We’ve decided it would be a good idea to produce a range of car stickers saying “I slow down for unicycles”. Most people are very polite, slowing down and giving us a wide berth, but there are certainly the exceptions who seem to take great delight in going as fast as they can with minimal clearance. Mostly these are young male drivers and the worst ones accompany that by beeping their horns at us. I’m never quite sure what their motivation is for beeping – whether it’s done out of admiration, amazement, jealousy or just sheer testosterone-driven stupidity. It certainly seems to go hand in hand with those other adolescent males (of all ages) who shout out inane remarks such as “have you lost your other wheel” or “give us a wheelie then” or other totally unintelligible comments. In fact we tend to get far more in the way of admiring and positive comments. It is always good fun when people catch Joseph out of the corner of their eye and then do a double take and turn round to see if it really is someone on a unicycle. The few people with whom we have stopped to talk on the way have been very impressed with what he is doing and that is always an encouragement.
Our friendly engineer pointed us on our way from Cheltenham race course, suggesting an alternative route through Pittville Park by the duck ponds. This was very pleasant, but rather ruined by having to then wind our way through a housing estate, taking a couple of wrong turns down dead end streets on the way.
We stopped at a pub in the centre of Gloucester for 2 pints of Pepsi, ice-cold and very well earned. The barman, John, was being ribbed mercilessly by the locals for working up a sweat just by pulling a pint. I must say, I shared some of their disdain, having by then travelled 65 miles in the hot sunshine outside. The bar itself could not have been more than 3 yards from end to end, and it was nice and cool inside. Nevertheless, John was friendly and good natured about the teasing, and as well as pouring the Pepsi, refilled our water bottles with ice and water to see us on our way. Joseph, keeping up the “glass-half-empty” approach, pointed out that we had by now gone further than we had on any of our practice rides and we still had 45 miles to go.
Two more sewage plants as we headed out of first Cheltenham and then Gloucester, brought our total up to seven. A Defra report on Sewage treatment in the UK (www.defra.gov.uk) tells me that everyday more than 11 billion litres of waste water are treated in the UK’s 9,000 sewage treatment works, so although it seems a lot to us, we have only scratched the surface of experiencing the country’s sewage. I am full of admiration for those people who work in these plants day in day out, to keep our country clean and fresh. Without them we would be up to our necks in it. So I will add them, along with those who collect our rubbish, sweep our streets, clean our public buildings and do countless other thankless jobs, to my list of heroes.
The stretch from Gloucester to Berkeley was a really lovely stretch of cycling, although it was in the hottest part of the day which took the edge off it a bit. This section, following national cycle route 41, was relatively flat along the Severn estuary, partly along the tow path of the Gloucester and Sharpness canal, an impressive navigable ship canal, with its grand swing bridges. The bridge keepers were very friendly and several people on this stretch were interested and impressed with what we were doing and how far we had come. In other places it flitted backwards and forwards between the canal and the river. I told Joseph that Helen and I had once been through all those villages chasing the Severn Bore, and he conjured up a delightful image of the two of us going from village to village enquiring after a tedious old gentleman who would then regale us with interminable tales of the river. The reality is very different and the Severn Bore is quite an incredible natural phenomenon. I remember waiting on the banks of the Severn, its mudflats exposed by the low tide; in the distance you hear a roar that gradually increases as it approaches, seeming to gain momentum as it a great tidal wave then comes towards you, and the whole landscape is transformed in a matter of seconds as the river rises several feet. If you are quick enough, you can then jump in your car and scoot up river a bit further to catch it at the next point.
There are some lovely looking pubs along the Severn Estuary, but, nice as it would have been to linger, we pressed on until we got to the Salutation Inn just beyond Berkeley. Berkeley itself is a very quiet town given its crucial global importance as the place where Edward Jenner discovered vaccination. It is quite amazing to think how many lives have been saved because of that, although his experimentation on James Phipps, the son of his gardener, was totally unethical by today’s standards. Certainly, while we were out in Cambodia, we were reminded of the importance of vaccination, seeing so many children affected by polio. While we were there, the government held several national immunisation days and poor Esther has probably had more doses of polio vaccine than anyone else in this country, as she got one each time round to highlight how important and safe we felt this was. It was therefore very disappointing that although it seemed very close to achieving the global goal of eradication in the 1990s, subsequent outbreaks in Nigeria and elsewhere have meant that polio is now once more on the increase.
From Berkeley we set off for the hard slog out of the Severn valley, pushing our cycles up the steep hill to Tortworth. From there it was easy riding down past Leyhill prison to Cromhall, where we stopped at the Royal Oak for supper. Only we didn’t as, when we got there, we found that the Royal Oak was to let. Nevertheless, Helen met us there with bananas, Lucozade and Ibuprofen to keep us going. After unsuccessfully trying to help someone get his go-cart started, we carried on to the Rose and Crown at Rangeworthy, where Helen was once again waiting for us with a delicious prawn, ham and pepperoni pizza.