Well, what a “summer” - I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
Let’s start with the worst which has to be the weather. What a strange year it’s been with a record breaking heat wave in March and then record breaking torrential rain and flooding in May, June and July. At the time of writing (early August) there are still severe weather warnings of flooding being given for some parts of the UK, and hailstones as big as golf balls landing in southern parts of France. I don’t know what the rest of August will bring, but let’s hope for something approaching normality. The rest of the world never understand why the British are obsessed with the weather, and just don’t get our joke about how Britain doesn’t have a “Climate” - we just have “Weather”.
The highlight of the year has to be the success of the GB racing cyclists. Yes, I know this is a cycle touring magazine, but we simply can’t ignore the fantastic rides done in the other sort of tour – that of the Tour de France with Bradley Wiggins’ win and then his Olympic Gold Medal in the Time Trial only a week later. The GB track cyclists, both men and women, have also been winning Gold Medals and setting new World Records in the process. My brother in Australia reports the Australian press are turning on their riders wanting to know why they aren’t beating the Brits!
I have spent most of the summer in France and have been delighted to see how the French press and public have taken to both Wiggins the man, calling him a “Gentleman”; and as the cyclist, calling him a true and deserving winner. The “very British” opening ceremony for the Olympics also seems to have delighted them. In fact, here in France, the Union Jack is appearing on all manner of things as a fashion icon. Tee shirts, belt buckles, handbags, mobile phone jackets and other items, all are adorned with the bright pattern that is our nation’s flag. Mind you, that didn’t stop a French paper saying that 70% of their readers think the GB track team cheated by having some sort of magic wheels, ignoring the fact the wheels were made in France by Mavic!
How does any of this affect us mere mortals? Because it means cycling is suddenly fashionable again. Whilst some will want to try to emulate Wiggins (some hopes!), others will discover the simple pleasure of turning the pedals in the open air with the ability to look over the hedge at the wonderful scenery there is to see. If it means “more bums on bikes” it has to be a good thing because, believe me, we need to encourage more Brits to try a leisurely ride. I have spent most of the summer in the Loire Valley of France, home to many beautiful Chateaux and very quiet byroads, traffic free cycle routes and considerate motorists. Many thousands of leisure cyclists of all ages and abilities come through this easy cycling area, and they are obviously not “dyed in the wool” club cyclists, evidenced by most being on hired bikes. I am sad and a bit ashamed to say that very few of them are Brits. All the other European nations and from even further afield (Australia, New Zealand, the Americas, Canada, Japan, South Africa) can be seen and heard chatting away as they pedal along and stopping in the cafes, but most Brits are still too lazy to get out of their cars. Sad isn’t it?Dave
It has been my pleasure this year to ride all our county CTC events except the “Back to the Fuchsia Rides” of which I was part of the organising team. The 100 Kilometre “Heart of the Shires” Audax UK rides 63 miles, was my longest ride for a very long time.
I was also the slowest rider on the Jubilee weekend Saturday event and walked up several of the rolling Northants hills and stopped to see some of the villages’ Jubilee fetes etc en-route, including some steam traction engines working.
With only a few minutes to spare on arrival at the Hallaton checkpoint I then cracked on a bit to make up 15 minutes on arrival back at Lutterworth Rugby Club- must have been that Welland Valley road race I got caught up in!
Thanks to Tony Davis and all his helpers for a great day awheel (well, most of the day awheel).
This event was first organised by Dennis Heggs back in the 1980’s and gets its name from the CTC Birthday Rides we hosted in 1984. Dennis also got the David Sulley memorial rides started which he organised for so many years. Dennis, our former county CTC secretary and later president, celebrated his 85th birthday on July 7th and amongst the cards he received was one from our county CTC, one from Cycle Chat and one from our family amongst many others. Dennis now lives with his daughter in Northamptonshire following a stroke some years ago.
He would have been chuffed to know that Gill Lord celebrated her 70th year by winning the Ethel Pickering Vase as oldest successful lady rider in the 200k “Heart of the Shires” Audax and the Jimmy Moulds Cup as oldest successful lady rider in the 100 mile Challenge Rides in June based at Bagworth. Well done Gill!
Like the “Back to the Fuchsia” rides, participation in the Bagworth Challenge rides was down this year, but I certainly enjoyed the 25 mile route and the wonderful food afterwards.Thanks to organiser Peter Witting and all his wonderful helpers.
Who was the oldest successful gent rider in the 100 mile event this year?Whoever it was will receive the Jimmy Moulds Tankard so often won by Dennis Heggs.
To rewind a little, after my exploits on the Audax UK rides I dashed back to Stanton-under-Bardon to pick up Ivy then it was off to Beaumanor Hall to officiate at the CTC East Midlands Region “Jubilee” rally so superbly organised by Ray Clay with help from members across the region, more elsewhere.
Saturday 30th June saw me chairing the CTC East Midlands Region committee meeting in Derby where the Rally was amongst many items on the agenda.As usual our national councillor John Catt gave us a very full account of CTC endeavours nationally.In December, John’s three year term of office on the National Council comes to an end but the good news is that he is standing again for a second term-our grateful thanks John.
The mid week President’s social rides, usually one a month, continue, see elsewhere.
Back now to the Meriden service on May 20th and it was a great honour to lay our wreath along with other organisations.Thanks to Keith Lakin for arranging the wreath again this year in our county colours of red and white. It was also good to meet the CTC’s new chief executive Gordon Seabright at the service and he certainly went out of his way to meet as many members as possible that day.
Finally, the president’s ride this year on September 16th starting from Abbey Park café at 10.00 am following Watermead Way to Cossington and on into the Wreake Valley. It will be almost 115 years to the day from that first county CTC ride of 1897-the Diamond Jubilee Year of Queen Victoria-this year of course is the Diamond Jubilee Year of Queen Elizabeth the Second, patron of our CTC for 60 years. Let’s have a great get together awheel.
by Ray Clay
In my last report, I said that, at the time of writing, the weather was abysmal. While I’m penning this, it has been fine for the past week but we are only just getting over the unprecedented heavy rain and floods that seemed to last for weeks. I’ve been on my bike every week but avoided the Soar Valley. Two weeks ago, I was down to lead a walk. I had hoped to use canal towpaths and footpaths by the river but, in the end, I had to go back to the drawing board and go for higher ground.
From 2012 East Midlands Rally
The Beaumanor Hall cycle camping rally seemed to be well received. We had over 40 campers this year which is a record. The timing of the rally coincided with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee so I decided to book an extra day in order that we could celebrate the event. The celebration took the form of a steam train/cycle ride. We cycled to the Great Central Railway station in Loughborough in good time to have a look around at the engine shed, signal box and other sights. John Allen arranged for the CTC headboard to be put on the front of the engine. We had an almost round trip but disembarked at Rothley station then rode though Watermead Park for a pub lunch in Birstall. Our new CTC member, Professor Clyde Williams gave us a talk on the healthy guide to cycling. The film this year was “A Girl a Boy and a Bike” an old nostalgic film with a young Diana Dors and Thora Hird. We also had the usual ramble to a hostelry in Quorn. I’m particularly grateful to Keith and Jean Lakin for their support. They work in the background doing everything from the booking in, cleaning up and providing refreshments.
I’ve enjoyed my sorties into Derbyshire arranged by John Allen. The weather could have been better but we’ve had some interesting rides along disused railway tracks like the Monsal Trail, Tissington Trail and Churnet Valley. The views have been spectacular and the engineering feats impressive. We managed to find some tea stops at railway stations. The Denstone Hall Farm Shop and café was particularly welcoming selling home made yummy cakes. The next planned visit is to Waterhouses and the Manifold Valley.
I’m looking forward to the Birthday Rides, this year in Shropshire which is not an area I know well. I’ve just received an email from the organisers with 28 attachments. So I should be armed with some good information when I get there. I thought the BRs last year at Framlingham were particularly good. Suffolk is my home county and I enjoyed visiting my old haunts and sampling the local brews. I did miss out on the Cornwall event which I decided would be too far and too hilly for me.
I do feel rather guilty that I haven’t supported more local events. I did, however, cycle John Allen’s “Back to the Fuchsia” event starting at Thornton. Luckily, the weather was kind to us. Not so, I gather, for the David Sulley ride. I do plan to join the President’s Ride at 10am on 16th September from the Abbey Park café.
Abbey Park reminds me that “Skyride” is due to be based there again on 26th August. It’s an event that is supported by thousands of cyclists riding around Leicester. The CTC will be having a stall in the park and we are providing volunteers to help out.
A reminder that the annual “Ride and Stride” event is being held on Saturday 8th September (always the second Saturday in September). As I reported in the last issue, it is the opportunity to visit some of the lovely old churches in the area and raise money for a good cause – to help restore some of the crumbling buildings.
Don’t forget to put 9th December in your diary, the date of the Cyclist’s Carol Service at Great Bowden. (see advert for further details), the CTC slide show and photographic competition on 17th November and the Mince Pie Run on 23rd December.Contents
by Peter Witting
Silk, Cotton or Coolmax?
I’m talking sleeping bag liners. We all carried our own when Youth Hostelling to save the hire fee. It had to be YHA approved. Now for H&S reasons they are supplied automatically when hostelling. But if using a sleeping bag for camping, the liner is still useful. Silk liners are the most compact, but cost around £30 and don’t last well being ultra thin. Coolmax at a similar price are the most bulky, but could be used without the outer bag in warmer temperatures. The regular cotton liner still seems the best bet at around £12.
Papaya Cream or Sudocrem?
Long distance riders know the benefits of applying a Chamois Cream to the contact points to prevent saddle sores. Assos even supply a small tub when you buy their best lycra shorts. If things do go wrong, then the old standby is Sudocrem, used for baby’s bottoms! It’s readily available and cheap. But there is a more effective product worth noting: It worked wonders for an around-the-world cyclist who arrived in Australia in a bad state! Papaya Ointment is made in Australia from paw paws. A 25gm tube from www.pawpawstore.co.uk costs just over £5 plus P&P. And yes, it worked for me!
External Bearing Replacement
Modern bikes with Shimano Hollowtech chainset & cranks have external bearings fitted at the bottom bracket. When they wear loose and need replacing, it’s fairly straightforward to replace them as a DIY job, provided you have the special crank adaptor tools. One fits over the external bearing adapters to tighten, the other helps install the near-side crank. IceToolz make a combined tool. I rely on the Park Tools website for technical instructions, (especially whether a thread is clockwise or counter-clockwise). Shimano’s own leaflet included with the bearings is of little use! The regular XT bearings cost around £25, but past experience led me to choose the more expensive XTR bearings at £35 in the hope they will last a bit longer.Contents
Charnwood Generals Runs Report
Last week I was feeling guilty because I hadn't started writing this report, and the deadline is looming. This week I'm glad I didn't, because at last I can report that yesterday, July 22nd, we had a nice long summer run, in sunshine, with no rain. At last summer is here, at least for a couple of days!
Joe led that ride, meeting at Ashby, then through Polesworth and Kingsbury Water Park to Middleton Hall via the newly-available track through the old Quarry & RSPB nature reserve. After elevenses taken outside in the courtyard there, we went on to the Royal Oak at Stonnall for lunch, then back via Shenston to skirt the northern edge of Tamworth, and home via Measham; a very pleasant ride, and such a relief to have good weather. There was still a lot of standing water in the fields, but it somehow felt as if the weather had turned a corner, and just in time for the school holidays!
As for the rest of the period since Easter, we've not done too badly I suppose, although the over-all impression is of rain.
Martin Ayling organised a very successful Birthday Lunch ride for us to Wilson Golf Club, where the catering arrangements met with great approval, and the service, with our host carrying eight or more plates at once, was akin to cabaret.
We took part in the 30 mile & freewheel rides, and the “Back to the Fuchsia” rides as well as a full programme of club runs, some of which had to be altered due to weather.
A fair number of our members joined up with the Easy Riders for a trip to London to see the Queen, followed by a tour of Belgium. See article by Lyn Dolphin.
The monthly car-assisted rides provide an opportunity to explore areas we would otherwise not reach. I managed to cycle to meet the drive-riders at Balsall Street for lunch, and join them in their ride back to their parking place via a very nice tea room in the Earlswood area. I was very grateful to Keith Tilley for his offer of a lift back, and I would like to take this opportunity to assure him that thus far I have not broken my promise to keep his homeward route confidential.
As I write, the Birthday Rides are approaching, and most of our regular riders will be attending, so let's hope the weather holds fine for them.Contents
Leicester Easy Riders
Although I have not been around for a lot of our rides or the Challenge Rides since the last issue we have managed a few good rides during the recent wet weather.
Back in May only Norman was able to support the Back to the Fuchsias Rides from our section.
Later that month we had our first car assisted trip which was to the Stratford area. This turned out to be a very good day with the temperature almost 30 deg.
Starting from Wellesbourne we were soon on quiet lanes and arriving at Shipston on Stour discovered that our visit coincided with the Annual Wool Fair held on this Whit Sunday.
With sheep shearing demonstrations and a variety of sheep on show this made for a interesting half hour before taking tea at a local 'CTC Welcome' tea shop.
From here we headed for Edge Hill and enjoyed a pint at 'The Castle' historical pub overlooking the battle field site. Leaving the pub we set off for our return with another refreshment stop at the top of Magpie Hill in the Burton Dasset Country Park. We also passed the Kineton MOD site before reaching Wellesbourne.
Another good day was enjoyed for our ride to Fineshades Woods which was a first for me. We had our lunch stop at the Park Cafe which was busy on this fine sunny day.
Our intended ride to Crick was cancelled by majority vote at the 11' coffee stop due to the diabolical weather conditions on the day.
Our second intended car assisted ride had to be abandoned but Norman and myself made a trip to Fradley Junction on a sunny day. Following the recent heavy rains flooded roads round Edingale necessitated a diversion on the outward trip.
Richards ride to Castle Donington Area was enjoyed on a good day and in a area not visited for some time.
The more recent trip to Wood Farm Brewery was in sunny conditions but I was caught in a short sharp shower on the way home which considering the past weather was nothing to complain about.Contents
Back to the Fuchsia Rides - May 13th
by John Allen
Entries were down this year to 30 with ages ranging from 9 year old Katie Fisher and 12 year old Heather Jones to several octogenarians, Morgan Reynolds, Pete Butler, June Mills and John Rootkin who drove from his home in Essex in the early hours to celebrate his 80th birthday riding our lanes-and gain points for the CTC national tourist competition in doing so, completing 50 miles.
We also had riders from Buckinghamshire and Northants and father and daughter tandem pair Alan Fisher and 9 year old Katie from Doncaster.Alan is a truck driver with Eddie Stobart, (needless to say the tandem was also green!). Everyone I believe enjoyed the fine weather on the routes and mileages of their choices.
Thanks as always to everyone who took part including Keith and Jean Lakin for their help throughout the day and the wonderful hospitality yet again from the proprietor of the Fuchsia Centre John Smith and his family. John, who celebrated his 80th birthday recently, is himself a former CTC member.Contents
Dennis Heggs - an update
by David Grimshaw
The 7th of July was the 85th birthday of long time CTC member and Leicestershire resident, Dennis Heggs. The photograph is of the day with Dennis and his grand-daughter, Drew.
Well known for decades by many cyclists in Leicestershire and beyond, he now lives with his family in Northampton after suffering a disabling stroke some years ago. Whilst in Leicestershire he lived at Stapleton and rode with clubs both in that county and later in Warwickshire. As well as a fellow cyclist, Dennis was also my work colleague and along with Morgan and Joy Reynolds, Mal and I have kept in touch since Dennis moved to Northamptonshire. Despite his immobility, he keeps in good spirit and is still cycling in his head!
He sends his thanks to those who sent him greetings for his special day which was spent with his family, with Mal and me visiting for lunch and a long natter. Dennis said it was nice to think he had not been forgotten!
We try and visit each month, with Morgan and Joy visiting monthly also, so Dennis gets a visit every two weeks, although this gets out of kilter with holidays etc.
If anyone would like to visit please contact either me or Morgan and we can give you contact numbers. I always have some car space so if you would like to accompanyplease contact to arrange.I usually leave Hinckley around 09.30 and I’m back by 14.00.
If you are not able to visit perhaps you might consider sending a letter, or a postcard from a holiday destination - the pleasure that Dennis would get from that small gesture would be almost immeasurable.
Contact me, David Grimshaw or Morgan Reynolds for address details. I’m on 01455847375 or firstname.lastname@example.orgContents
A Tale of Three Cities
by Lyn Dolphin who also took some of the photos
Way back in the summer of 2011 Soo Underwood talked about the possibility of going to London and staying at Thameside YHA to enjoy the Jubilee celebrations and to do some cycling around the London area in the relative peace of the two day Bank Holiday. With that in mind Pete Gale then suggested that we continue on to the port of Dover and have a mini tour in Belgium for the rest of the week. After much discussion there was a group of twelve for London, five of us would continue on to Belgium on the Wednesday, six would stay in London for the week and one would return home on the Tuesday.
As the weekend of the 2nd June 2012 dawned, we woke to a lovely sunny day, which was a very pleasant surprise given that the forecast for the week had been one typical for this summer, showers, rain and then more rain. Pete and I travelled down by car, as did Nick Tudor-Jones, Keith Tilley and Martin Ayling, all of whom made up the 5 that would continue on to Belgium. Joe, Brenda and Dave Ottey, their two granddaughters, Soo and Jackie all travelled by train.
It is a long time since I had been to a youth hostel, and I had warned Pete that the surroundings would not be palatial, but for the price we were paying to be so close to the centre of London, it would be more than adequate. We had a room just for the two of us, with an en-suite, you didn’t get jobs to do, there was a coffee bar open till late, and you were not kicked out between 10am and 5pm. On the negative side, there were loads of school children – and I mean loads, but I guess this was to be expected with the weekend we had gone for, and do you know, you don’t get soup when you order an evening meal anymore (we always had soup when I toured using youth hostels before; yes it was over 30 years ago, but you did get soup).
We were all there by 4pm, so we decided that as it was such a pleasant afternoon we would have an early evening meal and eight of us would go out on a short ride following the banks of the Thames to Greenwich using cycle route 4. After meandering about through some very dodgy parts of Deptford, the likes of which you would not want to use after dark, nor on your own, and showing Jackie how to fasten her bag on correctly when the lean became greater than the angle of the Tower of Pisa (a very important piece of knowledge learnt for later), we emerged at Greenwich by the Cutty Sark. After pictures were taken we partook of some local ale at the Trafalgar Tavern before returning to the hostel as the rain started.
The following day was the day the flotilla went down the Thames. We decided to use common sense and not take the bikes with us, which would have left us all constantly worrying about their safety whilst we swapped waves with the Queen, so we caught the tube to Vauxhall and started walking back up the bank of the Thames to find a suitable vantage point from which to watch. We arrived at Lambeth Bridge, and with the help of some strategically placed railings found a spot to call our own for the duration of the long wait. At one point the men went off to find some food and drink to bring back to us. At another point Soo, Jackie and I went off to find the toilets – they happened to be tucked away in a pub, so, to be fair to the landlord, we had to have a warming drop to drink. When we returned I was told by Joe, in a lamenting voice, that Pete wouldn’t let them do that.
It really was an amazing experience to be in the crowd for this rare event, the camaraderie amongst the crowd was excellent, and a sense of taking part in something special was almost tangible. Eventually the flotilla came down the Thames, the bells on their platform led the way and 20 minutes later the boat transporting the Queen and Prince Philip went by. Much cheering and flag waving later we decided to move off, just before the rain started, and torrential rain it was too. Only Soo and Jackie decided to brave the weather and walk all the way back, and they were rewarded by seeing the end of the flotilla at Tower Bridge, with the Queen and Prince Philip taking the salute along with fireworks off the bridge.
Monday dawned and all twelve of us decided to ride together. It is a ride that probably none of us will forget in a hurry, but perhaps not for the usual reasons. We started off by going to Tower Bridge in order to see the remaining tall ships from the day before. Just as we had gone over the bridge and returned to the bank, the siren went off, the bridge opened, and a Thames barge with sails in full splendour, glided through. There then followed a very twisty route through small roads, with many discussions regarding routes, GPS comparisons, and some slight disagreements until we came across the Limehouse cut.
Now Jackie is Soo’s friend from Northumberland. She is very new to cycling, and is still unsure of her ability on a bike. Because we are all seasoned cyclists, it is very hard to remember how daunting riding on a canal tow path can be for the first time. Imagine if you will, there is water on the left, a bridge supported by a hard brick wall on the right, you find yourself heading towards the brick wall and over correcting the movement is just oh so easy to do. The next thing you know you are flying from the nice solid tow path into the canal 5 feet down... - and that is what happened to Jackie. Reactions from everyone around were immediate, with hands reaching down to help her. Jackie for her part was amazing, a broad smile on her face, and her bike with bag still attached in her hands. It was only after she had passed her bike up to the outstretched hands and had waded to, and climbed out using the ladder a few feet back down the canal, that the “Waterways” theme for this year’s photographic competition came back to me. A picture of her passing her bike up to the helpers, with the caption, “This ford is perhaps a little deep” might just have been the winning entry!
After everyone’s bags had been raided for dry clothes, and the nearby Lidl had been used to buy new shoes and a bag of rice to dry her mobile phone in (much to the bemusement of the girl on the till after a sodden twenty pound note had been peeled from Jackie’s purse), a cafe was found for coffee. We all, including Jackie, then carried on to see the Olympic village, which disappointingly could only be viewed from the platform of Pudding Lane overground station. Then on via The Greenway, to The Gun pub at the entrance to West India Docks, where we were rewarded by seeing the tall sail ship “Tenacious” leave the Thames to go back to her mooring in these docks. This is one of only two tall ships in the world to be designed and built with the purpose of enabling people of all physical abilities to sail side by side on equal terms. A return via the Greenwich foot tunnel and a reverse tracing of route 4 took us back to the hostel.
On the Tuesday we woke to wet weather, with the forecast for more of the same, so everyone went off to do their own thing with an agreement to meet up for the evening meal and for some of us to go on a guided tour. This starts at Bermondsey station and ends in the old tunnel entrance of the Thames Tunnel started by Marc Brunel and completed by his son Isambard. It was the day for the jubilee flypast too, so at the duly allotted time Pete and I stood on Westminster Bridge to watch the spectacle. Unfortunately, due to the weather, the flypast was a very restrained affair, but the Red Arrows flying over with their red, white and blue smoke trails are still something to behold.
It was throwing it down with rain as we were due to leave to get to the start of our evening guided tour, so Pete decided to do the gallant thing, and not walk in the rain, but to drive Soo, Jackie and I to the station, with Nick, Keith and Martin taking a brisk walk in the rain. The tour was very good, but very wet, and the entrance to the old tunnel, had we not known its historical significance, was almost like being asked to sit in a large vertical concrete pipe, where you had to almost crawl through an entrance at the top to get in and go down a scaffolding staircase to sit at the bottom. However the guide was very informative and enthusiastic, and we learnt about the building of the tunnel and the inspiration that Marc got from woodworm to develop his method for tunnelling under the Thames. This was to the accompaniment of the whoosh from trains passing beneath us now using the old tunnel, and the pump that is constantly necessary to keep the tunnel from flooding.
Now for the cycle touring proper.
This was Pete’s first cycle tour, and I didn’t realise at the start, but it was also to be Keith’s. Of course this gives us the chance to share another story, which I am sure Keith will not mind me recounting (well he will, but no matter, he shouldn’t have let me be the one to write the article!). On the Thursday evening, before we were due to leave for London on the Saturday, I get a call from Keith to tell me that he has a problem, his passport has expired, and although he had called the passport office numerous times in an attempt to arrange an appointment to get an emergency one issued there had, so far, been no joy. Now for those of you that know Keith, you will know he can be the master of charm, and he must have played all his cards on the Friday, sweet talking himself past both the guard on the door, and sharing Tilley stories with the lady on reception to get himself both an unscheduled appointment and the all important documentation on the Friday.
Anyway, on with the main story. We arrived at the parking in Dover which Pete had found, retrieved the bikes from the car, loaded them up with panniers, maps and wet weather gear, and freewheeled down to the port. After following the very well marked cycle route into the port and to the front of the queue we cast our eyes around for Martin’s car as he was continuing on from Bruges to his house in Germany.
The crossing was lovely and smooth and Dunkerque port quickly appeared into view. The weather was sunny and warm and the wind was blowing strongly and at our backs. After some instructions from Martin as to how to miss the main road we made our way out of the port (no well marked cycle lane here) and past the oil refineries to reach, and pass through, Dunkerque itself. Keeping the sand dunes between ourselves and the sea we reached Bray-Dunes for a quick cup of coffee, before crossing the Belgium border after posing for the obligatory country sign photograph.
At Duinhoek we caught the coastal tram. This tram line is the longest in the world at 42 miles and goes the entire length of the Belgian coast. In its entirety it makes 70 stops, and we were travelling for 52 of them. We all tried to catch the same tram, but the driver soon came down to us to tell us that only two bikes were allowed on one tram at a time, so Pete and I waved goodbye to Keith and Nick, leaving them to catch the one behind.
Martin by this time had booked into our bed and breakfast, a small, picturesque, moated castle called Kasteel ten Berghe, which was to be home for the two nights we were there. He then cycled over to meet us at Blankenberge.
As we left Oostende and approached Blankenberge it started to rain, when we got off the train and met Martin at the pier stop it was still raining, when Nick and Keith arrived 20 minutes later (they, much to their consternation, had had to change trains at Oostende whereas we had had a straight through train) it was still raining, and so we decided as it was now 8pm and very wet, to go to a bar that Martin had seen, to have an evening meal. The meal was very good, Martin told us about the tower room and strange beds at the bed and breakfast, and the rain (as I had forecasted and everyone had pooh-poohed) stopped. We then followed Martin’s back wheel through the lanes to arrive at the bed and breakfast at 11pm glad that Martin had already checked us in and that we had no “lateness” issues.
Even in the dark the castle looked splendid, yes it was small and possibly more a chateau than a castle, but even so very pretty. Our room was a family room up in the tower. It was actually made up of three rooms plus a bathroom and a separate toilet. Pete and I had a large room with a bed which was almost a four poster, other than the fact that the posts were separate to the bed. Keith bagged the room with the “proper” bed in it, Nick and Martin shared a room where the beds were in cupboards, similar to those used by some servants in olden times where the cupboard provided the only privacy allowed.
After having a drink from the honesty bar we retired fairly swiftly.73 miles driving, 1.5 hours ferry crossing, 35 miles tram and 50 miles cycling.
We had decided, prior to getting to Bruges that we would take the day, Thursday, as a sightseeing day without the bikes. After having breakfast in a truly stunning dining room, with wooden panelling, chandeliers and large wooden tables, we caught the bus at the end of the driveway into Bruges. After having coffee and going on a canal boat trip the weather started to turn from being full sunshine to rain. We separated at lunch with Keith, Nick and Martin choosing to go to the Bruges museum, whereas Pete and I wandered through some of Bruges’ very pretty streets to the folk museum. And it continued to rain.
That morning we had agreed, as it was nice, that we would cycle back into Bruges to have an evening meal. Of course, that afternoon it was very wet and plans were changing. After much deliberation and discussion the weather finally made our minds up, the sun came out and the ground started to steam, so we went the two miles down the road to a Chinese restaurant. I’m not a fan of Chinese, but this was amazing, possibly because it also did Japanese food too, so there was also sushi and teppanyaki to choose from, as well as traditional Chinese dishes. A lot of it was freshly cooked from ingredients you chose from one bar and took to the chefs at another counter to cook from you. We made sure we got our money’s worth!4 miles cycling.
Friday was the day to move on from Bruges to Ypres. It was also a day of 30 mile an hour winds, and yes it was to be a head wind. West Flanders is quite flat, and does not appear to appreciate hedges, so it was to be the equivalent of doing a whole day in the fens, in the wind, with all of the touring paraphernalia – lovely.
After skirting the edge of Bruges we left through one of the old city gates, at which point we bid farewell to Martin, who was going to look a little more at the sights Bruges had to offer before he continued his journey on to Germany. After crossing a busy main road we cut off using the marked cycle routes through Peerboom forest. We were just discussing how nice and smooth the road surface was when the tar got sticky, then we turned the corner to be met with a lorry laying hot tarmac and the road roller behind it flattening it out. We pulled off the road to let the machines go by. Pete managed to get onto the hot tarmac and ride away, but Nick and Keith were not so lucky, they managed to make large dents in the new road surface and their wheels stopped turning. The workmen were not happy and with much gesticulation got us off the road and pointedly used the road roller to take out these unwanted indentations on their lovely newly laid surface. After carrying the bikes past the length of newly laid tar we met Pete at a road junction, and after tar clearance by sticks we continued on.
As we reached Zedelgem a rain cloud came over, which was the only prompt we needed to go into the local cafe bar and have a cup of coffee. Coffee drank, the wind had blown the rain away, and we continued on. Now until this point the town of Bruges and the forest had sheltered us from the wind, but there were now places where you came from behind some trees, or buildings, and the wind caught you and took your breath away. We continued to follow the cycle waymarks (a very interesting arrangement whereby if you have a cycling map there are numbers at various junctions, the waymarks point you to these differing junctions), through Torhout (a very pretty town centre) to Kortemark which we had decided we would make our lunch stop. As we pulled into the town centre, large rain clouds were looming and the wind really started to gust. As it picked up a shop sign and deposited it a few yards further down the road we decided it really was time to stop, and soon. The bar just opposite the main church was open and did a large plate of pasta and a glass of beer for a very reasonable price, even Pete (at this point) was saying that he was now full and wouldn’t want anything else to eat until his evening meal.
We left Kortemark, and as over here an old train line had been converted into a cycle path. But unlike here there were no ground undulations, nor hedges, to shelter us from a now battering head wind. We plodded on, averaging about 8 miles an hour, for about 10 miles. Then, like an oasis in a desert, a cafe appears alongside the trail. It is too tempting and we walk in. Originally it was just to be for coffee, but Pete spots people eating pancakes (and just like Dorcas Lane in Lark Rise to Candleford, pancakes are Pete’s one true weakness), Keith and Nick see the Banana Splits on the menu so I just have to join in and have some pancakes too, only because I needed them for energy purposes!
After successfully restoring our energy levels we decide to leave the railway line and its relentless wind and use some of the small lanes in the hope that there just might be slightly more shelter. Of course some of the lanes went cross wind, so instead of just pushing against the wind your wheels now got took away too! However because of our choice we started to see some of the Great War’s sights and memorials. The first one we came across was down to Nick’s knowledge as he had heard of Guynemer prior to us visiting. We saw his memorial, in the village bearing his name, commemorating this French national hero and his 53 victories in the skies whilst marking the place where he went missing in action. The memorial is topped with a stork in flight depicting the fact that he was captain and commander of the Storks squadron.Contents
A SUMMER IN FRANCE- By Dave Binks Continuing the story.
The story so far. Dave has taken a job in France, working as an assistant for a UK based holiday company (Susi Madron’s “Cycling for Softies”) in Angouleme, near Cognac. His duties are to act as local mechanic and representative to ensure the holidaymakers have a good time as they cycle between the top class hotels in the area. He has settled into his accommodation and is now involved with both his job and the local cycling scene. He has just experienced one of France’s famous summer storms.
The story continues…..
Thursday August 30
Autumn is starting to show itself as it was pretty cool first thing, despite the sun being out. Out of my window I could see some of the fallen branches brought down in yesterday’s storm and was glad it had stopped. The forecast was for it to warm up later, so I spent time in the workshop finishing off two bikes before washing and cleaning my own after yesterday’s wet ride.
After lunch, when it was much warmer, I rode north east to a large forest where the map showed a “Monument des Fusillées”. This I discovered was a large monument in a leafy forest where a large group of French Resistance Fighters had been shot by the Nazis in WWII. Afterwards I searched out another couple of features called “Fosses” in the Braconne Forest. Of course, coming from Leicestershire where the Fosse Way runs through north-south throughout the county I knew “fosse” is Roman for a ditch, so expected to see some sort of big ditches or holes in the limestone. The first, called “Fosse Mobile” was both difficult to find and disappointing when I did, as it was a flooded cave system totally locked away because it was dangerous. All that could be seen through the padlocked gate in the security fence was a small black hole but a sign showed how the hole led into a system of underground caverns, many of which were flooded. The other, rather aptly named “Grande Fosse” was literally an enormous hole in the ground, 145m in diameter and 42m deep with almost vertical walls. Some 217 steps had been made in one of the side walls to allow safe access almost to the bottom, but it was so overgrown with trees and bushes inside that, despite toiling down the steps and back again, the size could only partly be appreciated. Nevertheless, it was a very big hole, entirely natural and was worth the effort to get there and climb down.
Time was now marching on, and I decided that, rather than take the more pleasant but longer route around the outskirts of the City, I would take the bull by the horns and simply ride home straight through the City centre. That’s not as bad as it sounds because it’s not a very large city and is quite compact, although it’s still about 5 miles from north to south.54 miles
Friday August 31
So much for the nights when I could sleep only under a sheet – last night I had two blankets back on the bed again, and had to put the room heater on for a few minutes when I got up. I wanted to go to Aubeterre again today to do two things. To get my free lunch in the “Susi” hotel there, and to revisit the underground church, but this time with my SLR camera, extra lenses and tripod for better photos, so fixed the luggage carrier and bag on my bike to hold them.
Despite the early chill, I soon warmed up in the sunshine as I made my way south down the D19. This road runs along the top of a ridge for many miles, but only rarely can you actually see the view either side. This, together with the poor road surface made it rather a disappointing ride, but it was certainly quiet. Just out of curiosity I timed the traffic. In 15 minutes, I only saw 16 vehicles of any description moving, and that is in both directions and includes tractors!
I had a really nice lunch in the two star Hostellerie de Perigord, and I was totally full when I paid and left. Had I not known I was going to spend an hour or so in the town I would not have eaten so much. In fact I was so full I had no need for another meal when I got home later.
I got my photos, and the tripod really came into its own, as some of the exposures were 16 seconds long in the darkness of the vast underground church. It was 4.30pm when I realised I should be going home, so came straight back via Montmoreau-St-Cybard where I stopped briefly to take a photo of a Chateau I had not seen the first time I had been through this small town.59 miles
Saturday September 1
A misty start soon cleared away to become a reasonable day. I needed to go for some shopping and to the bank and that, together with some housework, took most of the morning. I then went into the workshop for most of the rest of the day. There were still some bikes that I had never looked at, but were well down on my priority list.
However, a few days ago the post brought some paperwork that would need to be completed when I came home which required a report on the status of each bike. I couldn’t very well say “Couldn’t be bothered” so thought I should get them as far as the parts situation allowed.
I had noticed the kitchen staff leaving early last night, and on enquiring why, was told there were no customers in the restaurant, so they were sent home! There was no danger of that today though, as a wedding reception with over 90 guests started arriving at 6.00pm. As I went to bed, the “boom, boom” of the disco was well underway.8 miles
Sunday September 2
It was almost still dark when the alarm went at 6.50am, so the days are getting short now. It was also a bit misty and pretty cold so I made sure I had a thermal vest on and a windproof top on when I rode to the clubrun meeting point for 8.00am.
I arrived just as they were moving off and didn’t even get a chance to try to get some warmth back into my fingers, but the usual handshaking with all and sundry, even when riding, did help a bit. We went straight to the village hall in Roullet, where we stopped. I could have had another 35 minutes in bed had I known they were coming to my village! There was a lot of activity at the hall with lots of cyclists all getting ready to do one of three organised rides. Many of my group went in to sign on, but having no details and also not wearing a helmet which I suspected would be a requirement, I didn’t bother and just waited outside for a few moments. Route sheets had been prepared, together with a map, but as the route sheets consisted of little more than a list of village names I thought I ought to just stay with my usual group.
Very soon the “fast/slow” split took place and I went with the faster ones. This certainly was fast, with two younger guys, not normal attendees, setting quite a rapid pace. As riders could start whenever they were ready, there were peope spread out all along the course already and our faster pace meant we were continually catching and passing them.
The three routes shared a common start and finish section, but with the medium and longest routes having extra loops added on. Navigation was easy as the organisers had been around the course and painted arrows on the road at the junctions telling which way to go. All you had to know was which numbered arrow you followed, 1, 2 or 3. Such road painting is illegal in the UK, but can be seen all over France wherever cyclists ride this type of event.
The ride became a mini race, with weaker riders gradually being left behind. As usual, the short little hills were attacked by short sprints, but when the longer climbs came, I often found myself moving up through the group, until the last climb, which was the longest and hardest, when I actually managed to ride away from them all, including the young guys who had been doing all the speed work. At the top, I eased and waited for the others to catch up, only to have the younger ones sprint by as fast as they could.
It had obviously upset them that this old man had dropped them up the hill and “they would show him”! I realised we were probably not more than 10 miles from the finish, and wasn’t sure if I should chase after them or wait, so wasted a few minutes in “no man’s land” - not riding fast enough to keep up with the frontrunners, but too fast for the slower ones to get up to me. Eventually my competitive instinct took over and I gave chase again on my own. I really had the bit between my teeth now and just went for it, eventually catching them again at about 4 miles to go. I could tell by the way the two younger guys were looking at each other and me that they were not very pleased to see me again, and at the next little rise both attacked like crazy, sprinting for all they were worth. However, I know that such frantic efforts really hurt and no sooner had they got to the top than they had to ease off, allowing me to get back again, but without the aching legs they undoubtedly had, because I had ridden up more steadily.
We were virtually back at the hall when the route suddenly swung right to do a little loop extra, I swung right, but they just went straight on and into the finish, effectively cutting off part of the route, so I think the moral victory was mine.
The thing that gave me a lot of pleasure was that I happened to be wearing my “Great Britain” racing top! At the finish, the hall was very busy, with free drinks and biscuits available, courtesy of the organising club. One guy asked me where he could buy a GB top like mine, because he liked the design, but I had to tell him it was an old top and the design has since changed. Perhaps I should have sold him mine?
A notice board announced there had been 225 entrants, but that of course did not include those like me who had “freeloaded” by not signing on and paying the entry fee. Looking at my bike computer I realised my average speed for my whole ride was nearly 19mph – almost race speed.
The afternoon was warm and once I had recovered a bit of energy, I got my bike ready (mudguards, carrier, panniers, lights etc) for the next few days when I would go to see my colleague in the next area, some 60 miles north, near the city of Niort.57 miles
Monday September 3
Susi Madron has about ten areas in France where she operates and the closest to me had its base in the small village of Vallans, near the city of Niort about 60 miles north west of Angouleme. During the first week’s training I had met Adrian, the young man who was going to run that area, and knew he was quite busy, whereas I had no clients at all for a few days. So I had cleared it with the office that I should ride up and stay with him for a short while to give him a hand. It also meant I would see a different area and get away from my hovel for a while.
His area, known as the “Venise Verte” (Green Venice) was the area originally offered to me at the job interview. It is very flat and has numerous canals and shallow rivers that wander around on their leisurely way to the sea and is also very lush and green. The rivers and ditches used to be used for transport before the motor car came along, and so small punts and rowing boats were the main method of moving around, hence the name. Susi had offered me this area at the initial job interview, but having looked carefully at the map, I knew the area would be very flat and that to me equals boring, because I do enjoy riding in the hills, and I said I wasn’t interested. She had immediately swapped me to the Angouleme area, where the area is more undulating, but, as she admitted, the accommodation was not as good.
My route up to Vallans took me through Rouillac, where I had watched the time trial stage of the Tour de France, and on through Bresdon, where I stopped for the picnic lunch of banana sandwiches I had prepared before leaving, and some cakes bought in the patisserie in the village. The scenery was starting to get boring, with very large fields, few woods and hedges, and only very gently rolling hills in between the increasingly widely spaced small villages. Later, by the time I reached Aulnay, even the roads had given up trying to inject anything interesting into the ride and had started to become very straight. There was a headwind, and the total lack of any kind of shelter from hedgerows became rather trying.
On arrival at the not unpleasant small town of Aulnay, a bottle of Coca Cola was devoured in a bar. A little bit of interest was added when passing through Dampierre sur Boutonne, where a large Chateau sits right beside the road. Just north of there was a large forest with what looked like roads going through it, but previous experience has taught me to beware of these “roads” as they are often unpaved tracks so I stayed out of it and reached the old N150 at Villeneuve la Comtesse. I still had about 10 miles to go and had to decide between the main road or getting lost in the small side roads. I stood at the road junction for a few minutes watching the traffic and decided it was pretty light, with all the through traffic on the nearby A10 Motorway. It was a good decision, as the combination of good surface and straight road meant I got to Beauvoir sur Niort pretty quickly and with only minimal traffic.
Andrew had said to ring him when I was near and he would come and meet me, so I stopped and rang. When he found out where I was he said “Wait there, I’m in the same village doing the shopping.” I pulled into a café and had a coffee and he joined me after 10 minutes or so. We rode together for the final miles and I see why he said he would meet me as his accommodation would have been awkward to find. What I hadn’t realised was how good his accommodation would be. I was living in little more than a shack with an outside toilet, and he had a complete fully furnished house and garden to himself. In fact, when not being let to Susi, it is hired out as a “Gite” (a local house to use as a holiday base). The only thing I could find to complain about was that there was no swimming pool(!) and the beams in the bedrooms were low enough for me to bang my head! One thing I didn’t think much of was his workshop, which was only just slightly larger than a domestic garage, but without any special facilities for storing lots of bikes. He had no means of hanging the bikes up, so they simply had to be leant one against the other, thus ensuring constant repositioning to reach a specific bike in the stack. There was no bench, nor even a small table on which to put tools. I know I would have devised something to counter both those problems, but Andrew was not very creative and had just continued to struggle.
After a shower, I gave him a hand in the garage before we walked to his “Logis” (base hotel) which was effectively a B&B also doing evening meals. There we both ate a good meal in the company of a couple of his holidaymakers who were due to return home the next day.67 miles
Views expressed in letters, articles or editorial are not necessarily those of the CTC or the Leicestershire & Rutland CTC.