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What's this blog all about?

Hi, I'm Nicola - welcome to a blog begun in 2012 about family travel around the world, without leaving the UK.

I love travel adventures, but to save cash and keep my family's carbon footprint lower, I dreamt up a unique stay-at-home travel experience. So far I've visited 110 countries... without leaving the UK. Join me exploring the next 86! Or have a look at the "countries" you can discover within the UK by scrolling the labels (below right). Here's to happy travel from our doorsteps.

Around 2018 I tried a new way of writing my family's and my own UK travel adventures. Britain is a brilliant place for a staycation, mini-break and day trips. It's also a fantastic place to explore so I've begun to write up reports of places that are easy to reach by public transport. And when they are not that easy to reach I'll offer some tips on how to get there.

See www.nicolabaird.com for info about the seven books I've written, a link to my other blog on thrifty, creative childcare (homemadekids.wordpress.com) or to contact me.

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Cycling near Salisbury - not a Holland quiet way yet

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. We do this in a bid to be less polluting and tackle climate change while at the same time keeping a global outlook. Cycling expeditions are now so popular, so what would my 15yo think about going for a long cycle ride with her mum around Salisbury? Words by Nicola Baird.

At the garden of the Ship Inn, Burcombe, Wilts
Cycling is supposed to be safe - but it needs to feel like an adventure else it's just a slog ride from A-B, which I do a few days most weeks around London. I've been longing to go for a really long journey by bike, say London to Amsterdam or London to Paris as organised by people like Simon Izod, but reckon it might be worth trying smaller trips before we sign up to 50 miles a day.

Nell is happy to take a one day cycling trip with me to Salisbury. The plan is for me to do some family history research, cycling the Wiltshire lanes, and also to let Nell explore Salisbury Cathedral and Stonehenge. We're kitted out in high viz which feels unnecessary on London's new super cycle highway running from Farringdon to Blackfriars Bridge. But in Salisbury on National Cycle Network 45 it's essential.

I'm not sure that Wiltshire County Council really understands cycle lanes. The one we use from Salisbury to Wilton - about 3 miles away - mostly offers flat cycling, but there is a horrible section of fast, busy road that is on the A30.

Reflecting on the Magna Carta at Salisbury Cathedral
The TIC in Salisbury provides us with a map but when I ask questions the woman there uses the road names, rather than the cycle route names, which is a bit confusing as this special cycling map doesn't mention we'll be partly on the A30. Luckily I take a left at Quidhampton when I should have taken a right.... and when I discover this mistake I speak out loud asking myself what to do. To my amazement a lady on the other side of the hedge, gardening, pops up and suggests I take a back route up a gravel track by the kennels. Perfect. It's not the quickest way to Wilton but it avoids the A30 and is a really bucolic diversion with beautiful views of undulating Wiltshire countryside.

Cycling discovery - an injured snake near Burcombe.
Another lady - this time very old - points us towards Burcombe and at last our cycle ride becomes wonderful. Of course it helps that we find a snake. SNAKE!! A snake on the road. It looks as if it is basking and both of us are a bit nervous to get closer even though it's very small and quite still. I'm guessing it is a young grass snake as this satisfyingly flat route always seems close to a river. Luckily there is a fallen ash branch by the verge so we snap off two long prongs in order to pick up the "injured" snake so it can die safely off the road. If that's not an oxymoron. The road has become a crime scene - after much discussion we decide that the snake has been pecked by a bird and dropped on to the road. Anyway by the time we move it, I think it has died.

This bit of road is quiet - the hedges are high and the cowparsley offers a lacy white verge. You can hear larks and occasionally spot yellowhammer dive into the hedges. On the other side of the hedges, in fields generally rising up and away from the valley floor, are intense fields of yellow oil seed rape. Nearer the villages the farmers have sold or rented their fields for grazing and handsome horses raise their heads as we cycle past. It's slightly like being in an Enid Blyton novel.

We've also seen a man pushing his broken door car; lots of homes named after what they used to be - the old bakery, the old schoolhouse, the haybarn, the old forge. It's a good lesson in modern geography and for us Londoners a sense of bafflement about what people actually do in the countryside when there's nowhere close for them to go and do it. Mind you Wiltshire has lots of pubs.

We take a break at the Ship Inn, Burcombe which has recently redone its riverside garden, and love it.

Barford Inn, Barford St Martin. Nice sun terrace and cosy old-fashioned interior
 At the next village, Barford St Martin the Green Dragon is now known as The Barford Inn. This pub is also very old but it's full of ye olde agricultural equipment, cleverly attached to the ceiling. I'd like to linger but Nell has had enough of pubs and fields so we speed back to Salisbury for a cycling feast of Greek wraps on sale at one of the many Food stalls in the Market Square on a May Bank Holiday Sunday.

There are 1.3million visitors to Stonehenge, but you can still feel alone with the stones.
Besides the cathedral story, Salisbury has plenty of literary links. Charles Dickens based a section of Martin Chuzzlewit here, and it's forever entwined with Thomas Hardy who has tragic Tess of the D'Urbervilles ending up at Stonehenge. Had we the stamina we could have cycled to Stonehenge along the National Cycle Network 45 but neither Nell nor I thought we'd then do justice this 3,000 year old monument (on a site with 5,000 years of history). So our adventure was one day enjoyably lonely cycling on the flat lanes of Wiltshire, and one using a tour bus to mix with one of the UK's most popular tourist sites. It was a good mix for a very short break. But my suspicion is both of us had more fun stopping than we did pedalling along. Clearly we are not naturals for a long cycle ride.

Pluses: the Salisbury - Wilton route has an easy to follow cycle map which makes it easy to see the distance you've cycled. That's about 3 miles. Nell was proud to have cycled at least 15 miles on one day.

Minuses: brave lycra cyclists may be able to cope but the rest of us need drivers to be more cautious on the roads, especially the back lanes. Diesel engines and unseasonably bad weather (ie, climate change) are doing a great deal of damage. Speeding vehicles wreck the efforts by walkers and cyclists to get out of their cars.

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