Red Famine by Anne Applebaum

Red famineThis volume by Anne Applebaum (journalist and Soviet historian) fits neatly into the genre of popular history, but is, nevertheless, crowded with citations and archival references, which potentially give it an academic weight that some readers would find off-putting. Its subject matter, however, is still hotly debated and contentious.

Applebaum, who is partly Polish in her heritage, has been at odds for many years with the research and writings of typical western Soviet historians, who have generally ‘bought into’ the Soviet/Russian perspectives on history in order to gain ‘privileged access’ to archives and documentation. Applebaum remained rigorously independent during her formative years, gaining access to the people and the circumstances in which history occurred.

The dreadful famine of 1932-4 that killed an estimated 4.5 million Ukrainians has gone through so many permutations of interpretation that, at times, it has been difficult to know if it ever happened at all. The Soviet/Russian perspective has been dominated by propaganda and ‘fake news’ (according to Applebaum), but the thrust of the recent research (particularly amongst Ukrainians) demonstrates that it was not only real but it was directed and managed by Stalin himself. In other words, famine was used for political ends, in this instance to stamp out Ukrainian nationalism and to harness all the Ukraine’s agricultural produce for export, in order to finance the rampant industrialisation of the USSR.

A tough book to read because of its subject matter, but an important period of Ukrainian history that the Soviets tried to delete completely from the records.

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Invernal radiance…..

Now into December, and morning temperatures hovering just above or below freezing, I have to remind myself of the spill on black ice I had 8 years ago when I broke my femur. Cars in our street were frosted over, so I used the early downtime for catching up on some reading, then headed out mid-morning.

It was one of those perfect early winter days. The temperature eventually rose to the 6-9C range, with a gentle breeze and a cloudless sky (for some of the day, at least). The roads were clear, visibility was good for several miles, and the countryside was looking its manicured best. The autumn sowings had produced a gentle green carpet that covered most of the fields.

My route took me through villages that I hadn’t visited in months, and when I got to Oundle (after 46kms), I called unannounced on a friend who very kindly invited me to soup and coffee……the fuel to propel me the 30kms back home which, incidentally, was gently aided by a north-westerly breeze.

The mapping App on my phone tells me I covered 75kms, climbing some 457 metres and (if I really want to believe it) I expended 2,900 calories in the process. Sounds like just cause for a big evening meal tonight…….:-)

Windcheater…..?

Windcheater? Who me? ūüćí picking again? Not taking the rough with the smooth, eh? I have to be careful here…..in the cycling world, there’s something called a ‘sense of honour’. Hard to define it exactly, but as in the world of yoga every posture has a ‘contra-posture’, so in the world of cycling….every downhill has an uphill, and every tailwind should have a headwind……life on the bike can’t be permanently downhill with the wind behind you. If opposites didn’t exist, the world would lack equilibrium. So today, I’ve done my little bit to unbalance the world……

You see, I thought I could use a bit of prestidigitation (let’s call it magic) and conjure up¬† a whole day’s ride to¬† have the wind behind me all the way. Dishonourable, I know….and I deserve all the scorn that more compliant roadies might vent……but I may have been caught on the cameras of some road surveillance system watching out for cycling cheats like me. Well, I’ll just have to sit it out now and wait for a potential ‘slap on the wrist’ from a Dixon-of-Dock-Green type bobby who may call at the door at any time. D’you think I care……?

 

I took a 10km ride to a nearby town to climb on a bus, enjoyed a free 2 hour ride to Buckingham (the joys of the bus pass….ūüėä) and then caught the wind in my sails and headed in a north easterly direction. I’d like to say it was plain sailing all the way, but it never is…..IMG_20171123_125207556

Yes, I chose my spot to have an instant puncture, when the air just exploded out of my tyre, and was completely flat before I could stop. Beside a noisy road, and with 30-40mph winds, it was well nigh impossible to locate the blow-out, and then I couldn’t find the cause. It’s always a bit nervy when you put a fresh tube in the tyre without knowing what caused the puncture, but I did…..but that wasn’t the end of the story. When I had finished inflating the new tube, as I tightened the valve, the pin broke….hey ho……but the tyre kept its pressure, so I continued my journey with all fingers and toes crossed.

However, should I feel guilty about such brazen ūüćí picking? Would you?

Refuelling….

I don’t want you to think that my main breakfast fuel in the morning was just the farton……. because, as we all know, variety is the spice of life….even at breakfast time…..but a panader√≠a full of tempting pastries only really pretends to sell you a variety of products. They have a very clever way of making you think that each regional pastry is vitally different from the others, with its own ingredients, method of baking and, most importantly, its presentation. Well, their deceit is now being revealed……..but I’m still buying into it.¬† All these wonderful pastries are made with the same base ingredients of flour, milk, sugar and eggs, but the ingenuity of how they are presented is the essential magic when you enter a¬†panader√≠a.IMG_20171111_090205964

Perhaps my favourite breakfast pastry in Spain actually originates in Mallorca, and its called the¬†ensaimada. If you haven’t tried one, you haven’t lived. I would recommend even buying yourself a return plane ticket, spend a night in Palma de Mallorca, just so you can have an¬†ensaimada breakfast in the morning before your flight home. Crazy? No, not really……..IMG_20171106_174418261_HDR

Or you can go to the foot of the climb to Mijas (pueblo) in Andalucía, have your ensaimada in a café, and really feel virtuous by cycling off the calories as you climb up to the beautiful pueblo blanco (white village) at the topIMG_20171107_124545509

and then look smugly down over the captivating panorama, knowing that the only direction back to the coast is downhill. Could it get any better than that?

Asanas on the sand….

For me, beaches are there to be enjoyed through some form of beach-related activity, never to simply lie on, and absolutely never for sunbathing and reading the latest thriller. Why would you want to do that……?

The frequently quoted holiday dream of the burned out 9-5 salary earner is to fill the suitcase with the latest bestsellers, fly several hours to a sun-drenched location, spending a few thousand ¬£s in the process, only to lie on a beach sipping pi√Īa coladas and reading the latest Dan Brown…… The power of this illusionary dream is only reinforced by the frequency with which people ‘Facebrag’ with photos of themselves holding a (usually very) large glass of Pinot Grigio, gazing across a white tropical beach to an unrealistically blue seascape. The ultimate dream of the aspirational laid bare so as to make friends back in misty drizzly old Blighty envious of their good fortune. The social media equivalent of the “wish you were here” postcard…..but now we can geo-locate ourselves with pin point accuracy, and zoom in on Google maps to the very point we are sitting on the beach.

Our daughter, Rachael, is in the business of personal training, yoga teaching and Thai yoga massage, and sells a very different type of dream, but powerful nevertheless. Her classroom is frequently the beach on the Costa del Sol and, instead of the pi√Īa colada and Dan Brown, she can use the power of the environment to encourage stretching and relaxation, meditation and controlled breathing, all the while harnessing the power of the sun and the sound of the waves lapping gently against the shore.

I joined her classes immediately. No stranger to yoga, I have been practising (on and off) for nearly 30 years, but largely untutored since taking classes in the late 80s. Now I was being ‘held to account’ for some of my wayward practices, with the scrutinizing eye of my daughter to correct my posture, and adjust my movements from one Asana to another.

Although I am entirely biassed, I would say that ‘asanas on the beach’ would be an infinitely more realistic dream to promote amongst the overworked and hassled. As the sun rose over the horizon at 7.50am, I would go down to the beach and do my ‘salutation to the sun’ as it began it’s climb to its zenith….. then went off in search of a¬†panader√≠a¬†(bakery) to buy my breakfast¬†fartons……. I know what you are thinking…… but it’s the Valencian Catalan word for a pastry that comes from the small village of Alboraya…….but I loved giving the shop assistant an emphatically pronounced ¬Ņme pones cinco fartons, por favor?

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Further afield…

Beyond Mijas lies a town called Alhaur√≠n el Grande, a name bestowed on it by the Moors meaning the ‘garden of Allah’, and rises to over 320 metres above sea level. The climb up to the pass was long and laboured

But the descent was fast and exciting.

It still betrays remnants of its fortified past

but was overrun by the Christian forces under the Catholic Monarchs in 1485, putting in place another piece of the jigsaw of the Reconquest of Spain.

The day concluded with a spectacular rising of the moon over the sea, lighting up the surroundings with a spectral glow.

Exploiting the benefits…

With the loan of a smart B’twin hybrid, fully equipped with disc brakes and suspension, and enough low gears to climb Everest, I set off on mini-adventures along the coast in both directions, and when sparkling seascapes lost their interest, I headed up into the mountains that provide a brooding backdrop to this coastline.

Access for bicycles along the coast is very patchy. Where there is a Paseo Marítimo, the going is pleasant and flat, with stretches that go on for several kms, but this is not always the case. Getting to Malaga was fairly straightforward,

but going west towards Marbella was a mess. Narrow cycleways, poorly maintained and bedecked with dangerous obstacles, made the westward exploits challenging and unappetising. The furthest I ventured to was Calahonda, and then braved the busy coastal A7 for the return journey. But it was fast and not too dangerous, fortunately.

Getting up into the hills, however, was uncomplicated…..(did I really say that?). Heading up to Mijas Pueblo,

 the beautiful white village (pueblo blanco) hugging the side of the mountain, I climbed to almost 400 metres in less than 5km, but the views over the coastline were stunning.

T‚Äčhe village almost enjoys the status of being a national monument, so assiduously is the fabric and decor of the architecture protected. Such beauty, however, has its drawbacks, making it a ‘honeypot’ for coach tours and visitors….. but a small price to pay.

Enforced migration…

It’s tough when your daughter chooses to settle on the Costa del Sol, and you quickly sense the predatory footsteps of companies like QuEasyjet behind you bidding for your business. The company of the orange logo happened to be a third choice for this trip, because, first, we decided to overlook Ryanair due to their debacle over staffing rosters, and then somewhat smugly opted for Monarch……BIG MISTAKE! Within a few hours of their crash, however, I had worked out how to retrieve the cost of both plane and train tickets, and booked with EasyJet with little change to our itinerary.

So we ended up in Los Boliches, Fuengirola, with a perfectly proportioned studio apartment (for two people, that is) that afforded daily views of solar salutations announcing the first blushes of the new day, without having to move from the prostrate comfort of the mattress……unless of course, you insisted (as I did) on going down to the beach in person to salute the sun personally. But then it did considerately wait till 7.50am to pop above the horizon….so no great sacrifice there.

Our 11th floor eerie, according to the GPS on my phone, put us at 42 metres above sea level, which gifted us with commanding views of our environment. If ‘people watching’ is your principal sport, you could have a daily workout of several hours. Or you could survey the offshore fishing activities of local fishermen, feast yourself on the antics of windsurfers, paragliders and jet skiers, and catch glimpses of beach bootcamps and yoga classes……but more of that in another post.

A beachside holiday resort has never been our first choice of destination, but when your daughter lives and makes her living in such an environment, it’s funny how your thinking develops. Not to mention the loan of a bicycle from Jonathan, Rachael’s partner…..

Ham Sandwich and beyond….

I wanted to get to the White Cliffs Visitor Centre, and a fingerpost pointed the way for both walkers and cyclists……what it didn’t tell me was that I would be pushing my laden bike up horrendously steep dirt tracks to 400ft above sea level, when there was a nice surfaced road (albeit longer) that allowed cars to get up there. What the hell….I was wearing my superman suit anyway.

IMG_20171026_110304755The Visitor Centre was very disappointing. It didn’t even have an information display, so when I asked about cycling along the cliffs to South Foreland Lighthouse, I got a ‘big no, no’. The National Trust had recently banned bikes, so I teamed up with another biker, on his fat tyres, looking every inch the gravel biker, and he showed me the alternative route……if you are familiar with the shipping forecasts, you will have heard reference to the North Foreland Lighthouse…….it always seems to succeed Gibraltar Point (the Wash), and precede Selsey Bill (nr Portsmouth). The history of the lighthouse was fascinating, including one of a dynasty of keepers who fathered 13 children in the nearby cottage…..(well, it was Victorian England, after all. What other fun was to be had?)

I passed kite surfers………IMG_20171025_095454425.1

this gentleman on his new elliptical pedal cycle, which roared past me at twice my speed, but made pedalling look like climbing stairs…..IMG_20171025_161025958

crossed this narrow gauge railway…….

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and found myself wending my way along quiet country tracks strewn with autumnal leaves…..

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And when all is said and done, and the going gets tough, do the ‘tough really get going’? Not really…….they just eat chips…..IMG_20171026_134617472

On the train home, I met a friend from the same village, and showed him the GPS app I use on my phone for tracking my rides……I switched it on as we sat there and detected that the train was hitting over 130mph….and it was just a normal commuter train out of London taking people home from their day’s work.

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Oh, and btw, this must be the most photographed signpost in the whole country. You couldn’t make it up……reality is sometimes stranger than fiction.

 

And finally, the route……. (total distance for the whole trip: 237km)

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Eastbourne-Dover 120km

When the landscape was flat, it was extremely flat. When the roads went skywards, it was like a kick in the gut. There are extensive marsh lands (Romney Marsh, for one) along the coast, meaning a high cruising speed on the bike with a gentle following wind. But when the road climbed one of the notorious escarpments, like the one out of Folkestone, tailwinds were of no assistance. They were like a sympathetic friendly arm over my shoulder….understanding my pain, empathising, but powerless to do anything about it.

The morning was miserably misty with a sea fret that seeped through the clothing, but the sun protested loudly in the afternoon and poked its face through the gloom. This coastline is truly dismal when it’s wet, but when the sun shines, it has a magic all of its own.

Hard concentrated riding tends to rob me of my appetite, but mid-afternoon a breakfast muffin filled an empty space, and fuelled the climbing muscles for the final big climb out of Folkestone, steep enough to keep me in my lowest gear, and long enough to require 20 minutes of my attention.¬† This was the view of the escarpment as I started the climb….

And if I had done my route planning properly, my Garmin should have taken me to the front door of my overnight…..a backpackers hostel in Dover.

But when I arrived, it was completely enshrouded in scaffolding, the whole place a building site, so I wheedled my way into another place, overlooking the port.

Beginning of another ‘flash-dash’….

41 conubial years celebrated, now this man has hit the road yet again for another ‘flash-dash’……I pedalled down to Bedford, jumped on a Thameslink train and stayed with it until it’s terminus two and a half hours later: Brighton, which seemed to be ‘rockin’ and rollin’ with half term fun fairs.

So at 2pm I climbed on the bike and began to follow the wind, heading eastwards along the coast, and the meteorologists are promising I’ll have a supportive breeze all the way to Broadstairs and Margate, where I might jump on a homeward bound train…..or I might head into Canterbury and take the train from there.

Don’t be impressed by the tracking map. I left it running while on the train. My total of 61km on the bike topped and tailed the journey, and I am now in a youth hostel in Eastbourne, where the average hosteller is well beyond middle age…..time for the institution to have a name change? Age Hostels UK, perhaps?

And a fellow dorm companion has given me a dire warning…….there’s not just one, but two snorers to provide the entertainment in the small hours…..now where are those earplugs?

Racing through the dark: David Millar

Racing-Through-the-DarkIn recent times, we have got to know much more about ‘David Millar the man’ through his expert TV commentaries on the grand tours, and he certainly comes across as a fine analyst of the interior mechanisms of the peloton and the tactics of stage racing. But his racing career had been beset by the scandal of doping, and this autobiography is his attempt to come to terms with that, and to communicate his side of the whole sad story.

I am always conscious that an autobiographer has complete control of his/her own material, and is likely to give a monochrome version of the events, as they have seen them from their own perspective. Not a bad thing, perhaps, but subject to all kinds of limitations. Millar, however, was very quick to confess to his crimes when discovered (unlike many of his colleagues in the sport), took his punishments ‘on the chin’, and eventually emerged as the mature experienced¬†rouleur¬†that he was with a very different agenda: to be an ambassador to help clean up the sport.

It is notable throughout his book that he is slow to incriminate others (perhaps a failing on his part), but is blunt and straightforward about holding himself up for scrutiny, and as an example of what happens to those who cheat. He was very fortunate to be given a second chance, and to make a come-back. He never expected the kind of support that came from people as eminent a Jean Marie LeBlanc and Dave Brailsford. He had expected to be treated as the outcast that befitted his crimes, but within a couple of seasons, he had reinstated himself and, ironically, found himself racing much better when ‘clean’ than doped.

If you enjoy confessionary autobiographies, this is a worthy read.

Scotney Castle and Storm Ophelia

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Little did we realise we would be visiting Scotney Castle on the 30th anniversary (to the very day) of the infamous Great Storm of 1987 that devastated the estate (and much of the south of England), destroying a huge percentage of its woodland. We realised the importance of the anniversary when we caught a BBC reporter recording an item on camera for News at 10, which we happened to see when we got home that evening.

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Though Storm Ophelia made little impression on this part of the UK, the strong winds did bring dust from the Sahara, and smoke and ash from the Portuguese wild fires, giving the sun an eerie blood red presence which, over the moat waters of Scotney Castle, produced an otherworldly spectral light. The original castle lies on an island, surrounded by water, looking the perfect picture of the once-elegant ruined medieval structure, providing yet another backdrop for illustrating the history of the all-powerful aristocracy of this country.

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For Jenny, this was a rest-day from the tandem, so I assembled my titanium solo, found the most indirect route I could to get to Scotney Castle, and found myself having to re-adapt to the flightiness of the super-light frame. But it was a joy for climbing the hills, but scarily fast on the descents (read that as ‘excitingly fast’!). The much-recovered woodlands from the 1987 storm were on the autumnal turn, canopies of rusted browns giving way to crimson reds. It was a good time to be in Sussex.

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Bateman’s and Rudyard Kipling

We were doing the four points of the compass from our lodgings in Flimwell: NE for Sissinghurst Castle, SE for Bodiam Castle, and now SW for Bateman’s, near Burwash, home to Rudyard Kipling and his family for more than 30 years. But we had to negotiate a few hills to get there……..East Sussex is lumpy! Every downhill spelled the beginning of the next uphill, and there was no let-up…….to the point that we even began dreading the downhills …..I mean, where’s the justice in that?

 

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Kipling’s desk

When Kipling bought Bateman’s in 1902, it had no running water or electricity, but it came with 33 acres of the most stunning landscape, and we were seeing it in the full flush of autumnal colour. Their daughter, Elsie, who married and moved into Wimpole Hall, left instructions with the National Trust to re-create the interior of the house as her parents would have known it, including the desk at which many of Kipling’s most famous poems and stories were written. He had been a prolific writer, a controversial imperialist, both hated and admired, but was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature at the early age of 42, and is said to have turned down offers of a poet laureateship and a knighthood.Kipling's Rols royce

 

Unlike a lot of stately homes managed by the National Trust, Bateman’s is a family home of more modest proportions, where you actually get the sense that a family once lived there, doing all the normal things that a middle class family of the day would do. But Kipling had made enough money through his writings to indulge his passion for motor cars………it is said that he eventually bought himself a Rolls Royce because it was the only one could afford…….!

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Bodiam Castle

Bodiam Castle. 

IMG_20171014_124115512_HDRCastles (from the latin ‘castellum’ = fortified building) were generally built for protection, and would incorporate all kinds of features to make them safer places in the event of attack (moats, crenellations, drawbridges etc…). But that was only true up to the later middle ages when the increasing use of artillery in warfare made castles easier to conquer. Thereafter, castles were generally built as pseudo-fortifications, imitating some of the features of the traditional castle, but only for decoration, like Kimbolton Castle and Sissinghurst Castle. They were certainly built to impress, but only as fine country houses to entertain guests and, sometimes, royalty.

IMG_20171014_132212020Bodiam Castle, on the other hand, was built in the 14th century, incorporating all the elements needed for keeping the enemy out (in this case the French), including towers, drawbridge, battlements, moat, murder holes (for pouring boiling oil through)…..but never once in its history was it ever threatened by siege. But unlike many medieval castles, which were fairly spartan places to live in, Bodiam was designed to provide comfortable living quarters for the Dalyngrigge family for several generations. When it finally fell into the hands of Lord Curzon in the 20th century, he bequeathed the whole property to the National Trust on his death in 1925.IMG_20171014_132916763

We sat on a couple of Trust deckchairs looking down on this impressive pile before feeling the tug of intrigue to discover the interior, climb up a couple of the towers, view the vineyards covering the hillsides and peer through the arrow slits looking for the approaching enemy. It had all the elements of a robust fortified building, and is still this impressive because it had never been attacked or ransacked by a marauding army.the_one_on_the_back

 

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Hitting the National Trust trail…..

IMG_20171013_115210514What better way to enjoy a four day binge on National Trust properties than to take the tandem, spend a few nights in a strategic location so that you can access several properties on two wheels? An hour or two in the morning wending our way across the East Sussex countryside, 3-4 hours enjoying the setting and intriguing history of a rich family’s country pile, an hour having lunch and coffee, and another hour or so heading back, discovering a different route with its own surprises…….which usually come in the form of hills (groan!), but the rewards were stunning views across a countryside strutting the catwalk wearing its new autumnal collection. East Sussex in October is full of chromatic intrigue, and when the sun shines (which it did for us most days), it can be breath-taking. Forget New England in the fall……..we are surrounded by our very own ‘leaf-peeping’ opportunities. You just have to go out there and find them…..Sissinghurst

On our first day, we headed off in search of the country hideaway of the famous (and infamous) Vita Sackville West, and her husband Harold Nicolson. Both provocative people of their generation, challenging the mores of the day with regard to their sexuality, they were nevertheless a happily married couple, and together they restored Sissinghurst Castle from its ruinous state, and together they combined their expertise and energy to create one of the most admired gardens in the country.

Vita sackville Harold NicolsonVita hated the manicured primness of many country gardens, preferring the more natural beauty of the slightly messy, slightly chaotic growth of flowers and plants that created their own beauty, dividing the garden into ‘rooms’, with each room having its own character and selection of colours.

On our route back, and you will see this from the map below, we were led along a track that was seemingly a right of way, but we were cut off by a locked gate and a big threatening sign telling us that the area was ‘bio-protected’, and was closed to the public. This caused us a bit of panic because we had to double back, increasing our mileage, and it was getting late in the afternoon. We had to get back to our base before sunset. We did, but only just………..IMG_20171017_203007

 

The ‘Flash-dash’…..

The ‘Flash-bash’….

OK, you’ve never heard of it before, because I have just coined the word. No, it’s not stolen from some online video game, but it definitely has a line of ancestry. For those of you who have heard of Alastair Humphreys, you will be familiar with his concept of the ‘microadventure’, aimed directly at the 9-5 wage slave, and asks the beguilingly opportunistic question: so what about your 5-9? Those 16 hours from every 24 hour period when you are not at work? How do you use them?

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From his musings spawned the brilliant idea of the ‘microadventure’ which, for the cyclist, could mean jumping on the bike at 5pm after work, and heading off to the countryside/hills/lakeside/forest with a bivvy and a camping stove, and sleeping out under the stars. It may mean occasionally getting a bit cold and wet, but heading directly back to your place of work the next day, the regenerative impact of doing something so adventurous on a micro-scale can raise the happiness barometer enough to turn a dull boring week into something much more memorable. Instead of watching your favouriteIMG_20171007_131629114 panel game or soap in the evening, you may have gazed at the setting sun, seen an owl on the hunt, or even a murmuration of starlings. And instead of joining dozens of other bored commuters on the train in the morning, you may have descended directly from a nearby hill and had breakfast at your desk. So, let me take this concept one step further, and bring a degree of spontaneity to it, and less of a reliance on bivvies and camping stoves, which are not for everyone. This is the knee-jerk reaction of the flash-dash’.

IMG_20171007_103331353One evening last week, after taking delivery of the internet food shopping at 9.30pm, I clicked on a weather-app only to discover that the following three days were going to be fine, even sunny in parts and, more importantly, with the wind generally blowing from the west. I suddenly got excited. Somewhere in the dark recesses of my travelling brain sprung the crazy idea of ‘what if I head off with the bike, on a train, in an upwind direction and spend the next few days cycling home, with the wind behind me…….?’ I didn’t need to look at a map to realize that the Peak District in Derbyshire would be the perfect location……cycle 25km to a local station, spend 90 minutes on the train, and then head up into the hills of the Peaks for what remained of the day. Brilliant idea, but ……………I still needed to float it by Jenny for her approval….and that meant waiting for her to return from a choir practice.

By 10.30 I was granted AWL (absence with leave), I stuffed some tools and a change of clothes into a saddlebag, quickly booked two £10 overnights online at Youth Hostels, and jumped on the bike after breakfast the next morning to head to a nearby station. By 2pm, I was leaving Chesterfield station and heading out into the hills. Admittedly, I had toIMG_20171007_102807225 battle against the wind for 58km that day, but the next two days were generally wind-assisted, taking me through some of the most stunning countryside in the Peak District National Park, following rail-trails and NCN routes, meeting steam locomotives and crossing micro-streams, sometimes in the footsteps of legendary fictional heroes like Ivanhoe, sometimes stumbling across a road named in my honour.

IMG_20171007_100348143I didn’t sleep under the stars, nor heated a tin of beans on a camping stove, but I did wake up to the sunrise from my top-floor window in the hostel, I did encounter numerous reminders of the impact of the industrial revolution, and I did meet a host of people from all walks of life, some from Canada, others from South Korea and China. In many ways, this¬†‘flash-dash’ was in direct contrast to my normal full-on adventures, that take weeks to put together and several months in the planning. It was an unpremeditated response to a weather forecast, and a certain itchiness to get out of my normal comfort zone and go with the unplanned.

If you have read this far and have been just a little intrigued, why not open your own mind to the spontaneous, to the here and now? Although pre-planned microadventures are a great idea, you never know what the weather is going to be like in a few days’ or a few weeks’ time, so what if you can respond immediately to a sudden impulse, to the promise of a few days of fine weather and act on it immediately with minimal planning? The chance of it being successful is increased enormously. So too is the chance of it being serendipitous……. not just taking the road less travelled, but choosing the least expected moment. Make the ‘flash-dash’ a wardrobe that takes you into Narnia, or a hidden doorway that takes you into the secret garden.

As I hammered the 123km that separated my hostel overnight in the National Forest from my home, a generally favourable wind drove me into a lashing rainstorm just one hour from my destination, and I arrived home soaked, hungry and exhausted……but ultimately thrilled by the whole experience. Try it sometime……it is exhilarating.IMG_20171007_204019

 

 

 

A White Peak experience…

As I woke up this morning and peered out of the window, I was visited by the piercing rays of the dawn….

and my trek across the White Peak took in several railway trails….

each with its enshrouded environment and bridges, like this on the Tissington Trail….

and tunnels….just outside of Ashbourne…

and all along the way the vistas opened up across the Peak National Park….

and the sun pierced the fading autumnal canopy of the trees….

till I stumbled across this re-creation of a Croatian mountain hut…

donated to Britain to commemorate Croatia’s entry into the EU in 2013…..

The big question is: will it be returned after Brexit?

Oh, and not to forget the 86km route from Ravenstor to the National Forest at Conkers (Moira)……quite a route, with plenty of climbing…..

On the road again……

On the road again, and heading for the hills……the wind, the rain and, ultimately, the pain. But why? Why do roadies look for the pain? “No pain, no gain?”. That’s only a very tired clich√©…..but without a doubt, getting to the higher elevations has its rewards….and more fundamentally, getting into fresh territory has even more rewards. Not knowing what is round the next bend, over the next brow, what may be flying overhead or scurrying through the undergrowth…..they all enrich the travelling experience.

As I came out of Chesterfield station, I was greeted by George Stephenson himself, our own ‘rocket man’…..

and found myself gazing at the icon of the town, the crooked tower….

but I was soon into the Peak District…

and onto one of the many old railway trails, starting at Hassop, the private station of the Duke of Devonshire….unbelievable, I know…
and thinking it was going to be plain sailing (ie. flat) to the end, I forgot that in these parts, railway lines have to climb, and they do imperceptibly to the eye, but not to the legs…..you have to work hard….

till I got to Miller’s Dale, the famous station that provided a connection to the Manchester-London line….

and eventually found the entrance to my overnight…..

a former mill owner’s mansion, now a Youth Hostel, and paid the ludicrous sum of ¬£10 for my bed……

with an amazing view from my top-floor dormitory…..

and a little bit of humour that accompanied having a pee…..

What more could you ask for the first day of a lightening break that I only decided to take at 9pm last night? Viva! the flexibility of retirement……

Life is like riding a bike…..

IMG_20171003_202655Let me quote the most notable scientist of his generation, Albert Einstein:¬†Life is like riding a bicycle. In order to keep your balance, you must keep moving…….

One of the most notable writers of his generation, Ernest Hemingway, said the following: It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them.

HG Wells was noted for saying: Whenever I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the human race.

Every walk of life looks for a ‘higher’ authority to give credibility to whatever they do. Cyclists are no different. If people like Elgar, or JFK, or Leo Tolstoy (who learned to ride at 67) rode bikes, we know we are in good company……IMG_20171003_110222527

Today was one of those magnetic days for climbing on the saddle. On a bright sunny autumn morning, I hunted out narrow country lanes that I hadn’t ridden for several months, even a year or two. The foliage of the over-hanging trees was ‘on the turn’, carpets of leaves were scattered across roads and tracks.¬† The cattle grids were almost hidden beneath their coats of IMG_20171003_111937082vegetation, and the odd sign told us the farmers meant serious business for undisciplined dog owners…….. No doubt they were relying on the ‘2nd Amendment’ to support their cause…..

And a mid-ride stop to visit a dear friend in Oundle, and be treated to coffee with cream…….well, to mix my metaphors, it put the ‘icing on the cake’.

 

IMG_20171003_202852

80km/50 miles. Conditions sunny and windy.

 

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