S24O Cycle Camp – photos

I have woken from my winter slumber. Last weekend, in preparation for the Annual Explorer Unit Cycle Camp on the continent, Mike and I took some of the Explorers on a Sub-24 Hour Overnight cycle camp. This is a pastime proposed by Grant Peterson of Rivendell Bicycle Works, referred to as  S24O – from the Rivendell site:

“If you have to work for a living and don’t have summers off, bike camping is easier to fit in, and the easiest way of all is with Sub-24 Hour Overnight (S24O) trips. You leave on your bike in the late afternoon or evening, ride to your campsite in a few hours, camp, sleep, and ride home the next morning. It’s that simple, and that’s the beauty of it. You can fit it in. It requires almost no planning or time commitment”.

(Read whole article on the Rivbike site)

It was a rainy start on the Saturday afternoon, we loaded up the bikes with the full kit. My poor Lemond Etape groaned under the weight of the tent, and as we left the village and headed towards Tellisford, a spoke snapped musically on the rear wheel. So I wheeled the bike back to the village while the others went for a cup of tea at Barrow Farm. I swapped the racer for my ancient mountain bike and we set off again.

Our route took in the enormously steep hill at Wellow, a Long Barrow, more hills, Faulkland stocks and the remains of the stone circle there, some hills, more hills and then some really big hills.

By the time we arrived at the campsite, hauled the bikes over the disappointingly locked gate and pitched the tents, the sky had turned into a solid sheet of grey and the rain started coming down in earnest. We cooked tea, got a fire going, then decided to call it a night, at 8:30pm. Inside the tent I read a book on my phone, eventually lulled to sleep by the gentle patter of rain on the flysheet, and the melancholy hooting of owls.

The next morning, I woke at 5:50am and went for a walk in the forest as the sun came up, it was anything but peaceful as Pheasants wandered croaking through the clearings, blackbirds and robins worked out their territorial rights in chirrups, tweets and loud, dazzling displays of tonal virtuosity. I arrived back at the camp at half six, the grass in the clearing was steaming as the sun rose fully over the treetops and illuminated the soft green fuzz of emerging buds that coated the branches. By 8:15am we had left the campsite, dropping the Explorers off at their houses as we rode back to the village – and taking a second breakfast on the way. We were back in the village by 11am, job done.

Bikes at the top of the hill Wellow

A brief water stop to celebrate making it up the hill at Wellow

Bikes parked

We locked up the bikes to make it to the Long Barrow on foot

Inside the Long Barrow

Deep inside the Long Barrow

Morning at the tent

The remains of last night's rain on my tent in the morning

Planning the route home

Planning a route that doesn't involve hills - impossible.

Breakfast

Second Breakfast

foot cog shadow

Somewhere in Frome

Brother and Sister ride through the rain

My sister and her family came to visit today, only the second time they have all been at our house togther, and, like their first visit, the weather was awful. The rain lashed hard at the window, driven into needle points by a gusting wind. This wouldn’t have been too much of a problem normally, but my sister had come over especially to try out my Lemond Etape with a mind to borrow it for her first triathlon. She has a bike on order, but it’s very unlikely that it’ll arrive in time for her race. She’s been practicing on a mountain bike, a completely different experience from riding a road bike, even an entry-level racer like mine. Finally, having consumed incredible amounts of pizza, there was a break in the weather, and even though the sky was black with boiling angry clouds, and the wind was still blowing hard, my sister and I set out through the lanes, she on my Lemond, and I on the Brompton.

The roads were slick and muddy, punctuated with sudden huge puddles. Unexpected gusts slammed into us as we passed gaps in the hedges, blowing us off course and spraying us with droplets from overhanging trees. A solitary crow bowled past us, tumbling rather than flying. We headed through Rudge, my sister getting the hang of mvoing the brake levers to change gear. I only intended to go three miles or so, but I found myself shouting to follow the road to the right at the Full Moon pub rather than turn back and soon we were crossing the A36 and heading towards Frome. Whenever my sister asked how far it was back to the village I replied two miles, which it kind of was… as the crow flies. We turned into the wind which slammed into us, forcing us down to a mere crawl. We turned off the main Frome road down a tiny lane criss-crossed by gigantic pylons. The wind shrieked and howled through the wires, tugging them backwards and forwards. As we reached higher ground we could see that the undulating grass in the fields was moving like a squalling sea, and beyond the electric steel sentinals the sky was furious and inky, long smudges of rain hung beneath the clouds, there was no way we could outride the deluge. We crossed a main road and passed Lullington creamery, climbing up towards the turning to Woolverton. With appalling suddeness the light dimmed to a dull grey and the clouds were upon us, however, they raced over without any rain falling. A huge dead tree, it’s bark stripped off, standing stark and white on the horizon on contrast with the raging clouds, marked the right turn towards Woolverton. Riding that quarter of a mile stretch, my sister foolishly stated that we had escaped the rain. Within a minute we were in the midst of a merciless soaking. The wind seemed to be coming from every direction, the rain stung our faces, as I hauled the bike down the linking track that would deposit us onto the A36 at the Laverton junction. There then followed a scary twenty seconds as we had to wait in the middle of the road while a bus passed on the opposite side. A car squeezed past my sister, barely missing her (my) handlebars. We rode passed the Red Lion, our faces either grimacing or stuck in a rictus grin of cold. Now only three quarters of a mile to the village.

We made 10.5 miles, my sister pointed out that I said it was two miles to home at 6.3 miles. According to the speedo we pulled 27.5 mph at our fastest, which may be one of the fastest speeds I’ve gone on the Brompton, nothing like a rainstorm to improve your average speed.

My wife took a picture of us as we stood on the back steps at the end of the ride. As you can see she had her new digital SLR set to ‘make husband’s head look a really weird shape’ when she took the photo.

My sister and I after our ride through a rainstorm. I promise you that my head is not normally this weird looking

My sister and I after our ride through a rainstorm. I promise you that my head is not normally this weird looking

Published in: on May 17, 2009 at 10:24 pm  Comments (1)  
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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.

In a Cycling Utopia, pedestrians and cyclists get on just fine (and you can cycle on water)

At the beginning of September, Lucy and I spent a long weekend at our local Center Parcs (Longleat). It’s like living in some sort of cycling utopia! A forest environment, a mere handful of vehicles on the road, masses of bikes, loads of bicycle parking, special bike trails and paths.

If you read the popular press these days, you will learn that cyclists are a menace in pedestrianised areas, that they don’t use their bells, that they cycle too close to people, that they cycle too fast, that they appear out of nowhere. If you unquestioningly take the opinion pages of the papers as gospel truth, you may well believe that it’s a wonder that there aren’t horrific casualties every single day that pedestrians and cyclists go near each other, I guess it’s a miracle that there are only a handful of cyclist on pedestrian deaths/serious injuries every year. We must have been VERY LUCKY to get away with it!

What’s curious about Center Parcs is that cyclists and pedestrians mix completely and thoroughly, yet I heard not one bad word exchanged betwixt the two camps. Even though cyclists were weaving through pedestrians strung out over the routes. Even though there were queues to get through gates. Even though at various times cyclists and pedestrians would have to give way to one another in an environment that was not heavily regulated. The difference is in the expectation, you come to Center Parcs knowing full well that there will be shared-use paths with bikes. There are few clear definitions like ‘pavement’ and ‘road’, so somehow cyclists are prepared to meet with pedestrians and vise-versa.

It rained a lot on the first day, which I actually found quite pleasant in the forest. I was reminded of my favourite sequence in the film My Neighbor Totoro, where the Totoro is delighted by the sound of the rain dripping from the trees onto his borrowed umbrella. To live amongst trees is a special thing indeed.


Some pics:

Lucy took her Diamondback MTB and I took my Brompton, but when it comes to being on the water, you need a specialist machine:

Keep one in the garage for when the floods come

Keep one in the garage for when the floods come

It was a surprisingly smooth ride – moving downwind anyway.

Hellhound On My Trail


It was already dark as my bike and I hissed along the wet country road, though the sun was not due to dip below the distant hills for another half hour. A thin blanket of leaden cloud had clotted on the horizon, diminishing fingers of golden light dripped damply down from the smothered orb suffocating in the greyness. I rode lost in the lanes through this premature, sodden dusk, the day was choking in its final hour, an undignified ending. Barely six miles from home, but turned around by these tracks that weave around each other through the landscape, I had no idea which direction I was facing or what the next village might be. The next village did not appear from around the next bend or crossroads, nor from the junction after that. These were bad, bad choices of direction, the remains of rusted signposts were no help, one of them peppered with holes from a shotgun blast, the names of the villages lay in heap at the side of the road pointing mockingly into the centre of a muddy field. The rain came down, as did the blackness, and soon I rode along a line of silver in the road. This reflection from my lamp on the slick tarmac was my only source of illumination.

A farm on the corner, as I near, a coal-black shape detaches itself from the darkness of the hedge and runs towards me. A dog. Its barking is thunderously loud in the quiet of the evening, jaws hanging open, teeth bared, matching my increasingly panicked pace for twenty metres before I get enough speed up to leave it behind. But then at the next house, another loose dog, huge, angry. The bike is almost in the hedge on the right of the road as I accelerate past the careering hound, it slips in the mud allowing me time to get away.

At the next unmarked crossroads I unknowingly make another bad decision, moving further and further away from any villages. The road goes up and up, I know this can’t be right:

I am in blood
Stepp’d in so far that, should I wade no more,
Returning were as tedious as go o’er;
– Macbeth

Cresting the horizon, the rain works its way into my clothing and a farm sits on the switchback. This time I sense the dogs before I see them and am already going at speed before they come hurtling, barking out of the open gate. The wheels slip on the mud, my guiding silver trail is gone, I ignore two turnings off to the right, because to cross the road would mean slowing enough that the dogs would catch me. Suddenly the road drops away and I am sucked down a hill and into the inky blackness of a wooded, steep-banked track. I let the bike go for a while as the dogs disappear into the distance behind me, but then I can see or sense nothing. All light ceases save for the weak smudge of silver given out by my front lamp. It falls into blackness, useless. Down, down, always down, the poor bike rides over and through the potholed and water-damaged lane, and I hold on, as a mariner might grip the shattered stub of a mainmast and pray to ride out the storm that hammers his ship. Now the wheels are locked and I am sliding down the hill, mud, leaves, shit… SHIT! I nearly overcook a corner and hurtle over a staggered junction with no time to make an informed choice of road, always down.

Until the bike is at rest, sitting on the raised ford at Wellow with the waters lapping at my feet.

A long walk up the other side of the hill, I turn right, hoping that I am heading for Norton St Philip, and not deeper into Somerset. Under a viaduct, and up a long boring hill, grinding out each metre as the bike fails to find the granny ring. At the top I am in Hinton Charterhouse and heading in the right direction. Tired and hungry the rest of the ride is a blur, clipping the curve at Woolverton, back tyre deflating as I pull into the village. A mere seventeen miles on the clock for two hours or so of riding. Exhaustion.

And the day keeps on worring’ me, there’s a hell-hound on my trail,
Hell-hound on my trail, hell-hound on my trail.

Robert Johnson

Published in: on October 2, 2008 at 11:17 pm  Comments (3)  
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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

In John’s Workshop

Tools in John\'s Workshop

As it was sheeting down with rain all day, and I was working right up to the bell, John and I decided to postpone the Wednesday Ride and possibly make it a Thursday Ride instead. That did not stop us getting all bikey though, by eight forty-five in the evening I was in John’s workshop with some of the parts of the shopper bike. The frame and forks with stem and headset attched, and the rim, hub and spokes for the back wheel. John looked down at the Sturmey Archer hub I had just handed him and happily explained that it was assembled in August of 1984. He showed me the 84 8 stamp on the metal and said it was made in England, they stopped stamping the dates when the manufacturing was moved overseas.

John’s first job was stripping down, cleaning and rebuilding secondhand bikes that had been brought in for part exchange at a bike shop. He learned about classic hubs like the Sturmey – many modern bike mechanics in a shop would rather you bought a new hub that have to open up a Sturmey, but not John, he has an appreciation of good engineering. John got the stem off with a combination of brute force, a metalworker’s vice, GT85 and a big hammer covered in a rag. Then he made me laugh, he kept saying, “well I’m not going to take off the bottom bracket tonight”, then proceeded to do so, then “I won’t take off the cups on the headset” just before doing just that. We surmised about doing up old bikes and reselling them and I brought Coco’s Variety Store to his attention. This fantastic shop, owned by the legendary Mr. Jalopy is a model of recycled cycling, with bikes rebuilt from scrap with parts from other reclaimed bikes.

With the last bits of the bike in pieces, much chat and a cup of tea later, we decided to call it a night. Phase two of the shopper rebuild is now in operation – parts cleaning and repaint. John has the back wheel to build and I now have a lot of greasy bearings and oily bits of metal to clean up. then comes the repaint, and finally the all important reassembly.

The only problem is, I now have to go to London for a client meeting with ingrained oil on my hands tomorow.

We dwell in a kingdom of rains

As is now standard procedure for the British Summer, it’s been belting down with rain over the bank holiday. Monday itself saw an astonishing downpour that lasted well into the afternoon and filled all four of my garden waterbutts to overflowing in the space of a couple of hours. It was the ‘straight down’ variety of rain that I don’t mind cycling in, however, no chance of a ride as I was looking after the anklebiters and also – need some rain gear.

Now I have looked at jackets and whatnot – I can’t really afford to be laying out for the type of technical doodads that one needs on a waterproof when cycling. Even when I’m pootling I’m averaging about 13-14mph and I get pretty warm, I would need one of those wicking fabrics. The colours seem to be quite garish and there’s a lot of logos and fancy styling around. I’m all for fancy styling and brand names etc, I think that’s fair enough for those who want to be associated with The Discovery Channel team, or if you don’t mind having ‘Chris Boardman’ on your helmet when you’re wheezing up a hill at 8mph. To me it would make no sense to wear something that advertises that which I am not. That’s why I have bidons with Rivendell Bicycle Works‘ logo and a no-name top and shorts. I am not really an aspirational rider in that sense. I am willing to pay good money for something that is well crafted and will last (a Brooks saddle for example) but not to have a whacking great logo splattered over me. I chose my Lemond etape bike for a few reasons:

  1. It was at the top of my price range
  2. It looked well made and had good reviews
  3. It had a triple chainring and I’m a weed on hills
  4. It looked elegant and nicely styled, particularly the typography and colours
  5. Greg Lemond is a great rider – but it says ‘Lemond’ not ‘Greg Lemond’
  6. Lemond looks French – which for some reason looks really good on a road bike

Above all that, it was the only bike in the shop that didn’t assault my eyes with garish blocky logos and hyperactive colours.

I guess that makes me a bit shallow, but anyway with that in mind I have decided that my wet weather gear will be this:

As it drapes over the handlebars and attaches to the rider’s thumbs, the ventilation is second to none. It’s bright yellow, bloody cheap and crucially, it has a matching sou’wester!

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.

Operation Kestrel


Today saw Jez and Fiona of Novemberfive arrive in the village with a tremendous range of equipment. The idea was to launch an aerial photogrpahy unit, or ‘sky cam’ Jez had built, using his kite as a delivery vehicle. This was dubbed ‘Operation Kestrel’ due to the hovering nature of the camera. We spent some time tinkering with the unit in the workshop (headquarters of The Guild of Legendary Engineers) before taking two of my bikes to catch up with the others who had gone on ahead to the playing fields. The whole of the Mk 1. Kestrel Unit and transport device fitted into the front bag of the Brompton, along with a small box of tools and an extra kite to keep the kids amused.

Unfortunately, although it was sunny when we arrived at the playing fields, the weather quickly collapsed into heavy icy rain and biting winds. This meant we had to cut short the initial flights of Operation Kestrel, never-the-less, we gleaned a great deal of information from the couple of flights we got in. Although we didn’t get any aerial photographs we do have a really good idea of what we have to do next in order to ensure a successful flight. Operation Kestrel will recommence in a month or so’s time.

We had a great day with Jez and Fiona, who are always fantastic company, and I particularly enjoyed a bit of bicycling with Mr. Whitworth, a taste of more to come I hope, for we have plans, oh yes, we have plans.

Published in: on March 9, 2008 at 8:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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