It’s a long time since I just headed out of the house with my bike and a map and cycled any which way the trails and hills and wind take me. I used to go out for hours at a time, losing myself on the network of bridleways that sprawl across the English countryside. Especially when I have moved to a new area, it’s a great way to explore and get to know it. Getting lost is part of the fun. Trying to figure out where you have ended up part of the fun. Not knowing where you are going or what will happen is part of the fun. I may head off thinking I will go for only an hour or two and find that I don’t return for nearly a whole day. I may look on a map and think I will head west sticking to a valley and then spontaneously take some left turns and go the other way or unintentionally discover that the trail I have chosen is now climbing upwards into the hills. The only thing that matters is being on the bike and being outside, breathing in the fresh English air and views.
Since I have returned from long cycle-tours abroad, I have had little desire to go mountain-biking. I suppose you can have too much of a good thing. But recently my interest has been re-ignited. There are still many places I have not been and now that I am in England for several months, now is the time to see them.
So yesterday I decided to go biking in the Cotswolds for a couple of hours. I was having so much fun, I didn’t return until five hours later. This was a new area for me and I wanted to cycle as many of the bridleways and tracks as I could. I pedalled furiously up the lung-busting hills and free-wheeled recklessly down the wooded trails and rocky paths.
When I reached a stream I stopped to wash the caked mud off me and the bike, washing my face in the cool re-freshing and crystal clear stream. When I reached roads, I looked on the map for the next nearest bridleway. It didn’t matter which way I was going, until after a couple of hours I was getting hungry and in need of energy because I hadn’t eaten since breakfast. I scoffed the banana I’d packed and gorged on the tantalising blackberries from the hedgerow, looked on the map and found I was very far from home.
I know by now that the most direct route will not necessarily be the quickest or easiest, but I took it anyway. What’s the fun in cycling around the hills on the road when there is a traffic-free route that goes straight up and down over the valley and again into the next one and so on?
It’s also a long time since I had to decipher a map and I found myself at several dead-ends when tracks and permissive byways showed a sign for no bikes or horses. Oh well, take another path instead or ask a local which way to go. Harder than it sounds, because the local will ask, ‘Well, where are you trying to get to?’ and that is difficult to answer because you don’t know and don’t care and you don’t know the names of any villages in the area either. So I gave my final destination. ‘You’re a bit out of your way, aren’t you?’ and all I could say was, ‘Well, yes. But it’s a lovely sunny day for getting lost.’
‘The quickest way is to go down that footpath, follow it past an abandoned cottage, over a stream and continue on the footpath to Bull’s Cross.’
He made it sound so simple and with that I was off. I never did see an abandoned cottage and there was a plethora of tracks to choose from. I did see two roe deer, several partridges and rabbits and a large bird of prey swooping across the field. Some paths were big enough for a tractor and some may only have been animal trails. I just pointed my bike in the right direction and took whichever trail went that way. I ended up in fields of long grass and thistles and on paths overgrown with nettles. There were also plenty of blackberries, which was good because by now I was running on reserves. Eventually I popped out at a road and as I couldn’t work out where the hell I was, even with a map, I took the road, which eventually met a slightly bigger one and then at the next t-junction there was a sign. Now it was plain-sailing back to Painswick where I knew I could get tea and cake for the last push home.
Here’s a rough track of the route I took. I don’t know exactly all trails I took but, but it was something like this…