Tag Archives: cycling

Fancy a short walk along the Thames? A very short walk?

 The River Thames is 184 miles long but relax: you don’t have to do it all. Try the short walk from Oxford to Sandford Lock which is about 3 miles.


Start in the city at Folly Bridge and set off for Sandford. There’s a footpath that’s a bit rough in places and you have to share it with other walkers and occasionally with cyclists. None of these will spoil your pleasure though.

Be sure to bring a friend: there’s a kissing gate halfway along.

You can deviate to the right to check out the weir in which more than one  person has drowned. It’s worth having a look, but with care.


                                   When you get to the lock


 don’t be put off by the notice.


The lock-keeper is friendly and doesn’t bite.

Cross over the lock to the King’s Arms for some sustenance. We had a terrific lunch there, al fresco.


The marvellous thing about the Thames is that it’s there for everyone:







       But be careful where you park your boat.ImageImage

And some people, of course, just want to mess about in boats.

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13 October, 2013 · 2:34 pm

Why hurry when you can dawdle: A bike ride to Woodstock..

Cycling to Woodstock

Left Oxford about 9am and cycled to Woodstock  – either 10 or 12 miles away depending on which signposts you go by.

It’s a glorious ride along a cycle track all the way. Through the village of Yarnton but bypassing Bladon where Winston Churchill is buried.

A warm day brought up the scent from the over grown verges heady with feverfew and all the other wild flowers whose names I should know but don’t. Oxfordshire County Council is to be praised for holding back on the weedkiller and simply cutting back the verges where absolutely necessary. There were times when the wild grasses were six feet high.


Bliss. Brought back the memory of another great bike ride  – from Skibereen to Bantry.

Woodstock is best known for its stately home, Blenheim Palace, dwelling of the Duke of Marlborough.

Ian’s play about John Churchill, the first Duke richly rewarded for winning the battle of Blenheim records an entry from the diary of John’s wife: “ My lord returned from the wars today and did pleasure me twice in his top boots.” My favourite quote.

I had toast and a marvellous cup of coffee in Harriet’s Tea Rooms – Bewleys, you’ll notice.


And read the Observer while sitting in the sun before taking a stroll round the town.


This is an affluent place


which may explain the notice in one shop telling me that I must spend £14 if I want to use my plastic card. Reassuring to find a Coop there though.

The almshouses look fine though I did wonder who qualifies to live in them nowadays.


This is a bike ride that could be done in 90 mins but what’s the point in  hurrying? Dawdling Imagebrings its own rewards.



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BBC unconfirmed reports: Syrian government forces have lost control of oil fields at Deir Ez Zour. But where is Deir?

Extract from my book My Home is Your Home a Journey Round Syria

The turning I am looking for, it seems, is another two hours cycling away and I have to think about getting to Deir ez Zour before dark. Zainab is horrified when I say I have to go. I must stay for a meal, she says, stay till her parents return. Stay the night. And when I shake my head, she tries a trump card: “ It’s going to rain.”

Right enough, the sky is darkening and I don’t have very good wet weather gear. In fact, I have none but nevertheless I have to make headway.

At least the day is still warm and, as I cycle along, I try to work out how far I have to go. The turning off to the right should be coming up soon. After that, it’s about 20 kms to Halabiyah and the river crossing. From there, it’s a rough ride as far as the main road and then about 50 kms to Deir. What lies in between I have no idea.

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Autumn chill on a spring morning. Can that be right?



Strange days indeed.


Back on my bike but at 0730, cycling into town for my ritual cappo, it’s a freezing morning and foggy. Can this really be spring? It seems more like a hint of autumn chill. Cycling back again at 1030, via the library,I still have to have  my dynamo lights on.

 It’s only by noon that the sun breaks through revealing a blue sky and giving me an hour in the garden doing some pruning.

 Man in the coffee shop says snow is expected. Can this be true? I’ve let my pile of logs run down.

Listened to Clare Balding on BBC R4 – her programme, Rambling, about those great English activists, from  Manchester and Sheffield, who organised mass trespass on land that had been taken from the people by the enclosures, in particular  the Lancashire plateau of Kinder Scout when 400 trespassers turned up to walk the walk.As a result, people have the right to ramble over England’s green and pleasant land. Job done. You should be able to listen to it here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01ckpjk

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Great turn out for my book launch

Great night at Dublin’s United Arts Club for the launch of my travel book on Syria, My Home is Your Home, Tuesday 29 November. Dr Nazih Fakhr Eldin gave an enthusiastic introduction, well received by an audience which included academics, cyclists, walkers, sailors, travellers, documentary makers, journalists, book readers, musicians, Syria-philes and family.

Book launch at the United Arts Club

Marvellous to see friends from Ghana, Lesotho, Palestine, South Korea, America, Australia, Armenia and especially Syria. Thrilled also to meet my first Twit-pal, photographer @EyeBlinks

Delighted to find out, at the end of the night, that we had sold more than 100 copies and I hope the people who find theirs gift-wrapped under the Christmas tree will enjoy reading the book and discovering more about Syria.

My thanks to Bretzels Bakery and to the Arts Club who have invited me back to give a talk in early 2012.

Mary Russell

Looking forward to taking part on RTE’s Pat Kenny Show on Thursday 8 December. Love to hear from anyone interested in the book or in Syria, so please leave a comment here or follow me on Twitter @maryrussell1

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No shelter for the night until…

From my travel book on Syria: My Home is Your Home.

I’m fifty miles along a desert track to nowhere, halfway between al Raqqa and Deir ez Zour. The falling darkness is making me uneasy. I need to find shelter for the night. Getting off the bike, I push it through the mud, up out of the gully and over the brow of the hill. There, in the middle of the track, are a couple of small children dropping stones in a puddle to create a splash. Their clothes are ragged and ill-fitting, their hair unkempt, their faces dirty. They stop and I stop and we all stare at each other in silence. Then along the track comes a man, old, lean-bodied and upright, wielding a stick which he uses to chase the children away.

We exchange greetings and I will him to keep talking to me until I’ve established some sort of rapport. He does and as we talk, a young and very beautiful woman joins us. She is tall and straight-backed with dark shiney hair pulled back and partly concealed by a black scarf, which is wound round her head, Bedouin style. She wears a long black tunic pulled in at the waist by a leather belt with a brass buckle. And as she comes towards us, I see that she has the walk of a queen.

She has no English and I later discover that she can neither read nor write but we converse with ease and, as we do so, I will her to ask me to have tea. Which she does, inviting me into a sort of walled compound consisting of a one-storied flat-roofed house, a few outhouses and a yard with a lorry parked in it.

The old man – her father-in-law – drifts away now that we have engaged in women’s talk and gradually, as in a play, characters start to enter stage left and stage right: a woman here,a young girl there, a man after her, another man.

My bike is taken away and put safely by a shed. The yard fills with more ragged children come to stare and so many of them are there that the old man returns with a raised shovel threatening to hit them. But they’ve heard his ranting before and merely move out of range.

Then an old woman advances across the yard and the children scatter. She is wizened, bent, faded henna decorations on her face and hands – and clearly the matriarch. We nod and smile at each other and soon the whole family is there, lined up, eight or ten of them. All smiling expectantly. And it is then, il hamdhu lillah, that the old woman invites me to stay the night.

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My Home is Your Home: A Journey Round Syria

My new book, My Home is Your Home: A Journey Round Syria. Please scroll down to read more about the book.

My Home is Your Home

“Beautifully written, mixing historical observations with first-hand experience, Russell’s book will be a welcome introduction for all visitors to Syria.”

Dr. Eugene Rogan, Middle East Centre, University of Oxford

My Home is Your Home

A Journey Round Syria

Syria is a country few people know much about – apart from the political upheavals of the last few months. My Home is Your Home will change all that. Equipped with notebook, biro, bicycle and, occasionally, a bus ticket, Mary Russell travelled not only to places such as Aleppo, Homs and Hama but also to some of the more remote parts of eastern Syria taking, unexpectedly, an overnight taxi ride across the desert from Damascus to Baghdad. The result is an enthralling and quite unique account of this complex country.

Mary Russell is well-known for The Blessings of a Good Thick Skirt, her book about women travellers and explorers throughout the ages. In My Home is Your Home, she employs the survival strategies of the solo traveller, seasoning a devil-may-care attitude with a pinch of common sense when taking on everything that comes her way in Syria be it a pack of feral dogs, an importunate host or a chain-smoking Sufi sheik. Essentially a cultural travel book, appended to it is a postscript which offers both a background and an update to the present political situation which readers will find useful.

For interviews and readings: info@bullstakepress.co.uk

My Home is Your Home. A journey round Syria

Mary Russell

Publication Date: 1 Dec 2011 – £14.95

ISBN 978-0-9570840-0-1

To order a copy, please visit Amazon http://amzn.to/u4jexP or info@bullstakepress.co.uk


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