Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Six o’clock in the morning. The morning!

Wednesday 4 July 2018 6:21a.m.
Why was up I so early? The short answer is that I’m mad!
The previous day, I had ridden the five miles down to Matlock station for the 06:21 to Derby but the bloody thing was cancelled - thank you, East Midlands Trains. So today I had another go, and this time, no problem – thank you, East Midlands Trains. 
I'm trying to cover as much of the National Cycle Network as possible. Now that I’ve done everything close to home, the only way I can do this is by using public transport to get to my starting point. And by setting out earlier and earlier and returning later and later. 
On the day in question the train pulled into Peterborough soon after 9am. I wheeled the bike off, followed the commuters out of the station and headed east on NCR63. Leaving the town centre I found myself following the River Nene on a purpose-built traffic-free path. It was a beautiful sunny day; the going was flat and there was no wind to speak of – all was right with the world. I pedalled through quiet residential streets in Whittlesey, then on a stony path alongside the railway, after which minor roads crossing the railway line several times led to March. On the way, I saw signs offering alternative routes across fields to the left, but I declined these; the route I stuck to was termed by the signage: “wet weather route”. Even though the day was anything but wet, I wasn’t tempted by the ‘dry’ alternatives, as I had loaded today’s ride, at least as far as Holbeach, onto my Garmin Edge. This route was based on the Sustrans online mapping and, although this must never be the last word in the particular alignment of a NCN route, it’s always a first approximation.
NCR63 doesn’t pass through the centre of March (either that or March has no centre) but instead turns northwards and wends its way through the residential part of the town, followed by a pleasant wooded section which is a permissive path owned by Whitemoor Prison. Next, some very quiet minor roads across the Fens brought me to Wisbech, where the annual Rose Fair was in full swing. I took my first break in the gardens of the parish church, bought something to eat and drank some water - but only because I didn’t spot a beer tent and I was a bit pushed for time.
Crowland church and abbey
 National Route 1 is a long-distance cycle route from Dover to the Shetlands, or will be when it’s finished, it currently still has several gaps. The signage up till now had been almost perfect but leaving Wisbech on NCN1 I encountered the first sign of trouble. We Sustrans volunteers (‘Rangers’) do a lot of the signing of the National Cycle Network. The NCN numbers are quite small compared to other road signs but distinctive and once you know what to look for you’ll spot them everywhere – they’re a white number in a red square with a white border set in a blue background. These patches are either self-adhesive and stuck to lamp-posts, road signs etc in town, or rigid plastic and nailed to wooden posts in rural areas.
After I crossed the River Nene at the north end of town, I missed a Ranger patch guiding riders through a narrow passageway, and I stuck to the main road instead. This wasn’t much of a problem – I soon corrected myself – but it was the beginning of some rather indifferent signage along miles of unremarkable but quiet roads zig-zagging all the way to Holbeach.
I left the Network in Holbeach as there is currently no numbered cycle route to Spalding. I gritted my teeth, took my life in my hands (if that’s not mixing too many metaphors) and plunged onto the A151 along with all the lorries and cars of the Fens that seemed to be going the same way as me. It’s not the most pleasant of roads and comparable, I would say, to the A6 in Derbyshire.
Spalding is an agreeable little market town, which sadly I didn’t have time to explore. I arrived from the north, rode alongside the River Welland and stopped for a drink and to take stock of where I was and where I wanted to go next. I was looking for some Route 12 signs which, according to the Sustrans online mapping, should have started at the northern end of London Rd. Yet nothing. Nada! Nix! How does Sustrans get away with this? I am keeping a log of routes I’ve come across which are supposed to be signed but aren’t...
Crowland Trinity Bridge and a NCR12 patch on a lamp-post
Although I’d failed to download the day’s full route to my Garmin Edge (an oversight), I had some idea where the route was supposed to go, so I continued to follow the Welland all the way to Crowland, on minor, quiet roads over totally flat terrain. The countryside had a wild aspect, with tall grasses and rare trees. Towards the end, I was riding on top of the flood defence embankment above the river, which looked beautiful in the bright sunshine. At Crowland, I had a brief look at the famous ruined abbey and also, in the middle of the village, the equally famous medieval three-way Trinity Bridge.
I knew if I was quick I could catch the train at Peterborough which would get me home by 7:30pm, so I tried to hurry up. This was easier said than done though, as the 5-mile traffic-free path from Crowland to Peakirk was rough and stony. After the madness of the A151 it was good to be away from vehicles but the going was still quite arduous. From Peakirk I just hoped that the route would be straightforward and I wouldn’t make any mistakes. In fact, the cycle network around Peterborough - a mixture of dedicated greenways and quiet roads - is mostly very good. I hurried along, occasionally taking a chance on which direction at junctions, fortunately choosing correctly each time. I got to the station with two minutes to spare and caught my train.
The total distance for the day was 132 km, at an average of nearly 19 kph, which for me is pretty fast. I’d give this ride 8/10 for the superb weather, the many dedicated cycle paths and the impressive and varied countryside.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Ramblings of a Born Again Cyclist

Hello, I’m Clyde and I live in Matlock. I’m a supporter of Peak Cycle Links and I work for Sustrans as a volunteer ‘Ranger’. As a ‘Born Again Cyclist’ returning to the saddle at the tender age of 49, I quickly found that my love of travel by this means of transport had not been diminished by more than 30 years of motorcycling and car-driving. This is easily the best way to enjoy your surroundings: in a day you cover more distance and you see more than you do walking, while the lower speeds than those of motoring enable you to stop and explore whenever and wherever you want. It’s good for you, it doesn’t wreck the planet and it costs next to nothing. And it’s just bloody good fun. 

I’ve never been a fast rider. I went youth hostelling in 1963, just after I’d done my 'O' levels, with a couple of mates from Croydon to Cornwall and back – 600 miles over 10 days – and they always had to stop to wait for me every so often. But, given the whole day, I never had a problem with the distances: since the age of 60 I’ve done over 100 miles in a day six times. I’m now 70 and since 2009 I have gone touring every year with a group of lads from Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, to various areas of the British Isles, France and Holland – and I’m still the one at the back. This is never a problem and, anyway, most of my riding I do alone; I’m quite fond of my own company.

My wife Sylvie and I have a place in France and we spend several weeks of the year on the other side of the Channel. Of course I keep a bike there, so I cover quite a lot of distance cycling in France. My bikes in Matlock and in France are both hybrids: basically mountain bikes with road tyres and mudguards. Wherever possible I like to ride on traffic-free greenways or multi-user paths but unfortunately these represent a fraction of the available space for cyclists. Since retirement, nearly 11 years ago (blimey, can it really be that long?) I set myself a couple of targets: one was to cover at least 100 km a week, either in several short journeys or in one long one. So 5200 km a year – that’s not unreasonable. The other is to cover as much of the National Cycle Network while I still can. It’s currently 14000 miles and still growing – I’m not sure I can keep up with it.

In a series of articles I will be describing some of my more memorable rides in the UK and abroad. I hope to inspire and enthuse others to get on their bikes and head for the hills. And, wherever possible, to ride on designated cycle routes. I’m not expecting that these will be in any particular order and I’ll start with some of my most recent rides. 

So watch this space – and happy riding.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Europe After Rain. And hail. And wind. But mainly snow.

Eighteen months ago Gill and I set off from sunny Buxton to cycle to supposedly sunny Cadiz. Bearing in mind that we get a bit giddy when we have to take a layer off in Whaley Bridge, it's fair to say that we were quite excited. Except that when we actually threw a leg over the crossbar and turned the pedals for the first of the 12,345,678 revolutions (approximately) we had to stop at the end of our road to put our rain jackets on. Derbyshire was not being kind to us in late September 2016.

We needn't have worried though, as our plan worked perfectly. The plan being to follow the sun down through France and Spain as the autumn progressed into winter, then maybe even migrate back north via the Portuguese coast as winter turned to spring, across northern Spain as our money ran out then... well, we didn't want to ruin the trip with too much detail so we thought we'd just wing it from there.
Seven miles out of Buxton we got on the White Peak Loop and headed south - now that's an idea PCL, why don't we extend it all the way to the Mediterranean? Madrid? OK, maybe just Matlock.
By Tissington it was pissington down. I met an old man coming out of the toilets who made the mistake of enquiring where we were heading with all that clobber (I was towing a trailer as well as porting two rear panniers, a tent on the back rack and a big bulky sleeping bag on the front rack, plus handlebar bag. Gill was grinning and bearing a grudge.
I looked off into the middle distance, adopted a world-weary expression and, with a knowingly irritating high rising terminal, question/replied: "Cadiz?"
I so wish he'd replied: "Well you're going the wrong way you twat." and pointed me towards Reykjavik. But he was too polite and just zipped up his pants without even looking, which made me wince but he seemed to know what he was doing.

I lied to that old man. We never got to Cadiz. We made it as far as Mallorca for Christmas, when the rest of the family flew out to join us. But whilst we were all grumping about the hotel dodging the four solid days of rain (the most by far we'd seen in our entire 2000 mile journey since leaving England) Gill got word (well, email) that she'd secured her cycle training work contract and had to be back in the saddle (but the metaphorical one) in the new year.

And so that was that - our intended 5 month epic was abridged to only 3 months. It had been such a wonderfully liberating experience though that we vowed to do it again as soon as our respective employers would allow us the time. Mine were almost unseemly in their haste to see me gone again. Irreplaceable Gill didn't know what she would do until I reminded her that the graveyard was full of irreplaceable men. We agreed that that probably applied to women too and so she got a replacement in.

Being summer we plan to head north and have booked the ferry from Hull to Rotterdam. We intend to go as far as we can before having to come back - what could go wrong? Tune in again to find out.

Everything was clean and tidy at this point and the big sleeping bag hadn't found its way out of Gill's panniers and onto my front rack. But give it five minutes and I'd be clarted in grey sludge from the wet Tissington Trail and various items would cross an invisible boundary, as if by osmosis, from one bike to another.

Six o’clock in the morning. The morning!

Wednesday 4 July 2018 6:21a.m. Why was up I so early? The short answer is that I’m mad! The previous day, I had ridden the five miles d...