Friday Ride – bike troubles

Folly LaneI don’t know what it is about John, every time he says “Do you mind if I bring a mate along?” it turns out to be a super-fit individual who leaves us puffing and panting in his wake. Friday 6th was no exception, John’s friend Andy joined the illustrious list of riders who have helped up our average speed. We met at the pub on the A361 then headed out towards Rudge and Dilton. Almost immediately Andy was complaining of a knocking from the pedal area which seemed to be going through his foot, but it was John who forced the first stop of the day in a routine that is becoming a regular on our rides, his spokes pinged out. Actually, Andy didn’t really drive us too hard, it had been a while since he and John had met up so we ambled along the lanes at a reasonable, though not stupid pace. As we headed past the trout farm by Dilton Marsh, we saw a weasel dart out in front of us, I say we, John missed it, he was looking at a dead squirrel.

The glorious sound of three chainsets working in unison was rather ruined by some creaking from the front end of my bike. Having just come up the Hollow (me at the back) the bike was protesting alarmingly. John suggested tightening the handlebars – which seemed to do the trick. We took the ghost road from Upton Scudamore to the outskirts of Warminster, effectively shaving off a corner of B-road and also saving us some pretty nasty traffic interaction. Zipping round the outskirts of Warminster, I had to stop when a client phoned, the others waited up ahead. Business taken care of we set off again, this time for the Wylye Valley. As Andy and John used to work in the same bike shop, they regaled and entertained me with various stories and bits of bike wisdom during the ride. It wasn’t long before we swung a ride into Five Ash Lane. Ah, now this was bicycling! This quiet wooded road was alive with bird song and festooned with gorgeous wildflowers. The forest perhaps once was a solid commercial venture, a plantation, but careful forestry work and management have broken the monotony of lines of timber trees. This woodland was alive in every sense, plenty of undergrowth, a variety of trees, airy space. Huge, lush green ferns and flowering rhododendrons lined the verge and the sun sparkled off the myriad leaves and dappled the tarmac with shade as we rode down the lane. Then suddenly the road dropped away and we were hurtling downwards, just missing some seriously bad potholes, we were disgorged onto a main road. A plan to head back via Chapmanslade was ruined by John puncturing. As we stopped at Folly Lane, I took the now standard picture of John repairing his wheel. Note also Andy examining his pedals.

Andy adjusts his pedals, John repairs his wheel and tyre - as usual

With time now very much of the essence (I needed to get back to the village to pick up the children) we abandoned the Chapmanslade plan and headed for the A36. The stretch towards the beginning of the Warminster bypass was dealt with quickly and at speed, we caned up to 28mph and that was going slightly uphill! Next, Black Dog and some pretty serious downward hurtling. Finally, the long, slow drag up to Beckington, and this was were I very much came off the back. Staying up all night on Wednesday to launch The Prince’s Rainforests Project website suddenly caught up with me, as did the lack of quality nutrition and energy in my garage bought lunch. I just slipped into a lower gear and pedaled through it. Andy had gone on way ahead and I didn’t see him until I finally caught up with John and we arrived back at the pub carpark we had set out from. For me it was 24 miles and a good ending to what had been a massively mixed week. We pledged to make this a regular thing of a Friday and parted ways, the others heading back to Trowbridge and me to pick up the kids, crucially, on time.

Into the Valley of The Wylye

t shirt one t shirt two

Many years ago, while I worked for Ottakar’s books, all the staff took part in a company wide effort to raise money for the children of Deogarh in India. One of things I did was a sixty mile cycle ride to our head office in Salisbury from Trowbridge, and back again. Considering how unfit I was at the time, it was an epic undertaking. John (who I still ride with on the Wednesday rides) was our guide, taking us into Salisbury via the beautiful Wylye Valley, rather than the hell that would have been the A36. At the top of this post you can see the front and rear of the T-shirt I made for the ride. I made one for everyone with the rider’s name on the back and their number, 1-4 on the front and sleeve. Below are some more pics from the ride.

warminster-no-casualtieshalfway-point-carefully-arranged-shot-of-spire-ruined-by-claridgeheroic-cyclists-at-head-officestart-of-phase-2-james-sees-the-troops-off

On Saturday I took a ride out from the village and ended up retracing some of the route we took on the sponsored cycle ride. We had been promised foul weather, but although it was very gusty, there was no rain in the air. I headed for Dilton Marsh, then took the road up The Hollow. This was the steep hill that saw one member of the group simply exclaim “Oh F*** off!” and dismounting to walk up as soon as he saw the gradient. I remember cycling up behind John, but being unable to breathe at the top as we waited for the other two to walk it. This time I took it with ease, crossed over the road and headed for Upton Scudamore. On the way I passed the layby and bridge where in April I had seen a seriously filthy amount of flytipped rubbish. I’m happy to say that someone has tidied it up. here’s a before and after for you:

Rubbish! Little or no rubbish!

Through Upton and over the main road to another ghost road. A fragmented old stretch of tarmac overgrown and crow-haunted, it deposited me almost by the Warminster sign, next to a crab apple tree by the side of the road. The back roads of Warminster saw me wondering if I was taking the right route. It seemed to me that in retrospect, the sponsored riders appeared to have stopped off at every grocery shop on the way. I crossed Imber Road and sped down long stretches of tarmac dotted with speed bumps, still not 100% sure of where I was going, sat up in the saddle with one hand on the handlebars I drifted towards Bishopstrow with the vague recollection that we had at some point crossed the A36 via a bridge. The only way that could have happened was if we had gone over the Warminster bypass. So I headed that way, tacking my back a little like a sail to allow the tail wind to push me through Bishopstrow village and, yes, over the A36. There was little traffic on the road and I crossed the bubbling Wylye river in peace. Here on the backroads I simply turned the cranks and enjoyed bicycling, cow parsley brushed my shins as I rode close to the verge. A myriad range of birds, swallows, buntings, finches and sparrows, dipped and sped across the road at head height. Sometimes they stalled into the wind, flapping wildly but unable to make headway as the gusts rose and fell. Across the tall grass in the field, the wind blew in eddies and currents; where the evening sun struck the seedheads the ripples of light moved over the surface of the field, tracking the path of the zephyrs like waves on water.

Rather like when fishing, cycling connects you intimately to the movements of the breeze. On the banks of a pool or lake, with the bait in the water, you notice that the wind rarely moves in one direction. You will see your float drift one way, then another. After a while you learn the subtle changes that signal a change of wind direction. So it is on the bike, the wind is moving around you all the time, a gust will almost stop you in your tracks, but then as it dies it creates a sort of patch of pressure where the wind seems to be sucked back the other way, suddenly driving you forwards. On such days it can feel as though you are being pushed and pulled along, you can ride on the drops when the wind is against you, but sit up tall to take advantage of a sudden tailwind. When the sun is out, it can be quite enjoyable, so much more than sheer, baking heat and still air.

At Sutton Veny I decided I had gone far enough and turned towards the Warminster bypass roundabout. It was a brief ride into the wind, then left, leaving the wind mainly on my right. By the time I got to the lead up to the crest of Black Dog Hill, I was glad of the lorries and using them to draft up the gradient. I arrived back at the house having notched up twenty six miles. Leaving me only twenty to thirty miles in order to rack up 1000 miles on the Lemond Etape since Feb 2007.

Duskriding: Of turnpikes, the Gnashermakers, dead badgers and being out of bounds

Daguerreotype of Lemond Etape Racing Bike

Monday evening stayed dry and bright, there had been a fair few smatterings of rain around, and as I pointed the Lemond towards Warminster I could see the dark sheets of a downpour hanging below distant black clouds on Salisbury Plain. A side wind was blowing them towards Shrewton, I felt little concern at the prospect of being rained on as I gently eased the bike up Black Dog Hill. At the top I took the time to examine two posts next to the flyover bridge at Dead Maids Junction. The smallest post was a milestone, similar to others in the area, carefully crafted, smooth and carved with great skill. The larger post turned out to have three small holes, perhaps for bars, and the words ‘Warminster’ and ‘Bath’ in a beautiful 18th century script. I think this must have been the post for the tollgate on the turnpike.

I traveled on towards Warminster, pausing at the garage on the outskirts to replace the batteries in my front light, although the sun was still up, it was slowly heading for the horizon, dipping into low lying clouds and setting them on fire. I went through the centre of Warminster itself, noting some thick redwood trees around the area of the church. These will have to be investigated at a later date. Two shops stood out in the town, both on the Salisbury side of the town centre, the first was the superbly named ‘Gnashermakers’ home of the Warminster Dental Laboratory. What kind of crazy dental maverick runs this place?

the sign of the gnashermakers

For a photo of the lab front click here.

The other shop was called simply ‘Ripoff’ and seemingly deals with bankrupt stock, catalogue clearance and Lord only know what else. The windows were blocked out, perhaps the shop has closed down but I rather suspect that the occluded views hint at nefarious goings on out of the public gaze. The layby in front of the shop was packed with motorbikes, mopeds and trailers. See picture here.

Much cheered by these unexpected shops, I pedaled out of Warminster towards the A36. Still no sign of that rain and the light was still good. As usual for evening rides I had my reflective vest on and my customised helmet stickers which make me look like I am from TRON. There’s a nice bit of open field on the lead out from Warminster, I was drawn off the road onto a chalky track up to an old red-brick railway bridge. The way across the bridge was barred by steel poles, the ground around the structure was crumbling and the whole thing looked very precarious. Now the sun was going right down, the fire on the horizon was spreading, already in the East I could see darkness and stars, the moon was almost half full and high in the sky. Back on the road, I elected to go a little further, here the tarmac was wet and slick from a recent shower, the tyres hissed over the surface, the road-smell after the rain. Left at the roundabout onto the A36, now I was entering the deathzone. Crashes abound on this road, crystals of shattered windscreen piled up in small drifts, tinkling beneath the wheels, here and there a wing mirror, a hubcap, a section of bumper, testament to speed beyond the capability of the driver. Hard against the verge, inside the white line almost 3ft across I hammered the road while the cars screamed past at excessive speed. Black skid marks, the scent of burnt rubber still lingering in the air though the incident had happened earlier in the day, etched into the road , a memory of sudden panic. All too happy to take the left at Knook camp where the road goes off over the plain. Here I decided was the turn back point of the ride, the corpse of a badger served as a warning, its mouth bore the remains of a snarl though I could see no other damage on its body. Fur slicked with rain, eyes almost completely closed, a melancholy sight. Behind me on the side road I had freewheeled down, there was a simple circular sign ‘out of bounds’. I took a photo of the long shadows drawn out over the landscape, mindful of the last half hour of the day’s light. There was no activity in view at the camp, only the hum of the main road behind the trees broke the stillness of the evening. I turned back, crossing the A36 as the dusk overtook me. Now I was cycling through the magic hour, everything seems faster in the gathering darkness. With the sun just out of reach, the air cooled rapidly making me glad I had long sleeves on. With the traffic thinned out, it was easier to ride home, even the artic lorries were a help, pulling me along with their slipstreams, the welcome warmth of a passing diesel engine running hot as it guns the gears to take the roundabout, the glowing-coal red of the tail lights I am chasing. Back on the country lanes, blackbird alarm calls, a single staccato note repeated over and over as I pass Yew Tree Farm. Then into Warminster itself, queues in the chip shop and the chinese, smokers standing outside the doors of the pubs, sharing their exile, Marlboro Country. Out the other side of the town, labouring up the hill under the sulphur yellow light of the street lamps. Now the slow gentle gradient up to the top of Black Dog, then down, down, down. Hands on drops, tucked in, mouth practically on the bars to achieve 41mph. I sat up at the end, opening my arms to slow myself down, for some reason I felt the need to shout “AIRBRAKE!” as I did it, there was no one around to hear me.

Lorries pulling over into laybys, bedding in for the evening, some with curtains already drawn. Then into the village, cycling alongside Cousin Philippa on her way back from her mum’s (age 93), she doesn’t recognise me at first, taking me for a friendly chatty cyclist. Then she laughs as she realises who I am. We amble into the village talking about bikes. She rides her hybrid in wellies, it’s served her well for years and she racks up the miles going to her mum’s every day. We bid each other a cheery goodnight at the top of Lower Street and soon I am back at the house. 26.5 miles.

After the Snows of April

The weekend had come with a curious blend of weather, veering wildly between the glorious sun of Spring and, well, quite frankly, a blizzard. With snow on the ground on Monday morning, the boys were out in the garden making a tiny snowman, but by the afternoon all that remained was a small puddle with two stones, a carrot and a couple of sticks sitting forlornly in the middle. Inside the greenhouse the sweetcorn, lettuce and spinach were pushing green shoots out of the compost, the washing was on the line and the air was warming nicely. After a hard day’s slog at the computer, it was time to get out on the bike. I selected the Lemond Etape again.

The roads were slick with melting slush, I didn’t fancy going up the Black Dog again so I headed through Rudge, easing down the winding Scotland Lane to look for the end of that byway on the way. Sure enough, there was a signpost pointing over a bumpy field towards a copse of trees. I made a note to return soon with the Mountain Bike and tackle it from the other end. Down Rudge Hill I plummeted, executing a rather splendid skid to take the corner towards Brokerswood. Near the country park I found myself needing to view the plough, so I lent the bike against a mossy pole and took to the ditch to answer the urgent call of nature. Soon I was back on the road, one hand on the handlebars, no urgency to my riding.

I’ve recently taken up running, which seems to have freed me up from the need to go ridiculously fast everywhere on the bike, or at least to push myself too hard, not yet anyway, I’ll save that for later in the year.

On towards Dilton, up and over the little railway bridges again, the landscape laid out in golden evening light. Beyond Warminster I could see the snow clouds slowly heading off over the plain, above me clear blue sky. It seems to me that it’s hard to fix in my memory just how brilliantly blue the sky is, it’s like seeing a kingfisher, the blue is always so startling and vivid. Perhaps I just think in muted tones.

At Dilton I decided to take a back route and ended up going up a very steep climb called Tower Hill. Suddenly I was beset by cars, growling and revving behind me as I inched up the twisty wooded lane. At the crest I swung left heading down a very narrow country road, about forty yards down, two gleaming 4x4s had arrived at a literal impasse and now sat head to head while the drivers, both dressed in quilted bodywarmers, motioned each other to go back. I squeezed past and left them to it, approaching a switchback I heard a crunch of gears and the whine of a Shogun reversing at speed so I took the first turning I saw. Immediately I needed another wee-wee. Perhaps it was the close attention of the cars, inducing nerves and anxiety, or maybe it was the six cups of tea I had drank during the day as I worked. No matter, much relieved I continued up the hill. The road was arched by trees, a squirrel bounced from branch to branch overhead as I trickled onwards. Birdsong flooded out from the greening undergrowth, enriching the air with clear, jewel-like tones. I’ve noticed that one of the digital radio stations has stopped broadcasting and been replaced with a loop of birdsong, apparently this has doubled the amount of listeners the previous station had. I like to listen to the channel when I’m washing up. Looking at the ukdigitalradio website I noticed it says:

“Please note that the line up of birds featured in the cast may change without warning due to illness, weather and migration.”

There was a blackbird alarm call and then a weird continuous ringing tone started up, getting louder and louder. It turned into a roar and suddenly a train rushed past on the track that I hadn’t noticed was right next to the road. A little way further up I came to a small bridge and a layby absolutely smothered with bin bags and flytipped rubbish. Paintpots, a skateboard, pizza boxes, dirty nappies, cans, someone had also decided to set fire to half of it at some point. It was a depressing sight and I quickly hurried past after taking a picture.

Reluctantly I headed back to the A36 and hurtled down Black Dog Hill, getting up to 42mph. Rather than take on the dual carriageway I turned into Beckington and pottered through the village, before skipping over the A36 and heading home.

A mere 16.5 miles, but proper bicycling none-the-less. More pictures at my Flickr page (including the flytipping).

Bicycling in the Spring

Before I get started on this one, it’s been pointed out that I’ve spelled Tellisford incorrectly, continuously. I really can’t be bothered to go back and change it all yet, but rest assured that when I say Telisford, I mean Tellisford.

Now the ride I am about to blog about was actually completed on Thursday the 27th March. However, I’ve just had so much work to do that every time I’ve turned on the computer I’ve ended up working instead. I’ve actually ridden out again since then, but let’s concentrate on 27th March first.

It felt to me as though it was the first proper Spring bicycle ride of the year, as I pedaled out of the village I surmised that perhaps I didn’t need my merino top, the air was warm. Plunging into the arched avenue of trees on the lead out quickly disabused me of that notion, in the shadows it was still very cold. My next door neighbour had just come back from her cycle ride (this is a very bikey street) and warned me to take my glasses, in the sun, the air was thick with freshly hatched flying insects and she had got an eyeful, several times. I felt like a bit of a meander so I headed over to the local farm shop, searching for a way through to the village that didn’t involve tackling the A36 or a roundabout. Past the farm shop is a no through road, in fact it’s the old main road, it still has the cats eyes.

The surface of the road is starting to break up, a few layers of tarmac have gone from the top leaving a tiny canyon landscape, spattered with microboulders. The centre of the road surface had split open and sprouted grass and mosses and at the edges the verge had blurred into a mat of creeping green and drifting twigs. I wondered how long it would take before the road is absorbed into the woods, ten? Fifteen? Twenty years. A few days after this ride I met a man in the village shop looking for Chapmanslade, he had lived here twenty-five years ago, but the roads had changed so much that he had started down the A36, hit the dual carriageway and had a sudden mental crisis, he had no idea where he was. None of the tunrings off the roundabout looked familiar to him and he had turned the car around, crawled back into the village and stumbled into the post office looking for some sort of directions. I showed him Chapmanslade on the map and he said “I know where it is, but the roads aren’t right anymore!”. I told him, up the Black Dog Hill and off at the top, it’s signposted. All he had to do was hold his nerve for four and a half miles. Perhaps this here was the road he remembered. Now it’s lost, there is nothing at the end of it,  it fades into a field of sheep becoming a mere footpath. How the sounds of the traffic screaming down the new road scant yards away must mock it, or maybe not. Maybe the road has served its time and is now content to fold back into nature, be sucked into the green oblivion, recorded only on ordnance survey maps from the 80s, a tarmac ghost whispering its fragmented memories of journeys to the steel phonemast at its terminus.

I found it impossible to believe that there could be no bridalway around there so I traced my way back towards the farm shop. Sure enough, right next to the pig pens a lichen streaked wooden sign pointed down an overgrown path. A public byway.  A glance down the track revealed a very overgrown pathway, with a little cutting back and care, it could be used for bikes. But where did it come out? It was too muddy down there to find out, especially since I was riding the Lemond Etape. This looks like a job for The Highway Cycling Group Expeditionary Force (who I’ve just invented). The HCGEF will take a Mountainbike and some branch lopperrs down there and see if they can find a way through. By my calculations the other end of the track could well be Scotland Lane in Rudge, if it is then it could be the passage through to the farm shop that the timid of the village have been longing for. No, they shall not have to brave the A36, nor shall they have to hang a right on the very busy roundabout at Beckington, for I shall blaze a trail through the overgrown byway for them! Can you see how I’m setting myself up for a fall here?

The location of the track duly noted, I set off again, once more with no idea where I should go. I took Black Dog Hill at speed, well 12mph anyway, searing my lungs in the process and electing to swing off at Dead Maids Junction. I passed a derelict garden centre, it still had its ‘open’ sign out.

This was another A road, though not as wide as the A36,cars were passing me pretty closely. I stopped to take a work call by a field scattered about with majestic redwoods, their glorious crowns towering above every other tree in the area. I skimmed down the incredibly steep Hollow at Dilton Marsh and hung a left at the railway bridge which tipped me into Penleigh. A range of goat breeds watched me drift past the house, their chewing was the only sound save for the soft whirr of my chain and the gentle hiss of rubber on tarmac. Over the delightful pair of railway bridges, set on an ‘s’ shaped road so that a rider can see the other bridge hove onto view as the first bridge is crested. Somewhere in the distance there is another two span arch bridge, but I guess it must be on a private farm track, it’ll take some courage to find it, another day perhaps.

Back into Rudge a little lost now, not used to coming this way. Passing old hand-painted lettering on the sides of decommissioned trucks. Here in the valley the air has a sharp chill where the Spring sun has not yet penetrated. Rudge Hill throws me over the road, left to right and back again, out of the saddle pushing hard on the cranks. Then a sharp descent back towards the village, rolling in past the post office standing on the pedals before a final sprint up the hill.

In total, 17.5 miles. Not bad for an hour or so of pleasant bicycling.

John’s Circuit: hills, traffic and the Makka Pakka

Having failed to go out on Thursday with John (he claims Bradley slaughtered him) due to illness, I was eager to get out with him today so at 1700 I cycled through Trowbridge to his house. He was already rolling down the street to meet me so we set off in the direction of Bath. We clipped Bradford on avon by the Leigh Park Hotel, a gentle but determined gradient warmed us up and John warned “This isn’t an easy ride by the way”. Out of Bradford on Avon and towards Sally in the Woods, the road surface was terrible and the traffic appalling. Considering it was Sunday evening there was an astonishing amount on the roads. The thing I hated was when a car would start to overtake, see another car coming the other way, sort of slow down like “I don’t know what to do now” then decide to just accelerate and cut in closer to us, great! “Ah I’m on the wrong side of the road with a car hurtling towards me and I may kill these cyclists I stupidly decided to overtake when I couldn’t even see if the road ahead was clear, I’ll just slow down and have a think for a minute!” Being killed by a moron is not my idea of a noble end. Pop-clunk-GRIND! My anger was immediately diffused by the fact that my chain had come off and jammed. A bit of brute force and an oily pair of hands later we were on our way again.

John comes up the hill

There was just a middle length gradient to the top of Sally-in-the-Woods and I dropped the camera down to ankle height, leaning right over the bike and pointing the camera backwards to get the shot above, I’m quite pleased with it. For more cycling photos see my Flickr page. The descent was great fun, a few switchbacks, some steep sections and with no traffic behind us we were able to position ourselves nicely on the road to take the corners. It wasn’t as steep as I expected, but it was quite a long descent. We crossed the Batheaston bypass and made our way into Bathampton. The traffic was very dense, I saw something tiny and white flash past my wheels on the road, somehow I registered the shape of The Makka Pakka. This extraordinary character can be seen on the cbeebies programme ‘In the Night Garden’, there is a weird amount of symbolism surrounding him. For example, he lives in an earthen barrow (similar to West Kennet Longbarrow) and sleeps with a pile of stones. He calls the forest denizens with his horn, then cleans them with his sponge. There’s something decidedly psychedlic-folk about him and I like him very much. I picked up the tiny figure, he was a bit dirty and dented, but I put him in the hi-viz vest and carried on with the ride.

Makka Pakka found in the road

A hideously sharp left and we were heading down to the toll bridge. Marvellously it’s free for bicycles to cross, to the left was an iron waterwheel turning away sedatley. Our ride over the bridge was ruined only by a cheeser in a range rover who thought he couldn’t be bothered to give us priority as he’s supposed to, and as a result had to drive on the pavement of this historic bridge in order to squeeze past us in his outsized twatmobile. The hill up to the A36 wasn’t as bad as we’d led ourselves to believe, it wasn’t easy though, the final few yards were steep enough to provide a real danger of the bike stalling. We both got up there and continued down the main road back towards the village. It was an undulating ride and it had been a while since we’d ridden it together. Interestingly I think we both found the hill up from Limpley Stoke to be easier this time, showing that the gruelling pace Bradley puts us through on the Tuesday Rides is having some effect in making us fitter. I still run out of breath before I run out of legs though. A nice fast blast down the remainder of the A36 stretch and onto the smooth new tarmac by Woolverton.

I arrived back at the house in time to wash and present the Makka Pakka to the children just as In The Night garden came on the TV. What better way to wind down from a ride than with some gentle, psychedilc dream-garden action?

Published in: on August 20, 2007 at 12:20 pm  Comments (3)  

In the Pines, in the Pines where the Sun don’t ever shine

A curious mixture of weather this evening. Rich golden light from the setting sun and ink-black clouds, their edges ragged and torn unloading a shower as I set out up the A36 towards Warminster. A tremendous slap up feed on Sunday was still sitting a little heavily on me so I just span gently up Black Dog Hill, not really sure where I was going to decide to ride to. There was plenty of spray coming off the road onto my legs, but the high cadence kept me warm. By the time I reached the beginning of the Warminster bypass I had decided to go to the little roundabout by Cley Hill and go left, up the hill past Center Parcs and onto the Longleat Forest road. The bypass itself was not pleasant in the rain, particularly the last part up to Cley Hill Roundabout (It’s one of John Hayes’ least favourite stretches of road), the road betweeen Cley Hill roundabout and the safari park turn off is even worse, a nasty Faux Plat and not that much room for cars to pass safely. Up past the entrance to Center Parcs and beyond the timber merchants the road disappears upwards into the dense pine forest. Sounds became close and sharp as the trees closed in tightly to the road. There was an expectant stillness, a quiet broken only by the clicking of my freewheel, a sound made abnormally loud by the looming forest. Though the rain had stopped, huge droplets of water showered down sporadically from the dank branches to spatter heavily on the road ahead and behind as I passed. A glance to the right revealed deep golden sunlight reaching out over the horizon in the distance, visible through the regimented rows of trees though it could not throw any illumination onto the shadows crowding the forest floor and the moss-edged road. The forest seemed older than its five score years, towering, oppressive even, redolent of pine resin, rich tar oozing from the ends of logs piled up, stacked where they had been cut down. It brought to my mind the eerie Leadbelly song Where Did You Sleep Last night.

My girl, my girl, don’t lie to me,
tell me where did you sleep last night?
In the pines, in the pines,
Where the sun don’t ever shine,
I will shiver the whole night through.

My girl, my girl, where will you go,
I’m going where the cold wind blows.
In the pines, in the pines,
Where the sun don’t ever shine,
I will shiver the whole night through.

Yet on the turn of the hill as it began to drop away towards Horningsham there was a sudden flare of light as I rode past the entrance to a forest track. Cycling back up the hill a little way I could see the track running straight to a field in the middle of the forest and the setting sun could throw its rays all the way to the road. I eased the bike past the padlocked rusty barrier and wheeled it over the chippings to the end of the track where the forest opened out into the grassy field. A woodpecker called loudly somewhere nearby, and across the glebe a crow was cawing in the last minutes of glorious sunlight. This was a beautiful moment, made all the more lovely as it contrasted with the man-made forest with its trees planted so close that nothing grows on the forest floor save a pile of decaying pine needles from the dying lower branches of each tree. I savoured the remaining warmth as the sun set, then prepared for the descent. I followed a little Fiat down the hill at 36mph, keeping contact with it up to the roundabout, then I was away from the forest and back onto the A36. Black Dog Hill took my last remaining warmth from me on the descent, but in return it gave up 43mph of speed. All was going well, rows of artic lorries were pulling me along in their irresistible slipstreams, but then I reached the dual carriageway by Beckington. The sunlight was all but gone and I ran over something hard and metal, there was a bang, a hiss of escaping air and the sudden realisation that I had punctured badly a mile and a half from the village. It was a long walk down the A36 to the garage. I hoped to be able to effect a repair under the light of the canopy. I was a little concerned as the tyre in question was a slime tube, so if it was a small puncture it should have fixed itself. My fears were confirmed when I took the wheel off and levered the tube out. Green slime everywhere and a huge double snakebite rip in the tube. The wheel wasn’t looking too happy itself. The walk back to the village was long and dark down lanes teeming with rats, they scuttled in and out of the hedge, over the road in front and behind the bike, I could barely see them, a flicker of a tail in the bike light, a twitch of whiskers. Around my head flew many bats, coming so close I could feel the rush of air as they passed. It was an eerie walk back, but apart from nearly stepping on a pheasant’s tail and the resulting near heart attack it induced as it flew up squawking into the air in front of me, it was an easy walk back to the lamplight of the village.

That’s a trip to the bike shop tomorrow then… any excuse.

Published in: on August 7, 2007 at 12:19 am  Comments (1)  

Off Road on a Racer – Near Miss at Woolverton

Another lovely evening after a rainy day. I took the Lemond Etape up and down the hills past Telisford to Farleigh Hungerford. On to the B road, round past the castle and up a really tiny lane just after the bridges. No qualms about using the triple chainring, I didn’t fancy sweating it out. What I was looking for was a route my wife and I had ridden many years before that linked us up with the Canal Path. I knew there was a bridleway off that road somewhere, but when I reached Westwood Manor it was apparent that I had gone too far down the road. On seeing my bemused expression, an old chap cutting his hedge asked if I was lost. “No” I replied “I know where I am, I just wasn’t expecting to be here”. With that I turned back down the road searching the hedges for the opening. About half a mile down the road there it was, public bridleway. A sodden path that started off with a huge clay mudbath and a pool of brown water that covered the whole width of the track. The racer’s tyres clogged pretty quick so it went over my shoulder as I waded through. It didn’t get much better as the route descended into some light woods, rocks, loose soil, roots and mud, much more mud. In fact the route was so mucky I was half expecting a group of Belgian racers to come heaving past me at any minute. Beneath the tree canopy all was dark, the silence broken only by flutterings amongst the leaves and the bubbling of water. It was only about quarter to half a mile long, but I’m glad the Etape only weighs around 22lbs. I rode the last bit as it flattened, but not dried, out, exploding onto the road in a shower of mud. Hold on, this hill looked familiar, I was halfway down the scary 17% run into Iford, nothing for it but to point the front wheel down and go for it. Unfortunately there was a car coming up. I was amazed and relieved to discover there was just enough room on his right to get past without skidding or falling off, though I didn’t actually know that until I was past him, at least there was a tiny verge to bail onto if I’d got it wrong. A cheery wave to Britannia on the bridge at Iford, she was looking the other way and didn’t acknowledge me. Then up the nasty hill on the other side. Ha! John had fixed the triple chainring so I could get down into the granny gear, the hill, although long, was therefore possible to climb without stopping or vomiting. As far as I could see, that wasn’t the right bridleway I had carried the bike through, so I decided to call it an evening. Out onto the A36 which was full of traffic and heading back for the village.

By the Woolverton house hotel there is a staggered juncttion where I wanted to go left. Waiting on the other junction that goes off to Norton, was a silver estate. There was no other traffic around and I was hitting 27mph (in a 30mph area) when the driver just pulled out in front of me, I kind of guessed he might so I was already moving to the left and braking so I was right next to him when he got over the road and not slamming into his side. But then he slowed, turned left into my path as I was right next to him, THEN signalled! I braked harder, the back end of the bike slid out, but I controlled it, ending up just easing around his right side as he turned side on. I wasn’t angry, it was a middle-aged couple and to be honest I’ve got used to assuming someone is going to do something stupid like that so I was absolutely ready for it. The only thing was that I wasn’t even certain he had seen me at all, even though I was right next to his car at one point, then behind and finally on his right. He went on ahead and I carried on down the road. When I got to the Mill I could see them parking up so I wheeled into the car park and politely said “excuse me” I then went on to say he had cut me up very badly and had he not even seen me? the chap was very apologetic and said he HAD seen me, but didn’t realise bikes could go so fast so he thought he had lots of time to pull out in front of me and turn left. He admitted that he hadn’t checked his rear or side mirror when turning left and only signalled as an afterthought, it was only his wife saying “Watch the cyclist” that made him signal. I told him that a huge amount of accidents are caused by people overtaking cyclists and turning left suddenly, not to mention the lovely mess I would of made on the side of his car at 27mph if I hadn’t been ready. As I said, I was polite, and so was the chap, he asked if I was ok and said that it was a close shave and it would teach him to always check his left mirror before any left turn “I told him ‘you never check your mirror'” said his wife. Luckily it was a case of no harm done and we wished each other a pleasant evening.

Every time I approach a junction I’m looking out for a car doing something like that, even so, 27mph is a lot of speed to have to scrub off on a bike AND retain control over such a small distance. The moment of anger I had during the actual encounter had passed so quickly, I’ve found that’s happening a lot now. I used to shout something like “WATCH OUT YOU TWAT!” in a driver’s window when they did something like that, but there’s no point really. Do that and all you’ll get is a shocked look, the two-fingered-salute or worse. I’ve only ever been run off the road once, when I was a teenager on my way to my friend Nick’s house, someone forced me onto the verge where I crashed, I was too busy going head over heels to get even a make of car. It was white, that’s all I know. I have, however, had more than my fair share of drivers overtaking and turning left, sometimes signalling left AS they overtake, incredible, but after a while I’ve got used to it and have even come to expect it to happen.

Anyway, back at the ranch, the bike was hosed down, washed, degreased and re-lubed ready for the next ride. That’s another 10 miles, giving me 121 this week.

Tuesday Ride VI: of energy bars, super-fit riding companions and Brooks Saddles

Hooray, the Tuesday Rides are back on. John was almost recovered from his illness, so at 1930 I was waiting on the kerb by the Bell Inn, hoping my food had gone down enough to allow me to ride without chucking it all back up. John turned up with one of his neighbours, Bradley. Bradley claimed to be unfit, but he was dressed in some pretty sporty gear, his legs looked strong and his bike was silky, a slightly under-sized black aluminium Cannondale with carbon forks and some tasty looking wheels. He looked like a pro, and actually it turns out he’s an excellent mountain biker. John was already on the Asthma inhaler and hadn’t ridden for two weeks, but as usual he was game and up for the ride. I started off at the front, pulling through the crosswind as we hit the A36, we took it easy to begin with, chatting, enjoying the dry weather and the bright evening. I pulled us to Black Dog Hill and started up at what I thought was a reasonable pace, then Bradley just flew past me. I was completely dropped by Black Dog Farm and I could only watch as he powered up the hill. I kept him in view, but it was little consolation. Looking behind I couldn’t see John at all. Then, oh the the shame, Bradley stopped and waited for us at the bridge. I slowed right down so I wouldn’t be wheezing as I arrived at the crest, as it happens I was only panting and not much good for conversation. John wasn’t too far behind, he’d taken it at a sensible pace, sensible chap. I don’t think John saw me get dropped, but I’m sure it would have looked impressive, it was an excellent burst of acceleration from Bradley and I had nothing to answer it with.

John cycles up

I pulled through the headwind to the Warminster roundabout that starts the bypass, I considered that I had therefore done my work for a few miles so was quite happy to sit on the others’ wheels for a while. Having three people riding was great, drafting in third place meant I was putting in around 40% less effort than whoever was in front at the time. It was going well until we slowed down and started chatting, I clipped John’s back wheel, luckily only at seven miles an hour, but it was embarrassing none-the-less.

Then as we passed Cley Hill Roundabout with me at the back, I realised a Range Rover had slowed right down and was driving at the same speed I was riding. It was a little worrying, especially as the window started to wind down. Then a guy lent out and handed me an energy bar! Apparently these guys were working for, or ran, the company, Mule Bar that produces them and wanted us to try them. They drove on and passed a bar each to John and Bradley too. Cool! I got the opportunity to try mine a little further up the road when John’s new Brooks saddle (unbroken in and bashing his buttocks about like a meat tenderiser) worked lose when he hit a pothole. We pulled into a layby so John could affect an immediate repair, and I tried the bar, Hunza Nut flavour. It was very tasty, more so than the normal energy bars you get. Pleasingly the bars are also Fairtrade, full of natural ingredients and a logo proclaims that 1% of the company’s sales goes to environmental work. It was quite moist too so I didn’t have to drain my bidon to rehydrate as you do with some very dry bars. Nice! Visit the Mule Bar website here for more details of their products. I don’t know if those guys were actively out looking for cyclists to hand the bars to, or if they just happened to be passing us and thought “hey those guys look like top racing athletes, let’s give ’em some bars” or more likely “that guy on the Lemond etape at the back looks a bit fat and sickly let’s have mercy on him and give him a bar, also that chap coughing who’s obviously recovering from being ill. That bloke with the ponytail isn’t having any trouble but let’s give him a bar so he doesn’t get jealous”. Whatever the reason it was a pretty cool thing to happen.

When we set off again I thought I might try a sneaky breakaway by shooting down the left of the others on a layby, I powered out ahead of them, chuckling to myself, but on hearing some gears changing up, I looked over my shoulder there was Bradley, he said “left at the roundabout?” then he was away again. As John and I approached the roundabout he cycled back down the road to see where we’d gone, drat!

Thereafter we picked up the pace around Warminster, maybe it was the energy bars, or maybe it was the tailwind, but either way John was fully warmed up and his cadence was high, although he hadn’t ridden for two weeeks his recovery time was excellent. Out of Warminster up the hill towards Westbury. A beep from a twat in a car because we were riding in the dominant position, Bradley gave him the time-honoured signal for “there is plenty of room here good sir” (a hand held out to the right). Westbury was fast, damn fast! We entered the back pushing 40mph off the hill, then kept the speed high all the way through, leaning into the corners and pushing hard out of the bends. Riding in a group of three really increases the confidence, it’s like a mini-crtical mass in traffic and it was easier to control the road and keep things safe, fewer cars tried to squeeze past, knowing they’d have to get beyond all three of us at 26-28mph before moving back over. There was a bit too much chat for my liking on the approach to Yarnbrook, I like to be going about 23-26mph on that bit of road so I took to the front and on seeing me move off, the others didn’t hang around either. As we came up to the traffic lights they hit amber, Bradley urged me on and John, slightly behind us, raced across the garage forecourt and over the closed junction to avoid the lights all together. A nice move, well executed.

Again, maybe it was the energy bar, but I had plenty of legs left so I followed the chaps into Trowbridge itself, stupidly taking the bike lane. What a rubbish surface! Honestly! I quickly got back onto the road, shouted bye, and headed back for the village. Rode Hill was no trouble and by the time I put the bike away I saw I had put thirty miles on the clock, that makes 111 miles so far this week. I think I’ll have a day off from riding tomorrow.

The next time Someone tells John they are unfit I think he should ask for a BMI reading and a heart-rate! Having said that it was excellent having Brad along, he varied the pace, showed how far I have to go to get fit and wow it made the drafting easier. Basically it was harder work with someone pushing the pace higher, but there was more opportunity for resting by riding third in the group every now and again. I hope he wasn’t too bored with having to go easy on us and wait for us all the time as it would be great if he came out with us next week. Maybe we can work on becoming a proper chain gang, we may have to, John is threatening to bring some serious roadies along soon!

Cley Hill to Dead Maids Junction – Edge of Dusk

Sunday saw me striking out down the A36, I had left it pretty late and already dewy dusk was settling over the landscape. The air was thinner and the temperature cool and pleasant affording me an easy ascent of Black Dog Hill. Dead Maids Junction seemed almost welcoming, evening sunlight raking the long grass on the kerb, butterflies flitting to drink one last proboscisfull of nectar before the warm golden light vanished behind the horizon. I gently rode round the bypass, following the A36 and oblivious to the traffic, a good solid session of just ‘cycling around’. On a whim I decided to head to Cley Hill.

Julian Cope in his Modern Antiquarian (Thorsons, Hapercollins, London) suggests that Cley Hill is a Recumbent Goddess figure, the swollen belly being the main hill, but Powells Folklore notes from South West Wilts (1901) has this origin story recounted by a local:

“The folk of Devizes had offended the devil, who swore he would serve them out. So he went “down the country” (ie into Somerset), and found a big “hump” and put it on his back, to carry it and fling it at them. On his journey back he met a man and asked the way to Devizes. The man replied,
That’s just what I want to know myself. I started for Devizes when my beard was black, and now it’s grey, and I haven’t got there yet.
The devil replied, “If that’s how it is, I won’t carry this thing no further, so here goes, ” and he flung the “girt (great) hump” off his shoulder, and there it is”.

I have also heard a story that the pile of earth was made by the people of Wiltshire who “had to wipe the Wiltshire earth off their feet before being allowed to step into Somerset”

Whatever the origin of this remarkable hill, there is a bastard of a Faux Plat as you come off the A36 and head for the Longleat roundabout. It looks flat from that direction, but on the return trip it’s apparent that it’s actually a pretty nasty gradient. The carpark is a mean potholey place with huge sharp chippings. Certainly not the place to leave one’s racing velocipede, so I walked up to the hill wheeling the bicycle with me. The clouds turned a beautiful shade of pink as the sun began to draw in the last of its rays. There was a gentle breeze, but with the sun gone, it got quite suddenly very cold, not the best time of day to cycle in three-quarter shorts and a short-sleeve cycle vest. The moon made a graceful ascent into the sky, marvellously full and glowing brightly. Easing back onto the A36 I found that the traffic had all but died away save for the nightfreight. I don’t mind lorries even they do swing a little too close as they pull back in after overtaking, the slipstream is wonderful. I was almost pulled up the slight gradient to Dead Maids Junction.

Dead Maids Junction

It didn’t look so welcoming now, as another huge truck rolled past me, something alive and fluttering hit me in the chest. It felt pretty big, perhaps a bat or a particularly heavy moth? No idea how fast I went down Black Dog Hill, there was no way of reading the display and I forgot to check the top speed on my computer before I cleared it. The Hi-Viz vest and helmet stickers seemed to be working as cars from behind were giving me a very wide berth. In the layby next to the Beckington roundabout artic lorries were bedding in for the night, orange glows from the cabins, glimpses of tired-looking men with newspapers and coffee, or perhaps cocoa. The scent of diesel, tyre rubber and cigarette smoke; waves of heat from the cooling engines offering brief respite from the cold generated by my speed. In the fields farm-workers took advantage of the dry day, tractors and combines working through the night, distant shouts, blazing headlights tracking across the corn, even at that distance I could see the moths dancing in the fierce white beams before the machines.

Waited for an age for the headlights behind me to pass so I could move into the right hand lane on the roundabout, only when I realised I couldn’t hear an engine did I look round to discover I had been fooled by the light of the full moon.

Back to the house, warm shower bringing life back to cold, aching limbs. A good ride.

Published in: on July 30, 2007 at 11:17 pm  Leave a Comment