Howard’s way

Your author about to make an unfortunate wrong turn

Your author facing the wrong way, halfway down the wrong hill after an unfortunate wrong turn

A ride had been arranged for early Sunday morning, until it became apparent that it was of course Mothering Sunday and lie-ins would, quite rightly, be expected. So the ride was re-arranged for Saturday. At 07:45 I rode down the gravel track at the farm to meet with Mike. It was freezing; there had been an unexpected (by me anyway) frost in the night and cold hung in the air, numbing my fingers as I rode downhill. Seconds after my arrival, Group Scout Leader, Howard arrived on his hybrid. He had sensibly put a coat on and had full finger gloves and long trousers. Mike was immediately out through the door, zipping up his bright jacket and putting on his helmet, deciding on the route as he mounted up. Up the track and left over the mill bridge, then we were out of the village and heading for Colliers Way and Radstock. We followed the same route I took last Sunday, albeit at a slightly quicker pace than my meandering speed. Howard was going to take us through the middle part of the ride as he knew the route well. Howard is a keen cyclist, often to be seen riding the Tellisford-Farleigh Hungerford hills just for fun, he has a great level of fitness and an observer taking note of our riding from a distance would be hard pressed to place his date of birth in the 1950s. Mike was riding at his usual pace off the front, a nice steady 15-17mph, I’ve heard Mike described as a Mountain Goat by more than one other person. I flitted between them both, sometimes riding up with Mike, sometimes dropping back to chat to Howard.

Pleasingly I can feel my level of fitness improving after just a couple of long rides. This time I was not dropped on the hills and could actually take the lead on some of the steeper efforts. It just goes to show that you can quickly return to form (or something like form) after a short time off the bike, even if, like me, you are carrying two stone more than you should be.

The cold was starting to evaporate in the morning sun. Even so, there was a haze on the horizon that the sun had not yet climbed out of, and the shadows still sparkled with a light frost. There was no wind save the chill we created when pushing through the air on the way downhill. There was little traffic around save the odd tractor here and there, easing out of farm gates or chugging gently along the narrow lanes. The Buzzards were out in force, finding pockets of warm air and spiraling up high above the trees, calling to each other across the landscape. By the time we reached the Colliers Way cycle path it was really warming up. This is a short but really pleasant stretch of railway path, oddly with much of the railway track still left behind. Howard, a bit of a railway buff, told us it was because the quarry railway is still in operation at the terminus. Apparently, the plan was to open the railway line alongside the cycle track and have it as a tourist attraction, but it never happened. Now trees have pushed their way through the sleepers and brambles have crawled over the tracks.

On the railway path

We stopped at the top of a rise where the path departed from the tracks and mused on the navvies and men who had physically built the line. In the days of great engineering feats, behind every great man, there were thousands of other blokes who did the actual work.

We followed the path into Radstock, then Howard led us over and round the roads until we pulled into what seemed to be a carpark, but at the last minute it turned into a tiny route through to a main road. A few yards on the tarmac then a sharp right and we were suddenly on a lovely straight lane in the quiet of the countryside again.

All went well, until we came to a crossroads where the cycle route was clearly marked as straight ahead. Howard insisted that our path lay down the hill to the right, and it was a steep hill. Upon our, quite reasonable questioning of the navigation, Howard explained that he was 100% certain it was down the hill. Mike and Howard then launched themselves down the slope, followed by a fat barking dog lolloping down the hill in a garden parallel to their descent. I was yet to be convinced that this was the correct route so I hung back a little, knowing full well that what goes down, in the event of a mis-navigation, would have to come up again, probably in the granny gear. I dropped gently down to the next crossroads, in time to gaze down the awful slope and see that Mike and Howard were turning around on the bridge at the bottom. Slowly, they climbed the hill back towards me, standing up out of the saddle and wrestling the reluctant bikes so that the handlebars pointed up the dreadful slope. I took the opportunity to have a break and swig from the water bottle. I took a picture of my reflection in a handy convex mirror used by residents to check the road is clear before pulling out, then leant over the handlebars to watch Mike and Howard draw level. I let them puff past me, before ambling up in their decidedly slow-motion wake. The lardy hound was still in the garden bouncing around and barking with what seemed like delight, but in retrospect could easily have been apoplectic rage.

Howard explained his mistake, it was of course the next turning right, and indeed that’s exactly where the cycle route sign was pointing when we arrived at the correct junction. Luckily we saw the funny side. Actually, no we didn’t, at least not until we had our breath back.

A few more wiggles of the road, and to Mike’s and my surprise we emerged right next to the house by Stoney Littleton Long Barrow with the pillbox in the garden. Howard pointed out that pillboxes are usually in pairs, and sure enough there was another one on the horizon that Mike and I had missed last time we rode through. We rode into Wellow and I raised my head to see if I could detect a whiff of bacon, for I had a craving for its heavenly taste. Just as I thought I had perhaps caught the faintest hint of frying procine goodness, Mike peeled off to the right and downhill to the ford. This time we took the left fork and avoided the endless grind of Baggin Hill, electing instead to cruise to Norton St Philip. The road was beautiful and free of traffic. Winding uphill through some woods, I saw a photocopy of a map on the ground and stopped to scoop it up. It was for the exact area we were riding through, which makes perfect sense really.

There was a final hill up to the main street in Norton. It was unexpected and painful. Even my bike seemed to be protesting as I weaved back and forth across the narrow steep lane behind Mike the mountain goat and Howard. Finally we headed for Tellisford. As we passed an enormous pile of brown stuff in a field to the left,there was a horrific miasma, a foul and noiseome acrid stench that tore the breath from our lungs. Mike explained it was poo, human poo from the sewage works that would be spread on the tilled ground as fertiliser. The fug seemed to stay with us so we upped the pace and attempted to finish the ride at great speed. Down the hill we sped, first a weasel darted over the road in front of us, and as we neared the village, a blur of movement exploded from the hedge and crossed the lane mere feet before Mike’s front wheel. Persistence of vision had imprinted the tell-tale shape of a running hare on my eyes.

Mike slipped to the post office to pick up a paper (and no doubt a free cup of coffee and cookie for that’s what you get if you go to the post office on a Saturday morning) while Howard and I sped on ahead to his house to ready the all important finale of the ride, the coup de grace, the dénouement.

Mike joined us just at the hallowed point when the bacon was coming out of the grill and onto the bread, the perfect end to a great ride.

Riding into Spring

Spring can be a messy time of year

Spring can be a messy time of year

I had a ride planned with local smallholder, home-brewer, engineer and cyclist Mike, however as the hours ticked down the evening before I suddenly realised that my Lemond Etape was locked in the shed at my in-laws, and they were away. As the ride was scheduled to begin at 0745 on Sunday morning, this meant I would be trying to pull my mountainbike out from under the accumulated junk in our storage shed at 0700. Before going to bed I looked at the weather forecast, absolutely filthy. Rain, wind, cold and more rain. Nothing was going to stop me from getting in the first ride of Spring, (not even a sore knee) so I sorted out my waterproofs before calling it an evening, leaving a choice of cape or light rainjacket on the chair along with my cycling plus-fours and merino wool top.

On waking I was amazed to see sunlight streaming in through the window. Stepping outside to retrieve the mtb provided further amazement as the sky was colouring up a lovely shade of blue with not a cloud in sight. I began the task of attempting to find my mtb in the storage shed, this turned out to be a bit of an archeological dig as I uncovered a veritable strata of garden tools, cardboard, ladders, planks of wood and children’s toys, beneath which lay my mountain bike. In common with an archeological artifact it was still caked in the mud from the time of its burial. As my road helmet was locked up with my road bike, I was relieved to see my trusty old mtb helmet amongst the associated grave-goods. Once the tyres were pumped up, the mud scraped off and the chain cleaned and re-oiled, the bike looked half decent.

I saddled up and rode down to Mike’s farm, passing the tall grove of bamboo by the driveway which was now beginning to sway and rustle gently in the light breeze, the morning calm was immediately shattered by Mike’s dog running out and barking in greeting. Mike just had to feed the chickens and chuck some oil over the chain of his Dawes Supergalaxy and we were away.

I took us past the redwoods at the manor development and towards Woolverton. There we crossed the A36 and headed into the empty back lanes. Speckling the hedgerows were tiny buds, a promise of Spring that presented a subtle, barely perceived green fuzz as we rode gently along the meandering lanes. It was still stark enough that a chaffinch flittering amongst the scrub created a riotous blaze of colour that stood out like a flashing beacon amidst the branches. The landscape pulled us into steep hollows, giving us enough momentum to be catapulted effortlessly up the hills, until gradually we were pitched up to a point were the view in all directions seemed endless. Far in the distance there was nothing but whitish haze where the horizon should have been, it might as well have delineated the edge of the world. We turned the bikes toward the sun, and hit the high gears. Chains thrummed, driving us along a rare stretch of straight and level road. The lane switched suddenly right, and the ground to our left fell away. Now we were riding on the highest ridge of a lopsided valley with the breeze behind us and the countryside laid out below in patchwork to one side. Gathering speed, we pedalled in bursts as the road surface became sketchy. Water had eaten away at the edges and dumped gravel everywhere. Mike’s bike skittered about a little, but my shirehorse of an mtb ploughed through it all with ease. The velociraptor tyres spat mud, water and stones in all directions including up my back as we turned right again and sped into Faulkland and past the derelict Faulkland inn, one of many pubs to have shut down recently in the county. Our tyres barely touched the main road before we were off into the lanes again. Now the road began to undulate heavily, before flinging us down in to the valley. With the confidence that a heavy bike and fat tyres can give I let the brakes off and hurtled down the hill, it was about the only time that I was in front of Mike for the whole ride. At the bottom I waited where the stream had torn the tarmac into shreds, gouging a channel of water into the road.

A stream across the road

Mike rode up and carefully picked his way over the ruined road surface and impromptu stream. Away from the flood damage the road pitched briefly upwards before throwing us down again, but this time I took us right before the bottom of the hill, pulling the bike into a skid to make the turning. The lanes became narrower as we passsed Stoney Littleton long barrow, climbing up Littleton Lane which suddenly deposited us into the top of Wellow. We found ourselves entering the village in the slipstream behind a huge, red front-loader, its engine gunning noisily as it took the gradient. We peeled off from it’s fumes and hot engine air and dropped down into the valley again, this time down to the Wellow ford. Mercifully it was not flooded this time. Unmercifully we now had to climb Baggridge Hill, a long, long slope, much given to drifting about and becoming narrow here and there where the fancy takes it. Mike was way, way off the front and I was puffing away in the granny gear. It probably would have been quicker to walk it, but with such low gearing there’s no excuse to put a foot down or dismount in shame. I wheezed my way to the top where Mike was just pouring out a couple of cups of coffee from a flask he had secreted in his single pannier.

We stood there for a while and talked about that elation a cyclist feels when, towards the end of climbing a long and infernally steep hill, the cranks spin faster and the gears start to move up again. That feeling of having made it, of getting up the hill, the light at the end of the tunnel.

We were off again, turning into the wind. Wind? Yes, the horizon had cleared and was being troubled by clouds, the breeze was becoming insistent. It mattered not to us, for above us was deep, calm blue and ahead of us, flat road, for the next two miles at least. We crossed the A366 at Tucker’s Grave Inn. The site of the interment of a suicide from 1747, one Edward or Edwin Tucker. As usual with folklore the facts are not easy to come by. If indeed there is a grave here though, it is safe to say that Tucker died in some abnormal way, as crossroads burial was certainly not the norm, and was said to be a way of pinning down or confusing the doomed soul that could not find rest in heaven.

With the clock counting down, we left morbidity behind trapped at the crossroads and shot towards Lullington, the next node on our ride. There was hardly any mishap en route, save the boulder in the road we both managed to miss, and my failure not to throw the chain, though that’s what happens when you try to get from the big ring to the little one without touching the middle one. We skimmed the A36, frantically spinning the cranks to get off the main road and away from the hurtling cars. Then back into the village, where Mike paused briefly to engage in the well-known Somerset practice of gate-leaning and striking a deal with a farmer.

Striking a deal with the farmer.

Striking a deal with a farmer.

Clouds had gathered and the wind was starting to rage as I arrived back at the house. By the time I had finished having a shower the rain was hammering down. The last gasp of winter, but Spring cannot be stopped now, here’s to warmer weather and more rides.

What I did in the snow

I rode out of the village in the snow to get a fresh coffee

I rode out of the village in the snow to get a fresh coffee

The snow was not deep, but the roads were slippy

The snow was not deep, but the roads were slippy

It didn't take me long to get to Mes Amis, best coffee in the local area

It didn't take me long to get to Mes Amis, best coffee in the local area

On the way back, the brompton stopped working!

On the way back, the brompton stopped working!

Somehow I had managed to throw the chain - simple enough to fix.

Somehow I had managed to throw the chain - simple enough to fix.

I was on my way home again quickly enough, crunching over the ice and snow

I was on my way home again quickly enough, crunching over the ice and snow

Riding in the snow, even if only for three miles, becomes an adventure!

Published in: on February 23, 2009 at 6:03 pm  Comments (7)  
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Live blogging on the way to Bristol

Blogging this live on my way to Bristol for a days filming with Tom Stubbs. I’m afraid I drove the five miles to the station as it will be dark when I come home and I have no lights for the Brompton. I’m going to be using a little bit of the Bristol to bath cycle path and I’m carrying two boxes of animation cell for Tom to deal with as he sees fit. Handling may well be compromised.

The day looks fine, though it is bitterly cold and we’re filming outside. I’m just enjoying the view as the train wends its way through the valley and into Bath.

Published in: on January 31, 2009 at 12:07 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Cycling into some Headspace

Sometimes all I need is a really small ride to sort my head out. I’ve been really busy for the last few months and up until now, I’d managed to convince myself that I had no time to cycle, telling myself that time spent riding would be time wasted. How wrong I was. My work suffers greatly if I just leap right in and do the first thing that comes into my head. I am one of those unlucky people who’s first idea is rarely the best. Working to a brief or series of briefs, as I do, can feel like very reactionary work. It’s easy to slip into a mindset of just working through one thing after another, to get things done. This will often involve a state of stress, a feeling of time slipping away, and a mind not fully in the moment, but worrying about what’s going to come next.

By taking a short bike ride, I get the oxygen flowing, I move into a rhythm, and more importantly I am restricted from acting on the first idea I come up with. In a twenty minute bike ride I will have come up with five or six different ways of dealing with a brief, and probably a strategy or an angle for how I will execute the work. This means that I am able to make decisons based on ideals rather than anxieties (something I think politicians should consider).

So on Friday, though the weather was looking a little uncertain of what it might do, I pulled out the Brompton from the workshop and rode to the local garage for a passable latte. I say passable, but this is rural Somerset so what’s passable out here would be considered a travesty in the city. I cycled extra gently out of the village as the rear tyre was feeling a little soft and Mike still had my pump. The wind was making a great show of gusting about, throwing casual lumps of freezing air this way and that. As I eased up the old forgotten coach road into Beckington a fresh newspaper skittered past me and down the hill, smacking into a skeletal dead elm where it flapped manically and loudly against the sky.

The Ghost Road up to Beckington

The Ghost Road up to Beckington

At the garage I folded the bike and left it in front of the kindling wood while I went inside for the coffee. Two workmen in what were once bright yellow jackets stood at the machine stamping the cold out of their boots. As they picked the paper cups from the nozzle, they cupped them in their grimy frozen hands and hunched themselves over the steaming beverages as if to pull the heat from the coffees. One of them had lost the skin on the knuckles of his left hand, whether from the skin splitting in the cold or an unfortunate shovel accident I couldn’t say.

I lidded the coffee and paid up, storing the cup upright in one of the compartments of my Brompton bag that could have been tailor made for slipping in a tall latte and transfering to a chosen destination with minimal spillage.

The wind was behind me now and the road home was easy riding. freewheeling through the semi-flooded lanes, I had plenty of ideas as to how I was going to tackle the brief. In fact I became slightly too euphoric and was in danger of stretching the ride out further. But no, I had work to do so I resisted, then cycled for home and within five minutes I was at my desk working and sipping away.

I think I’ve made a convincing case as to why I should be riding during the working day, I therefore rest my case.

Published in: on January 26, 2009 at 11:13 pm  Comments (2)  
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My Final Ride of 2008

Perhaps it was unwise, given the predicted drop in temperature, to arrange to meet local smallholder Mike at 9am for a ride. I wrapped up warm, and pedalled down to Mike’s farm. After a slight delay in which Mike fed the chickens and I supplied a trackpump to get our tyres up to the regulation 80+psi, we quickly left the village and headed out down crooked lane. Frost crusted the grass on the verge, and muddy ice was scattered across the tarmac. The air was still and dry, and it seemed as if the cold was drifting down and settling on us from the sky. The orb of the sun hung limp and weak amid the grey, a perfect dull circle, devoid of heat and ferocity, that could not even leave an after-image burnt into the retina.

We were in good spirits, riding in the knowledge that this winter was slowly on the wain, but the cold was already nipping at our fingers and toes, forcing our pace up a little. Mike is a fit chap, and he could maintain an even cadence on hills and straight alike. Before we arrived at Dilton Marsh, I was already struggling a little and decided that I would walk up the hill of The Hollow. However, when it came to it, I found the hill to be less steep in real life than it had appeared in my head, and I was able to ride up all the way. Over the crossroads at the top and into the back of Warminster via a ghost road. Out of Warminster at Bishopstrow, and into Sutton Veny. By now, my toes were aching, my lips were cracked and my fingertips had gone numb. We had thoughts of a cup of tea at the farm shop in Boyton, and possibly, dare we imagine, a slice of cake.

We continued along the beautiful Wylye Valley in the direction of Salisbury, and a slight breeze built up, sucking the warmth from our faces. Passing a stream, Mike paused to work out the drop on a weir, he is obsessed with the idea of hydroelectric power and takes every opportunity to investigate a weir or mill race. As we discussed the pros and cons of increasing the height of wier on his farm by 25cm, we rounded the final corner, elated to see a sandwich board outside the farm shop that clearly said “we are open”. Joy turned to disbelief as we appraoched the entrance and discovered that the sentence continued “…Wednesday to Friday”. As it was a Monday, it left us with freezing cold toes and no prospect of a cuppa. We hopped around to try and warm ourselves up, and I cracked open the Jelly Belly energy beans I had found in my stocking on Christmas morning, thus fortified with sugary goodness and a minimum of warmth we remounted and set off for Warminster, swearing that we would locate a purveyor of cake and coffee to ease our malaise.

We followed the road into Warminster and crawled into the town centre, it was pretty busy and there was no small risk involved in drifting acorss the road after the central traffic lights to arrive at the Cafe des Journaux. Mike had his pannier and a lock so we tied up the bikes to the nearest lampost before walking inside the tiny coffee shop and taking a seat, right next to the heater.

The heater
Mike did the honours, and within minutes we had coffees and cakes (and I had managed to knock a bowl of sugar packets onto the floor). Mike even located a copy of The Times and we spent a restful few minutes sipping coffee, eating cake and commenting on various news stories in the pleasant shop.

coffee and cake

When we left the cafe, it suddenly seemed considerably colder, I never thought I’d say this, but thank goodness for that hill out of Warminster town centre, it warmed us up nicely. As Mike was going to be late home, we decided it would be best to take the A36. Although this was quicker, it turned out to be a bit of a grind, the windchill and the traffic made it an unpleasant experience. My lack of recent exercise began to take its toll, and I fell far behind as Mike raced to the farm shop to pick up some shopping. I caught up with him as he was locking his bike up. I decided that I’d better stay outside, not least because I needed to find a convenient location to ‘view the plough’ and ease the pressure on my bladder that had been building up for the last four miles, but because I didn’t want to warm up in the shop only to step outside into the chill again. I ate some more energy beans.

energy bean

We saddled up for the last time and headed back to the village. A good, if cold ride to finish the year, clocking up 35 miles in total.

See you in 2009!

The Simple Pleasures of a bike-train-bike commute

I woke too late to bike commute the whole way into Salisbury, so I hauled myself into the shower, got into some trousers so enormous it was like wearing a tent, and prepared the Brompton for a sprint down the A361 to Trowbridge station. Still yawning, I wove up the hill, crested, and put the bikes hubs to the test on a fast descent down the other side. The Brompton is a skittish ride at the best of times, at 30+ mph downhill it’s a study in terror, yet somehow I made it to the junction in one piece. Then it was simply a case of pointing the front of the bike down the road and turning the pedals. On arrival at the station (terrific skid up the ramp and onto the platform – no mean feat with brompton brakes), I discovered I’d missed one train and had forty minutes to wait for the next one. The bike took me into the town centre and located a coffee shop for me. Soon I was ensconced at an outside table drinking a latte and reading a book. This seemed mighty civilized, and it was a great shame to have to knock back the coffee and zip back to the station.

I thought that with the current high fuel prices it would be more economical to go the 31 miles by train, but no, I discovered that the price of the journey had gone up 33% in the last seven months, incredible!

The beauty of the journey soon erased the price from my memory, this is the same route I cycled when I rode to Salisbury a couple of weeks ago. The road crosses and dives under the track all the way to Wilton, sometimes mere feet from the track, other times it moves away, dipping behind an embankment or veering off to visit a lonely farm before rejoining its symbiotic partner, the railway track. I sat back and imagined my doppelganger riding at a speeded up pace level with the train. All those little milestones on the journey compressed into a blur of memories, the train moving too quickly to allow the mind to dwell on things like the toad crossing sign, the concrete bridge, the post office, the ox-eye daisies in the hedges, the constant pedal freewheel pedal freewheel rhythm of the rolling lanes. Train journeys seem to be a kind of time travel, you sit down, there is constant noise, but the feeling of motion is barely perceived. Very quickly (hopefully) you arrive at your destination. Strange, yet completely normal.

Cycling through Salisbury was a joy, apart from the fool who stopped on the bikes only bit at the traffic lights on Fisherton Street.

Eat More Chips – Deeper into the Wylye

15

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.

Tuesday Ride III – John’s Revenge, aka: Mud, Sweat and Gears

myself, John, Rob about to ascend to the white horse above Westbury

The Tuesday ride this week was a Mountainbike special. John wanted to take Rob Bunce and myself around some local trails, so I headed out to Westbury at 1910 and got the wrong carpark as the meeting point. By the time I found John and Rob I was pretty knackered and a little hungry, having only eaten a banana and drank a cup of ultra-strong coffee. Needless to say, Rob guarded his Crunchie, the only food between us, with great care. John led us up through Westbury to where the road suddenly turned into a muddy off-road trail. In the woods we found something pretty cool. A whole bunch of kids had spent ages making an amazing series of jumps and half-pipes, a secret BMX course carved out of the forest floor, this was a serious investment of time. In fact there were two kids there, they proceeded to show us up by jumping and racing around us, we poor fogies were left slipping and sliding through the mud in their wake. Then John showed us a, quite frankly, brown-trouser inducing drop off, it was near vertical and for one terrifying moment I thought he was going to take us down it. Thankfully it was decreed to be too muddy, phew!

We spent a while sliding through the woods trying to locate the track, ditching the kids in the process (or maybe they ditched us, probably the latter). Rob and I thought we’d found the trail leading down the edge of a field, but it turned out to be blocked by barbed wire. We could hear John on the other side merrily cycling along so we struggled through the wire and brambles carrying our bikes to join our leader. The way was muddy, rocky, rutty and errr more muddy, very hard going though not for John. We joined up with the road that leads upward to the white horse, paused for a group photo (above), then picked our way through the oncoming stream of chavs in souped-up cars towards the white horse. If people only knew that cyclists can’t actually make out what people shout at us through their open windows I suspect they wouldn’t bother. Having said that it’s probably for the benefit of their passengers who, I assume, are equally imbecilic. Guffawing at the witty abuse hurled our way by the driver when all we can hear is:
“VRRROOOOOMaaAAYAAAMMOOOOooooom!”
Anyway we crawled up the hill, actually I really enjoyed that bit and kept freewheeling back to get a bit more climbing in, until we reached the point where the track divided and turned into gravel. The views by the old chalk quarry were fantastic. A low blanket of cloud had enveloped the sun as it began its descent, but there was still a clear strip of sky above Trowbridge and Westbury. Golden highlights danced over the cornfields as the wheat swayed slowly in the breeze. Despite, or maybe because of the climb we all felt in great spirits as we raced down the track towards Upton Scudamore. We were accosted by a pack of weird, very hairy terriers. As we saw them approaching in the distance Rob thought they were pigs, but the yapping and over-excited bouding betrayed them as mutts. Quickly we adopted loose formation, an arrow shape with John in front and Rob and I flanking, just to make it harder for them to pick us off. As it happened they were friendly and the owners, who eventually meandered over the horizon, were very apologetic for the yapping. By a very scary sign (Military Firing Range, KEEP OUT), John stopped to brief us on the downhill and drop-off he was about to take us down.

John shows the way to the drop off

I was feeling pretty nervous, especially as John had said “it’s not too bad and there is a point were you can bail out before the drop off”. John went first, alarming us with his speed of attack, and I followed. It started off easily although it was fast and I was quickly locked into a tractor rut. I was just wondering where the drop off actually was, when suddenly… sh*t! I was over the lip with no chance to stop. The cranks were level and I slid back off the saddle as the bars followed the front wheel into thin air. Panic lasted but a moment and I had the presence of mind to choose my line out of the drop, hoping the left hand rut was the correct one and that it wouldn’t collapse into a hole or something. John had already got up the other side of the hill and I cycled, then walked up to join him. Someone was laughing and it turned out to be me, elated by the rush of speed and the fact that I had done something that, if I’m honest, I was quite nervous about doing. We watched Rob pick his way down. He got off at the drop-off, but then got back on again to finish up on the lead-out, good man. Through the gate at the top of the field with Rob’s bike bell tinging happily on an overhanging branch, then we rode out along a hugely puddly, rubble strewn track. The lack of mudguards meant that my bum was soaked and freezing by the time we hit the road at Upton Scudamore.

Me with a soaked botty

The sunlight was dying into embers behind the horizon as we sped along the main road into Westbury, exchanging waves with a Roadie as he passed us on his way out. We said our goodbyes at a handy junction, Rob’s bell tinging into the distance behind me as I raised a clenched fist in solidarity, then turned for Dilton Marsh and home.

Published in: on June 26, 2007 at 11:07 pm  Leave a Comment  

Tuesday Ride II

John and a Lorry

It seemed to be threatening to thunder pretty much all day today, but the weather was good enough for riding despite a middling headwind. My first ride of the day was on the Brompton, from Bradford-on-Avon back home having dropped off my car for its MOT. A nice easy ride along the Braford-Trowbridge cycle path and then along the Wingfield straight. Buzzards aplenty on the route, I saw four and heard a couple of others.

In the evening I met up with John Hayes for what is becoming a regular Tuesday evening ride. I had been feeling pretty lethargic all day, perhaps due to the closeness of the air, so I’d tried to pep myself up with a large mug of black Java. It hadn’t kicked in by the time we started riding. We had some vague idea about taking the A36 and the Black Dog up to Cley Hill then back through Corsley onto the Frome bypass, but the A36 was closed due to an accident (expect the usual ‘Horror Smash’ headline in the Wiltshire Times if it was a bad one), so we swung out towards Frome. The headwind was making things less fun so we decided to head through Frome town centre where we hoped we’d get some shelter before getting the wind behind us to blast round the bypass. That was the theory.

I mounted a Pantaniesque breakaway on the hill into the outskirts of Frome, but pretty soon had to sit down and start clicking through the lower gears in order to keep moving. Into town pretty much bang on the speed limit then up the town centre hill, a nasty, steep, curving climb. Once again I was cursing the front mech, but John gave me some gearing tips to cure the slow shifting from big to middle ring. I led the way out of town at 17mph, we had a breather and a chat at the Roundabout by Sainsbury’s, then we began our descent onto the bypass. John led and we clocked 41.4mph on the downhill which felt pretty nice, hands on the drops blasting the pedals round in high gear. However it rapidly became apparent that the wind had shifted and we were once again cycling into a sodding headwind. There was a tremendous amount of fast moving traffic on the road so we were able to slipstream some lorries (see pic above) in order to get up the gradients. By Rode we turned right off the A361 towards Rudge. Away from the wind we thundered round the lanes two abreast. It got a bit dangerous when we came across a 4×4 hurtling up the narrow hill we were trying to come down at 30+mph. My back wheel started skidding out into John’s path as I braked, but I managed to stop the drift and squeeze past the stupidly large vehicle without mishap.

We stopped for another chat at Southwick before we went our seperate ways. Our average was down to 15.6 mph, John had blown his legs the evening before at the Gym. Still, not bad for 23 miles.

Next week mountain-biking, hopefully with our chum Rob Bunce. It should be interesting because I haven’t ridden off-road properly for years and also, I’ve always been pretty poor at it anyway, seemingly spending more time falling off than actually riding. We’ll see what happens.