Days six, seven and eight of the bike tour were our first several days of consecutive riding. We got in some good training, a few sights, a range of breakfast experiences, and encountered our first English rains.
We rode out of Oxford and made our way across the Vale of White Horse. This region is named for the figure of a white horse that was dug and carved into a chalky hillside in the region sometime between 3200 and 600 BC. It is still visible!
We set up camp on the very edge of North Wessex Downs – another Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. After hanging our formerly-trapped clothing out to finish drying, we headed down the hill we had just rode up in search of dinner.
The walk to dinner turned out to be a stunning meander through a forest on the other side of which sat a glorious sunset over farmland. We encountered some horses taking in their evening meal.
It was here, considering the timelessness of this place, that Drew commented that perhaps we might better empathize with those who resist change. As urban planners, we are typically preoccupied with the advantages of progress and frustrated (infuriated, offended) by the problematic stance of those who want to keep things ‘just as they are’. But here in this magnificent field, at the edge of a beautiful and quiet farming town, the fear of disruption is easier to understand, and a desire to conserve a particular way of life, easier to respect.
I countered that this context is profoundly different than that of cities, which are by nature dynamic and evolving places with an imperative to accommodate the much more diverse needs of a much more diverse population. But does that take these kinds of places, and their communities, ‘off the hook’? What role do, or might, rural communities have in accommodating the people, jobs, and society that better reflect our globalized world? And how does this differ from suburban communities (where much of these tensions are most acute)? We have since been considering more deeply what it means to insist on an agenda of progress and change.
The next morning we packed up camp and, unable to locate any nearby establishments open for business, enjoyed a gourmet breakfast from our very own mobile pantry!
Thus thoroughly sustained, we rode a few miles under increasingly graying skies. A woman stopped us on the road just near the church below, to tell us about said church and a nearby cafe where we ‘MUST go for a cuppa’. We visited the church on her instruction, and then proceeded to the cafe, grateful for her guidance. When we walked in, she was there, having her own tea and scone. Small town.
As we enjoyed some tea and surprisingly well-executed bagels with lox and cream cheese, the rain began. We emerged from the cafe in our highest fashion, ready to take it on.
We spent the rest of the day unsuccessfully dodging rain showers across the North Wessex Downs AONB. Though it was chilly and damp, the rain also afforded some spectacular lushness in the more densely-wooded parts of the ride.
In the mid-afternoon we detoured to Avebury on the recommendation of Diane (of Diane and Joe Chatfield). Avebury is basically a smaller version of the world-famous Stonehenge, with far fewer tourists. You can also go up to the stones and touch them, which I made sure we did repeatedly.
Maybe 15 miles down the road, increasingly cold and pushing through some killer hills, we were thrilled to finally arrive at the Woodbury Inn – the campsite and pub that would be providing us food and shelter for the evening. The rains relented and we set up camp in a lovely spot right at the bend of the River Avon. Soon, a welcome committee stopped by to ensure all was in order.
All was mostly in order, but more so when we had a hot shower, and then went inside the Woodbury Inn to discover it was curry night. We feasted on palak paneer, malai kofta, tikka masala, pappadum, naan…. And then we slept. Really well.
We began the third day of our journey to Salisbury at the Red Lion Inn. I had heard about this Michelin-starred restaurant near our campsite, and they offered a full English breakfast by reservation only. We couldn’t resist this admittedly silly indulgence, and it didn’t fail to deliver. We dined on freshly squeezed juices and coffee, homemade toast and locally made jams and marmalades, and of course, the almost-overwhelming platter that is the Full English: eggs, sausage, baked beans, sautéed mushrooms, roasted tomato, bacon, and usually some kind of deep-fried bread (because why not).
It was a gastronomically satisfying 24 hours, and certainly made up for our babybel-on-bread breakfast from the day prior.
Heading off a food coma, we did some stretches on the lawn of the Red Lion Inn and hopped back on our bikes towards the day’s highlights: Woodhenge and Stonehenge! The former is a lesser-known site about 2 miles from Stonehenge. Like Avebury, it is far less touristed, but no less mystifying than either. The site is basically a field with a series of timbered postholes in concentric circles, dating back to around 2000 BC. It also has a evidence of child sacrifice on site, so of the three sites in question, this won the award for ‘most disturbing’.
Here I am at Avebury, still feeling the effects of breakfast:
Soon thereafter, we made it to Stonehenge!
Fortunately, there was a bike path that allowed us to get quite close without paying a fee, and kept us away from the most intense throngs of tourists. It was an odd sight: hundreds of people standing on a path, looking at some rocks and relentlessly snapping selfies. And yet, there we were, ogling this strange piece of ancient history ourselves, and capturing the majesty in our own inverted camera lens.
After about 15 minutes of contemplating this structure, making many, many references to Ylvis’s important artistic contribution to the subject at hand, and eating an apple, we pedaled on. An interesting series of non-roads led us southward through farmland and forests, until we reached the edge of Salisbury. We stopped in at a grocery store for a bottle of wine for our future host, and at about 6pm, pulled up to the Wellington, met Ian, and got acquainted with our home for the next two nights!