Author Archives: SelfPropelled

Harvest Moon

A few pics of today’s Harvest Moon – still need to get the settings completely right, and think I might need a bigger lens! Still, it was a nice evening’s pedal out to Bawburgh; gets very dark on those country lanes though.

It was a little more overcast than I’d hoped, and my attempts to lure bats into remaining within shot were not successful – they’re a little on the quick side. Good to see lots of them flitting about down by the river though.

 

Yorkshire 3 Peaks

It was with some trepidation that I approached the Yorkshire 3 Peaks challenge, a 24.5 mile hike up and down 3 mountains of a sizable nature, aiming to do it in around 12 hours. I’m used to cycling long distances, but am a little rusty when it comes to walking involving steep ascents and descents; different muscles would no doubt come into play, and my knees don’t like going downhill. As well as a bit of an adventure a group of friends and I were also raising money for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, a worthy cause and a weekend away from the rat race.

Equipped with my new Scapa hiking boots (thank you Cotswolds), moderately broken in, my buddy Chris and I travelled up from Norwich by car on Friday afternoon, tackling horrible weather and a atrocious traffic on the A1, before arriving at our campsite and meeting up with the rest of the team – Mike, Rachel, Ian, Rachel, and Dan, as well as Megan and Gethin, Mike and Rachel’s two youngun’s who sensibly opted for a day out with their mother rather than dragging themselves up any mountains; in their case it would have been crawling, as they’re both under 3, but who’s to say we wouldn’t be crawling by the end of it. As pre hike preparation we carb loaded on cake, courtesy of Rachel, and had a couple of beers to ensure we were properly hydrated.

There’s something great about arriving at a campsite in the dark, pitching your tent, settling down, breathing in the fresh air, and wondering what everything is going to look like in the morning; Yorkshire does not disappoint.

We were up in good time the next day, breakfasting on porridge, before setting out to our starting point.

Lobster ready for the offingg

Lobster ready for the offing

The first peak was Pen y ghent, a 691 metre climb, and the weather was not looking favourable at this point. Still, everything was in working order as far as limbs and morale goes, and we embarked in high spirits.

Pen y ghent CafeDisappointingly the team didn’t let me stop for second breakfast at the cafe, where as we ambled past the smell of wafting bacon set my stomach a rumbling. A mild ascent by a steep climb followed, accompanied by a quick donning of waterproofs as the rain swept in. Pen y ghent was doing its best to quench our spirits but we made it up, and down, and then up and down some more.

Here are a couple of videos demonstrating our heroism:

Climbing Pen y ghent

Thankfully the weather cleared up after Pen y ghent, and we were able to doff our waterproofs and march ever onwards. Whernside was next, albeit after a long route march and a bacon roll stop (finally got my bacon), an ascent of 728 metres.

Whernside entailed a gentler albeit longer climb, but with the sun out, and post a bacon roll, anything was possible. We made it to the top, but the descent proved tortuous on tired knees with ligaments not as good as they ought to be.

With one peak to go we steeled ourselves for the last ascent – 723 metres up Ingleborough, although a helpful comment from a local about how the last climb was probably the most difficult didn’t particularly embolden us. By this stage we had seriously achy knees and tired legs going on, aside from the few mountain goats amongst us, and I was getting concerned about the frequency of my old nemesis…sheep…you can’t trust them you know.

I was particulary impresssed with Dan and Ian, who conquered a massive fear of heights to make it up a particulary steep section on the Ingleborough leg. Well done lads! There was a bit of lying down and heart rate reduction that had to occur after that.

A few other memorable events; Chris pointing out the enormous black sheep, that were in fact cows (or bulls), he should have gone to specsavers, the Nazgul circling as we crossed the dead men’s marshes, not being allowed to stop at the pub (a good call as a I wouldn’t have got up), marching songs about mammoths and trousers (I can’t remember the words), and in general being out in the open, with good friends, and burning some calories.

Video from the top:

All that remained was the descent, and time was ticking on with the sun starting to set. We were a little behind schedule, due to injuries, but we started as a team, and ended as a team.

It was a relief to get back to the cars, and then campsite, a BBQ courtesy of Rachel, cake and beer. We made it round in about 13 hours. which was a stirling effort considering some seriously comprised knees.

Team, I salute you, a brilliant effort and thanks to Mike for organising it. Think we’ve raised over £1,500 for CF too, including gift aid so all worth while. I especially enjoyed the challenge, company, and getting out in the wilds again. If you fancy donating here’s a link:

http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/team/Misfits17

Needless to say the journey back was grim, but thanks to Chris for driving.

Driving home - very wet

Driving home – very wet

I think I’ll get back on my bike now, it’s easier on the knees, and pubs are more frequent.

Post dedicated to Stef, who sadly passed away from CF several years ago; you are sorely missed.

On yer bike again..and a rant

It’s been great getting back on my bike again over the last few weeks, after a significant pause due to travelling for work and being otherwise busy. I turned 39 over the weekend and have resolved to try and manage my work-life balance a bit better, and to get healthier both in body and spirit. Being totally focused on the job just isn’t good for oneself, and actually makes you less productive at work; starting to write my blog again will no doubt keep me motivated.

The last major cycling I did was back in March when I took a holiday in Tenerife with my brother, sister-in-law and their kids. It was a great break, and Tenerife is brilliant for cycling; many a professional team have training camps out there. I hired a bike for a few days and cycled up Mount Teide, Tenerife’s volcano and one of the longest continuous climbs you can take on in Europe.

Tenerife - view from balcony

Tenerife – view from balcony

Tenerife - bike hired from Bike Point

Tenerife – bike hired from Bike Point

I’d only cycled half-way up Mount Teide before Lobster demanded a beer break, then decided it was time for a manic descent around many a hairpin and exhilarating steep section, all in glorious sunshine.

Tenerife - beer break with Lobster

Tenerife – beer break with Lobster

Tenerife - descent from Mount Teide

Tenerife – descent from Mount Teide

I recommend Bike Point for your bike hiring needs if you’re visiting Tenerife; reasonably priced and you can hire the works as far as shoes, helmet etc goes, check out –> http://www.bikepointtenerife.com/

Anyway, back to the present day. I’ve been commuting to work each day, and trying to get out for a longer cycle on my way home. The Norfolk countryside is fantastic in the summer weather we’ve been experiencing. Cycling the few miles to work, and experiencing all the traffic made me wonder why more people don’t get on their bike for the short journey they have to make? The benefits are there to be claimed; get fit and lose weight, spend less on petrol, less pollution, less cars on the road, you can say hello to more people, less stress, the list goes on.

But saying all that there are many reasons why people are nervous about using a bike more often, and after experiencing a few near misses in the last couple of weeks I can understand why. I know drivers get annoyed with cyclists when they don’t obey the rules of the road, and I can understand why, got to be mutual respect from both sides, however the following points have really wound me up over the last few days:

  • You know those decorations called indicators on your car, well can you please use them. Whilst most cyclists will try and anticipate what you’re doing it’s not always easy. Why are we so bad at this in this country?
  • Please can you not overtake me then immediately turn right, causing me to slam on my breaks to avoid running into you. Nearly went over someone’s bonnet the other day.
  • Pulling out from a parking space without indicating, immediately in front of me, is not very polite.
  • Opening your car door as I cycle past, whilst causing a bit of excitement and an adrenalin rush, is not something I particularly enjoy. Please look in your wing mirror.
  • My personal hate at the moment; using your mobile phone whilst driving, whether it being to text, check Facebook, or speak to your Mum. On a roundabout the other day I witnessed someone smoking a cigarette with one hand, speaking on the phone with the other, and as a result nearly causing 3 accidents. Grrrr. I’m sure waiting a few minutes to finish your journey, or pulling over at the next available opportunity isn’t going to impede your social life too badly, and perhaps it will stop you from flattening someone. There was a brilliant clip I saw today of an advert in a cinema showing someone driving. At the same time the cinema texted everyone watching whereupon they all pulled out their phones to check the message, in the meantime the car crashed – what a brilliant advert; no-one could resist the allure of their mobile.
  • Why do a lot of people dropping off their kids at school think the rules of the road no longer apply, same in car parks? Not safe for your kids let alone a cyclist trying to dodge you.
  • In rush hour traffic many cyclists are going to be a lot faster than you. I can generally get to work more quickly on my bike than I would driving. Please don’t make every effort to overtake me then pull in front of me, often then breaking sharply because there a long queue of traffic.
  • Don’t get annoyed if a cyclist overtakes a cyclist, pulling out to do so. This is perfectly legal and safe. It’s made unsafe because you can’t bear waiting a few seconds for the manoeuvre to complete.
  • If you can’t drive that expensive 4×4 or equivalent safely, with awareness of how big your car is, buy a smart car or something equivalent. It’s safer for all concerned.
  • One for the pedestrians; just because you can’t hear a car doesn’t mean there’s not a cyclist coming up as you step onto the road to cross. Please revise the green cross code.
  • I could go one but best stop before this turns into more of a rant.

In return I’ll not jump red lights, not undertake you (I will probably still overtake you), not cycle on the pavement unless it’s really too dangerous to do otherwise – in which case most of the time I’ll push my bike, indicate with my arms, obey the same laws you do, and continue to cycle to lessen the horrendous amount of traffic of the roads these days.

And before people say that I don’t get it because I don’t drive, I do, and I pay road tax – a lot because my car is quite old and not especially environmentally friendly (hence one of the reasons I cycle more).

Thankfully the majority of drivers are fairly competent and sympathetic to cyclists, so well done to most of you. Hope the rest of you evolve soon or the selfish gene takes its course.

If you’re not a confident cyclist because of the points above, and the sheer volume of traffic on the roads, I can only encourage you to persevere. It sometimes takes a bit of bravery to keep safe; pulling out to stop stupid overtakes near roundabouts, not cycling in the gutter etc. And if you see a campaign for more cycle paths, or a cycle to work scheme, take advantage.

I received a surprise mini DV for more birthday (thanks Sheila, Norm and Sue) which I can attach to my cycle helmet and use to ‘video’ my cycling exploits. Looking forward to setting it up and perhaps publishing a few examples of close encounters on this blog; not looking forward to the bad experience but happy to record it for posterity. Drivers should do the same and record any foolish cycle manoeuvres, or bad driving experiences, just to keep thing fair – it’s that mutual respect thing.

So, enough of that already. I’m back on my bike, enjoying it a lot despite the above rant. Got more cycling trips planned, some micro-adventures, and perhaps a 3 month tour in Europe next year if I can convince work to give me the time off.

On yer bike all!

Edited with BlogPad Pro

Our feathered friends

I’ve gone through a few of my photos and chosen several I like of an avian persuasion, to practice a bit of photo editing on. Need to get better at editing for when I next go on a cycle tour. Work is keeping me busy at present but planning on doing a few shorter tours this year, some around Britain, but hopefully also venturing abroad in the summer. Safe cycling all.

Bike around Britain – blog index and route maps

Links to the legs (Garmin maps) and blog posts that took me around the coast of Britain in 86 days, covering 5,451 miles. Hopefully this will be of use to those of you planning similar tours.

Caveat – some of my routes were at times a little unorthodox, there may well be smoother rides in places. All worth it for scenes like this…

Loch Fyne sunset 1

Loch Fyne sunset, spent the night wild camping

Leg 82 – to Norwich, final Leg…for now

25 July 2013

So this was it, the final day of the tour, after 85 days on the road I had just one more and then I’d be home. It was a weird feeling and whilst I was looking forward to seeing everyone I wasn’t sure I was ready to reintegrate into ‘normal’ life. I’m writing this post over 3 months later and whilst I’m firmly back in a work routine, I definitely miss the simpler life of being on the road, and only having to think about food, miles, and where I’m going to sleep each night. I’m still cycling whenever possible, and have lots of ideas for future tours, I just need to decide on which one to do next and set a date.

Final day - bike packed and ready

Final day – bike packed and ready

It sounded like my tent was surrounded when I woke up to the sound of peacocks, seemingly from just the other side of the canvas. They’re pretty noisy avians and there was at least one wild one living on the campsite. It was still early but I got up anyway and had a shower, followed by a breakfast of ginger nuts as it was all I had left; I reckoned they would see me through to Lowestoft, and I thought I’d better start cutting down on my calorie intake now I wouldn’t be cycling 65 odd miles every day.

Morning, final day a bit grey

Morning, final day a bit grey

It had rained pretty heavily overnight and the sun was still obscured by clouds rolling in off the North Sea. I retreated to my tent as a shower passed over, leaving everything smelling fresh and clean. Unfortunately this meant I had to pack up my tent wet but with any luck I could dry it out in my garden when I got home. It was strange to think this was the last time I’d have to pack my kit into panniers, and my last day on the road. It had been eye-opening as to what you really need to survive, not very much apparently. I still had a couple of emergency ration packs I hadn’t used but they’ll keep; they weren’t due to go off for a few years yet.

Final campsite - Kessingland

Final campsite – Kessingland – Heathland holiday park

After I’d checked my bike over and pumped up my tyres I got on the road at about 09.00, and cycled the few miles to Lowestoft, completing my circuit of the coast of Britain. I stopped on the promenade where I’d been 86 days and 5,420 miles earlier; it seemed like longer and I paused to contemplate the places I’d been and people I’d met, mentally retracing the route I’d taken over the last few months. There were a lot of places I wanted to go back to, and new friends I’d like to see again.

Mostly for posterity I stopped for second breakfast in Lowestoft, at Greggs the bakers, and had a sausage roll and chicken fajita slice, the latter not very breakfast like but pretty tasty. Refuelled I set off on the final stretch back to Norwich, through the Suffolk and Norfolk countryside.

I pedalled up the B1074 from Lowestoft to Somerleyton, a pretty village with lots of identical houses painted red, with thatched roofs. I wonder if the deeds say you have to keep them all in an identical fashion.

Somerleyton

Somerleyton

St. Olaves came next with its small marina on the edge of the Norfolk Broads, where I joined the A143 to cross the River Yare. I was finally back in Norfolk!

Norfolk - Nelson's Country

Norfolk – Nelson’s Country

I cycled down familiar country roads I’d travelled down months ago whilst training for Bike around Britain, the clouds disappearing and sunshine blazing down over fields of ripening corn and barley, and lots of potatoes by the looks of it.

Back in Norfolk - ripening corn

Back in Norfolk – ripening corn

I passed through Loddon and Chedgrave, then on to Rockland St. Mary where there’s another Broad’s mooring. I pedalled idly, drawing out the last few miles and enjoying the quiet country roads and gorgeous weather. I’d been really lucky with the weather latterly, and the summer was shaping up to be far better than last year.

Brief pause near Bramerton

Brief pause near Bramerton

Despite riding slowly I arrived in Surlingham and then Bramerton ahead of schedule, coasting down to the river and Wood’s End to the Water’s Edge pub for lunch, just a few miles from Norwich. It’s a fantastic pub having been recently renovated, and with ongoing work to install a large decking area alongside the River Yare, a lovely place to sit and watch the world go by. I’d arranged to meet Mum & Dad, as well as Lucy’s parents and her Aunt and Uncle (John and Sena) who were visiting from New Zealand. My friend Nigel also cycled down to join us, and to accompany me on the final few miles back to Norwich.

It was a great welcome from everyone, and lovely having lunch down by the river in the sunshine. I was especially pleased that Sheila (Lucy’s Mum) made it out as she was just out of hospital having had surgery for skin cancer, a pretty serious operation that went very well. It’s great that the operation is done and dusted and a few months on she’s looking brill!

After lunch I cycled the last few miles to Norwich, via Whittlingham Broad, and stopped in at work to say hello. I received another great welcome, but thought everyone looked a little pale and overworked – get out in the sunshine more folks! Bob had brought cake to celebrate my arrival which I felt obliged to consume, after all I still had a few more miles to do. I really should have taken some back out for Nigel who was looking after my bike but I knew he was watching his weight 😉 – it was very good chocolate cake though. I said hello to our Newcastle office via conference video and then set off on the last few miles. Thank you for all your support Virgin Money.

Nigel and I pedalled from work into Norwich, doing a quick circuit of the city before a tactical stop and the X Bells for a gin and tonic to cool down. This was turning into a bit of a pub crawl however it was important to keep hydrated.

Nigel at the X Bells

Nigel at the X Bells

Nigel was pretty insistent that he’d had the hardest leg of the tour, and that we must of cycled miles; I appreciate your sacrifice mon ami.

G&T at the X Bells

G&T at the X Bells

We had to have a second G&T just to ensure we were ready for the half mile stretch to the Fat Cat, one of my favourite pubs in Norwich with the biggest selection of real ales I’ve seen anywhere. Having covered a lot of Britain on this tour I challenge anyone to name a pub that does a wider variety of quality beer.

The G&T made my hair go funny

The G&T made my hair go funny

We arrived safely at the Fat Cat to meet up with more friends and have a few beers to celebrate finishing my tour. It was a great turn out and really good to see everyone – I remember seeing Wayne, Nigel, Nicky, Chris B, Sinead, JB, Mike, Mark, Nigel P, Charlotte, Christopher, Frank, Karen and Slava, then it all goes a bit fuzzy. Dad also joined us and I’m  glad to say he was as merry as I was by the end of the evening, a few beers having turned into jugs of beer. Unfortunately I forgot to take any pictures but thank you all for coming down, it was a very good evening.

At the Fat Cat with jugs

At the Fat Cat with jugs – pic courtesy of Wayne

Needless to say the walk home, still with my fully laden bike, was a little tricky, however Dad helped push it up the hill. Mum welcomed us back, and was pretty sure she hadn’t seen Dad so ‘merry’ since his RAF days. I suspected tomorrow morning was going to be interesting.

So, the last leg was 39 miles, and I finally arrived home at about 23.00. There was bunting – pics from the day after.

Bike around Britain - bunting

Bike around Britain – bunting

Me - looking surprisingly un-hungover

Me – looking surprisingly un-hungover

Some vital statics from the tour:

  1. Miles covered = 5,451
  2. Days on the road = 86
  3. Number of punctures = 3
  4. Number of new rear wheels = 3
  5. Number of times I fell off = 3
  6. Days camping = 78
  7. Average miles per day = 63.4 (inc rest days, 70 if exclude)
  8. Max miles in one day = 128
  9. Carb consumption = Approx 4,000 a day
  10. Loaded bike weight = maybe 60kg, it was funny watching people try and lift it
  11. Weight lost = a measly 4 pounds
  12. Weight gain since getting back = half a stone and rising
Some highlights from my Bike around Britain tour

Bike around Britain highlights

Coming soon: I’ll post the routes for all my legs, and plans for another tour.

Thanks to everyone for following this blog, you’re too numerous to mention but I really appreciated the supportive messages, company of the road, company after a hard day’s riding, free food, bed, advice, and conversation. Over £7,300 raised for the Big C to date, and here’s to the girl that inspired my trip – thank you Lu, we all love and miss you but will always remember you.

Lucy

Lucy

Leg 81 – to Kessingland

24 July 2013

I didn’t get pounced on by an excited kitten during the night, and hence had a very good sleep at JJ and Sacha’s. I awoke feeling refreshed and ready for the day’s ride up towards Lowestoft. JJ was already busy working whilst I had breakfast, but he did have time to demonstrate Rocksmith, a newish guitar PC based game, which looks like a lot of fun. I’ve been playing the guitar for a while however I mostly just do chords, and this game might make me learn how to play tab and the odd riff. I might invest in it when the new version comes out, although this would mean having to buy an electric guitar too; I’m sure the neighbours won’t mind too much! It reminded me of how much I’d missed my guitar whilst on tour, however I’d be back home in a couple of days tops, and would see if I’d forgotten how to play it.

After breakfast and chatting to Sacha about small business ideas and investments (she knows lots of stuff), I packed up and bid my most excellent hosts goodbye. It was time to hit the road on my penultimate day’s ride, however I’d be seeing them again soon for their 10th wedding anniversary party – how time flies.

JJ seeing me off - keep on rockin'

JJ seeing me off – keep on rockin’

Back on the road I pedalled around Ipswich and into the countryside towards Felixstow, stopping briefly to re-secure a rattling pannier. A few things were looking a bit worn and battered on my bike now, including Lobster who definitely needed a wash; I’d have to do some repairs once I got home.

Me and Lobster - penultimate day

Me and Lobster – penultimate day

I rode through lots of farmland and noticed several weird looking bird scaring devices flying over fields. I’m assuming they were bird scaring devices anyway, they did look uncannily like Dementors – Harry Potter reference for those that don’t know, although I’m not sure how that’s possible.

Dementor over the Suffolk countryside?!

Dementor over the Suffolk countryside?!

It didn’t take very long to get down to Felixstow through flat countryside, and avoiding the busy A14 by taking more picturesque country roads. From there I cycled along the coast to Felixstow Ferry, a small village as well as somewhere you can get a passenger ferry over to Bawdsey. I had to signal for the ferry using a signal ‘plank’; I love these medieval methods of communication.

It was another lovely day with temperatures quickly rising, so it was nice to have break for the short ferry crossing over the River Deben.

Disembarking on the other side of the River Deben was somewhat complicated by the presence of lots of kids and their crabbing lines. It’s a wonderful occupation as a youngster, as you pull up crustacean after crustacean lured by various bits of smelly bait; Lobster was not impressed – with the bait that is. It’s not so great when a boat is trying to moor up and lines get tangled up with bits of ferry. The captain had a stern word with the kids in question, and their parents who were completing ignoring the chaos their children were causing.

I eventually managed to get my bike and panniers off the ferry boat and up the jetty to the road, avoiding knocking any kids or their parents into the river, although it was quite tempting to give them an accidental nudge. With everything once more stowed away I pedalled up through more gently undulating countryside to Hollesley, and along more narrow roads towards Snape – no Harry Potter  connection as far as I’m aware. I was mostly following the Suffolk Coast Trail cycle route, with the odd diversion as it seemed to wriggle around unnecessarily quite a bit.

There were lots of tractors and harvesting machines out at work in the fields, and I got covered by cloying dust on a number of occasions. I also got slightly distracted and took a wrong turning, and ended up adding on a few miles to my day’s leg. This wasn’t really a problem given the good weather and fact that I was in no particular rush. In fact I was getting more and more apprehensive about getting back to Norwich, just because that would mean the end of a great tour, and back to normal life, something I wasn’t sure I fitted any more. I guess normal is all relative anyway; I’ll have to pursue a different sort of ‘normal’ life.

One advantage of riding through farmland were the field irrigation machines in operation watering the crops…and the road. I was ‘watered’ a number of times as I pedalled along, which was very refreshing given the hot day.

Wherry Boat on the River Alde

Wherry Boat on the River Alde

For some reason my legs and knees were starting to ache quite a bit today, perhaps due to the heat and tiredness catching up with me, but you’d have thought they’d be used to it after 5,300 miles! I stopped for a break at the Maltings, near Snape, an old grain store on the River Alde that’s been converted into housing, a pub, cafe and a few shops.

The Maltings, River Alde

The Maltings, River Alde

I wolfed down a sandwich and a very welcome cold drink, and then had a weird conversation with a German cycle tourer who was somewhat exuberant about my bike and kit, despite it’s battered appearance. He was insistent that Ortlieb panniers were the ‘best of the best’, which I have to agree with him on, them having kept my kit dry through some very wet weather. Still he was very friendly and waved me off once I’d managed to extricate myself from his enthusiastic banter.

After lunch I rode up to Leiston, ignoring Aldeburgh due to aching knees, and past Sizewell power station on the B1125. I arrived in Blythburgh, where I’d been a couple of days before on my way down to Brightlingsea from Latitude; there was very little evidence remaining of the festival that had taken place just a few days previous.

I turned down the A1095 to Southwold, where I hadn’t been before despite it practically being on my doorstep and somewhere people had recommended. I had a pedal about, and whilst it’s a nice seaside town I think I prefer Walberswick just across the River Blyth, to the south of Southwold. In fact you can get a ferry from Walberswick to Southwold, which I could have taken advantage of if I’d thought about it, however there was no guarantee it was running which would have meant having to backtrack.

Southwold Pier

Southwold Pier

Southwold beach and beach huts

Southwold beach and beach huts

It was only a short stretch up to Kessingland, my destination for the night, past Wangford which is an awesome place name, as well as Cove Bottom and South Cove. I found the campsite, the Heathland Beach holiday park in Kessingland, and pitched my tent before going to find some food.

I ended up having dinner at the Sailor’s Arms, a busy pub right on the coastline who do a mean Haddock and chips. I enjoyed a couple of pints of ale whilst the sun got lower in the sky, lending the coast a striking quality. There were lots of holiday makers around enjoying the evening, and I made a note that this would be a good place to come back to in future, there being a campsite right next to the pub, and plenty of wild camping spots out on the beach. I was a bit annoyed I’d opted to camp at the site up in the village rather than down here, but hindsight is a wonderful thing, and at least there was a bar at the campsite should I need another pint later.

After dinner I made my way back to my tent, passing Africa Alive which explained the slightly out-of-place animal noises I’d been hearing. I got back to find a peacock on patrol around the campsite, however he didn’t seem to object to my presence, so after a another swift beverage I ensconced myself in my tent to get a good night’s sleep before riding the short distance up to Lowestoft tomorrow morning, and then back to Norwich. I’d covered 66 miles today, with a bit extra added on this evening due to riding to the Sailor’s Arms. I only had about 40 miles to go to get home.

Leg 80 – to Ipswich

23 July 2013

The tent had survived the overnight storms well, despite a patched up pole; another win for the Hilleberg Akto. It had been pretty fierce at times, with the heat wave breaking in a dramatic fashion. The thunderstorm had brought bangs and flashes which illuminated my tent and kept me awake, along with a few heavy showers which cooled everything down. I’ve always liked storms and it was pretty exciting lying there whilst it sounded like the apocalypse was starting outside. I wondered if it was heralding the arrival of my brother and sister-in-law’s second child, which was due any time, however I got a text from Will a bit later to confirm the baby still hadn’t appeared.

Brightlingsea - Packing up post thunderstorm

Brightlingsea – Packing up post thunderstorm

I had a bit of a slow start to the day as I waited for the patchy rain to stop, so didn’t actually leave the campsite until around 11.30. I also discovered I’d bought the wrong replacement brake pads yesterday, even though I could jury rig them in, so I’d need to find another shop at some point.

Ridgeback next to lake in Brightlingsea

Ridgeback next to lake in Brightlingsea

I had a quick pedal around Brightlingsea, down to the marina and around the town, before riding off on the penultimate penultimate day of my tour, destination Ipswich where I was planning to stay with old friends – JJ and Sacha.

Colourful beach huts in Brightlingsea

Colourful beach huts in Brightlingsea

It was decidedly cooler than the previous day, with the overnight storms having freshened things up, and clouds still in the sky. Everything smelt crisp and fresh, that wonderful aroma you get when it’s been dry for ages and then suddenly rains.

Brightlingsea marina and mud

Brightlingsea marina and mud

It was quick riding around to Clacton-on-Sea, via Jaywick, both of them pretty typical British seaside towns. Clacton had a pier and amusements, and the usual assortment of holiday makers.

Clacton-on-Sea

Clacton-on-Sea

Clacton-on-Sea 2 - grey day at the moment

Clacton-on-Sea 2 – grey day at the moment

After a brief break I pedalled on to Holland-on-Sea, then around to Frinton-on-Sea and Walton-on-the-Naze where I stopped for lunch; a sandwich meal deal from a supermarket. The last bit of Essex coastline followed as I made my way up to Harwich.

It was a nice ride up to Harwich, as the sun came out and it started to get hot again. I arrived at about 15.00, and had to wait 45 minutes for the ferry over the Rover Stour to Shotley Gate. I grabbed a coffee from the little cafe next to the ferry pontoon, and called my parents to make sure they weren’t having any dodgy parties in my house; they were staying there awaiting the birth of their next grandchild, as its within striking distance of Cambridge where Will and Louisa live. It was good to have someone in the house for a bit, and Dad would no doubt fix anything he found to be wanting that I hadn’t got around to; wobbly shelves, dodgy light bulbs etc.

Harwich quite surprised me. I was expecting a pretty dull and busy port, and whilst it is indeed a large and very busy container port it’s also a pleasant town, with multicoloured beach huts and unique lighthouses. It was nice riding slowly along the waterfront, looking at the large ships out on the water and idly contemplating stowing away on one to get over to Amsterdam. I was really starting to dread getting back to Norwich, even though I was looking forward to seeing friends again. I’d spent so long planning for this tour, and then 3 more months doing it, and I wasn’t really sure what was going to happen next even though I’d had lots of ideas. I guess I was worried that once I got back to work life would just return to the same old cycle of long hours, and not having the time to pursue what I really wanted to do; sadly one has to earn a wage. I resolved to sit down and properly plan out alternatives over the winter months, so I’d have something to look forward to in the new year.

The ferry over the River Stour cost £4.50; a pleasant crossing and the captain helped load my bike and panniers on board. Back in Suffolk I rode towards Manningtree alongside the the River Stour, through some lovely and very peaceful countryside, before turning onto the A137 to Ipswich. This was familiar territory as I’d only travelled on it yesterday on my way down from Latitude, to restart my tour around the coast.

I was drinking copious amounts of water again due to the heat, so stopped off at Jimmy’s Farm for a break. I’d watched his TV series several years ago, where he gave up a relatively stable life to start a farm in the Suffolk countryside, overcoming financial challenges, and learning how to farm pigs from scratch. He had a loan from his childhood friend Jamie Oliver to start the enterprise, and I admired his commitment and resolve to see things through, despite the strain it put on his relationship and coming close to failing on a few occasions. He saw it through and now appears to be running a successful business.

Jimmy's Farm

Jimmy’s Farm

It looks like he’s diversified quite a bit since the TV series, with a ‘Theatre in the woods’, Caravan Club area and restaurant, as well as the shop and nature walk. I didn’t stay long as it was starting to get late, but it was good to have seen, and motivational from the point of view of thinking about new starts; I’d have to come back for a proper visit soon.

Jimmy's Farm 2

Jimmy’s Farm 2

I pedalled on to Ipswich, with the traffic getting heavier as it was rush hour. I got shouted at by one driver who wanted me to get onto a non-existent cycle path, which was helpful. Despite the busy roads and a few navigational errors in Ipswich itself, I made it to Sacha and JJ’s unscathed. JJ is an old friend from University, and it was great to see both him and Sacha again. Sacha and the kids had spent a busy day de-fleaing the house, it having been populated by the annoying critters courtesy of their new and delightful cat Miss Moneypenny. It was lovely to have a shower and relax after a relatively short day mile wise, just 62 miles, but it had been pretty hot again for the last half.

I chatted to Sacha whilst we waited for JJ to get back from work, and I helped peel the spuds; it was good to catch up. A lovely dinner of beef and roasted vegetables followed, accompanied by a beer and good company. JJ was in training for the Ipswich half marathon, having only started running a few months ago; he’s completed it now, a great effort, congrats and good luck with the full marathon, or Spartan Challenge ;o)

We watched a couple of episodes of Arrested Development to chill out to before bed, which was something I hadn’t seen before and pretty funny. It was nice to sleep in a real bed again after the festival, and not sleeping too well last night due to the storm; I had to be careful not the let the kitten sneak in though!

It was weird going to sleep thinking that this time tomorrow I’d only be a stone’s throw from home.

Leg 78, Latitude and Leg 79

18 July 2013

I was up early in anticipation of Latitude, and joining the Tour de Latitude from a few miles down the road. A big breakfast of baguette, pâté and other leftovers quickly disappeared, and I decided to give away a couple of large pots of yoghurt rather than risk them bursting in my panniers; something I’d experienced previously and had to spend ages cleaning up. The French tourers I gave them to were happy recipients and wished me well on the rest of my tour.

Lobster and I ready to hit the road to Latitude

Lobster and I ready to hit the road to Latitude

In high spirits I packed up quickly and rode the few miles to the Cricketer’s Rest in Fordham Heath, near Eight Ash Green, arriving a little early, however some of the Latitude Tour crew were already setting up. I registered and unloaded my panniers into the van, leaving just my tent and bar bag on the Ridgeback. It felt a lot lighter and unaccustomed to the lack of luggage I was a bit wobbly as I tested out my streamlined bike.

Bike sans Panniers, ready for Tour de Latitude

Bike sans Panniers, ready for Tour de Latitude

Once registered I chatted to other ‘Tour de Latitude’ participants as they arrived, and we were ready to go by about 10.00. I munched my way through a second breakfast courtesy of Marks & Spencer who sponsor the tour, and provide food and refreshments along the way. There were 30 to 40 of us leaving from the Colchester start point, with other start points in London, where they’d already be on the road, and Ipswich where they’d start a bit later. People wanting to take part have to raise a minimum of £150 for charity, and get a free ticket upgrade to the guest camp which has better facilities, and you have more of a chance of bumping into other interesting guests. They raised over £7,000 for the Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity this year – read more here – /www.latitudefestival.com/news/why-not-travel-first-class-bike-tour-de-latitude

Motorbike Marshals - they accompanied us along the route

Motorbike Marshals – they accompanied us along the route

Whilst waiting to start I bumped into Jack whose rear wheel looked like it had seen better days, with several loose spokes and a challenging buckle to work out. Using my spoke tool I tightened up the spokes and managed to get rid of the worst of the buckle, sufficient for the days ride anyway. We were in the first group to leave, which included all manner of cyclists, from those on super light road bikes with all the kit, to those on more ‘robust’ machines in appropriate festival attire.

Group 1 ready to leave on Tour de Latitude

Group 1 ready to leave on Tour de Latitude

The group quickly spread out as we each found our own pace, joining up with others riding at a similar speed. I ended up riding with Jack as we sped through the Essex countryside down quiet country lanes. Jack’s in his early 20’s, and I was a little concerned he’d outpace me early on, however days of being on the road had obviously had their effect and I was able to match his speed, and was more used to riding longer distances. It only took 1.5 hours to reach the Ipswich stop point, having followed a clearly signposted route which the organisers had put up, and being shepherded along by the motorbike marshals who helped keep us safe as we rode quickly through road junctions. It was superb weather again, and nice to be riding with a group for a change.

We were able to take advantage of more M&S snacks at the Ipswich break point, where others were just starting their ride to Latitude. I had a quick chat with Beth, the Tour de Latitude organiser, suggesting that next year a similar ride could be set up from Norwich. I’ll have to remember to suggest it again nearer the time as there must be a lot of cyclists who’d be up for it, and I’m sure Pedal Revolution or one of the other local bike shops would support it.

Refuelled we continued around the outskirts of Ipswich and through the lovely Suffolk countryside, passing fields full of ripening corn. Everything, aside from perhaps me, smelt fresh and summery. Jack was suffering from a bit of cramp, having not cycled this far before, however he was doing well and had a very high baseline fitness due to his footballing activities. He’s starting a career in marketing, and it got me thinking about when I’d just left University and started my own career at Virgin Money. I don’t think I ever foresaw myself working in the banking industry as a long term job, but it’s worked out alright; not all bankers are bad incidentally!

It was another really hot day, which wasn’t helping with Jack’s cramp and meant we were getting through water very quickly. The last few miles seemed to go on for a long time, as we passed others who had started in Ipswich and were also starting to wilt in the heat. We arrived at Henham Park, site of the Latitude festival, at about 14.30, and discovered we’d come 3rd and 4th respectively, covering 60 miles in about 4.5 hours. I was pretty impressed with our time, and it demonstrated how much quicker you can ride in a group, and of course when you’re not carrying so much luggage.

More refreshments were available for us at the finish line, including lots of very welcome cold drinks. I collected my panniers and Jack dropped off his bike, which they’d take back to Colchester for him; very impressed with how the tour is organised, and will definitely do it again, hopefully for Norwich.

After more snacks and a cold cider I thanked and bid goodbye to Jack and the organisers, including Laura Pando who’d sorted me out with my tickets; what a lovely lady! I needed to cycle back out of the festival and around the outside of Henham Park to the guest car park to meet up with Nigel, and sort out his ticket. It was fantastic to meet up, and he supplied me with another cold cider which he hadn’t realised was 8.4%; things were getting off to a good start.

We obtained our guest wrist bands and headed over to meet up with Wayne and Mel, me on my bike again, and Nigel going round in his car. We’d decided to all camp together in the main camping area, rather than use the guest camping area. The site was already pretty packed but we found a space where we could all set out tents up. My small Hilleberg Akto was dwarfed by everyone else’s, and could have easily fitted inside Nigel’s. His tent was handy for storing my bike in, out of sight from any potential thieves.

All ready to go at Latitude, 5,000 odd miles had squashed my hat

All ready to go at Latitude, 5,000 odd miles had squashed my hat

Setting up the tents didn’t take long and it was soon Pimms o’clock, followed shortly by cider o’clock again. It was pretty clear how this weekend was going to progress, and the alcohol was doing wonders for improving the state of my legs and general well being after 62 hot miles, pedalling through Essex and Suffolk.

There follows a summary of Latitude, with a few pictures.

  • I don’t recommend Jagermeister mixed with ginger beer and cucumber as a cocktail, it’s foul. Jagermeister was being heavily promoted at the festival; most people seem to be avoiding it and the plethora of staff in the Jagermeister tent looked very bored.
  • On Friday we watched the Festival of the Spoken Nerd, and a great night time display involving a young lady suspended beneath the moon, and giant swans. Also bought a dragon pennant so we could find out tents.
  • On Saturday I investigated the showers – they were very good, as were the guest toilets.
  • Watched Mark Thomas, lay in the grass, had more Pimms. Spent quite a bit of time in the comedy tent – really enjoyed Andrew O’Neill. I Am Kloot were pretty cool, as were Texas, The Maccabees and Bloc Party. Visited the Poetry Tent where we watched Russell J Turner, who we vaguely know from Norwich, along with Andy Bennett, both budding poets. Les Enfants Terribles, who we also saw last year, put on a great show – Marvellous Imaginary Menagerie
  • Enjoyed a wide variety of food stuffs from the massive selection available at Latitude. It’s a bit pricey, but all delicious, including Haloumi salads, pizza, kebabs from Kebabylon, falafel, Chinese and Hog Roast.
  • Weather was generally excellent, with a bit of welcome drizzle on Saturday that cooled things off, and reduced the dust that was getting everywhere.
  • Watched Dylan Moran, who was good, along with Sara Pascoe, Josh Widdecombe, and Russell Kane.
  • Really enjoyed Richard Ashcroft, of the Verve.
  • Kraftwerk were excellent, but I don’t think the younger generation really got it; it was more of a nostaligic experience. I expect I could create similar tunes on my mobile phone.
  • The Lucifire burlesque show was…intriguing.
  • Nicky, Nigel’s wife, joined us on Sunday. Good to see another familiar face.
  • Enjoyed Marcus Bridgestocke’s Policy Unit show, a Spanish Flamenco dancer and guitarist on the lake stage (Sadler Wells – Rocio Molina), and the Red Riding Hood production by the National Youth Theatre Group. The latter was very good and had a great twist at the end. They used different parts of the Far Away forest as their stage, and the audience followed them around.
  • Enjoyed lying in the grass again, fell asleep.
  • Eddie Izzard, the Horn Section an Alien Ant thing were all good, and I even participated in a bit of the shed disco.
  • Someone must have fallen on my tent as the pole broke. I make it 5,000 miles around the country and it survives fine, only to get broken by a drunk reveller at a festival. I managed to temporarily fix it with some gaffer tape and spares bits.
  • My legs and knees ached from all the walking – they’re not used it.

22 July 2013

Monday morning came all too quickly, and it was time to pack up and get back on the road for the final few legs home. My tent pole fix had lasted through the night, and I was remarkably not hungover considering the number of pints we’d partaken of on Sunday.

The camping area at Latitude looked like a bit of a bomb site, with abandoned tents and rubbish strewn all over the place. Our area was at least clean; I don’t really get why people can’t tidy up as they go along, rather than leave it someone else to clean up after them.

I grabbed a quick shower to wash off the dust from yesterday, which was refreshingly cold as the gas had run out, then packed up and big goodbye to Nigel, Wayne and Mel. I was back on the road by 10.00, after grabbing some free Lucozade being handed out at the exit. It had been a great festival.

Unfortunately cycling out of Henham Park proved to be somewhat of a trial, on the narrow track with lots of traffic. Dust was being kicked up by all the cars, covering me in grime again, and I couldn’t really squeeze past the queue. I also got attacked by mosquitoes where the track passes through woodland, and must have looked a bit odd frantically squatting them away. Shortly afterwards the track opened up a bit and I was able to whiz past the slowly moving traffic to the main road. It helped that it was dry so there wasn’t any mud to contend with, unlike a couple of years ago when it took us hours to get out.

The A12 followed, with the Latitude marshals doing a good job of keeping the traffic moving. The ride to Ipswich was pretty straightforward, through Saxmundam and Woodbridge. I tried to avoid the A12 as much as possible, taking country roads that seemed to be going in the right direction.

In Ipswich I stopped off at Elmy Cycles to get some new brake pads, and Cotswold’s kindly performed a better fix on my tent pole, re-threading the elastic and binding it up so it would last until I got home. They were really helpful and didn’t charge for the fix, so I donated a few quid to their charity instead. I’ll need to order a new pole before my next long tour; maybe Hilleberg will send me a new one for free if I ask nicely.

After a nice Subway sandwich I called my brother to check on new baby status; there was no news as yet but the Royal birth was imminent, and indeed later that day Prince George was born.

It was a good day to be cycling, and definitely cooler on the bike than off it, pedalling down to Brightlingsea. The breeze was refreshing, and the route mostly flat as I rode back into Essex and down to the coast, arriving at the campsite after covering 61 miles. It was a bit of a rip off at £20 for the night, but was a site next to a lake and not far from the town centre.

The last few legs were going to be shorter as the tour wound down, and I intended to make the most of the final few days on the road and fantastic weather. I was still mulling over ideas for the next tour, having not been deterred by this one, and was considering a ride up to the Arctic Circle via Amsterdam, Denmark, Sweden and Norway.

I did some washing, clothes drying very quickly in the heat, then went out for dinner at the Brewers Arms in Brightlingsea. I felt too tired to cook after the exuberance of Latitude. and my fuel bottle had gone walkabout at the festival anyway. I chatted with a group of blokes sailing their boat down the coast, which sounded like a great thing to do given the conditions.

Dinner a the Brewers Arms, Brightlingsea

Dinner a the Brewers Arms, Brightlingsea

I’d covered 5,284 miles by this point of the tour, and was planning to be back in Norwich on Thursday; for some reason this was a bit of a scary prospect.

Trick or Treat

Happy Halloween – in a break from the Bike around Britain posts here’s a story I wrote a couple of years ago, with a Halloween theme.

Trick or Treat

Jack flicked through the channels, idly looking for something that might be vaguely interesting. So much dross on the television these days, perhaps it had always been that way and he’d just not realised it until now.

‘Oh great, Big Brother is on again Soot, you’ll like that,’ he muttered to the German Shepherd at his feet. The dog glanced up expectantly at the sound of his name, then seeing no movement went back to gnawing on the dried pig’s ear Jack had bought earlier from the market.

‘No…no…no…definitely no…and sod off Most Haunted,’ who believed that fake crap anyway, but it was a done deal on Halloween.  He liked Halloween, but it was late now and the local kids had stopped coming around about an hour ago. They liked to visit number eight, and Jack always tried to make an effort to provide some entertainment on what was supposed to be a spooky evening. Soot loved it, all the people and attention. He didn’t really live up to Jack’s claims of being a hell hound, or Black Shuck, who’d savage them if they were naughty, preferring to wag his tail and lick anyone who smelt nice. As usual Jack had carved a couple of pumpkins into as scary faces as he could manage, and as usual they’d come out slightly lop-sided and comical, but they did the job sitting out on the porch. He’d even tried carving a couple of turnips again, in an effort to un-Americanise the whole thing, but they’d not worked out quite as he’d hoped and he’d relegated them to the garden to scare the pigeons instead.

Jack lived on the outskirts of town, part of a new estate that had been built over a patch of scrubland bought up by developers seeking to squeeze as many homes as possible into the small space. Still, they’d left a fair sized common in the middle of it; a planning regulation requirement no doubt, but something for the kids to play on and for people to walk their dogs. In its centre were the remains of an old tower that was slowly crumbling away, maybe part of an old church, or Norwich’s old medieval defences, Jack didn’t remember. It was pretty enough with ivy growing up its old flint walls, and in Spring birds nested in the hawthorn trees that grew around and in some places through it.

‘Right, nothing on Soot, let’s have a drink.’ Jack turned off the television, got up off the sofa and wandered over to the drinks cabinet. ‘Hmmm…a small whiskey maybe, no nothing for you here,’ he said, nudging away Soot’s inquisitive nose. Soot whined slightly disappointed at the lack of treats, and then the lights went off.

‘Bugger, power cut or fuses do you reckon?’ Jack walked carefully over to the window trying to remember if he or Soot had left any crap on the floor. Pulling open the curtains he glanced outside, all the neighbours’ houses were dark too. ‘Power cut Soot, maybe the spirits are pissed at something,’ he said sarcastically, ‘time to take you for a walk anyway.’

The streets were dark too, with only moonlight making things visible. Still, Soot didn’t seem particularly bothered and Jack didn’t worry about a lead. It was close to midnight and there weren’t many cars around, in fact he couldn’t hear any at all which was a nice change, if not a little unusual. They walked down the hill past the common and onto the main road that led down to the river. Jack could only vaguely make out Soot sniffing along the edge of the hedgerow a short way ahead, his black coat merging with the darkness. The night was fresh, crisp and clean, with clear starry skies and the promise of a beautiful morning ahead.

Candlelight flickered warmly through the windows of the Freeman pub as they passed it, but Jack didn’t go in. The local folk seemed to resent his presence on the rare occasions he did go in for a pint, not that he’d ever done anything to earn their suspicious glances. He thought they’d have accepted him in the neighbourhood by now, but for some people if you weren’t born here you’d never be a local.

Turning onto the path beside the river they walked towards town, under the sycamore and beech trees that arched out over the sluggishly moving waters. The waxing gibbous moon gave Jack enough light to see by, reflecting off the water and casting long shadows of the trees across the path. The moonlight also reflected off Soot’s eyes, as he regularly turned his head back to ensure Jack was still following, making them seem to glow green in the night. ‘Wrong colour Soot, they’re supposed to be red remember,’ Jack mused to no-one in particular.

A slight breeze sent dead leaves skittering across the ground, and carried with it the faint sounds of music; what sounded like a lonely flute being played somewhere across the river, the beautiful yet sad notes merging with the night, and almost seeming to set the leaves waltzing in time. Perhaps someone was having a party at one of the cottages that backed onto the water, where the haunting strains would certainly lend the evening an appropriate quality. The music seemed to follow them as they moved further down the path and up towards the road which took over where passage was no longer possible along the riverbank. The song brought unbidden feelings of something lost to Jack’s mind, or of something being searched for, he felt he almost knew the tune. The music seemed to reach out, observe then move away once satisfied you were not of any significance to it. Jack shook off the melancholy threatening to engulf him, moving up and onto the road where abruptly the music could no longer be heard.

The houses and street-lights here were still all dark indicating the power cut was unresolved. Jack decided to continue following Soot who seemed intent on having a longer walk than planned, making his way along the pavement towards the roundabout where one could either continue towards the town centre, or follow the ring road either way. Soot was probably heading for the small park on the other side of the roundabout, which backed onto the graveyard. There was still no traffic around although he could hear a distant rumbling of what could be a group of motorbikes out for a midnight ride.

They crossed the ring-road and made their way up the hill towards the old marker stone sitting next to the park’s entrance, indicating one mile to the old town centre in Tombland. Jack thought he could make out a figure close to the marker stone still some 100 yards away. Whoever it was seemed to be looking for something, crouching down to examine the ground before getting up and moving on to a new patch a bit further on. Soot stopped, waiting for Jack to catch up before approaching the stranger who hadn’t seemed to notice them, intent as they were on their searching. Jack realised it must be a young women, or girl, wearing in a flowing dress, with her long unbound and slightly curly hair flowing across her shoulders and down her back to her waist. God knows what she doing out so late; perhaps she’d lost her keys.

The girl looked up, away from Jack, as the sound of the motorbikes he’d heard earlier suddenly got a lot louder, lights appearing on the road at the top of the hill and pausing briefly before streaming down towards the marker stone. Soot growled as the peace of the night was shattered by the loud engines and shrieks from the riders who bore down the road towards the girl. She backed away towards the park entrance but came up short against the old rusting iron gate.

There were nine of them, dressed in leathers and riding on what looked to be old Harleys, the motorbike lights illuminating their helmets which seem to have been adorned with a variety of horns, crests, and twisted motifs. They screamed to a halt forming a crescent in front of the girl as Jack walked up behind them, Soot at his side. He thought he recognised them. The lights also illuminated the girl’s terrified face yet defiant face, as she frantically scrabbled behind her at the padlocked gate.

Two of the riders dismounted and approached the girl. ‘Come here little one, out all on your own, you’re wanted.’ The lead rider’s voice sounded guttural and growling through his helmet.

‘Leave me alone, I ain’t done nothing, and you ain’t allowed to just take folk,’ she shouted back at them.

‘Doesn’t matter anymore, your wanted Moon Seer, his Lordship’s got plans for you,’ said the gruff rider.

Jack came to a stop behind them, silhouetted by the bike lights on the opposite side of the crescent. ‘Look, she doesn’t want to go with you so just take your ride elsewhere,’ he said.

‘Who the bloody hell are you then,’ said the leader turning towards Jack. Several of the other riders dismounted from their bikes. ‘Being out with your puppy on Halloween ain’t such a good idea.’

‘For whom,’ replied Jack.

Some of the riders moved towards Jack and Soot, unlimbering chains and clubs from various jacket pockets and bags. Soot growled deeply at Jack’s side causing them to pause.

‘I don’t want any trouble alright,’ said Jack. ‘Just let the girl go and I’ll walk away, no need for anything else.’

‘They ain’t allowed to take me anyway, I’m neutral and ain’t done anything,’ shouted the girl who’d scrambled half way up the gate.

‘Shut it bitch…I said that don’t matter any more’ said the leader. ‘Look mate, you on mushrooms or something, there’s nine of us and one of you plus lassie there, this ain’t none of your business so sod off,’ he growled menacingly. ‘You two grab the girl.’

The girl shrieked and climbed further up the gate away from the approaching riders, three others squared off against Jack and Soot, who showed no inclination towards leaving. Jack reached inside his trench coat pocket fingering the zippo lighter he kept on him. ‘Stop,’ said Jack in a low tone that seemed to ripple through the night.

‘Urrr boss’, said the rider closest to Jack, ‘something funny going on here, he ain’t right and neither is his dog.’

The leader turned back towards Jack. ‘Well what we got here then, if it ain’t mister candle eyes. What, got yourself some of the blood do you? Teach him a lesson lads, Trick or bloody Treat mate.’

‘Trick,’ muttered Jack.

‘What?’ said the leader who walked up behind the three in front of Jack.

Jack could feel the fire building inside him, and as it did the glamours in front of him faded. ‘I said Trick,’ said Jack drawing, flicking open and lighting the zippo in front of him. Soot snarled and leapt from where he’d been crouching at Jack’s feet, teeth latching on to the arm of the nearest rider, sheering through leather and into the flesh underneath.

Jack raised the lighter to his face and blew into the flame, causing a roaring sound as it expanded and flew out towards the two riders advancing on him. Flames swirled and danced through the night, illuminating the area and combatants. Riders revealed for what they truly were stumbled off horses, clad in furs and leather, chain mail, and motleys of scrap metal, wielding crude spiked clubs, flaming torches, chains, nets and short swords. What could be seen of their faces revealed green tinted skin and rugged features, with teeth filed to points sitting in slobbering mouths. ‘I hate Scrags, and you’re no wild hunt,’ Jack said menacingly, knowing flames would now be dancing in his eyes as he let the power grow.

Cursing the leader raised his short sword and charged towards Jack, shouldering through the two burning riders hit by fire already; they collapsed to the ground engulfed in red and blue flames. Jack turned his gaze towards the charging figure and tendrils of angry blue fire leapt towards him, wrapping around torso and limbs causing shrieks of anger and then pain. The short sword lunged out from the leader’s burning form straight for Jack’s chest; he stepped to one side and brought his left hand down on the arm holding the sword. With a crack the arm broke and more flame poured out along Jack’s arms and over his assailant.

Chaos descended after that as riders struggled to avoid the fire and the huge snapping dog in their midst, regain their mounts and escape. Fire danced on engulfing the two who’d been trying to grab the girl, reducing them in seconds to ashes, then stabbing out towards another who looked like he might have a go. No-one came at Jack or Soot again, and soon all the riders were ashes or had fled, the sound of retreating hooves soon turning into the rumble of motorbikes. The flames slowly subsided and winked out, and Jack put the zippo back in his pocket.

He turned towards the girl who’d managed to scramble over the gate during the fight. ‘You okay?’

‘Yeah, I’ll be fine. The way’s open now. Nice dog,’ she said, staring cautiously and slightly curiously at Jack and Soot through the gate’s iron bars. Jack could hear the same haunting flute tune he’d thought he’d recognised earlier drifting through the night from somewhere in the park.

‘Well sounds like the Piper’s abroad so you should be safe, don’t know what you were doing out here but best you get home, wherever that is,’ said Jack.

‘Who are you?’ Asked Mia.

‘Doesn’t matter, just someone hoping for a quiet life, should have known better than to go for a walk on Halloween,’ replied Jack.

‘Well I’m Mia, thanks for helping me. I’d have got away anyway, but thanks. Scrags don’t usually bother us but something’s changed, that’s why I was out, looking for answers in the leaves.’ She started to back off into the park, keeping her eyes on Jack.

‘I don’t know and I don’t want to know, think Soot and I’ll just head home,’ said Jack.

‘You could help us, one of the folk like you, if you change your mind about wanting to know come and find me at the Star Wherry.’ With that Mia turned and ran barefoot across the grass into the park, her black hair flying out behind her. She disappeared down a cobbled path that most people would be forgiven for not seeing, and soon was invisible to anyone who couldn’t look In Between.

‘She should have shoes on,’ muttered Jack, ‘she’ll step on a needle or something.’ Soot looked up at him and whined softly, then wandered over to sniff and urinate on one of the small piles of ashes that were gradually blowing away in the wind. They’d be gone in a few more minutes leaving no evidence anything had ever been amiss. There might be locals complaining about kids setting off fireworks in the morning, but nothing more, people only saw and heard what they wanted to most of the time.

Jack took one last look around, wondering if he should have just left the riders to it. It wasn’t a world he wanted to be involved in any more, but they’d pushed it after all, and it had felt good using his powers again. Smiling slightly he turned for home.

‘Don’t piss with Jack-O-Lantern on Halloween,’ he muttered to himself, before starting to whistle the Piper’s song. Soot padded off ahead, sniffing along the hedgerow again.

THE END