Tag Archives: countryside

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.

04 Jan 2015 – In search of a bacon roll

I decided to take advantage of another cold yet bright winter’s day and head out on a ride to Blickling Hall and Aylsham today. The roads were icy in places yet manageable with care, and I had a yearning for a roadside bacon roll; you’d have thought that a bacon roll would be easy to find in Norfolk, home as it is to many a pig farm, however businesses must still be warming up after the festive period as no purveyors of pig based sustenance were open. In the end I settled for a couple of cheese twists from the supermarket in Aylsham, satisfactory yet leaving me feeling vaguely cheated.

The temperature didn’t appear to get above 2 degrees celsius, so I took it pretty cautiously around the back roads, especially on a downhill patch where the frost hadn’t thawed, with the odd speed bump for added stunt potential. So a pretty slow ride, but good to shake off the cobwebs after Christmas. I’ll need to up my miles and speed a bit as a I train for cycle touring again, however I’m pleased to have done 38 miles today, and that it didn’t hurt; must shed a few pounds though!

Here’s a link to the route, which I can recommend, although I’d avoid the main road back from Aylsham to Norwich usually, I was just lacking time before the sun set.

http://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/665171875

Here a few photo’s from the ride:

Only a week to go before heading off to Slovenia for a few days skiing. It’s been several years so it’ll be interesting to see what I’ve forgotten. I’ve also never been to Slovenia before so really looking forward to it, just hoping for no injury inducing crashes. Once back I’ll be picking up my new bike, so going to be a busy but very fun January.

Autumn musings

Autumn is upon us and it feels like the year has flown by, again, faster than normal as I haven’t spent 3 months of it cycling around the coast of Britain. I can recall every day of that tour if I think about it, whereas days this year seems to merge all into one. Having spent the year mostly working my thoughts are turning to 2015, and firming up plans for my next cycling tour.

At the moment I’m contemplating Europe, starting in Scandinavia and pedalling South, however I still need to mull over it some more. Such a tour will require months off work, a kit refresh, maybe renting my house out, and saying goodbye to Norwich for a bit. Actually, it doesn’t sounds like that hard a decision to make, although I’ll miss friends and family; life on the road is cheap, it can be free at times, and if my house is rented out the bills take care of themselves. I keep fretting over the details but in the end the question of ‘Why Not?’ keeps returning, and I’m finding it very difficult to justify not doing something big.

I spent today pedalling around Norfolk, taking in the Autumnal scenes, and trying to empty my head of trivialities whilst building a new list of priorities. I’m forty next year, and it feels like a good opportunity to see some new places, meet some new people, and have another adventure. I wonder if I could visit 40 countries by bike in a year, or at least 40 fantastic places; 40 countries might be stretching it a bit.

Early morning ride in the mist, frost abounding.

Early morning ride in the mist, frost abounding.

On the bike front I’m still seriously considering replacing my Ridgeback Panorama. Whilst I’ve grown very attached to it, it needs a lot of work; new front forks, chain, cassette, handlebar wraps, cables, brakes, racks etc. When you take all that into consideration, and the fact I want something a little tougher for the next tour, it seems prudent to consider replacing the whole thing. I won’t get rid of it completely though; when I finally open that bar it’ll hang over the fireplace like an ancient sword from ye olde days. I’m currently speaking to an independent bike maker who has some exciting custom builds, so hopefully they’ll be more news soon on that topic.

Norfolk in the Autumn

Norfolk in the Autumn

One of the most frequent questions I get asked by friends is ‘What are you going to do next?’. It’s great that people are interested in what I might be planning, but it doesn’t half put the pressure on to do hit the road again. Maybe it’s a symptom of people living their lives vicariously, but I keep wanting to ask what they’re going to do next? What’s holding you back from having an adventure, be it large or small, and me enjoying reading about it? I think, like me, everyone is a bit scared of breaking from the norm, taking a risk, and going for it, however it comes back to the question of ‘Why not?’ again; although if you have a partner, kids, and are concentrating on a career I acknowledge it’s a little harder. You can however always take them with you, and do smaller trips – a remote office you can work from whilst pedalling has got to be a possibility!

Norfolk has many churches, this one is always a nice spot for a pause.

Norfolk has many churches, this one is always a nice spot for a pause.

Another good reason for going on a tour again has got to be fitness aspect. I think I’ve put on a stone and a half since finishing ‘Bike around Britain’, despite still cycling 10+ miles a day and longer at the weekends. Once you’ve got used to consuming several thousand calories a day to keep energy levels up it’s hard to cut down, although maybe I’m just a glutton. I also look back on my 3 months on the road and realise how happy and unstressed I was, compared to the 9 to 5 (or 9 to 9 as is often the case) routine. I enjoy a lot about my job however my Mum always says I’m not suited to an office job, so maybe I should take her advice and split; there you go Mum, if I hit the road for several months you can’t object overly – you’ve given me the motivation! xx

Keswick Church with its round tower

Keswick Church with its round tower

Signing off for the time being, but hopefully more news soon. Hmmm. Do you think I need to change my blog name if I venture into Europe; Bike around Britain might not work. Suggestions for names welcome!

P.S. Been playing a new game for the last few months whilst pedalling about – Ingress – bit like orienteering. Using your phone you get to find portals, capture them, and link them with other portals to gain points. It’s fun and gives you motivation to cycle that extra mile, although you always have to watch out for the opposing team who will scupper your plans at every available opportunity (credit to them where due). If you like getting about and fancy giving it a go look it up; and join Enlightened, those Resistance players have too much of an easy time of it and we need reinforcements 😉 https://www.ingress.com/

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.

Bike around Britain – blog index and route maps

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

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

Loch Fyne sunset 1

Loch Fyne sunset, spent the night wild camping