Take the tandem abroad? Avoid airports and packing the tandem? Find somewhere that is hill-free? Why not Holland?
Rolling off the ferry from Harwich into the Hook of Holland gave us a perfect start for exploring some of the most beautiful parts of the country. But if you think Holland is completely flat, think again. Some of its most ‘rugged’ nature lies along the Dunes running from the Hague to Zandvoort……some 80km of rolling, desert-like landscape. And because it ‘rolls’, sports cyclists and would-be Steven Kruijswijks like to pump up the speed, attacking the climbs in search of their Strava points.
But before the thumbnail sketches of each day’s experience, here is an overview of the route:
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?
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…
Monday becomes ‘Twosday’…
Good to go off-road….and the track around Grafham Water is incomparable…forgetting, of course, the swarms of mosquitos by the water side. Being a Bank Holiday Monday, there were myriad bikers out enjoying this late spring holiday: from the kitted-out, camel-backed enthusiasts to the more senior rider with electric-assist machines, from the carefree ‘sit-up-and-beg’ riders to families with trailer bikes and child carriers….they were all there, and they all had smiles on there faces, except when they were struggling up one of the many little hills.
We passed a couple who had stopped to rest, and she looked at us on the tandem and the expression on her face seemed to say: “I’d like one of those, then he could do all the work….”.
We can access the track from a bridleway just 5km from our home, so no need to load the tandem into the car, and the round trip puts 25km onto the clock….so worth getting kitted up for it. And with a couple of cafés on the circuit, there’s no need to go off-piste in search of refreshments, and with Grafham Cycling also located on the route, any mechanical issues can be resolved during the ride.
Originally built as an Archbishop’s Palace, it eventually fell into the hands of the Sackville Family, a dynasty of enormous wealth and influence, who have occupied the property for over 400 years. Like all powerful families, the narratives of the individual members go to make up a complex but fascinating kaleidoscope of life, and the stories of their connections with the Bloomsbury group have filled volumes.
Then out came the tandem, to labour the five hilly miles to Ightham Mote, one of the oldest medieval moated properties in the country, and only exists today because of the many rescue plans of successive owners. Then, 30 years ago, it was ‘gifted’ to the National Trust by its American owner, Charles Henry Robinson…….and after many years of labour and £10 million of expenditure, this stunning property is now secured for the foreseeable future.
The route to and from Ightham Mote took us through challenging but delightful wooded landscapes.
As members of the National Trust, what better way to visit a number of properties in a carefully chosen area than to ‘park up’ up for a couple of nights in conveniently situated accommodation, and use the tandem to cruise between properties? Well, I say ‘cruise’, but the reality is somewhat different.
North Kent is certainly not cruising country……..every other place name has the word ‘hill’ embedded in its identity……but delightful countryside it certainly is, and no accident that over the course of history many wealthy and influential people have had their country ‘piles’ conveniently located to the capital, the very place where they exercised their power and influence and, in many cases, made their wealth.
The primary objective of this visit was Chartwell, the family home of the Churchills. The place that Winston retreated to so as to escape the turmoil of political life and running a war; the place where he overcame his ‘black dog’ depressions by painting and building brick walls;
the place where he played with Jock, his marmalade cat, and sat by one of the ponds looking out for his golden orfe; and the place where he produced a prolific output as a writer and historian.
Then on to Emmetts Garden, just a few miles away, to be dazzled by the colours and landscapes of a late 19th century garden, influenced strongly by William Robinson.
A 21 mile circular ride that combined the best of the north Kent countryside with some fascinating insights into the local history.
“Learn to ride a bicycle. You will not regret it if you live”(Mark Twain)
Harsh words from the pen of Mark Twain, but even if you do live, you may still have some regrets.
Evidence that women may have special problems with saddle comfort was amply demonstrated at the recent N.E.C. Cycle Show when they staged a special teach-in, addressing comfort problems for women. As I mentioned in a previous post, it was interesting to see that many in the audience were men….. no doubt, gathering important information for their wives and partners in absentia.
Fittingly, the talk was led by a knowledgeable lady from Trek Bicycles who had personal experience of everything she referred to, and was not timid about employing all the appropriate vocabulary for describing the nether regions! She got into those ‘dark corners’ of the human anatomy, and called a spade ‘a spade’.
Most tandem stokers (ie. the one on the back) know all too intimately the challenges of being at the rear end…..and no, I’m not just referring to the monotonous view of the pilot’s back, nor being able to steer and brake. I am, of course, referring to the amplified bumps and divots felt much more by the stoker than the pilot. Exactly the same as sitting at the back of a long bus…..except much more painful.
So, among the various issues being addressed, we have recently invested in a Cane Creek Thudbuster which, according to what it says on the tin, should make a significant improvement to stoker comfort. Watch this space……..
Driffield to Bridlington to Filey 38 miles
Some people have cool jobs! Over our final full English breakfast of the trip, we chatted to a young ornithologist who was spending a few days in the area studying specie numbers on a given patch allocated to him. This meant that he had to get out of bed before dawn, drive for half an hour, and spend an hour observing and counting species and varieties of birds. We assumed he was having his second breakfast of the day. At first I thought he had an enviable way of making a living……but then I wasn’t considering the variable weather he would have to endure to complete his studies. Perhaps spending a lifetime in the classroom wasn’t such a bad option after all.
This was a day of crossing, and re-crossing the same railway line…..some 7 times in all, and it wasn’t always straightforward. Two of the crossings were closed to traffic, but allowed access to pedestrians and cyclists. Well, that’s all fine and dandy….but they hadn’t allowed for tandems! I mean, how do you get a tandem through two kissing gates…….? And yes, we had to unload the panniers and part-lift the machine over the barriers. Hey ho…….the trials and tribulations of double bikers.
One of the delights en route to Bridlington was stopping at the Manor House of Burton Agnes, where we found one of the most perfect tearoom terraces. It was tempting to linger longer in the pleasant surroundings, but we decided to look around the medieval Manor House, cared for by English Heritage, and free to enter. An unexpected little bonus.
And so to Bridlington, where we found that the signs marking the finishing post were exactly the same as the ones across the other side of the country, in Morecambe. We coincided with two chaps who had just finished the same route, and they were beginning to ponder: what next? I dangled the prospect of doing LEJOG (Land’s End to John O’Groats) in front of them, but they thought it sounded a bit too tough. But then they were still feeling the aches and pains of the ride just completed……
Then joy of joys, we may have completed the Way of the Roses, but we had saddled ourselves with an extra 12 miles to Filey, having been kindly offered the use of a holiday cottage by a friend and former pupil. It turned out to be a beautifully refurbished (and extended) fisherman’s cottage, with a bait house that perfectly fitted the tandem, and a bedroom view of the sun rising over the sea. As I opened my eyes on the first morning, I was greeted by an autumnal sun rising through the mist over the water.
Dunnington to Driffield 43 miles
One thing you must understand about the National Cycle Network……it seldom takes the shortest route to a given destination. Why? Well, you could say that cycling between any two points should be about the quality of the experience and not about the speed of arrival…….I know some will say that is a moot point, but SUSTRANS (the charity that creates and maintains these routes) seems to have a clear philosophy…..which is borne out by the indirectness of many of their routes.
Today’s was a case in point. A Googlemap cycle route shows that it should be no more than 28 miles, but the SUSTRANS option takes you off-road and on huge dog’s legs, keeping to minor roads. At one point, Driffield was only 8
miles away (according to a signpost), but 15 miles later, we found ourselves entering the outskirts of the town.
No sooner had we left Dunnington, we found ourselves heading east on Route 66. I think it was no accident that SUSTRANS chose to christen this Route 66: like its more famous sibling it runs east to west (Spurn Head to Manchester), but I am sure it has never been used as an important migratory route in the demographic history of this country. I could be mistaken.
Going through Stamford Bridge made us realise that we have passed a lot of battlefields in the last few days. If King Harrold had not had to rush north in 1066 to stamp down a rebellion led by his brother Tostig, who knows what the outcome of the Battle of Hastings would have been. The history of the last 1000 years of this country could have had a very different complexion. And I know many would say ‘for the worse’…….
As we headed further east, we were reminded that climbing was not just a thing of the Pennines….we had the Yorkshire Wolds to climb over. Not as brutally steep as the Pennines, but there were some long arduous climbs. And as we were recovering from our exertions in a garden centre tearoom, our attention was caught by this mural of the Way of the Roses. We liked it so much we enquired about the availability of paper copies……but no, the mural had cost them £400, but it was just that……a painting on a wall.
When we arrived in Driffield, I was intrigued by the name of our accommodation: Hotel 41. Disappointingly, however, the number simply referred to its door number: 41 Market Square. But you can imagine our further ‘disappointment’ when they informed us our room was being decorated, and would we mind having an upgrade? I do like the dry humour of Yorkshire people.
Boroughbridge to Dunnington 30 miles
Unbelievably, we had the prospect of a whole day without any significant hills! And what’s more, the breeze was in our favour…..surely we hadn’t died in the night and gone to cycling heaven?
The pace was brisk, we followed the Ouse in the direction of York, when I remembered there was a café on the site of old railway sidings near Shipton. We found it, sat in the conservatory, and vacantly watched trains speed by along the East Coast line. But this was no ordinary café……..it was also a restaurant and B&B….but the accommodation for both was in old train carriages that had been specially refurbished. I wondered if a night’s stay included the rhythm a sway of a train in motion, and the clickety clack of the rails under-wheel…..now that would have been original.
When we arrived in York, to continue the theme of railways, we spent 3 very enjoyable hours loitering with intent in the National Railway Museum. Not only can you enjoy a meal in a re-creation of a restaurant car, but you can also go for a guided tour of the famous royal carriages, and if your stomach is in order, enjoy a simulated experience of the Mallard breaking the world steam locomotive record of 126 mph. When we read the long list of precautions (heart problems, high blood pressure, pregnancy…….etc) we wondered if anyone actually ever qualified to enter the capsule…….
And then a quick zoom into the centre of York to have one of those very irritating “we woz ‘ere” photos taken outside the Minster, and then we battled our way out of the city, joining the homeward surge of commuter traffic, to find our overnight stay outside the village of Dunnington, and later to join our friends David and Marion for an evening meal. Perhaps the best day of the ride so far.
Pateley Bridge to Boroughbridge 27 miles
Breakfast this morning revealed a group of cyclists who were doing the Way as a supported ride….in other words, they had a sag-wagon carrying their luggage, and a leader arranging café stops and meals in the evening, as well as all the accommodation. We chatted to a lady in the group (riding a small-wheeled Alex Moulton) who was feeling the strain of being over-organised…..which only served to confirm for us that doing these rides independently is the best way. Or in the words of the pessimist: “you make your bed and lie on it”. Well, given that we had just spent 8 hours lying on a super-comfortable bed, it was now time to consume the full English and get back on the road.
So, were the big climbs now behind us? Well……kind of, but not quite. One more remained, over Brimham Rocks, and I knew it well……I had climbed it only two weeks before on my solo, and I knew it was going to be touch-and-go on the tandem. And sure enough it was….so for one final time (?), we dismounted, but this time safe in the knowledge that the rest of the day would be a ‘breeze’…….after all, there would be several miles of descent to the Ouse valley and, of course, we all know that rivers never flow uphill……..
A refreshment stop at Fountains Abbey saw us join a ‘confluence of tandems’, which I craftily inspected while the owners were putting miles back into their legs inside the café. Very nice machines, indeed. Two Santanas and a Thorn…….roughly with a combined value of some £25,000. Yes, we are talking about serious investments here…….not the sort of things you randomly leave outside of cafés without a secure lock. And when the owners emerged to mount their steeds, they all had the air of being life-long thoroughbred tandemists…….there was effortless coordination in their mounting and taking off, and an ease about their style of riding.
We couldn’t pass through Ripon without paying a visit to the Cathedral, and had heard beforehand that it was hosting an exhibition of local artists. I have to say that our attention was captivated as much by the art as by the building…..the two together made for a fascinating hour.
And so to Boroughbridge, close to the scene of the famous battle of 1322 between Edward II and his rebellious barons, and roughly the halfway point of our own ‘battle’ of the Way of the Roses. And the sun was shining……..
Giggleswick to Pateley Bridge 30 miles
To have only one wet day on the entire ride, but for that day to be the biggest climbing day……..where’s the justice in that? We gingerly set foot outside only to be greeted by the dull, grey promise of what was to accompany us for the rest of the day. On went the rain tops,
and the day’s ride was to take us to the highest point of the entire route, 1300 feet, at Greenhow hill (just outside Pateley Bridge). As promised by the local man at the bar, the climb out of Settle was murderous. No way could we ride it on the tandem. Even young fit riders were walking, pushing their solos. But this was just the start of things to come……
The Pennine hills usually have a nasty sting in their tails. Every time you go around a bend, hoping the climb is about to end, you realise it is only a false summit. On one occasion, we were at our limit, slowly grinding our way to the top of a long drag. Around the bend was a suggestion that we were topping out…..but no, the climb uncomprehendingly continued for as far as the eye could see. We had hit our limit……. Jenny (bless her) had a few moments of tears, but quickly recovered, and we hauled the tandem to the top.
And when you look for the payback, the welcome descent after the long climbs, it can be disheartening to discover the drop is just too steep for a laden tandem that relies entirely on two V brakes for its stopping power. The drop down into Pateley Bridge approached 20% at times so, guess what? Instead of throwing caution to the wind and hurtling down into the town, we actually had to walk down much of the descent. Adding insult to injury?
However, the saving grace at the end of the day was to check into the Harefield Hall hotel in Pateley Bridge, discover we had a room with panoramic views over the open countryside and, after a challenging wet day, find we could sit by a blazing log fire and let the warmth of the flames soothe away the aches and pains. And the tandem? We simply wheeled it, over beautiful carpets, into the one of the front lounges of the hotel…….spoil the tandem, spoil the customers.
And tomorrow was to be another day……..
The wanderers have returned. In many ways, this has been an epic journey, especially for Jenny. It is 33 years since she has done a multi-day unsupported tandem ride of this length. Why so long? Well, I’m sure there are a few good stories to tell there, but suffice to say ‘life just got in the way’.
This was not going to be like one of my own solo treks. It was not going to be a mad dash over the Pennines, ‘busting a gut’ to get to Bridlington in two days, by-passing everything of interest on the way. It was calculated to give both of us a good daily work-out, but with time to have relaxing stops for refreshments, pay the odd visit to passing landmarks, and stay comfortably in a B&B at the end of the day. I wanted Jenny to finish this trip with a sense of achievement, but with a smile on her face……… ;0)
We shared the planning: I sorted out the logistics of the ride itself, the projected stopping points, and how to get to and from the start and finish (always a problem with linear routes, especially with a tandem). Jenny sorted out the accommodation which, given that it coincided with the first week of term, should have been easy……but far from it. September is the time for the silver generation to head off on late summer breaks, so there was much competition for just about everything.
Day 1 Morecambe to Giggleswick 37 miles
It was just by chance that we met Gary at the start of the ride. He happened to be one of the volunteer route designers for Sustrans, and he was waiting for a colleague to arrive to confirm a bridge closure on the route. Thanks to him, we set off forewarned of a diversion which could have made a big difference to the projected day’s mileage.
The first ten miles were a delight, following dedicated cycle paths along the River Lune. At the Crook o’Lune, we climbed away from the river and started heading up into Bowland Forest. This was where the serious climbing began, but not before negotiating this odd tunnel that seemed to be designed for a badger run rather than a cycle route
Astonishingly, we managed to climb a 16% hill, but then thought the better of such lung-busting exertion when more such hills presented themselves. There’s no shame in walking. Many solo riders were doing the same. If you have never ridden a tandem, you need to know there is a law of physics which will limit your success at climbing hills but, conversely, that same law will see you descending at break-neck speeds, hurtling down much faster than the average solo rider and, sometimes, much faster than your brakes will safely permit.
And so to Giggleswick, just outside Settle, to the Craven Arms, where they were able to squeeze our tandem into their shed, and provide us with a comfortable room. Chatting to one of the locals in the bar, we were quietly informed of the challenges of the next day’s route. The climb out of Settle, he told us, is difficult even in a car! But more of that in the next post…….
When I have my trusty stoker on the back seat, cycling becomes the alternative activity to lots of other interesting things. We stop to check things out, like the town museum in Oundle, which is only open a couple of days a week, is manned by volunteers who are (over) eager to enlighten you on some of the finer details of life in the town, but are so brimful of enthusiasm, you can’t help but be drawn in.
But a fascinating place it is, complete with magistrates cell, with a ‘model’ prisoner who speaks to you when you open the hatch.
Passing through the village of Barnwell, if you linger long enough you will discover it is, in fact, two villages…….St.Andrew and All Saints. And both have their separate churches, although the one in All Saints was largely demolished in the 19th century, leaving only the chancel standing.
Instead of marauding Gauls, we find a land of Breton-speaking Celts, whose language has much in common with neighbouring Cornish, Welsh, Irish and Manx.
Honestly, there was no prompter off-stage when Jenny said to me this morning: “Let’s get the tandem out and cycle somewhere for lunch”. As I picked myself up from the kitchen vinyl, I looked out at the bright sunshine and simply had to agree with her……this was a day for cycling somewhere for a pub lunch….after all, it was my day for cooking
Now the tandem had been hibernating for the past 4 months in the garage, so the dust and cobwebs of its winter inactivity had to be brushed off, chains and gears lubed up, tyres inflated, and a general check that everything was as it should be. The conditions were perfect. Cloudless sky, a gentle breeze, cool temperatures……so good, in fact that, now’s the time to unearth some of those time-honoured statements, made by notable figures in the past, that helped to improve the ‘street-cred’ of cycling:
Albert Einstein is credited with this: Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.
And this from H.G.Wells: Whenever I see an adult on a bicycle, I have hope for the human race.
Even Ernest Hemingway had something to say: 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. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.
And Arthur Conan Doyle is surely right when he says: When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking.
And the last word from John Lennon: As a kid I had a dream – I wanted to own my own bicycle. When I got the bike I must have been the happiest boy in Liverpool, maybe the world. I lived for that bike. Most kids left their bike in the backyard at night. Not me. I insisted on taking mine indoors and the first night I even kept it in my bed.
……….her true love said to her: “Why not go for a tandem ride after lunch?”.
There is a lengthy pause…..grinding mechanical noises suggest that the thought processes are in motion. A face slowly lifts from the breakfast porridge, eye contact is made……..I expect “no” for an answer, but to my surprise the suggestion gets the affirmative nod. We will be off for our first twosome of 2013! And that’s in the first week of the year.
Lunch is eaten hastily because the afternoon light disappears fast at this time of the year. As you can see from the photo, we dressed so as not to be missed by distracted drivers, but cared naught about being arrested by the fashion police.
The rained mizzled lightly, the mist came down, the light faded quickly…….but then brightened up again. We climbed a couple of steep hills, passed the scene of my cycling accident 4 years ago (where I fractured my femur), and arrived back home unscathed and feeling the better for it.
I suppose that was our little present from the Three Kings ;0)
When Jenny suggested we go out for a tandem ride, I quickly said ‘yes’ to seal the deal before she could change her mind. Nothing too challenging, though. After a week spent on a cruise ship, the limbs and muscles needed a gentle reintroduction to things more exacting than striding around deck 12. We have an 11 mile circuit that takes in the villages of Easton, Spaldwick and Stow Longa, and it just so happens that the new village shop in Spaldwick has a little café…….which needed testing, of course. Sitting at their outside table, you can admire Spaldwick’s rather striking village sign, erected (I am sure) to celebrate the new millennium. Many of the villages in the area have their own special signs, designed to reflect something of the history and nature of the community.
Hitting the century
No, I am not referring to ‘anno domini’ but to a ride I did today on my solo. To meet up with the Thursday group for lunch, I had to ‘leg it’ out to Kibworth in Leicestershire, a good 40 miles/64kms from my home. Fortified by a good lunch, I got it into my head that a round trip of 80 miles could easily morph into 100 miles/160kms. Well ‘easily’ is not really the word. Building in an extra 20 miles on the homeward route took some initiative and not a little wayward wandering. And yes, when I did get home (just 15 minutes before the televised highlights of the Tour de France) I was just 2 miles short of the target. Well, like any normal ‘anorak’ cyclist, I went round the block to make up the deficiency. I know, you probably think that is really sad………………;0(
I know some mathematical purist will quibble with my calculations: 160.35kms is really only 99.63 miles. Does that mean that I forfeit the right to brag?
There are so many variations in the construction of tandems. We thought we had just about seen them all at a recent tandem rally over Easter. The rear-seated pilot was not new to us (click here), but this model (seen on a recent visit to Cambridge) really caught my attention.
Unmistakably of a ‘sensible’ Dutch design, it seems to be designed for a child front ‘stoker‘ and a rear ‘pilot’, but fascinatingly long and obviously a bit cumbersome. Made by a company called Dutchbike (www.dutchbike.co.uk), I discovered from their website that it is a versatile cargo-bike, that can carry either children (yes, in the plural) or cargo on the front. Give the children their own little cabin, and they are weather-protected as well. Very neat.
There is a rare form of transport out there, more frequently seen in the Spring and Summer, that heads off to meet up with other ‘random tandems’ in remote spots, usually to do a bit of grazing at watering holes, but also to wander the lanes and byways in some kind of migratory procession. The remote spot, in this instance, was the New Forest, and the best watering holes were abundantly provided for over the Easter weekend. 100 tandemists (= 50 tandems) in case you have a problem with the maths, gathered at Avon Tyrell Activity Centre, and enjoyed a variety of sorties out into the local countryside. From gently rolling forest lanes to the steep climbs over heathland, from encounters with sauntering ponies and cattle (who know they have priority!) to the mêlée of Bank Holiday trippers in Lymington, from the quiet solitude of coastal cycle tracks to the hustle and bustle of holiday traffic on the move. The weekend had everything, including mind-stretching and competitive entertainment in the evenings and, most importantly, the camaraderie of an activity shared with a riding partner and a bunch of other enthusiasts.
The Tandem Club in the UK brings together the enthusiasm of some 4000 members, many of whom organise themselves into local or regional groups, and enjoy monthly rides of some 30-40 miles, the highlight always being the feeding stops en route! And tandem-riding can open a door to people with disabilities,
especially blind or partially-sighted riders, who can make excellent ‘stokers’ (back riders). And a new breed of tandem, the Hase Pino, is ideally suited for riders with other disabilities, with its semi-recumbent design at the front and its independent drive-train.
Humour and laughter are always attendant at such tandem encounters, whether its along the road sharing chat as you weave through the lanes, or at table over a meal in the evenings. As we pedalled along a forest lane, I said to the front rider of the tandem alongside us: if the front rider is called the ‘pilot’, what do we call the back rider? ‘Cabin crew‘? I suggested. He proffered: ‘No, trolley dolly‘!!
We were all enthusiastically appreciative of the fine efforts made by the Wessex regional group, who master-minded every aspect of the weekend. It was a well-rounded experience, designed to cater for every inclination of the motley crowd that gathered