Gentleman Cyclist

May 4, 2018

Twinkle Twinkle Eurostar

Filed under: Cycling,Europe — admin @ 11:14 pm

Here we are on the 12.58 to Brussels and what a sodding rigmarole it was. Getting to St. Pancras was easy enough, but the fun began when we arrived at Eurodispatch where we had to disassemble a couple of bikes to go in the stout black bike box supplied. Given that the chances are that any bike being transported will be a touring bike, i.e. equipped with luggage racks, it is very awkward that the boxes are too small for a bike with racks. As luck would have it, there was a spare “complete bike” slot so we only had to dismantle the one.

Then there was the tortuous business of having our luggage checked. Our rookie status was clear for all to see as various bits and pieces of my attire ended up in an untidy heap in the tray on the conveyor. When I thought the torture was over I found myself trapped in a cubicle where a machine struggled personfully to try to match the photo in my passport with the image of my face on a screen. Whether this is due to beards is hard to say, but mine matches the picture in my passport for only a few days in any given six-monthly period, which is roughly how often I shave.

When we get to Brussels I have the tedious task of trying to build a bike out of a box of components, hoping that we haven’t lost any.

I’ll go by boat next time.

Postscript: Jeff became a victim of a light-fingered felon who made off with his watch shortly after we left Brussels station. Luckily the watch was fairly old and of not much value. That’s two Eurostar trips in succession that my companions or I have been victims of petty crime. I had my pocket picked in Lille las year.

April 5, 2018

The Joys of Spring

Filed under: Cycling,Essex — admin @ 10:28 pm

Since she retired, my good friend Jane seems to have been busier than when she was in full-time teaching. So, when the opportunity comes to go riding for a day with her, I’m always keen.

As luck would have it, another good friend, Rebecca, is soon to start a new job and she’d picked my brains about the possibility of an electrically-assisted steed for her new commute, which at 21 miles a day is rather longer than her current one. It turned out that she too was free on the day in question, and since both Jane and Rebecca live in different parts of London, it was the same train that delivered them both to Billericay, where I had been waiting for about 3 minutes.

We exchanged hugs, pleasantries and small gifts. I had brought a couple of jars of my home-made marmalade, which I know Jane thoroughly enjoys, and it was particularly appropriate for Rebecca on this occasion as her new job is working for the Women’s Institute. Then we set off in the cold, bright April sunshine for our first port of call, which, at around 8 miles, was the very good tea room at Blackmore, where we imbibed coffees of different types as well as some sustenance. It was definitely a gloves-on morning and the ladies nattered away like old friends, which I was sure they would. I didn’t think they had met before, but it seems that they had a brief exchange at the start of the Dunwich Dynamo 2016 in which the topic of conversation was Dangly Bits, and how unfortunate if such things get caught in your rear wheel.

Today was a good morning for wildlife, and also wildnotlife, as we saw a couple of dead badgers. There were the first chiffchaffs of the year, at least 2 buzzards, and I think we heard at least one more that we didn’t see, a muntjac, a hare and possibly the prize of the day, a stoat hurtling across the road in front of us just as we entered High Easter. I also heard a fair number of goldcrests.

As we progressed, so the day warmed up. We had planned to have lunch at the Viper pub, in Mill Green. It is a very pleasant, unspoiled, basic pub in the middle of wooded countryside and Jane had expressed an interest in visiting. Unfortunately, it’s not well-placed for a ride from either Billericay or Shenfield stations as it’s just too close to the start, or, indeed, finish. We decided that on this occasion, since we only had about 40 miles planned, that we would try it for a late lunch, even though there were only about another 6 miles to Billericay station. Sadly, this plan was confounded by the fact that during the week they stop serving food there at 2pm and we arrived just before 2.30. We had a drink and some crisps, and then adjourned to the Cricketers, just along the road, where we had another drink and some jacket potatoes. The advantage of doing it this way was that I got 2 pints instead of just the one.

The ride back to Billericay was almost uneventful. Jane decided that it would be a Good Idea to ride through the ford at Buttsbury, and so she did. She was rather taken aback by the strength of the current and had to push quite hard on the pedals in order to maintain her momentum, and the result of this was a very wet foot. However, she can’t have been that far from getting rather more than her foot wet…

An absolutely delightful day in wonderful company. Let’s do it again soon!

March 25, 2018

YACF Birthday Ride

Filed under: Cycling,YACF — admin @ 10:23 pm

The very excellent YACF (Yet Another Cycling Forum) is 10 years old today. To mark the occasion a small but select trio of riders who are all 10 years older than they were a decade ago met at Audley End station for an early spring potter.

Bob (aka Canardly), John (aka Wobbly John) and I (aka Wowbagger) set off at a sedate pace under an overcast sky around this route:-

We had a stop for coffee and a bacon butty in Thaxted at Parrishes café, which was very welcome after 9 or 10 coldish miles – there wasn’t any frost or ice, but it was just cold – and then we set off towards Great Bardfield and on to Finchingfield, where the serried ranks of all sorts of motorcyclists had gathered. The Garmin’s batteries conked out a mile or so before we got to Finchingfield and I had, in a senior moment, forgotten to pick up the spare pair that had been slow-cooking on the charger all night. Luckily the shop was open and I was able to buy some Duracells so that we could continue without too much guesswork.

Much to Bob’s disappointment we didn’t climb the 1:9 (or whatever it is) hill which is on the route of the Dunwich Dynamo but instead turned left towards Stambourne and then on to Steeple Bumpstead where we had lunch in the Fox pub. We each had a roast and a pint or two of a very tasty porter that was on offer.

This route involved a fair bit of climbing, and at one point I noticed that the Garmin recorded 380 feet above sea level. I’m never sure how accurate it is though as it sometimes gives ludicrous readings. That must have been a decent guess as the Ordnance Map give 123 metres at Castle Camps, which is 403 feet above sea level. This part of Essex is positively alpine. (Small vaguely-relevant fact: Debden, near Saffron Walden, is twinned with Tang Ting, Nepal).

We enjoyed a pretty good descent from Ashdon, but I stopped and retraced my pedal-strokes as I had noticed a large advertisement for a concert including Mozart’s C Minor Mass, which I will be singing in with the Southend Bach Choir on 21st April. The Saffron Walden Choral Society’s concert was last night.

We arrived back at the station at about 5pm and John caught his train to Ely and Bob and I drove in our various directions.

We didn’t see a great deal of notable wildlife: a number of buzzards; but there were two notable bits of roadkill in the form of a hedgehog and a polecat-style ferret. I can’t think that there are wild polecats living in Essex.

March 15, 2018

Back in the saddle

Filed under: Cycling — admin @ 9:38 pm

Woe is me! I am a lapsed blogger! However, I think the only way to do anything about that is to unlapse myself, so here’s a post…

After a long winter in which Jan and I had done next to nothing in the way of cycling (actually, that’s a lie: Jan had done no cycling since August) we resurrected the electric tandem (Circe Helios to those who don’t know, and if you do, it’s still a Circe Helios), plonked it in the car and took it to the Essex Wildlife Trust Visitors’ Centre at Hanningfield reservoir, gave them a donation of a couple of quid and then pottered off to the Fishing Lodge tea room for 11ses. We had already decided that a little over a mile is not sufficient to warrant cake with our beverage, a decision doubly justified when I realised that they were charging £3.95 for a slice of Victoria Sponge. We were not amused.

Thereafter we continued our northward meander, taking the scenic route to East Hanningfield via Middlemead and West Hanningfield, thereby avoiding the rather nasty climb out of Rettendon, with its busy traffic. We met a rather faster cyclist than us and nattered to him briefly at some temporary lights, but once we were under way again he left us well behind.

We used the attractive route to Danbury via Butts Green and Sporhams Lane, carefully avoiding cycling through the ford, which was the deepest I have seen it. I’m sure a temporary immersion would do nothing to improve the electric motor of the bike.

We took advantage of a couple of “CLOSED ROADS” into and out of Danbury. Some resurfacing work was taking place in Penny Royal Lane, and The Ridgeway, leading down to Paper Mill Lock, was also closed, due to a hole having been dug in it, so we had a peaceful descent. We had sandwiches, cake and tea for lunch and had a natter to a self-declared sedentary couple who were admiring both our bike and our athleticism.

Suddenly we became aware of the fact that the time was rapidly approaching 3pm and we had to be back to get the car out of the car park before 5pm, so we took the most direct route we could and covered the 11 miles or so in under 75 minutes. We then decided on a cuppa before we went home and found that the visitors’ centre has upgraded its coffee making facilities from a basic, grotty, machine to an entire counter with swish machine and a variety of cakes, at £1.55 a slice less than the fishing lodge café were charging. It’s now a very viable venue for tea and cake, whereas previously I regarded it as for emergency use only.

October 7, 2012

Solo ride to Little Dunmow

Filed under: Cycling,Essex,YACF — admin @ 12:10 pm

I set off at 8.30 and thereby used the “nasty” roads before the motorists were out of bed and into their football kit. I was aided and abetted by some flood water hanging around. This was the aptly-named Watery Lane.

The ford along Sporhams Lane was higher than I remember seeing it, and I used the footbridge.

It was a glorious sunny morning and Riffhams and its sheep looked very fine.

A view towards the city of Chelmsford. At this point I was engaged in conversation by three ladies out for a morning walk. It seemed that they had the ambition to cover many miles.

Great Graces was also in a fine fettle.

The Chelmer was very high, and flowed over both lock gates at Paper Mill Lock.

It’s unusual to find such foaming torrents on this normally placid river.

The Tea Room did not disappoint. That is fruit and chocolate flapjack – about 2000 calories’ worth. There were huge chunks of white chocolate nestling amongst glacé cherries… phwooaar!

There was an attractive shimmering rime over the ploughed fields – dew-bespangled spiders’ webs!

Easters – the 21st Century Tudor mansion in Barnston.

The trig point along Warren Road.

An excellent day out. Lunch, at the Flitch, in Little Dunmow, saw me eating alone in what was clearly a proper “local”. I’m sure everyone else was a regular, and there was a splendid conversation on the table to my left in which an old gaffer was holding forth about the evils of Thatcher and Blair, in a really fine Essex accent, of the type that’s all too rare these days. There will be a WARTY to this pub ere long.

A bit short of wildlife. There was a little egret at Stambridge Mills early on, a fox, and a weasel somewhere near Danbury. Oh, and a kestrel somewhere else. Significantly, I saw neither swallows nor house martins, in complete contrast to Thursday, when there were quite a few. I saw at least one green woodpecker, heard at least one more, and heard a greater spotted or two.

I arrived home a little before 6 p.m having completed 81 miles. I passed last year’s milage total at some stage during the day, and brought my weekly total up to about 185 miles. Still on target for a 7000 mile year…

May 14, 2012

Berlin to London

Filed under: Cycling,YACF — admin @ 9:21 pm

My good friend Helen, known as Auntie Helen to her on-line friends, has just completed an epic 700-mile solo ride from Berlin to London. Helen’s blog can be read here.

Yesterday was her final leg, from her home in Little Bromley, north of Colchester, via the new Personnel Recovery Unit at Colchester Barracks (Helen was raising money for the Help for Heroes charity) to Trafalgar Square. A number of other cyclists joined her for all, or some, of this route. We were not helped by the perennial uselessness of our rail companies, who were not offering a service to Colchester yesterday. I met another friend, Jane, at Shenfield station and together we rode out towards Helen. We shortly met Del, another of our cycling friends, who had a similar intention, and three of us headed north-east to an 11ses stop at Hanningfield Reservoir before a rendez-vous with Helen and two others in East Hanningfield. At this point Del peeled off whereas the five of us (Helen’s friends Mark and Martin were the other two) made for Ingatestone Garden Centre for lunch, where yet another of our friends, Jurek, was waiting for us.

From Ingatestone we six, led by Jurek, who was familiar with the route, rode into London via the not-especailly-attractive route of Shenfield, Brentwood, Harold Wood, Romford, Ilford, Stratford, Tower Hill and the Embankment, arriving in Trafalgar Square just before 6 p.m. Some members of Helen’s family were there, and a representative from Help for Heroes presented Helen with a certificate and medal.

I left them to it at around 6.15 and arrived in Lpoo St in time for the 6.45 train, alighting at Rochford so that the ride home should push my daily total above 63 miles, ensuring a “metric century” for the day.

May 7, 2012

Hereford to Llandovery – day 5

Filed under: camping,Cycling,Wales — admin @ 9:10 pm

I was aware that the weather forecast was for lots more rain, and I wasn’t particularly looking forward to a long train journey in wet cycling gear, so I resolved to set off pretty early. As it happened, I broke all personal bests as I was awake with the dawn chorus, out of bed for 5.30 and on the road at 6.27. The tent was dry, its footprint needs airing, but all in all I was quite pleased with myself. I had mile upon mile of empty road as well – not that a great deal ever uses these remote Welsh B roads.

It was quite cold, although none of the nights delivered the sort of temperature that was rumoured. I hadn’t brought any warm gloves with me, and on the spur of the moment I had bought a pair of neoprene gardening gloves in a pound shop in Llandovery, just in case I did have to cycle in the cold and wet. My fingers were painful with cold this morning, so I put them on and slowly recovered as I went along. The wind was still north-easterly, so I had a headwind to contend with, but there was not a great deal of height loss to this journey: about 400′ above sea level in Aberedw, about 160′ above in Hereford some 38 miles away.

The clouds and early morning sun were providing quite a spectacle, and Lord Hereford’s Knob was covered in white.

I passed through this village on Friday and I promised it that I would.

and I had to read this road sign two or three times before I realised that it didn’t say what at first I thought it said.

The Wye, at Glasbury, was much clearer than the turbid torrent it had been three days previously.

I arrived in Hay more quickly than I expected. I had it in my mind that it was 20 miles to Hay and a further 20 to Hereford, but in fact I pulled up outside the Isis tea rooms after only 16 miles, at 8.25 in the morning, intending to take advantage of their all-day breakfast, but they were closed. I suppose an all-day breakfast is one you can’t buy at breakfast time. Fortunately a baker’s shop was open an they were selling filled rolls. I bought a couple, eating one straight away and saving the other for the train.

Once I left Hay I was in England and, after a short while, it started to rain. I stopped near Moccas to put my waterproofs on and from that point I couldn’t really read the Garmin. The route was simplicity itself, though: I arrived in Madley and after that kept to the B road until it joined the A465 and some fairly heavy bank holiday traffic. I crossed the Wye for the last time

and then went in search of the station, which was annoyingly quite some distance from the city centre. My train was at the platform and left 5 minutes later, but I found that there was no convenient connection and decided that the Great Malvern tea room was the best place to spend an hour or so. Eventually, a huge old 125 arrived and I thankfully put my bike in the last space in the bike lock-up, although I found afterwards that there were more bikes in the guard’s van proper.

The ride to Fenchurch Street was unusually pleasant: the mile or so through Hyde Park was followed by traffic free Constitution Hill and The Mall. I arrived home about 12½ hours after I’d set off, feeling generally pretty pleased that I hadn’t abandoned on the first morning.

May 6, 2012

Hereford to Llandovery – day 4

Filed under: camping,Cycling,Wales — admin @ 8:56 pm

In spite of the constant “thump thump” of some dreadful computer-generated “music” from a group of adjacent tents, I drifted off quite quickly. But I had a disturbing dream in which my sis-in-law, who is a wonderful and revered person, was giving me a piece of her mind about something undefined, but which was probably associated with my generally wayward behaviour.

I awoke with a jolt, very aware that the thump-thump-thump was still coming from the adjacent tents. I looked at my bike computer: 1.54. What the bloody hell were these idiots doing disturbing the entire camp site at that time? I lay silently fuming, but also aware that my bladder needed emptying.

I struggled out of my sleeping bag, carefully leaving all of my silk liner in the tent, put my shoes on and had a wee amongst the trees. I then stomped off to the noisy group intent upon giving them a piece of my mind.

I found a largish group – possible as many as 20 – grouped around a camp fire with some electronic device pumping out the noise.

My opening gambit was “Don’t you people ever get any sleep?” which gained the attention of about one-third of the assembled company.

“It’s two o’clock in the bloody morning!” I bellowed.

A partial silence fell over the group, like a class whose teacher is missing but who have just been unexpectedly visited by the Senior Master. A decidedly ageing hippy whom I had seen the previous afternoon ferrying firewood and wielding a chain saw rose as spokesperson.

“I’m really sorry, man!” said he in a strong Welsh accent which for some unaccountable reason I didn’t expect. “We didn’t think we were disturbing anyone.”

“Well you are. The entire camp site.”

It occurred to me that the entire camp site bar one could well have been assembled around the camp fire.

“I’m really sorry,” repeated the spokeperson. “What’s disturbing you, the music or our voices?”

“Both!” I replied.

“OK, we’ll tone it down.”

And he was as good as his word and I didn’t hear another thing until I became aware of birdsong at around 7 a.m.

I breakfasted and my packing up was interrupted by a pleasant chat to a young Bristolian lady in a camper van. I was eventually away around 10.30 and shortly after leaving the camp site I heard a cuckoo not far away and attempted to entice it over but either I’m losing my touch or I can’t cwcw in Welsh.

I arrived at a viewing point below the dam where a couple armed with very expensive looking Nikon cameras with large lenses attached were taking photos. They came and engaged me in conversation and it didn’t take me long to notice that under her leather jacket the lady wore nothing but a string vest. I’m fairly sure that there must be some sort of risk to personal safety, not to say comfort, in sporting such attire on a cold day and, connoisseur of haute couture that I am, I’m equally sure that it isn’t the latest Vivienne Westwood. The only conclusion I could reach was that the scenery was not the only subject matter they were interested in photographing.

Soon I climbed above the level of the water and the really spectacular stuff began. Every turn in the road revealed a wonderful view.

It’s the road that has everything – hairpin bends, huge majestic sweeps, views across the reservoir hundreds of feet below, red kites, buzzards, glorious sunshine and plenty of other cyclists.

The first group I met were doing the loop in the opposite direction, fast boys and girls on frames as lithe as themselves. Down they swooped, led by a lass with a huge smile and a pony tail, who must have been travelling at nearly 50 mph when she flew past me.

Although there were plenty of climbs, there was none that defeated me – yet. I was caught by a chap on a red Specialized who commented that I liked doing things the hard way.

Eventually I left the lake behind and the Tywi reappeared as a river, much smaller than it had been the last time I’d seen it.

Another cuckoo, another attempt at conversation and this time, success! Not one, but two appeared, quite some distance away but there was nowhere for me to attempt concealment in the dereliction of that patch of felled conifer forest. It didn’t take them long to ascertain that I wasn’t the real McCoy and they disappeared back into the trees.

Much sooner than I expected, the junction for Tregaron appeared. I turned right, up the steepest section. I could see the road going up and up

and although the sign at the bottom of the hill said 25%, which I’m pretty sure was right, Ordnance Survey had awarded the hills only one chevron at a time. I was off the bike and pushing, 30 paces at a time, with a short rest at the end of each.

Quite some time later I reached  a point where I could ride again and not long after, at 1577′ above sea level, I reached the watershed between the Tywi, which becomes tidal at Carmarthen, and the Wye, which emerges under the Severn bridge near Chepstow. Now came the helter-skelter descent, nicknamed “The Devil’s Staircase” apparently, one of several, I’m sure. I had expected to walk this, so vicious did it appear on the map, but in the end I rode, trusting my safety to two slender strands of brake cable.

I emerged into the Irfon valley and what a superb sight it was!

Flat-bottomed initially, the road and river were almost plaited together, low, barrierless bridges allowing one to cross the other. Now, of course I had the gradient with me although I was still over 1000′ up. There was an occasional climb but mostly it was exhilarating descent. I reached Abergwesyn and realised immediately that there would be no pub here, so very soon, when I came across a picnic site named Pwll Bo, I took advantage and knocked up a quick cous-cous, courtesy of Ainsley Harriott, and washed it down with a nice cup of tea.

Lunch over, I completed the journey into Llanwrtyd, where there was a cash machine and a loo, and I then headed back to join the same road that I’d cycled up the previous morning. Just before I did so I was overhauled by a couple on good tourers: his was a Dawes Galaxy, hers an Argos. We rode together briefly, and I picked up two vital pieces of information: the first was that in the winter months the Swansea to Shrewsbury line is free to over-60s and the second was that there was an alternative route to the one I’d planned, with two fords in quick succession. I chose it, and thought what an ideal road it would be for Andrij and Rower40 to exchange stories about watery non-events.

The remainder of the ride was the reverse of the previous morning’s, with the exception that this time I stopped for a couple of minutes to watch a treecreeper living up to its name, to take a photograph of the bridge at Builth and to wonder how anyone can own a river – and if they do, are they liable when it floods someone else’s house?.

May 5, 2012

Hereford to Llandovery – day 3

Filed under: camping,Cycling,Wales — admin @ 8:49 pm

I must have been in bed around 9 p.m. and the next thing I knew it was light and time for a wee. I looked at my phone and was amazed: 5.40. What’s more, I was warm: I felt wonderfully cosy under my new fleece blanket, which had condensation on the outside. It must have worked.

I got up to irrigate a laurel bush and then went back to bed and snoozed fitfully until 7.30. I got dressed and started packing  when my host arrived and invited me indoors for breakfast. I was treated to muesli with stewed plums (home grown), a boiled egg with toast and blackcurrant jam, all washed down with tea. We continued to chat about the political situation, and the sad fact that Boris Johnson had sneaked a win in London. I handed the landlady £10 – for two nights: I’m coming back here after my trip to the Tywi valley and Llyn Brianne. This has to be the best £5 I’ve ever spent on a camp site.

It was around 10.20 that I eventually set off and I hadn’t been going long when I was overtaken by a small group of cyclists on steeds fully equipped with mudguards and Carradice Barley saddlebags. Of course! Tewdric had mentioned that the Brevet Cymru would be passing through Builth Wells some time during the day. The last chap to overtake me was riding a Van Nicholas whose rear mudguard rattled so much that, had it been my bike, I would have ripped the damned thing off and chucked it in the Wye.

I used NCN 43 to approach Builth Wells, which gave much better views of the Wye than did the road.

There was some sort of event involving horses and horse boxes going on at the show ground. It was far too soon to stop for 11ses and the town was very crowded so I carried on, again taking NCN 43, which involved climbing. I was soon too warm, but when a long descent arrived I was too cold again so I elected to get just a bit too warm on the ascents and remain comfortable whilst descending. There were some spectacular views.

I reached Llangammarch very quickly and hunted around for somewhere or 11ses. The Cammarch hotel was to hand, and I bought tea with a small slice of McVitie’s Jamaica Ginger Cake which cost me £3, a terrible rip-off. I carried on and was soon joined by a young chap who had recently returned to his home town of Abergavenny from a stint working in Leicester. He was out doing a local loop. “It’s like being on holiday all the time!” he remarked.

I must have been riding well as I was not aware of an especially large amount of climbing but when I checked the Garmin I had reached well over 1000′, including chevrons, and it was now time to descend. This was a wonderful exhilarating descent over several miles until I reached the A483, but I didn’t stop there and found myself hurtling along at 18 or 19 mph for long periods. Eventually I found the West End Café in Llandovery where I met Polepole, who was taking part in the Brevet Cymru, which was a very pleasant surprise.

She recommended the fish and chips, so I had some of those, and after than I visited the general store for milk and calories. I knew that where I was going for the next 24 hours or so would be devoid of places to buy supplies.

The road out of Llandovery was quiet and very gently climbing towards the camp site beyond Rhandirmwyn.

The Tywi Bridge Inn seemed to be trading well when I came past and I decided that I would retrace the mile or so from the camp site rather than cook for myself. I pitched the tent above the Tywi river and made straight for the pub where Evan Evans “May Fly” was on, as well as a very good Chinese-style beef with ginger followed by sticky toffee pudding. There was a distinct chill in the air as I was sitting outside the pub so I retired to the side room to eat my meal, after which I returned to my tent and snuggled under my blanket.

May 4, 2012

Hereford to Llandovery – day 2

Filed under: camping,Cycling,Wales — admin @ 8:39 pm

That was a very annoying night. Firstly, it rained a lot and that was noisy. Secondly, a lamb had found its way under the fence into the camping field and couldn’t find its way out again. It spend a good deal of the night bleating for its mother, who in her turn spent a good deal of the night bleating back at it. Thirdly, despite having invested very many pounds in a Vango Venom 300 sleeping bag, which is supposed to be a 3 to 4 season bag, and 4 season when used with a silk liner, I was not as warm as I should have been. Fourthly, when I came to pack up I discovered that my Exped Downmat is trying its best to be a mere Exped Mat as, at deflation time, it started to disgorge several pieces of goose into the tent. None of those pieces of goose was edible, and what is more they blocked the venting hole which made the packing process a good deal longer than it should have been. Fifthly, when it came to breakfast time, my trusty old flint lighter was damp and refused to produce a spark. As luck would have it I still had an empty piezo-crystal type which, once I had removed the long-redundant flame protector, lit the gas first time, so I could have tea.

I was away around 9 and I discovered that the road along which I had cycled the previous evening in order to get to the camp was now an extension of the village pond.

Since my shoes were already very wet and I had dispensed with socks, this didn’t matter all that much and, if anything, served to clean some of the light brown fondant icing, a mixture of soil and sheep shit, from many of the surfaces to which it clung. I met the farmer, who had come to collect his £4. My verdict on that camp site is that, under normal circumstances, it would be wonderful: peaceful, next to one of the finest of British rivers, the portaloos were well maintained, having pumped water for washing and pumped chemicals for flushing, but having to wander through a shitty swamp to get there took the gilt off the gingerbread rather. I was informed by my host that it has been more than two years since the soil was last as waterlogged as it currently is. For the whole of 2011, which was the driest year for very many in the Welsh borders, it would have been perfect.

The “road” to the campsite

Whilst lying in my sleeping bag in the fairly early hours, I had resolved to abandon this trip and return to Hereford, for all the reasons given in my first paragraph. However, the light of day brings a new perspective and my journey towards Hay was gentle and pleasant. Very occasionally the sun tried to break through, but the clouds surrounded and smothered him. There was no wind, it wasn’t raining and everything was softened by the damp air – not mist exactly, but an impressionist’s landscape to be sure.

I found a camping shop in Hay and bought a fleece blanket to help stave off the cold nights ahead (frost was forecast – I knew I should have brought my Stormlite) and then indulged in tea and fudge cake in the Isis tea room next door, where I also charged my phone. Not long after my late 11ses I found a pub named the Hollybush. It looked fairly spartan on the outside and there was some construction work going on on the inside which restricted the variety of culinary delights on offer, but a steak sandwich and a pint of Butty Bach later and I left happy. Shortly I crossed the Wye again, in Glasbury, whose canoe hire business was doing none at all, thanks to the high water.

As I left the village I saw the sorry sight of someone’s home surrounded by sandbags as they carried their soggy belongings out onto the pavement.

My route continued with the Wye on my left. As I cycled upstream the water became increasingly “white” and every so often I caught a glimpes of rapids through the trees.

The road was straight and the gradient was gentle, and it wasn’t until I crossed a bridge over another road that I realised I had been cycling along an old railway. This was confirmed when I reached the old Erwood station which had been converted to a tea room. I did my nepotal duty and bought and wrote a post card to Aunt Phyllis.

I was very close to my destination for the night when I saw a flock of sheep behaving rather oddly. I then noticed a dog behind them and the farmer who was shouting and whistling instructions to the dog. It was a wonderful sight as the dog patrolled left and right, or stopped and lay down, all the time driving 100 or so sheep and lambs towards the gate where the farmer was waiting.

A few minutes later I arrived at the Boatside camp site. I wandered around until I spied a man trying to bully a hymn out of an out-of-tune piano. I knocked on the window to gain his attention, he called his wife and I was offered a cup of tea, which I accepted, over which we discussed the political situation à propos of the local election results. I was then shown to the flat, well-tended, sheep-free, dry spot where I could pitch my tent right next to the shower-cum-toilet block and asked if I would like breakfast in the morning

I pitched the tent, enjoyed a beautiful hot shower, put some clean clothes on and then disappeared to the Seven Stars in Aberedw, about a mile back along the road, where I demolished duck, veg and chips washed down with two pints of Felinfoel Double Dragon. Ominously, there was an individual at the bar warning of forecasts of -5°C for Saturday or Sunday night.

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