It may sound dumb to go for a 3-4 hour ride when the morning temperature is building up to 30+ degrees C….. which, to you Americans, means 86+ degrees F (what we sometimes call ‘old money’). Well, you may be right but, putting it into context, it makes more sense to go riding than to go walking or running.
If you walk, or even run, in such conditions, and continue for 3-4 hours, you are likely to start pushing your body into heat-stroke meltdown. Why? Well, principally because at the speeds you can run/walk, you can’t benefit much from the air-conditioning effect of a breeze (even if it’s just one you create yourself by your forward motion). Even if you run at 10mph, when there is no appreciable breeze anyway, that wouldn’t be enough to cool down your system. And, as soon as you stop, the sweat will just begin to pour out of you.
Riding a bike, however, in still hot conditions, is a little more forgiving. If you can keep a steady pace of 15-20mph, and take full advantage of downhills to reach 40-50mph, you will have a ready source of air conditioning wafting all about you. Going uphill, of course, is a different matter, and when you come to stop mid-ride or at the end of the ride, you will have the same challenges as runners or walkers. Though you might be tempted to dive into the nearest air conditioned shop just to enjoy that sudden chill, it’s best to avoid that. The body doesn’t like sudden changes, and you can actually end up sweating much more. The body gets confused, as it does when you jump into a cold shower or knock back a few icy drinks.
It is astonishing how the attention of the long-distance cyclist can be harnessed rigidly to the idea of roaming in far-away places, some exotic, some not quite so, and what lies on or near the doorstep is completely overlooked. I’m ashamed to admit that I have never cycled in Ireland, and doubly ashamed because, on my mother’s side of the family, I have several first cousins in County Limerick, whom I visit only very sporadically. So my decision for 2017 is to right that wrong, and spend three weeks riding the Irish ‘End-to-End’……better know as Mizen Head (in the south west) to Malin Head (in the north)…..or known more familiarly as the Miz-Mal.
It is not a huge distance. The shortest route between the two points is about 550kms but, no doubt, I will wander off route and take in some of the west and north-west coast, and probably notch up about 800kms. The first few days will very handily take me in the direction of my relatives in County Limerick, and it will be a huge added bonus that I will be able to spend a few days visiting, catching up with family matters, and celebrating our mutual advancing years.
As with every journey I do, I spend weeks absorbing information, reading and listening to podcasts, generally immersing myself in the history and culture of the country (or countries) I’m visiting. Ireland, too long seen as a mere appendage to Britain, is a country with its own Celtic vitality, and it has a rich heritage that is uniquely its own. My reading has taken me through the biography of WB Yeats, some of the short stories of James Joyce, the history of the 20th century and its turbulent years fighting for freedom, accompanied by the stark reality of revolution portrayed in Ken Loach’s film The Wind that shakes the barley.
Much still to unearth and anticipate. Watch this space.
I rode the length of Coniston Water where Donald Campbell made his last, and fateful, attempt at the water speed record in 1967. Here is the video of that attempt, and below is a cutting of a press report of deep-water divers finding some of his remains at the bottom of the water 34 years later. The find was not greeted with universal pleasure amongst family members……….
Campbell’s remains ‘are found’
by GRAHAM KEELEY, Daily Mail
Divers recovered what they believe to be the body of Donald Campbell from the bottom of Coniston Water in the Lake District yesterday.
Thirty four years after his water speed record attempt ended in disaster, bones were found in a racing suit near where his boat Bluebird was recently discovered.
There was no skull among the remains, which were taken to a hospital for a post-mortem and police DNA tests to be carried out.
It could be three days before the body is identified.
Last night, however, the family of the legendary daredevil appeared divided over the find, as Campbell’s sister launched a bitter attack on the divers who discovered his boat and now the body.
Jean Wales said she had been told by the diving team that the remains had been located.
‘This is the last thing that I wanted,’ said 77-year-old Mrs Wales.
‘My brother has been there for 30 years or more and they should let him rest there. Now they are bringing him up but for what good? It only causes distress and heartache for myself. I just feel devastated about it.’
However, Campbell’s 51-year-old daughter Gina Campbell was at the lakeside when the remains were found, filming a BBC documentary on the discovery of Bluebird.
She said: ‘This is a great relief. We are in no doubt that this is my father’s body because of the suit the remains were found in.
‘If his body was found in another 20 years, his close family might have all passed away and we would not be able to savour this moment.
‘The water at the bottom is murky and horrible and you would not want to leave a national hero down there.’
Campbell’s widow Tonia Bern-Campbell, 64, who now lives in San Bernardino, California, was said by friends to be ‘too upset’ to comment.
Campbell’s final moments have become part of the national consciousness after his spectacular crash was captured on film, in photographs and in a chilling recording of his last words.
As Bluebird edged towards 300mph then spun out of control, Campbell shouted: ‘She’s tramping, the water’s not good … I can’t see much … I’m going … I’m on my back … I am gone.’
Last year, a recovery team led by a millionaire diving enthusiast named Bill Smith discovered the final resting place of Bluebird 140ft down, but no trace of Campbell’s remains.
The incredible impact of the crash was apparent from the twisted remains. The cockpit and bow had been torn away. Only fragments of the nose have been found. But the red, white and blue of Bluebird’s tailfin was intact.
Mr Smith argued the craft would be looted by treasure hunters if it was not raised and, with some misgivings, Campbell’s family agreed.
In March the 1.5-ton wreckage was raised. It is now being restored.
Donald Campbell already held the water speed record at 276mph and was trying to better that when he died aged 46 in 1967.
His boat was named after the car in which his father Sir Malcolm Campbell had set what was then a land speed record of 146mph in 1924.
Last night Inspector Paul Coulston, of Cumbria Police, said: ‘At approximately 1pm, partial remains of what is believed to be a human body were recovered from the bed of Coniston Water in Cumbria.
‘It was close to the site where wreckage of Donald Campbell’s boat, the Bluebird, was recovered.’
The remains were taken to Furness General Hospital, Barrow-in-Furness where a post-mortem is expected to begin today.
People sometimes like to see route maps of rides. Everybody’s rides have something of the rider’s own personal touches….what prompts them to take that direction, climb this hill and not that one, stop in this place and not that one. My two rides over the weekend were circuits of two large bodies of water: Windermere and Coniston Water. It’s tempting to think that circuits of lakes will be fairly flat rides, but not so in the Lake District.
The two rides together included nearly 1200 metres (4000 feet) of ascent, almost the height of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the UK. Of course most of the hills were relatively short, some sharp, some gentle, but one in particular was almost unrideable (for me at least), rising to about 20% in gradient.
When you live in East Anglia, and do most of your daily riding in your own locality, the muscles in your legs have to be ‘re-formatted’ when you go to an area like the Lake District. It is quite a change…….
The Windermere ride took me past Wray Castle, a Victorian neo-Gothic building notable for its selection of rare and unusual trees, and Hill Top House, the home and farmstead of the famous children’s author, Beatrix Potter.
My ride around Coniston Water led me to the former home of John Ruskin, writer, artist and social reformer of the 19th century.
The sun shone over the water as I was served, in the adjacent tearoom, with one of those ambrosial cream teas that are the ultimate comfort food for the hungry cyclist. Drool over this……..
As I sit looking out on a very wet blustery day, the pleasant surprises of a weekend spent in the Lake District keep invading my inner thoughts. Yes, I do delight in propelling myself uphill and down dale, capturing the panoramas as I sweep by, or grind painfully up ridiculous gradients cursing every gut-wrenching metre, but then I get to discover little recondite corners where bits of history come alive
…like this graveyard in the town of Coniston, where you will find, just metres from each other, the graves of that merchant of speed, Donald Campbell (who died in the act of breaking yet another water speed record),
and the literary giant John Ruskin, whose house, in fact, is situated on the other side of Coniston Water.
As the weekend trippers were heading off home, I circled the lake on quiet roads, enjoying the wide open perspectives of the water, and sweeping landscapes of buttercup meadows that are so rarely seen these days.
Catch the Lakes on a sunny weekend (as I did) and you will see what enticed people like Wordsworth, Ruskin and Beatrix Potter to these parts. But, of course, the sun doesn’t always shine…..
Cycling festival goers make an interesting bunch of people to study. Here at Brathay Hall in Ambleside, the average age is noticeably younger than at Waddow Hall last weekend, and much of that is down to the clever marketing of bikes and kit that will appeal to the younger generations. This old guy is much too old to be test riding a ‘fat bike’…..but hey, we can all dream on….
He holds several world records, one of which was the 18,000 mile round the world record, but it was quickly broken by other enthusiasts. So he announced his decision to take back that record, so in July he will set off from Paris and attempt to cycle round the world in 80 days, shaving 114 days off his previous attempt, and doing it by riding 240 miles every day…..meaning he will be in the saddle for 16 hours per day.
Is there any sanity left in the world?
This weekend is all about 29ers, gravel bikes, fat bikes, bike packing kit, ultra-lightweight camping, off-roading and gravel tracking, and this branch of cycling is currently heavily driven by marketing and fashion, with huge appeal amongst a younger generation of riders.
The event is being held at Brathay Hall, overlooking lake Windermere and, as well as the presence of some of the major manufacturers of bikes and kit, there will be a line-up of speakers that will include the cycling celebrity, Mark Beaumont, former record holder of cycling round the world, and current record holder for riding the length of Africa.
Phew! Breathless stuff……..
Laura and Tim Moss, an intrepid couple who cycled 13,000 miles on their world tour in 2013-14, came back so enthused by their experiences that they set up the first Cycle Touring Festival at Waddow Hall in Clitheroe in 2015. I have just come back from the 3rd edition of the Festival, full of that ‘cycling spiritual refreshment’ that only comes from joining hundreds of other cycling ‘pilgrims’ at the mecca of cycle touring in the UK.
This was no ordinary festival. It steadfastly refused to follow the usual format of being dominated by sponsors and traders. The event was born of enthusiasts, it was run by volunteer enthusiasts, all the workshops, demos and presentations were given by enthusiasts without payment, and the inevitable end product was that, at the end, everyone went away brimming with renewed eagerness to go out and storm the world on their bikes.
One of the great ironies of the weekend was that the programme was so crammed with fascinating events on site, that it left no time to actually go out on the bikes and enjoy some of the local lanes. A bit like going to a pub with no beer, really. Everything was geared for the cyclist (or budding cyclist) who simply wanted to go on adventures on their bikes, whether multi-year round-the-world expeditions, or simple weekend micro-adventures in their own locality. Volunteers gave presentations on their own adventures, experts shared their knowledge of GPS systems, filming on the road, camp cooking and stoves, wheel building and basic mechanics, and much much more.
We enjoyed a presentation by a family with two young boys of their 6 month adventure in Japan, and cycling the west coast of Scotland. We had a yoga session specifically for the needs of cyclists, given by a yoga teacher and physiotherapist, who also happened to have cycled mega-miles across the globe. There were films, kit demos, talks on bothies in Scotland, bikepacking demos, discussions on dynamos and lighting systems, bike and light-weight tent demos, and an advice session on coping with cycling-related injuries.
They were the ‘serious’ parts of the programme, but in the gaps and in the evenings there were fun plenary gatherings in the marquee, an open mike session to hear 3 minute travelling stories from anyone who wanted to stand up, and the inevitable beer drinking to keep the bonhomie going late into the night.
Most people camped in the grounds of this splendid estate, within earshot of the river Ribble crashing over a nearby weir, which created a swimming-pool effect that enticed many to go swimming in the breaks. We were contained within a fantasy bubble during the entire weekend, ready to burst back out on the world when the final session was concluded, the final pint drunk, and the spare food doled out for people to take home with them.
If any of this inspires you, check out the Festival website, and sign up for a newsletter to be kept informed of the next event in 2018. In the meantime, you may want to tie into another festival taking place this weekend, June 2nd-5th, at Brathay Hall in Ambleside. If you do, I’ll see you there………………..
Let me do an unashamed plug for the City of Culture. Ah, come on……really…..you don’t know what I’m talking about? Whenever I mentioned to friends that we were going for a few days to the City of Culture, those who knew what I was talking about replied something like this: “What, you’re going to ‘ull? Why? Who in their right mind goes to ‘ull?”.
That reaction is, sadly, all too common. Kingston upon Hull (to give it its full name), the place that nobody visits because it is out there, on a limb, and you never go near it on your way to anywhere else. The people who end up in Hull only do so because they are actually going to Hull……..for some strange reason (apparently). The place that everyone loves to mock……but I’m now going to put the lie on that.
Hull is a happening place, especially now it has been elevated to the status of City of Culture. It began the year with an almighty bang, with a firework display second only to what happened on the Thames at New Year. Go to Hull this year and you will find museums bulging with special exhibitions, art galleries with veritable masterpieces, theatre and musical events going on in the most unexpected places. The Ferens art gallery has a Francis Bacon and a stunning Rembrandt. The University Art Gallery is displaying BP prize winning exhibits. The Museum Quarter in the old town will keep you happily engaged for hours, from the history of slavery and its abolition (William Wilberforce was MP for Hull), to a splendidly bedecked museum of transport and street life (including a whole section on the history of the bicycle).
You can take a taxi ride that introduces you to the past and present of the city, or take a walk over the Humber Bridge wearing a pair of headphones, listening to readings, poems and music that will enhance your walk. We spent a whole morning in the aquarium known as The Deep, happily absorbed in the dazzling variety of sea creatures, competing with excited toddlers and their parents for space next to the aquaria.
The day’s activities over, one evening we escaped to nearby Beverley, to its Minster, and let the dulcet tones of the Minster choir waft over us at their choral evensong. The other evening was spent back at the Museum Quarter where the History Troupe, under the leadership of Rob Bell, led us engagingly through the history of the Great War, digging beneath the surface to reveal the fortunes and misfortunes of the many thousands of Hullensians who fought and died in that dreadful conflict. In Run for the Line, the story celebrates the life of the outstanding HKR rugby player, Jack Harrison, scorer of a record 52 tries in one season. But we are constantly brought back to the hardships suffered by the people of Hull, to the deaths in the Pal’s battalions which were decimated on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, and of the 7,500 men who perished and the 25,000 other casualties who were left maimed, both physically and mentally, by the brutality of warfare. The readings and the songs were scripted from the collection of narrative poems written by Rob Bell, entitled Sharp Street, and the power of the music alongside the descriptive narrations left the audience deeply moved.
Before 2017 is out, make a decision to spend some time in Hull. Ignore what all your friends say about the city. As likely as not, they will never have been there. I guarantee you will be entranced.
I love it when a visit to a historic country house in the UK throws up a bit of obscure history that didn’t quite make it into the A level history syllabus. And this is precisely what happened when we recently visited Farnborough Hall in Oxfordshire.
I am sure, like me, you will have heard of the window tax, used extensively in the 18th and 19th centuries in several countries, as a way of raising revenue for the crown. Instead of the income tax we pay today, families then were taxed on the number of windows (above a certain number), meaning that those with the biggest properties were taxed more heavily than the rest. Because some wily home owners started bricking up windows, thereby reducing their tax bill, in 1792 William Pitt had a brainwave. In addition to taxing windows, he imposed a tax on the number of clocks and watches owned by people. The resulting effect was exactly the same. People got rid of surplus timepieces, the bottom fell out of the clock-making industry, and pubs and inns started doing brisk business because they were often the only establishment in a community to have a clock. Yes, you’ve got it….locals would pop in to check the time and be distracted by the merchandise.
The few clocks that were made during this brief period (lasting only about 6 months), came to be known as Act of Parliament clocks, and I’m sure if you are an owner of one dating from this time, you will be sitting on a fortune.
Time to book your place on Flog it! or the Antiques Road Show.
This semi-autobiographical novel has the most unusual structure of being a dramatic monologue, between the protagonist Changez and his non-speaking American listener, whom he met in a Lahore tea house. Changez recounts his own story, that of a Pakistani from an impoverished upper middle class background who goes to the USA to study at Princeton University. His degree takes him on a meteoric career with a company that assesses the marketable value of businesses before they are taken over, but his life comes crashing down in the wake of 9/11, when all American citizens of his skin colour become immediate suspects of being collaborators, and his failed love affair with Erica leaves him in emotional turmoil.
He walks away from his high-flying career and returns to Lahore, where a reassessment of his own loyalties to family and country drives him to reconfigure his own national identity, and begin to look critically at American involvement in his own country’s affairs. At the outset of his career in New York, he was asked by a co-worker where he would like to be in 25 years time, to which he answered: ‘a dictator of a fundamentalist Islamic state’. His answer may have been intended as a joke, but his quiet admiration for what the 9/11 attackers had achieved adds an edge to our assessment of the real character of this apparently pro-American Pakistani.
I suspect readers will be deeply divided about the merits of this type of fiction, but it certainly held my attention throughout, and the fact it has been translated into 25 languages and has been shortlisted for numerous literary prizes (including the Booker prize) is, perhaps, testament to it literary value.
I had snuck my solo into the car, along with the tandem, to do a slightly longer route on our last day in Norfolk, and I had arranged to meet Jenny midst the restrained opulence of Felbrigg Hall near Cromer, an estate that dates from the 11th century, and owned continuously by the Wyndhams from 1450, until it was passed to the National Trust in 1969, for safe-keeping on behalf of the nation.
It’s only in remote rustic corners like rural Norfolk that you will find a level crossing where you have to open the gates yourself, stop, look and listen for ‘approaching traffic’, then make a life-threatening dash in your car across the railway line, before closing the gates behind you. And if you fail to close the gates, watch your back! You may be fined a tidy £1000 for bad behaviour.
But a small reward for the effort will bring you to sights like these……..old windmills that once worked round the clock (or when the wind was blowing, at least) to grind the wheat. Some are still working models today.
My route took me out to the coast, where the strong winds from the north were whipping up the waves, guaranteeing the beaches an eerie solitude. But there was beauty in the unbridled lack of restraint………
Blickling Hall, Norfolk
A few days in a small country hotel gave us the opportunity to use the tandem to get to a nearby National Trust country estate, following some of the narrow winding country roads so characteristic of deepest rural Norfolk. But I was beset by an almost insuperable mechanical issue when we arrived, not because it was impossible to resolve, but because I had stupidly left the necessary tools at home. I have names for people like me……*&@##+#+!!
The front gear changing mechanism had mysteriously got completely twisted, and I had neither an adjustable spanner, nor the appropriate allen key to fix it. But because we were at a National Trust property, I reasoned they had some maintenance people on site and, sure enough, a ‘Mr Fix-it’ appeared with the right tool to sort out the offending mechanical. You might say I was making full use of our membership of the association.
But we had a most enjoyable 3-4 hours at Blickling Hall, an extravagant Jacobean pile that dates back 400 years. Then we ‘motored’ back to the hotel with a gently assisting wind behind……..
…..and passed through a little village pretending to be the equal of the eponymous town where Jenny had been born in Derbyshire……..but it lacked the altitude, and the ‘attitude’!
A truly absorbing and moving first hand account of an idyllic holiday in the Masai Mara that suddenly turned into something of tragic proportions. Judith (Jude) and her husband, David, had spent a perfect week on safari in the Masai Mara in 2013, followed by the anticipation of a relaxing beach holiday just 40km south of the Somali border. The remoteness of this picturesque beach engendered both its beauty and its danger, and Jude felt uneasy about its deserted tranquillity from the outset. With good reason because, on the first night, they were awoken by intruders, David struggled with one of them, and Jude was roughly dragged off to a skiff, thrown on top of a pile of fuel cans, and taken off on a long journey, to be kept prisoner as a hostage for over six months in Somalia.
What she didn’t know for several weeks was the fate of her husband. She had fondly believed he was still alive and in the process of negotiating her release. She discovered, however, during the first phone call with her son, Ollie, that David had not ‘survived his injuries’. He had, in fact, been shot. What had already been a very difficult experience for Jude turned into something so painful that she wasn’t sure that she could survive.
This memoir is a very well written account of her six months in captivity, of the relationships she struck up with her captors, of her methods of survival, of the notes she kept (which were destroyed by her captors), and of the hourly pacing around her small room to help keep herself physically and mentally fit…….hence the title ‘A long walk home’. A remarkable lady and a remarkable story.
A breathless ‘bash’ around the shores of the 8th largest reservoir in the country. 5km across open countryside, crossing an old wartime airfield, I can be on the bridleway that circles the water, taking in the views and swallowing the midges as I forge my way around. The sun was setting, the light disappearing fast, and the scent from the bluebells in Savages Spinney was heady. More importantly, I had most of the track to myself…….unbridled freedom!
David Sore came to my attention during a BBC documentary about the Raleigh Cycle company a few weeks ago. I grabbed my phone as I was watching, logged onto my local library service, and found he had written a book about his cycle journey around the world, on his modified Raleigh bicycle, in the 1960s. At the age of 25, he began a journey of nearly four years, riding 35,000 miles through 21 countries, and his volume A journey round the world: a cycling memoir is his record of that journey.
Though it is a very commendable self-published account of a memorable, life-changing experience, and could be an invaluable guide to anyone wanting to dip their toes in the world of long-distance touring, it does suffer from a few flaws. Published 40 years after the experience, it relies heavily on his diary notes and latter-day research, and fails to ‘bristle’ with the liveliness and enthusiasm of a recent experience, a point I noted elsewhere with Patrick Leigh Fermor’s trilogy about his walk to Istanbul in the 1930s.
This ‘chronological detachment’ probably also encouraged a style of narrative that dwells overmuch on the ‘nuts and bolts’ of his journey: food, drink, camping, the gearing on his bike, and the almost mechanical focus on a place-by-place description of everything he encountered. It would have been a much improved narrative had he explored his inner feelings and perceptions more, his reactions to places and, above all, to the people he met. We learn very little of the man himself, what makes him tick, and how people along the way altered his perception of the world.
It is, however, a worthy read, a story that has a beginning, middle and an end and, even through the narrow style of his writing, he does give a flavour of the rigours of the life of the long-distance cyclist.
In a saner moment, I would never choose to pick up a book about cosmology, but then I had recently read the memoir of Jane Hawking Travelling to Infinity, which had led to a second viewing of the film The Theory of everything, so I had to complete the ‘trilogy’ by making an effort to read A brief history of time. It was not the challenge I had expected, even though many of the concepts went straight over my head, but Stephen Hawking very adeptly puts into layman’s language the very complex concepts about time, the universe, black holes and the continuing expansion of the universe.
I never expected to be so engaged, and that probably explains the more than 20 million sales in over 40 languages of a book that would normally be confined to the reading rooms of university research departments. Hawking succeeded in making theoretical physics ‘cool’, even though the vast majority of those who purchased the book (I imagine) have never managed to read it in its entirety, or not at all. Like Shakespeare and the Bible, everyone wanted to have it on their bookshelves, but few have made it a reading priority.
If you have a copy in your bookcase, I would highly recommend re-visiting it. It is certainly worth the effort.
Saying goodbye to club mates at Roxton Garden Centre to make my way home, I had allowed the Garmin Connect website to route my ride. I had chosen way points and then let the website choose the route between those points. It could have been a big mistake and I knew it was going to be a bit of an adventure because the website frequently can’t distinguish between metalled roads and unsurfaced tracks and sure enough, once I had crossed the railway line at Tempsford, I was sent off along bridleways, across land that landowners with a ‘fortress mentality’ tried to seal off as being private, the metalled surface led on to grass tracks, which led on to a narrow forest track that was just about rideable on a road bike.
My cross country route lasted 6-7 miles, ascended the odd unclimbable hill, crossed rutted stretches far too rough for 23mm tyres but, in compensation, I came across my first display of cowslips just pushing their heads through the surface, and in the denser parts of the forest, I stumbled across some early season bluebells.
When you discover that Bloomsbury pulled back all the review copies of one of its books before publication to pulp them, because something potentially libellous in its text was exciting a few lawyers, you know that the covers are going to be filled with some contentious thinking.
Brown and Woodhead have endeavoured to write an account of the last 30 years of the history of the Anglican Church, exposing what they think have been all the weaknesses and aberrations that have led to the spectacular decline in church attendance, and the end of a history where the Church was formerly accepted as an institution of the establishment. According to them, the Church is no longer the religion of the state, and its interior self destruction is as much to do with its own internal wars as it is with the general changes in society as a whole.
With so much rivalry amongst the different power bases (the charismatics, evangelicals, liberals and Anglo-catholics, to name but a few), and the radically different perspectives of the Church on continents like Africa and North America, it is astonishing that the Church has held together as a single institution. Then add to that the controversies over the ordination of women and the integration of gay priests and bishops, and you begin to wonder whether now is the time for them to call it a day, and break off into their sundry groups, and seek their own identities.