Night Riding to the Thankful Village

It’s not long until we go on a cycling camping trip to Belgium and France. I remain woefully out of shape, carrying at least a stone and a half too much weight, the majority of which seems to be round my middle forcing an inadvertant ‘whuff!’ noise to escape from my mouth whenever I bend down to pick anything up. With a barely suppressed sense of mounting panic, I decided that I’d better get another ride in before we go. So I arranged a weekend pedal once again with Mike.

The night before, I made an adjustment to the rack on the bike. I like to have my panniers quite far back so my heels don’t clip as I spin the pedals. Unfortunately this has the unwanted side-effect of obscuring any light attached to the rack. Also, with a tent slung over the panniers, a light on the saddle bag would be covered. So I fashioned an extension bracket out of an aluminum strip. In order to keep it flush to the rack I used my tap and die set to cut some threads into the metal, ensuring a nice snug fit with no wobbling. Using a hacksaw, I carved off a bracket from an old plastic light set and bolted it onto the metal. It worked perfectly, pulling the light out from under the pannier and, as it’s box shaped, remaining strong. I then added the HYmini wind charger to the handlebars, choosing to sling it underneath to keep the top clear of clutter.

As Earth Hour kicked off, I took the bike out for an eerie spin through the country lanes. The Bike Hut Ultrabright front light was certainly bright enough to ride with at speed and confidence in the dark, but it was a little leaky, throwing some of the powerful beams up into my face and ruining my night vision somewhat. However, this did seem to have the effect of underlighting my face in a demonic manner, which is always good. I spent the best part of an hour shooting around the roads, trying to make the rear light fall out of its new location and also testing out the speed I needed to be going to get the HYmini wind charger turning in order to create charge.

I stopped the bike at Tellisford crossroads and propped it up against a five-bar gate. I walked twenty or so yards away down the road and turned back to look at the light arrangement, trying to imagine the right eye-level to get a driver’s eye view of what my bike would look like in the dark. I was pretty pleased with the result. In combination with the Hi-Viz vest, and the stickers on my helmet I should be visible from space.

Away from the comforting pool of the bike lights, the darkness enveloped me. Thick cloud smeared the sky above the horizon cutting out the starlight and I suddenly felt very vulnerable and exposed. This crossroads and these lanes were old and filled with the weight of unspoken and unrecorded events. Mere yards away, the red LEDs on the rear of the bike blinked out an organic rhythm, moving in a line from left to right and back again. For some reason I enjoyed the frailty I felt then, the smell of damp turned earth, the way the searing white light from the front of the bike picked out freshly-exposed flints in the field beyond the gate, the silhouette of the tower of All Saints church.

Arthur Mee's King's England: SomersetTellisford was dark, perhaps because this was still Earth Hour, or maybe the owners of these big houses had retreated into some inner sanctum, unviewable from the outside. As we are going to be visiting some WW1 battlefields in France and Belgium on this ride, I recalled that Tellisford is one of the initial so-called ‘Thankful Villages’; thirty-two villages in England and Wales which lost no soldiers in World War One, all those who left to fight came home again. The writer Arthur Mee popularised the phrase in the 1930s when he wrote ‘Enchanted Land’, the first volume of the The King’s England series of guides. It is sobering to remember how so many communities lost so many people in that first ‘great’ war, what a huge vacuum the loss of so many young men must have created in a village. In WW1, villagers often enlisted as a group, and were kept together in the regiments. They trained, barracked, traveled, fought, and so often, died together. Tellisford truly had much to be thankful for in the return of all her young men from those killing fields.

Arthur Mee wrote especially of Tellisford “We do not remember a more charming place in all our journeyings”. So with that in mind, I remounted my bike and pointed it back through the darkness to my own village.

Oranges and Lemons

Though the shop and post office in our village makes a manful effort to supply the needs of the village and surrounding environs, (homemade plum jam filled victoria sponge anyone?) there was a distinct lack of oranges and lemons to be had there today. I came away with a cucumber, some local lettuce and a very small lemon – but that wasn’t going to help me make elderflower cordial. So, having finished work, I took to the saddle of the Brompton and headed for The supermarket. I decided that I couldn’t face the Wingfield straight so I went via Tellisford and Farleigh Hungerford. It was very hilly indeed, but on a Brompton it doesn’t matter, a leisurely pace is all that can be managed so there is no need to sweat, strive and strain up hills. I crested the tallest hill at the point where I used a photograph I took to make the Highway Cycling Group poster:

Many people have asked how I did the painting of the landscape in the background, but I assure everyone that it is real. The only things that weren’t there in the original photo are the words and the clouds which I added from another photo.

Easing over this hill saw me take a fast descent via some sharp corners and a final climb to Farleigh Hungerford. I took a right onto the main road and passed the castle. Then on into Trowbridge – only to discover that the Tesco Express had neither oranges nor lemons. So it was down the cycle path to Bradford-on-Avon and the Sainsbury’s there. Soon I was departing the supermarket with a riding bag full to the brim with fruit and goodies, but that also meant an enormous amount of extra weight. Never mind, it sped me up on the downhills and gave me a work out on the uphills. I took the same route back again – stopping now and again to pick more elderflowers for the cordial. At the bend by the bridges at Farleigh Hungerford I stopped to read the rules of the Farleigh Swimming Club. This group own a field next to the river in a spot ideal for a bit of wild swimming – but it’s strictly members only.
Farleigh Swimming Club

I liked the texture underneath their information sign where the new poster had been stuck over the old, which was probably stuck over an even older poster.

Swimming club sign

The number to call for membership having been noted, I started the ascent of the hill by the castle. Oh this was a bad one, I could have done with the drop nose Wilderness Trail Bike saddle on my Mountain bike, the Brooks on the Brompton, although being a fine and beautiful saddle, does not give you much scope for sliding forward. I have also found that standing up a Brompton only really works if you’re going downhill. I struggled up and turned left into the village itself, another hill but out of the traffic and the heat it was fine. I carried on along the road, up and down up and down, broken up with sporadic forays into the hedge to pick elderflowers. My arms, slick with sweat, were now dusted with yellow pollen. The air itself was thick with it. As I sped down the final descent I passed a tandem going up the hill, a man and woman gave hearty if breathless hellos as we passed each other.

Back at the house – all goods were unloaded and once the kids were in bed, stage one of the cordial making commenced. Now the flowers are soaking overnight in the zesty water – the smell is delicious.

Today’s ride was gloriously warm and bathed in sunshine. The sights and smells were that of an English summer, lazy looking horses in fields, heavy pollen, fresh-mown grass and wildflowers gracing the verge. The sounds were the ticking of a sturmey archer hub, the distant drone of lawnmowers, the rich and lyrical singing of blackbirds in the hedge and the joyous shouts of children splashing in the river.

It was a perfect ride, and I dedicate it to the memory of Noah.

The Delivery Service: Too Posh for Post

Today I seized the opportunity to get a little cycling in despite the variable weather, sleet, sun and icy wind. My wife had printed out a pile of leaflets about the village preschool open day and had to deliver them in the nearby village of Telisford. We were down at her mother and father’s house using the cutter to chop the leaflets into shape, there was some debate as to who was going to go to do the leaflet drop. When getting the car out was mentioned I immediately stepped in with an environmentally friendly, two-wheeled, solution. The father-in-law was just starting a relay series of lunches for the various relatives gathered at the house and it looked like mine would be a while so I elected to do the leafleting before eating. I rushed back to our house, put on my waterproof and Hi-rez vest then broke out the Brompton. The Lemond was looking a bit dejected so I’m going to have to take it out soon, the Brompton has certainly been getting all my attention recently, its status slowly ballooning on the category cloud in the right hand column of The Highway Cycling Group blog. As I had my enormous trousers on, I clipped up to avoid chain snag, I looked like a cycling Cossack. With the leaflets in the bag on the front I set off down the road, a nice freewheel down to The Mill. Telisford is atop a steep hill, in fact the church and one house is at the summit, the rest of the village descends down a no-through road, culminating in a steep series of old and uneven steps down to Telisford Mill, recently converted to generate electricity. I quite enjoyed leaving the bike at the gates of these large houses and crunching over the gravel to the front doors. However I rapidly became annoyed by the distinct lack of letterboxes. Some of the houses had many converted outbuildings, stables, up to six cars, but not a letterbox in sight! Are they too posh to receive post? Do they have some secret means of receiving mail? The final stagger down the steps to the mill ended with me wandering hopelessly round someones garden until they came out and asked what I was up to. Ah, hand delivery, just like the old days. The Mill was churning out the Kilowatts, I could hear its whine fading as I puffed up to the Brompton waiting by Crabb Cottage (who do have a letterbox). Then up the hill and right towards Farleigh Hungerford, pausing to take a photo of a seriously ploughed field.

The Ploughlands

By now I was longing for that lunch, I wondered if it was ready yet. Just a few more houses to go, but quite spaced out (the houses, not me). The final house was about ten feet over the crest of the first hill towards Farleigh, the impossibly picturesque Lodge. It’s for sale, three bedrooms and splendidly isolated. Hooray, they had a letterbox though it was extremely small. Luckily, the leaflet I was delivering was also tiny.

The Lodge

Job done. Then it was almost downhill all the way until the in-laws’ house, where I tucked into a plate of eggs, bacon, chips and beans laced with HP sauce.

Now that’s good living!

High Water Everywhere

Well the rains are back, and things are looking pretty bad road-wise around here. Less than a week ago we had some incredibly heavy rainfall which led to almost instant flooding in the village. Three of the routes out became impassable and the river threatened to start crawling up the hill. The road to Telisford became a river, no tarmac could be seen. Yesterday I had an appointment in Bradford on Avon, it took me about three quarters of an hour to travel the five miles in and an hour to get out again. I sat in my car thinking it would have been a damnsight quicker to come in by bike. 

As I wrote before, bikes can really come into their own in times of flooding and disaster. Contrast this image from the BBC with the stranded cars and even lorries that have featured heavily in the news recently.

photo courtesy of the BBC

I have to go to the hospital tomorrow for a check up on the abscess, hopefully I’ll get the all clear, allowing me to get out on the bike again.

Published in: on January 17, 2008 at 10:49 am  Leave a Comment  

Off Road on a Racer – Near Miss at Woolverton

Another lovely evening after a rainy day. I took the Lemond Etape up and down the hills past Telisford to Farleigh Hungerford. On to the B road, round past the castle and up a really tiny lane just after the bridges. No qualms about using the triple chainring, I didn’t fancy sweating it out. What I was looking for was a route my wife and I had ridden many years before that linked us up with the Canal Path. I knew there was a bridleway off that road somewhere, but when I reached Westwood Manor it was apparent that I had gone too far down the road. On seeing my bemused expression, an old chap cutting his hedge asked if I was lost. “No” I replied “I know where I am, I just wasn’t expecting to be here”. With that I turned back down the road searching the hedges for the opening. About half a mile down the road there it was, public bridleway. A sodden path that started off with a huge clay mudbath and a pool of brown water that covered the whole width of the track. The racer’s tyres clogged pretty quick so it went over my shoulder as I waded through. It didn’t get much better as the route descended into some light woods, rocks, loose soil, roots and mud, much more mud. In fact the route was so mucky I was half expecting a group of Belgian racers to come heaving past me at any minute. Beneath the tree canopy all was dark, the silence broken only by flutterings amongst the leaves and the bubbling of water. It was only about quarter to half a mile long, but I’m glad the Etape only weighs around 22lbs. I rode the last bit as it flattened, but not dried, out, exploding onto the road in a shower of mud. Hold on, this hill looked familiar, I was halfway down the scary 17% run into Iford, nothing for it but to point the front wheel down and go for it. Unfortunately there was a car coming up. I was amazed and relieved to discover there was just enough room on his right to get past without skidding or falling off, though I didn’t actually know that until I was past him, at least there was a tiny verge to bail onto if I’d got it wrong. A cheery wave to Britannia on the bridge at Iford, she was looking the other way and didn’t acknowledge me. Then up the nasty hill on the other side. Ha! John had fixed the triple chainring so I could get down into the granny gear, the hill, although long, was therefore possible to climb without stopping or vomiting. As far as I could see, that wasn’t the right bridleway I had carried the bike through, so I decided to call it an evening. Out onto the A36 which was full of traffic and heading back for the village.

By the Woolverton house hotel there is a staggered juncttion where I wanted to go left. Waiting on the other junction that goes off to Norton, was a silver estate. There was no other traffic around and I was hitting 27mph (in a 30mph area) when the driver just pulled out in front of me, I kind of guessed he might so I was already moving to the left and braking so I was right next to him when he got over the road and not slamming into his side. But then he slowed, turned left into my path as I was right next to him, THEN signalled! I braked harder, the back end of the bike slid out, but I controlled it, ending up just easing around his right side as he turned side on. I wasn’t angry, it was a middle-aged couple and to be honest I’ve got used to assuming someone is going to do something stupid like that so I was absolutely ready for it. The only thing was that I wasn’t even certain he had seen me at all, even though I was right next to his car at one point, then behind and finally on his right. He went on ahead and I carried on down the road. When I got to the Mill I could see them parking up so I wheeled into the car park and politely said “excuse me” I then went on to say he had cut me up very badly and had he not even seen me? the chap was very apologetic and said he HAD seen me, but didn’t realise bikes could go so fast so he thought he had lots of time to pull out in front of me and turn left. He admitted that he hadn’t checked his rear or side mirror when turning left and only signalled as an afterthought, it was only his wife saying “Watch the cyclist” that made him signal. I told him that a huge amount of accidents are caused by people overtaking cyclists and turning left suddenly, not to mention the lovely mess I would of made on the side of his car at 27mph if I hadn’t been ready. As I said, I was polite, and so was the chap, he asked if I was ok and said that it was a close shave and it would teach him to always check his left mirror before any left turn “I told him ‘you never check your mirror'” said his wife. Luckily it was a case of no harm done and we wished each other a pleasant evening.

Every time I approach a junction I’m looking out for a car doing something like that, even so, 27mph is a lot of speed to have to scrub off on a bike AND retain control over such a small distance. The moment of anger I had during the actual encounter had passed so quickly, I’ve found that’s happening a lot now. I used to shout something like “WATCH OUT YOU TWAT!” in a driver’s window when they did something like that, but there’s no point really. Do that and all you’ll get is a shocked look, the two-fingered-salute or worse. I’ve only ever been run off the road once, when I was a teenager on my way to my friend Nick’s house, someone forced me onto the verge where I crashed, I was too busy going head over heels to get even a make of car. It was white, that’s all I know. I have, however, had more than my fair share of drivers overtaking and turning left, sometimes signalling left AS they overtake, incredible, but after a while I’ve got used to it and have even come to expect it to happen.

Anyway, back at the ranch, the bike was hosed down, washed, degreased and re-lubed ready for the next ride. That’s another 10 miles, giving me 121 this week.

Folkin’ Hills

The weather started off in an appalling fashion this morning, a quick look at the rain gauge showed nearly quarter an inch of rain fell last night and it was still spitting, it looked like there was going to be nothing bikey going on today. Every year on the bank holiday weekend at the end of May, a Folk Festival takes over the centre of Chippenham, so the whole family went to have a look. I dressed in my moleskin trousers, braces and thick white cotton shirt so I would blend in with the crowds of Morrismen and folkies, I drew the line at clogs, though I do own a pair. By the food tent, someone had chained up an old Peugeot racer, seriously used. It still had suicide levers and some pretty tatty bartape.
racer chained to the fence

Not long after the children had gone to bed, the sun came out, so while my wife read her new Jodi Picoult, I sprinted off for a spot of hill climbing. By The Mill there’s a turn which takes me up an easy hill to Telisford, thereafter the hills get a little more interesting, a combination of short and steep and… long and err steep. Not long by mountain standards, but long enough and steep enough to steal the oxygen from my lungs, though anyone who races even a little would probably find them easy going. The last one up to the sign for Farleigh Hungerford is a struggle, though I’ve doing it for a few months now and it’s certainly easier than the first time I attempted it. I hadn’t ridden the road for two weeks so I was surprised to see a missing hedge and a new semi-surfaced road that goes I know not where. At the moment I have a sneaking suspicion it’s a new drive for Farleigh House so I’m not going to go racing down it until I have some idea where it goes.

I hadn’t changed into my cycling gear so I was pedalling in my trousers and shirt, complete with braces, my shoes didn’t fit into the clips too easily either.
climbing in braces
It was a lovely evening, not quite lighting up time, the corn on either side of the road glowed a rich golden colour as the low sunlight raked across the fields. The hedges were alive with blackbirds, sparrows, pipits and thrushes darting about, and a magnificent cock-pheasant seemed to be in no particular hurry to get across the road in front of me.

There is a point on a cycle ride where you think to yourself “if I go down this hill, then I have to come back up it on the way home”. If you have never travelled that route before, your enjoyment of a particularly fast downhill may suddenly be marred halfway through as the thought of struggling upwards in the opposite direction enters your mind. But once you are committed to a downhill, that’s it, you have to go. As soon as you’ve passed 25mph, you’re beyond the point of no return and you’d better hope you’ve got the legs, and the lungs to get back up again without walking. This little route has two hills like that; fun down, pain up. To make matters worse, the cable of the front mech on the LeMond has stretched slightly so downshifting was tricky. The granny ring was not an option, not because of some macho attempt to storm the hills, but because I couldn’t get onto the bloody thing, and not for the want of trying. Weaving all over the road, out of the saddle, gasping for breath, it’s a good thing I rarely see anyone on that road. Hurtling down the final hill to The Mill, I realised with sudden horror that my camera had come out of my pocket at some point. With the light fading I turned back to look for it. Of course it was right at the end of the final hill in Farleigh Hungerford, so I did the whole ride twice! I was in such a hurry to find the camera which I correctly imagined would be in the middle of the road, that I didn’t realise I had taken the first three hills in the big ring without finding it hard. That felt pretty good, it was almost worth the panic of losing the camera just to achieve that.

Published in: on May 28, 2007 at 10:33 pm  Leave a Comment