A Grand (Re)union

Robyn cycling along the towpath
Helpful advice for cyclists: on narrow towpaths, do not get distracted by ducklings

Saturday night was spent celebrating my friend Jemma’s 30th birthday at a hotel somewhere in the midlands.  As a dyed-in-the-wool Londoner, such an excursion felt equivalent to traversing the outer reaches of Mongolia or at the very least a quick jaunt to Iceland and as such it seemed a shame to waste our brave departure from the shores of the M25.  So we decided to make the most of it by hauling our bikes on to the train and exploring the delights of Leamington Spa on Sunday.

It was a gloriously sunny day and we were fleet of foot (wheel?) but I have a tendency to assume London proportions when I am recommended a place of interest and so when the hotel receptionist gushed about the delights of Jephson Gardens, I naively assumed we’d be heading to the Regents Park of the north.  It was rather smaller – though no less delightful – and indeed traipsable in about five minutes flat.  Fortuitously, we had stumbled across the place in high spring which meant an abundance of gorgeous blooms and courting couples draped over every possible bench.

I tend to forget how much of a sight Peter and I are when accompanied by our bikes.  Even without them, we are noticeable (he is 6’8″ tall and I am . . . a fan of bold dressing) but our (embarrassingly semi-matching) upright Dutch city bikes are possibly extensions of ourselves: his is gigantic, mine is adorned with primary-coloured flowers.  They seem to have gained a fame or notoriety in and around our places of work, but wheeling them around does mean we have longer to hear the comments.

It also meant that half-way down the path, I heard a surprised “Robyn?!” and it turned out that my ex-housemate, who’d moved out 18 months ago and back to Warwick, was sitting in the park, watching the world go by, and had recognised my basket (though not me, encased as I was in sunglasses and my Russian hat-style helmet) and taken a chance.  Knowing my city-dweller ways, she expressed surprise that we had chosen to spend the day in sleepy Leamington and suggested we cycle down the canal to Warwick (almost as comatose, but very slightly less so).  We took her advice and off we went.

It was strange to think that this narrow waterway and the one down in London which we had traversed on many occasions were one and the same, and indeed its reaches go further still.  There’s history aplenty in those watery shallows and all along the banks, and a surprising similarity wherever you are along its length.  It’s the perfect location for a sunny afternoon cycle, although there’s something rather disconcerting about the aquaducts.  I’m just not sure that water’s meant to be carried overhead like that, nor that I’m supposed to be cycling along beside it.  It messes with my fragile mind.

The Grand Union crossing over the River Avon
Water, water everywhere and SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE

At some point we decided we’d probably made it to Warwick and surfaced amid country roads and suburban semis.  Hunger and the Yelp app led us to food via some seriously impressive old buildings which Peter sagely pointed out were no small reason why the University of Warwick must have been so keen to call this city home despite being located closer to Coventry.

Tunnel under the old hospital
There’s a light at the end of the tunnel! (I’m so sorry)

We admired the old hospital (never actually a hospital – I do love a bit of obscure English titling) and the banners proclaiming Warwick to be celebrating its 1,100th birthday in 2014 (which rather put Jemma’s 30th into perspective) before heading off to the Lazy Cow for dinner, where we were stung by steaks that were pricey even by London standards.  When the cheapest is £25 and the excuse is “we’re a steakhouse”, I’m resentful before I even start.  Sadly time constraints meant we didn’t have time to explore alternative options so we miserably handed over the credit card for what was indeed a delicious (though nonetheless woefully overpriced) steak and a largely forgettable burger.

In our inimitable style, we realised we had 28 minutes to make it back to Leamington in order to catch our train so belted it down the country lanes with googlemaps in hand.  I only crashed into a wall once, and Peter was forced to yell “INDICATE” on just three occasions which is pretty good going, if I do say so myself.  We arrived on the platform with six whole minutes to spare and our reward was being caged behind our bikes in an almost-empty carriage, which were wedged haphazardly into the disabled space; Chiltern Railways doing their bit for the cycling community.

Turns out leaving London isn’t so traumatic after all.  I might do it again some time.

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