I’m not very imaginative with my cycle rides – at least, the ones from home that I fit in before or after work during the week.
They are all within the same fifteen mile radius with innumerable variations; some off-road, some on road, some circular, some there-and-backs, some figures of eight, some routes reminiscent of tangled knitting wool, some no-hands practice, some little hills several times.
As a lone cyclist I have the luxury of riding wherever I fancy with no explanations for sudden whimsical detours to inspect a swan’s nest or where house martins are building a colony under the old railway bridge or pausing to inspect any exposed mud on the River Leaden for otter tracks.
I have no-one saying “No we can’t go there. There’s a warning sign. It’s dangerous” where the riverside cyclepath is deteriorating.
The path is abundantly overgrown along most of it’s length now and my favourite sections of boardwalk supported above the river bank, which curve around gnarly old willow trees, survived the mild flooding earlier this year. But it’s the tarmac track that has cracked alarmingly with chunks falling off the edge into the river and, if I was to dismount and inspect what’s underneath, I suspect there would be very little as the sub-soil seems also to have gone, slipped and dissolved into the water.
It’s become a guessing game whether me and the bike will make it across or whether the fleeting combination will precipitate the final collapse.Two crossings yesterday and it’s still holding up, so hurrah.
So it was a perfect cycling day yesterday blue skies and sunshine from early on – a little chilly for just a T shirt early on (aaargh) but optimists have to suffer for their predilections – so I decided to veer away from the usual routes and visit Ashleworth.
Ashleworth is a very old village not far from the River Severn which is cleverly disguised as bog-standard with an approach road lined with ordinary but substantial modern red-brick homes. It still has a church and has the most massive medieval tithe barn I’ve ever seen. There are cottages and on what’s left of the village green there’s an old stone cross where passing preachers used to hold forth. Pedal on down the lane signed Ashleworth Quay and, opposite wooden outbuildings with old metal signs advertising long-gone products is The Boat Inn.
It’s good to stop just about there resisting the urge to speed up and do a spectacular show-off leap and X-up off the top of the grassy bank dead ahead of you. (I do dream of this kind of thing but, for obvious reasons, never attempt it) for directly beyond it, is the River Severn.
The Boat is one of those traditional little pubs that survives because it does traditional little pub in a lovely location exceedingly well. They sell real ales and Westons ciders including the golden stuff, Stowford Press. The last time I was there about five years ago, it was refreshing to find they don’t mess about with food or foodie chefs. It’s a place for high quality liquid refreshment and a good chat.
It was closed and quiet and rather beautiful when I rolled up on my bike yesterday morning so I couldn’t check whether that had changed but I doubt it.
The Severn was as quiet as a somnolent lamb and looking as scenic as it ever gets. It reminded me of early morning fishing with my dad and made me think that those moments sitting alongside him, absorbing the morning stillness, the light, the birdsong and the enveloping peace was probably enough without the rod and line.
There’s a landing stage and a slipway and across the river on the opposite bank some timber among the trees which indicates the place where, from mediaeval times to the 1950’s, passengers used to be ferried across the river.
The Jelf family have run the pub for 350 years or more and they still have ancient rights to take people across . I supposed I could have rapped the door and asked if there was any chance of a quick trip to Sandhurst but, with a future glass of Stowford very firmly in mind, I decided it best not to alienate them at 8.20am.
It’s a moot point who actually conferred the rights. I’ve always understood that it was a grateful King Charles II (probably quite sweaty with awfully messy hair and mud on his breeches) on the run after the battle of Worcester (1651) who galloped up to a swain by the river bank and after a brief “Good morrow loyal subject” demanded ” A boat and make it snappy,” to facilitate his escape to the less risky side of the river.
I see on The Boat’s website they are muddying the waters by talking about the right being conferred 200 years earlier by a fleeing future King, this time Prince Edward of March, who became King Edward IV. Whatever. The Jelf relatives who run it now still have the ancient right. Right? Right!
It’s still one of the safest places to cross as it’s the narrowest part of the river between Gloucester and Tewkesbury but I doubt they get much call for crossings these days.
Once people reach the Boat Inn, I suspect they are perfectly happy to regard the other side of the river over a contemplative pint without the slightest desire to go there.