A big thumbs-up for Practical, by the way, if anybody's after van-hire recommendations; they were reasonably-priced, and very friendly and helpful. They were also unsurprised but amused when I told them I'd been recommended to them by cam.misc. ("So where did you hear about us? No, wait, it's the internet. Everybody always gets our name off the internet.")
I was certainly very glad of their laid-back attitude when we were over half an hour late returning the van. This was largely due to my own mis-estimation of times and distances: I cycled from Greenwich House to Cowley Road in 20 minutes on Thursday after work, and I can cycle from home to work in 20 minutes in the morning, so I couldn't quite believe that it could take an hour to drive from home to Cowley Road, but it did, more or less. Being this late meant that addedentry and I didn't have time to pick bikes up in the van, so we ended up walking from Cowley Road; it's always strange being a foot-traveller in a place which is built for four-wheeled access, but it was a beautiful day for a walk, so we strolled along in the sunshine and picked handfuls of blackberries from a hedge that was heavy with fruit.
In retrospect we might have been better not trying to avoid the Milton Road roadworks with a "short cut" through the Science Park, though it was quite an entertaining detour. In the end, fearful of going round in a fruitless (no blackberries here) loop, I gave up and asked a friendly passing cyclist (not knowing that another friendly passing cyclist in the shape of beckyc would pass us a minute later!) who directed us through his company's car-park and through a hole in the hedge. We crossed the old overgrown railway track and emerged into an Arbury cul-de-sac just in time to catch the ice-cream van whose bells we'd heard from the car-park.
Later we had to stop and ask another friendly cyclist (this time ewx for directions from Armitage Way to the other side of the Arbury. (I'd have probably packed a map if I'd realised it was going to turn into such an expedition, but we were never lost, just not really sure of the best route from A to B.) It was growing dark by the time we eventually made it home with our bikes; it gets dark so quickly at this time of year, from low-hanging sunshine to blue-black gloom in barely 20 minutes.
On Sunday we had another chance to discover new roads as we cycled over to acronym's for afternoon tea. I've never had occasion to cut across the common from Coldham's Lane to Newmarket Road before, but it reminded me so strongly of Marston Rec that for a moment in my mind it was 1997 again and I was back in Oxford. There were heaps of brambles along the Rec, too, and we'd see people gathering the berries in tupperwares, and when I'd cycle home in the small hours of the morning the grass would be slightly frosted and the cows would be dark sleepy mountains looming out of the mist, coming out of nowhere like the nine years (nine years!) between now and then. I've talked about this before, I know; it's just one of the many well-worn roads through my mind, and sometimes when my feet are sleepy they fall back on the paths they know.