ON TUESDAY, September 2nd, a party of 11 boys and Mr. Shakeshaft set off on an eight-day cycling tour of the West Country. We were going as a School party to seven Youth Hostels. We took a train to Virginia Water to start the tour and from there cycled to Winchester. This was the longest cycle ride of the tour. We arrived at Winchester quite early, so we spent the time looking around the town. At 5 o'clock the hostel opened and in we went. Having made our beds some of the party got their first taste of Youth Hostel chores, e.g., "spudbashing". The evening was pleasantly spent with a variety of amusements. The hostel was quite interesting, as it had been the City Mill, and a river flowed beneath it.
The following morning we visited Winchester Abbey, and then cycled across the Salisbury Plain to Marnhull Hostel. Having had breakfast at the hostel, our lunch was bought in a café. Normally we would have a sandwich lunch, but that day it was teeming with rain. The hostel was not much to speak about, as it was comparatively small and out of the way. But the hostel Warden did provide special School Journey Party cards for those without official Y.H.A. membership cards. On these cards, each hostel puts its stamp. It was a pity the Winchester stamp was absent.
On Thursday we went to Cheddar, via Wells. At Wells we visited the Cathedral, a much more beautiful one than that of Winchester. After a rest at Wells we went to Wookey Hole. Here, with Mr. Shakeshaft, most people went swimming in the open-air swimming pool. We then went down Wookey Hole and visited three caverns cut out by the River Ax. The Hole was quite interesting but not as good as some people had expected. In the evening, after supper at the hostel, many boys cycled to the Cheddar Gorge. After scaling the side, one had a fine view of the road below. On Friday morning we visited Gough's Cave, one of the many Cheddar Caves. Here we were shown round by an extremely pleasant guide, who pointed out the wonderful stalactite formations in the cave. One of the "highlights" was the "Swiss Village". This was some stalactites reflected in a pool of water, so forming a model Swiss village.
After Gough's Cave, we went to Burnham-on-Sea. Here the majority went swimming, after which we had our picnic lunch. We were lucky to get such a lovely sunny day for this seaside visit. Instead of going to Weston-Super-Mare, which has a shingle beach, we stayed at Burnham-on-Sea, with its sandy beach. At 4 o'clock we assembled, and rode to Hutton Youth Hostel, 24 miles away. The hostel was rather badly situated, with a narrow, rutted, stone-strewn track leading to the entrance. In the evening many boys cycled to Weston-Super-Mare. On Saturday, after a good breakfast, we cycled. to Bath. This ride, although rather hilly, seemed the easiest of the journey. On the outskirts of Bath we had our lunch. We then went into the town to look around. The modern swimming bath and the ancient Roman Baths attracted most people. We also went to the Spa and Bath, Abbey. At 4.30 p.m. we set off for the hostel. This comprised of a short ride and then a half-mile walk up a 1-in-6 hill!
When we finally arrived at the hostel, we found it a spacious, house with (in parts) tiled mosaic floors. The following morning we cycled down the hill, an easy half-mile in our journey to Ashton Keynes. But this ride was to be interrupted by two rather serious accidents. The first happened in the late morning when some maniac, I prefer to remain anonymous, skidded on some gravel at the bottom of a hill and fell off, causing bad grazes on his left elbow and leg. After obtaining medical attention in a nearby village, we carried on, only to be stopped again in the afternoon when T. OLoughlin skidded on a wet road. and fell off. This caused an oil tanker behind to swerve into the middle of the road, run over OLoughlin's front whee1 and brake sharply. This in turn caused a car behind to hit the oil-tanker, so denting its right wing. While OLoughlin and Mr. Shakeshaft were at the Police Station giving a report on what happened, Mott and Russell "repaired" the bicycle by stamping on the wheel to remove some of the buckle, and by removing the front brake-blocks to allow the wheel to rotate. When the tanker-driver, car-driver and. policeman had finished, we continued, not so merrily, on our way to Ashton Keynes.
At the hostel we amused ourselves with parlour games. Mr. Shakeshaft and S. Roney had us mystified by their "Chinese writing". The next, and last, hostel was Long Wittenham. We arrived there just before 5 o'clock, so we waited in the village. At first sight the hostel was unimpressive, as it was a lot of scattered buildings, but it showed its true colours later. In fact it was to prove the most interesting hostel of them all, for at 9.30 that evening we were ushered, into a room to, see a model railway. It was being hand-built by the Warden and some friends, and consisted of a scene from Dartmoor. A wooden viaduct was in the foreground, with some very realistic scenery behind it. A station was taking shape to the right, and to the left was a tunnel. It was a historical record of the 1920 era of British Railways. Everything was done in minute detail, such as the number of bars on guard's van windows. On a scale of 4 mm. to a foot, this is quite an achievement.
After seeing the railway we were shown part of a model village which was being hand-built by the Warden alone. The first model was one of a village inn. This was on a scale of 4 mm. to a foot also. The thatched roof on the inn was done with Japanese hair bought from a hairdresser's. Each tile, brick, flower-head and other small objects were made and put on individually with tweezers. The model lit up to show furniture and a bar inside. Next the Warden exhibited a row of cottages. These were made with the same attention to minute detail as on the railway - he discovered some tiles had been chipped by a falling brick, so he had copied it. He had noticed children's drawings on a wall and had copied them. In one house was a small portrait of King George V - the models were copied from the 1920 to 1925 cottages. The portrait was barely ‰n. x Žçn. The cardboard used is now obsolete, as it is pre-war. The Warden told us this had been his lifelong ambition and estimated it would take 25 years to complete! After the cottages were lit up the exhibition was over and we went to bed.
The following morning, Tuesday, September 2nd, we set off on the final leg of our tour. We cycled to Virginia Water, where we caught a train to Waterloo. Here we thanked Mr. Shakeshaft and went our own ways after a 300-350 mile tour.
J. P. LONERGAN (IVA)