Gentleman Cyclist

June 9, 2018

Watlington weekend

Filed under: camping,Chilterns,Walking,YACF — admin @ 11:19 pm

It being the 50th birthday of that Stalwart of the Community Rich Forest, a number of us hied ourselves over to Watlington for the weekend. Rich is Events Organiser for the Association of Lightweight Campers as well as being a member of YACF, so it was a mixture of cyclists and campers, there being a considerable overlap between the two activities, who met at the White Mark Farm campsite in Watlington.

As part of my preparation for my Pembrokeshire walk, which is rapidly approaching, I decided to walk with a large, heavy rucksack from Saunderton station. This was exactly the sort of practice I needed as I was walking “against the grain”, as it were: up and down the escarpments rather than following contours. Although ascending is hard work with a heavy pack, it suddenly hits you as to why people ride bikes. When you are walking, descending is just as much tortuous hard work as is climbing: the footpath took me alongside the cricket pitch at Bledlow Ridge and immediately thereafter the descent is nigh-on precipitous. Steps had been cut into the soil with planks of wood holding them together so I found it rather easier to come down backwards and was very dependent on my walking poles. Compare that to coming down a hill on a bike.

Watlington really is Red Kite Central. There was a time when the red kite could only be seen in Wales, and there were very few pairs there, but some were introduced to the Chilterns and they have thrived. Indeed, they have become so bold that one of our number lost his burger in an air raid and required some minor first aid on his thumb. From my vantage point at the top of the camp site I can see the Scots pine where a pair is nesting, but there are many more than just the one pair. We also had a visitation from a buzzard this morning. There are plenty of other species, mostly evidenced by the ever-present peep-peep-peep-peep of a flock of long-tailed tits, and a song thrush, which seems to be the leading light in the dawn chorus.

Meanwhile, most of our number have gone for a ride. One of the younger members of our party asked me “Are you coming for a bike ride, mate?” I replied “No, I didn’t bring a bike.” His response of “Oh dear…” summed up the situation perfectly.

April 8, 2018

A Chilterns Stroll with camping kit

Filed under: camping,Chilterns,Walking — admin @ 10:56 pm

With late June and the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path walk looming ever closer, it seemed like a good idea to to a bit of hill walking and to do some camping at the same time, with the sort of kit that was going to be needed in Pembs, I decided on a weekend in the Chilterns involving 3 nights’s camping and a total of just over 30 miles of walking.

Sadly, for very good reasons, my two pals were unable in the end to join me for this and I was beginning to get a bad feeling about the whole weekend. I kept an eye on the forecast, which was generally pretty favourable and decided that it would be OK to reduce it to 2 nights’ camping with marginally less walking. Definitely, the tough day would be from Wendover station to the Bella Vista campsite near Radnage, which is something like 12 miles. I was preparing myself psychologically for a weekend as Billy No-mates when my walking pal Katie said she would join me for the Saturday. So after a bit of preparation we met at Marylebone with a view to following my planned route but Katie getting on a train back to London at Saunderton station.

We arrived at Marylebone within minutes of each other, bought coffee and (for me) a second breakfast of pain au raisin, since my first breakfast had been so long ago, and then boarded the train. It takes only about 45 minutes to get to Wendover and as soon as we had exited the station, there was a bridge across the railway and a main road and we were Out In The Country and climbing up towards some viewing point or other.

From this point, we encountered mud. Lots of it. It became very difficult at times to find a path into which we did not sink ankle-deep. There had clearly been plenty of horse activity in the area and that was the cause of a good deal of the churned-up ground, but also there was quite a bit of tree removal going on. This, allegedly, is to allow more sunlight into the afforested area to encourage new growth and wildlife, but the enormous tyres on vehicles designed to transport half a dozen mature beech trunks around the place leave some pretty big ruts in soft ground, and those ruts have a habit of filling with water.

We encountered a farm shop and that was also selling tea and cake. I suggested that we might partake, but Katie seemed to want to press on so that’s what we did (to be fair, I wasn’t properly hungry at that stage, but I’m not normally one to miss an opportunity for a cuppa and a slice of cake…). We had to negotiate a road, but found that there was a footpath in some woodland just behind a hedge, but it was, again, remarkably muddy.

I was pretty pleased with the fact that I was making perfectly reasonable progress despite having a 12kg pack on my back. A few days ago I pulled some random, probably unread, volume from the shelves above my desk. It was entitled “Walking the Alpine Parks” or some such, a book I had no recollection of having bought, and one which was redolent of unfulfilled ambition, and I found a section in the book giving advice on how quickly you should walk when in the hills and mountains. The author opined that the vast majority of people set off far too quickly and exhaust themselves. His advice was to keep to about 60 paces per minute on the flat, lowering that to about 40 paces whilst climbing. So it was that I was consciously keeping my pace down and trying not to raise my heart or breathing rate too much. We made pretty decent progress and, given that we stopped to admire the view, take photos, or just negotiate our way around quagmires or through undergrowth, I was quite happy that we completed our first 3 miles in considerably less than 2 hours.

At one point we were walking along a very muddy track with a fence on either side when two horsewomen hove into view. We conversed as they approached and the second horse was almost past us when it suddenly panicked and shied away from me quite violently. The rider took it under control but again as we tried to walk past it, so it panicked again. I have to say that I’m not a great fan of having half a ton of horseflesh flailing about within a close proximity of my head and I was damned glad when we were past them. “I think she’s frightened of your backpack…”

Soon afterwards, we arrived at the Pink & Lily, our scheduled lunch stop, and one I would recommend. The main courses weren’t cheap and to be fair, neither were the sandwiches at £7.50 a go, but they came with chips and salad, so plenty of carbs to sustain hungry walkers. I had sausage sandwiches, Katie roast beef, washed down with a couple of local ales in my case, and a Fentiman’s ginger beer in Katie’s.This was at about 6.5 miles and that took us considerably less than 4 hours.

We walked down to Lily’s Bottom and she didn’t seem to mind at all, and from that point we found ourselves in Grim’s Ditch. This definitely lived up to its name with yet more mud. For a fair bit of it we walked in the field next door, which had a hardened vehicle track and was much easier, but after a few hundred yards of this we found an adequate gap in the hedge and rejoined the muddy track as it descended to Lacey’s Green.

It was at this point that a small navigational error cost us a few minutes but we were soon back on our appointed quagmire towards Smalldean Lane, and the mile or so of road walking to Saunderton Station. I had been weighing my options during the past couple of miles and although I had no particular qualms about camping, I wasn’t looking forward to another long trudge in what promised, the weather forecast having changed rather, to be very wet conditions the following day. My navigational aids, my Garmin and OS 1:25000 maps on my phone, were both “touch-screen” devices and I know from personal experience that such technology goes totally haywire when the screen is wet, and being constantly bombarded with raindrops. So, providentially, when the one-train-an-hour turned up dead on cue just as we arrived on the platform, I caught the same train as Katie and we spent a little time drinking beer in the Beehive Pub, just of Baker Street, before I returned to Southend in a totally knackered state.

The main walk between Wendover and Saunderton was measured by the Garmin as 9.34 miles, but it’s over a mile from my house to Southend Central, and then of course there’s the general walking between stations, which must have been at least another mile. I’d call that a 12 mile day.

April 2, 2018

Sleeping arrangements

Filed under: camping,Walking — admin @ 10:27 pm

Posted on 2 April 2018

I am planning some backpacking trips this summer, starting with a long weekend in the Chilterns next weekend, and culminating it walking the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path in June. I have decided to experiment with a quilt instead of a sleeping bag. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, I find it very difficult to get a sleeping bag big enough to fit my shoulders inside and secondly, a quilt takes up much less rucksack space and is a lot lighter.

I have used an Exped Downmat for some years and as an experiment I decided to see if it would fit inside my cotton sleeping bag liner. And it does, perfectly!

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.

May 3, 2012

Hereford to Llandovery – day 1

Filed under: camping,Cycling — admin @ 8:27 pm

I’ve never before started a tour in such a disinterested frame of mind. I woke up early, took my alendronic acid, while that was taking effect I went to vote, had breakfast and set off, almost indifferent as to whether I went or not. The clerk at the ticket office was new, or at least, I’d never seen her before, and she tried to sell me a ticket for rather more than the internet told me I should have paid for it. I haggled her down, presented a voucher for £16.50 (the spoils of our late train from Berwick last month) and set off.

It was wet. I got to Lpoo St and it was wet. The rain seemed to stop before I got to Paddington, but that, I’m sure, was a mistake. The train to Great Malvern left at 12.21 and I sat in the first two carriages as the train split at Oxford and only those two were carrying on to Malvern. It was a dull journey.

I had half an hour to kill in Great Malvern and there was a very good tea room. When the waitress saw that I was a cyclist she told me that her father, also one of the fraternity, had recently had an “off” on a descent, and broken a rib and punctured a lung. He’s still recuperating.

Eventually I arrived in Hereford where it was still raining. I changed into cycling gear and found my way out of the town through heavy traffic. The A road I used had a very good cycle path, which was quite a relief, and when I was out in the country the minor roads began and they were indeed very pleasant. It was very humid but at least the rain had stopped.

The road I wanted, or at least, the road the Garmin told me I wanted (I had worked the route out on Bikehike) bore a dead end sign, but Googlemaps said it was passable so off I went. The road became more pot-holed and rough until it was little more than a footpath on what I think was the old Hereford to Hay railway line. I was very relieved that I hadn’t inflicted this on anyone else and I suspect that, had I done so,  the point at which the path crossed the entrance to a field that was clearly used twice a day by a dairy herd, my days would have ended there and then in a very shitty grave. The surface of what I was about to cross had the appearance of smooth concrete before it sets but, having worked on a farm in my youth, I was very well aware that appearances can be deceptive. There was nothing for it but to go through and, as luck would have it, my shoes did not completely disappear. After a few more yards of this filth I reached a road and found some deep puddles to try to clean my tyres, rims, mudguards and brake blocks.

Two or three miles further on I found Preston on Wye and the farmyard through which was the camp site. I spied the tell-tale portaloos on the other side of a very wet sheep field, and picked my way between the puddles and sheep turds as best I could.

At least there were no sheep in the camp field itself and the rain held off for long enough for me to pitch my tent and prepare a meal.

I had no intention of crossing that field any more often than I had to and to do so after dark would have been a serious mistake. The Yew Tree Inn, in the village, therefore remains untested. Almost as soon as I had finished eating, the rain started again and I was scurrying for cover. Although it was not long after 8 p.m., I started to prepare for bed, although I knew that at some stage I would have to brave the quagmire if the bowels required my attention. I had relatively little battery left on the phone and was unsure of the next time I would be able to charge it. I settled down with my tiny Roberts radio and had remarkably good Radio 3 reception, so I listened to Beethoven’s Triple Concerto, interspersed with the raindrops battering the fly sheet of my tent. When the concert finished I just lay there listening to the rain, and it wasn’t long before I had nodded off.

April 15, 2012

Wing Camping Weekend

Filed under: camping,Cycling — admin @ 7:44 pm

I recorded very little of this at the time, but my overriding memory was bonking really badly on the way up. I caught the train to Bedford and then cycled the 56 miles to Wing with full camping gear. Bedfordshire is not renowned for its hills, and indeed, for the most part I didn’t climb above moderate Essex height. The problem was that there was hardly any flat – just long grinding climbs which required a lot of effort, or long gentle descents that were over in a few seconds before the next long grinding climb began. Therefore something like 80% of the time I was having to work very hard, and the 20% of descents just weren’t sufficient recovery time. My good friend Julian described me as “catatonic” in the pub. I probably should have had a pint of lemonade or coke or something to restore the blood sugar.

The other memorable part was the extremely low overnight temperatures, and there still being white frost on my tent at 9am. I remained pretty warm with my lovely down sleeping bag though.

I rode the return to Corby with Julian and we passed the UK’s longest masonry viaduct, carrying a railway across the Welland valley, and using 84 arches to do so. Spectacular!

Carved tree
Frosty tent
Rutland Water
Welland viaduct

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