Tag Archives: bicycle shop

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.

Leg 73 – to East Dean

13 July 2013

My tent turning into an oven pretty early on indicated it was going to be another hot day, so I rolled out before it got too unbearable at about 07.30. The campsite was already very active with people getting ready for the Goodwood Festival of Speed. I could hear bacon sizzling from all directions; the smell was very attractive.

Loveders Farm campsite - morning campers

Loveders Farm campsite – morning campers

Ian of course hadn’t had the ‘benefit’ of a tent, and certainly hadn’t needed one. I was quite jealous of his sleeping mat which, as opposed to mine, appeared to stay inflated throughout the night. Mine hadn’t really done that since Lincolnshire but I’d just got used to it. I might have to invest in a similar one if I can remember the make (Ian?).

In the daylight you could see just how busy the campsite was with punters going to the Festival of Speed; there was an air of excitement and I almost wished we were going that way, but the traffic would have been horrendous.

Ian soon emerged from his cocoon like bivvy bag, and we set about getting ready for the day ahead. Although we didn’t have bacon we did have lots of cheese and pickle, and chocolate milk, and fruit, so hearty fare was had, with more sandwiches prepared for lunch. After a shower we packed up and got on the road for about 10.00, cycling from Nutbourne down to Bosham, an ancient village with references back to Roman Times.

Bosham 1

Bosham 1

Emperer Vespasion may have built a house in Bosham; the Romans certainly built a basilica there. Fishbourne is just up the road where there’s a famous Roman villa.  King Canute also had a palace in the village, and his daughter allegedly drowned in the mill pond and was buried in the church yard. Canute was the monarch who commanded, unsuccessfully, for the tide to stop coming in, to show his sycophantic court that there were limits to his power. This seems like a bit of a risk to take as a medieval king if you ask me; I’d prefer them to think me all powerful to discourage assassination attempts. King Harold, who was killed at the battle of Hastings, might also have been buried in the church; it’s all rather speculative.

Bosham 2

Bosham 2

The road around the inlet at Bosham is very low, and floods regularly at low tide, however we were in luck as the tide was out as we pedalled around it. Actually it would have been more fun if the tide had been in a bit, as Ian and I have a tendency to do stupid things when we get together, or at least he entices me into doing stupid things; there could well have been some stunts had the road been waterlogged.

Bosham 3 - a rare photo of me on my bike

Bosham 3 – a rare photo of me on my bike

We continued around  the coast and up to Fishbourne, using a cycle path to get most of the way to Chichester. The roads were getting increasingly busier as I rode further east, and the cars more expensive looking. This seemed to directly correlate to a reduction in driver patience and road etiquette, so I was glad to be off the road even for a short while. We rode past the Roman villa/palace at Fishbourne and down into Chichester, where we stopped for a break in a cafe; I had an excellent pineapple and mango smoothie, and was seriously tempted with the fry up they had on offer.

Cafe stop in Chichester

Cafe stop in Chichester

Chichester grew to importance in Roman times, and its street plan still resembles the layout of that original town, with a Roman road going up to London, and another going to Silchester. It continued to be an important city through the centuries; King Alfred the Great fortified it during his battles against the Danes.

That’s probably enough on the Time Team front; back to the cycling. Refreshed we took the B2266 down to Bognor Regis, after a great stretch alongside a canal. It was lovely riding away from the traffic again, although that didn’t last once we rejoined the road. The holiday season was definitely in full sway along the coast, with a group of oldsters singing Vera Lynn numbers, and various acts along the seafront.

Fundraisers in Bognor - knocking out a few Vera Lynn numbers

Fundraisers in Bognor – knocking out a few Vera Lynn numbers

Belly dancers on the beach

Belly dancers on the beach

We passed cheerleaders as well, always a bonus! And there was a Birdman competition scheduled for later in the day but we had to get on. Birdman competitions are a little odd, but great fun to watch. Contestants in various costumes and contraptions launch themselves off a pier, trying to ‘fly’ the furthest distance possible before crashing into the sea. Google images will supply pictorial evidence in this case, should you require it.

Beautiful day along the South Coast

Beautiful day along the South Coast

We continued along the coast to Littlehampton, stopping to consume sandwiches and the occasional icecream to take the edge off the hot day, and to maintain energy levels. It was a nice change to ride with someone else, and we were pretty equally matched speed wise. I’d been worried Ian would be a lot faster than me with his lighter bike, compared to my Ridgeback with its bulging panniers, however he had much fatter tyres which thankfully slowed him up a bit, and I was more used to hills by this stage.

Me riding down the A259 - not a great road for a cyclist

Me riding down the A259 – not a great road for a cyclist

We made it to Littlehampton and obtained directions from some other cyclists as to the best route to Worthing, trying to avoid the busy main road as much as possible. Maybe it was the heat however drivers were definitely being more aggressive in the South East, or maybe it was because there were two of us; shouldn’t have made any difference as we were in single file. I’m sorry to say that I’ve just come to the conclusion that whilst you can’t generalise, there are just a higher percentage of impatient, irritable and bad drivers in the South East, compared to the rest of the country, barring large cities where maniacal driving is something of the norm. I grew up near Hastings and Eastbourne so I already had a pretty good inkling that this was going to be the case. Thankfully there are quite a lot of quieter roads and cycle paths you can use, and the countryside is lovely to ride through.

Worthing Pier

Worthing Pier

Just before Worthing I spotted a bike shop, somewhere between Ferring and Goring-by-Sea. My old cycling gloves were in the process of disintegrating having taken a battering over the last few months, in all weathers, and after having been soaked with sweat and at times blood from various nicks and scratches. One glove had lost two gel pads, and the other was in danger of losing the same ones, so it was time to replace them; they really help my hands stop developing pins and needles after a few hours riding. I opted for Endura fingerless gloves again, but a slightly different type to my current ones. The new gloves were far less smelly, and very comfy; I instructed the helpful shop staff to treat my old ones as a biohazard and burn them at the first opportunity. We’d been drinking a lot of water throughout the day and the shop also let us refill our waterbottles, which was much appreciated; think the shop was http://www.southdownsbikes.com , so check them out if you’re in the area.

Ian's bike - he was travelling light

Ian’s bike – he was travelling light

We pedalled on, battling through traffic and the occassional swearing driver to Worthing, and then on to Shoreham-by-Sea which was packed with people enjoying the sunshine. There were lots of beach huts along the Shoreham seafront, some of which were immaculately finished, with extravagant interiors. People obviously go to a lot of effort to kit them out and maintain them; they’re not something I’ve ever considered owning but I can see the attraction if you live near a nice beach, and they’d be ideal for storing your windsurfing kit in, if it weren’t for security worries.

We had to double back in Shoreham because the cycle bridge over the lagoon hadn’t been finished yet, despite the cycle route signs pointing us in that direction. I’d hoped we’d be able to meet up with Anthony Sheehan in Shoreham, who’d been following my travels via Twitter, however after the traffic and frequent icecream stops we arrived a little too late. Hope you had a good day’s ride anyway Anthony, and cheers for the messages.

Riding on down the A259 we arrived in Hove and then Brighton, where we stopped to meet up with Ian’s sister Caroline, who I hadn’t seen in ages, her husband Roger and their 6 month old baby Jasmine. It was great to sit on the grass in the sunshine down by the seafront, which was packed with likeminded individuals having picnics, the odd drink, or quite a lot of odd drinks in some cases. We were also treated to some bonus food courtesy of Caroline and Roger – couscous and quinoa, very tasty and good carb loading stuff. We spent about an hour lazing before deciding we really ought to head on towards the South Downs and find somewhere to camp for the night, however it had been very pleasant relaxing for a bit, and watching a plane do some aerobatics over the beach.

Thanks for the encouragment and mention on your website Caroline and Roger – http://www.dragonflyclinic.com – sports therapist and other treatments plus pilates if you’re in need. Hope to see you again soon; think Ian, Chris and I might be passing through Brighton sometime early next year if a plan comes to fruition.

Energy levels replenished we picked our way along the cycle path that runs down Brighton seafront, dodging the multitude of tourists and locals strolling about in the sunshine, who frequently meandered into the cycle lane. It was absolutely packed with people, especially around the pier. I guess folk descend from London and its boroughs for the weekend, especially if the weather is good.

So it was slow going getting out of Brighton, but we eventually made it passing the marina and heading for the hills as the South Downs rose up before us. These were the first serious hills we’d encountered all day, and with the heat Ian was struggling slightly as we passed through Rottingdean, Peacehaven, and on to Newhaven. I’d probably underestimated how acclimatised I was to riding long distances in hot weather, compared with my cycling buddy for the weekend, and despite drinking lots of water he realised later he may have suffered from a touch of heatstroke. We stopped in Newhaven and nipped into the supermarket to grab some supplies; it was nice to stand in the freezer isle for a bit again.

After a couple of pints of banana milk we both felt a lot better, and rode on to Seaford and ‘up’ into the ‘Downs’, which seems a little contradictory but there you go, that’s the English language for you.

Coast off Seaford

Coast off Seaford

The scenery around the Cuckmere Haven and the Seven Sisters country park took me back to my childhood when I’d come here on Geography field trips to study the Oxbow lakes, or to visit the nature centre and walk with my brother and parents; we acquired some stick insects which were pretty fascinating at the time. There followed a monster climb up to Friston Forest, as we ingored ‘Route 2’ which directed us inland towards Polegate, sticking instead to the coast road (A259 still).

We were in familiar territory as we sped down the hill to East Dean, heading for the Tiger Inn where dinner and a cold pint awaited.

Bikes resting after a hot days ride

Bikes resting in East Dean after a hot days ride

Having grown up near here I knew of several good pubs, however the Tiger was reliable and with the South Downs on our doorstep there’d be loads of places to crash out later.

The Tiger - East Dean

The Tiger – East Dean

It was busy but we managed to squeeze on to a table outside, and ordered a couple of pints of Harvey’s Ale and the pub’s homemade burgers for dinner. Harvey’s Brewery is based in Lewis, just down the road; unfortunately I’m not related as far as I know, but the beer is very good, matching anything brewed in Norfolk aside from perhaps Nelson’s Revenge. We spent a very pleasant few hours in the pub ‘rehydrating’ as the sunshine disappeared, to be replaced by a balmy evening with clear skies. A large group of cycle tourers appeared later on for dinner, and then rode off towards the beach; I wasn’t sure where they were going to camp but we’d decided back up the hill was probably the best bet.

Tiger Inn - busy evening

Tiger Inn – busy evening

Having eaten and drunk our fill we left the pub and headed back up towards the forest and top of the hill, pushing our bikes through a meadow above East Dean.

Tiger Inn sign

Tiger Inn sign

No tent was required, not that Ian had one, so we both just lay down in the long grass on our sleeping mats, watching the stars and odd sattelite travelling across the night sky. It was a great spot to sleep for the night, and whilst not strictly legal we weren’t bothering anyone, or wrecking the joint, and you wouldn’t know we’d been there by the time we left in the morning. I think it was probably National Trust land and we’d be gone early, so probably wouldn’t be noticed by anyone aside from the odd dog walker. I just hoped there weren’t any cows or sheep in the meadow that might come and try and get friendly with us later on in the night; knowing my luck it would sheep, infernal creations.

We’d covered 65 miles today, which was an excellent effort from Ian considering the heat and the fact that whilst he’s done lots of long mountain bike rides before, he’s not really done much in the way of cycle touring. We’d only have a short ride tomorrow to get over towards Hastings, where I was going to stop for the night with my parents and Ian lived anyway.

It was great falling asleep under a spectacular starry sky, and waking up to a wonderful view as the sun rose.

Sunrise on the South Downs

Sunrise on the South Downs

Leg 66 – to Polzeath (near Padstow)

– 4,352 miles covered by close of play today, with about a 1,000 to go.

06 July 2013

I was up early to another day of sunshine, so got breakfast, bike checks and a shower out of the way quickly, before packing up. I headed to reception to drop off my toilet block key and get my deposit back, and to do some planning via my iPad; they have free wifi around the reception building which is handy.

Polzeath looked like a good destination to head for today, and the Southwinds campsite, so I gave them a quick call to book in just in case they got busy. It was only £7.00 for the night so good value compared with some.

Before leaving the campsite I met up with Mum and Dad, who returned my phone fully charged, and donated some homemade cookies to the cause – all calories gratefully received. It had been great to see them and I waved them off as they departed for home in East Sussex. All being well I’d be seeing them again in a couple of weeks anyway.

I bid goodbye to the Hele Valley Holiday Park and their wonderful staff, who also made a donation to the Big C, thank you! Ilfracombe was my first destination, only a mile down road. It was pretty busy with a lot of traffic and holiday makers, so I cycled straight through and out the other side, only stopping to use a handy cash point, and to take a pretty uninspiring photo as I realised I’d forgotten to take one at the campsite.

Ilfracombe

Ilfracombe High Street

Next up was a steepish ascent, followed by a long descent down to Braunton. I was able to take the cycle path for some of it, arriving in Barnstaple after about an hour and a half of pedalling in perfect weather. I had a quick walk through the town before picking up the Tarka Trail down the coast. It’s a tarmac’d cycle path running, as so many do, along the route of an old railway line.

Tarka Trail out of Barnstaple

Tarka Trail out of Barnstaple

There were a lot of other cyclists and walkers out in the sunshine, including a large group of girls on a hen party. They looked like they were having a lot of fun, although they freely admitted they were making pretty slow progress due to stopping for frequent breaks. I’m not sure their dresses were best suited for cycling, very entertaining though.

Tarka Trail to Bideford

Tarka Trail to Bideford

I bid the girls goodbye and sped off down the trail, before coming to a rather abrupt halt after I heard a distinctive pinging noise. The wheel destroying Spriggans were at work again, resulting in another broken spoke, and on the drive side this time which I couldn’t deal with; the cassette is in the way, I didn’t have the right tool, and I didn’t have any spokes of the correct length anyway. The wheel had immediately buckled, and pretty badly, so I pulled over to do what I could to temporarily fix it. Of course the hen party passed me shortly afterwards, which was slightly embarrassing after I’d zoomed off.

To fix the buckle in the wheel I had to tighten the spokes either side of the break, and slacken off a few on the other side. The rim had also developed a bit of a flat section which didn’t help matters. All in all it was looking like it was well and truly b*ggered, but I managed to get it into a state where I could continue, hoping there was a bike shop that could rectify matters in the next town along.

Limping to Bideford - still a lovely day though

Limping to Bideford – still a lovely day though, that’s probably Appledore over the water

River Torridge estuary

River Torridge estuary

I was reasonably concerned about how I was going to get this fixed as I limped to Bideford, crossing the old bridge over the River Torridge into the town. Using my phone I located a bike shop that stocked Ridgebacks, and was also a specialist. Fortune must have been smiling on me. Cycles Scuderia was completely on route on my way out of Bideford, and I quickly found it, interrupting Malcolm the owner and his wife as they were having lunch.

Cycles Scuderia - a lucky 'break'

Cycles Scuderia – a lucky ‘break’

After discussing the symptoms and conducting a preliminary exam of the patient Malcolm reckoned he could fix it. The flat section in the rim, as well as some of the spokes being slightly different lengths (I’d been sold shoddy spokes somewhere) meant a complete rebuild was needed. Patching it up would have just meant more spokes breaking at any given moment, but the good news was the wheel could be saved. This was especially fortuitous as he didn’t have any spares in stock. The nearest alternative shop would probably have been in Wadebridge which was miles away.

It was a busy Saturday in the shop, and they had customers backing up with new patients arriving all the time, so I was a extremely grateful that Malcolm was able to fit me in. Whilst the operation was in progress I retreated over the road to a cafe in the park, to get out of the way and grab some lunch while I had the chance.

Lunch at Le Cafe du Parc

Lunch at Le Cafe du Parc

The Cafe du Parc is run by a group of French chefs, who did me a great cheese and pâté platter. After a hectic and worrying morning it was good just to sit down and relax for a while, waiting for the outcome of surgery. I sat in the sunshine for a bit talking to my brother on the phone, before heading back to the shop.

Fortunately the operation had been a success, Malcolm having been able to rebuild my wheel. The flat section had popped out during the procedure and I now had a hand built wheel with new spokes, which I shouldn’t have any further issues with on the tour. From now on it will be hand built wheels all the way, it’s just not worth getting factory built ones which won’t last with all the weight on the bike over a long distance. The cheaper spokes they use in the factory built versions will break after a while, and after one’s gone more are likely to follow, like a zip undoing. That was probably the best £47.00 I spent on the tour, thanks Malcolm and Cycles Scuderia.

Bike back to fully working order I was ready to go again, but stopped briefly to chat to another customer who was on his way from Land’s End to John o’ Groats on his new Dawes tourer. It was his first tour and his gears had seized up, so needed Malcolm’s expert ministrations. He advised the roads ahead were hilly but good. I advised the roads ahead were much the same, and to beware the wilds of Wales if he was passing that way. And sheep, always watch out for the sheep.

I pedalled out of Bideford feeling somewhat relieved, however having spent 3 hours getting my wheel fixed I needed to make up some time. To get some miles done I took the A39 around the coast, up and down the rolling hills of Devon, before passing into Cornwall and reaching Bude, where I took a slight detour.

The A39 to Cornwall

The A39 to Cornwall

Welcome to Kernow

Welcome to Kernow

Bude was very busy with holidaymakers going to and from the beach and enjoying the various pubs, the river looked a bit manky though. I rode along the coast road, Marine Drive, to Widemouth Bay which was a lot nicer, and a big spot for surfers and body boarders.

Widemouth Bay 1

Widemouth Bay 1

I stopped for an ice cream to celebrate everything being in working order, and still being on track despite mechanical failures.

Widemouth Bay 2

Widemouth Bay 2

Widemouth Bay - surfers aplenty

Widemouth Bay – surfers aplenty

Widemouth Bay 3 - photo needs straightening!

Widemouth Bay 3 – photo needs straightening!

Post Widemouth Bay I rode around to Boscastle, ignoring Crackington Haven this time around as it was a dead end, with big hills that I didn’t really have time for after my sojourn at Cycles Scuderia. In any case there were plenty of hills to keep me entertained as I pedalled down the A39, then on to the B3263.

Boscastle

Boscastle

Boscastle is another picturesque village, and home to the museum of witchcraft which sounded intriguing was closed by the time I passed through. The village was badly flooded in 2004, and to a lesser extent in 2007. I remember seeing pictures on the news of people being rescued by helicopter, and of cars being washed down the river. Luckily no-one was killed but looking at the gorge you can see how the river gets funnelled down to the village, and how it could flood in extreme conditions. You can also see the high water mark from the floods, pretty scary.

Road out of Boscastle

Road out of Boscastle

There was another hen do out in Boscastle, all dressed in pink and sounding pretty raucous, also pretty scary so I gave them a wide birth.

Road to Tintagel - sun getting lower

Road to Tintagel – sun getting lower in the sky

I rode on to Tintagel, somewhere I’d explored thoroughly with Lu several years ago. I stopped at the top of the path going down to the castle, which we’d visited at the time. Looking out over the bay I remembered a great holiday, although Lu hadn’t been too keen on the camping side of things. I’d be passing through a lot of the places we’d stopped at back then, so there’d be a lot of happy memories to come.

image

King Arthur’s Arms – something for the tourists

Of course Tintagel Castle is also one of the places that could potentially be the site of King Arthur’s Camelot, if such a place ever existed, or is strongly associated with a lot of the stories anyway. There’s a lot of King Arthur based paraphanalia in the town, including the pub in the above photo, and Merlin’s Cyrstal Cave. One can well imagine how the countryside and coastline around here inspired some of the great tales associated with King Arthur and his knights.

I also stopped at the Old Post Office, a 14 Century stone building owned by the National Trust now.

The Old Post Office, Tintagel

The Old Post Office, Tintagel

I took the coast road out of Tintagel, having to deal with a massive and unexpected hill near Treknow where the road suddenly dips down into a gorge like cove. My heart dropped slightly when I saw the downwards slope appear around a corner, totally unexpected as it wasn’t marked on my map with the usual chevrons. I descended on squealing brakes, and had to push up the other side to Trebarwith Village, it was just too steep; my feet were spinning let alone my wheels.

With the sun starting to dip towards the horizon I pedalled on down the B3314 to Polzeath and the Southwinds campsite, a few final hills making my legs ache. It was great cycling through the countryside as the sun started to set, lighting up the sky with some wonderful colours. I arrived at the Southwinds at about 21.00, a late stop but I was feeling good after covering 85 miles, with the bike running well again.

Sun sets over Southwinds campsite

Sun sets over Southwinds campsite

I booked in and set up quick, then had a shower to wash away the day’s grime. This was a particularly pleasant experience after getting very hot and sweaty in the gorgeous weather.

Tent up quick at Southwinds

Tent up quick at Southwinds

There’s a bar/restaurant just next to the campsite, Sundowners at Carruan Farm. It’s owned and run by Matt and was a great find after a hard day. I arrived once they’d stopped serving food officially, however Matt was able to knock me up a hearty sandwich, which with a pint of cider was just what I needed anyway.

Sundowners is a lovely establishment, only having opened fairly recently. It’s a basically a big wooden barn structure, with a bar and restaurant area, and great views out over the coast. I spent a couple of hours winding down, chatting with Matt about various things. I’ve always had a slight yearning to run a bar or cafe/bar, with a theme to it, and Matt brought me up to speed with some of the challenges, such as what to do in winter time when business can fall off. Bad weather can also have a big impact, especially down in Cornwall, however it looked like the summer was starting to shape up so it should be a good one for Sundowners.

Matt is also a lifeboat man, for the boat based out of Padstow which is just across the River Camel from Polzeath. As expected most of the incidents the lifeboat is called out for are to rescue people that have got in trouble on runaway lilos, or after being trapped by the tide somewhere, rather than boats getting into difficulties. One of the big issues the lifeboat crew faces these days is land based, with a lot of the local houses being bought up as second homes. This means the crew can’t necessarily live close enough to the lifeboat station to provide a fast response. I’m not really sure what you can do about that. You can’t stop a local from selling their house to someone from London for well over the odds, but likewise it’s a shame that communities and services can suffer as a result.

Chatting through my route for the next few days Matt advised I skip Newquay, which has become a bit of a dive over recent years. I visited about 18 years ago when it was still relatively nice, but I think it’s gone a bit tacky since then. He recommended I drop in to St. Agnes. a village a bit further down the coast where there’s a cafe he owns, so I added that to the agenda for tomorrow. Tomorrow would also hopefully bring me to, or within throwing distance of, Land’s End.

After a very pleasant evening I retreated back to my tent, loaded with a complementary bottle of Scrumpy courtesy of Matt.

Scrumpy - could be dangerous

Scrumpy – could be dangerous

I’d meant to do some writing, however I couldn’t keep my eyes open and drifted off to sleep, hopeful of another day of good weather tomorrow.

Leg 65 – to Ilfracombe

A great birthday, with fab weather and some lovely countryside.

05 July 2013

I had a few strange dreams overnight, no doubt due to the cabaret performances I’d born witness to at the Beachcomber Inn. Still, it had been a thoroughly enjoyable evening, if not always for the right reasons, and I’d got a tenner from Pauline for the Big C so all good.

I only just remembered it was my birthday, 38 today, so I had a lie in until 08.30 to celebrate. For some reason I’m more of a fan of odd numbers than even numbers, don’t know why, so I wasn’t particularly excited about being 38, I’m pretty much stuck at being 33 anyway.

Warren Farm Holiday Park - a lovely sunny day

Warren Farm Holiday Park – a lovely sunny day

I spent 30 minutes checking my bike over breakfast, then had a shower and packed up. I had to take advantage of that plush toilet block one more time. Somewhere in between finishing my bike checks and getting back from the shower another spoke had managed to go ping. It was the non-drive side again so I thought I had spares, however upon trying to fit a new one I discovered I’d been given the wrong length spokes; maybe that bike shop in Cardiff wasn’t so good after all. This was pretty annoying as the shop had measured them up, but I should have checked myself rather than just trust that they’d got it right.

Instead of fitting a replacement spoke I had to tighten those adjacent to the break to get rid of the slight buckle, and hope they held out until I could reach another bike shop.

As I loaded up my bike more punters were arriving for the weekend in an almost constant stream of cars, caravans and motor-homes. The good weather must have been encouraging more people to get out in the fresh air. Due to bike fixing I didn’t get away until 11.00, with someone else immediately taking my vacated pitch. It was a bit like a full car park with people driving around waiting for someone to leave, and made me realise I was going to have book sites in advance if I wanted to guarantee a space now.

From Brean I rode along to Burnham-on-Sea and stopped at a small bike/car accessories shop, but they didn’t sell spokes and claimed I was unlikely to be able to buy them individually. To be honest I’m not sure he was the world’s foremost expert on bicycles, however he was able to recommend a good shop in Bridgwater where they build their own bikes, so were bound to have spokes for sale.

Burnham-on-Sea - seagull

Burnham-on-Sea – seagull

I rode down the seafront in Burnham before heading off towards Bridgwater, which was en-route anyway. I needed to swing inland slightly to find a crossing over the River Parrett.

Burnham Pier

Burnham Pier

Burnham seafront

Burnham seafront

I passed through Highbridge and pedalled on to Bridgwater, which has a slightly confusing one way system. I eventually found the bicycle shop, SJS Cycles, on St. John’s Road. They’re also the home of Thorn Cycles, who manufacture touring and tandem bikes. Each bike is assembled specifically to an individual’s requirements, and they carry a massive stock of frames, brakes, gears etc. and more importantly spare spokes. I had a chat with one of their engineers who noticed the majority of the spokes on my rear wheel, aside from those I’d replaced, were pretty poor quality meaning they’d probably break as well. I need DT spokes apparently, which are much less likely to break down at the elbow as the angle is better, and they’re just stronger. I bought half a dozen new spokes, all of the correct length, for a few quid, and replaced the broken one in the shop.

After straightening my wheel I was ready to set off, having learned more about wheel maintenance again. I stopped briefly for a lunchtime snack and then rode west from Bridgwater, fighting through the busy traffic and confusing roads to the A39. There followed a long stretch back down to the coast and Watchet, through pleasant Somerset countryside, and then along to Blue Anchor, followed by Minehead. I think there’s supposed to be a cycle track from Blue Anchor to Minehead but I couldn’t find it, so had to rejoin the A39. It was great to be cycling in good weather for a change, and I felt my morale rise accordingly after the hard slog through Wales.

I entered the Exmoor National Park after Minehead, and things got hilly. I was pretty certain the easy cycling since the Severn Bridge was now coming to and end, with the steep gradients of Devon and Cornwall in front of me. I’d been pondering these hills for a while now, surely they couldn’t be any worse than those I’d tackled along the west coast of Wales…surely…

Pausing in Porlock, a picturesque village in the heart of the national park, I refuelled on bananas and crisps in preparation for the Porlock hill climb. There are two ways you can tackle the hill out of Porlock, which is somewhat renowned amongst cycling circles. You can either take the A39 which has a really steep start to it (25%), followed by a long climb that isn’t for the feint hearted, or you can take the toll road which is longer but less steep. The main road was absolutely jammed with traffic so I opted for the toll road.

Porlock Toll Road 1

Porlock Toll Road 1

I really enjoyed the toll road, which although a very long hill climb was kind of cuddly, never being too steep, and passing through some gorgeous woodland with great views down to the coast. Consequently I seem to have taken a lot of photos.

Porlock Toll Road 2

Porlock Toll Road 2

Porlock Toll Road 3

Porlock Toll Road 3

The advantage of this road is the lack of traffic, compared to the A39, and I revelled in the quiet countryside, free of car fumes, and with birds singing all around me.

Porlock Toll Road 4

Porlock Toll Road 4

The toll road rises just over 4 miles before rejoining the A39, and overlooks Porlock Bay which you can often glimpse through the trees.

Porlock Toll Road 5

Porlock Toll Road 5

I loved the way the sunshine was coming through the trees, showing off the forest at its best, with lots of different shades of green.

Porlock Toll Road 6 - Porlock Bay

Porlock Toll Road 6 – Porlock Bay

The toll house is about half way up, and cost me a  quid for my bike – good value. I had a nice chat with the toll collector, feeling very relaxed. Shortly afterwards I passed a cyclist going the other way, travelling downhill at a rapid pace. I hoped his brakes were good as there are a few hairpins you have to contend with.

Porlock Toll Road 7

Porlock Toll Road 7

The gradient on the toll road never goes above about 1 in 14, which is mild compared with the main road.

Porlock Toll Road 8

Porlock Toll Road 8

I finally made it out of the trees and was afforded with some fantastic views down to the sea, and across the moor.

Porlock Toll Road 9

Porlock Toll Road 9

I paused for a few minutes at the top, just to take it all in, before carrying on across Exmoor. I later learnt I’d cycled up the toll road at about the same time my parents had been driving down the main road. They said I’d made the right choice, the main road being very busy. Drivers can be little impatient when they get stuck behind a cyclist on a steep hill for ages.

Porlock Toll Road 10 - panorama

Porlock Toll Road 10 – panorama

After Porlock I rode across the top of the moor, on a fairly flat section through more great scenery.

Exmoor National Park 1

Exmoor National Park 1

There were a few sheep hiding on the moor though, so not everything was quite as tranquil as it might appear. They can ambush you at any time so I had to keep on my toes, or on my pedals as it were.

Exmoor National Park 2

Exmoor National Park 2

Exmoor National Park 3

Exmoor National Park 3 – the A39 wasn’t as quiet as the toll road had been

After a few miles I rode down Countisbury Hill into Lynmouth,  where the road travels right next to the coastline, affording more lovely views.

Coast at Countisbury Hill

Coast at Countisbury Hill

There was a slight haze in the air, which the sheep were using for cover to hide their movements.

Descent down to Lynmouth 1

Descent down to Lynmouth – bit hazy

Lynmouth is another pretty village, having had to be rebuilt after the huge flood in 1952 which destroyed over 100 buildings, most of the bridges, washed cars out to sea, and killed 34 people. The river has been diverted around the village now to avoid a repetition.

Lynmouth Village

Lynmouth Village

The river has a huge catchment area so it’s not surprising there’s a flood risk. In 1952 the flood waters backed up behind a natural damn of river debris, including lots of trees washed into the swelling waters. When this eventually broke it sent a huge wave of water and debris down the valley, straight through the village.

Lynmouth Village - East Lynn River looking calm today

Lynmouth Village – Lyn River looking calm today

The hill out of Lynmouth was a leg killer, being 25% in several places and going on for at least a couple of miles. I chose to take Lynbridge Road (B3234), the more direct route alongside West Lyn River, rather than go the long way round on the A39. With the benefit of hindsight I should have gone for the longer and less steep route, however I missed the turning. I had to stop and rest 3 times up the climb, which was probably the hardest I’d had to tackle gradient wise to date, and I admit I did have to push for 10 metres or so just because it was so steep I couldn’t get going again without sliding backwards. I needed to get to a flatter bit just to start pedalling again.

I finally made it to the top and continued on the A39, which I’d rejoined, through more of Exmoor and then down a lovely long descent on the A399 towards Ilfracombe.

Exmoor post Lymouth

Exmoor post Lymouth

Exmoor - getting towards evening

Exmoor – evening drawing on

It was a great ride down to the coast as the light started to fade, past various good looking pubs which I was sorely tempted to stop at, and a nice little harbour at Combe Martin. My parents had already arrived at their B&B in Hele, where my campsite for the night was also located, so I needed to get a move on. It had been slow going today with all the hills, and a few stops for bike repairs.

I passed the castle at Watermouth, then pedalled slowly up the last hill before Hele and free-wheeling down to the campsite.

Watermouth Castle

Watermouth Castle

Top of the last hill before Hele Bay - gorgeous view

Top of the last hill before Hele Bay – gorgeous view

After having a nice chat with Sandra who was on warden duty at Hele Valley Holiday Park, I pitched my tent at about 20.30. Sandra and all the staff at the holiday park were really welcoming, and interested in my cycle ride. I’d recommend the campsite for anyone passing through.

I called my parents to let them know I’d arrived, and they promptly turned up to collect me so we could go forth and feast; although they did omit to bring me a beer, but I’d forgive them despite it having been a very thirst inducing day.

We went for dinner at the Hele Billy Pub/Restuarant, just managing to get in and order before the kitchen closed thanks to an understanding chef. It was great to see my parents and catch up, and even better as they were paying. I duly consumed a huge mixed grill, as well as most of my mother’s potatoes, and the cheesecake for dessert before I finally felt full. Unfortunately my Dad didn’t leave any morsel unfinished on his plate, but I probably couldn’t have eaten anything else after all that, as well as a few pints of very welcome Devonshire cider.

Hele Billy mixed grill - a must for the serious cycle tourer

Hele Billy mixed grill – a must for the serious cycle tourer

All in all it was a great birthday celebration, in a cool pub, and lovely to spend it with my parents. Thinking about it I probably hadn’t spent my birthday with Mum and Dad for a number of years.

Dad tucking in to duck if I recall correctly

Dad tucking in to duck if I recall correctly – look at the concentration

Mum consuming food at a more leisurely pace - I'd already finished

Mum consuming food at a more leisurely pace – of course I’d already finished

After a great day, during which I’d covered about 77 miles and some serious hills, I slept very well after being dropped back at the campsite. I was slightly worried about my rear wheel still, but had spare spokes, things couldn’t go that wrong could they?!

Leg 64 – to Brean via the Severn Bridge

A good days ride covering approximately 85 miles, and getting back into England.

04 July 2013

All too quickly it was time to get up after a very comfy night in a proper bed again; nice not to have to pack up my tent though, and nice to have another set of clean clothes post my washing drying.

Rachel had to leave for work fairly early, so I bid her goodbye, however handily Ian works from home as a Games developer so I had time to ease into the day. After having a leisurely breakfast and a chat with Ian I packed up and was ready to hit the road. Thanks for the stopover guys!

The weather looked acceptable if a little overcast as I pedalled off. Ian and Rachel had recommended a bike shop just down the road in Whitchurch, Damian Harris Cycles, so I made that my first stop. Unfortunately it started drizzling on my way there, but I had faith conditions were going to improve.

Damian Harris Cycles is another great bike shop, with a friendly and helpful bunch of guys who were good to chat to. I bought a new rear tyre, another Schwalbe Marathon Plus, which they fitted for me. It was gratifying to see I’m not the only one who struggles to get these tyres over the wheel rim, they’re very tough but hard to fit as a result. I also picked up a few more spokes, non drive side, as I’d run out of spares. I compared notes with one of the lads in the shop on the west coast of Wales and its hills. He agreed they can be pretty tough, with steep gradients. I reckoned they were as tough as anything else I’d tackled to date, just because of their frequency and steepness.

With my bike all rejuvenated I set off through Cardiff, targeting the Severn Bridge to get back into England. I rode past the castle, and stopped at a Greggs in the main shopping area to load up with bakery goods to keep me going, plus a second breakfast of a pizza slice. Cardiff’s another nice city I need to go back and visit properly another time.

Cardiff in the rain

Cardiff in the rain

There followed a slightly convoluted route to get out of Cardiff, via Splott, a cool name for a suburb. I eventually made it on to the coast road, after a couple of wrong turns, and pedalled up the Welsh coast alongside the Severn Estuary. The road was being turned into a dual carriageway, with large sections coned off. It was great to cycle on, being light on traffic and lovely and flat, with new tarmac. A rare tailwind helped be along, through various industrial areas to begin with, then some nice countryside all the way to Newport.

The rain stopped as I rode over the bridge into Newport, but then got a bit turned around in a maze of roads and confusing signposts. I stopped at a greengrocers to buy a few bananas and apples, and checked my map with the store owner to make sure I was on track. Thankfully I was still going roughly the right way and was soon on the road to Magor, then on to Caldicot via Undy. All the towns had their names in Welsh on the entry signs as usual, but I still didn’t have a chance of pronouncing them correctly most of the time.

I’d been following route 4 (CTC) on and off all day, and pedalled to Pwllmeyric just before Chepstow, having to tackle a steep hill before turning south to cross the River Severn. I was going to cross using the old Severn Bridge over which the M48 passes, as it’s open to bikes. Using the cycle path over the bridge saved me a long track inland to Gloucester, and back down again. I passed a moped going the other way, so they obviously don’t mind small motorbikes using it either.

There was a team painting the bridge as I crossed, which must be a pretty much permanent task. The bridge was vibrating from all the traffic zooming over it, just yards from the cycle path, a weird sensation.

Severn Bridge cycle path

Severn Bridge cycle path

I stopped for a quick break on the bridge, looking back towards Wales and then south to England. The clouds were breaking up and the sun coming out. After having to endure bad weather for much of my time in Wales it was apt timing that conditions were improving just as I was leaving.

Break on the bridge

Break on the bridge in the sunshine

Back in England

Back in England

After the bridge and village of Aust I tried, somewhat unsuccessfully, to stick to the small roads and tracks next to the estuary – several were looking quite promising with helpful signposts. I passed through Severn Beach, but then ended up at a dead end and had to push my bike through a bit of a bush to get back to the road. This resulted in a few nettle stings but at least I was back on track, albeit with a few bits of vegetation sticking out from panniers. Either I’d missed a signpost or they’d done their usual trick of not being there when I really needed one. I blame Gremlins.

Promising track - resulted in a dead end

Promising track – resulted in a dead end

Severn Estuary - looking back to the bridge

Severn Estuary – looking back to the bridge

Severn Estuary and Bridge again

Severn Estuary and Bridge again – takes a while to cycle across

The A403 and a couple of quieter side roads and cycle tracks took me down to Avonmouth. The riding wasn’t a lot of fun, with a lot of heavy traffic, factories, fumes and impatient drivers. The impatient folk weren’t the lorry drivers incidentally, more the car drivers, especially the smaller cars – small angry man syndrome most of the time. I definitely needed a wide load sign on the back of my bike.

Severn Estuary in the sunshine

Severn Estuary in the sunshine

I stopped in Avonmouth for a break and phoned Will, my brother, who was stuck up in Edinburgh waiting for a plane to be fixed. I sat in the sunshine chatting, eating a couple of bananas and a chocolate bar to replenish energy reserves, whilst watching a large number of heavily tattooed men and women go in and out of a shop. There isn’t a lot in Avonmouth, but body art seems to feature in a big way with the locals. A lot of it was pretty cool and got me wondering about a tattoo again, something I’ve been mulling over for a while. I’d quite like a small one of a similar design to the New Zealand green-stone necklace I wear, but think I’ll have to get a design done and put it up on my wall for 6 months to see if I get bored of it before making a final decision.

I had to ride towards and into the outskirts of Bristol next, to find a bridge over the River Avon. Thankfully most of the route was via cycle paths as the roads were very busy again.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

Clifton Suspension Bridge

I pedalled up the A4 alongside the river, with cliffs on my left hand side at some points, and passed under the Clifton Suspension Bridge before crossing the Avon. The queues of traffic were pretty horrendous, but being on a bike I was able to keep to the cycle tracks and bypass them all for the most part.

Crossing the Avon

Crossing the Avon

I took the B3128 back towards the coast and Clevedon, trying to avoid the busier roads, but encountering a big hill climb instead. It was lovely riding in the sunshine, which had stayed out since getting back into England. I could look back over the Severn Estuary into Wales and see a pall of clouds still hanging over the coastline there – that country does seem like a magnet for bad weather.

I quickly came to the conclusion that all the roads were going to be busy, so just got my head down and pedalled, yearning for the quieter trails of Scotland. There were quite a few other cyclists out to wave to, including a few tourers going the other way who had the tailwind at this stage.

After getting irritated by a succession of drivers coming too close to me in their haste to pass, I turned off the the B3128 and rode across to the A370, which although equally as busy was wider, and took me direct to Weston-super-Mare.

It took a long time to get into Weston-super-Mare from its outskirts, having crossed the town boundary several miles before I reached the town centre itself. The road just seemed to go on for ages but I eventually made it to the seafront, where a big biker rally was going on. They had a DJ playing some really classic tunes, including music from Therapy, The Cure, and even a bit of Type O Negative which I hadn’t listened to in ages.

Weston-Super-Mare - biker rally

Weston-super-Mare – biker rally

There were a lot of bikes and it looked like a lot of fun; I considered trying to sneak in with the Ridgeback but I’m not sure it would have measured up versus a Harley Davidson hog. Instead I paused on the promenade and had a cold can of fizzy pop from a stall that was just closing up for the evening, listening to the music and gazing out across the sands.

Weston-Super-Mare pier

Weston-super-Mare pier

Weston-Super-Mare beach

Weston-Super-Mare beach

Refreshed and buoyed by the music I pedalled along the promenade with the sun gradually getting lower in the clouds, watching a few kite surfers out for an evening session.

Weston-super-Mare - Kite Surfers 1

Weston-super-Mare – Kite Surfers 1

There was a stiff breeze so some of them were travelling along at quite a pace. I’m still not sure how they don’t decapitate one another with the lines to their kites. There were a few windsurfers out too, which seems like a safer option.

Weston-super-Mare - Kite Surfers 2

Weston-super-Mare – Kite Surfers 2

The on-shore wind they were enjoying was unfortunately whipping up a fair bit of sand and blowing it into my face and eyes, which stung a bit despite wearing sunglasses and pulling my buff up around my mouth.

Evening drawing on in Weston-super-Mare

Evening drawing on in Weston-super-Mare

I think that’s Steep Holm Island in the photo above, out in the Bristol Channel, although it might be Flat Holm Island.

Weston-super-Mare - Kite Surfers 3

Weston-super-Mare – Kite Surfers 3

Some rather wiggly roads came next as I made my way around to Brean and found a campsite, which turned out to be more of a holiday park, but only cost me £11. This was fine given it was now July and camping prices were going up.

I quickly pitched my tent which blew about a bit, due to the increasing westerly wind and exposed coastline, until I got it pegged down. Handily the Hilleburg Akto is easy to erect, having only one pole you need to slide in. I’d had lots of practice by now so it was up in five minutes, and I adjourned to the rather plush toilet block for a shower.

Plushest toilets of the tour!

Plushest toilets of the tour!

Now I’m not in the habit of taking pictures in toilets, but the facilities at the Warren Farm Holiday Park were pretty impressive. I almost felt like I needed to have a wash before using them.

Me looking a but weather beaten in Brean

Me looking a but weather beaten in Brean

The Beachcomber Inn is just next door to the campsite, and part of the complex, doubling as the entertainment centre for the holiday park. With some trepidation I made my way there, deciding I’d eat out rather than cook something in the wind, but somewhat nervous about exactly what sort of entertainment they had lined up.

They were just finishing the bingo when I turned up. I ordered a surf and turf dinner, as a treat, to celebrate the good weather (despite the wind) and getting back into England. Then I settled down to write my journal and watch a few of the acts. An ex X -Factor singer there on holiday was called upon to do a couple of numbers, he wasn’t half a bad singer but I prefer real music with real musicians; pity he didn’t do a few of the songs being played down the road at the biker rally.

The highlight of the evening were a couple of comedians, one the straight guy, Tim, and the other the funny guy, Tony.  Tony was impersonating an Albanian working at the holiday camp, ‘standing in’ for Tony who was ‘late’. They were really good and I genuinely laughed throughout the show, which also contained a few sing-alongs,  and a bit of audience participation.

Tim and Tony Strange at the Warren Farm Holiday Park

Tim and Tony Strange at the Warren Farm Holiday Park

All in all it was a great evening, and made me realise not all holiday camp cabaret experiences are awful. I also chatted to a few of the holiday makers there, including Pauline who kindly donated £10 to the Big C, thanks Pauline. She’d been coming to the holiday park since 1975 and told me a few tales, and got me a ‘shout out’ from the compère for my tour which was nice.

Post a rendition of ‘Oh Mandy’ and ‘That’s Amore’, and the Albanian worker upstaging Tony, the show was over and it was time to retreat back to my tent. It was my birthday tomorrow, so I had my fingers crossed for good weather, and was looking forward to meeting up with my parents who were travelling down from East Sussex to visit – fingers crossed for some free food!

I’ll leave you with a bit of Tim and Tony Strange via Youtube if you fancy a laugh, classic comedy:

Edited with BlogPad Pro

Leg 54 – to Flookburgh via Barrow-in-Furness

Before starting to recount Leg 54, here’s a link to the latest fun sketch from It’s A Trap:

http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=RvWQyB4dcOo

It’s A Trap are a Norwich based group of friends who create entertaining film and audio shorts, check out our YouTube channel. I wasn’t involved in this one, so it was a nice surprise!

24 June 2013

I woke up in good time, keen to get down to Barrow-in-Furness where there’s a good bike shop I’d found on the net the evening before. The wind had dropped a bit but was still blowing, however it was a nice bright day.

Morning in St Bees

Morning in St Bees


Breakfast consisted of sausage rolls due to a slight lack of other supplies, although I wasn’t complaining, beats cornflakes. I had a quick check of the bike ably assisted by Lobster; my temporary spoke fix was holding up well, although my carapaced friend was somewhat dubious as to its potential longevity. 

Post a shower I was ready to hit the road by 09.00, and got on my way after bidding goodbye to the lads starting their coast to coast, as well as Dave the dog walker, who donated a quid to the Big C – thanks Dave, it all helps!

I stopped just outside the campsite to take another look at the bay and beach in the daylight.

St Bees bay

St Bees bay

I quite fancied spending a day on the beach, however bike mending was required.

St Bees beach

St Bees beach


 

St Bees beach looking south

St Bees beach looking south

St Bees village looked nice, with several promising pubs.

St Bees village, I crossed the level crossing with care

St Bees village, I crossed the level crossing with care, nervous of more spokes going

I pedalled along the wriggly country roads out of St Bees, the scenery proving to be a lot more entertaining than yesterday, with dramatic hills, and the wind being mostly behind me making for easier riding. It was a great ride down past Sellafield, near Seascale, where I was hoping I might benefit from a gamma ray or two to give my legs some Hulk like power, sadly it appears the plant is too well shielded for such things.

Sellafield

Sellafield – the nuclear reprocessing site


Next up was Ravenglass, another village which sounds like it should be in a science fiction or fantasy novel, with it’s Roman Baths and the castle of Muncaster just next door. By the looks of it there’s lots to do in the area, and I’d have to add it to my list of places to come back to, along with a visit to the Lake District which I was mostly missing by sticking to the coast. Sticking to the coast did have some benefits in that I missed the steepest of the hills, however I still had to deal with my fair share on the way down to Barrow-in-Furness.

Looking East into the Lake District

Looking East into the Lake District – ominous clouds


I was slightly concerned about the numerous dark clouds lurking over the a Lake District, making it look a bit Mordor like, however the coast looked mostly clear. I stopped at a garage in Holmrook and bought a chicken and leak pie for second breakfast, just in case the weather turned and I needed the extra energy – that was my excuse anyway. It was homemade and tasted excellent, so I bought another one for later, then phoned the bike shop to let them know I was coming and to make sure they could fit a quick wheel repair in. I ended up having quite a long chat with Simon, their wheel builder, who gave me a few pointers on my route down to Barrow. I was looking forward to meeting the guys at Topmark (108 Greengate Street, Barrow-in-Furness).

Riding down the A595

Riding down the A595


The hills looked impressive, and of course were called Fells now, rather the Braes or Munros of Scotland. Scarfell Pike lurked in their somewhere, which I’d climbed one early morning several years ago, starting when it was dark and reaching the top as the dawn broke. We were doing the 3 peaks challenge at the time, and I remember leading our group up a rather dubious looking path, using my head torch to pick out the stone cairns that marked the route. Thankfully we avoided any steep drops and saw the sun rise, before charging back down for bacon rolls at the minibus, happy days.

Muncaster Castle

Muncaster Castle


The signs said Muncaster Castle was allegedly haunted, however in the sunshine it didn’t look very spooky. I had fun whizzing down the hill through the trees from it, and then across the flood plain towards Bootle. 

The great countryside continued, accompanied by a few significant hills which got my legs and lungs going, as I looped around through Millon and down to Barrow-in-Furness. The last bit alongside the Duddon Channel and through Askam seemed to take an age, with lots of ups and downs, however I made it to Barrow at about 13.00, after a good session having covered around 50 miles.

I headed straight for Topmark, sort of, via a slightly roundabout route really, and met up with Simon who quickly got to work replacing my two broken spokes, and straightening out my wheel. This was a bit of a tricky task as I’d had to make a lot of tweaks to make it here (I’d done a bodge job really), and essentially involved slackening all the spokes off and starting again. 

Wheel straightened and reattached I picked up some spare spokes in case any more broke, and Simon gave me a few tips on wheel maintenance, and on my route over the next couple of days. I could only deal with non-drive side spokes, as the drive side are harder to get at and you need a tool I wasn’t carrying with me, so I was hoping it would only be non-drive side that broke, if any. It wasn’t surprising I was encountering spoke breakages, the rear wheel wasn’t exactly right for the bike, and I was carrying a lot of weight over some pretty rigorous terrain. My worry was that now they’d started to break they might all go, a bit like Velcro undoing. I also got my chain checked – it was still well within limits, so I hoped it would get me back to Norwich.

Full marks to Topmark for friendly and efficient service, and going that extra mile to help me out and offer advice. I was getting to really enjoy dropping into bike shops along the way, you learn a lot as things break! Here’s a link to the Topmark website – http://www.topmarkonline.com/ (they also do lots of water sports equipment)

Post bike repairs I grabbed a quick cheeseburger from a McDonalds, because sometimes it’s just nice to eat dirty food, and they have free wifi, then had a quick look around Barrow-in-Furness.

Barrow-in-Furness - statue commemorating engineering that goes on it the city

Barrow-in-Furness – statue commemorating engineering that goes on it the city

It’s a quite a big town, and not very touristy being quite industrial. I had a look at where they build submarines from the bridge over to the Isle of Walney (BAE Systems).

Submarine building sheds

Submarine building sheds – they were huge


Post Walney Island, which is essentially a large sand spit that been built on over the years, I followed Simon’s suggested route which took me along the cycle track from behind Morrisons, around the bay to Rampside. I passed a few frigates on the way.

Cycle path along bay

Cycle path along bay


 

Frigates 1 - Barrow-in-Furness

Frigates 1 – Barrow-in-Furness


I was a bit confused as to which navy the frigates belonged to, however the mystery has been solved by the Interweb! Apparently the 3 frigates have been moored there since 2007, after BAE built them for the navy of the Sultan of Brunei. Although the Sultan paid for them, he decided he didn’t want them anymore and was looking for someone else to sell them to. It doesn’t look like he’s had any luck, despite them being ‘lovely little runners’, with only one previous owner who has effectively left them boxed. At least the port is benefitting from harbour fees whist they’re moored there.

Frigates 2 - Barrow-in-Furness

Frigates 2 – Barrow-in-Furness


 

Cycle path through the mudflats

Cycle path through the mudflats


I had to dodge around a group of kids drinking beer, who thought it would be fun to throw empty beer cans at me, and then met some police trying to find another group of kids who were running amok, nice area. Despite the local flora and fauna I made it around to Rampside and to the end of the road where a ferry runs over to Piel Castle.

Piel Island and Castle

Piel Island and Castle


A nice couple offered to take my photo, so here’s a rare shot of me and my bike in totality.

Jetty to ferry to Piel Island

Jetty to ferry to Piel Island – me and my trusty steed


Of course then Lobster wanted to be in the photo too.

Me and Lobster - Piel Island

Me and Lobster – Piel Island

I decided against taking the ferry over to the island, it being a little windy out on the water, as demonstrated by my hair.

Ship moored off causeway to Roa Island

Ship ‘moored’ off causeway to Roa Island – not sure it was going anywhere in a hurry

A lovely ride along the western side of Morcambe Bay followed, up to Ulvertson, past the big sand flats which are so dangerous to  the unwary, with people getting trapped on them by the tides and sinking sand.

Morecambe Bay

Morecambe Bay

In 2004 twenty one Chinese immigrants were unfortunately drowned whilst collecting cockles out in the bay, when the tide came in. They were here illegally, and being paid £5 for a 25kg bag of cockles. They should have never been out on the sands, where they got cut off by the incoming tide despite a group of British workers trying to warn them. I guess desperate people will go to ay lengths to earn a crust, and unfortunately there are always people around who will take advantage. No one ended up getting prosecuted for any wrongdoing, which seems an injustice. I’d have thought those organising and paying the work gangs should be held accountable in some regard.

Morecambe Bay 2

Morecambe Bay 2


In Ulvertson I rode past the Hoad monument, which commemorates Sir John Barrow, a founder member of the Royal Geographic Society. 

Hoad Monument, Ulvertson

Hoad Monument, Ulvertson


Again following Simon’s directions, and with my bike performing well, I rode around the top of the bay and down to Flookburgh, via a cycle path that avoided the worst bit of the A590. The cycle path took me over a footbridge traversing the River Leven, which flows from Lake Windemere into Morecambe Bay. 

River Leven

River Leven


The slightly bumpy cycle track eventually deposited me on the B5278, for a very pleasant final stretch through woodland.

Country road down to Flookburgh

Country road down to Flookburgh


I stopped at a local shop to buy a few provisions before heading to campsite; I’d decided to try a Haven Holiday Park, how bad could it be? The shop owner let me know the holiday park shop was a lot more expensive, he having worked there, so I stocked up on essentials, and enjoyed a cold bottle of banana milk before going any further.

It turned out to be an ‘interesting’ choice for a stop-over, but I thought I should at least experience the holiday park sensation once. I probably should have chanced it and found a spot to wild camp but the lure of a hot shower trapped me. The holiday park is massive, with it’s own small supermarket, restaurants, bars, and swimming pools, as well as of course the entertainment complex. There were lots of caravaners and campers there for a holiday, but after 30 minutes in the live lounge I realised it wasn’t exactly my sort of place. Agadoo and Road to Amarillo aren’t my favourite choices of music, but seemed quite popular amongst some of the punters. I had a chat with one of the bar staff with whom I sympathised for having to listen to the same music night after night. He said the worse thing was when he found himself singing along without realising it.

I retreated to a quieter bar where I could use the wifi, charge stuff, and write up my journal and blog in peace, over a pint. It had been a good days ride, with excellent progress made covering 87.5 miles, so I was keeping up my average. I wandered back to my tent at about 23.00, humming the Spice Girls and Ace of Base; if you can’t beat them join them.

Full moon again

Full moon again – maybe that explained things

Leg 49 – to Largs via Glasgow

19 June 2013

I slept very well after yesterday’s long ride, and awoke to a bright morning feeling fresh despite having stayed up pretty late working on my blog. There just aren’t enough hours in the day, and I’d decided that whilst the blog was important, it had to take second place to anything else going on, such as places to visit or people to meet.

After breakfast I had a check over my bike which seemed in order, however I did need to get new rear brake pads, the current incumbents being down to the bare minimum. There followed a bit of faffing as I reorganised my panniers a bit, which had got into a bit of a mess with things like pairs of socks getting split between bags. I didn’t even have that many pairs of socks, it just doesn’t seem to matter where you are or what you’re doing, socks always get mixed up!

I tried to phone Garmin again to see about getting my Edge replaced, but as usual the line was busy and I ended up on hold. I didn’t hold for long, being on my mobile which costs me money. I’d probably have to wait until I got home to sort it out properly; their customer service is seriously overstretched and needs sorting, and I hope I haven’t wasted £400 – I’ll go down fighting! Using a map was working out fine anyway, and in many ways was a better option, it just meant people couldn’t track me online and I didn’t have an automatic mile counter. The Garmin website is good for route planning anyway, and from that I could tell how many miles I covered.

Everything loaded onto my bike I dropped off the toilet block key and got on my way at about 10.30, taking are rather more direct and less alarming route from Stepps back into Glasgow, via the A80. After being on quiet roads for so long I had to sharpen up a bit in all the traffic, and remember how it tackle traffic lights and roundabouts, Glasgow having a lot of both. It didn’t take me long to get into the swing of city cycling again, I just had to be slightly more aggressive and awake.

I rode into the city via the Cathedral Precinct, to my first stop at Cycling Scotland in Blythswood Square, a rather upmarket bit of Glasgow. Their offices are located at the top floor of number 24, and I thought it would be good to visit having been following them on Twitter. They were all in a meeting when I arrived, however William, their Comms Officer, ducked out for a chat. Cycling Scotland are a great organisation, promoting safe cycling, cycling awareness amongst drivers, and how to integrate cycling into modern life. They hold and organise cycling events, and generally promote cycling in Scotland, being funded both by the government and some businesses. It was good to learn a bit more about them, and I wondered if we had a similar organisation in England, I’d need to find out. I guess the CTC/Sustrans fill that gap. 

You can visit the Cycling Scotland website at http://www.cyclingscotland.org

William pointed me in the direction of Rig Bike Shop and Cafe just around the corner, as well as the Velodrome which would be worth a visit. I passed on my blog details in case they wanted to link to it, seeing as I’ve cycled around most of their coastline and think it’s pretty amazing. Could be useful for other cycle tourers thinking of doing the same.

After getting slightly lost trying to get out of the building by using the stairs, I cycled the few hundred yards to Rig Bike Shop on West Regent Street (141), which has the Luke Monaghan’s Cafe attached to it.

Rig Bike Shop

Rig Bike Shop


I spoke to Brian who runs the shop, and is an ex Glasgow bike messenger, and bought some new rear brake pads to fit later. The front brake pads were nowhere near as worn. He checked my tyres and agreed they both had a few more miles left in them. I’d been getting concerned about the rear one which was starting to wear a bit, but the front was fine still. They’re Schwalbe Marathon Plus’ so they should be fairly indestructible. Great bike shop and staff, with lots of bike messengers popping in and out for snacks from the cafe, or repairs, or just to chill out for a bit. Being a bike messenger in Glasgow must be a hard vocation with all the hills and traffic, and something of an extreme sport. Was good to say hello and have a chat with a few of them.

Before leaving I had a panini and excellent strawberry smoothie at the cafe, all for £4.00 so great value, and was also able to swap out my loose change of which I’d seemed to accumulate a fair amount; good to get rid of the weight, even if I was only fractionally lighter as a result. Brian did warn me to make sure I locked my bike and to keep an eye on my stuff whilst in Glasgow, so despite all the regeneration it’s still like most big cities and you have to watch out for theft.

Luke Monaghan's Cafe

Luke Monaghan’s Cafe


If you’re passing through Glasgow on your bike I’d thoroughly recommend Rig Bike Shop and Cafe, but they’re likely to be busy so you might have to book anything more serious than a tweak in advance. Thanks for the tip Cycling Scotland.

Post the bike shop, and a quick cycle around the city centre, I rode alongside the river front and out to the Commonwealth arena, which was in the wrong direction really, but I wanted to visit the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome. I passed through a lovely park by the river before turning inland to the arena.

Glasgow river front

Glasgow river front – excellent cycle paths


There were no tours of the Velodrome for another hour so I just had a quick look around. A few super light bikes were whizzing around the velodrome on time trials, which looked fun. I’d have loved to take the Ridgeback on it fully loaded, however I’d have probably crashed, and it was closed to the public at the time anyway.

Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome

Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome


Curiosity satisfied I rode back into the Glasgow, again long the river front, passing a few marquees with cycle type people around them. I stopped to find out what was going on, and met The Bike Station Glasgow. They’re a Glasgow based charity who were holding an event to promote cycling in the city, and performing free bike checks. They were just finishing up but were kind enough to give my bike the once over, finding nothing untoward aside from a slightly smelly lobster. They did adjust my gears, which had been sticking a bit – thanks guys and good luck.

You can check out their website here – http://www.thebikestation.org.uk  They recycle old bikes for the community, promote cycling, teach bike maintenance and cycle confidence, and offer bike services via their mechanics. All great stuff and a great bunch of people. Must be working as there were certainly a lot of cyclists out and about, and lots of cycle paths to take advantage of.

In possession of a new freebie water bottle, and needing to get some miles done, it was time to leave Glasgow. I was somewhat reluctant as I really liked the feel of the city and its residents, more so than Edinburgh which I was surprised about, and would have liked to explore some more. I think the city has had a lot of money spent on it in recent years and has blossomed as a a result. Another place to come back to and visit again, and great launch pad for heading further north into the Highlands; I wonder what the job market is like in the city.

I rode alongside the Clyde for a bit, before crossing over near BBC Scotland and the Science Park.

Glasgow and the River Clyde

Glasgow and the River Clyde


 

BBC Scotland

BBC Scotland


Seeing BBC Scotland reminded me it was nearly midsummer and that the Midsummer Watch programme would be airing soon – I’d met Mark Beaumont and a BBC team filming some of it earlier on my tour. I thought I really ought to do something for the longest day, I might even be back in England by then!

Leaving Glasgow via the A8 I passed through Renfrew again, and then swung onto Old Greenock Road to avoid the M8. I had to rejoin the A8 at Langbank, to stick close to the coast, passing through built up areas all the way along to Gourock. There was quite a bit of heavy traffic about, there being a lot of shipping arriving or leaving from Port Glasgow, but at least the road was mostly flat, and there were cycle paths available on some bits. One cycle path led me through a ferry port and literally through a train station which was a bit odd, but I remained on track, as it were.

I could see across the Firth of Clyde to where I’d been yesterday, and the day before. I could have easily jumped on the ferry across the short stretch to Dunoon.

Firth of Clyde

Firth of Clyde


Firth of Clyde near Gourock

Firth of Clyde near Gourock


Gourock

Gourock

Dismissing thoughts of ferries I rode around the point to Inverkip, taking a chance on following the route 75 cycle track, which went in the right direction and looked in good condition.

More of the Clyde coast

More of the Clyde coast

It started off well but the track rapidly deteriorated leaving me swearing somewhat as I was bumped about, and had to negotiate flooded areas. I was certain I’d be wheel straightening again that evening!

Route 75 deteriorating

Route 75 deteriorating


One of the smaller puddles

One of the smaller puddles

I got back on to the road at the Kip Marina, which looked nice but expensive, and pedalled south through Wemyss Bay in the sunshine, with a slight south westerly wind slowing me down a bit. I passed various ferry ports pedalling on to Largs, with Bute just across the firth, and the isle of Great Cambrae even closer. The road was flat again so it was fairly easy going, and I arrived in Largs in good time.

After a quick look around Largs, which was alright for a typical seaside sort of town with amusements and the normal array of shops and bars, I made my way to the campsite I’d spotted earlier on the Web. South Whittlieburn Farm is about 2.5 miles north east from Largs, and I pedalled there via a climb up Brisbane Glen. It’s a nice little campsite, with limited wifi and a small unisex shower block where I was also able to charge up everything which was handy. The farm also offers B&B, which I was almost tempted by after missing out on a bed last night, but in many ways I prefer my tent, and it’s cheaper.

Whittlieburn Farm campsite

Whittlieburn Farm campsite


After a quick chat with the campsite owner Tom, who was running the site solo with his wife away which he seemed in a bit of panic about, I pitched my tent and cooked up a meal of pasta, smoked sausage, cheese, and tomato and chilli sauce.

Whittlieburn Farm - tent pitched and cooking in progress

Whittlieburn Farm – tent pitched and cooking in progress

At the same time I was changing my brake pads and tweaking the spokes on my rear wheel post the bumpy ride up route 75, which resulted in me slightly overcooking the pasta.

Sausage pasta in progress

Sausage pasta in progress

My meal was a bit of a soft pasta mess, but tasted delicious with the addition of Tabasco sauce – a staple of my cooking on the road it seems. It was a bit like eating pizza topping, and there was lots of it to refuel on.

I spent the rest of the evening finishing bike maintenance, as well as planning my route over the next few days and updating  my journal and blog over, a can of cider. I tried to sit outside to enjoy the countryside and sunset, but unfortunately the midges arrived as the sun set, and I had to retreat to my tent. Some noisy arrivals about 22.30 seemed to spend an age parking their camper van, however they didn’t stop me falling asleep, after planning out tomorrow’s leg; a long one down to Stranraer.

Only 58 miles covered today due to time spent in Glasgow, a very worthwhile visit.