Fringe Box



Uphill All The Way – Where Are the Ducks? (Wallingford to Aylesbury)

Published on: 27 May, 2014
Updated on: 27 May, 2014

UATW 002 470This is the third report on the author’s progress in his bid to cycle from Guildford to Edinburgh. The reports follow: Uphill All The Way – The Idea and Uphill All The Way – The Plan (Part One) and Uphill All The Way – The Plan (Part Two)

All Uphill All The Way articles can be found under the Leisure section heading on the front page, in their own sub-section called Uphill All The Way.

By Martin Giles

I have wanted to visit Aylesbury since I was about eight. It is all Miss Tracy’s fault. She was my teacher and, if truth be told, I think I had a slight crush on her.

Tragically she did not seem to notice; she treated me just like any other pupil.

One Monday morning she looked a bit dreamy eyed and told us all about her weekend visit to Aylesbury. It transpired she had gone there with her boyfriend. What? A boyfriend? Wasn’t she waiting for me?

Apparently not. She went on and on about Aylesbury, what a great place it was and how it was somehow associated with ducks. I was reluctantly intrigued.

I suppose I could have reacted by deciding I wanted nothing to do with the place connected, as it was, to such a betrayal but curiosity got the better of me.

What was it about Aylesbury that this boyfriend had used to seduce my mistress? Who was this fellow with his beguiling duck talk?

Then the bell went and my mind switched easily to football, cricket, British Bulldog or whatever playground game was fashionable that week. But I made a mental note. Aylesbury was a place to be investigated.

It has only taken me 50 years.

So what can I report. Well firstly not a solitary duck was to be seen, even though the weather is absolutely ideal for them.

Aylesbury Market Place - no ducks

Aylesbury Market Place – no ducks.

Aylesbury itself has not lived up to expectations, firstly because whilst it has some attractive features, notably St Mary’s Square, it has not been well developed.

St May's Square, undoubtedly attractive, it commands some of the highest property prices in the town

St Mary’s Square, an undoubtedly attractive part of the town, it commands some of the highest property prices.

Secondly, it was a miserable day; most things look better in the sun. And thirdly, nothing could live up to Miss Tracy’s dreamy look which I now know had nothing to do with Aylesbury or ducks.

Anyway let me recap my day.

The Coachmakers Arms, Wallingford

The Coachmakers Arms, Wallingford.

Following a perfectly cooked breakfast at the Coachmakers Arms and a chat about the travails of publicans in 21st century England, I left Wallingford, just after 10am, with optimism encouraged by the local online BBC weather forecast. It showed a rainless window to 2pm. With luck I could remain dry. So confident was I that I reverted to shirt sleeve order.

For the first few miles all was peachy. No rain. And although I had to climb out of the Thames Valley the gradient was gentle, Mark Cavendish would probably call it downhill.

I spotted a sand martin, my first this year, but we all know that solitary birds of this family do not indicate summer. Bang on.

I also spotted a kestrel, and then one of its bigger cousins. At first I thought it might be another buzzard but then spotted the tell-tale v shaped tail feathers. It was a red kite and the first of many.

I seem to recall that there is a services area on the M40, which I would soon cross, where red kites gathered to scavange, almost like pigeons. Perhaps these kites were related. At one stage I stopped to watch one give a spectacular low level aerobatic display over a field on which it kept landing. There seemed to be nothing for it to eat. The mystery was unsolved.

The village of Ewelme

The village of Ewelme.

I also passed through a very picturesque village called Ewelme. I wish I had paused to see if the church was open and perhaps learn some of its history. I must fight the urge to get the journey done but, of course, dear reader I have to leave some time at the end of the day to write my report.

Ewelme village church, regretfully unexplored

Ewelme village church, regretfully unexplored.

Shortly before I reached Watlington I could tell it was trying to rain. I sought out a coffee shop so that could pause whilst it made its mind up. The manager was a friendly Australian who told me he liked to cycle from place to place too but in Australia the settlements are often 200km apart. Good luck with that.

The weather committee in the sky had, surprise, surprise, decided in favour of more wet stuff. I donned my jacket which had been carefully packed for easy withdrawal, and proceeded. It couldn’t be worse than yesterday. Perhaps not, but it was no better. I was soon once again pretty wet through but nonchalant.

Although navigation had been very straightforward when dry, the problems of wet iPhone and wet or steamed-up reading glasses returned but I have learned through bitter experience that it is worth spending the time rechecking navigation to ensure you don’t travel miles in the wrong direction.

Once again, the rain had encouraged me to eschew minor roads and use the B road that paralleled the Ridgeway, a little further to the east. Given the murky conditions I think it was the right decision.

Murky, murky, murky. My view towards the Ridgeway

Murky, murky, murky. My view towards the Ridgeway.

I wanted to get 20 miles done before I stopped for lunch and soon, after 20 miles clicked over on the cycle computer, a pub appeared called the Swan, in Kimble. My scampi, chips and salad washed down with some cider were very welcome.

The chap behind the bar turned out to be ex RAF so we swapped some war stories as all former serviceman are wont to do. When I told him which regiment I was in he recalled that he had come across them during a firefighters” strike when they were manning ‘green goddess’ fire engines, in Wales, to give emergency cover.

He had arranged for the soldiers to use some facilities at a local hotel for some much needed R&R. Unfortunately the soldiers in question had thought it would be a wizard wheeze to empty a liquid soap container into the hot tub. There were bubbles everywhere and an irate hotel manager to deal with.

Perhaps they were trying to live down the name of one of our former regiments ‘the dirty half hundred”?

I decided not to use the gents. He might fear another piece of water associated vandalism. So instead I bid him a friendly farewell and resumed my soapless shower outside.

Ignoring the sign for the main road route to Aylesbury, I headed towards Stoke Mandeville the village that gives its name to the famous hospital, now linked to the infamous Jimmy Savile revelations. Nothing remarkable to see and I was now well into the rather souless suburbs of Aylesbury.

At the next junction was a sign for the cycle ‘jet way’. Wow. That was for me. Presumably I could relax while some new technology took me into Aylesbury on a stream of propelled air.

The 'jet way' - just a wide pavement

The ‘jet way’ – just a wide pavement.

It turned out to be a slightly wider than normal pavement. Oh well, at least it kept me separate from the cars.

Here are some points of interest about Aylesbury:

  • population 58,000 (similar to Guildford);
  • town centre thought to be on the site of an Iron Age hill fort;
  • Henry VIII made it the county town of Buckinghamshire, perhaps to curry favour with the Boleyn family prior to his marriage to Anne Boleyn;
  • the town was a stronghold for parliamentarian forces in the Civil War;
  • Aylebury’s heraldic crest is centred on the Aylesbury duck, which has been bred here since the birth of the Industrial Revolution;
  • in 1963 the great train robbery took place just six miles from the town and the train robbers were tried here;
  • it is home to the Roald Dahl children’s gallery within the Buckinghamshire County Museum;
  • in 2005 it was nominated as one of six “cycling demo towns”. Expanded to 18 in number, these are now called “cycling towns’ and include Woking.

Depressingly, in my view, Wikipedia reports: “If plans are approved to increase expected new housing capacity  as expected for twenty thousand people, suburban Aylesbury could become largely or wholly contiguous with the neighbouring villages of Bierton, Hartwell, Stoke Mandeville, Stone, Sedrup and Weston Turville.

Tonight is my first night in an airbnb. This is an organisation with which anyone can register a spare room, flat or house. It started in America but is catching on here.

My Aylesbury attic lodgings and my first airbnb

My Aylesbury attic lodgings and my first airbnb.

It feels a bit strange. I am in the attic of someone’s house. They have been very welcoming and helpful but I have never been a lodger and feel unsure of the etiquette. I have also realised that one of the couples in the house probably live in this attic normally. Presumably a recent arrangement subsequent to my booking over a month ago. They are sleeping in the front room. I feel a bit guilty.

Tomorrow I move on to Bletchley. Just 20 miles, but the forecast is for another wet day. It might be a damp walk around the Bletchley Park code breaker museum, the main reason I have selected it as a stopping point.

27.05.14 UATW computer data:

Miles cycled: 28.36 miles

Average speed: 9.5mph

Cycling time: 2 hours 57 minutes.


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