The next morning, no one had fallen out of their bunks… Continuing the story of Hilary Hughes, based on the log book of her cycle tour in the South of England in August 1936, a fascinating glimpse into the lives of two young women, when they were alone in the world, unaided, for a week.
They woke that morning in the old mill at Winchester, amazed that none had fallen from their top bunks during the night.
They washed, dressed, and cooked an omelette which turned out badly. An overcooked omelette can turn to leather or something like black lace. Whatever Hilary and Margaret achieved, their effort amused two men who ate breakfast with them.
A punctured back tyre added to the dismal start. Hilary didn’t waste time mending it. Instead she pumped the tyre, “said goodbye, and left” with none of the previous day’s hanging about, none of the Roper brother’s tricks, and no argument with anyone.
Along the river
Again, they shopped for supplies, before they set off for Avington, heading for familiar places. They planned to stay that night at East Meon, where they had stopped on the first night of their tour. They were on their way home.
They travelled quickly along the south side of the River Itchen. Hilary claimed in her diary they came across the source of the river, which the Bartholomew’s half inch map shows beyond Alresford.
They marked their discovery by hanging over a bridge, watching a man cutting reeds. Water carried the cut reeds downriver, and Hilary imagined them swirling through the sluices of the old mill at Winchester.
Bread is a nuisance
After five days she had lost none of her dreamy delight for standing on bridges watching rivers flow. Their discovery of the source of the river added a grand tone to their journey, making their tour something akin to Speke’s “discovery” of the source of the Nile. She was a child of imperial history with its heroic tales of exploration, and discovery.
Turning south east, they reached territory Hilary knew well, where in 1934 she had camped with the Girl Guides.
Their search for provisions continued. Margaret declared that bread, and the daily chore of getting it, was a nuisance. Luckily they met a bread cart, and replenished their stores.
A flat tyre
They ate lunch on the verge of the road. Roadsides must have been quiet, pleasant places then, with space to sit, with none of the pollution brought by vehicles, none of their rubbish or mess, none of their rubber, and fumes.
After lunch, toiling up a steep hill, Hilary’s back tyre went down with a pop. They stared at the flat tyre angrily, with no effect, before they turned the bike upside down, and found the puncture.
In the midst of mending it, they heard a cheerful shout. “Hullo, if it isn’t old Hilary.” Pearl, an old school friend of Hilary’s, had found them. Hilary had stayed with Pearl in a hut on a farm near East Meon once.
Swaggering back again
Their meeting seems to have been awkward. The bike soon fixed, they whizzed down to Meon. There, they added meat to their purchases before they were back at the first hostel where they had stayed.
Five days before they had been newbies, full of shyness, unaccustomed to life on the road, the hunt for daily bread, and the surprises of hostel life.
Now they swaggered up to the hostel with bravado, greeting the warden in “old timer” fashion before they “bagged” their beds. The hostel was quiet with only two others staying, a man and a woman. They were very nice, Hilary decided.
Their last night
After supper they mended the tyre which had gone down again. Managing to drop the little top to the valve, they spent the evening searching for it by torchlight. After a long chat with the warden, they turned in.
On their first night the camp beds had been uncomfortable, the room stuffy. Hilary had tossed, and turned, unable to sleep. But on their second night at East Meon the hardened travellers fell asleep immediately without any mention of any discomfort.
The next day would be the last of their tour. The next night they would sleep at home, in their own beds.
The tour concludes leaving Hilary with a hunger for unknown roads, sunsets behind unknown hills, unknown folk and little known shops, the cheerfulness of hostels, that stayed with her for the rest of her life. https://duncanmsimpsonwriting.com/2023/02/15/inspiring-adventures-day-six/
Image and quotes from Hilary Hughes’ log book (Y691019) from the YHA archive, Cadbury Research Library, University of Birmingham.
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