Thursday, 30 May 2013

Brittany - Part 2 - Getting lost...

I decide a ride to, and along, the coast road would be a good idea. The weather wasn't as warm as when we arrived - but at least it was dry. I made a few trial adjustments to my bike - the new frame is great but I'm still not entirely happy with my position and I'm getting some unwelcome noises from the drive chain area. I set off heading to Lanmeur - its all very rural roads - lots of fields growing artichokes
and absolutely no traffic at all - it's almost a surreal landscape, like the opening shots from an episode of 'The Avengers' where there is never anyone around at all. Through Lanmeur there is at least a few signs of life, but it's all very quiet and sleepy - I wonder what people do around here? From Lanmeur I take the road towards Guimaec. The roads are very similar to the ones I ride at home - except they seem in better condition, in the main smoother and definitely fewer potholes. There is some sun now and I am warming up, the landscape is an ever changing gallery of light and form; the woodland displays layers of green and almost orange with distant layers of grey and mauve.

I zip along on the flat smooth surface, there is very little wind now (or maybe it's behind me?) heading now towards the coast road that loops around the headland towards Plougasnou. The road is lumpy now and I'm faced with a constant series of steep hills - generally the geography is more inconsistent than at home, the contours change more often and the hills are steeper. I pause at a small car park with picnic benches to take a look at the sea - the salty air is refreshing and invigorating. Soon I'm back on the road - another steep rise along the rue de la corniche and a good view from the top. Then on through a few winding lanes and Christ! - Yes, Christ - that was the name of the village - or at least the sign said so, perhaps it was indicating another steep hill?

From there it was KKK - Keroriou, Kerbaul and Kerdrein - not particularly French sounding? - and onto the Rue de la Plage. I decided to turn round at this point and head back. I made a detour just after Christ, heading to Pennlan and then Guimac - but something went wrong? - Basically I got lost, what should have been a leisurely ride back ended in a frantic search for a familiar signpost - of course there were none. No people to ask either - I simply had to make uninformed choices at every crossroad and hope for the best. It took about an hour before I found a familiar sign - by then I had passed the same
spot twice from opposite directions. Now as the dying sun swung low through banks of dark cloud it began to rain. But at least I knew which way to go - and within half an hour I was back at base. Tired but relieved.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013


Apologies for a week without posts - I've been away. France to be precise, with the blonde for a week of wine, cidre, cheese and french bread - oh, and a few bike rides as well.

We spent a night in a Travel Lodge close to Folkestone before taking the chunnel across to Calais and then driving to Morlaix - that's in the Finistere department of France - Brittany to you and me. With around 400 miles of driving to get to our destination it might have been better to get a ferry from Plymouth to Roscoff - but the blonde likes driving - she's not a good passenger, can't sleep or read on a journey (unlike me) - and so was happy to take full responsibility for driving duties!

Soon after we emerge from the tunnel we start the time honoured litany of English folk on the continent - "The French are so much more stylish, more cultured" - We join in, eating croissants with jam and excellent coffee and resolve to kick out the schoolboy Franglais once and for all - "I'm going to learn French properly" I say. "How great would it be to go into a restaurant and confidently order something and be sure of knowing what you're going to get"

Our stay on a farm about 7 Km from Morlaix gives us just the base we need. It's quiet, rural and our accommodation is all we need. Outside is a field with three donkeys who quickly learn that positioning themselves near to our window and braying loudly will result in a reward of a handful of carrots.

The Church at Garlan
My first ride is a short one to the nearest village - Garlan. The lane is narrow and winding, there are overhanging trees, deep verges and a scattering of stone cottages along the route. After only a few hundred yards - (sorry , that should be metres) - A dog dashes out into the road from one of the cottages - quickly followed by another, smaller model. Both are barking aggressively and heading for me - it's a steep uphill section and I don't have the speed to outrun them - thankfully they don't attack me but persist in running alongside, barking and snarling. As I pass over the top of the hill I manage to lose them on the descent and from there its an easy ride into the vilage. It's quiet, spotlessly clean, a small bar (closed) a boulangerie (closed) a church (probably closed) and a scattering of houses. No sign of life at all - where is everyone I wonder? I ride around the village in a wide circular route and rejoin the road back to the farm. The little dog is still mooching around the verges, his larger accomplice is nowhere to be seen however, and the small dog lets me pass without any sign of attack.

Morlaix with the viaduct
Later we wander into Morlaix to buy provisions - The town has winding streets of cobbled stones with overhanging houses constructed of stone and timber. It is dominated by the towering 19th century viaduct that spans the valley - an impressive sight. We walk around the pretty streets - once again we are surprised at the cleanliness - there is no litter at all? We find a 'Cave' and spend some time browsing the wine selection, we buy a bottle and a bottle of local Cidre along with some Breton butter and a large wedge of Comte. Further on we find a pattiserie that is open, a couple of Meuile Feuilles and a rustic looking loaf and we're sorted for the evening! We find a street cafe and settle in the sunshine for a coffee to watch the world go by. We're on holiday and I feel relaxed already.

Streets in Morlaix

Friday, 17 May 2013

Wednesday Beer ride - The George and Dragon

This week's beer ride was a solo effort for me. The usual suspects were on a ride to the far reaches of Derbyshire, I had some work commitments which meant it was impossible for me to meet up with them, my alternative was a solitary ride to Stoke Golding and The George and Dragon.

I headed out through lanes still wearing a winter look, although softened by new growth thrusting through tinder dry bracken and discarded leaves. Ferns are unfurling their fronds, emerging where path edges and verges unite. The broad leaf trees are bursting with buds now, some more developed than others, add to this the textures involved, some smooth and glossy - others downy or sticky - then throw in the many shades of green and hues of yellow, pink and brown and even before the trees are clad there is more than enough to delight the senses. Riding past copses where thinning has taken place, and for a few days sunlight has streamed between the trunks, flowers have developed into full bloom. Dainty pink heads and yellowish-green examples dance on the breeze as I move closer to my destination.

The George and Dragon
The George and Dragon at Stoke Golding is my favourite right now. I was thinking why that is? - It is unassuming, there is no obvious attraction for the passer-by, it looks ordinary in every way from the outside. On entering it might be described, at first glance, as disappointing. Very plain, minimal decoration, dark stained pseudo-georgian furniture, some might say the interior design is uninspired? - I might agree, however there's something more to this place. It might take more than a singular visit to appreciate its understated ambiance, its sense of order and calm. The pub is owned by the Church End Brewery, based in Nuneaton. There are two separate bars both with log-burners, one has a small library in the corner (there's a book club meet here). There are no slot machines and no music. The beer is superb. A choice of around 8 real ales plus a 'hand-crafted' lager. There is local cheese and biscuits, home made bread, pork-pies and country wines. No food, except for light meals at lunch times. The beer though is the main attraction. light hoppy bitters such as the excellent Low Rider (only 2.8%), Goats Milk and Fallen Angel. Then the slightly more traditional Poachers Pocket or What the Fox's hat - plus the dark, rich - Stout Coffin.

After sampling a few pints accompanied by a bag of the excellent Pipers Salt and Vinegar crisps I'm back on the road and heading for home (more work to do!). It's a pity this place a bit too far out for regular club beer riders - I know it would be an enjoyable and rewarding venue.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Sunday slow ride...

After a longish ride on Saturday, I went for a leisurely, easy ride on Saturday afternoon - gentle and stress free through the lanes and enjoying the fresh air and warmth - My bike will be changing soon - a new frame and I'm looking down at it as I ride, thinking that I'll miss it, a bond will be broken.

As I drift along in a vague daydream, my mind pings around uncontrollably, I don't really know where the time or the miles went, I enjoy myself just being out there and pedalling. Thinking about how Bradley will do at the Giro d'Italia, can he win? - moreover could he then defend his Tour de France title? - Winning both is a massive task - not many cyclists in history have managed it - I am thinking he can't do it, he doesn't have the absolute all-round excellence. Best bet I feel is the Giro but I suspect the Tour will be too mountainous this year - however lets see - and I'm particularly looking forward to watching them ride Mont Ventoux in the Tour - they'll do it a lot quicker than Gary and I managed last June!

PS - forgot to post this one from a couple of weeks ago!!

New Bike but not much riding....

The weekend was a frantic affair - a house full of guests for the weekend, birthday party, games and cakes - a proper, old-fashioned birthday celebration. Amongst the frivolity I had to take a trip to Stoke to pick up my bike which had been treated to a new frame courtesy of Trek - special thanks to the the blonde who, despite considerable pressures at work, found time not only to take my bike up to Stoke on Friday, but also gave me a lift there on Saturday morning to pick it up again!

First impressions were good - the bike looked slick, understated styling and a minimalist colour scheme combined with the latest carbon technology and an aerodynamic braking system resulted in a crowd gathering around it in the shop. One fella plucked up the courage to ask me if he could pick it up - 'That's amazing' he said. Actually it's not that amazing - sure it's light, but probably only a few grams lighter than the old version - and with no tool pouch or full water bottle on - it was about the lightest it could be. But I know there are plenty of bikes out there that would make this feel like a heavyweight.

We got the bike loaded on the car and made our way home - I had a few adjustments to make, refitting my computer etc then I took her out for a test ride - big problem! - Gears not engaging properly, I managed to make it round a short course of 15 miles - the wind and rain didn't help!

Closer examination led me to believe that the chain had been cut too short - this may have been, in part, my own fault. When I sent the bike up to Stoke I forgot to send the wheels - therefore they cut the chain and fitted to a donor wheel, hoping to simply replace that wheel with my own wheel on Saturday morning - in theory this was a good plan - except that my rear wheel has a 12-30 cassette fitted - I think they had cut the chain for a 11-28 - it looked like I was a link or two short and consequently couldn't engage the big cogs.

Sunday morning. I decided a trip to Rutland and a new chain would be the best option - once again the blonde stepped into the breach and offered to drive over! (thanks again NN!). By tea-time Sunday I was sorted - next step is maybe a few adjustments to saddle - height and lateral adjustment and maybe handlebars. Since then however I simply haven't had chance to get out at all - the weather has been particularly dismal so I don't feel too disconcerted - but I need to get some miles in!

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Beer ride....

This month has been busy for cycling - ok, I realise we're only on the 9th - but so far I've been out seven days of the nine. There was a hint of excited anticipation hanging over this week's beer ride - one of the clubs elder statesmen, Tim, has taken delivery of a new Morgan sportscar - it's one that is built and looks like the original three-wheel Morgan's - and he announced that instead of cycling to this week's venue, he would drive over so that we could all stand and admire it.

I'd arranged to meet Gary at our usual spot, and I set off into a torrential downpour. The hot summery weather that we all enjoyed over the bank holiday has reverted to something more typical. Within a mile I was soaked through, I almost turned back, there simply is no fun being out in the rain on a bike. To make matters worse I was riding my old bike - and it's been a while!..... The brakes had siezed up and are still sticking slightly as I descend into Congerstone to seek sanctuary in the bus shelter.

The rain eased and I pressed on, meeting up with Gaz and Paul from over the road. We headed through Snarestone, across to Appleby Magna, climbing and then descending into Austrey and from there a couple of miles to our destination - The Queens Head at Newton Regis.

Newton Regis is a pretty, picture postcard village with some interesting old houses, a few of them thatched and a lovely centrally situated duck-pond, complete with ducks. Gary made a sharp turn just next to the duck pond, onto a gravel driveway that he though led to the pub - it didn't - it was someone's driveway, but his wheels got caught in the gravel and he was catapulted sideways from his bike - he was okay!

The pub was situated a few yards further along the road - we were the first to arrive, and although the rain had stopped, our wet clothes and generally lower temperatures made me feel decidedly cold. Next to arrive was Norman accompanied by ....Tim - on his bike, no car. I suppose it was predictable, a new Morgan, all shiny and clean, no point getting it dirty and wet - besides, as Gary pointed out, We don't think it has a roof. We'll just have to wait another week and hope for better weather.

In the pub then. This is a friendly, welcoming venue, very 'traditional' in appearance; lots of beams and blackboards, a smallish bar but with a good selection of beers, quite a few people eating and a separate room with a few blokes playing darts. We settled in a large window seat and got to grips with a decent pint of Southwold Bitter. Black Sheep was also available along with Marstons Pedigree. We ordered some chips - the options were; a basket or a bowl - the baskets were bigger so we ordered a couple of those. £2.25 a basket - but enough for two people to share. These were a good offering, piping hot and plenty of them, served with a ramekin of spicy ketchup they went down a treat.

The landlady was friendly and asked us how far we'd travelled - then another pint later it was time to head for home. The evening still held some light as we set off - and the rain had thankfully abated. I cycling back with the group to No Man's Heath, splitting off there and making my way back to Austrey and from there the ten miles or so back home. On the old banger it took a while longer than usual - but I became aware of how peaceful everything felt, how quiet and calm - I lost myself for a moment, in the moment, and thought that everyone who rides regularly should attempt to get out for an occasional evening spin - it really is good for the soul.

A good mid-week ride, I think the best one so far this year.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Bank holiday....

The foxgloves are thick but flowerless yet of course - but among them , stretching as far as the boundaries of the wood, the bluebells are also thickening for flower - a million spikes with dark hearts of bud - looking like they are almost ready to break out into a great lake of liquid mauve.

The weather has improved with such a force that it feels almost as if summer is here. And to add to the euphoria, the rare confluence of a bank holiday and good weather - I cant remember feeling so good!

For me the weekend started after a day's training in Cheltenham - a chore that I have to endure for the next few months but at least offers me a change of scenery. The evening saw a visit to the pub, always a good start to any weekend but with the prospect of an extra days break, all the more enjoyable.

I met up with Gary on Saturday morning at our usual spot - the bright, cloudless sky tricked us into shorts and short sleeve tops - it was colder than it looked - arm-warmers had to be deployed.

We rode on our usual route through Shackerstone to Congerstone, up the drag to Market Bosworth and then out to Cadeby, from there Sutton Cheney and the long road to Upton - usually a fast road, this time we were faced with a headwind that slowed us to a crawl - once at Upton we sat on the bench, first time this year. The sunshine now was sufficient to warm us - and without the wind buffeting us we were soon restored. We carried on via Shenton and Far Coton to the Water Park at Bosworth and then back to Congerstone, sheltering for five minutes or so under a bridge from a torrential downpour.

We rode back to Newton Burgoland before splitting up - 40 miles + by the time I got home - a great start to the finest weekend so far this year.