As a regular Glastonbury-goer (thanks to volunteering with WaterAid for the last few years), in recent times I’ve thought about whether it might be possible to cycle to the festival, especially after one too many arduous queues at Castle Carry station…
Last year I spoke to a couple of people who had done it and survived to tell the tale so this year, with the SE Asia jaunt still fresh in the mind and the legs Rachel and I (now just good friends, regular readers) decide to go for it.
Our decision is aided by having a very supportive WaterAid volunteer manager, Anna, who said it would be OK to take some of our gear to the festival and put our bikes in the van for the return journey – the thought of having to cycle back to London after five days of festivaling was just too much to contemplate!
The decision is also made easier by a very active Facebook group and the fact that we’d be able to leave our bikes in a secure area for the duration of the festival. By providing this facility Glastonbury Festival is supporting cycling, which is hugely appreciated, although next year it would be great to see them doing even more, such as extending the size of the cyclist’s camping field, which was vastly over-subscribed.
Our next steps are to plan the route and decide whether we’d do it in two or three days. The fact that I have tickets to see Reigning Sound in London on the Monday make that decision for us, so we decide to do it over two days and go via the Kennet and Avon Canal rather than a more southerly route. We order two cycling maps from Sustrans and book camping accommodation at Stowford Manor Farm. We’re ready to roll…
We decide not to over-reach ourselves in terms of distance and take a train some of the way to avoid the boring ‘getting out of London’ bit. Some call this ‘cheating’… er, we call it ‘pragmatism’. So, on Tuesday morning we cycle to Paddington and take a 10.30am train to Reading, and then on to a small place called Midgeham.
The station is right by the canal path and we start the ride. It’s perfect cycling weather – some sunshine, light winds and about 20c – and the canal path is pretty delightful to start with.
Although picturesque, cycling along canal towpaths can be quite slow as there are lots of obstacles to negotiate – bridges, gates, dog walkers, anglers, that sort of thing. The path is also pretty narrow at times as it cuts a swathe through the abundant vegetation. So our initial progress is pretty slow. We also have to keep an eye on the map as although we’re on National Cycle Route 4 you have to keep your eyes peeled for the signposts.
We’re in Newbury around lunchtime and from here the route veers off the canal and onto tarmac roads, which is kind of welcome as we need to pick up the pace up a bit. Somewhere in Newbury we miss a signpost and we end up on a major A road, but fortunately there’s a roadside path we can cycle on, and pretty soon we’re off the main road, and on a glorious downhill B-road back towards the canal.
At about this point the countryside starts to open out and we start to really enjoy the ride. There are a few small ups and downs to negotiate, but we’re cycling through some glorious English countryside and we quickly remember why we chose to ride!
Among the sites are the North Wessex Downs, one of Wiltshire’s famous chalk horses, the fair-trade town of Devizes and, finally, the amazing series of lock gates between Devizes and Trowbridge. Here, the canal path is much more cycle-friendly and we have a great stop for a late afternoon snack by a beautifully restored swing bridge.
By the time we get to Stowford Manor Farm campsite – having stocked up on festival booze at a Co-op in Trowbridge – it’s gone 8pm; it’s been a long day’s ride with around 95km on the clock (not including the journey to Paddington).
The campsite, set by a babbling river, is absolutely gorgeous (there’s a reason it’s in the Cool Camping guide), but there’s no time to sit and admire it. As soon as the tent is up we race to the nearest pub in order to get a meal before they stop serving food (9pm!) The pub is set by a cricket pitch and the food is pretty decent – and wolfed down.
We’re now within about 35km of Worthy Farm so day two should – on paper at least – be much easier, hence we don’t exactly rush to get going (there’s a rope-swing over the river for gawds sake, why would you ever want to leave?!) We aren’t on the road til about 11am.
The roads aren’t as much fun today, and seem to be mostly uphill. It also doesn’t help that between us we can’t agree on which to take – the confusing country lanes or the busy but ultimately unavoidable A361. In the end, we do a bit of both.
We lunch and stock up on final festival essentials (cash, apples, etc) in Frome – a really cute little market town. After this, the last 10km or so seem to take forever, and we eventually hit Pilton some time around 3pm.
The final downhill towards the festival site is great fun though (overtaking all the coaches) and there is definitely something satisfying about getting that first festival glimpse on a bike, wind in the hair, rather than stuck inside a stuffy bus.
On our arrival I think we’re secretly expecting some sort of triumphant welcoming committee but it quickly dawns on us that we’re definitely not the only ones to have cycled to Glastonbury (there are hundreds of bikes in the secure area already) and a lot of cyclists have come a lot further and are carrying all their gear!
Still, the guys at the lockup are very nice, giving us our cycle-wristbands and putting a band on our bikes too.
Feeling just a little bit pleased with ourselves, we walk into the festival arena lugging panniers, not rucksacks for a change… We did it!
After the Festival (which was amazing as ever) on Monday morning, we need to bring our bikes in from the lock up to the central markets area, where the WaterAid van is parked. Security are relaxed about this – thank God – and it means we get to experience, for a few minutes, the pure joy that is cycling (carefully, of course) around the Glastonbury site post-festival, including across the Pyramid Stage area and down the hill from the Stone Circle.
So much fun and an unexpected little bonus Glasto experience… just don’t tell anyone! 🙂