Monday, 27 July 2009

still to adventure and battle we ride

On Saturday I decided to mark the centenary of Louis Bleriot's flight across the English Channel by recreating his historic flight. Only we did it in the Morris Traveller, and we used the Severn Bridge instead of the wings. And flew from England to Wales, rather than France to England. And flew a bit faster than M. Bleriot (50mph, which was a whole 10mph faster than his aeroplane). He flew a bit higher than us, though, at 250 feet. Oh, and we drove rather than flew. But generally, I think you will agree, a pretty close fit.

Here's how it went.

I wanted to follow the Wordsworths' route through the Wye valley up to Goodrich, when they went walking in 1798. John came along for the ride, and Katie's friend Alexa joined us so that they could sit in the back being moody and disaffected - apparently it's in the contract somewhere.

We rumbled out of town past Filton aerodrome, and up onto the motorway at the Almondsbury interchange. As we swooped down the long descent to the Vale of the Severn, John told me about his plan to buy a new bicycle, using the government's CycleScheme. John's got his eyes on a machine with belt drive. We got to discussing the relative merits of Shimano (good) Rohloff (v good but extremely expensive) and Sturmey Archer (useless) hub gears. This discussion was quite engrossing.

I paused.

"I think we're on the wrong motorway," I said.

"I didn't want to say," said John.

We were heading for the wrong Severn Bridge now. This reminded m of the time that I accidentally got onto the pay-as-you-go section of the M6, and was doubly frustrated because not only was the road taking me to the wrong place, but I was going to have to pay for the privilege.

We did a tour of the roundabout just before the Second Severn Crossing, and headed back for the Almondsbury interchange.

As we struggled to gain height up that long incline, the engine started misfiring. I dropped a gear, and we screamed up. Well, screamed up at low speed, if you see what I mean. And then we went all the way round the Almondsbury interchange again. Motorway interchanges certainly take up a lot of space, I reflected as we completed our circumnavigation.

At last we got onto the right bridge. The engine didn't miss a beat. Far to the west I caught a fleeting glimpse of Lavernock Point, the wind turbines at Avonmouth and odd bits of Somerset. And then we were over, and heading for the Wye valley on the long straight road past Chepstow racecourse.

There was a moped ahead of us. I accelerated. We overtook. The engine misfired again, then died. The oil pressure and ignition lights came on, bright yellow and red. I made a perfect forced landing in a convenient side road.

"Maybe we won't bother with Goodrich," I said.

John agreed that it might be over-optimistic.

We waited a few minutes to let things cool down, and started up again. I drove into Chepstow, as it was on the way home anyway. We wandered down to the river, where Katie and Alexa slumped, looking even more bored and resentful. They'd obviously been practicing. I chivvied them along until we reached the Severn Princess, one of the former Severn ferries, now lying in a derelict state under the railway bridge.

They perked up a bit when we scrambled on board.

The ferry had been lying around in the West of Ireland, and brought back to Chepstow with the idea of restoring it. The project seemed a bit optimistic, looking at it.

Look, that's the turntable where cars arriving on board got swivelled around into position on the deck. now we were very hot and in need of ice cream. We settled for an eight-pack of Jelly Baby wobbly jellies from the Somerfield supermarket. I wish I'd taken photos of that. They were kind of droopy and faintly obscene.

Heading back to England, we had to detour to the Second Severn Crossing, as there were roadworks on the old bridge. A squall blew in across the Severn, and helped cool us down. There were no more ignition failures, probably because of the drop in temperature. (I think the HT coil might have been overheating - I shall put in a replacement, and hope for the best). So there; another Bleriot connection. He escaped ditching in the Channel by flying through a rain cloud to cool down his engine.