EUROPE 2016

Reading and Burghfield Common

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In order to get from Heathrow to Reading, I would normally take the train over the bus anytime. But apparently British train operators don't do eTickets via the internet, wheras the express bus service between Heathrow and Reading does. The ability to print out the ticket before leaving home, rather than having to find the rail ticket office and purchase tickets under the influence of jet lag tipped the scales in favor of the bus.

Back in 1994 before the rail connection to Heathrow was built, we did use the bus to Reading to catch a train further west. I remembered sitting in traffic jams on the motorway; but this time we sailed right along.

When we arrived in Reading we found the bus stop for Burghfield Common with no trouble and didn't have to wait long. When we arrived at the house, we were glad to see Gary, Lynn, and Paula who had arrived much earlier having arrived on time at 7:40AM at Heathrow.
The Railair bus dropped us off at the Reading train station. The old station house, now a restaurant is in the foreground, the new station house with ticket office and information to the right, and the platforms under the train shed to the left.
A closer look at the ticket office building
The plan from the beginning was to rent bikes for our stay in England. But that proved easier said than done. Brompton, the iPhone of folding bikes, has an automated scheme for renting them with a very attractive price. But for various reasons it was nearly impossible for a foreigner to sign up. Reading also had an automated scheme similar to many cities, also reasonable. But you had to return the bikes each night, which wouldn't work being 7 miles out of town. Nor I could not find rental shops in Reading. However, there was a bike shop in Oxford, 25 minutes from Reading by train, that claimed to "have nearly 200 bikes for hire" and their brochure found at the Oxford tourist information office claimed to be the largest cycle hire in Oxford. So the first order of business was to head for Oxford, a place we would have wanted to visit any way.

There was a bricklayer working at the house who took pity on me, loaning me his bike for the duration. It was a heavy mountain bike much too small; but it did allow me to do some sightseeing in the area.
Waiting for the Lime 2 bus for Reading. Out house was in between 2 main roads, slightly closer to one. The bus ran every half hour, one going by way of the farther away road and the next one stopping closer to us before crossing over to the other stop. It took us a while to figure it out.
The ticket machine at the Reading Station was fairly easy to figure out.
We walked about 0.7 miles from the Oxford station to Bainton Bikes, along several canal where we saw quite a few tourist type canal barges.

Bainton bikes turned out to be a dud. First the man said he had only 4 bikes, we needed 7. Then someone let it slip that we were going to bike back to Reading, actually quite untrue; and I'm sure the person who said it had no idea it was over 40 miles, nor a clue as to how to get there. But the man said the bikes (hybrids) were not suited to that. The were "town" bikes. He went on to say they were not maintained to such a standard. When I asked what would happen if they were taken outside of town, he refused to say, only repeating the not maintained to such a standard mantra. He actually became quite insulting, claiming he was the professional and I knew nothing about maintaining bikes. Good grief, if there had been a Walmart clone in the neighborhood, we could have bought "Walmart specials" and done fine.
So we gave up and headed back to town, looking for a place to have lunch. From among many choices we selected a classic English pub, Jude the Obscure.
Fish and chips all gone. It was a good choice. It wasn't the last time we had fish and chips by any means, but was the best.
We continue into the center of Oxford, hoping to find bike rental info at the tourist office. But all we succeed in getting were maps.
We had been passing many Oxford University buildings on the way back to the center, but across fro the tourist office was one of the more famous colleges, Bailiol, which gets mentioned every once in a while in the Inspector Morse mystery series.
The main motivation for going to England was visiting the fictional Midsomer County, actually parts of Berkshire and Oxfordshire counties, where the long running mystery series Midsomer Murders is filmed. But an AirBnB house in Wallingford (the actual Causton) fell through; and the closest I could find was the house in Burghfield Commons near Reading. One of the more prominent filming sites and closest to Reading is Henley-on-Thames. It is the home of famous regatta (rowing) races and only 29 minutes from Reading via local trains, changing at Twyford.
Street scene in Twyford where we changed from a 3 car DMU (self propelled diesal cars) to a two car train.
Church and grave yard in Twyford
Checking the map outside the Henley-on-Thames train station.
For good measure we took a picture of the map of Henley outside the tourist office.
Henley water front
Henley street scene
Henley Church
We walked around Henley looking for a place to eat; but Marcia remembered a place on the waterfront just below an old bridge.
The Angel on the Bridge restaurant.
Like all pubs and some restaurants, we order at the bar through the door to the right; and servers would bring the food to you.
Several of us ordered the fish and chips. They were good, but not as good a Jude the Obscure's.
After lunch we headed across the river to check out the rowing races going on. A view of the restaurant from the bridge.
View of Henley from the opposite side. We did see what looked like a race and heard the announcer. But each race seemed to involve only two skulls - kind of lonely.
By now we were coming familiar with the Lime 2 bus stop labeled EP.
Reading museum opposite the EP bus stop
After mass at St. Oswald in Burghfield Commons, we stopped by for coffee and cake. Everyone, including the pastor (left) was extremely friendly.
During the conversation I mentioned my frustration with not being able to rent bikes, someone mentioned the New Forest near Southhamption, formerly owned by Henry VIII and a little over an hour away by train. It had a network of bike routes and a bike rental operation next to the train station in Brockenhurst.

The rentals were expensive, 17GBP; but we were desperate. The bikes were nice hybrids, but lacked basics like water bottle cage and rear rack, the latter causing a disaster.
At some point we snapped a picture of this map showing bike trains in the New Forest in hopes of not getting lost.
We made it with the help of the map and kind passers by to the western edge of the forest at Burley, where we had lunch at a fancy hotel. Deciding to take a more direct route back, we had to hoist our bikes over a fence and eventually got lost. Well, not exactly lost but not knowing the best way back. We pulled into a campground and the ranger said we were almost at the trail that we had come out on.
Back on the trail. We had crossed the bridge in the background to get back on the trail.
The campground in the background to the right.
I had been given a heavy backpack with tools, spare tubes, etc. Not having a rack front pack, I strapped it onto the handlebars (only a newbie bikes with something on their back). Approaching Brockenhurst disaster struck. The last thing I remember was trying to adjust the straps on the backpack, sort of like tuning a car radio while driving. I took a header over the handlebars, cracking a front tooth and scuffing my upper lip. After a few seconds or minutes I came to and was able to continue; and we made it back to the rental shop and eventually Reading. That I didn't do more damage was due to luck and the fact that British blacktop must be extremely smooth.
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