Posted by: Brad Nixon | February 22, 2016

Bad Travel Day

A lot of travel writing — perhaps most — paints a halcyon portrait of the traveler’s life: stunning vistas and exotic cities populated by fascinating people, where one savors charming accommodations and delicious food. In its most typical (and most banal) iterations, we see the traveler reclining in the shade of a gently waving palm, cooled by a gentle breeze while a beneficent tropical sun sparkles on a smooth curl of surf washing onto crystal-white sand. An ice-cold beverage awaits in a beaded glass on a rattan table near at hand.

Bordighera Brad Nixon 6693 (640x410)

Beneath his palm, our traveler appears not only unruffled by but utterly unfamiliar with flight delays, lost luggage, exchange rates, timetables or budgets.

Perfect. Pristine. Pure.

Pure fiction.

I’ve participated in overlooking the difficulties of travel and reporting only the interesting, beautiful and even inspiring side of it. My travel posts sometimes ignore the difficulty, inconvenience, expense, even risk of travel.

I have a point to make. In order to do it, I want to recount a trip I took a long time ago. It was the year the Apple IIe and the Radio Shack TRS-80 were introduced.

I went to England on my own. On this solo trip I would walk, hitchhike, bicycle and ride buses and trains: no driving.

Here are a few highlights of the remarkable, memorable trip. (Photos are captures of 35mm transparencies.)

In London, I visited the British Museum to see the unique manuscripts of two works I’d long studied and have written about in this blog: Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

Beowulf MS Brad Nixon 5626 (640x443)

Beowulf Manuscript, British Museum

From London, I rode a bus about 60 miles southwest to Winchester, capital of Alfred the Great’s West Saxon kingdom and the immense, remarkable 11th-Century cathedral.

Winchester Cathedral Brad Nixon 5629LR2PS (507x640)

The next day I rode another bus southwest through the New Forest to Bournemouth and nearby Poole, then hitched a couple of good rides to Weymouth.

En route on the A353, I passed the Osmington White Horse, a large figure of a man on horseback, carved into the white chalk of a tall hill (there are number of these incised chalk figures scattered across England, some of them quite old).

Osmington White Horse Brad Nixon 3231 (640x432)

This one dates from 1808 and represents King George III. I thumbed my nose at the old madman, having recently celebrated the bicentennial of not being one of his subjects.

In Weymouth, I walked around the town, the beach and got the views of Portland Harbor.

Weymouth Brad Nixon 3232 (640x390)

The next day I hitchhiked west through Portesham and Abbotsbury across rolling downs land: Thomas Hardy country. On a towering hill south of Abbotsbury stands the ruin of St. Catherine’s Chapel, strikingly silhouetted against the sky, although beyond the range of my lens on a cloudy day.

St Catherin Chapel Brad Nixon 3243 (640x397)

I couldn’t resist the temptation to hike up there.

St Catherine Chapel Brad Nixon 3240 adjust (476x640)

Although not a significant piece of Medieval architecture, it was wonderfully atmospheric and weathered.

From that high vantage, I also had a view south of Chesil Bank, known locally as just “The Chesil” (from Old English ceosel, “shingle”).

The Chesil Brad Nixon 3244 (640x475)

It’s an 18-mile expanse of barrier beach that runs NE to SW along the Dorset coast.

Weymouth - Abbotsbury Google

The composition of the beach gradually changes from pea-sized gravel at the northwest end to flints the size of oranges at the southeast end.

Hitching and on foot, I made my way to Exeter, an ancient town graced by Exeter Cathedral, founded 1050. It’s a place of pilgramage for scholars of Old English, because the cathedral library holds the 10th-Century Exeter Book, the largest single collection of Old English literature in existence.

Late that afternoon I walked into storied Glastonbury, home of innumerable legends and mystic tales about King Arthur, Joseph of Arimathea and the holy grail, ley lines and many more.

Glastonbury Abbey Brad Nixon 5630 (640x440)

I wrote more extensively about Glastonbury, HERE.

After a night of generous hospitality from some local travelers who shared their caravan with me, I was bound for south Wales. I passed through Wells, Taunton and Bristol.

It was then that a huge national event overtook me while I stayed in a small village just across the Welsh border: Queen Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee.  There were medals for all the children, the South Welsh Borderers army band played, and a cousin of the Queen herself, a local landholder, officiated. The locals kindly included me in the celebration, and I still have the replica of a South Welsh Borderers badge they gave me.

One more lucky ride got me to my goal, the village of Cowbridge, near Cardiff.

I spent a couple of days with Olive, an older cousin of mine, touring the lovely countryside.

thatched cottage Brad Nixon 5634 (640x400)

She took me to meet  a few other distant relations, while I kept my eye out for local color, like this promotion for Brains Beer, a clever play on the British English senses of “to want.”

Its Brains You Want Brad Nixon 3180 (640x414)

Then came the bicycle portion of the trip. Starting at another distant relative’s home near Manchester, I worked my way south, picking a route that was as direct as I could manage, avoiding roads with heavy traffic. Off the beaten track, one finds some memorable places and place names, like this one:

Sheepy Parva Brad Nixon 5639 (640x460)

I rode into Stratford-Upon-Avon and saw the Royal Shakespearean Company perform “Twelfth Night.”

I pedaled west and stopped on the northern verge of the Cotswolds in a tiny village of thatched roof cottages, Wroxton, where I met some Yanks employed at a nearby Air Force base. They kindly put me up for a couple of days in Alms Cottage, while I waited out some persistent midsummer rain.

Wroxton UK Brad Nixon 5645 (640x458)

I wrote more about Sheepy Parva, its sister town, Sheepy Magna and Wroxton HERE.

Once the rain relented sufficiently, I got back in the saddle and continued west through nearby Banbury (and saw Banbury Cross, famous in a song I learned in childhood), visited Silverstone Circuit race course, then stopped one night in Stoke Bruerne, directly on the Grand Union Canal.

Stoke Bruerne Brad Nixon 5647 (544x640)

From there, it was easy pedaling to Cambridge.

Kings College Chapel Brad Nixon 5649 (640x420)

Kings College Chapel

There, I encountered a Canadian guy my own age, also solo on a bicycle, and we teamed up for a few days, first in Cambridge, and then for another westward leg into East Anglia.

My new travel partner and I visited the brother of my Welsh cousin, who lived in a village just outside Bury St. Edmunds. He’d been with the British Army at Dunkirk, and was one of the few of my English relatives who’d ever visited the States.

My buddy was headed for points north, but my time was nearly done, so I bid him happy trails. I sold my bike and caught a train to London, Victoria Station and the connection to Gatwick airport and home.

Victoria 1977 Brad Nixon 3299 (640x453)

An impressive trip? Yes. A successful one? No. Despite all the memorable sights and one-of-a-kind experiences, I consider this trip was a failure.

I’ve just pulled the trick I described at the beginning of this blog post: I only told you about the positive, interesting and uplifting experiences.

In Part 2, I’ll describe (much more briefly), what it was about this trip that made it a failure, and why. It’s a lesson I hope I’ve applied since then.

© Brad Nixon 2016, 2017



  1. How disappointing! I kept searching in vain through this whole lengthy but interesting article for that golden nugget of bad news, but could not find it. Then I discover only at the very end that you have delayed the climax until tomorrow. Oh, the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune! I can’t stand it. 😩


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