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Never a tailwind…..


Elton 75km enlarged

Elton, Northamptonshire 75km


Blustery, unpredictable, invigorating and infuriating………all at the same time. An 18mph wind from the west swirled around throughout the morning, with gusts of up to 25mph…..which reminded me of a tee-shirt worn by a fellow roadie at a recent cycling event. Emblazoned on the back were the following words:

Frequently from the front, sometimes from the left, sometimes from the  right………but never a bloody tailwind!!

Lincoln-York 91 miles

I scrambled out of the campsite before the caravan and campervan set had stirred from their beds. It was chilly. Autumn is just around the corner.
A couple of miles into the journey, I had to stop and check that my new optician’s prescription wasn’t playing tricks on me…yes, I was definitely cycling across the Holy Land


….pity I’d brought the wrong maps.

But today, I was repaying the debt for the favours heaped on me yesterday…the head-on northwesterly wind had me screaming for mercy…..but, alas, none was forthcoming. And the one occasion it rained, it came so fast and furiously that everything (me included) was soaked before I could get the covers out.


I had every reason to let out a reverberating ‘Harrumph!’
And the weather wasn’t the only thing to surprise me today. Having set off on a light breakfast, I started hallucinating about bacon sandwiches….in fact, it came to a point when I would have happily traded my bike in for one, even a small one….But could I find a cafe? Not a single one, nor any little grocery stores, for over 40 miles. That’s rural Lincolnshire for you. They have yet to be fully civilised in these parts.
But when I did find a cafe, I ordered the biggest bacon butty on the menu…..justly heavenly!


So, into York, and to the venue at  Askham Bryan College, where some 500 cyclists have convened for six days of local riding. I’ll be heading off on an 80 miler tomorrow in the company of the new CEO of the CTC, and the Chair of Council.
The CTC is a charity where all the management practise what they preach…..they ride bikes, and many of them seriously.


A merciless westerly..

After two days of a northerly in my face, I decided to head west to Kissimmee (nr Orlando) and guess what……..? You know the answer….65 miles into a 20 mph wind….it was relentless.
To compound it, there were no services for 35 miles, so I dropped by a rough looking dashboard wooden cabin to refill my bottles, and I was greeted by  a true backwoodsman, who spoke with an incomprehensible southern drawl, but I gathered that his drinking water came from a deep well and was perfectly drinkable. The fact that he also disparaged his neighbour’s water quality, made me suspicious. “Yoooo frum Ingerland then? Weeel I got an English guy in ma hawse….my oh my…..”. With that he offered me a handful of Hersheys chocolate (yuk!) and I made my escape.
The first thing I did when I got to a gas station, was to pour the suspect water onto a flowerbed.

Anyway, I started the day with company. Tanner declined the offer, but Leslie was up for it.


We rode together for five miles and then she turned for home as the black rain clouds gathered on the horizon, so I prepared the bike for a dowsing (note the careful colour coordination!)


It turned out to be a short lived shower, leaving the strong westerly in its wake.
When you are passing through 65 miles of flat featureless countryside, you get inexplicably excited by little things….like this notice


What do they mean…..? The nearest house is probably 10 miles away…..who is going to come to cut the verge side grass. But nice to know I’m heading in the right direction should a hurricane or tsunami hit


and there were at least a dozen of these memorial crosses


I don’t understand how people get killed on this road: it’s a very wide dual carriageway with little traffic, all going at a moderate pace. I never once felt threatened.

And would you buy petrol at this service station?


(For the benefit of non-British readers, learner drivers nearly always have kangaroo petrol in their tanks……it’s what causes poor clutch control……!).

In Kissimmee, I got into a nice RV park for only $20, pitched my tent in a tree-shaded spot and “enjoyed” another cooler than expected night…..but no worries, the sun is guaranteed to rise in the morning…..that’s why this park is full of snowbirds, all delighted not to be suffering what their northern co-patriots have at the moment.


So like a snowbird myself, my trajectory will now take me south, towards Ft Myers. Roll on warmer nights!

Smoker’s expletives

I tell you this little story as an example of the divide between two worlds.

Rain_drops_on_window_02_iesThis morning I headed off on the bike ‘midst the ever increasing threat of rain……not just rain, but very heavy rain. I knew the forecast…..I knew what to expect….and sadly, the meteorologists got it absolutely right…..d**n them (only metaphorically, of course).

20 miles later I arrived at a delightful country bistro cafe, in Grafton Underwood, which had only opened its doors in the last few months. After an entertaining hour spent with fellow cyclists, and a pot of tea and pain au raisin consumed, I headed north, wind behind, in the direction of Fotheringay (by now, the rain had actually stopped, and the sun was beginning to show its face). By the time I turned back into the wind, I realised I needed more sustenance to get me home (it was 1pm and I had another 25m to go).

There was a convenient ‘greasy spoon’ (aka. trucker’s cafe) at Warmington so, for £2.90 I splashed out on a bacon

and egg bap and a (free) glass of water. As I headed out of the door to do battle with the wind, there was a young manstock-footage-rainbow-winter-wheat-in-spring-gale-hd having his cigarette break and studying my bike intently. He pointed to the lock on the bike and said “Is that where you put the petrol?”. I could see I had the company of a joker.

“How many miles d’you do, then?” he asked. “Oh, somewhere between 25 and 100, depending on weather and time” I replied. “B***er me” he said, as he took another heave on his cigarette. “Is that in a week?” he asked. “No”, I said “that’s in a day”. “So what’re yuh going to do today, then?”. I said “Something like 50-60 miles”.  “F*****g h**l! I gorra a bike, but I can’t do more than 4 miles a year on it…….”. With that, he took a last heave on the dwindling butt end, flicked it into the car park, and went back into the cafe to make more bacon baps for his customers.

How a day can degenerate….

No WiFi and they call Vodafone “Vodafail” in the village of Milton….so be very surprised if you ever read this post!
Whether the weather be good, whether the weather be bad……so now you know what sort of day it became, but it did start off with this


then it really degenerated to this


to put some simple carbs back into the legs…..and to give me a sugar fix! There’s a certain ease of conscience (totally unjustified I suspect) that these naughties will be burned off up the road. Whatever….two muffins are definitely better than one.
I then chanced upon the track of a devastating tornado that passed through 3 days ago, ripping up all the trees and destroying buildings. Only a force 1…so I’d hate to see what other, stronger ones might do.


Then, under sad circumstances I saw my 2nd and 3rd kangaroos


…the first, of course, had been in a pie on my lunch plate. Such is life for some of the animal kingdom.
Then before a miserable 25mm of rain fell (and all on me) I got a final view (for now anyway) of this stunning coastline


……then a sign appeared telling how far still to go to Melbourne


Do we get signs in the UK saying things like “Aberdeen 550m” or “London 430m”.
So now I am holed up in a friendly village called Milton, trying to dry out, and facing the prospect of a similarly wet day today. If I said I really feel disheartened and thoroughly miserable, and suddenly experience a total aversion to getting back on the bike……would people take pity on me and donate more to the Children in Syria Appeal?
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Distance:124km (77m)

Did it really rain in 2012?


St Ives CC at Woodford Mill: look, no rain!

Memory is a beguiling asset of humankind. Ask people what they did 30 or 40 years ago, and they might regale you for hours. Ask them what they had for lunch yesterday, well…..that’s another story.

The media, and the meteorologists in particular, have drilled into us that 2012 has been a year of weather extremes. Last winter, the driest on record, the rest of the year the wettest on record (for England at least). In 10 or more years time, what will people really

A familiar view for the 'lanterne rouge'!

A familiar view for the ‘lanterne rouge’!

remember about 2012? GB success in the Tour de France? The Queen’s Jubilee? The Olympics and Paralympics? Will they really remember the anxiety and the misery caused by the weather? Some will, without a doubt, but many will not.

Here is one man’s perspective. Delving a little deeper into my cycling statistics for 2012, I discovered that I had ridden on 232 days of the year, averaging 44 miles (72 km) each day. What I am going to say now is no proof of anything, but one man’s perception. My memory of the weather of 2012 goes predominantly against the meteorologists’ statistics. My thinking is filled mostly with the fine weather, the sunshine, the landscapes and miles of clear open roads. I am sure (though can’t prove it) I never used my rain jacket on the bike more than a dozen times in total.

Now, all of this could be down to the luck of the Irish (and my ancestry is predominantly Irish). I just happened to go out on the driest, sunniest 220 days of the year. Or I could simply be accused of blue-sky thinking. Mmn….very interesting. I wonder what you think?

A momentary stop.....

A momentary stop…..and the sun is shining!

August: the bottom line

As a cyclist, I try not to be fixated by mileages. I do keep a note of every ride length, but I try to avoid counting up on a regular basis. Best to remain free and simply enjoy the wind and adrenaline rush.

However, when I got to the last day of August, I knew instinctively that the monthly total had been big. Riding most days, including a continuous 9 day spell during the CTC Birthday Rides in Shropshire, I had the feeling that it might have been my biggest recorded month ever. Now, before I get into statistics, the issue of records being broken almost monthly this year needs a few comments. I am, of course, talking about the weather.

Everybody has been assessing the miserable wet summer we have just had. They tell us it was the wettest June on record and that the summer has been the wettest in 100 years. I have no grounds whatever on which to base a refutation of these claims, because the meteorologists have all the scientific facts and I do not. All I can say is this: over this prolonged wet period (April to August) I have been out most days on the bike, cycled several thousands of miles, and I have probably been rained on no more than a dozen times and, only once, torrentially so. My rainproof has spent infinitely more time inside its stuff bag than out of it, and my arms and legs have the tide marks to prove that the sun has shone for long periods over the last few months. On the strength of my unscientific observations, I blow a raspberry at all the negative naysayers out there who try to make us feel miserable about our lot. One thing is for sure, our reservoirs are full once again!

Now back to the statistics. The other day I was riding with someone who regularly covers more than 12,000 miles per year, topping out at a massive 17,000 miles one year. So he will not be impressed by anything I can do. My August mileage this year (and I always count in kilometres) topped out at 2,254kms which, if you get out your calculator, is exactly 1,400 miles. I got out on the bike on 25 days, meaning my average ride was over 90kms/56 miles. I only ever expect to do more than this when I am on a long continuous trek, like my rides to Rome and Santiago de Compostela. Nor do I expect to replicate this any time soon. It is not my intention ever to become a victim of statistics. I prefer to be in thrall of the sheer delights of riding a bike, through the countryside and over mountains, and re-filling the ‘tank’ with coffee and cakes in the company of like-minded pleasure-seekers.

Mallorca: days 2 & 3

In the privately owned hamlet of Biniagual

If you are enjoying warm sunshine, please spare a thought for the people of Mallorca who are enduring some of the most uncharacteristic weather for the first days of spring (I know your heart bleeds for us!). Today has seen the island lashed by strong winds and heavy rain that has put a halt to the training routines of many cycling groups. But better conditions are promised for tomorrow :0)

Day 2.

Lemon tree

What should have seen a sortie to one of the most gruesome climbs, and descents, of the island (Sa Calobra), was postponed to a better day. In its place we did the more gentle ascent of the Coll de Femenia (7.5kms to 515 metres, with an average gradient of 5.5%), but the descent was precipitous, with numerous switchbacks and scary moments. And despite donning extra layers, everyone was perished with the cold when they arrived in Selva for a well-deserved break.

The route back was a relatively civilised cruise through narrow country lanes, many of which do not even feature on cycling maps of the island. The wayside vineyards lay dormant from their over-wintering, awaiting the warmth of a spring sun to  stir them into life.

Distance: 97kms/60 miles

Day 3

There were two options today: 1) stay warm, comfortable and dry but feel miserable or 2) get cold, wet and uncomfortable but ultimately feel happy that you kicked that leg over the crossbar and headed out to the wilderness. Planned rides were cancelled (mainly for safety reasons), so everyone made their own arrangements. Wisely, or unwisely, I dug out the steed and headed off along the coast to Alcudia and beyond, and discovered a cross-wind that had me leaning at (what seemed like) a 45 degree angle. Unnerving to say the least. I pressed on towards Artá, then turned inland to Petra and Sineu, and discovered how localised the weather really was. From flooded roads to dry roads (within 5kms), from head winds to cross winds, from dark thundering skies to the hint of promised sunshine…………there was never a dull moment.

Distance: 100kms/63 miles

Things happening in Spain


1. The completion of the Spanish Magna Carta in 1812 was celebrating its bicentenary in Cadiz, with the presence of the King and Queen and the President of Government.

2. March 19th, Feast of St Joseph. This is the highlight of the huge fiesta in Valencia (Las Fallas), when they burn nearly 800 satiric effigies (many as big as a house) around the city. The fire-brigades are kept very busy, and the consumption of alcohol breaks all records.

The loss of 20 kilos on behalf of his local language

3. The local language on Mallorca is Mallorquín (a dialect of Catalan). A recent local government bill has decided that fluency in Mallorquín will no longer be needed for jobs in government, the civil service or teaching. A local teacher is 2 weeks into a hunger strike in protest. He is willing to sacrifice his life to see the preservation of the local language. If he persists for another couple of weeks, expect to see reports of this in your country´s press.

The French connection: cyclists become ambassadors

Chris, Pete and Frank

Who would have thought being a member of a cycling club would qualify you for the ‘diplomatic service’? Well, certain members of St Ives CC can corroborate from personal experience that ‘entente cordiale’ is still alive and well. Salon-de-Provence, the French town twinned with Huntingdon & Godmanchester,  dispatched a peloton of cyclists to pay their twinning partners a visit, and St Ives CC had been approached last November to see if they would be interested in meeting and accompanying the visiting party as they progressed north towards the region. The French venture entailed a 1400 km ride from the south of France, and they were no ordinary group of cyclists.  First of all, their ages ranged from about 40- 74, and many of them were sporting sparkly carbon bikes with all the nice kit, two of them even riding nicely equipped TT

First photo-shoot

bikes. As is the wont of French cyclists, none of them were carrying luggage or spare parts, such stuff being consigned to the ‘sag wagon’ that followed their route and stopped at convenient meeting places. But when they hit the British shores, English

French guys taking a rest

weather gave them a serious ‘wobbly’, that saw them abandon their day’s ride and catch a train to their destination. They were somewhat disillusioned and discouraged when we met them at the Lee valley Youth Hostel in Cheshunt.

Now switch to the English party. Three gallants, Pete Holt, Chris Penney and myself, set off to meet and stay with them in the Youth

Stomachs in, guys!

Hostel, and the forecast had promised us only ‘light rain’. This promise could almost be categorised as a Michael Fish blunder (he of the 1987 hurricane denial), because what we got was absolutely torrential rain, hailstones, roads awash in inches of water……… and to cap it all, not a single café open on our route for over 55 miles (all closed on Tuesdays!).

Chris & Pete smiling again!

Chris quickly decided he was heading back home. Pete and I decided unhesitatingly to continue. Poor Chris was outvoted and reluctantly accepted majority decision. What started out miserably could only get better and, sure enough, 10 miles from destination, we eventually found a pub that served the best tea and chocolate cake in the world (well, it seemed so at the time!). Which, of course, brought a smile back to Chris’ face.

The meeting with the French group was convivial, noisy, in a mixture of English, French and Franglais, and when the evening meal was over, we repaired to one of their lodges to be toasted with three bottles of champagne brought directly from the vineyard (does it get any better than that?). The following morning saw Dominic Bowles and Jackie Wren join our ranks at Broxbourne station, and our ride (with the wind now favourably on our side) headed north to Cambridge at a brisk club pace, where we did a brief tour of the town and had lunch at the pub on Midsommer Common. After lunch, awaiting our arrival at the Madingley American Cemetery, was the Mayor of Huntingdon, kitted out in lycra and waiting to join the ride through to our destination. We were also joined by two other members of St Ives CC, Terry Cooke and Daniel Rigby.  By this time our numbers had swelled to a peloton of over 20, enough to create a build-up of traffic behind us along the narrow country lanes.

Dom, the true patriot!

Our arrival at Godmanchester was greeted by a small but enthusiastic crowd, including the Mayor of Godmanchester and councillors, and by the time we had reached Huntingdon, we had a welcoming party that included a press reporter and photographers. So keep an eye out for the next edition of the Huntspost. The red kit of St Ives CC will stand out in the crowd.

Despite the adverse weather conditions, it was a real pleasure to meet up with the French party, and join them on the last day of their ride. And they were relieved that somebody else had done the route planning and were leading the way. A big ‘thank you’ to Pete Holt for that, ably abetted by Chris Penney and Dominic Bowles, and to the other members of St Ives CC  who joined this happy company on their final few miles. Our ride from Cheshunt was based very loosely on the route created by the British Heart Foundation London – Cambridge ride. And it was a bit lumpy in parts ;0)

After the pub lunch

Crossing the River Cam

Don't we look swell in red!

Dom 'hobnobbing' with the Mayor

Reception with the Mayor of Godmanchester

Journey's end, Huntingdon market square

Oviedo to Miraz 306kms(190m)

Being out in the Galician “wilderness” for the last three days has meant being distant from modern forms of communication, especially Cyber-cafés and Locutorios. But the traverse across the misty moisty lands of the north of Spain have proved more than a retreat from the ‘civilising effects’ of modern living. It has been another world, where the donkey is still a beast of burden, and a scythe is still wielded to cut the long grass.

Oviedo to Almuña 75m

I’ve never been charged so little for a bed for the night! The pilgrim albergue in Oviedo had almost every bed filled, with a lively mix of walkers and cyclists, not surprising when they were only charging a mere 3 euros for a bed. The economy of the Camino brings Spaniards out in their droves to travel the ancient byways. They can walk or cycle the length and breadth of their own country, and rest their heads on a pillow for the night (and have a shower) at less than an overnight camping fee.

The north of Spain was living up to its not-so-hard won reputation: cloud and mist have dominated the meteorology for


several days, the sun has been noticeable by its absence, but I find the heavy misty moisty atmosphere a magical backdrop as I look at the seascapes to my right and the towering Picos de Europa to my left. These weather patterns are certainly saving me several pennies on sun cream!

Then I hit the ‘north Cornwall-like’ ascents and descents of what the locals call “una costa muy accidentada” (a very rugged, indented coastline). No sooner had I climbed out of a deep river valley, but I was dropping down to the next, only to then have to laboriously climb out of that, and so on.  In the space of  couple of hours I had experienced the heights and depths of 12-15 such valleys, until I got to the point where I was screaming in my head at the sheer injustice to be visited with all of this at the end of a long day in the saddle. But, of course, as all things do, they eventually came to an end…………….. and I smiled when I saw the lure of a bit of flat in front of me.

To brighten up my recovery period from all this, I passed a couple of lads, Quepa and Roque, who were towing a trailer

Quepa and Roque

carrying a  surfboard. Before I could ask them “what on earth are you people doing with all this kit” I noticed that Quepa was carrying a little micro-camera, and he told me I was being filmed while I quizzed them. They revealed they were cycling the Camino del Norte and surfing all the best beaches en route. I told them I had been warned to look out for mad people travelling the Camino and, pointing to themselves, they proudly said “That’s us!” They then showed me on a GPS some of the beaches they were going to surf that afternoon. To meet people like these, you just have to travel the Camino…….you won’t meet them driving up the M6.

Castro de Coaña

Almuña to Lourenzá 64m

This was a day for unearthing some of the Celtic traces here in the history of north Spain. I was initially convinced that most of the fortified “castros” were of Celtic origin, but I was left with some doubts after listening to a few local experts explain that the Celts were only one of several ethnic groups to settle in the area. My 10 kms diversion off the Camino, however, was well worth it. The Castro de Coaña is a carefully dug site that shows the structure of a tight community safely ensconced on high ground, and benefiting from luxuries such as baths and community areas long before the Romans invaded the Iberian peninsula.

As I climbed back up to the Camino, I stopped to chat to this smallholder who was wielding a scythe with consummate ease to cut the long grass around his property. When I complimented him on living on such a fine spot with splendid views across the valley, he looked at it somewhat bemused, shrugged his shoulders and said: “Pues lo tenemos todos los días, y ya estamos acostumbrados” (it’s there all the time and we hardly notice it). That made me think: does this sometimes happen to people who achieve the house of their dreams……………?

Then as I passed through a town, a man shouted at me: “Has llegado primero” (you’ve come in first!).

José from Barcelona

When I asked where my prize was, he told me to go to the Town Hall where they would give me a ‘chorizo’. I jokingly told him the Town Hall might be full of ‘chorizos’ (slang term also meaning ‘scoundrels and cheats’), he then came out with a current favourite description doing the rounds: “No hay suficiente pan para comer todos los chorizos en España” (there’s not enough bread for eating all the ‘chorizos’ in Spain). It doesn’t quite work in translation, but I’m sure you get the gist of it.

At the albergue that evening in Lourenzá, a German couple who had cycled all the way from Germany, not only impressed me with their journey statistics (33 days to cover 2,300kms), but 1,500 kms had been done with his bike’s downtube completely severed. Instead of doing the normal thing (ie. throw the bike away and buy a new one) he had done a series of repairs using ring-clips

to hold the frame together, and he was determined to get to Santiago on the strength of his Heath Robinson experimentations. As I write this, I have just met them in Santiago and they have made it.

Lourenzá to Miraz 52m

Macondeño tart

A brief stop in Mondoñedo revealed the Spanish equivalent of the Bakewell pudding. This larger than life gentleman took an idea for a tart, set up the production machinery and took out a kind of patent, or ‘denominación de origen’ on this recipe and had it franchised out under strict control. All I can say that its filling has something called “angel’s hair” (which I think is based on marrow or pumpkin) and it is absolutely delicious. It certainly put a few miles into the legs for the rest of the morning.

The albergue at Miraz was a wondrous discovery after spending a few hours wandering the small country lanes trying to find the way. My map for this stretch was totally inadequate in its detail, but I had caught up

The family party

with María José again (met in Llanés along with Igor) who had a better map, and we eventually stumbled on towards the tiny village of Miraz. (But more of that in the next post).


At one point, feeling totally lost, we stopped to ask a family party in a garden the way, and no sooner had they answered our questions but we found ourselves invited to join them in


the remains of their lunch, which consisted of “empanadas” (Galician tuna tart) “churrasco” (barbecued beef ribs) followed by cakes and “ensaimada” (Majorcan pastry). For half an hour we were feasted by this wonderful family party, and it was hard to leave their friendly company. They had drawn in these passing pilgrims and shared their table with us. That doesn’t happen up the M6 either!

At Miraz, we were only about 95 kms from our goal, so tomorrow had to be the run into Santiago.

Fuerteventura: Whether the weather be hot!

Whether the weather be hot, whether the weather be cold………………. my sympathies (only just) go out to all the turistas de playa (beach holidaymakers). The weather has really cheated them this last week.

Snow in Gran Canaria!

Weather warnings went out across the Canaries, especially to Gran Canaria, where temperatures have plummeted and rain and snow have disrupted timetables, but brightened up the lives of children! The mountain gods were only just on my side today. They helped me avoid one downpour, but I was caught by an

Caldo gallego

almighty shower on the way back to Caleta. But who cares? It´s only water, after all!

Caldo gallego. Back in Puerto del Rosario, I warmed through with a piping hot bowl of Galician stew in a bar owned by a gallego (Galician). Like the Irish, the gallegos have populated many countries in the world with their emigration over the centuries.

Baby theft in the 1970s

Fuerteventura seems to have been a popular destination, especially when tourism took off and work was freely available.

Local news. I´ve had more time today to catch up on local news via the local press. Here are a few remarkable facts:

Baby theft. The suspicion of some local parents has brought to the forefront some apparent abuse during the 1970s. Babies were born and then died in mysterious circumstances, without the parents being able to see their bodies before burial. It emerges that throughout Spain, in Maternity Hospitals run by a certain order of nuns,

Burial of the Sardine

babies were being stolen from their parents and sold on for adoption. There appear to be over 700 cases. This mother in Fuerteventura had given birth to twins when she was only 17 years old, and they both mysteriously died within days in intensive care. They were buried in a common grave for infants, but she always suspected that the truth was not quite what it seemed.

Carnavals. The period of Lent is always heralded by the famous Carnavals, and they are celebrated here with gusto. Everybody dresses up, there are competitions and processions, and the star acts nearly always include preposterous drag queens. The whole period of festivity is concluded with the ceremonial burial of the Sardine (look it up on Wikipedia!).

Boom in Canaries tourism. The last few months have seen an extraordinary boom in tourism, due almost entirely to the crisis in North Africa. Every cloud has a silver lining! (well for some).

International windsurfing championships. There is a danger these will be taken away from Fuerteventura, if the regional government concerned cannot honour the debt it accumulated with last year´s championship. If it loses this, it will be an enormous blow to the local economy.

And in case you need to prepare for it, you should know that Spanish Father´s day is on March 19th. If you believe the press and advertising, children all over the country will be rushing out to buy their Dads the very latest in iPods, iPhones, iPads……………….  Oh dear!

Distance covered (some under rain!): 55kms

Day 9 Besancon to St Croixe 58m(91km)

Into the Alps Approaching the Swiss Alps, you not only see them looming in front of you, you also “hear” them. You may be familiar with the characteristic sound of mountain cattle bells. Very evocative.

The route No sooner do you leave Besancon but you start some very serious climbing. I had to take the RN along with all the commuting traffic. And yes, I did keep a promise to myself, and set off before sunrise…………only just, by a few minutes. But the day was going to be cool as I climbed into the mountains.

The three climbs The climbs were 450m, 850m, and the big one, over the Col des Entroits, was 1153m (just a shade lower than Ben Nevis). Climbing these heights has to be done at a steady pace with a comfortable cadence, because you are in it for the long term. You can forget “attacking” such climbs, unless you fancy yourself on the back wheel of Alberto Contador! When I got to the top of the Col des Entroits, sadly there was no finishing line and no points in the King of the Mountains competition, so I sought my own reward: I bellowed out my personal victory to some nearby cows, and four of them, wearing bells,  lazily raised their heads and gave me a peal of bells! What greater recognition a cyclist ask for?

Vallee de Loue Delightful 4km descent into this valley and a climb up the other side was truly stunning.  This was my frequent excuse for stopping and taking photos. Too many Kodak moments! And the valley leads right up to the rising of the River Loue.

Other pilgrims Like the Clapham omnibus, you see none for days, then several come at once. On the outskirts of Pontarlier I met an English couple, Kite and Polly, who had walked from Canterbury and had been 33 days on the road. They expect to arrive in Rome sometime in October. I coyly revealed I had left Canterbury just 7 days before. Unlike some walking pilgrims, they kindly avoided any reference to me possibly being a ‘cheat’ pilgrim ;0)

As we were talking, Alke-Brigitte chanced by, from Germany, and had started her route in Switzerland, heading north.  We stumbled on in French until we mutually decided that English was the best medium of communication. As we were talking, a local resident stopped by and gave us all a bottle of  water each, and a rose especially for Alke-Brigitte!

The weather Ah, the weather! It has finally arrived. The forecast is for heavy rain in West Switzerland, and as I write this (Tuesday morning) I’m looking for excuses for not climbing on that saddle!

The rain is definitely falling softly on my fields!