Route 41

Today’s ride took us through the middle of Warwick, then Leamington Spa and towards Northampton, all on Sustrans Route 41 and nearly all off road – on the Grand Union and the Oxford (? not sure) canal towpaths, and the Lias Cycleway connecting the two. I don’t relish towpath riding, for reasons previously mentioned, but Raisin enjoyed trotting alongside the bike, and must have done 7 or 8 miles like that. There’s no speedometer on board but I think we plod along at 5 or 6 miles an hour.
We passed many cruising narrowboats today, mostly hire boats on the Oxford, but privately owned boats on the Grand Union, and nearly all of those were heading upstream towards the big flight of locks at Budbrook, by last night’s campsite. The only one going our way was painted black and called ‘Creeping Death’, which I was glad to overtake.
One good thing about towpaths is that the navigation is simple and I don’t have to listen to the Google Maps app on my phone giving me directions from my back pocket. The voice on the app sounds like the expensively educated chummy young women who present the equally annoying Spectator podcast. At every mile ridden, the other app I use whilst riding  (and walking) – Map My Walk – pipes up from my back pocket to say “Total distance x miles; total time y hour and z minutes” etc. The Map My Walk voice sounds like Charlotte Green, the Radio 4 newsreader.  It would be nice if she could say, at the end of the ride, “Libby Ranzetta with her dog, Raisin, cycled 27 miles today over difficult terrain on their tour from Wales to Suffolk. A spokeswoman said both are tired but uninjured after their ordeal, and are recovering overnight in a field somewhere.”
The Grand Union had some impressive engineering, with bridges under and over roads, rivers and railways. We approached one railway bridge at the exact moment the Britannia class steam locomotive 70013 Oliver Cromwell chugged over with a teak service coach, the driver, in blue overalls and denim cap, leaning out to take a look at the line behind.
Route 41 was pleasant, and included sections of disused railway line that afforded lovely views of the landscape.
However, it is not very trailer-friendly: three gates along the way meant I had to uncouple the trailer, and a flight of steps onto the Oxford canal towpath was tricky. Raisin even got Mouse out to help at one point.
When I rang ahead to book tonight’s campsite, the woman I spoke to managed to call me ‘duck’ 7 times in call lasting just 56 seconds. This got me thinking that the Google Maps app would be better with regional accents. It would give an authentic flavour of the area, and in this way, all the place name pronounciation would be correct too. So here, for example, the voice could say (with a Midlands accent) “In 200 yards turn left duck”.
We are about 8 miles south of Rugby now.  Raisin and I have been made to feel very welcome at this campsite, another small field essentially, but with homely facilities and a bargain at £5 a night. For once, Raisin is more tired than me but it was good to see her running so well on all four feet today. We might push on to Daventry tomorrow, and will then be about 100 from Bury St Edmunds I think. At this rate we might even be home by Christmas.


We eventually emerged from our tent late this morning when the rain had stopped, and found we were alone on the campsite. The Range Rover had gone, the herberts with the brazier had gone, leaving only a scorched patch where it had been, and piles of charcoal in the hedge behind their pitch. I’d made a decision in the night, aided by the Sleep Fairies, to abandon the plan to go home via Oxford, but to head east instead on a direct line to Bury St Edmunds. The Oxford-Cambridge-Bury Sustrans route could wait till another time.
The Sleep Fairies had also magicked up a suitable looking campsite near Warwick, that I swear wasn’t showing on my Camping and Caravanning Club app the night before. I rang to book, and the owner said the facilities were ‘very basic’. “I just need a toilet and drinking water” said I. “It’s an outside toilet but you’re welcome to come” he replied.
So we set off through the rolling Warwickshire countryside, on quiet lanes by old-world farms and cottages and streams and fields of stubble and of freshly ploughed deep brown soil. What exactly is an outside toilet, I wondered. Would it have a roof? Walls even? We passed a side road sign that read ‘Ford. Impassable at ALL times’, and thinking about the definition of ‘ford’ took my mind off the toilet situation.
The campsite is a small grassy area between a busy road and the Grand Union canal. The toilet is on the side of the farm house, small but fine with roof, walls, door. There’s a light but no basin. Good job I had a shower yesterday.
Raisin and I went for a stroll up the tow path and came across a lock, then another and another until suddenly there was a great flight of them before us. On our way back, a thin, bearded young man in ragged T shirt and baggy trousers paced and pranced round the concrete plinth of the first lock we had passed. He, accompanied on stage by a sack barrow with a rucksack strapped to it and a large plastic bottle of milk, was silhouetted against the setting sun delivering a rambling, angry soliloquy to himself. I had two thoughts simultaneously: what was his story; I hope he won’t be on our campsite later. I’m not proud of that.
So tomorrow we continue east, through Leamington Spa and towards Northampton. The rain has started again and the forecast is for showers. As long as there are some sunny spells in which to charge the phone, we can cope with showers.  Might need the Sleep Fairies to help me with the traffic noise here tonight though.


The only news of note is that we saw a vet today in Alcester, who removed Raisin’s hanging nail/claw with a quick pull, checked her over and declared her fit and well. The nail is already growing back, the vet said. I kept the old one even though it looks like a mutant crustacean.
There was bunting up in the town, which seemed appropriate, and I celebrated my relief by buying some decent food for Raisin in a well stocked pet shop. It’s heavy to carry (2kg) but better than the stinking brown sludge that is Pedigree Chum (and that’s before it’s been through the dog).
On the way to Alcester, Droitwich Spa looked pleasant by the canal, and after a few miles on a busy B road we passed into Warwickshire and pretty villages such as Feckenham and Sambourne. Our campsite is near the National Trust’s Coughton Court, a Tudor house, and we caught a glimpse going past.
When we arrived at the camping field there was just a chap under an awning eminating from his Range Rover, and a closed up tent. I chose a pitch away from what I thought was the rather overstated mock Bavarian toilet block, and was surprised when the site owner turned up and said the facilities were in the opposite corner, through a gap in the hedge. A bit later a dozen or so hens appeared on the field, near the strange building, and I wondered if it was in fact a posh chicken shed.
As things were quiet, I took the opportunity to have a shower, taking Raisin with me. The lights in the toilet block dimmed when I turned it on, although the mildew on the shower curtain was still visible in the semi darkness. No matter, the wash was much needed and most welcome. Range Rover man was lying in a box on top of his car when we came out, apparently wearing only shorts and socks but I didn’t like to look too closely.
Two chaps and three children turned up in a builder’s van and proceeded to put up their tent accompanied by music from the van stereo. They went out to collect firewood for a bucket brazier but the music has been on ever since and is irritating. I am too tired to say anything; I don’t think it will keep me awake. Meanwhile Range Rover man has told me all about his car, which has a pull out kitchen, a clothes rail behind the front seat and many other modifications I have already forgotten.
My legs hurt from the effort today, although it was only 30 miles, and it is wet and chilly here. As usual, I can’t see a good way forward for tomorrow – all the options look too hard when I’m tired. If I had a Rangerover I would bundle my wet tent and all the gear into it after a little sleep, and drive straight home.