Monday, 24 October 2011

A new plan evolving...

It's a dry and bright autumn Sunday the predominantly blue sky is smeared with streaks of white cloud and the sun offers a hint of warmth to combat the cool breeze. We are out for a gentle ride today - girls are allowed to join us!. We've arranged to meet at one of the oldest pubs in Leicestershire, we will sit outside for what must surely be the last time this year and enjoy a pub lunch before riding back. It's an altogether stress free idea, no need to worry about anything, just enjoy.

Cate and I cycle at a leisurely 10mph or so; at this speed there really is the chance to look around. The trees are showing their autumn colours and there is a distant spiralling smoke plume from an unseen garden bonfire.

At the pub we do indeed sit out, choosing a table that makes the most of the sunshine. Unusually for me I'm not in the mood for a beer - I settle for a coffee and a bowl of home made tomato soup with a warm baguette and a we share a bowl of the most amazing home-cooked chips, they really are the best I've tasted for a long time; deliciously golden with a crisp shell and then beautifully floury and fluffy inside - we decide they have been cooked with at least the 'double-fry' method, quite possibly 'triple'.

A small tortoiseshell butterfly, late season, fresh-hatched, flutters around us- it really is hard to believe that it is almost November. There's a reminder in the pub that it will bonfire night soon. The Sealed Knot are staging a small skirmish in the pub garden - there will be a cannon! - it sounds like it would be worth a visit.

As we sit sipping and chatting we realise that we need to make plans for 2012 - we need a target, something to aim at to entice us onto our bikes over the cold months that are looming. We have talked about France, we had an idea to ride from the Channel to the Med - Calais to St Tropez or something similar, amazingly it isn't as far as Lands End to John O'Groats and we figured the weather would be better. But the idea of another ten days of solid riding, day after day was greeted with some reluctance. Gary suggested we travel over by car, rent a Gite and ride up one of the famous mountains of The Tour de France. We could do that for one day then just gently cycle around for the rest of the time, exploring the countryside, visiting vineyards and fromageries - we all thought this sounded like a good plan. Mount Ventoux was suggested - The windy mountain in the heart of Provence - a frightening climb and the mountain where the English cyclist Tom Simpson lost his life in the 1960's. We agreed to research the idea. I'll post more details as they emerge!

Monday, 17 October 2011

As Autumn arrives....

The long days have receeded, the days of burning sunshine, brilliant skies and hot still air, which somehow drifted here like fabulous but fleeting creatures have turned and fled. But before they did, the heat built to a peak no one had felt this summer and certainly never known in October. We seemed possessed by a new spirit of holiday which rose against autumnal melancholy, the roads round here have been chocked with cyclists and walkers enjoying the swansong, there were people picnicking as crows yelled into the dusk and the smoky barbecue embers died down for what must surely be the last time this year.

I have tried to make the most of the weather, enjoying rides that have usually begun at around lunchtime and seen me pedalling with carefree abandon for two or three hours as often as has been possible. I gazed at silver-blue patterns like the wing marks of huge migrating butterflies in the sky. The swallows have gone, the harvest is in, the season has changed, yet some rogue dream of summer has been left with us. I noticed holly trees crammed with red berries and a flock of long-tailed tits zipping across the open acres of grass and cropped fields.

The deciduous trees are winding down for winter. The ground has a thin layer of freshly fallen hazel, hawthorn and ash leaves – a fine, damp patchwork of browns and yellows. The oaks are still holding their foliage, taking advantage of the summer's late heat. The birds are quiet and inconspicuous, the busy breeding season is over, the migrants have left for their tropical summer quarters and the residents are preoccupied with stocking up their fat reserves for the oncoming winter. In contrast to the down-gearing woods, the surrounding harvested fields have already been planted with winter wheat; it is now sprouting vigorously, forming a uniform, fresh, verdant carpet.

Last week I experienced a couple of outings buffeted by wind, I struggled along the road between verges thick with creeping thistles. Their furry, seed-filled heads hang like demented paint brushes; their leaves are brown and dry. Leaning into the gale, my breath is torn away until I turn onto a side road and out of the headwind.
The road here is patterned in muddy places by the imprint of pheasants' feet. Pale green ash leaves dapple the ground, torn early from the trees before turning yellow. Through gaps in the trees I can see the horizon, its green fields crested by brown. Trails of honeysuckle flop over the edge where the road cuts into a hill. As I ride on, the trees become older, furrowed oaks with knobbly trunks leaning away from the westerly winds. Pheasants crouch and skulk along the hedge line as I reach Walton-on-Trent. A line of houses edge the road offering protection from the still blowing gale. A dog barks as I pass a farmyard and a heap of black-wrapped bales exudes a sticky sweet smell. As I approach Barton under Needwood the harsh wind has stopped, there is silence now, just a slight breeze in the trees, leaves will fall.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Funds still growing....

It's confusing. I had retrieved my long-sleeved jersey and windproof leggings from the back of the wardrobe, in fact I'd been out wearing them for a couple of rides. Then, suddenly, someone turned the heater on again.

Cate and I were away for a long weekend in Brighton - last time I went to Brighton was, I think, late 70s - I cycled London to Brighton with my mate Mick Kelly on the British Heart Foundation ride. I don't remember much about it really. This time we were staying in a basement flat just on the Brighton/Hove border - surrounded by a myriad of bars, wonderful patisseries, quirky shops ... and the sea.

It was a wonderful few days. We were in walking distance of Brighton, we visited the Royal Pavillion, enjoyed the street markets and shops around The Laines, we eat some wonderful food; Spanish Tapas, Sourdough, Cheese and Wine, Eggs Benedict, some tasty kebabs.... There was a lively French style bar just around the corner where we enjoyed Cider from Normandy, numerous large glasses of Pastis and fine Burgundy. We had access to a couple of mountain bikes which we made use of. Brighton is a cycle-friendly area - there're cycle paths everywhere. Cycles and cyclists are everywhere too - it really feels like some sort of adult, bohemian, college campus. We thought it was great - we'll definitely be going back. But the weather. Wow!! - so hot.

As the year enters its last quarter and autumn creeps upon us I am amazed that our fundraising efforts are still producing fruit. It is now over three months since we completed Land's End to John O'Groats and yet we are still gathering contributions - thank you all, for your kindness and generosity.

Our total raised is now £6,620.19