The Big Ride, London, 28/4/2012

Despite the foul weather, I’m really glad I made the effort to get to this ride.  I suppose the conditions could have been worse, but my initial reaction was that the event was going to be a poorly-attended damp squib. I couldn’t be bothered with a feeder ride and took the train straight to Lpoo St and made my way to Hyde Park Corner and then found the Animals’ War Memorial. There was no-one I knew there so I carefully ate the marmite sandwiches I had brought with me in anticipation that a few of us would have lunch somewhere. I also ordered a coffee and waited, unimpressed by the group of cyclists around the Speakers’ Corner café that remained disappointingly small. YACFers arrived in dribs and drabs: MarcusJB and Teamonster, the latter on the front of the most amazing recumbent tandem. One lovely surprise was a text from Nutkin, who was to put in a appearance. Charlotte arrived en Bromptonand I still can’t get used to Jurek on a fixie with mudguards.

After loads of hanging around we set off and then, five minutes later, we stopped again so that the organisers could make speeches that perhaps the 200 people at the front could have heard. We were not far from the amplifiers and loudspeakers, but I could not make out anything intelligible. Anyone behind us, which must have been about 90% of the ride, would have ben able to hear nothing. Some of the more svelte forummers were beginning to feel the cold.

Eventually we made proper progress, but mostly it was a test of slow cycling and balancing for as long as possible before putting a foot down. Two Flat Erics and Domestique came and had a natter: the hardy pair had caught the train from Westcliff to Barking and come in on that feeder ride. Just as we were being led into Temple Station, the official ride finish, Notsototalnewbie had a better idea and we left the Embankment and returned towards Charing Cross because she had the facility to buy cheap food at a particular café so we went there to find it shut. Luckily my calorie radar was active and I’ve noticed an “All Bar One” a short way back in Villiers Street so five of us settled round a table there. Almost simultaneously a few of us noticed that we had missed calls from Charlotte, whom I had last seen pointing her big one at people. I hastily texted a reply but by that time she was on the tube heading for Julian, who was returning from a triumphal overnight ride to Hull.

Whereas initially there were five of us there (Nutkin, NSTN, Rob, Parsley and myself) we were joined by Butterfly and Clarion, fresh from their travails to Hull, and, later, Andrij, who had been purchasing exotic velocipedes from Mike. We had a good lunch (the minted lamb burger seemed to be a favourite) and the profiteroles went down well, washed as they were by Doom Bar, merlot and latte.

My one regret was that I hadn’t taken with me the small gift I have for Nutkin. However, we have agreed that we need another ride some time in the not too distant future so that I can offer her some balls to suck whereas she’s going to give me a good fudge. It’ll be sweet, there’s no doubt of that.

Nutkin, Rob, Jurek and Charlotte.

Teamonster’s Greenspeed GTT. That’s one hell of a tricycle!



NSTN & Nutkin deep in conversation

This is who we were all riding for.

NSTN engulfs a profiterole. Half of Parsley is in the background.

Andrij’s acquisition.

Riding to see my daughter

Southend to Maidstone via the Tilbury ferry. One of the shittiest rides of All Time. The forecast was for fairin’ up but it lied.

I left Southend via a short off-road section through Belfairs woods and past some very expensive-looking ponderosa style houses which were probably built by wide boys and city slickers during the Thatcher era. From there I headed down the 14% hill past Thundersley church and on toward Sadler’s Farm roundabout where the Highways Agency have financed an enormous hole in the ground. A spiteful squall had me scrabbling for my waterproof and after that I walked for a while until I had crossed the new bridge over the enormous hole, at one point finding myself almost ankle deep in water where the surface is decidedly temporary. Eventually I took to the road again and then took a wrong turning in Pitsea. Next was Vange, possibly the most unpleasant town name in the UK, evoking, as it does, a revolting disease, or, at least, its byproduct. If you are in Vange, then Fobbing and Mucking are never far away.

I expected, once I had crossed the A13 at the Five Bells roundabout, that the traffic would become less, and indeed Stanford le Hope was rather more pleasant than I remembered it, but once I joined the minor roads towards East Tilbury and Tilbury Town it largely became worse. I had forgotten that Tilbury has, since the Victorians built a large sewage treatment plant there, been the Anus of London, and other forms of waste treatment now appear to nestle cheek by jowl with the plant dealing with the human kind. By this time it was blowing a gale and the rain was torrential and huge lorries bearing delightful substances thundered past. One appeared to be labelled “Meat recycling” (yum) but I couldn’t be sure as my glasses were streaming with rain, my eyes stung with the sweat washed into them and I was struggling against the headwind at about 4 mph.

None too soon I arrived at the ferry terminal and the ferry boat lay in the slip and old Ted the boatman I boarded, took my bike into the sheltered area and dripped. I was in good company as the shelter’s roof was leaking and towels had been distributed to soak up the water. £3.50 later and I was in Gravesend, wondering how to escape. At least the rain had stopped but now I had to contend with hills. After a bit of an effort I passed a huge building reminiscent of Brighton Pavilion and, given that the Guru Nanak Football Club had its playing field in front and the adjacent St. Michael’s C of E Primary School had a handful of turban-wearing lunchtime parents, my guess was that it was a sikh temple.

Once I found the right road I continued to climb and I had numerous competitors for the pinch-points in the form of impatient motorists. I climbed to the roundabout junction of the M2, A2, or A2(M) and then crossed the bridge over the railway line serving London, Brussels and Paris and then, suddenly, I was in the country. The headwind was still there as I was now heading mostly south, but with some meandering to circumnavigate the highest of the hills. The showers were fewer and lighter and I was treated with occasional sunshine. Most importantly, the traffic had almost completely disappeared, although what little there was drove too fast. One 4 * 4 driver slammed on his brakes and skidded towards the hedge, so slow was he to realise that he was no longer on a motorway.

The contrast with my morning riding was striking as now I was in beautiful wooded hills with scenes, farms and a variety of farm animals, including some fairly young pigs rooting around a muddy compound. I climbed above 600′ and when I was least expecting it suddenly the trees thinned and I had an absolutely amazing view from Holly Hill down towards Birling. I was unable to let the bike go on the chevron as there was plenty of detritus on the road and a stonking sidewind, but in the distance I could see Bluebell Hill and, beneath it, Maidstone. A bit more faffage through the Mallings and Barming and I was on the A26, scene of the first stage of the Tour de france some years ago. I arrived, sweaty and exhausted, but now mostly dry, to find Jan and Martha building towers with bricks.

So I’ve realised an ambition: to ride from home to my daughter’s house, but I don’t think I’ll be repeating the experience in a hurry.

Exploring Maidstone

I’ve been for a 10 mile tour of Maidstone, which has some very unfriendly areas for cycling. Much of this is due to the geography: the Medway is quite a big river with only two bridges crossing it within Maidstone itself. To the north, the next bridge is the M20 at which point the Medway becomes tidal and to the south at East Farleigh there is a long handsome stone road bridge which is only one vehicle wide. This is about two miles outside the town. The town centre is dominated by a nasty gyratory, three or four lanes wide, using the two bridges. My daughter’s house is in the Fant area of the town, across the river from the town centre and quite close to where the A20 and the A26 make a further gyratory, so it’s quite inconvenient to get to the town centre by bike. I resorted to pavement riding, which mostly meant pedestrian speeds because the pavements are so narrow.

Eventually I explored Mote Park, a large area of open space on the east side of the town. There is quite a network of cyclepaths in there, and it would be possible to do quite a few miles within the park without covering the same ground too much, but it would be a bit boring. I settled for circumnavigating the lake, and that alone involved the best part of two miles’ cycling. After that I found that by far the best way back to my daughters’ was to go straight through the town centre. I took a short detour through Whatman Park, which I thought was much more attractive as it is more secluded and has the Medway along its western side. One of the railway lines that serve Maidstone is on the other side and it’s not possible to leave the park to the north as the river and the railway cut you off. I had to go out the way I came in, and then I found my way to Waitrose along local cycle route no. 12, which goes alongside one of the railway lines from the Buckland Hill area.

After leaving Waitrose I used the A20 and the A26 (Bower Mount Road links the two) and it was a lovely ride in as it’s nearly all down hill.

St. John Street Cycles

Absolutely wonderful service from SJS Cycles this week.

As a result of incompetence trying to put a new sprocket on my Rohloff I damaged the component into which the puller’s splines fit. Understandably I was rather aggrieved at this and phoned SJS for advice. I was put through to Dave, their Rohloff specialist, who said that I probably didn’t have the puller locked on tightly enough with the QR skewer, which I’m sure is right. He said “I’ve got the parts available to fix that: send it to me.”

I did, on Monday afternoon. It cost me £49.50 by parcel force, insured for £1000 on a two day delivery, so they probably didn’t get it until yesterday. The wheel arrived back this morning, fixed repaired. The invoice for £0.00 was attached.

I’m struggling to think of better service I’ve ever had from any company.

Scottish tour photos

Some photos. All 190-odd of them are here:

The Nith at Dumfries. The first sand martins of the summer were zooming around above the water and making their nests in the holes in the sandy clifs.

Jan on the Maxwelltown Railway Path.

The sun puts in an appearance as we climb towards Castle Douglas.

After Castle Douglas

Kirkcudbright castle

Kirkcudbright on a sunny morning

The beautiful Solway coast

The sunshine gave way to snow

The Flowerbank Guest House in Newton Stewart, right alongside the River Cree

Snow towards Glentrool

Jan climbs

The Otter Pool. We didn’t see any.


The Rig of the Jarkness

Jan approaches Loch Dee

I had been singing in The Messiah the night before setting off on this trip. All I had bouncing around in my head was “And the Glory, the Glory of the Lord!” Shame I don’t believe a word of it!

More glorious sunshine…

…but still freezing in the shade. That’s a ditch full of yesterday’s snow.

A bedroom scene at the Gillbank, Thornhill

It’s not possible to ride on this rubbish: the Ae Forest “cycle” route


I saw this and thought of Kim…

The A708 towards St. Mary’s Loch.

A lucky find: with Perkygirl and Glasgow Dave at the Loch o’ the Lowes

St. Mary’s Loch

The Tweed towards Kelso

Entering Berwick

Berwick through the arches

St. John’s Town of Dalry to Thornhill

This morning dawned bright and frosty. The view from our bedroom window showed that all the frost had gone from the southeast-facing hills to our right whereas the grass in the valley bottom, where the sun’s rays struck it at a much more acute angle, was still white.

Filled with porridge (this was The Porridge House, after all) and cooked breakfast, we headed north, for the first few miles following the same route that we did five years ago when our destination was John o’ Groats. We climbed gently and after about three miles headed north-east along a minor road (having said that, the major thoroughfare which is the B7000 only seemed to have about one vehicle every ten minutes on it). The sun was so warm that we both shed layers and it was only after I got back on my bike that I noticed that the shadows were still frosty. I can’t remember a day in which the shade and sun temperatures were so markedly different.

We climbed gently and I marvelled at how Jan’s technique had come on in leaps and bounds in three days. On Monday, she was struggling to keep the bike upright at less than 4 mph and that resulted in her running out of steam long before reaching the tops of hills. Now she was twiddling gently in low gears, keeping a straight course, and expending far less energy as a result. She was amazed when I pointed out that we had cycled at east 200′ higher today than we did yesterday. The differences were that all the gradients were gentle and all the surfaces were metalled. Our average speed was only about 5 mph at this stage, but who cares? We were able to bask in the sunshine, scenery, silence and solitude, all of them balm for the soul.

We eventually began the descent to Moniave and the next 5 miles took us about 20 minutes. It was lunch time and we locked the bikes and adjourned to the rather scruffy pub. We had soup, sandwiches and tea and, even though we were the only customers, were obliged to suffer the enormous plasma screen churning out Murdoch and golf.

After lunch we stayed n the A road, rather than the more direct route which involved chevrons and around 3.30 we arrived at the Gillbank guest house. We took our bikes round the back and stored them in the cellar and then spent the rest of the afternoon in our room where we have an enormous four-poster bed. I think there might be photographs later.

Now, ablutions and laundry.

Loop from Berwick

A very fine rounding off of the holiday with a 27 mile pootle to Etal for 11ses, the Chain Bridge Honey Farm for lunch and then back to the B & B. The 10 miles out to Etal took us two hours on account of the vicious headwind. A similar distance to the Honey farm took us half that. It was quite odd eating lunch on a Bristol Lodekka bus, of a type that was new-fangled when it took me to school in the 1960s.

Whilst negotiating the boundary of the Paxton estate we saw a buzzard swoop down and take something but we are pretty sure it was nothing more exciting than a choice cut of roadkill pheasant.

We finished off with an excellent curry at the Villa Spice.

Selkirk to Berwick

Sunday 8th April

This was possibly the best day’s cycling of all. We left The Croft at about 10 a.m., walked up the track to the road and spent the first half-mile or so climbing to about 980′ and that was the highest point of the day. The next 8 miles, to St. Boswells, were the cycling equivalent to a bobsleigh run. The wind was behind us and the gradient was with us. 45 minutes later we stopped at the Buccleuch Arms for very good coffee and shortbread. The sun was putting in an occasional unexpected appearance and the A699 was so innocuous that we eschewed Sustrans’ finest and went via the direct route to Kelso. We had some lovely views of the Tweed and the Teviot and I photographed the confluence of the two. A pair of goosanders was diving for food. We speculated that if YACF named a river it would be called the Deviot.

In Kelso we walked, to avoid the discomfort of the cobbled streets, around the large and impressive town square until we found a very welcoming pub called The Cobbles. We had not really intended to have a particularly large lunch but to ther cyclists were tucking into what looked like a very good ham salad that we followed suit, and I had a portion of chips as well. Jan had tea, but I ordered a pint of Tempest, a very hoppy golden ale which was just perfect.

The two other cyclists had been slogging their way over from Berwick, fighting with their headwind which was our friend, heading for their B & B at Inverleithen. They left the pub a little before we did but the Cobbles is a real find: friendly, excellent food and even better beer. I must go to Kelso again.

Encouraged by our morning A-road experience, we decided to used the A698 out of Kelso as it involved less climbing than the Sustrans route and gave better views of the Tweed. We turned off a mile or two before Coldstream and joined NCN 1 and it was shortly after this that we were overhauled by a group of cyclists and had a quick chat with them. They were staying at a private school near Berwick which does accommodation for cycists at £40 dinner, bed and breakfast. I think the place they mentioned was Longridge Towers and it seems to be worth investigating. One of the chaps, who originated from Grays in Essex, was a cyclechatter and was familiar with Arch, also of this parish.

By this time the weather had closed in rather. The skies had become leaden and the wind was up but, fortunately, still favouring our direction. Jan was beginning to struggle on some of the climbs so we decided to miss out the chain bridge and honey farm and head directly into Berwick. We found the B & B with no trouble, taking are to photograph the viaduct from the road bridge. From our room we have a lovely view of the viaduct.

So, we have just about finished our quirky coast to coast. It’s been fantastic fun and I’m really proud of the way Jan has taken to solo touring. Some of the terrain we have tackled has been quite tough and on one or two days the weather had been challenging as well, yet she has done exceptionally well. Today’s average speed, in favourable conditions, was over 9 mph and we managed a 40 mile day with no trouble at all.

I suspect that we will do a little unladen cycling tomorrow, probably out to the honey farm for tea and cake. The afternoon looks as though it’s going to be wet so we will probably walk around the walls, never before having visited Berwick other than as a spectator on a train.