Isle of Wight, a cycling paradise

Islands are frequently excellent places to explore on bikes, and none more so than the Isle of Wight. Easy to get to (the short ferry crossing is only 40 minutes), great for a one-day circle of the whole island (65 miles) for those who can nip over at a weekend, or even better to linger over several days with shorter rides, building in time to visit some of the many interesting little corners.

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The Needles: tandem ride 20 miles

 

After three days, we had managed two tandem rides of 20 miles each, and I fitted in a solo ride of 60 miles encircling the island. Flat?……it certainly is not! The terrain is varied and challenging, especially on the south of the island, and for those who like traffic-free environments, there are miles of old rail tracks that have been converted into cycle paths, and many are well surfaced and a pleasure to ride.

We enjoyed getting a close look at the The Needles, having lunch gazing over the Solent at Yarmouth, taking in the Old Town Hall at Newtown and the Roman Villa near Brading. We enjoyed especially sitting having a coffee on the platform of the old Victorian train station in Sandown, and watching the comings and goings of the re-cycled London Underground trains now being used on the IOW. Before the Beeching cuts in the 1960s, the whole island was connected by railways, but all that remains now is the short line between Shanklin and Ryde.

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Sunshine Trail: tandem ride 20 miles

 

The end-of-season Bestival jamboree was taking place while we were there, and when I stopped for refreshments at Cowes, I found myself surrounded by hundreds of 20-somethings, many wearing wellies, foraging for food. This last of the year’s big music festivals can cater for up to 50,000 campers. I’m sure the islanders both love them and hate them in equal measure.

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IOW ring: solo ride 60 miles

 

The sum of our days: Isabel Allende

Título original: La suma de los días

The_Sum_of_our_DaysThis work of ‘bio-fiction’ sits comfortably amongst both her autobiographies and memoirs on the one hand, and her novelistic output on the other. She is a consummate story-teller, and she applies her broad-ranging skills to the narrative of her life after the death of her daughter Paula, at the age of 28.

We get the impression that she has written about this period, with all the people that populate it, with the candid freedom of a novelist, as if her subject-matter were fictional with no real-life consequences in the aftermath of publication. After all, it is well-nigh impossible to write truthfully of other people without treading on a few toes in the process.

I suggest this is a piece of ‘bio-fiction’ because I suspect that the book had to have the approval of all the family characters that appear in it. If any had disapproved, it would have gone through painstaking editing, or the characters would have been simply excluded from the story altogether. It is, after all, very hard to write about one’s family when they are all still alive.

 

Never a tailwind…..

 

Elton 75km enlarged

Elton, Northamptonshire 75km

 

Blustery, unpredictable, invigorating and infuriating………all at the same time. An 18mph wind from the west swirled around throughout the morning, with gusts of up to 25mph…..which reminded me of a tee-shirt worn by a fellow roadie at a recent cycling event. Emblazoned on the back were the following words:

Frequently from the front, sometimes from the left, sometimes from the  right………but never a bloody tailwind!!

Laid-back cycling

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I met Chris recently in our village churchyard, resting mid-ride, consuming forbidden carbohydrates, with a complacent smile on his face. When I see a fellow roadie, I like to stop by and check him/her out, ask the usual questions (where from/to, how far, which club…….) and study the machine that stands close by.

Chris was sporting a new two-wheeled recumbent, recently imported from Taiwan, and he told me of the ups and downs of familiarizing himself with the riding style, which had taken him several weeks to master. He’s now got to that stage of being a ‘born-again’ cyclist, charismatic about his new-found cycling perspective on the world, and happy to proselytise anyone who passes by and is open to the message.

When I asked him what had prompted him to convert to a recumbent, he simply said: “Oh, yuh know, usual things, back problems, and certain difficulties in the under-carriage area”.

I say no more……..

A ford worth crossing?

This narrow, single lane road runs across a river and, most of the year, is only a couple of inches deep……..a tempting proposition for the unwary cyclist. But beware……! The surface of the road beneath the water is as slippery as ice, as I discovered a few years ago when the bike unceremoniously dumped me into the ‘drink’. Ever since, I have taken the trouble to cross the stream on the footbridge.IMAG2535

But there is another hazard, for both cyclist and motorist. When you approach the ford from one side, it is easy to mistake the turning down-river for the road itself, and vehicles have sometimes taken that option……and to their cost. And when the river is in full flow, of more than a couple inches deep, taking the wrong turn will see your vehicle partly submerged, and you may get a free ride downstream…….assuming it’s water-tight.

Through a glass brightly: Nick Charles

through-a-glass-brightly-the-fall-and-rise-of-an-alcoholic-nick-charles-ebook-pdf-epub-download-free-1-638I seldom engage with autobiographies that tell a story of rags-to-riches, or ‘how I overcame my life-threatening disability to become the person I am today’. The pattern of such autobiographies is predictable, the author concerned is usually a household name, or even a celebrity, and there is frequently a ‘look at my courageous rise from the depths’ flavour to the narrative. I began reading Nick Charles’ book fully prepared to be disappointed……

…..but I wasn’t. In his late teens, he was heading towards a successful career in entertainment, but he was also immersed in a world and culture of heavy drinking and, before long, the demon drink had taken possession of his life. The succeeding biography is a narrative about his scrapes with the police, his lost relationships with his family, his near-death experiences, and the pathetic people he rubbed shoulders with in the grimy underworld of the alcoholics.

But after nearly 20 years of drinking, he pulled himself together, married, opened the successful Chaucer Clinic for alcoholics, and was awarded the MBE ‘for services to people with drinking problems’, the first person ever to be honoured for such.

A very worthy read.

Bressingham Gardens 80km

We all may have a shed full of bikes at home, but if you put nearly 500 cyclists on a site, you will end up with a sports hall full.
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……and not all are conventional two-wheeled machines…
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…..a great place for surveying the plethora of different cycling concepts.

On a breezy, gusty day, I headed off with this small group of companions
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to Bressingham Gardens and Steam Museum and, on the route back, got waylaid by the fascinating little town of Diss, so beloved of both John Betjemen and Mary Wilson (wife of PM Harold). It’s a town that surrounds a 6 acre mere, giving it an unusually picturesque setting.
This week of pedalling through the country lanes of Suffolk has opened new vistas on a county that is often overlooked by the passing traveller. It’s a county full of hidden gems.

Orford 62km

“Hey up….come on, move it…hup, hup, hup…..”.
I heard this in the distance, and this is what I found…….

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…..and there’s no hurrying them.
I’ve also discovered that country churches in Suffolk have baptismal fonts decorated with hairy little men carrying clubs, called ‘wodewoses’….

…and the medieval equivalent of a secure password is to have all valuables put in a chest with 5 locks, so that whenever it is to be opened, 5 men have to be present.

….but then they hadn’t discovered the power of the crowbar.
But the crowning jewel of the day had to be Orford Castle

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which, despite its fortified appearance, was probably more of a whimsical folly than a real castle.

Framlingham-Southwold 80km

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One the most remarkable things about this bunch of nearly 500 cyclists is their average age. They are predominantly retirees, many of them in their 70s and 80s, but they don’t think and act like old people. They are up for an early breakfast, chatting noisily about the day’s route, organizing themselves, preparing their bikes, and then off they go for the day. Evenings are filled with entertainment, quizzes, films, bands and slide presentations. They simply don’t have time to sit around and get bored. All of them are testament to happiness and longevity.

My route took me to Southwold, notable for its colourful beach huts and splendid pier. But en route, I chanced by this medieval painted panel in Wenhaston church,

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salvaged from the rubbish tip by someone who had noticed that the rain had washed off its ‘puritan whitewash’, and a gem was saved and restored.

Then this semi-ruined church in Walberswick,

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which was left unfinished in the 16th century because the money had run out. They obviously didn’t have a philanthropic lord of the manor who might bail them out.

Sutton Hoo 80km

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As the early-morning mist began to lift, the day promised to be hot and sunny……and it was. Narrow lanes led to hidden villages, sand on the verges testified to the proximity of the coast, and huge tractors and trailers reminded us that the harvest was in full swing.
My primary goal for the day was to spend a couple of hours at the ancient Anglo-Saxon burial site of Sutton Hoo.

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The story behind the discovery of the treasure-laden long boat is fascinating, and their exhibition gives an excellent overview of the history. And the star exhibit of the Treasury is this warrior helmet

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….simply stunning.
Nearly 150 came to hear my End-to-End of Japan story last night, and now they’ve asked for a second show…..I feel flattered.

Aldeburgh and Snape Maltings 63km

I had to be back to set up the room and kit for doing a slide presentation of my End-to-End of Japan, so a short ride took me to Saxmundum, Aldeburgh and Snape Maltings, the recent history of the last two so connected with the composer Benjamin Britten, and his singer and partner, Peter Pears.

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But another gem of Aldeburgh was its eye-catching Moot Hall, part of which still serves as a Town Hall, and the upstairs as a museum.

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Bury St Edmunds-Framingham 60km

After an excellent overnight in Bury St Edmunds, kindly hosted by long distance cyclists Steve and Debs, the miles were restored to tired leg muscles, and primed to fight against a constant headwind from the NE. We dined on a superb paella, and ‘wined’ on a cheeky Chilean red called ‘La Bicicleta’….nothing like a themed meal to complement the occasion. Steve & Debs, if you are reading this, thanks for your kind hospitality.

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I pitched my tent in the manicured grounds of Framingham College, and this was the view from my little porch.

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As the sun sets, Framlingham Castle was framed by its dramatic setting.

Kimbolton-Bury St Edmunds 100km

Obstructions in life are commonplace, but on a bike they usually take the form of other road users or pedestrians, and seldom curious cows blocking the way on riverside paths

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…..but sometimes you come across little medieval gems like this, that would have been used by trains of 50 pack-horses taking produce to the market

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….and (apologies for the excessive reflection on the windscreen) then you chance by a rusting campervan that has one member of its ‘skeleton crew’ sitting in the front passenger seat. When I asked the owner, he simply said they couldn’t afford to bury every member of the family…..

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…..and anyway, she never answers him back.

CTC Birthday Rides 2016

About to head off to Framlingham College, Suffolk, to join some 500 other cyclists for a week of cycling, sightseeing and entertainment………and looking forward to getting back to some simple camping in my little Vaude Hogan.

Back to a few basics…… here is my transport, shelter and wardrobe. The simple life.IMAG2472

Travelling through history….

Cycling along country lanes, through little villages and hamlets, I am frequently conscious of the history I am travelling through. Wherever I go in this land, people have populated this country for thousands of years, and every metre of every ride comes close to some significant event in the past that has likely got lost in the mists of time. A well known African proverb tells us: “Until lions have their own historians, tales of the hunt will always glorify the hunter”.  So too with human beings. Until the poor and dispossessed have their historians, tales of the past will always glorify the rich and powerful, and will be recounted and handed down in a carefully sanitised version.

My ride this morning took me through tiny places associated with well known people from the past, some of whom were history-makers. Christopher ‘Troublechurch’ Browne, for instance, was a non-conformist who wanted to separate church from state, and became a mentor and father-figure behind the Pilgrim Fathers who set sail across the Atlantic to found a new colony. He was associated with Thorpe Waterville and had lived in Lilford Hall.IMAG2468

John Dryden (poet) was born in the Rectory in Aldwincle, and John Quincy Adams (6th President of the USA) had ancestors that came out of the tiny hamlet of Achurch. Achurch was also the home village of Alfred Leete, the designer of the famous Kitchener poster of the Great War that encouraged men to enlist in the armed services. My route home traced a long straight stretch of Roman road, and my route out passed through the village of Yielden that can trace its origins back to the late Neolothic period (2000 BC).

We are not only ‘surrounded by geography’, we are also surrounded by our ancient past.

Wadenhoe 60km

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Late afternoon ‘bash’ 52km

A dodging-the-showers ride across countryside crying out for the harvest to be brought in. It’s the month of frustration for the arable farmers around here.Raunds Thrapston 52km

Then we get the most stunning sunset of the early summer……that’s one of the beauties of clouds…….they first bring the rain, followed by promises of better things to come.IMAG2465

Northern loop 67km

Another cracking ride. After so much recent rain, mixed with liberal dashes of sunshine, the English countryside is looking its best. Farmers must be happy………?

Northern loop 67km

Stanwick Lakes 67km

It was good to re-connect with the Sunday Club run, though not to ride in the mix just yet. But all in good time……..

And a new member, who seems to have joined in my absence (or maybe we’ve never been out on the same run before) introduced himself as being a former student of mine (and I did remember him!). He told his ‘old’ Spanish teacher that he has continued with his Spanish, listening to podcasts in the car as he drives around the country. As the smile on my face broadens, he also tells me that he’s off with a couple of old classmates to follow the Tour de France through Switzerland……on their bikes, of course.

Learning  Spanish and riding bikes…….could it get any better than that?Stanwick Lakes 67km

It never rains but……

Ever heard “It never rains but it pours”?

Well, if there’s a 50/50 chance it is going to rain, 9 times out of 10 it will…….

A dozen cyclists turned up at the coffee stop in Cambourne, all of them believing that it would be a rain-free morning, some not even carrying a rain-top (how daring is that?), and we sat outside under the veranda, wrapped up in supplied blankets, soaked to the skin, sipping our coffees and nibbling at toasted teacakes.

Enough to send a shiver up the spine……

Kim-Cambourne 70km

70km/44 miles

Edging forward….

Though I’ve been riding the miles recently on my trekking bike, ’tis good to be back out on the road bike…..

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