Of railway cats, cycle paths, ancient mariners, cancelled trains, films and rock n roll

Way way back in October I rode to Bristol for a great evenings entertainment courtesy of the Cube Cinema and my chum Tom Stubbs. I advertised the Rime of the Ancient Mariner (on bicycle) event a while back, but I didn’t mention that I was going to cycle there. I thought it would be poetic to arrive at a showing of a bicycle film by bike. Having set off a little later than planned, I realised that I would have to cycle considerably quickly to get to Bristol on time. Not a problem, despite barely cycling at all recently, I made good time on the road between the village and Bradford on Avon, before turning onto the canal path. It’s difficult to get speed up on the towpath, not least because of the danger to pedestrians, other cyclists and wildlife. There’s no reason to go fast on a towpath anyway and I knew I could make time up on the Bath/Bristol cycle path, so I just spun the cranks at a nice even pace and enjoyed the ride. Particularly pleasing was the scent of woodsmoke from the various barges and narrowboats. I was on the Lemond Etape, which provided a none too smooth ride over the various surfaces, cobbles, gravel, dirt, broken tarmac. Suffice to say that on arrival in Bath town centre I was wishing I’d decided to wear padded shorts. I had a change of clothes in my panniers (and a change of shoes), but had elected to leave the padding at home. Bath town centre proved easy to navigate, mainly because the cycle route is so clearly and regularly signposted. Quicker than I expected I was riding along the smooth tarmac of the Bristol to Path cycle way. For a long time this was (and may well still be) the jewel in the crown of Sustrans, a beautiful route following one of the old railway lines, dipping through meadows, woodland, over valleys and rivers, very picturesque in any season. The weather was good and the riding very pleasant. Leaves lay in drifts over the path and crunched pleasingly beneath the tyres. Here are two cats I saw en route:

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All the way along, the route was busy with cyclists and walkers. As I arrived at Staple Hill Tunnel, a postman slotted in behind me and began drafting close on my wheel. I yanked out my cronky ol’ camera, which was giving up the ghost the screen had malfunctioned, and took a bit of poor-quality video footage:

Music provided by My Two Toms, who I was to see playing later on that very evening.

I approached Bristol deep in the gloaming, necessitating the use of my lights. Many, many cyclists were using the path and in places it became quite congested, but unlike being in a car, it felt great. Everyone was all smiles and ‘after you’ ‘no after you’. Hipsters with messenger bags mixed with grannies on Pashleys.

It took me a while to understand Tom’s directions, but soon I was ensconced in The Cube cinema, enjoying some terrific films, chatting to people about cycling and listening to some splendid tunes courtesy of My Two Toms and Bucky. The film maker and artist Michael Smith stole the show with his introduction to the film he and Tom made, and also his drawing along live to My Two Toms music. It was a great evening, and nice to find out afterwards that a Highway Cycling Group reader, Mair had turned up and enjoyed herself.

Back at Tom and Katherine’s, we stayed up until three, drinking and talking. During an attempt to take a picture of Tom and Katherine’s bikes I dropped my ailing camera on the stone floor and destroyed it. Ah well, goodbye old friend. A few hours sleep, then we were out on a visit to the famous Bristol Sweetmart, then on to Tom’s studio. Finally, I cycled to the station envisioning a nice sit down on the train, only to find trains on that line were cancelled due to engineering works. Buses were supplied but they wouldn’t let my Lemond Etape on. Wearily I cycled the thirty two miles home. A great weekend.

Why, here are some pictures:

Great Pultney Street, Bath

Great Pultney Street, Bath

Cafe Kino Bristol

Cafe Kino Bristol

Tom and Michael Smith introduce their film

Tom and Michael Smith introduce their film

Bucky Unplugged - Joff wearing my Walz Cycling Cap

Bucky Unplugged - Joff wearing my Walz Cycling Cap

Tom with bikes my smashed camera in his hand

Tom with bikes, my smashed camera in his hand

Street scene - Bristol

Street scene - Bristol

The menu at the old station halt cafe

The menu at the old station halt cafe

Eat More Chips – Deeper into the Wylye

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After a hard day’s graft at the coalface/keyboard, I managed to get out for an evening ride. It had been a pretty dreary day weatherwise, but as I hurtled towards Warminster the sun was coming out, having dipped down below the cloud line, a golden orb regally bestowing it’s glory upon the A36. Still, there was the threat of rain in the air as I trundled up Black Dog Hill. I paused in the car park of the Little Chef just outside Warminster to sort out the lights, lorry drivers were getting ready to bed down for the night, staring out from their cabins as I wove the bike in between the wheeled leviathans. Evening radio poured out from the opened windows, mingling with the smell of strong coffee. Then, oh joy, I finally got the chance to take a picture of a lorry that I have seen rolling up and down these roads for a good few months, but have never managed to get the camera out in time. But there it was, sitting ready for me to take a pic of the legend branded on its flank.

“Eat More Chips”

the fabled Eat More Chips lorry

Oft have I spoken of this splendid vehicle, and oft have people exclaimed that I am making it up. But here and now I present proof that the Eat More Chips lorry is real.

In great spirits I continued on through Warminster town center and out the other side. I crossed the Wylye and went through Bishopstrow and Sutton Veny. This time I headed for Corton. These roads are splendid, country lanes, but wide, very wide. I think this must be because there is a quarry or something here abouts and the lorries need to get into it. As I came out of Tytherington (after admiring the village’s ancient church as I rode past) I broke free of a tunnel of trees lining a hill, and there was the Wylye Valley unfolded ahead of me. It was glorious, a fairweather English Eden stretching out before me as far as the eye could see. Not only was the road smooth and beautifully wide, it was near devoid of traffic so I took my hands off the brakes and allowed the benign road to carry me down to the next village, Corton. In a field to the left a small heard of Llamas stood and watched me pedal past. The shadows were lengthening rapidly, the sun had dulled to a brass colour, veiled by inky clouds on the horizon. I pushed on a little further until the computer gave me fifteen miles, then I reluctantly turned back and headed the way I had come. It was hard pedaling all the way back, for the dusk was hard on my back and the sharp chap chap of a blackbird alarm call told me that the witching hour was about to begin. Often this is my favourite time to ride, the air is cool and fresh, sound is exaggerated and enhanced, fewer cars on the road – all of them able to see my tron-like reflective gear so they give me a wide berth. In the gathering darkness, it seems that hills are easier and the miles go quicker. There is also the chance that I might see an owl, a badger or a hare.

I arrived back at the house with no wildlife spotted, but 31 miles clocked up for the evening’s ride.

Near Wipeout in Beckington/Chips from Dilton

On Wednesday night I explored Mill Lane in Beckington. I had no idea it was so steep and narrow and briefly lost some control on a sharp right. At 26mph I feathered the brakes to lose speed, but the rear wheel slipped on the chippings. The temptation was to grab handfuls of brake and lock the wheels. But I was wearing my cap instead of my helmet and the thought of stepping off at 26mph was a painful one. Instead I let go of the brake handles and just rode up the steep bank, wall of death style. I got back on the road carrying two cranks worth of goosegrass and with nettle stings on my left hand, but mercifully upright and still in motion all the way to the bottom of Mill lane; which is a bloody no-through road. So I rode back up the hill and I must be getting fitter because I found it so easy that I had to ride up and down Frome Road Hill twice before I felt sated.

On Frome Road

Now to this evening. I expressed my urge to eat chips and Chinese food to my wife and she, finding this most agreeable, bade me saddle-up and make haste by bicycle to Dilton Marsh. It was a lovely evening though the air felt very heavy, I took it easy, averaging 15mph on my way to the take-away (which is inexplicably called “Full House”). It’s a fine establishment, lucky cat on a shelf, lots of orchids in the windows, Chinese TV on in the background, everything a westerner expects of a Chinese take-away, the staff are also extremely fast at turning orders around.

Full House Chinese Take-Away, dusk

Into the Hi-Viz vest went one chicken curry and chips and one egg fried rice and chips. It was a squeeze and they were insanely hot, but the vest handled it. The only problem was that the nosh hung down from the front of the vest, banging into my knees on the pedal upstroke. The only way to stop a potential messy explosion of curry should a tub open was to cycle with my knees out, it must have looked as if I was cycling with sore knackers. The smell was maddening, making me almost delerious with hunger. So much so that as I passed from Wiltshire back into Somerset I imagined I was some sort of heroic chip smuggler bringing in illicit greasy tuck to fat-free Somerset; sneaking over the county line on my superfast smuggler’s racer, like a two-wheeled Jack Rattenbury. The boring gradient up to the Beckington roundabout slipped by easily, I could feel the chips were still hot. On arrival at the house I pulled the steaming tucker from my vest and unwrapped the paper to discover only minimal curry leakage in the five and a half mile ride from Dilton Marsh. Result!

Published in: on June 8, 2007 at 11:09 pm  Leave a Comment  

Evening Milk Run

Well the wind dropped down to nothing, the rain stopped and we were out of milk. Having just come off from a skype call with my colleague and chum Jez, author of the blog Novemberfive, I siezed the moment and decided to take the Brompton out into the fading light to the garage. The Moon had just eased into the sky and was just hovering above the horizon, full, fat, a hint of red on its plump circle. The main road was deserted save a slumbering refrigerated lorry in the layby that joins the A36 to the hidden, near forgotten old Beckington Road, with its overgrown milestone and crumbling, dead elms. Apart from the light, it felt more like eleven p.m. than half past eight. The Brompton handled the hill easily. On the flat, you could pedal in a Brompton’s lowest gear furiously and the bike would probably just fall over, on a hill it glides up effortlessly; slowly, but effortlessly nonetheless. It wasn’t long before I had loaded up the stuffbag with goodies from the garage and was my way back. Dusk came down incredibly quickly, In the few minutes I was in the garage the moon had slimmed down and climbed high up, the cars all had their headlights and.. gulp! I had no lights. Luckily I had my Respro Super Hi-Viz vest. The greatest thing that I have discovered about the vest is that will easily carry a full portion of saveloy and chips in one pocket (see image for example).
Saveloy and Chips held easily in Respro super Hi-Viz vest
It also lights up like a Christmas tree if even the teeniest beam of light hits it.

Over the roundabout, first left and back into the village, bringing the milk back just in time for a cup of tea. Lovely.

Published in: on May 30, 2007 at 10:30 pm  Leave a Comment