Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Weekend hat trick....

Sky around Congerstone
Last weekend I managed three outings on the bike - the continuing warmer weather together the looming trip to Paris providing the impetus. Friday was a short 10 miles - the wind made it feel longer and certainly harder - but it was enough to get me in the mood - and there was an interesting sky as darkness approached.

On Saturday I rode via Newton Burgoland, Snarestone, Twycross, Congerstone, Market Bosworth, Carlton and then home and did the same again on Sunday. The sun was warm and I was soon hot as I worked my way around the lanes. A tumbling sky threw great clouds before the wind and when the sun was obscured I was reminded that there is still a wintery grip to the world. But generally it was magical out there, sweet and fresh as spring claws forward and summer beckons in the distance. The fields are ploughed now and I spotted a lone heron standing in the middle of one. At first I thought it was some sort of decoy but as I rode past it lifted off, slowly and deliberate, and headed back towards the tree lined river towards the horizon. As I passed over the canal bridge at Far Coton there was a group of children all with canoes/kayaks - a school trip maybe, or a scout group? - cars were strewn along the road and the canal was  busy with a myriad of colours and shapes. The water, half shadow and half glitter, threw back the colours and tossed them with those of the trees and bracken like gold and copper coins.

Back home I looked at my bike. Soon it will be having a replacement frame, courtesy of the manufacturer. I have experienced a recurring problem with a failing seatpost and it has been decided that there is a problem with the manufacture of the frame. I am relieved that the problem is being sorted - however I will be sad to lose the original frame - the heart of the bike that took me from Lands End to John O'Groats and to the top of Mont Ventoux as well as countless other journeys both short and far. Somehow I'd like to keep it, hang it in the garage and, when my riding days are done, stand and remember....

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Beer Ride - The Navigation

The warmest day of the year so far - excellent! and just the excuse to dash from work, a quick change and out. It was still sunny as I set off at about 7.00pm but there was a sprightly breeze that wasn't noticeable in the car. No problem though, a steady ride through the lanes to The Odd House at Newton Burgoland to meet up with Gary was pleasant enough, I'd opted for shorts again, plus a short sleeve top - but with arm warmers and a gillet in my little bag for later.

We cycled down through Snarestone and along the main road up to Measham, from there we swung through  Oakthorpe, climbed up to Donisthorpe and then through Moira, past Conkers, finally arriving at the evenings destination - The Navigation Inn.

I had my reservations about this as a suitable venue for real-ale quaffing cyclists. I'd passed the pub many times but never ventured inside. As we rolled onto the car park my initial fears seemed suitably justified. Loads of kids playing on various contraptions in a huge play area. There is a big extension at the rear of the pub and through the window I could see three dart-boards in a line and a pool table. We chained up the bikes and went into the bar area to meet with the rest of the gang. Inside, the bar is not so bad - the walls have an eclectic mix of home-spun philosophy statements in various typographical styles, some flower pictures and another dart-board. Tables are styled and arranged in a manner reminiscent of a working men's club, the room is bright, some people are eating, there are children running around - it is okay - but doesn't feel right for our needs. The feeling turns out to be justified. There is no cask conditioned beer whatsoever. Gary opts for a lager and I decide Guinness will be the best option. The rest of our group are equally disappointed - Pete, an avid CAMRA subscriber looks positively miserable. We sit and chat for a while but have to stop. It's bingo time and an expectant hush descends over the room like a dark cloud. For the next half-hour we have to sit there in comparative silence whilst the numbers are called. Half way through the excitement our chips arrive - £1.75 a bowl, not a huge serving but more satisfying than they looked. Well cooked, slighly crispy outer with a beautiful fluffy inner, the chips are the only saving grace. Once eaten we decide that it's time to depart.

The Navigation Inn
The Navigation is a pub for those who enjoy a game of darts - or a tournament. Who actively participate in bingo, are happy with keg beer or lager and have the need for an extensive outside play area. There were plenty in there who plainly do enjoy those attractions - and good luck to them. But for those seeking the pleasures of a country pub with proper beer and a quiet, perhaps reserved atmosphere, this is not the place.

Outside, the earlier warmth had dissipated - it was downright cold now - I was grateful for the arm warmers and gillet - long tights would have been better too. The ride home was quiet, I barely saw any traffic at all and the miles passed quickly. Mileage for the night 31 - adequate for a Wednesday evening.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Sun....and shorts!...

It's a sunny Saturday morning - fresh and crisp, blue sky, birds twittering and busying themselves, there is a sudden explosion of new growth all around. The shrubs in the garden have transformed overnight, new buds and even leaves have appeared as if by magic. There are plants pushing up from the earth, seeds are germinating, spring has sprung.

We're away to Lincoln today for James's birthday party - there's a  barbecue planned and a big bouncy castle - it looks like the perfect day for it. But first I need to get out for a few miles. Looking out from the bedroom at the bright sky and sun, the shadows and calm - I decide shorts would be good. It takes a while to find a pair but soon I'm ready to go. Shorts...and track mitts - for the first time this year, it's a good feeling and somehow a lot quicker and easier than layering up. I get to the garage and decide to pump up my tyres - maximum pressure for today seems a good plan - the roads are clear and dry. I set off heading in the opposite direction to my normal route. I wander out along a quiet road and turn towards Newbold Verdon, its a lumpy road, like riding along the back of a sleeping dinosaur, but the sun and lack of any discernable headwind make the journey agreeable. At Newbold I turn left then right heading towards Market Bosworth, I've driven along this road but never cycled it - then I turn left past the Rugby club towards Cadeby and from there Sutton Cheney. I turn right and freewheel past the Bosworth Battlefield site and towards Shenton. The fine morning has tempted every cyclist in the locality to make the effort it seems. The roads are overflowing with riders; groups, single, couples - all need a glance, a nod, an acknowledgement.

I work my way round to Carlton via far Coton, past the water park and climb the hill back toward home - I'm in no rush, no heroics, just a gentle, easy pace - soaking up the early morning atmosphere and smiling all the way. My mind drifts in chaotic waves - work problems, lists of things to do, how to set up music streaming through the house, motorhome or caravan?, bike service, doctors appointment, dentist appointment, how good the beer is at the George & Dragon, Sour dough bread..... the list is endless and before I know it I'm up the hill and rolling down toward Barton in the Beans - more cyclists, this time a big club run moving quickly, all working hard, heads down, breathing heavily - serious stuff. More I moment I think they're missing the point. Today is perfect to be sitting up on the bike, looking around, thinking, enjoying - sometimes riding requires such effort and concentration that there is no time just to enjoy the simple, basic proposition. 

I get home and feel sorry that its over - I would have liked to have gone further. I've planned a route to Lincoln - around 80 miles via quiet back roads and cycle tracks - maybe next time. I've also planned routes to Oxford, Cambridge and other far-flung destinations. The good weather is here - what's stopping me?

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Beer ride - George and Dragon, Alrewas....

Our Wednesday 'beer' rides have recommenced - I didn't make it to last week's, but the rising temperature and an early finish from work made it possible this evening.

I set from home into a fierce wind, so strong that I had to take decisive action on a number of occasions simply to stay upright and on the bike. It was blustery but fairly bright as I headed in a direct route to Netherseal to meet up with Gary. We wouldn't have time to cycle into Burton on Trent to meet up at the 'official' start point - instead we'd make our own way and meet the others at the pub - The Crown in Alrewsas (Yes, I know that's a different name to the one in the title above - but read on!).

Paul from across the road was 'on-call' but opted to join us for the ride outwards, but not stop at the pub. We set off on the gentle climb up Hunts Lane, the wind was bellowing now and as we turned the corner at the top of the first rise we were greeted with a horizontal stream of sandy dust blowing across the road from the adjoining fields - it was a scene from Lawrence of Arabia, a sandstorm, the effect was if someone was rubbing sandpaper across my face. Gary had some trouble with his contact lenses and I suffered the effects of 'something in my eye' for the rest of the evening.

The sky was dark now - black, violent clouds scudding across the horizon - in the distance we could see a brighter, sunny vista. We made speedy progress through Lullington and on to Edingale where Paul from across the road left us. Gary and I continued on the main road over the A38 and into Alrewas - we were meeting at the Crown Inn - we'd visited this pub last year in the summer months - we remembered it was busy and bustling with musicians giving impromptu performances in one of the many interconnecting rooms. But tonight was singularly different. The pub looked empty, cold, forgotten and deserted. The car park was empty, the benches looked tatty, no sign of life. I walked to the door, there was a sign - 'We are closed'. Gary tried calling our group leader - Pete - but no answer. We decided to ride to the next pub, The George and Dragon, on arrival we spotted a bike in the small outside seating area at the rear of the pub - we recognised it as Tim's so we knew we'd made the right decision.

The George & Dragon
The George and Dragon is a typical roadside Inn, much altered and modified internally over the years and hanging on, during these hard times, to the traditional pub ideal; beer and food. Possibly it has changed hands recently and the new landlords are clearly trying hard. There seemed a strong emphasis on food rather than beer. The downside being that the whole pub seemed cloaked with the smell of fried food. But they seemed to be doing a reasonable trade - the head chef seemed a friendly chap, eager to espouse the quality of his chips - so much so that we felt duty-bound to give them a try. Five bowls of chips were duly delivered at a reasonable £1.50 a pop, together with a couple of ramekins of brown and tomato sauce. The biggest let down with The George and Dragon was, unfortunately, the beer. For a start there wasn't a great selection and what was on offer was very ordinary, run of the mill, mass produced offerings. With so many micro-breweries created a myriad of fresh and tasty brews its a shame when pubs don't take advantage and make some of them available to thirsty cyclists. I had a couple of pints of Banks's - it was okay, but somehow felt tired and past its best.

We set off for home at about 9.30 - the wind still howling. On our way back through Lullington we were stopped abruptly by a fallen tree, entirely blocking the road. We managed to squeeze through the tangled branches - any cars would have to turn back. By the time we got back to Gary's it was 10.30 - I still had about 13 miles to go to get home, and with the weather conditions - decidedly dodgy - Gary kindly gave me a lift home. Nevertheless it was a 32 mile ride for me - a decent attempt for a Wednesday evening.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Early Morning ride...

April is normally the time of emerging spring colour, but this year the season is like a bride running late. The verges along the roadside are bare. The fields and woodlands look scuffed and crackle with bone-dry leaves and bracken that has been trodden down. It's hard to find many breaking buds. Some bluebells are poking through, but weakly, others that were more advanced appear to have been eaten away.

As I make my way, in a sedately fashion, along familiar lanes I notice some old logs, treefalls, that have been turned over and the ground around and beneath scratched away. Another more decayed tunk has been destroyed - maybe the work of a badger or fox, perhaps with new-born cubs to feed? A circle of feathers suggests an unwary bird has become the victim of a sparrowhawk or similar, but there are no remains of a body.

Without doubt winter has extended its reach this year and the evidence is all around. But there are signs that things are changing. I noticed some ants this morning, and yesterday there was a cloud of gnats over the pond along the lane. There are of course plenty of daffodils around and in among a stand of silver birches I noticed some stunted flowers emerging - not sure what they are but the signs are encouraging.

It's a short circuit today and as I climb the final, gentle rise up through Carlton I pause at the roadside and look out across the fields towards Bosworth, the red roofs glisten softly and the distant twigs of golden willows - some colour at last.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Boom! - at last, its getting warmer....

Suddenly there is some hope, at last a hint of warmth, brighter skies, a hint of sunlight... I've notice buds on the trees in the garden, and nascent growth in the borders. My alliums are making good progress and there is even a flower head or two on my snakes-head fratilleries - it's about time and most welcome.

This week I've managed to get out on the bike three times - and whilst that total is nowhere near what I was riding a year ago, it does at least represent some progress. The light evenings have afforded the opportunity of a quick blast after work and on Wednesday night I set of with a spring in the pedals at some pace. Everything felt good - the bike was beautifully efficient and silently smooth, my speed was high, I pressed on the pedals with a ferocious desire to make progress. I was surprised at how well I was moving. I decided to keep going as fast as possible - I needed to get back before darkness arrived and that spur focussed my efforts. After 10 miles I checked my average speed - 19.2mph, excellent. However I suddenly found myself struggling to breath properly - the lingereing after effects of a particularly nasty cold had begun to take a toll. My nose felt blocked and my lungs were burning. The last 5 miles were much slower and by the time I reached home my average had plummeted to a more typical 15.9mph.

I went out again on Friday evening prior to 'boys night' at the pub - same circuit but much slower, nevertheless another 15 miles in the bank. On Saturday I decided a longer ride would be in order and set off with the sun shining and a blustery breeze. I had made some minor adjustments to my saddle and was keen to see what difference I might feel. The warm morning quickly resulted in a clammy sweat and I wondered whether I might have too may layers? - As I passed through Newton Burgoland and on to Snarestone I was joined by a cyclist who initially shot past me but then slowed to allow me to catch up. It turned out he was from the next village to mine, although I could tell from his accent he was a Brummy by birth. We chatted for a few miles before he peeled off towards Market Bosworth while I turned right and headed to Twycross.

I passed along a quiet lane, half in and half out of the slanting sunlight, past a drift of stone cottages fringed by a narrow stream. The road pushed up a steep hill, narrow between two grassy banks and passing woods that looked like they had been recently thinned.. The sky had turned inky now, dark and threatening, It looked like rain was due but thankfully it never happened. I noticed something on the roadside and I stopped to examine it. An old gnarled, weather-beaten post and alongside it an information board. It provided me a few minutes distraction as I read the story of one John Massey, a farm labourer who, in 1801 had murdered his wife by throwing her into the mill stream - her daughter, his step-daughter suffered the same but survived the ordeal and gave evidence against him. He was hanged in Leicester and, as was the tradition, his body transported back to the parish where the crime was committed and chained to the gibbet post. His remains were hanging there for 17 years!

Onwards through to the A444 and down to the Upton turn, then through Shenton and Far Coton, back up to Market Bosworth and then home - 28 miles in all. It feels like there has been a change now - and I'm looking forward to building up the miles, fitness and stamina - still plenty of time before London to Paris so no need to panic - I need a month of steady riding and gradual increases before attempting a few longer all-day rides.

The gibbet post

Monday, 1 April 2013

Still no sign of spring....

If forecasters were right you have probably all experienced yet another coating of snow over the past week or so. So pristine and romantic, the pure whiteness that we all welcomed before Christmas but now greet with an exasperated sigh. It's Easter - it should be warmer. Even in places that are spared the most extreme quirks of weather, nobody will be bringing out the barbeque just yet. And this week's warning that the country's gas reserves are dwindling will only fuel our shivering despair as temperatures doggedly refuse to rise. Even for children the heady excitement and joy of sliding down hillocks on plastic sledges is beginning to pall. After you've done that, built another snowman and pelted your friends with a volley of wet missiles, what is there left to do? For birdwatchers the likelihood of hearing a cuckoo is rare - I think I heard the first penguin of spring this morning.

Winter 2013 has long outstayed its welcome and even with the equinox behind us there is precious little sign that spring will make its longed for entrance anytime soon. The long-range, short-range and mid-range forecasts all tell the same story - low single figures to minus values with no promise of a let up. For the umpteenth time this year its back to the bottom drawer to rummage for those thermal undergarments and a pair of thicker gloves. Spring refuses to be sprung. Trees show not the faintest sign of bursting into leaf. The handsome horse chesnut trees I see just down the lane, so often sporting sticky buds by this time of year remain quite bare. Conkers will be late this year. Hybernating creatures having emerged into an unwelcoming chill are reported to have turned tail and, understandably, gone back to bed - I don't blame them. Bed seems the best bet and my own lethargy is, I feel, entirely due to the cold snap.

This last weekend I did venture out on the bike. Even though I am struggling with a cold and breathing is hampered, the fact that my total mileage for March was well below 100 galvanised an effort in me that probably would have been best ignored. I woke to find the box balls still covered in a head of white snow and a thick frost covering the car - such a sight can only mean porridge for breakfast and a slow roasted leg of lamb for lunch - but first I decided to make an effort and get out for an hour. The roads are surprisingly clear and dry and the sun had made a welcome appearance - 15 miles would be good on a morning like this.

I set off on a well tried and tested route, and paused to take a few photographs (see below). My ride was okay - in fact I enjoyed it. It didn't feel cold although I was well insulated with at least half a dozen carefully selected layers. Unsurprisingly I didn't see a single other cyclist. In fact I saw no one at all the whole time I was out. The final 3 miles were all uphill and I struggled to get my breathing under control. My cold has left my nose totally blocked and my lungs feel filled with glue. When it was over I could feel a dull ache in my legs that remains as I sit writing this - probably due to my lack of miles. Our trip to Paris is looming now - less that 100 days away. The clocks have gone forward and the evenings are lighter - surely it will get warmer soon?