Day 1. Off to Wales

Into Wales

Lock the door, cross the road, down the path on to the Flitch Way, a former railway track now for public use leading to Braintree Station and also part of the Sustrans Cycle network. Intend to follow Route 4 from the Severn Bridge to St David’s, the most Western point in Wales.

Bikes and trains have a difficult relationship; bikes need to use trains, the train companies encouraged to accommodate bikes, but often seem reluctant. Not Abellio, though, a Dutch bike-friendly company which runs our train to London. It has put in new cycle racking at their stations and, ignoring some indignation, has converted some formerly first-class carriages by including a row of tip-up seats so space can be created for wheelchairs/pushchairs/bikes.

Stood with bike loaded with 4 panniers, tent and sleeping bag outside Liverpool Street Station apprehensively viewing the maelstrom which is the City, which needed to be crossed to the cycle super-highway along the Thames. There were scuttling pedestrians glued to phones, cyclists dashing everywhere. The trick, I discovered, was to become a “vehicle”, get well into the road and become part of the slow-moving traffic. It does not make you popular, but everyone can see you.

The super-highway is mostly separated from the traffic, its main problem along the Embankment being tourists obliviously wandering about taking photographs. Left the Embankment at The Houses of Parliament to connect to the cycle path along Birdcage Walk. Rounded the corner at the top – two large white horses were marching towards me so exchanged glances with the two mounted police and immediately decided it was now a horse path and shot into the tourists and stopped. A section of troops passed by and there were tourists were swanning everywhere: I had just missed the Changing of the Guard.

Escaped into the peace of Hyde Park, and had the pleasure of riding along the bank of the Serpentine where Ian has often taken me to see the wide variety of birds and their families. Then it was over the road to Paddington Station to join the crowd watching the destination board to see the allocation of platforms. Dashed to the Bristol train as the allocation was put up uncomfortably close to time of departure.

You have to book beforehand to take a bike on an express train and are also given a seat allocation: mine was coach J. When walking through the barrier I enquired where the bike store was; some deep thought and was told it was at the far end. The express stretched way out of sight around a curve in the platform but spotted the store fortunately just 20 yards from the barrier and secured the bike.

Staggered off down the platform carrying 4 panniers, bar bag, light hiking tent and sleeping bag. No sign of coach J and the lettering of the carriages lost their sequence. Tried to fight down growing panic when saw Porter – “Where is coach J”? “There isn’t one on the new trains, that was for an old train. Just get on here.” “But I’ve got a seat booked in J”, “GET ON!”. Collapsed puffed out into seat in nearly full carriage shortly followed by politely protesting English voice also wanting coach J and then saw large Scandinavian, being very firm in that Scandinavian manner, but quietening when she saw that the few remaining seats were being filled up. Her approach had some effect because, when the snack bar opened, a sheepish conductor arrived with a peace offering of a sandwich, muffin and drink which she, grumbling, accepted.

Had identified a local train from Bristol which went to Avonmouth and then continued along the bank of the Estuary in the direction of the Severn. Not only would this take me nearer the crossing, but it had the great advantage that I would not have to cycle though another city. At Bristol station I could find no indication where it left from until someone directed me to a siding in the invisible far reaches of the Station where a veteran two carriage diesel train arrived to eventually deposit me at a small station where the towers of the bridge beckoned me towards Wales.

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