Monday, 8 December 2014

Cycle to work?

It's the time of year that reminds me that this island and its traditions are embedded so deeply in my soul that I can never leave - no matter what the mediterranean has to offer. Regardless of how much I could do without traffic jams or squabbling politicians or the X-factor, this time of year always leaves me with a warmth and a pride. I talk, of course, about the season of Winter Wonderlands.

In a cold, sodden field close to Birmingham, Laurence Llewelyn Bowen has launched his 'Magical Journey' I am reliably informed that, after closing on the day it opened, it is now open and in full festive swing. £100 will enable a smallish family to set off in search of a reindeer called Rudi, their experience enhanced by snow distributed from plastic bags and a skinny Santa straight from University. In Milton Keynes there is a similar set-up - except they closed on day 2 with Santa besieged by furious parents and two fathers having a scrap in the gingerbread house.

I have to declare an interest though - I am gainfully employed at my local Winter Wonderland - taking photographs of happy children and their gown-ups, sitting on Santa's sleigh with a reindeer by their side whilst waiting to enter the grotto and an audience with the big man in red. But I have to say - we do it well. I'd happily take my kids and when I see the faces of the children, many of whom are annual visitors, lit-up, wide-eyed in wonder and joy, and it makes me happy too.

I had a day off from proper work and took advantage of a bright clear morning to explore a route into Leicester City centre. I've been thinking of it for a while - but never managed to find time. My plan was simple, look up a rough guide on Google maps - then set off. In the car its about 16 miles door to door and takes anything between 30 minutes and an hour and a half. Google tells me it has a route that will get me there in just over 13 miles - using back roads and cycle-tracks. I set off, brimming with optimism.

The first 4 miles are tough - lots of uphill and I'm way out of practise. I pant up to Thornton taking full advantage of the granny-gear on my old bike. I dawdle through the village before another climb up from the reservoir, heading for the National Cycle Path route 63 to Ratby. I overtake three horse riders at the foot of the climb but hear their clip-clopping encroaching on me by the time I reach the top. The cycle path is quiet save for a couple of dog walkers. The sun is shining through dense trees spotlighting the path with patches of intense, white light. The surface of the trail is good, concrete and in places fresh looking tarmac - however there is a skin of mud and fallen leaves that renders the surface as treacherous as if an oil tanker had jettisoned its cargo upon it. I lose grip on every bend and slow to a crawl. I imagine the route in spring or summer though - with the trees in leaf and birds singing - I think it will be worth a try.

After getting muddled with directions through Ratby I find the next part of the route and head towards Glenfield, a muddy stretch recently used for filming a re-enactment of 'famous battles of World War One' - at least that's what it looked like - no chance of riding here - hop off and walk for half a mile avoiding any lone snipers. I pass a few industrial parks but its pleasant riding - no traffic to worry about. At Glenfield there is a mile or so of 'on-road' It's a busy stretch that involves a series of criss-crossing over a busy dual carriageway - but at least there are clearly marked cycle lanes and plenty of pelican crossings. Then its back onto the cycle route - a different number now - I think it was route 2 - although I might be mistaken. It's a nice surface, fairly flat and wide and for a while follows the river into the City Centre. I pop up just on the outskirts and into heavy three and four lane traffic - I cycle on the pavements into the centre proper - It's done I'm here - my milometer reads 14 miles - not bad and doable to get to work in the good weather 2 or 3 times a week - maybe.

I ride around the city streets for 10 minutes before heading back. I realise quite soon that the route has been more downhill or flat than anything else on the way in - now I'm having to work harder to keep moving. There are three or four steep rises on the way back - I calculate 15 maybe 18% - or is it just that my fitness is non-existent at the moment? - whatever, I need all the gears to make it to the top.

My final mileage is 29+ by the time I get home - Three times a week, that's getting on for 100 miles - a great way to get some miles in and build up the fitness next year. This could be an early resolution?

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