Category Archives: Cycling UK
After chewing the fat with a crowd of cycling buddies over coffee and cakes at Elton Hall Garden Centre, I headed home via the ancient village of Fotheringhay, with its legendary connections with Richard III and the execution of Mary Queen of Scots.
As I crossed the ancient packhorse bridge, I passed this group casting lines with metal discs into the water. And yes, I had to ask what they were up to…..and discovered they were ‘pescatorial detectorists’ doing what is commonly called ‘magnet fishing’. And no, that doesn’t mean fishing for magnets, but using strong magnets to fish for metal objects, preferably of a historic and valuable kind.
The only catch of the morning had been a rusty old horseshoe….but they continued casting their magnets with enthusiasm.
I celebrated the summer solstice this year by cycling out to a decommissioned church and spending the night in its hallowed emptiness. This was followed by a ride home as the sun’s orb rose above the north eastern horizon at 04.44am.
A few days ago, on the 21st, as the northern hemisphere reached the nadir of its tilt away from the sun, I set out on a symmetrical ride to observe the winter solstice, and found that Santa had solved his transport problem in the event of a snowless Christmas…
…he misses nothing in his forward planning…very impressive. Present deliveries are now assured…
I wish you all a very happy Christmas, and many happy miles in 2019….and thanks for your company.
Waresley Garden Centre cafe, where I met up with one of my mid-week groups, has the best scones in the area, and today they were offering an unusual raspberry and chocolate variety…..but I resisted the clotted cream…..don’t ask me why….I must have been on a mission to appear virtuous.
And the quality of the cafe offerings was matched by the perfect autumnal weather, the countryside bedecked in the orange, gold and crimson of a soon to disappear seasonal feast. Carpe diem…..
Ah, the familiar highways and byways of home, and remembering to ride on the left…..
You see, we Brits know we’ve got it right by driving/riding on the left, but most of the world just doesn’t agree with us. I mean, did you know that riding on the left owes its origin to ‘dexterity’ (right handedness)? Approximately 85% of people are naturally right-handed….so, if you were a knight in medieval times travelling the country, which side of an oncoming knight would you pass? Of course, to their left, so you could defend yourself using your right hand.
So my question to the rest of the world is….how do you defend yourself if you drive/ride on the right? Learn to be ambidextrous?
Cycling groups get their mid-ride carbs and caffeine fixes in some remote places…..like Conington Airfield this morning. Surrounded by flat featureless fenland, it’s only saving grace are the bacon butties served to the flying crews that pass through…..and, of course, the satisfaction of knowing that you are sitting directly beneath the air traffic control tower.
But when 20 cyclists descend, all wanting to be fed immediately, that sends the serving staff into a frenzy….from serving the odd flying instructor and trainee, they are suddenly confronted by a baying mob of lycra louts…..we need to practise patience…
Two things of note on today’s ride…..
Look at the elevation profile during the video (top left): for a flattish part of the country, there was scarcely a flat section during the entire ride……..
Then look at the aerial shot of the route at the end…….make you think of anything?
I never get this when I speak to Rotary, the WI or Probus…..a captive audience of 300 at the CTC Birthday Rides at Yarnfield in Staffordshire. An amazing crowd of seriously experienced and knowledgeable cycle tourists, many of whom have had their own extraordinary adventures in various parts of the world.
I regaled them with my cycling adventure in Cuba recently, discovered that several had already had their own adventures in Cuba, and many others (both during the talk and afterwards) plied me with questions in readiness for them to take the plunge. For some reason, many people are worried about safety issues in Cuba, which has prevented them from thinking about independent travel there, so they have used cycle travel companies to provide the moral and material support. I assured them that Cuba is one of the safest countries in the world for independent travel….within the limitations of my own experience.
Today, I headed into Stafford to spend a couple of very enjoyable hours with Claire, a former student, and a flying visit to both the Ancient High House and the Castle, both bursting with fascinating history.
When you put 300 seasoned cyclists in one place with their bikes, you are going to meet all shades of the cycling spectrum. From cool sleek carbon frames to ‘sit-up-and-begs’ with electrical assist….it is all there.
There are three-wheeled recumbents, two-wheeled semi-recumbents, a tandem trike that has been customized according to the owners wishes, conventional tandems, and solo bikes that have been specially adapted to the owner’s physical condition.
Take a glance around one of the two bike storage rooms and you are looking at most of the possible permutations that can be applied to the cycling machine.
Today’s route took us down to Haughton, Gnossal and Norbury Junction, the point at which two canals cross each other. And two excellent cafés en route…..what other reason is there for riding a bike?
You may think a nocturne is a musical composition and, of course, you would be right….but it’s more than that. In the world of cycle racing it is a city centre evening criterium, and Newport is the place where it all started in this country.
On Saturday Newport will host the next nocturne, and several of the High St businesses have incorporated a cycling theme in their displays, including this café where I had a pot of tea….poor girl, she is in the process of falling off her bike which is on the other side of the hedge….the fallen ‘star’ of the nocturne…..
The countryside is settling into the post-harvest stupor where the only activity seems to be the watering of a late foraging crop….but not sure what. But what I find staggering about the Staffordshire and Shropshire countryside are the miles of lanes that seem only to connect farms, and maybe the odd village, which are virtually traffic-free. Perfect for the likes of us roaming cyclists…..
The proximity of the RAF museum at Cosford made a visit during this 100th year of its existence obligatory….and a fascinating place it is too, especially the huge hangar dedicated to the period of the cold war.
Since I will be giving a talk and presentation later this week on my cycling adventure in Cuba last january, the displays on the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 made poignant reading, and video footage of the events demonstrated just how close we came to all out nuclear conflict.
That aside, the cycling was relatively flat and wind-assisted on the journey home, and I grabbed this photo in case my cycling buddies just happened to fall off their bikes into the ford…..which they had done last year on a tandem. (Sadly) they failed to provide the entertainment….😊
A thousand metres of climbing over 76km is a challenging day in itself, but frustratingly more challenging when I couldn’t change down to my lowest gear at any point of the day, no matter how much fiddling and fettling…..so I ground my way up the hills fighting to maintain momentum, only being defeated by one especially brutal climb, limping into a cycle shop when the day was nearly over…..to be told the cable was completely ‘shot’. “Should I put a new one in for you?” he said. Is the pope a Catholic, I muttered to myself….so, within minutes it was re-cabled and the gears ‘retuned’…..and I left a happy bunny.
The ride took in the 13th century Croxden Abbey, whizzed through Alton (of the famous towers) and headed back through Oakamoor…..a lumpy bumpy route…..but it was exciting.
The countryside of Staffordshire is a well-guarded secret…..like it’s oatcakes, it’s appreciated by the conosseurs….and, of course, by cyclists like ourselves.
I shared the ride with 7 other fellow roadies from the bunch of 300 attending the Birthday Rides at Stone in Staffordshire…..but met up with others both on the road and at the café….a great social experience.
Will the Ti take to carrying a bit of kit…? Let’s see.
Off to a major cycling festival in Staffordshire…..celebrating the 140th birthday of Cycling UK (formerly CTC)….hoping for lots of thrills….and no spills….
After several days of riding the tandem, getting back on the Litespeed Ti was a nervous twitchy experience….well, for about 2km anyway. From A to B routes on the tandem, I resume my home-based out-and-back rides on over-familiar roads when my mind dwells more than it should on ride stats.
45km of riding in this area can be made to look more like TdeF sprint for the line with a speed chart like this…
or a stage in the Pyrenees or Alps with an elevation chart like this…
Riding for the Edge.
Titles are meant to catch your attention, even if the rest of the piece is of questionable interest. But now that I have your attention……
I set off for my customary Monday morning ride and my phone rings.
-Frank, that Garmin Edge 1000 you were inquiring about….well, I’ve got it here. I can let you have it for £150. When would you like to pick it up?
I need a cycling GPS with mapping and navigation, and an Edge 1000 would normally retail at about £350. I’ve finally decided the simplicity of the breadcrumb trail on my Edge 200 is just not enough, especially when crossing urban areas with complicated networks of cycle paths.
I was about to head west for a couple of hours, but Hilton was in the opposite direction, about 25 miles east.
-Great. OK, change of plan, I’m heading out your way. I’ll be with you in about an hour and a half…….what’s your address?
When I get there, he invites me into his workshop. He’s a retired engineer who has built himself a cycle repair workshop in his garden, which satisfies two important needs: it generates a bit of income but, more importantly, it keeps him busy. He just loves fettling bikes…..and is a bike rider himself, who likes to head off with his wife on fully-supported bike rides in far-off countries. Almost a man after my own heart…….just forget the ‘fully-supported’ bit.
I get home with the Edge 1000 and begin sifting through the User’s Manual online…….it’s infinitely more complicated than my old Edge 200………..sigh!
Some hold-ups are annoying, unnecessary and downright frustrating, but if you insist on going for a ride through the countryside at this time of the year, you have to expect this from time to time……..and if you are in no hurry, and you engage with the farmer, it can be an informative and entertaining interlude in the ride……as this was.
The front-end of the combine (reaper/gatherer??) was so big, it had to be dismantled and separated from its enormous ‘parent’ and transported individually to the next field in line for harvesting. I asked the farmer the size of his combine: ‘Thirty five feet’, he told me……’but it’s not the biggest….which is currently forty feet’. I asked him if he had contracted it in: ‘No no, that’s mine….bought it last year….this is it’s second harvest……cost me £400,000. I’ll give it another year before I have to change it’.
I was trying to compute these enormous figures when I asked him when he would start to see a profitable return on his investment. ‘Profit? Profit? Nah, we farmers never talk about profit……..we’re farmers, after all’, he said, with a broad grin on his face…….
We stood and watched as this enormous beast began to swallow swathes of the field of rapeseed…….. simply astonishing.
Can a bike be faster than a train? Oh definitely….especially during this period of chaotic timetables on Thameslink.
I took the opportunity to hammer my way down to Potters Bar, close to the M25 (London’s outer ring road). It was 111km (70 miles) and it took me something over 4 hours, including a couple of stops. A super ride, along lots of surprisingly quiet country lanes, past George Bernard Shaw’s house, through parks and urban woodland, to Potters Bar station, where I would conveniently catch a train back to St Neots, just 17km from my home.
Conveniently? You have got to be kidding….! The first of my two trains was cancelled, for lack of a driver. Thameslink simply have not trained enough drivers for the new schedules. My second train from Stevenage was also cancelled, presumably for exactly the same reason.
So by the time I got home, including the ride from the station, my journey back by train had taken longer than my ride down. Moral of the story?
I suppose you could say the trains were delayed by a head wind…..😁
The animated versions of my routes along the south coast give a very interesting perspective, especially of elevation and the coastal direction……you will notice moments of significant hesitation and changes of decision especially going through urban environments like Portsmouth and Southampton….
…..but the views from the tops were stunning.
The ride from the YHA (where I camped) in the New Forest began with a few kms of rough stuff, eventually dropped down to the beach at Bournemouth, where I had a glorious 12km riding between beach huts and a pristine white sand beach, the likes of which I had never seen in the UK….
At the end of the Sandbanks peninsula, the most expensive real estate in the UK, there is a chain link ferry that takes you over to Studland and the Purbeck hills, and my route took me past Corfe Castle, Lulworth Castle and Durdle Door….
…to finish on Portland (famous for its stone) and Chesil Beach, a long dune of stones and pebbles, made famous by novelist Ian McEwen.
Here I end my little flash-dash of 260km, camping in the garden of the YHA overlooking Chesil Beach….
and given the garden has a 15% slope, there may be a few slumbering bodies at the bottom by the morning….😊
Ah, the wind is coming from the east…..so back down to Brighton on a train crammed with beach-loving trippers who want to stretch out on the piercingly uncomfortable pebble beaches of the south coast……and get a tan.
I step off a beguilingly air-conditioned train to be greeted by the suffocating heat of Brighton… I started feeling week at the knees immediately….so, westwards I headed, enjoying a garden BBQ with family on my first night….
then on a long drawn out day, I painfully negotiated both Portsmouth and Southampton in my bid to get to the New Forest, only to find a chained gate trying to deprive me of my rightful access to a bridleway…..
I make a mental note to complain to the Forestry Commission….
but, as ever, there were moments to savour on the day’s 117km (73 mile) route….including the growing discomfort of the saddle!