Never ride the route of a ride planned for a Sunday morning when it’s a Thursday lunchtime

Never have I encountered so many lorries, buses and impatient drivers as during a recent ride with my sister. She was due to take on the Trowbridge Triathlon and wanted to get an idea of the route before the day. So, as she works nights, and I work for myself a mere half a mile from my house, we decided to go out along the route on the Thursday lunchtime, a few days before the triathlon (which was on the Sunday). The first half of the ride was a nightmare as the A361 was heaving and angry, people squeezing past, dangerous overtaking and in some cases almost pushing us off the road.

Turning off the A36 was a relief, and it went well on the backroads around Dilton Marsh, until my sister failed to unclip from her SPDs at a junction, but still stopped. Crash Clatter Ouch!

We arrived back at Trowbridge sport centre 16 miles after setting off on the loop and met our stepmother, who took a photo.

After the nervewracking ride down the A361 in heavy traffic

After the nerve-wracking ride down the A361 in heavy traffic

Still it must have helped because my sister did not come last in the triathlon.

Published in: on August 9, 2009 at 6:58 pm  Comments (4)  
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Ride, ride against the dying of the light

One thing the Rode and District Nocturnal Velo Club cannot be accused of is “going gentle into that good night”. The Wednesday after the wildly succesful Rode Village Festival – the committee met in The Cross Keys pub to have a post-fest meeting. This being done, and the libations and rituals of preparation being completed (i.e. no small amount of ale, lager and spirits consumed), the ride could take place. This time we had the Rev Philip Hawthorn, curate of Hardington Vale with us. It always pays to have a man of the cloth around when riding the darkened lanes of Somerset and Wiltshire in the gloaming. For these are old roads, and it is an old darkness we ride through. No matter what armour to superstition and fear your sensibilities and beliefs have provided in the warm glow of the day, it all turns to rust when riding beneath the pale ghostlight of a waxing moon.

Anyway, Phil rides a rather splendid Specialized, a large frame as he is long of leg, and a keen cyclist to boot.

At 23:30 the last embers of the sun had long burnt out beyond the horizon. Only the dull orange glows of nearby towns tinted the furthest reaches of the sky. We headed out of the village via crooked lane, drifting briefly from the old sideroad across the A36 and onto the road to Rudge, as a lost spirit might materialise from a wall covering a long forgotten passageway and glide across a landing before vanishing into the opposite wall.

With four lights blazing we shot down the hill at Rudge, hung a left at the bottom and continued toward Brokerswood, turning right at the tin tabernacle and headed for the railway bridges. We took turns at the front, and as we approached Old Dilton, Mike made clear his intent to go up… The Hollow. In truth, there was nothing we could do, Mike had spoken what we all surely felt, this malevolent slope was sucking us in like a black hole, its gravity was too strong to ignore this far past dusk. We crossed the double roundabouts by the church. The only mercy was that night had mercifully becloaked the upward gradient in its mantle – that we would not be overawed at the hills severity. The pools of light cast forth from our bikes darted about the tarmac and the banks as the slope took hold. Spotlit glimpses of branches, thorns, earth and asphalt flashed about us as we wobbled our way up. Every now and again we caught sight of one of our companions in the bikelights, an afterimage of a rictus grin of grim determination burnt onto the retina when the light fell away to crazily dart around the banks as we struggled to maintain our upward course.

Then, against all odds, the ground leveled out – not only had we taken The Hollow at speed, it seemed incredibly short compared to the other times we have ridden it. Too numbed to change up gear, we spun the cranks crazily fast on the flat and hungrily gulped down great lungfuls of air as if we had emerged, crazed with the bends, from exploring the crushing darkness of an oceanic abyss.

Turning right at the top proved to be an alarming choice as more than one car shot past us with seeming scant regard for our safety. The noise of their passing all the more alarming given the quiet country lanes we had emerged from.

Rode and District Nocturnal Velo Club

We crossed the A36 and disappeared into the cthonic darkness of the lanes around Frome. Mike led out on the descent towards the town, Marcus pumping his legs like mad at the back to keep up on his mountain bike with its smaller wheels and heavier tread. The streets of Frome were near deserted and we had the sulphur glow of the streetlamps to ourselves, our shadows flickering about us as we passed from one pool of light to the next. Taking up the whole road we freewheeled together, the nocturnal peleton (or nocaton as Phil called it) shot through the narrow streets and into the town centre with incredible speed. Another hill up out of the town, past Iron Mill Lane and then left towards Lullington. The Creamery was lit up as milk was churned into the small hours. Up the hill we rode, a skeleton oak stood stark on the horizon, a warning of the hill we were approaching. Marcus and I rode far off the front racing each other down the final dip, a foolish act of faith as we rode faster than the eye could take in the tiny spotlit area ahead of us. We waited at a crossroad to take the picture below:

Rode and District Nocturnal Velo Club

Rode and District Nocturnal Velo Club

Finally we wheeled our way back into the village via The Mill, Mike peeling off down his farm track before Marcus and I said goodbye to Phil who powered off up Nutts Lane.

Around 20 miles accomplished, a good workout and a magical ride.

If you are local and you wish to join us on a Nocturnal ride – leave a comment below and we’ll try and arrange something.

To Ride a White Horse

Bratton Camp, Westbury

Bratton Camp, Westbury

Sunday last, and of course the clocks here in the UK leapt forwards an hour, making the the 0745 start for the ride all the more painful. Mike fancied heading out towards Westbury, but he needed to be in Frome for a football match by 10:30. This certainly meant we would be riding at least 25 miles. I had thought that in preparation for our Belgian/French cycle ride, we would be riding with full panniers, so I stacked mine to the maximum and even carried the track pump. Mike of course had completely forgotten, so he just had a single pannier with a flask of coffee in.

We rode out through Rudge, turning left at the Full Moon pub, then passing the Kicking Donkey. Even with the full panniers I was able to ride at a pretty reasonable pace. We shot through Westbury Leigh then headed for Bratton, passing underneath the mighty Westbury White Horse. This is one of the oldest of the white horses cut into the hillsides of Wiltshire. We don’t really know what the original horse looked like, but we do know that in 1778 someone called George Gee decided that it didn’t really look like a horse so he had it recut and reshaped until he was satisfied that it did. Towards the end of the 18th century it was recut again, then in the 20th century someone thought it would be a hell of a lot less work if the thing was concreted over and painted white. So what you are seeing as you take the road beneath Westbury Hill, is not a horse made of chalk, like say Cherhill or Uffington, but a load of painted concrete. The concrete horse drifted out of sight behind us as we continued along the road. The tarmac was beautifully smooth and there was barely a vehicle about. As we entered Bratton, we swung hard right up the promisingly named Castle Road. This turned out to be a very long hill. Mike switched on his legs and pulled far in front, leaving me wobbling up with my now extremely heavy panniers. I passed some other cyclists on MTBs, they had dismounted and were walking up. I was barely going much faster than them, and I was relieved to see that Mike had stopped at the summit and was sittting on the ramparts of the Iron Age hill fort Bratton Camp. I propped the bike up against a fence and wheezed over a gate to join Mike. As we sat and surveyed the counryside a skylark drifted past trilling and warbling it’s beautiful liquid song. The sky had clouded over, but a strong shaft of sunlight struck a yellow freight train causing it to glow as if alight. It was the most glorious and luminescent colour.

At the summit of the camp, the car park was full of vehicles brought up here by people who were now walking their dogs. Electing not to go past the red flag denoting that the army was shooting stuff on Warminster plain, we instead dived down the hill next to the White Horse and found ourselves catapulted into Westbury at speed. We now needed to get to Frome, so we took the road to Dilton Marsh then carried on to the A36. Thankfully we were only on that hellish road for a couple of hundred yards before we turned off onto a ghost road that led to Frome. For the first mile or so it still had the worn out cats eyes that told of its glory days as a main route. Now it was reduced to carrying tractors and us. It didn’t take us long to reach Frome, we struggled up the main hill in the town centre and thought about getting some bacon in the cafe at the top, but Mike was going to be late for his son’s football match so we passed up the porcine goodness.

By the time I got back to the house I had completed just over thirty miles with full panniers. Great training for Belgium, I hope.

Published in: on April 3, 2009 at 10:37 pm  Leave a Comment  
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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!

To the Railway Bridges

Do you know that feeling, when you just ‘have to ride’ ? Perhaps it begins with a restlessness, maybe repeated glances at the window, agitation, sighing, even a little heart-ache. This is the urge to ride, a demanding physical need to spin the cranks, to be moving through the air, to feel the road thrumming beneath the tyres, to bring endless horizons towards you, rolling on, and on, and on.

On Friday I couldn’t get out to join John and Andy on their afternoon ride, but when the chance came to take just half an hour, I had to ride, my bike of choice was the Brompton. The destination was the two railway bridges between Brokerswood and Dilton Marsh. One of riveted iron, straight and wide, the other of brick, arching gently out of the ground. Only a hundred yards or so apart, they span different stretches of track and the junction where the lines part can be seen in the distance from the brick bridge. Maybe a mile or two further in that direction sits another, larger bridge, off the beaten track. No road seems to lead to its grand arch, it will be the subject of another cycle quest another time.

I made another cycle film of the journey- this one is epic by my standards – nearly six and a half minutes long. It’s filmed entirely on my little compact digital camera so the quality leaves a lot to be desired, I would like to think that it has a charming sort of super8 feel to it, but that is very much wishful thinking. The film contains variously, a farm cat, lots of shots of power and telephone lines and pylons, the long hill at Rudge (road technically closed, you can see it’s all dug up) the tin tabernacle at Brokerswood, wheat fields, hedges, verges, the two railway bridges (the iron one only briefly because I could hear a train heading for the other bridge so I turned back and headed for the brick bridge to film it), a train and a feather. The music is by John Cage.

Power and phone lines fascinate me, I think partially because we do such a good job of editing them from our vision and memory. They are so ubiquitous yet it seems to be possible to view a landscape without seeing them at all. A photograph can be startling when it restores these invisible towers and poles that we have edited out of our memories of the landscape.

Pylons viewed from the road between Frome and Standerwick

Pylons viewed from the back road that runs between Frome and Standerwick

For some reason that I cannot articulate, or even fully understand, I find pylons and telephone lines beautiful. I particularly like to see pylons striding out across fields, or better still, a skewed line of telephone poles lining a country road.

Telephone poles on the road to Dilton

Telephone poles on the road to Dilton

This fascination of mine extends only to wires and lines, it does not include phone masts, I’m not sure if it includes radio masts. I would very much like to see a map with all the above ground powerlines added.

Apparently one of my first words was “Pylon”.

Wednesday Ride III – against the zephyrs

I was pushed all the way to John’s house in Trowbridge by an insistent tailwind, this did not bode well for this week’s Wednesday Ride. I dismounted and pushed the bike past the wheelie bin in the narrow alley leading to John’s secret garden. Not long after I arrived, the sound of someone squeezing past that same bin announced Brad’s arrival. He had been suffering from a ‘dodgy tum’ for the whole week, it was my secret hope that this would scrub some speed from the super-fit whippet, of course I would barely notice any dip in performance as his form is lightyears ahead of mine.

We set off in a row into some fierce winds, but on turning towards Melksham the wind moved behind us and sent us speeding down the road with considerable urgency. Then into Melksham itself, via the bikes and buses only route, which as it was devoid of traffic, saw us cycling three abreast. This fine stretch of tarmac is crying out for some bike activities under the cover of darkness, something like Sprint Club in Richmond Virginia.

Past the Waney Edge Cafe and over the roundabout, we hurtled through the outer edge of Melksham, until we pulled over to await another of John’s friends, Damian, who arrived almost as soon as we pulled up. The new addition duly linked into the chain, we set off again towards Seend and Devizes. I led off the front, pulling 21mph into a headwind. This proved to be utterly foolish, I was expecting Brad to come hurtling past and take over pulling at any second, but he never came. Then, even worse, we hung a right and smacked straight into a hell of a hill. I sat on the back behind John and just pushed and pulled my way through it, coming up a long time after the others. From then on in, it was a war of attrition with the wind. Damian was proving that he could keep up with Brad no trouble, and as usual it was up to John and myself to keep nightwatchman on the rear of the group. Then we turned directly into the headwind and the group started to break up. Brad was on the front and I hung onto his wheel for a few minutes, then fell off, unable to sustain 19-20mph uphill and into the wind (even with the shelter Brad was providing as I drafted him). I sat up to take a drink and Damian shot past, I watched them disappear around the first of many torturous switchbacks and double bends, before clamping down and digging in. My concentration was split between two things, maintaining an even, steady cadence and keeping breathing. The road got narrower and narrower, winding it’s way through tiny hamlets and villages. The verges became grassy, unfenced areas of common land, strewn with wildflowers, single cottages with beautifully looked after gardens unfolded from around blind corners. Eventually I stopped seeing glimpses of the two out front in the distance, and I was left alone with the roar of the wind and the sound of my own ragged panting.

The final straw came as the rain spattered down and I met a bus in the lane, the compulsory sudden stop as it squeezed past me, left my legs shocked into paralysis and I could barely turn the cranks. Luckily there was a junction for the main road and Brad and Damian were waiting there. Also luckily, John was a way behind and experiencing an enforced stop of his own with the bus, a white van and an old lady who had to reverse down the lane to allow the bus past.

All of this gave me time to recover and watch a Eurofighter screaming repeatedly overhead. John soon arrived, and we all took a bit of a rest and had a chat before stringing out again on the road into Westbury. One more stop at Westbury and I was wrongfooted, or wrongwheeled. When John caught up he just sailed past and the others shot off in hot pursuit. As I was the only one without clipless pedals, it took me a while to get clipped up, then there was a seemingly endless stream of traffic. By the time I got onto the road I had lost sight of them and took a wrong turn towards the Trowbridge road. Immediately I knew I had gone the wrong way as there was a long straight stretch down which I couldn’t see any cyclists. Cursing, I spun back round the mini roundabout and headed towards Westbury Leigh. This time they were waiting for me.

Finally, we got some tailwind as we turned towards Brokerswood at Dilton Marsh, the going became much easier from then on in, but the rain was starting to become a little more serious. Up through Rudge, I managed to bounce my foot out of a clip during a too fast gear change, leaving me pedalling slowly up the hill, with the odd scraping of metal on tarmac as the inverted clip hit the road. I was off the back again, and only caught up as we turned towards the village.

We bid each other farewell and I rode back to the house, the others rode the tailwind back to Trowbridge and Melksham. Total mileage 32 miles, soaked up the back, and legs pummeled into jelly. Now, in retrospect at 23:54, I say it was a good ride. It didn’t feel that way at first.

wet roads

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.

Wednesday Ride II – Et in Arcadia ego

John repairs the spokes

John arrived outside the house with the sound of toe clips dragging through chippings and the sharp hiss of rubber finding purchase on tarmac. He never can resist getting up speed on even the smallest downhill gradient. I had just been wiping the mud off the bike and relubing the chain. We had a brief chat about wheels for the shopper, he reckons the rims can be salvaged. As long as I can work out the spoke length of the back wheel, and we can source the spokes, he will attempt a wheel build, which is very good of him.

On with the ride. John had it in his mind that he wished to cycle up a shade dappled hill with little traffic to make the most of the sun. Often John is a man after my own heart, yes he likes a hard ride and to push himself a bit, but often the simple pleasure of riding through tree shadow on a hazy summer evening is enough for him. I thought the idea sounded excellent so we set off on our quest. John knew of a road that could possibly provide what he needed – although it was a good ten or so miles away. With the time at six fifteen in the evening, commuters were still heading home, the traffic was too fast and angry, not liking two cyclists being on their road. We got a few beeps as people got too close too quickly, then thought it would be easier to honk us into the verge rather than actually slow down and wait until the opposite lane was clear enough for them to overtake. It was a relief to get off the Frome bypass and head towards the forest roads. The trial part of the quest was not yet over though. We were in a headwind on a road surface that seemed to suck the life from our legs. We hammered on and upwards, the road was straight and although the going was hard we were in good spirits.

John on the straight road

We took a left and then suddenly, we were in arcadia – the road was quiet and drifted upwards into the treeline. The evening sun was stretched out richly across the ploughed fields behind us, and then we were riding through a tunnel of trees. The tarmac was a patchwork of leaf-shadow and brilliant sunlight. John was out of the saddle, and going well, when suddenly ‘ping’ a spoke went on his back wheel and it started to buckle. We found a flat bit half way up the hill and John upended the bike and got busy with the spoke key. It gave me an opportunity to catch my breath and look back at the route we had traveled. The sun was lowering and a gentle haze flooded the horizon, distant hills faded into blue, swallows and swifts danced and called to each other as they dined on the feast of insects bourne up by the evening’s warmth. The long deep drone of a distant tractor drifted languidly up over the hedges and hollows, the scent of wild garlic mingled with the rich scent of freshly ploughed warm earth from the fields. A perfect English summer evening in the countryside.

With the spokes repaired we continued up the hill, through an impossibly picturesque village, the pub was tempting, but we resisted. Then more hills – it was becoming clear that John is now considerably fitter than I am, he led easily. Then past Longleat, a swift diversion into the little track that runs parallel to the road – exciting at 20 mph on a road bike. Then we headed to Chapmanslade, down The Hollow into Dilton and parted company at Brokerswood, by the time I freewheeled into the village I had completed 24 miles.

An excellent ride and to me, exactly what cycling is all about.

Published in: on May 21, 2008 at 10:15 pm  Leave a Comment  
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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).