"Each step forward has a sacred meaning of its own"   Sri Chinmoy

Kings, Castles, Priests and Churches 200k Audax - 2018

I'd failed to get my entry for this sorted out in time for this one, so as far as AAA points are concerned it probably doesn't count, but the main aim for Easter weekend was to get 2 back-to-back all day rides in with my touring packs on the bike and see how I managed. All this in preparation for my pilgrimage-en-velo across France to Heidelberg later this year. Well, that's the plan, anyway...

Kokila dropped me off for an 8am start in Tewkesbury in light rain and with temperatures a chilly 3 degrees C. They say statistically snow is more likely at Easter than Christmas but it was still a surprise that it felt so wintry on the last day of March. I had 2 pairs of gloves on which is the reason I didn't stop to take any photos after I'd started - it was just too much of a faff getting the winter gloves off and then the sealskinz and then getting both pairs back on again. I was glad to have warm hands and warm enough everything else though as I rode off over the Avon on the Mythe bridge and headed for Ledbury. The first climb of the day came soon enough, over the Malverns via the Hollybush. Familiar roads took me northwards towards Bromyard over rolling hills that kept my speed low and began to drain my body's battery power early on. Overhead the brooding clouds threatened heavy rain but didn't deliver it - in fact  by the time I locked up the bike opposite Flowerdews cafe it was dry from above and the only water was that spraying up from the wet roads.

The last time I road this route I blew up big time after starting too fast and not eating enough so I loaded up with food in Flowerdews. I made the mistake of eating it way too fast while my heart rate was still up from the hilly ride I'd just completed, so it was my own stupid fault that I then had to site there for 10 minutes feeling totally sick before I felt OK to carry on. The sicky feeling passed on the way to Tenbury though and by the time I climbed up into Ludlow, through the historic archway on Broad Street, I was glad I'd loaded up with calories. I grabbed more nosh in Ludlow and set off on a gorgeous but testing section up the long drag into Mortimer's Forest (with amazing views back over the swollen river to Ludlow Castle) and thence the endless ups and downs around Lingen. Ludlow had been crowded but I hardly saw a soul for the rest of the day. The lanes were so quiet, barely a car passed me as I rode deeper into deepest Shropshire. The clock was ticking and time was passing faster than the kilometres were - in other words I was making slow progress - but I felt good in myself and was managing the climbs with the loaded-up bike and its extra touring kilos.

Presteigne was empty and I sat alone in a cafe restoring myself with grape and beetroot soup. An unusual but delicious combination. I felt nicely warmed up as you generally do after hot soup on a cold day and that fortified me for the next section. 7 hours were already gone and I was worried that I'd have a very late finish in Tewkesbury, but I'd warmed up enough to attack the section through the Wye valley and my legs didn't let me down. I nailed it in 2 hours and felt pleased that I'd covered the ground at a decent pace on the heavily laden bike. Around Moccas and Bredwardine I began to fall into that timeless-time mood that I often get in the Wye Valley - a strange feeling of immersion in past ages. Maybe it's the old buildings, the ancient stone walls, or maybe just the fact that this valley is an ancient thoroughfare from the Welsh kingdoms into England and the roads have been trodden for so many millennia going back way before the Romans - whatever it is it's a magical feeling and part of the reason I drag myself out on these all day rides in challenging weather! From the stop at a garage before Wormelow I was on roads I knew from several Audax rides - it seems like this is the obvious route back to Tewkesbury from all points West so it gets used a lot. The timeless dreamtime feeling carried on through Hoarwithy and Kings Caple, past the 16th century house at Fawley looking out over the bend in the river and its silent parkland. There were numerous climbs and the Marcle Ridge offered not one but several efforts before I was over it and down to Much Marcle. Time slipped by and the cold, wet roads seemed very indifferent to my struggles. Then for the only time that day, the clouds parted and a few shafts of golden sunlight from low in the western sky lit up the trees and the shining wet lanes ahead of me, brightening the vivid green of the fields. A magpie swooped down in front of me and dropped a twig in front of my wheel. There was only birdsong and the sound of my pedals turning.

Slowly but surely the kilometres slid by, as I fought off hunger with twix and flapjack and enjoyed the closing hours of the day. It was dark by the time I clocked in on Tewkesbury Hight St and met Kokila in the car park of the Old Hop Pole. I was pretty spent and had another day of riding ahead of me in the morning. A lovely ride, peace and joy quietly bubbling beneath the tiredness and discomfort on the surface, as is so often the case.

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