Monday, 30 September 2013

Cleats and Colleges....

This post is late. I've been so busy with 'stuff' - I've neglected the blog - and for that I can only offer sincere apologies. 

Bourton on the Water
I've been away. We had a wonderful long weekend bumbling around the Cotswolds - a place, I'm sorry to say, is mostly unknown to me. The blonde and I travelled down to Bourton on the Water - until now a place that I've only read about or seen pictures of. It was worth the trip. We arrived in a very light mist of rain which conveniently stopped as we stepped out of the car. We ambled around the streets, quiet and calm - none of the heaving tourist masses that I'd feared from online research. We enjoyed a tasty breakfast in the wonderful Artisan bakery in one of the many side streets and spent a couple of hours wandering round exploring. Then we travelled through Stow on the Wold and onward to our destination - The Falkland Arms at Great Tew.

The Falkland Arms
If you had describe the quintessential English pub, say to a group of Americans, how might you explain it? Thatched of course, and old oak beams, naturally. A real fire, subdued lighting, flagstone floor, dartboard, real ale, a maze of small, higgledy-piggledy rooms...... this is the Falkland Arms to a tee. And the Americans love the place! 
Sign in Great Tew
Our room was perfectly adequate and to be honest, it didn't matter - the atmosphere of the place made up for any shortcomings elsewhere. We enjoyed working our way through the selection of beers and tucked into a hearty three-course meal in the evening. The bar was a mixture of tourists (at least two American couples and a French group) and locals. And there was a folk duo encouraging us to singalong to some classic folky tunes - the yanks loved it.

On Sunday I rode my bike into Oxford - through England's green and pleasant land. Endless stone cottages with straw rooftops, drystone walls, rolling countryside. It was a pleasurable ride of 15 miles or so, passing through Woodstock. As I rode into the City I noticed one or two studenty types on bikes - but nowhere near the numbers I'd expected - no more than I see at home really. I skirted round the town centre a couple of times stopping alongside various colleges, taking a few photo's - all very touristy as I mingled with coachloads of Japanese visitors.

I met the blonde and we adjourned to a convenient pub for a drink before further exploration on foot. There are some nice old parts and the colleges are an obvious major attraction - but it seemed to me that there was the ubiquity of any other City - waking out of a coma, colleges aside,
I could have been in Leicester or Middlesborough.

There was a man in the high street who appeared to be floating in thin air - I took a photo. And then I was back on the bike heading back to Great Tew - we met up again in Woodstock and brought some provisions from a deli - an impromptu picnic amongst the honey coloured stone.

Back at the pub and a final evening of gentle intoxication before bed - and the end of a thoroughly enjoyable and enlightening weekend.

The floating man

Monday, 9 September 2013

Red arrows....

As it gets close to last orders in the garden we spent a few hours fettling around; tidying, pruning, generally making good. There's still some life around and the threatened worsening of weather never happened here. Instead we were treated to gentle sunshine and a blue sky daubed with grey and white clouds. I embarked on a ride of 35 miles to make the most of the good conditions - it was a placid affair; mild-paced with no definite agenda - just the sense of being out and getting somewhere and then back again. The rise up to Market Bosworth left me breathless as usual and from there I was happy to amble along at a sedentary pace - looking across empty fields and verges with various shrunken flower heads and withered stalks, a testimony to the winding down of summer.

Insects were numerous though - on a speedy descent I was hit full in the eye by something which left me weaving along the road like a drunken sailor on a storm-tossed ship. In the end I had to stop and give myself a minute to clear the debris. Not long afterwards the same thing happened again - not quite so debilitating as the first time but annoying nonetheless - glasses, eye protection of some sort would have been useful today. There are people gathering wild fruits from the hedgerows; blackberries are abundant and I notice a woman with a bright blue plastic trug full of apples. For a while I imagine she will be baking a delicious apple and blackberry tart when she gets home. I recall that we did the same a year or so ago - there still might be one or two apple and blackberry crumbles hidden in the depths of the freezer. I pause in a gateway for a few minutes to survey the scene. There's an old tree trunk laid out almost like a bench for weary walkers (or cyclists) to perch on and I glimpse a grey heron gliding past across the middle of the field. There is the remains of a crow next to the trunk, its glossy black plumage still with an oily shine. It's quiet; still and calm. I ride around lanes that just over 500 years ago were the scene of the Battle of Bosworth - the King was killed somewhere close to where I am right now - recent research has shone new light on the exact location of the battle - and I know that I'm in the zone.

As I make the gradual turn and start heading towards home I pass a group of cyclists, a club run and a sizeable peloton - I wonder how far they've been. It's late afternoon and I imagine that they've been out all day; possibly a 100 miles or more. Then there is a deafening overhead roar - instinctively I look upwards scanning the sky - it is the Red Arrows display team - I stop to watch as the planes circle widely and jettison a plume of red, blue and white smoke - they are flying low and I remember that it is the Shackerstone Show weekend - a regular fixture that always includes a Red Arrows display. For the next 10 minutes or so - I have a grandstand view as they twist and turn through their repertoire. It's exciting stuff and makes me smile as I continue my journey homewards reflecting on a ride that has offered such a variety of visual stimulants.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Back on local roads....

There's an air of melancholy as summer gently slips away; although it remains dry here at present there has been a few misty mornings and the sense that the turn is close. It seems an age since we were baking under the French sun, desperate for a shady spot and toiling up endless hills. Since our return my bike has been in hospital - I'm glad to report it is now working as it should - wish I'd bitten the bullet and taken it in earlier. Also I've spent a week at the seaside enjoying the unspoilt beaches of North Devon. I took my old bike to keep my hand in and each morning I set myself the challenge of climbing the road from Woolacombe up to Mortehoe. What a test that was - first time I failed - the gradients in places are in excess of 20% - it made me realise that I've never faced hills like that before - and there is a definite technique to getting up them succesfully. After the first day I had the route in my mind and was able to measure my efforts more efficiently - I took things easier on the lower slopes and had enough energy to tackle the really steep sections as they arrived. There was a hill there from the beach straight up the hill heading inland - Challcombe Hill I think it is called - I had intended an attempt at this monster and I sat at a beachside bar with a pair of binoculars patiently watching for others making the ascent - like a cycle version of a twitcher. There wasn't many who managed the task - plenty were walking or giving up entirely. I never managed my attempt - circumstances, time constraints, fear? - maybe next time?

The last weekend of August was a fine affair - windy but dry with the sun peeping from behind scudding cloud. I went out late afternoon, for a change, making good progress over familiar roads and heading on a circular route through Market Bosworth, Cadeby, Daddlington, Stoke Golding, Upton, Shenton, Far Coton, Congerstone, Shackerstone, Newton Burgoland, Odstone, Barton in the Beans and back home. I took it steady with just a few speedy bursts when I needed to make a suitable impression overtaking mountain bikers. I stopped at the pub at Stoke Golding to take a drink - I'd forgotten to take a bottle and a pint of beer seemed a good idea. I sat in the small garden watching butterflies quivering and shivering as if struggling for flight - the glowing embers of the early evening light and the cooling down of the day seemed to have hampered their aptitude for flight. They tottered around like a woman on too-high heels making plaited flights over and under each other.

As the cooler air enveloped the scene I made my way back, the low-slung sun shone through trees creating dappled diamonds and oblongs on trunks and the ground, I passed through a tunnel of coppiced trees like a darkened bower confusing rhythms and blurring day into night, there was a rustle and some lively movement in the undergrowth to my left, an unidentified animal bounding through dry, dead sticks. The fields are full around here, a deep green sea of crops moving like waves with the wind. Soon I'm home and I give my bike a wipe down which turns into a more thorough clean. It won't be long before it will be confined to the garage for winter.