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Monday becomes ‘Twosday’….

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.

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Another Twosday…..on a Tuesday this time!

Knole-Ightham MoteDiscovering that Quebec House (home of General James Wolfe) was not open on a Tuesday, we drove over to Knole, a humongous property set in a 1000 acre deer park.

Knole

Knole

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.

Ightham Mote

Ightham Mote

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.

Twosday……on a Monday…..

Chartwell-Emmets GardensAs 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.

Looking over the Weald of Kent

Looking over the Weald of Kent

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.

Chartwell

Chartwell

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;

Jock number 6: the tradition is maintained

Jock number 6: the tradition is maintained

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.

Emmetts Garden

Emmetts Garden

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.

The Cane Creek Thudbuster…

“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……..

Cane Creek Thudbuster

Cane Creek Thudbuster

Way of the Roses: Day 6 (and the last!)

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.

Happy in the knowledge that the end is nigh.....

Happy in the knowledge that the end is nigh…..

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.

Medieval Manor, Burton Agnes

Medieval Manor, Burton Agnes

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……

The finish, Bridlington

The finish, Bridlington

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.

And as I close this account of the ride, I leave you with that image……20140911_070504_Android

Way of the Roses: Day 5

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.20140909_162546_Android 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

Route 66

Route 66

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 lotStamford Br 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 CIMG9888from 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.

Way of the Roses: day 4

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?

Crossing the Ouse

Crossing the Ouse

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.

Accommodation at the Sidings

Accommodation at the Sidings

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…….

The real Mallard

The real Mallard

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.

Outside York Minister

Outside York Minister

Way of the Roses: day 3

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.

Note the smile.....

Note the smile…..

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……..

Brimham Rock formation

Brimham Rock formation

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.

Two Santanas and a Thorn

Two Santanas and a Thorn

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.

Outside Ripon Cathedral

Outside Ripon Cathedral

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……..

Way of the Roses: Day 2

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,

Looking back over Settle

Looking back over Settle

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……

Approaching top of Greenhow Hill

Approaching top of Greenhow Hill

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.

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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……..

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Way of the Roses: 204 miles

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’.

The start point in Morecambe

The start point in Morecambe

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.Route map.1

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

Badger run?

Badger run?

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.

If not on their bikes, cyclists will generally be found skulking in tearooms!

If not on their bikes, cyclists will generally be found skulking in tearooms!

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…….the-craven-arms.jpg Giggleswick

The trusty stoker….

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.

Oundle museum

Oundle museum

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.

Barnwell All Saints Church

Barnwell All Saints Church

And a 37 mile tandem ride would not be complete without the compulsory café stop. But can you spot the difference between the two photos below (allowing for a slight alteration in direction)? 20140822_125252_Android

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Bretagne, the land of Asterix & Obelix

asterix

………..the famous Gauls who, under the spell of their secret druidical potion, did untold damage to the invading Romans.

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.

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The Breton countryside in October is awash with ripening apples……’Whileaway Cottage’, where we whiled away our time http://www.whileawaycottage.co.uk

...the smells and taste of autumn

…the smells and taste of autumn

...the pleasure of drinking local ciders like cups of tea....

…the pleasure of drinking local ciders like cups of tea….

...visible signs of ancient Celtic history

…visible signs of ancient Celtic history

To experience the sometimes overcrowded magic of Le Mont St Michel, you have to cross and weather-swept causeway....

To experience the sometimes overcrowded magic of Le Mont St Michel, you have to cross a weather-swept causeway, where we were caught by a fierce squally shower

Forget dieting...just make sure the light is right!

Forget dieting…just make sure the light is right!

My question is...why do the French use this sign to frequently mean a T junction?

My question is…why do the French use this sign to frequently mean a T junction?

.......and to find a 'pissoir', you have to swim out to this little island....

…….and to find a ‘pissoir’, you have to swim out to this little island….

Cap Frehen, at the end of a peninsula

Cap Frehen, the ‘light’ at the end of a peninsula

...it almost felt like a 'finisterre'

…it almost felt like a ‘finisterre’

....and Fort Latte looked beautiful in the autumn sunshine

….and Fort Latte looked beautiful in the autumn sunshine

Life is like riding a bicycle.

2013-04-20 12.52.30

Hargrave, Northamptonshire

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

Upper Dean, Bedfordshire

Upper Dean, Bedfordshire

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.

albert-einstein-bicycle-quote1

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.Hemingway with 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.Lennon bike

On the 12th day of Christmas

……….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.

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Swineshead Church

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)

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Two contrasting rides

One behind t’other

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?

It takes two to tandem!

With Nicholas Ferrar’s tomb in the foreground

Yes, I had my stoker behind me!

The Thursday cycling group functions by virtue of volunteers offering to organise rides and feeding stops. Today was my turn, so my opportunity to bring members over to the east of the region to sample some of the delights of old Huntingdonshire. We may be on the edge of the flat landscapes of fenland, but we can still boast a few interesting hills that can raise the HR a little.

Our meeting place (and coffee stop) was Ferrar House at Little Gidding, a remote spot where Nicholas Ferrar had established a community way back in the early 17th century, and which came to

Bikes at the back of the pigsties

have legendary connections with King Charles I (especially as a safe haven before the momentous battle of Naseby), and latterly with T.S.Eliot, who went on to pen his poem “Little Gidding” as the last of his Four Quartets. At the end of a narrow single-track road, Little Gidding is still one of Huntingdonshire’s best kept secrets.

A total of 16 riders then made their way, via different routes, to our lunch stop at the Cross Keys pub at Molesworth, where a varied menu filled stomachs and restored miles to weary legs. But as luck would have it, the heavens unloaded the promised rain as we stepped out for the journey home. But Jenny, my stoker, was well satisfied with the 27 miles covered on the day’s ride, and getting wet on the homeward leg was not such a burden.

 

A mystery uncovered

The small village of Little Staughton in north Bedfordshire revealed one of its little mysteries recently. When Jenny and I ride our tandem in the area, a favourite resting place is by a semi-derelict building that looks as if it might have been a small non-conformist chapel (probably Baptist) with its own burial ground round the back. Its local significance also rested with the fact that it once had a post box embedded into the wall of the building.

A little digging into the ‘digital archives’ of Google has now revealed that this building was once a Baptist Sunday School, and the actual church had been on the other side of the road, but now no longer exists. Why? It would seem that during the last war, a flying fortress had taken off from the nearby airfield at Thurleigh, got into difficulties, and in making an emergency landing at Little Staughton airfield, had struck the top of the building and completely demolished it.

It has taken many years of cycling by this feature for me to find out its true significance. Another ‘diamond’ found in the backyard!

Former site of the post box

Pilots steering from the rear……….

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.

“En abril, aguas mil”

“In April, a thousand waters”……meaning of course, it rains cats and dogs, or (as they say in Spain) it “rains in pitchers” (llueve a cántaros). Persuading Jenny to join me on the tandem, for a 40 mile ride to meet up with the Thursday group, could have required a great deal of tact and subterfuge, but not on this occasion……….. maybe it was the smart new set of cycling gear that clinched the deal. Whatever you think about the tandem, you have to agree that Jenny really looks the part!!

And the weather? When people say to me that their cycling always depends on the weather, I generally say “the only weather it depends on is whether you’ll go out or not”! And yes, despite the forecast of very variable weather patterns, we decided to go out, knowing full well we were going to get wet (sometimes soaked) at some time during the day. And that is exactly how it turned out. Two major squally showers and a fierce headwind on the way home failed to spoil our day.

What nearly spoiled our day (but didn’t) was a slipping crossover drive chain, which came off at one stage, and a puncture in the front wheel. Now the puncture has a little story……bear with me. Yesterday, I had put on the first pair of new tyres (Schwalbe Marathons) since we bought the tandem (8 years ago), and they were a devil of a job to get on. The beading on the tyres was so stiff and tight-fitting that I nearly sought professional help. Most tyres I can get on with just hand pressure….but not these.

Half an hour before the puncture, I had been chatting to friends over lunch about two recommended tools (the VAR and the Simson Tyre Mate) for dealing with such tyres, and one had produced both tools from his rack-pack to show me! (Some people carry nearly everything!). However, I was convinced that punctures are so rare that the journey home would be untroubled and, in the event of a puncture, a pair of ordinary tyre levers would suffice. Well, the unthinkable happened, I didn’t have either of the above tools, and I almost cursed the day I had decided to put on these new tyres! In the event, after a deal of brute force and breaking a few accepted norms of practice, I changed the tube and replaced the tyre…….and vowed forthwith to get myself one of the above super-tools!

‘Bedlam’ of tandems hit New Forest!

Lymington quayside (photo by John Ward)

Photo by John Ward

Photo by John Ward

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,

Hase Pino, semi-recumbent

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

Bob & Karon Bending on their Hase Pino

There has to be a joke here.......;0)

.......and here!

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