We were able to find a quicker route back to where we’d left the canal earlier (as is always the way). The route (NCN 4) was now on road for a while, skirting the fringes of Thatcham, Newbury (where it rejoined the canal for a short distance – long enough to grab a coffee at a Costa beside the canal) and Hungerford. Following quiet little country lanes, we meandered through pretty, sleepy villages and felt as though we had stepped back in time. There was hardly any traffic and we were amazed at how peaceful and tranquil it seemed. When crossing a busy road, our manic, modern world came rushing back in, but then we left all that behind and pedalled on in our little calm bubble. Cycle touring can be such bliss.
Arriving at our campsite behind the pub at Easton Royal, we were dismayed when the landlady called out the window, ‘We don’t do food.’ However, I think she took pity on our downcast and dishevelled look – and it had started raining as well – and very kindly offered to cook us sausage, egg and chips. Result!
Tent pitched, we ensconced ourselves in the pub out of the wind and rain (we are holidaying in the UK, don’t forget!) and scoffed our welcome meal, much to the amusement of the local old boys in the pub! A little later, two shattered young female cycle tourers staggered in – they had done in one day what it had taken us two cycling days to do! In our defence, they were at least 40 years younger than us! A good evening was spent chatting and drinking.
At the end of the evening, just before closing time, we started chatting to an old chap sat at the end of our table. He told us about the skiff race that he used to take part in which went from Devizes to London. His crew won the race many times and held the record for several consecutive years. Initially, this race began as a bet on whether it was possible to row down the River Avon from Pewsey, Wiltshire, all the way to the sea at Christchurch Harbour in Dorset, a distance of about 70 miles. I believe the race has now become the Devizes to Westminster International Canoe Race. An interesting account of the history of the race can be found at http://www.dwrace.org.uk/racehistory.html.
The following morning we struggled to get ourselves back on track on the NCN 4 due to conflicting signage, some of it taking us in completely the wrong direction and others pointing in two different directions but with no indication of which went where. After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing, we spotted some locals, who were able to point us in the right direction. The NCN signage is usually fairly good but if we have one gripe it is that sometimes it would be helpful to add place names to the arrow directions so that you know which one to choose.
Day 4 was again spent cycling through beautiful countryside and quaint little villages but against a strong headwind, which seemed to funnel down the narrow country lanes. We picked up the canal at Devizes and cycled past the 29-lock ‘staircase’ at Caen Hill. We passed the locks somewhat quicker than the canal boats do – apparently it can take up to 6 hours to negotiate by boat.
We stayed at the Camping and Caravan Club site near Seend, just past Devizes, which fortunately was within walking distance of a nice pub that sold good beer and did tasty food. We ended up spending three nights here as we hoped the weather would improve and we could go back and photograph the lock staircase; also, we needed to track down some gas for the cooker (I had forgotten the windshield and, as it was constantly windy, the gas was depleting rapidly); and, well, we felt like just lounging around and chilling out!
When asking about gas canisters at the campsite reception/shop, we were amazed to be told that they stocked the calor gas canisters for caravans but nothing for campers! This is the CAMPING and Caravan Club we are talking about here – why is everything geared to caravans and motorhomes these days? What about us campers? Don’t get me started, I can feel a rant coming on!