Monday, 23 March 2015

Richard III - bones and bikes....

Mid march can be a strange time of year - what should be early spring can feel like late winter pared down to the very bone. Aside from the, as yet, flowerless daffodil spikes and the barrage of sounds from the rookery across the road there is little sense of life's return.

Somewhat ironic then that this weekend sees the mortal remains of Richard III transported to his final resting place more than 500 years after his death in battle. Crowds have gathered along the route which sees the lead-lined oak coffin of the last Plantaganet King carried from the place he died, through the Leicestershire countryside to Leicester Cathedral. And I decided it would be right and fitting for me to ride along for a while - after all, the journey covers some of my most popular routes.

It was the perfect day to move a King. Blue skies, sunny and not a hint of Lancastrian forces to be seen. Everywhere there are people walking, with portable seats and some with picnics, captivated by the story of the last English King to die in battle and determined to make a day of it.

I ride through Bosworth where the barriers are already holding back a line of people perhaps two or three deep. I pause to ask one of the stewards exactly which road Richard would be coming in on, she didn't know - I decided to head to Sutton Cheney - I know that there's just one road through the village and that the cortege would be stopping at the church - the very one that Richard heard his final mass before the battle. The road is blocked with people and I can't get through, but I remember there's a footpath that will take me behind the church and back onto the road leading to the Bosworth Battlefield Tourist Centre - I opt for that and find a position on the pavement to watch from. There are men dressed in armour who march ahead of the funeral cortege, and then a group of police motorcycle outriders with lights flashing - Then he's here, the oak coffin clearly visible in the hearse. There is a pause at the church, some words are said but Richard remains inside the hearse, then they're off again towards the Battlefield visitor centre - I get a few photos and a couple of video clips before setting off down the gated lane back to Bosworth.

Everywhere there are crowds of people, familys, walkers, cyclists. In Bosworth the streets are jam packed - all the shops are open and theres a farmers' market as well. The chip shop - The Batter of Bosworth - is doing a roaring trade, as I cycle up to the market square a little boy cries after dropping his saveloy sausage.

I pick my way through the throng and make my way to the church, the bells are ringing and there are people gathered taking photos and wandering around. Richard is on his way and will be heading from here to Newbold Verdon and Desford and then to Leicester City - he's got another 20 miles or so to go.

The landscape of medieval churches, low hills and country lanes has changed surprisingly little since the last time Richard's body was carried to Leicester - although this journey, slow, escorted by knights, prayed over by a bishop and many priests and greeted by people lining village streets and country lanes has been very different this time round. As I cycle homeward past crowds still gathering I ponder the eccentricity of it all: here is a King, hated at his time of reign, castigated by Shakespeare, a possible child murderer and yet now somehow reviled - the whole show has a mix of sombre occassion and Disney-like flamboyance, but I'm glad I managed to get out to see it.

Pub sign - Marstons Pedigree Beer!

Tuesday, 10 March 2015


Truth be told, I've been in a kind of winter slump. No matter how much I think about getting out, I look outside, see the dark, windy, cold vista and snuggle up under the duvet instead. Of course I know this needs to stop, it feels like months since i've done any meaningful miles, and yet I can't get motivated.

This past weekend saw a change to my 'black dog' thinking. The moment had at last arrived when a longing for spring rides returned. On Saturday I set out with determined and purposeful intentions. A long ride over to visit my Mother in Barton under Needwood would be ideal to.... get the ball rolling - more aptly, get the wheels rolling.

It was overcast as I set off, winter has drained all colour from the landscape and somehow refuses to relent. Birds seem unable to settle, daffodil heads remain tight as clenched fists, I notice some catkins, scorched by frost, having paid the price for precocity.

My riding is slow and tentative, every incline seems a struggle but I'm happy, on my old bike, to merely pootle along without a care. The great advantage of an old steel bike with straight bars is that there's no pressure to perform. If I get overtaken by a slender racing snake no matter, its a hollow victory for him, there's no satisfaction in catching a bike like mine, I know, I've done it loads. If I'd ventured out on my carbon it would be a different matter; with that machine comes the overwhelming need to 'go fast', to catch and not be caught. It's a place I don't want to be. Not yet.

As I meander along dry, empty lanes I have time to look. Branches are bare, witches' fingers poking into the sky which is brushed with streaks of blue-violet. The air is cold but there's a hint of yolk-yellow sun, occasionally breaking through the gunmetal clouds to place a walk palm between my shoulders.

Its been months since I made this journey on a bike, but I'm surprised that I'm making steady progress. I get to halfway thinking I'm doing well. I try to up the pace a tad as I pass through Netherseal and up the slow climb to Grangewood. Through Coton there is a procession of ducks crossing the road in a line. I pause for a minute in a secluded spot, a palette of earth brown and bog black. The brook trickles like a silver ribbon through the shade. There is a sweet scent of water and the alarm call of a blackbird to break the silence. On the village green there is a flash of spring colour, scores of snowdrops and a smattering of upright daffs displaying a welcome burst of sunlight yellow. A willow tree is covered with clusters of lime green catkins, lambs-tails as we called them as children.

I make my way up towards Walton then its a welcome descent to the village and on to Barton. I spend a couple of hours with Mum and then set off for home. The return is much, much tougher. For a start there's a headwind and the route is definitely more uphill than down. I struggle, puffing and panting, to get the bike up the hill out of Walton. There's a brief respite before more hills at Coton, Snarestone and Congerstone. By the time I reach home my legs are complaining. But I feel refreshed and somewhat content, 43 miles covered at an average no more than 12mph. Slow and steady but at least its a start. Question is can I do it again?