Category Archives: Cycling UK
Yesterday, I returned from a 25 mile ‘bash’ on the bike so wet, so completely soaked to the skin, that I left a pool of water on the garage floor. It then took me all of 15 minutes to pare off the several layers, wringing each one out as I created a sodden mound on the kitchen floor. The saving grace of the whole experience was that I had strangely enjoyed the ride (despite the rain), and that by virtue of all the layers, I hadn’t actually got cold. However, because of a serious accident several years ago, when I came off the bike on black ice and broke my femur, I now carry a tightly rolled ‘space blanket’ in my back pocket in case of emergency. Avoiding hypothermia in the cold winter months is a key element of survival in the event of an accident, especially on a remote country lane.
Today, however, was a different story. Bright and occasionally sunny, I headed down into north Bedfordshire to meet up with the Wednesday group at a hitherto unknown country café between Gamlingay and Potton. The Christmas menu just happened to be out on the tables. As we chomped on our cakes and bacon ‘butties’, one of the group had a ‘bright’ idea……why don’t we go for a full 2/3 course lunch on one of our pre-Christmas rides?
Groan……I considered the prospect with mixed feelings. Nice to have a Christmas lunch, but what about the 25 mile ride home afterwards? Rarely do I eat a meal mid-ride…..
I know it’s well past the season, but this caught my attention today. Put there by the British Legion, the framework was made from the wiring salvaged from old Remembrance Day wreaths from the past. Original and creative, it beckons you to sit next to him and share his space.
Club cyclists can pick up the scent of a café from several miles. And some of them (cafés, that is) are in the most unlikely of places. I rode out this morning, under a bright blue sky, to meet up with the mid-week group at a little café on a small local airfield, just south of Peterborough. Conington airfield is used largely by flying clubs, and is a centre for training. About 20 years ago, I remember having a flying lesson from this very airfield, the product of a Christmas present from Jenny, and the flight route I chose took us over to Kimbolton, where we circled the Castle a couple of times, taking photos, before zooming back to base before my stipulated hour was up.
This time, it was eating ‘bacon butties’ and watching a student helicopter pilot go through his paces. And don’t be fooled by the map. I didn’t actually venture onto the A1. For those who know, the old Great North Road runs parallel to the A1, and is much quieter.
When out on a local circular ride around country lanes, I expect to be held up periodically by traffic, especially around the time of the school-run or the mad dash to and from work by commuters. But on today’s ride, something rather different happened……..
I headed into north Bedfordshire…..
….and outside a farm near Thurleigh, I was stopped in my tracks by a flock of little ‘fascists’, goose-stepping their way across the road, heads held aloft, arrogantly ignoring the rights of other road users. I counted twelve as they waddled their way into a neighbouring field in search of……….well, food, I suppose.
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.
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.
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.
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!!
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……..
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.
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.
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,
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,
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.
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.
I pitched my tent in the manicured grounds of Framingham College, and this was the view from my little porch.
As the sun sets, Framlingham Castle was framed by its dramatic setting.
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
…..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
….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…..
…..and anyway, she never answers him back.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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………?
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?
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……
Repaying a kindness frequently broadens horizons and opens up new paths. On my trek through Japan last year, I was hosted by several generous members of the cycling confraternity, one of whom was Taka from Toyama, a large town on the Sea of Japan coastline. On the promised day, I arrived in Toyama not only fighting a ferocious headwind, but also battling with a torrential downpour and, to boot, it was after dark. All the ingredients for getting lost looking for an address amongst the 40,000 inhabitants. Knowing I was somewhere near to where Taka lived, I took refuge in a restaurant, rang him, and he jumped on his bike and came to the rescue. Fifteen minutes later, I found myself entering his extraordinary home, built entirely of wood to an ancient design, and thawing out beneath a steaming shower.
Yesterday, we welcomed Taka to our home in Cambridgeshire, at the beginning of his 5 month tour of five countries in Europe. He had endured several days of unseasonably cold, wet weather, and had to battle a headwind out of London to get here. Like for like, we had each apologised for our respective country’s appalling weather, opened our doors wide to extend a warm welcome to the unfortunate traveller, and provided a evening of friendship and good food to make up for the hardships. In our respective farewells, we had each accompanied the other en route to the next destination. I said farewell to Taka in Geddington, standing in front of the famous Eleanor Cross.
It’s called “fellowship of the road”.
A near minor mishap on the final ride of the year. Riding on a shared cycle-path with walkers, the quick release on my front brake popped out as I was going down hill, right in the direction of a couple of walkers at the bottom. Fortunately remedial action meant they weren’t in danger, but it was a heart-stopping experience for me at least.
It couldn’t have been a more perfect day for closing off the year: bright sunshine, fresh breeze, coffee and cakes at the house of some cycling friends, along with a crowd of other like-minded roadies. A great way to finish off the year.
Sharpening the pencil and doing the sums, I worked out the bottom line for the annual mileage in 2015. After hitting a personal best in 2014, I promised myself to keep the miles down to a more reasonable 10,000 this year, and only just overstepped the mark with 10,597 miles/17,053kms.
Steve Abraham, who has only done 63,616 miles this year…….eat your heart out!