Salisbury bike lanes, a study

As I had yet again left it too late to get my car tax done in time, I decided to ride my Brompton into Trowbridge and take the train to Salisbury. The morning was wreathed in mist as I hurtled down the A361, surrounded by the terrifying thunder of huge trucks squeezing past me. It barely took me any time at all to reach Southwick, but I came up short against the big dip in the road. I still arrived at the station with ten minutes to spare, enough time to note that the price of a ticket had gone up by 30% again.

On arrival at Salisbury, rather than shoot up Fisherton Street I took some of the little bike lanes on the Avon Cycleway, come let us ride them together:

I like this bit with the complex sluice and weir, that chap is about to ride over the little bridge

I like this bit with the complex sluice and weir, that chap is about to ride over the little bridge

I'm still following him, now we weave right.

We're still following him, now we weave right.

They've generously carved out some of the carpark for us here.

They've generously carved out some of the carpark for us here. Nice to see the double yellow lines

Now we're being taken out to Castle Street, the lane gets smaller and there are cars sharing the road

Now we're being taken out to Castle Street, the lane gets smaller and there are cars sharing the road with us. Careful.

Oh a nice orange shopper on Scots Lane! Check out those whitewall tyres

Oh, let us stop to admire a nice orange shopper on Scots Lane! Check out those whitewall tyres

Ah this is more like it, later on, heading down the nice stretch by Waitrose, the river on the right.

Ah this is more like it, later on, heading down the nice stretch by Waitrose, the river on the right.

Not really the sort of riding that builds up the strength in preparation for the continental ride.

France and Belgium 4-7 April

we’ll be setting off at 0530 in the morning. We’re driving to Dover in the scout minibus. Loading the bikes onto the ferry to Dunkirk. We’re riding from Dunkirk to Ypres, then next day we’re going to head down into France towards The Somme. We’ve no idea how far we’ll get, but on Monday evening we need to be in Amiens to catch a train to Boulogne Sur Mer. Tuesday morning will see us riding along the coast to Callais and the ferry to Dover.

Oh yeah, and we’re camping!

I might try and do bits of bloggin while I’m over there if I can find some wifi. Otherwise, if you are so inclined, please keep updated with my Twitterfeed http://twitter.com/ghostorchid though again, I’m not sure how much tweeting I’ll be doing.

Wish me luck!

Published in: on April 3, 2009 at 11:10 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Salisbury Trike

I saw this rather nice tricycle in Salisbury yesterday, it was being wheeled across the Market square. It would appear that Zoe’s not the only one riding three wheels in Sarum City.

Published in: on March 27, 2009 at 4:57 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Fecund Motion of the Soul: Of Salisbury bike shops and the sheer joy of riding for the sake of riding

My colleague and friend Zoe, she of the Trikidoo has been saving up her pennies and, after much deliberation, has chosen a bike. I went with her to the bike shop (Stonehenge Cycles in Salisbury) to pick it up. I’ve bought stuff from them before, they even ordered in my awesome poncho for me, and I’ve always been impressed by their customer service. However I was not prepared for how much their customer service would blow me away when watching them set Zoe’s bike up for her.

I knew they’d looked after her Trikidoo nicely, setting up her  dog basket etc and servicing it beautifully, so they knew Zoe. She’d been in once before to try out some bikes and be sized up for the bike, we were going in to pick up the made up bike. Zoe isn’t bikey (yet), but they were brilliant, the mechanic checked over the sizing carefully and made a few adjustments. Then he went through some basic maintenance tips, showed her how to get the wheels off, how to adjust the brakes. Took her through the gears and explained how they worked, made reccomendations for carrying things and which lock to buy and then checked and double checked she was happy with the set up.

Taking Zoe through the set up of her new bike

Taking Zoe through the set up of her new bike

They had done her a deal on some additional stuff like the water bottle, lights, saddle bag, pump etc. so the bike was fully kitted out. Two thumbs up to Stonehenge Cycles for customer service, they really looked after her and made sure the bike was perfect for her.

Zoe and I often work in our own offices so I only see her about twice a week. I got an email from her yesterday after she popped to the leisure centre on her bike at lunchtime:

I’m back – slightly delayed because I rode to the leisure centre on my fab new bike, and on the way back got distracted by the fun of riding a new bike in the sunshine, so took a longer route home. It’s lovely. I’m so in love with my bike! I now see why you enjoy riding so much..

Zoe's new bike, expertly and perfectly set up for her

Zoe's new bike, expertly and perfectly set up for her

That’s the beauty of a bike that is totally tailored to your needs. For someone who doesn’t ride much, getting hold of your perfect bike is an absolute revelation. I recall going for a ride with my brother in law along the Bradford to Bath towpath, and he shot on ahead quoting Withnail and I “I feel the fecund motion  of the soul!” as he exceeded the 10mph speed limit. There is that point when you ride when you find yourself grinning for no other reason than the sheer pleasure of riding a bike. I’m smiling now, remembering a perfect ride,  those moments where it just doesn’t matter where you’re actually going, what your speed is, or how many calories you’re burning. All you’re aware of is the bicycle, the rhythm of riding and the pleasure of being there in your present moment and how perfect it is. These moments of loving cycling just for the sake of cycling are to be savoured, enjoyed and recalled with happiness.

Almost as pleasing, is to see it in others.

Published in: on March 3, 2009 at 10:40 am  Comments (1)  
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Dead Chain

Dead Chain, spotted in the kerbside ice crusted leaves, Guilder Lane, Salisbury

Dead Chain, spotted in the kerbside ice crusted leaves, Guilder Lane, Salisbury

Published in: on January 8, 2009 at 8:05 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!

Moving Kids around Town with a Trikidoo

Now this is great. My colleague has just got hold of a Trikidoo, (just before the price went up as well), essentially a pedal rickshaw for children. It’s in a princess pink to please her two girls and it just looks great. She was determined not to use the car to drop the children off at school and nursery, but both locations are quite a reasonable walk from her house. In the forthcoming winter weather, the prospect of long walks in the cold with tired out children and a dog was pretty bleak. Now with this marvelous piece of pedal-powered people transportation, she’s going to find it so much easier and certainly much more fun.

Now my colleague is keen to customise this fine trike further, I have one of the famous Rivendell best bike bells in the world to give her, she’s looking into a front mounting basket for the doggy (at the moment he runs alongside) and a must for this caffeine addict, a cup holder. It already has a cargo bag under the back seat, but there’s loads of things that could be added – umbrellas, flags, extra bags – oooh, what about a trailer?

It certainly adds a much needed dose of cycle chic to the streets of Salisbury, it’s bound to be a talking point, and hopefully we’ll see a lot more of these around our towns soon.

And they're off. Note dog on left running alongside.

And off they go. Note dog running along side at the left.

Ting ting!

Published in: on October 24, 2008 at 6:48 pm  Comments (3)  
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The House by the Railroad

The day after John and I pootled/sprinted our way to a cup of tea I rode to work in Salisbury and back. The first time I did that, I thought it was an epic ride, this was the third time I’ve done it this year and it’s incredible how quickly it has become just another journey, absorbed into the day-to-day riding. That’s not to suggest that the ride itself is in any way ordinary and unremarkable, I would be hard-pressed to find a more picturesque and pleasant ride of that distance locally, it’s just that to me it no longer seems epic. I am making the journey to Salisbury in about one hour fifty minutes now, and the return journey in two hours to two hours fifteen. I was once told that the top of the spire on Salisbury Cathedral is level with the bottom step of Warminster town hall. I’m sure this is a Wiltshire old wives’ tale as that would imply an incredible rate of climbing over twenty four miles, 404 feet to be reasonably precise. In any case, it is significantly harder on the way back compared to the way there.

En-route, I have come to recognise and anticipate certain landmarks, one of which is a house in Wylye village which fascinates me. I call it The House by The Railroad, as, although it looks nothing like Hopper’s famous painting with that title, it has a sort of melancholy feel to it that I associate with Hopper’s paintings. And of course it is actually by the railway line. A while back someone posted a comment on this blog that led me to an article about Hopper’s love of cycling and particularly track racing, so there is a little bit of synergy here. Anyway, here is the House by the Railroad:

The train track runs scant feet behind the back of the building. I like the fact that it’s on a hill and has a lot of steps up to the front door. Although there are other houses around it, it seems somewhat isolated from them, having an aura of its own, indeed I cannot recall what the houses around it look like, so unremarkable are they to my mind. For some reason I would love to live there. Both my wife and I find the clattering of trains in the night to be a soothing sound, on this line the trains must sound their horns as they pass the myriad crossings that are scattered throughout these villages in the Wylye Valley. It has a faint whiff of the gothic about it, from the artlessly scattered chippings the mound seems to rise from, to the pillar supported porch and the open window, not to mention the cat lurking on the driveway. The house is small and set back a little from the road, yet its presence is huge and it demands, and commands, my attention every time I ride past.

A serious house, on serious earth – as it says in the graphic novel Arkham Asylum by Grant Morrison. Interestingly, this subtitle in turn is taken from the poem Church Going by Philip Larkin, which also contains the words:

” …Hatless, I take off
My cycle-clips in awkward reverence, ”

My view of the house lasts all of ten seconds, yet I am ready for it a good mile in either direction or so from where the house stands.

Published in: on July 29, 2008 at 10:01 pm  Comments (2)  
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Wylye Valley Siren Song

Last Thursday, the 29th, I set off to cycle to work in Salisbury. My last commute along this route had been fine on the way there, agony on the way back. I put this down to carrying everything in my dad’s old mountain rucksack. So with that in mind, I loaded up the panniers and set off. There were a couple of initial stops while I worked out the best position for the panniers so they didn’t bang my heels, but generally speaking it was a good clear ride. Standing up out of the saddle tended to alter the balance and the bike would literally throw a wobbly, a slightly nervous prospect on Black Dog Hill. Once I was safely enveloped by the utopian riding offered by the Wylye Valley the bike settled down and relaxed into the road. Either that or I had become used to the new balance.

Ah but it was a glorious ride, sun-dappled lanes and the piccolo song of the blackbird accompanied me as I cruised the route. As I neared the fifteen mile mark, I was overcome by a most curious sensation. I didn’t want to go above fourteen miles an hour, though I was not tired, sore or out of breath. Then, as I rode alongside a crystal clear brook which decanted musically over a miniature sluice gate into a larger pool, I was struck with the notion that I must remove my helmet. There was an odd feeling in my head, I sensed the instruction clearly, so clearly that it seemed as though a voice was on the edge of pushing itself into my consciousness. I drifted to the soft verge, where willows trailed into the cold, playful water, and to my surprise found that I was smiling. As the bike carried on under its own momentum, the feeling faded until I experienced a ‘snapping out of it’, a drawing back, and I started pedaling again. I didn’t actually take my helmet off. Passing the farm shop, not yet open, I surmised that perhaps I had encountered a kind of siren, some sort of psychic manifestation of the Wylye Valley route itself. What would have happened had I given in and removed my helmet? Would I then have been compelled to abandon my bike? Perhaps enter the water and slip below its icy surface into the world below? Only the bike would have been left, panniers full “..They say the back wheel was still spinning when it was found by the side of the stream. And no trace of him were ever found”. Perhaps the strangest thing, to my mind anyway, was the sense of immediacy; this was very much the present, not some longed for nostalgia that the ride had evoked. Oh for sure the ride is reminiscent of long summer cycles with the original Highway Cycling Group. Days when the verges were vibrating with the sound of crickets, echoed back by ticking of a freewheel. Days when we would cycle along a forgotten ghost road on the downs while lapwings flocked about us, five hundered wings beating in unison. Squinting into the sun to look for a skylark, a tiny dot producing such glorious melodies; waiting outside a sleepy post office, guarding the bikes against no one while my father bought the drinks and the cakes. Yet this was not a longing for a return of those days, this was a new song, the sheer pleasure of being alive, in this place, in this time, and on my bike.

The experience coloured my whole day, and the rest of the ride bought further richness. A stag headed oak, majestic in the center of a field of ripening corn. Another corn field, this one laced with blood-red poppies, revealed by every puff of the tiny breeze tipping the corn ears down, exposing the flowers hidden amongst the stalks. Even the traffic heavy final dash into Salisbury could not diminish the power of the Wylye’s siren song.

On the way back, I stopped off at the farm shop, specifically to buy some more lime curd. They remembered me from last time and knew I would come back for more. A quick apple juice and stretch of the legs and I was away again.

At the farm shop

It didn’t matter at all when I passed the spot again and nothing mysterious happened. Deeply happy, I pedaled for home.

On the trains again

On Wednesday, I cycled to Trowbridge, caught the train to Salisbury then rode to the office.

The Brompton on the platform

The journey there was pretty uneventful, except for the sheer pleasure of riding my bike. I didn’t even have to rush as I had plenty time to spare. On the return trip a chap at the station, a fellow Brompton rider, asked me about my Brompton bag, he’d been trying to track one down for a while.

At Warminster, a girl, probably in her mid-teens, got on the train with a bright red bmx. It was a nice bike, with a 360 gyro, and she backed it into the corridor and sat on the saddle for the whole journey. Earphones in, she lent forward over the handlebars and adjusted the front brake a little. On arrival at Trowbridge, I was impressed to see that she didn’t dismount at any point, she freewheeled the bmx off the train and pushed herself along the platform with her feet, in clear defiance of the no cycling on the platform rule. I thought she might be headed for the new bmx and skate park right next to the station, it was packed out with kids having a great time, pushing hard to create new stunts and tricks, grinding wheels and pegs off bars, attempting ludicrous jumps and flips, failing, sliding down quarterpipes on their knees before trying again and again. It was a joyous sight and one in the eye for the nay-sayers who claim kids don’t want to exercise or play outside anymore. The girl was in front of me as I headed past the hurtling bikes and boards, but she turned into town, accelerating over the bridge as I rode the other way and headed down the A361 for home.

Published in: on June 28, 2008 at 10:14 pm  Leave a Comment  
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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.