Two years ago this summer I cycled home from the UK Authors Away Week in South Wales in pouring rain, and it didn’t matter. My head was full of story ideas, and it was warm rain. This last week I cycled from Chester to Cheltenham and back to visit my sister and to enjoy the experience again of day-after-day cycling, stopping overnight in youth hostels and guest houses. My rotating legs seem to pump fresh blood up to my head and it generates ideas – mostly good. I can recommend the Springhill B&B in Coalbrookdale near Ironbridge – food and accommodation are marvellous value for money. I had a four-poster bed and a giant bath – me! I don’t think I was supposed to, but I relished cycling over the world’s first cast iron bridge. Designed and built by Abraham Darby, it was opened in 1781 and is breathtaking in its beauty and provenance.
The cycle track along the Ironbridge Gorge, has refreshing views of the River Severn through the trees, but sadly the horses and mountain bikes, combined with the extraordinary wet weather this summer led to my bike doubling its weight in mud! Luckily, the Severn Valley Visitors’ Centre was en route near Bridgeford and my order was in two parts – one bucket of soapy water, and one mug of hot tea thank you very much. I also bought an orange stretchy plastic lizard for grandson, Oliver. He’ll discover in my cardy pocket next week J
I can also recommend the St Lawrence Hotel in Worcester as a bike stop. My bike had the most luxurious cycle shed in the form of their large conservatory housing large oriental vases and the biggest jade plant I’ve seen. Handy too to have a hose pipe within reach – thanks!
At The Yorkshire Grey pub just south of Worcester, I met my old school friends, Trevor, Nancy, Chris, and Kate with their spouses. The hours flew past and Trevor took this photo of me with my cycling shirt, Nancy and Kate.
I was made welcome in Cheltenham by Lin Bamber, my sister and her granddaughter, Jasmine, who was delighted with my bright yellow plastic banana guard. Cavendish House – part of the House of Fraser – has a large café and I met up with nephew Ben Bamber – a writer of alternative eco-friendly towns and living. His website – wait for it to load. I always enjoy chatting books and family with Ben and he filled me in with interesting stuff about the Doughnut (not so secret building in the town. In Charles Stross’s Atrocity Archives he perpetuates the myth that GCHQ is blank on maps. I’ve printed the maps ready for the book group meeting on the book next month in Chester. Ben had designed aspects of the building and presented them to Tarmac, who kind of admitted they used designs just like his – umm, they owe him IMO.) Lin and I watched Prometheus, the Alien prequel, at the flicks, and I spent time in Cheltenham’s only internet café downloading stories. I am this year’s short-fiction judge of the Helen Whittaker Prize and the first of six rounds came in.
I can only find the time to write this because I have now finished reading all the first round stories of the Whittaker. I take great pleasure (and a fee) for judging this competition. Most of the writers are in The Write Idea forum and are all very good. It wouldn’t be fair to discuss details here but although it takes a lot of time to score their stories and write a critique for each one, it is worth the effort. I try to be as objective as possible and there is a scoring grid, but even so another person would likely come to different numbers. Best of luck with the other rounds to all of them.