Category Archives: Fun stuff

Quotes, random pics

Starting 2015 as I mean to continue

January can often be one of the ‘meh’ months after all the excitement of Christmas and New Year’s celebrations, then having to go back to work whilst it’s still dark for the majority of the day, with the weather not being conducive to wanting to get out of bed. I decided this year I’d make January count, rather than be the month you want to get through as fast as possible. It still seems to have flown by, but at least I appear to have achieved filling it with good memories rather than what can sometimes be a bland month.

It started off well with a great New Year’s party round at friends, after which I decided to sleep out under the stars in my back garden in an effort to begin the year off with a bit of a microadventure. This enterprise was somewhat fuelled by the several shots, some of which were of a dubious nature, consumed at the party, however I wanted to take up the challenge Alastair Humphreys has laid down of a ‘Year of Microadventures’, and sleeping out at least once a month. This won’t be difficult once I start my cycle touring later this year, however it requires a bit of motivation in the colder months. Suffice to say equipped with a sleeping bag encased in a bivvy bag I was pretty snug, but awoke somewhat bleary the next day. I need to decide where to camp out in February; somewhere a bit more adventurous than my back garden perhaps!

If you haven’t checked out Alastair Humphreys’ website definitely worth a browse, and I can recommend watching his ‘Into the Empty Quarter’ DVD which I saw over Christmas, all good motivational stuff: http://www.alastairhumphreys.com

Thankfully I didn’t have to wait long before the next exciting instalment of January fun, as some friends and I had booked a skiing holiday to Slovenia for the second week in. It’s a lot easier going back to work after New Year when you know you have a holiday booked within spitting distance. I hadn’t been to Slovenia before and it didn’t disappoint. Admittedly we were lucky with snow, as it’s been unseasonably warm, however the pistes were open and I hadn’t forgotten how to ski after nearly 6 years of not doing so. It was also cheap at under half the price of an equivalent holiday in France or Austria; the Vopa bar opposite our hotel charged around 2.20 euros a pint, as opposed at least 3 times that in France.

We booked with Crystal Holidays and have no complaints. They were a friendly and helpful team, who organised various events including a pub quiz; we somehow came third, despite the Jagermeister. Kranjska Gora itself is a lovely place, a small town with a bit of an Austrian feel to it which isn’t surprising considering it’s proximity to the border. The locals are very friendly, as were the other ski parties from all over Europe, including a group of Czechs with whom we had an impromptu late night guitar jamming session. Kranjska Gora has some excellent mountain biking trails which are open in the summertime, so might head back that way later this year if my route takes me in that direction. Slovenia is pretty cycle friendly, with lots of cycle trails available, so a good choice for a tourer.

Here’s a video my skiing buddy Chris put together from our night skiing foray; warning – this video contains heavy metal and Chris’ radioative green trousers.

The same Youtube channel also contains the somewhat epic crash Chris and I had on the Podkoren black run; a case of converging skiers with nowhere to go!

The ski holiday over it was back to work and the serious business of earning the pennies to support more fun based activity later this year. With the intended start date of my 2015 tour getting closer I’ve realised I’ve got rather a lot to before I’m ready to go, including a kit refresh, finishing planning, getting my house ready to rent then renting it out, buying plane tickets etc etc etc. At least I’ve made a good start this weekend by picking up my new bike from Oxford Bike Works. As I’ve mentioned before I really love my Ridgeback Panorama, however I wanted to upgrade for this years activities, and selected something a little more solid and simple; a steed that’s unlikely to break, can survive the harsher trails, and which I can fix relatively easily wherever I am.

I read a review on touring bikes a couple of months ago on Tom Allen’s website, http://tomsbiketrip.com/ (look under touring help for loads of really sound advice when planning a trip) , and noticed he’s designed an expedition bike, putting to use his years of experience of cycle touring in to designing something simple, hard to break, and practical. As I was in the market for something new, and didn’t want to go the route of Dawes, or another Ridgeback, I thought I’d take a look and got in touch with Richard from Oxford Bike Works. After a visit in early January, which included a fitting session, test ride, and design finalisation, I headed back there yesterday to pick up my new bike. After riding it around Norfolk today I can confirm I’m very pleased with the resulting machine, and would recommend Richard and Oxford Bike Works to anyone in the market for something that isn’t just off the peg.

Features include an SP Dynamo Hub for keeping devices charged, and for running the Luxos front lamp which will be handy in Norwegian tunnels, some of which can be kilometres long. I’ll carry on using my Lezyne back light, and add to it with a few other small LEDs if the weather is bad. It also has a natty two-legged folding stand, something I really missed on my Bike around Britain tour. I’m somewhat over-excited about the brass bell mounted on the handlebar stem; it just looks cool. The wheels are hand-built with 36 spokes, covered by comprehensive sturdy yet light mudguards, and Tubus Racks on which I can mount my Ortlieb panniers. The bike frame is Reynolds 525 tubing, and I did wonder why higher spec tubing wasn’t used, 725 or even 953, however apparently the 525 won’t dent as easily. I went for standard mountain bike style handlebars, with cow horns so I can change my hand grip; I get pins and needles in my hands if there in the same position for too long whilst riding. The saddle is a Gel Ozone Bioflex model, which is considerably larger and more padded than that on my Ridgeback; I can attest to it being more comfy after today’s ride, didn’t need padded shorts. I considered a Brookes Saddle but couldn’t justify the expense, and some say they take a bit of getting used to anyway. Finally, the most important thing, I chose red for the colour, as red makes things go faster, obviously, and because Travelling Lobster approves of anything that’s red.

Here are a few more photo’s from today’s ride around Norfolk; the snow drops have been out for a few week’s now and look lovely.

With the new bike acquired, I need to get on and tick some more stuff off my list with regards to tour prep, especially as I want to start in May which isn’t that far away now. I’m thinking of starting the tour with a visit to the first UK-based cycle touring festival, up near Manchester, before flying out to Nordkapp, the Northern-most point of Norway. It would be great to meet lots of like-minded individuals and make some new contacts, learn lots, and get motivated for the months ahead. The festival is the first of its kind in the UK, as far as I know, and I hope it gets enough interest for it to continue next year, cycle touring being something of a niche, although growing, past-time. Would be great to go back next year and talk about my 2015 adventures; here’s a link to the website, tickets go on sale pretty soon: https://cycletouringfestival.wordpress.com/

That was meant to be a short post, but turned into something of a ramble, so well done if you made it all the way through. Stay tuned for more news shortly on tour planning, working out how to get my bike on a plane, renaming my blog (suggestions welcome), thoughts on dealing with dangerous dogs whilst touring, and refining my kit list. 2015 is shaping up to be a winner, providing I get my arse in gear and get cracking on the to-do list.

Stamps, holiday in Scotland, and September cycling

Did you collect stamps as a kid? I did. It was thrilling getting stamps from weird and wonderful places such as Australia, Europe, or Papua New Guinea. Maybe that’s where I got my original desire to travel from, to see these places myself.

I recently came across the Post Office Blog site, mainly because they’ve launched a new range of stamps covering Britain’s seaside architecture. It reminded me of several places I passed through on my Bike around Britain tour; well actually I passed close to or by all of them. I don’t collect stamps anymore, and have no idea if kids still do, but it’s a cool collection and made me feel a bit nostalgic. You can view them yourself here:

http://blog.postofficeshop.co.uk/celebrating-britains-seaside-architecture/

Here’s a sample – it wasn’t this nice in Bangor when I pedalled through, in fact I think it was raining, as it was for most of Wales.

Seaside Bangor Pier

Thinking about it I doubt kids still collect stamps, unless you can get them on an iPad, or games console; shame really, I hope I’m wrong.

Other neat stuff I’ve come across recently includes Volume Two of SideTracked magazine. I don’t usually buy magazines but think I have finally found one worth reading. I loved Volume One and wasn’t disappointed with this edition; it’s truly inspiring reading about the adventures other people have, all over the world. If you want to be inspired to have an adventure look no further:

http://www.sidetracked.com/

Volume Two

P.S. I’m not paid for either of the above links, I just enjoyed them and thought I’d share. I liked this paragraph from the Foreward:

‘A life encased in bubble wrap is claustrophobic and stilted; a sad waste of what could have been. But be careful, a life jam-packed full of unconscious distraction and thrill-seeking isn’t necessarily any healthier. I’m an advocate of seeking adventure, yes, but I’ve also learnt that it’s only when you risk with real integrity that the opportunity to grow wiser presents itself. Otherwise we just stumble from repeated mistake to repeated mistake, blind to the world.’ …Ed Stafford

With the above in mind I’ve got a few plans, but need to think them through a bit more.

So what else have I been up to? I spent a very pleasant week with family up on the West Coast of Scotland at the end of August. As usual it did not disappoint, and I especially love the West Coast. Highights definitely included the hike over to the pub, Tig an Truish, at the Bridge over the Atlantic with Dad, somewhere I stopped at last year, as well as a good day out cycling, entertaining my nephew,  being fed by Mum, and spending time with everyone. Also found a new whisky I like – a peaty little number called AnCnoc Flaughter which I thoroughly recommend. Here are a few pics:

Also did some mackerel fishing and managed to hook about 8 that were a decent enough size for the frying pan. Fresh mackerel really is hard to beat, especially when you’ve caught it yourself. Seb, my nearly 3-year-old nephew also caught his first fish, but wasn’t entirely sure what to do with it.

And now we’re in September, how did that happen so quickly? Whilst I haven’t really settled upon an idea for my next adventure, whether it be in Iceland, Asia, around the coast of the Mediterranean, or Scandinavia. I have at least been getting out on my bike a bit more and having the odd microadventure; can’t beat sleeping in the woods and waking up to the dawn chorus. I’m on holiday this week, and after a short ride yesterday I set off on something a bit more substantial today; a cycle just shy of 60 miles up to the coast, along it a bit, then back to Norwich. It’s been a gorgeous September day in Norfolk and it sounds like Autumn is looking promising weather wise, although best not to count one’s chickens before they hatch. I should really have bivvi’d up on the coast and cycled back tomorrow morning; maybe I will this weekend.

Here’s the route I took:

http://connect.garmin.com:80/activity/embed/597344206

With a tailwind I made excellent time up to the coast, via Wroxham and Stalham, before arriving at Waxham. I had the beach to myself, aside from a few seals who appeared and regarded me curiously when I went for a swim. The water is still pretty warm, and it was elating plunging into the sea on a deserted beach; I think I loosed an involuntary ‘yeehaw’. Sadly I couldn’t get any pictures of the seals; my camera would not have survived contact with water. It was amazing how close they came; one popped up 2 metres away, snorted indignantly, before plunging back underwater.

From Stalham I pedalled along the coast, nearly to Great Yarmouth, before turning back towards Norwich. I had to spend a bit of time on the main road before turning off into the countryside again and making my way to the Fur and Feather Inn near Salhouse. They also brew Woodfordes ale here, and having covered 50 miles it would’ve been rude not to stop for a pint; Once Bittern, with hops imported from New Zealand apparently.

Brilliant day, which once again reminded me that the simple things in life are often the best; a day out cycling, costing me less than a tenner, through some lovely countryside and coastline, equals contentment.

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.

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.

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