixing the flat, a couple of cyclists rolled up and helpfully stopped to talk about the upcoming rest of the ride ("You've done the toughest hill in the Costwolds," they said.) and even help lift the rear of the frame so I could insert the rear wheel back in. I ran a few itineraries past them, and they said, "We think the Costwolds are way prettier than Oxford shire, so I think you should stop in Whitney, the last stop before entering Oxford Shire."

The Costwolds were pretty, and I'd picked the route we were on because Scarlet had ridden in them in the past and recommended that I visited Upper and Lower Slaughter, which were very pretty villages. The route while filled with climbing took us on mostly backroads and bike paths that were untraffic'd, and gave us vistas of the surrounds.

Upper Slaughter turned out to be nothing special, but the centre of Lower Slaughter was incredibly pretty, with a stream next to a mill, and a large wading pool with ice cream! At this point, I knew we were going to make Oxford or Witney that day, and first booked a hotel in Witney but after talking to the ice cream vendor changed to an Oxford AirBnB. Part of it was driven by Bowen's recent obsession with duck. After I told him that Witney's hotel had a swimming pool but no duck, while it would be possible to get good duck in Oxford, he opted for Oxford. I told him that this was not a decision we could reverse once we made the AirBnB reservation and he said he was OK with it.

We messed around with routes for a bit, having various wrong turns with Google Maps before switching over to Komoot for navigation. That route took us to Burton-Upon-Water for a picnic lunch  with our favorite pastries right next to the stream running through the town and the motor museum. You know the place is touristy when you start to see Asian tourists walking around with selfie-sticks. While the motor museum might have been interesting, we still had a fair distance to ride to Oxford, so I chose discretion and we got back on the bike right after lunch.
The rest of the ride in the Costwolds were beautiful, and the Komoot provide route always chose to keep us on pretty bike paths and forest roads rather than the main A-road, but upon exiting the Costwolds at Minster Lovell, it dumped us onto a B road. We stopped at a petrol station for some quick snacks and rode on through Witney.
Past Witney, the route took us onto the A40, which had a sidepath that was officially designated a bike route. Unfortunately, English sidepaths along major motor ways are very neglected pieces of pavement, with lots of narrow traversals with overgrown bushes and other leafy plants to scratch you. The path is also inconsistent, occasionally switching from one side of the pavement to another for no reason whatsoever. The occasional relief when a buffer area was built between the bike path and the main road were far and few between. I contemplated stopping to try to find a better route but decided it was just easier to ride to Oxford as quickly as possible. In fact, once in Oxford on a Sunday, the roads were clear and reasonably empty. We found our AirBnB with no problem. Our host was a Chinese family that ran the only Korean restaurant in town. When they heard about Bowen's penchant for a duck dinner, they had no problem recommending a place, but it wasn't within walking distance, though cycling was easy. Well, the solution was to go eat before taking a bath that day.
We got to the restaurant at 5:00pm, and true to being a Chinese restaurant, they were happy to serve us dinner. We ordered lots of food and ate it all, having had the longest day of the trip so far. People often ask us if Bowen got tired after cycling all day, but the reality was, after we bought breakfast and dropped it off at the AirBnB, he was still so energized that he asked me to take him to the playground with a zipline that he had spotted on the way to dinner! I hadn't even noticed the zipline, but he'd seen it and of course I wouldn't break my promise to let him zipline whenever we saw a playground with one. He got no less than 20 runs on the zipline before other kids started lining up to use it as well. Having been spoiled by having ziplines on the trip all to himself, he shared a few times before going off to play with other toys in the playground. After the trip I would ask him which of the ziplines he liked best, and he would say "The one in Oxford."


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