So I’m going to the UK for a family wedding in Spring 2009 and this gives me the opportunity to ride a bike in England for the first time since I was in college. And how long ago was that exactly? Well longer than I care to think about, but of course now I am thinking about it. Can it really be two decades since I moved to the US. Looking in the mirror my receding hair line and wrinkles convince me that those 20 years have indeed slipped by. Inevitably, America has become my home and England seems more and more like a foreign country. Of course I’ve visited England many times, but it’s usually been hectic, rushing around between family and friends and I’ve lost my feeling for the place. A couple of years ago I went to the Edinburgh Festival and I got a taste of being back in the culture. It was wonderful to go to plays and wander around bookshops in the summertime and just enjoy the place. So now I can spend a week on my bike staying in out of the way places to see if any of the England I left almost a quarter of a century ago still exists. Will the country be full of hoodie wearing, feral children with knives? Will “Big Brother” be all pervasive, and I don’t mean the TV show. Actually as the UK has a woman Home Secretary perhaps that should be “Big Sister”, that’s a leap that Orwell didn’t make. One thing I’m pretty much sure about though, Spandau Ballet won’t be in the charts.**
The plan is to do something similar to last year’s Boston to Montreal trip. I’ll fly into Heathrow, stay with friends in London for a few days and then take 5 days to cycle home to the North East of England, staying in hotels along the way. I’ll visit with the family for a while and rent a car to chauffeur my mum to the wedding. Then I’ll drive back to Heathrow with the bike in the car.
** Since writing this introduction a disturbing event has occurred, Spandau Ballet are making a come back. The link below contains 1980s footage of Spandau ballet……you have been warned.
Is this a coincidence? or did a glib joke on my part somehow catalyze this worrying event – I’ll go with coincidence.
My route is going to take me between the two centres of my life in the UK, London and Middlesbrough. I grew up just outside Middlesbrough. It’s not high on the list of places you have to visit before you die, in fact it must be close to the bottom. It’s no Paris, London or Rome, but it was home. Middlesbrough is about 300 miles north of London on the North East coast. It’s a gritty town with iron smelting, blast furnaces, ship building and chemical works on the River Tees.
The other focal point of my life in England was London as that’s where I went to college and realized that the world is far larger than my small North Yorkshire village. I lived there for seven very formative years and I still enjoy the familiar streets of West London and old haunts like the National Theatre and the South Bank. I studied physics, but an equal part of my education happened outside college. It was possible to look in the paper and find something terrific every night; The Clash at the Lyceum, a Mel Brooks or Woody Allen double feature, or a reading by Ted Hughes. The white wine spritzer was sophisticated and Cats was the hottest ticket in town, remember this was the 1980s.
So my experience of the UK is basically 25 years old and this tour will help me to begin it’s rediscovery. On a bike you’re connected to your surroundings and you always end up meeting people; they’re interested in where you’re going and how far you’ve already travelled. But you also have a wonderful feeling of independence knowing that with a little time and effort you can go anywhere. My tour will take me up the east coast of England from London through Cambridge, Holbeach, Market Rasen and Malton and finally to Middlesbrough. Most of these towns are not big tourist destinations, although I have read that Holbeach has one of the best Thai restaurants in the UK. I love slightly strange pieces of information like that. My route will be quite flat as it skirts East Anglia and goes through the Lincolnshire and Yorkshire Wolds. This will be a big change from last year’s tour through Vermont which turned out to be a little hilly, you must accommodate for English understatement there. I really don’t know what to expect, but that’s one of the joys of travel. So the itinerary is as follows:
Day 1, fly to London, arrive, assemble the bike and ride to my friends’ house in North London. Impose on my friends’ hospitality for 2 days. Visit plenty of pubs, old friends, the Tate and see something at the National Theatre.
Day 2, London to Cambridge, 56 miles staying in Hilton Doubletree Inn, Granta Place, Mill Lane Cambridgeshire Cambridge CB2 1RT United Kingdom Telephone: (0)1223 259988. Route will go from Barnet through Cheshunt, Much Hadam, Duxford and into Cambridge.
Day 3, Cambridge to Holbech, 53 miles Mansion House Hotel, 45 High Street Holbeach, Lincolnshire, PE12 7DY, 0140 6426919. Route through Ely and Wisbech. Maybe check out that Thai place.
Day 4, Holbech to Market Rasen, 52 miles, Waveney Cottage B&B Willingham Road Market Rasen Lincolnshire LN8 3DN 01673 843236. Route through Fosdyke,Boston, Horncastle and Wragby
Day 5, Market Rasen to Malton, 66 miles, Old Lodge Old Maltongate Malton North Yorkshire YO17 7EG 01653 690570. Route through Caistor, Barton on Humber, Beverley and Wetwang, now there’s an interesting place name.
Day 6, Malton to Middlesbrough, 40 miles. This should be the toughest day as I have to climb over the North Yorkshire Moors. Route through Hovingham, Helmsley, Chop Gate and Stokesley.
Rent a car and drive my mum down to Hull for my niece’s wedding. Spend a few days with mum and then drive back to London with the bike in the back of the car. Pack the bike up at my friends’ house and fly out of Heathrow.
Flying with my bike
First off I can hear you saying that a bike can’t fly. What I mean is that I’ll have to pack my bike up and get it onto a plane, so which bike should I take to England. I’m a bit of a bike nut and have four to choose from. There’s my Rambouillet sport tourer that I rode to Montreal last year, my Atlantis tourer, my Circle A town bike or my single speed Quickbeam. As the tour will be pretty flat, most of it across the fens and Lincolnshire and Yorkshire Wolds, I’m going to take the Quickbeam. This has the added advantage of being a relatively simple bike to transport as it has no derailleurs to worry about and at 24lbs it’s light for a touring bike, but heavier than I’d expected for a single speed. I also want a bit of a challenge and touring singlespeed should provide that.
My Quickbeam is set up with a double chain ring 40/32 and 3 freewheels at the back 18/16 on one side and a 22 on the other. So it’s obviously not a true single speed, in fact I have the following gear ratios 68″, 60″, 54″ and 39″. I have to change them manually by stopping and loosening the rear wheel so that there’s enough slack in the chain to move it to another sprocket with my finger. The practical upshot of this is that I ride almost all the time in 68″ and will go down to 39″ for big hills, the middle gears are seldom used.
I’m obsessional about packing lists as I hate that feeling that I’ve left something behind, but can’t remember what it might be. So I have a well worn list and tick each item off as it goes into my bags. My credit card touring list is mostly my fully loaded list minus the camping equipment and some food. Here’s what I’m taking to the UK.
# Touring Shorts (Rapha)
# Lightweight Long Pants (LLBean)
# Off Bike Cotton Shorts
# Padded Cycling Briefs (Andiamo)
# Long Sleeve Zip T-Shirt (Smartwool)
# Long Sleeve Seersucker Shirt (Rivendell)
# Rain Jacket (Rapha Stowaway)
# 2 x Socks (Smartwool)
# Boat Shoes (Rockport)
# Gloves (Pearl Izumi)
# Sunscreen (SPF 45)
# Toothpaste and Brush
# Dental Floss
# Toilet Paper
# Gold Bond Powder
# Chamois Butter
# Bike Cable Lock
# Leatherman Juice
# 2 x Kevlar Spokes
# 2 x inner tubes
# Patch Kit
# Tire boots
# 2x Powerlink
# Brake Cable
# Gear Cable
# Brake Pads
# Misc Nuts and Bolts
# 4x AA batteries
# 4x AAA batteries
# Cateye Front and Rear Lights
# Bike Computer
# Large Plastic Bag
# Duct tape
# Cable ties
# 2x Water Bottle
# Latex Gloves
# Cotton rag
# Notebook and pen
# First Aid Kit
# Sewing kit
# iPhone, headphones and charger cable
# Small AM/FM radio (Sony)
# Linux eeePC 900 and power cable (Asus)
# Camera and USB cable (Cannon A590)
# 2Gig USB menory
# Travel Umbrella
# US/UK plug adapter
# Padded Cycling Underpants (Andiamo)
# Long Sleeve Zip T-Shirt (Smartwool)
# Cycling Knickers (Rapha)
# Socks (Smartwool)
# MTB Cycling Shoes (Shimano)
# Cap (Walz)
# Nelson Longflap Saddlebag (Carradice)
# Handlebar Bag (Acorn)
Something new to me about this trip is flying with my bike. So I had to decide how to pack my bike for the trip. I looked at cardboard boxes, hard cases, soft cases and even considered just putting it in a large plastic bag or one of the japanese “rinko-bukuro”. But I eventually opted for a soft sided bag with no padding called the Tardis made by Ground Effect in New Zealand
Packing and Assembling the Bike
Here is my bike and gear packed into the Tardis. It weighs about 40lbs. I use my handlebar bag as carry on luggage. The bag is easy to carry using either the handle or shoulder strap and there’s no trouble getting it into a taxi or onto public transportation.
Inside the bag I have placed a few pieces of cardboard as stiffeners and protection around the parts that stick out. I use my saddlebag and its contents as extra padding.
Here’s the bike as it comes out of the bag.
The first thing to do is to remove the spacers between the front and rear dropouts. Next install the wheels and then put the crank on the bike and hook up the chain. I use self extracting crank bolts
Next install the stem and handlebars, brakes and rear rack. Finally install the pedals and pump up the tyres. The entire process takes 20 to 30 mins.
Here is the Tardis bike bag and my saddlebag all packed up.
The Tardis will fit under the long flap of the saddlebag. It would be possible to carry the Tardis like this on tour, but I only ride with it until I can either post it somewhere or leave it at a hotel or with friends.
Maps, Maps and iPhones
I recently joined the 21st century and bought an iPhone. It’s a great little device and I’ve even taken to listening to BBC Radio 4 on it using an application called WunderRadio. I must be consuming gigabytes of data, but who cares as on my AT&T data plan I get as many bytes as I want for $30. A quick visit to Google maps when I got lost on the bike at the weekend consumed 500 MBytes, but what the heck I get as much data as I want at no extra charge. This all sounds fantastic, and it is until I looked into using my iPhone in England. The voice plan is easy, just call ma’Bell and ask to activate international calling and choose between $1.29/min or paying $4 a month to have the rate reduced to $0.99. Not exactly cheap, but it’s not as if I’ll be chatting away all the trime. The kick in the pants comes with the data plans. The cheapest is $25/month, but comes with only 20 MBytes of data and once that is used up AT&T charges by the MByte and the cost sky rockets. There are tales of $1000 bills run up by just downloading emails and a bit of web surfing. To get a couple of hundred MBytes I’d have to spend a couple of hundred dollars. So I’ve decided only to use the iPhone as a wifi device and for the odd phone call. I’ll have 3G turned off most of the time. This means that I won’t be able to access Google maps on the road, however, I don’t want to carry a load of maps with me. The solution is to save the maps of my route to my iPhone so that I have them locally.
After some searching I came upon an app called AirShare that lets me set the iPhone up as a wireless drive so I can copy files from my PC to the iPhone. I put my route into a nice UK website called bikehike.co.uk that displays Google maps and the Ordnance Survey map together and also does elevation and gradient profiles. I then displayed the route in lots of sections at appropriate scales and saved each one as a screen shot using GIMP (a nice linux image manipulation tool). Then I copied the resulting jpeg images over to the iPhone. I ended up with an average of 15 map sections covering each days route.
Boston to Heathrow and on to Barnet
Thursday May 14, 2009, 24 miles (39 km) – Total so far: 24 miles (39 km)
It’s a bit strange starting a bike tour with a transatlantic flight. I’d rather start a tour riding from my house to keep the carbon foot print as small as possible, but this time I’ll be adding lots of CO2 to the atmosphere. I packed all my gear up last night and went through my obsessive check list as I put each item into my bike bags. Most of my stuff went into the big Tardis bag with my bike and I kept personal stuff in my handlebar bar that I’ll take onto the plane with me. The Tardis bag weighs 40lbs so it’s well under the Virgin Atlantic sporting equipment limit of 40kgs and while not exactly light it’s easy enough to sling over the shoulder.
I called a cab a couple of hours before my flight time and went out to sit on the step and wait. While I was there one of my neighbours passed by and I asked her to take a shot of me all ready to begin my adventure. Five mins later the cab was at my house and 15 mins after that it dropped me off at Logan Airport. The Big Dig is often criticized for being over budget and schedule, but it’s made the drive from my house to the airport really easy – well worth $15 billion in my opinion.
Check in with Virgin Atlantic was a breeze. They checked my bike bag without even weighing it, but I did have to take it to the over sized luggage counter. As it disappeared along the conveyor belt it went with my hopes for it’s safe arrival at Heathrow. It’s a serious matter for a cyclist to be separated for their bike and I got on the plane with my usual flight anxiety plus the worry of the horrors that my Quickbeam was going through on it’s way to the aeroplane’s hold.
My flight was uneventful, which is what every plane flight should be, it’s never a good thing to have an eventful flight. I watched the film “Lesbian Vampire Killers” which turned out to be a nicely descriptive title. The movie was crap, but the lesbian vampire scenes were ok. After that I actually managed a few hours sleep and arrived to a misty London morning. My bike bag was one of the first pieces of luggage to appear on the baggage carousel and I picked it up and walked through customs. My anxiety was completely without foundation. I was safely in Heathrow Terminal 3 with my bike. The whole process only took a few minutes. I found a quiet spot outside the terminal and opened up the bag to find a Homeland Security inspection leaflet inside. Everything seemed ok and I set to rebuilding my bike.
I got some curious stares from other travelers, but after 45 mins of oily fiddling the bike was together. The hardest part was to get rid of the oily plastic bags and cardboard packaging left over as there are no rubbish bins at the airport, but eventually I saw a cleaning crew and they took the bag off my hands. I packed the Tardis into it’s phone book sized bag and put it under the longflap of my saddlebag. It looked a little ungainly, but as the Tardis only weighs a couple of pounds it had no effect on the way the bike handled. Still it would be good to leave it a my friend’s house in London while I rode north.
The traffic in the airport was very heavy so rather than dive into it I walked my bike to the airport exit and got onto the bike path. This is a bit intimidating – it looks like the entrance to Hades as it disappears into a dark tunnel that’s shared with taxis and airport vehicles. The bike path is in the center of the road so anything behind has to wait as bicycles have priority. One taxi came up behind me in the tunnel, but slowed and patiently followed me and soon enough I was on the other side and navigated a busy roundabout to get onto the A4.
The A4 is a busy main road, but there was no need to fight the traffic as bikes are allowed on the pavement. I rode for a couple of miles until I turned left onto Cranford High Street and left the noise of the main road behind.
My task now was to follow the twists and turns of my route from Heathrow to Barnet along the back roads of London’s suburbs so I stopped often to check the maps I’d loaded onto my iPhone. This worked well and I was soon riding through Southall with has a large Sikh community. I was reminded that London has an amazingly varied and mixed population. It’s one of the most vibrant places on Earth and I smiled to be reminded of what a great place it is.
To confirm the variation that makes London so interesting I soon began my climb up Harrow Hill and huffing and puffing I came to the famous Harrow School that clings to the top of the climb. I got to the top just as the school boys were getting out of classes and couldn’t resist taking a touristy snap of the school and the boys in their straw hats.
I rode through Harrow School just as the school boys got out of class
I sped down Harrow Hill and entered the far more blue collar Harrow town center. From there I rode on through the post war suburbs of Burnt Oak and Queensbury with their neatly repeating houses and mentally prepared for my final climbs of the day through Mill Hill. However, I wasn’t really prepared for the gradients that topped out at 10% on the final climb up Highwood Hill and I gave up trying to mash my 67″ gear and pushed the bike up the the last bit of the hill. I arrived in Barnet at 1:00pm and rang the doorbell of my friend Cherry’s house. I wasn’t expecting her to be at home. She had told me that if she wasn’t home that I should wait for her in the pub at the end of her street. So I decamped to the pub and had a couple of cask bitters. The pub had a good wifi link so I did some emailing while I waited. Cherry arrived around 2:00 and we caught up with our news and gossip before walking home where she plied me with lots of food and more booze.
The combination of jet lag, my ride, the food and the booze caught up with me and I napped on the sofa or a while. I have a full day tomorrow. I’m meeting Cherry at Borough Market for lunch and then seeing another friend in the afternoon and finally going to the theatre with Cherry and her husband David in the evening. This holiday lark is really tiring.
Catching up with Old Friends in London
I woke up at 5:00 am rolled over and went back to sleep. My internal clock was all mixed up and the earliness of sunrise in the UK wasn’t doing anything to help. I really like that second sleep in the morning that’s half way between dreaming and waking, but when I woke again at 6:00am I knew that it was time to get up. I carefully made my way down the steep staircase that is a feature of terraced houses and made myself a cup of tea. I guessed that the vast majority of the UK was doing just the same as me. The electricity grid was being pulled down by millions of electric kettles and thousands of tons of tea was being steeped in mugs. Cherry and Dave appeared about half an hour later and Cherry reminded me that we should meet for lunch at Borough Market down near Guys Hospital.
I spent the morning blogging and set off to the tube station around 10:45. Barnet is about as far from Central London as you can get and still be in London. It’s just inside the M25 and High Barnet station is at the end of the Northern Line. As a student living in Fulham towns at the end of the line like High Barnet and Cockfosters were slightly exotic as I knew of nobody who’d ever traveled out that far. It would take an hour to get from High Barnet to London Bridge to meet Cherry. At least it would be a simple trip, just take the Northern Line no changing required, but the Northern Line has two branches and I had to make sure I got on the correct train.
The first part pf the trip was overground and quite slow, but at Highgate the tube went underground and picked up speed. I arrived at London Bridge right on time and found Cherry waiting for me at the tube station exit and we walked around the corner to the market.
Borough Market is an old Victorian cast iron structure underneath the railway arches. It’s open on Friday and Saturday and sells fantastic food and produce. We started with a chorizo and rocket (arugila) sandwich and then I got a pork pie. I’m glad to say that the pork pie is still readily available in the UK. It’s something that the US just doesn’t have, there’s really no savory pie culture there. I don’t count the chicken pot pie as it only has a crust on the top. The pork pie is completely surrounded in a nice crust so that it’s the perfect travel or picnic food.
After wolfing down my pie we sampled some German white asparagus and were then stopped in our tracks by the biggest plates/griddles of fish soup that we’d ever seen. The smell was fantastic. Finally we stopped for tea and a brownie. Off to the side of the market is a cheese shop called Neal’s Yard which is well worth a visit as well. So if you’re ever in London check out Borough Market and come with an empty stomach.
Cherry had to get back to work so we said goodbye and arranged to meet at the Hippodrome Leicester Square at 5:30 before dinner and going to the theatre. I wandered down to the river and along the river walk to the Tate Modern and the footbridge to St Paul’s. I’d visited the Tate last time I was in London so I did something different and took the footbridge across the Thames. This is a rather infamous structure as after it was opened by the Queen is was found that it swayed alarmingly, but they’ve solved that problem now and it was boringly stable.I walked up to St Paul’s and heard one of those classic snippets of overheard conversation. A bloke turned to a woman just as I passed them and said, “Don’t worry they only sent him down for 30 months”. To me a 30 month sentence sounds pretty stiff. I fantasized that maybe the man and woman knew Horace Rumpole and he’d get the prisoner off with an amazing bit of lawyering. I’d been listening to a “Rumpole of the Bailey” story yesterday on Radio 4.
I carried on down Ludgate Hill from St. Paul’s and onto Fleet Street which was once where all the newspapers had their offices, but now they’ve all moved to the East End and nameless industrial estates. The I walked down to the Royal Courts of Justice and their high camp Victorian gothicness, no chance of these buildings fading into the background. Still they looked really nice in the sunshine.
I was making my way to Covent Garden to catch the tube to Paddington Station to meet another friend, Catherine, who was coming in from Chippenham. As I wandered the back streets I noticed groups of business men outside the pubs with cigarettes and pints enjoying a liquid lunch. I’m glad to see that this tradition is still going strong. So +1 in the “Things that stay the same column”.
I arrived at Paddington and emerged into a fantastic cast iron cathedral to transportation. Where the law courts are playful and fanciful, Paddington Station’s beauty comes from the superb practicality of the structure. People were rushing all over then place, but just before 3:00 I found Catherine under the departure board where we’d arrange to meet. We made our way to Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery to see the Picasso exhibition.
The exhibit was wonderful as it showed how his style and subject matter developed and changed over the years. I was surprised to see the variation in his style over the years and the way cubism developed. I particulary liked his reinterpretation of a large Valesquez painting where he replaces the impressive royal mastif dog with is own sausage dog, Lump.
After the exhibition we had a drink in a bar before meeting up with Dave and Cherry for a Chinese meal at the Lido Restaurant in China Town. I was happy Dave had chosen the Lido as it’s somewhere I often went as a student. I remember one night there particularly as it ended very well…….but that’s all we’ll say about that. Anyway after plates of crispy duck and sechuzan vegetables we moved onto the Garrick Theatre to see ” A little Night Music”. The first act was slow and I was a bit disappointed, but the second act picked up and was very enjoyable. Good singing and Maureen Lippman was very funny. The play finished around 10:30 so we got on the train back to High Barnet as we were all tired.
…..More catching up
Last night finished late so it was an even later start this morning. I called an old mate from College, Nev, and we arranged to meet for lunch at the Duke’s Head down on the Thames in Putney. I was faced with another long tube journey with the added complication that parts of the Underground get closed down at the weekend for engineering work. So another +1 in the “things that haven’t changed” column. But in all honesty the transport system in London is amazing as there are so many alternatives that it was easy to plot a tube route around the closures. I bought a 7.50 pound day travel ticket at High Barnet Station that was good for the entire Tube network, London Buses and the overground commuter trains too. I made my way to Putney Bridge on a combination of the Northern, Picadilly and District Lines and soon enough, well one hour, latter I was walking up to the familiar white structure of the Dukes Head on the south bank of the Thames. I lived for a couple of years just across the river in Fulham and me and my flat mates would come across to the slightly exotic environs of Putney for beers. I passed the Bricklayers Arms which was quite a trendy place back in the 1980’s and a Thai restaurant which was definitely new. The Dukes Head was reassuringly familiar and after a quick scout around the bar I deduced that Nev must be outside. Sure enough he was at one of the bench tables down by the river. The weather was not particularly warm, but there was enough sunshine for the English (or Irish in Nev’s case) to convince themselves that they’d better cover up to avoid a serious sunburn.
We had a few drinks and compared notes about life and our old friends from our years in college, some of whom are now grandparents. It turned out that Nev was going to the Rugby Premiership final at Twickenham between London Irish and Leicester later in the afternoon and he had a spare ticket. So I snatched at the serendipity and called Cherry to say I wouldn’t be back at her place for a curry that evening as we had previously arranged. Nev and I had lunch at the pub, a burger with an inch thick piece of sharp cheddar on it and various salads. It was excellent, medium rare and juicy. The food has definitely changed for the better since I left the UK.
After lunch we wandered up to Putney main line station and took the train to Twickenham. My day pass was good for this fare too so I just walked through the barriers. Maybe 10 mins later we were in Twickenham and tried to get a drink in one of the pubs along the High Street, but it was like swimming against a tidal wave. The people were packed in tight, drunk and defending their access to the bar like the Spartans, just a barrier of humanity. We gave up and went for a coffee at a cafe up the street……it was almost empty, but the quiet and the coffee were both welcome. Nev was meeting his Mum, brother and a couple of other friends so he called them to say where we were and we waited. When they arrived we set off in a sea of rugby fans for Twickenham. The stadium was at capacity, 81,000 and the atmosphere was great as the London Irish fans and the Leicester fans started the competition with their dueling voices.
Nev and his mum obviously support London Irish who are appropraitely nicknamed “The Exiles”. Within seconds of the kick off London Irish scored a drop goal. Through out the first half the Irish pressured Leicester, but couldn’t score again and missed a few penalty kicks. Then in the second half the Irish seemed to tire and Leicester scored a try and a couple of penalties. The Irish came back with a couple of penalties of their own, but at full time it was 10-9 to Leicester. By the time we’d made our way back to a train into London it was getting late so I decided to go back to Barnet as even with London’s transport system it would take me another hour to get back to Barnet. I made it back to Cherry’s place around 10:30 just in time to see a Norwegian singer win the Eurovision contest. Those of you who’ve never heard of the Eurovision Contest are lucky. It’s an annual competition where European and now even Eurasian countries attempt to come up with the worst song ever, or so it seems. Countries like Lithuania and Azerbajan are not well known for their contribution to popular music for a very good reason, they suck when it comes to a good pop song. Most people watch the contest just for a laugh. When everyone has sung their song the voting starts. Each country can vote for the others, but not their own song, but there is some tactical voting, hence Moldovia giving top marks to Romania. But despite Eastern Block “block” voting Norway was the runaway winner with a song about love being a fairy tale sung by a very young guy who also played the fiddle. Cherry thought he was very cute, Dave and I thought he was crap. Something else is still the same, Eurovision………why can’t be that one of the things that changed?
Barnet to Cambridge: into England
Sunday May 17, 2009, 56 miles (90 km) – Total so far: 80 miles (129 km)
Cherry insisted on cooking me a big breakfast to see me off and I readily accepted as food and it’s consumption are one of the greatest pleasures of cycling. It burns so many calories that anything is fair game for the gullet. So after eggs, bacon, toast and beans I set off. Of course it began to rain as soon as I started and it continued for about an hour.
I made my way west from Barnet through the gritty and hilly suburb of Enfield and got onto the Lea Navigation canal path. The path is hard packed gravel and sand in most places and goes straight north out of London. For any cyclist wanting to leave London in a generally northerly direction this is the route to take. My 28mm tyres worked well on the uneven surface, but the combination of rain, dirt track and no mud guards lead to the classic cycling strip down my back. Also a lot of sand was collecting on the top of my saddlebag. Now I was regretting not using fenders. Even with the wet weather the path was fairly busy with both runners and cyclists. I passed under the M25 and followed the sign posts towards Ware. The banks of the canal were full of yarrow and borage that were just beginning to flower. About a mile from St Margarets I caught up with a group of people on mountain bikes and slowed down as there was no decent place to pass.
A bit of rain can be quite pleasant, but the persistent heavy showers that dogged my ride up the canal had become very annoying. They’d ebb in strength and then come on heavily again in a very frustrating way. At St.Margarets I left the tow path and got on the B1004 towards the impossibly quaint Hadam villages; Much Hadam, Hadam Ford and Little Hadam. The terrain was gently rolling and as the rain stopped and the sun came out I began to enjoy rather than suffer the cycling. Fields stretched out on either side of the road and I passed through a village with a pub every 15 mins. Just after Berden I took a left and I reached Clavering at 1:00. Time for lunch! The first pub I stopped at was closed for renovations, but just a mile down the road I stopped at the Cricketers pub for a traditional Sunday lunch of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.
After lunch I turned off the B1085 and headed towards Arkesden. The roads quickly became single track and the traffic almost non existent. Then I came to a sharp right turn in Arkeden and saw a really beautiful church up on a slight rise.
The terrain was now becoming a bit hillier and I rode up and down some low chalk hills. Half way up one of these hills I came upon a couple of lads at the side of the road and like any good cyclist I stopped and asked if they needed help. One of them, Joe, had broken his chain. His bike was new and he hadn’t lubed the chain. I offered some sage advice, “Lubrication is a good thing in cycling and helps in many other aspects of life too”. So after that I got my chain tool out and began to remove the two links from the offending chain. I pushed the pin out with a few screws of my chain tool and off came the bent links. I threaded the chain back through derailleurs, lined up the last link with the pin and pushed it home. I wiggled the link back and forth to make sure it was moving freely. The bike was quickly in working order again and the two lads set off with promises to avoid certain gear combinations as the chain was now shorter and to buy a new chain and a bottle of chain oil the very next day. Well that was my bit of karma for the day and I set off again feeling all Good Samaritanish.
I was now only 10 miles from Cambridge and definitely on the down slope of the rolling hills, there was also a tail wind and I allowed myself to think that my good deed was being repaid in some way. I was almost blown up a short rise and as I turned a corner I saw three other cyclists by the side of the road. I stopped to talk as I noticed that all had Brooks saddles and Carradice bags. Their average age must have been over 70 and I would have loved to snap a photo of them, but it just felt a bit cheesy and touristy, so I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Still I hope I’m still cycling at their age.
I was on the home stretch now and started to sprint along the A road into Cambridge, anxious to get to my hotel and have a shower. There was a good cycle path beside the road and soon enough the fields gave way to semi-detached houses and then the shops and the office buildings of the Cambridge outskirts. I rode around the center of town for a while and took a few photos before checking in at my hotel.
I noticed immediately that there are a lot of cyclists in Cambridge, and best of all there are lots of young women riding bikes. This is my kind of town, maybe I should move here, maybe I could swing a job at the University. I found the Doubletree Hotel down a small lane, checked in and after a shower and change of clothes set to update this blog. But wifi was 15 pounds for a minimum of 24 hrs access. Well f*ck that. I went out to a The Fountains Inn, a close by pub that I knew had wifi. On the way there I passed lots of university buildings built from sandstone and in the late afternoon sunshine it had a wonderful golden glow. I blogged, watched some football and ate a nice lamb pie at the pub. A good way to finish my first day.
Cambridge to Holbeach: across the Fens
Monday May 18, 2009, 70 miles (113 km) – Total so far: 150 miles (241 km)
Today was long and flat and WINDY I road across seemingly endless fens, sometimes fighting the wind and sometimes being blown along at 20 mph. I had an excellent breakfast at the Cambridge Doubletree Hotel: eggs, bacon, sausage, black pudding, hash browns, mushrooms and fried tomato. There was smoked salmon as well, but no bagels, that’s the American in me coming out I suppose.
I stopped on the way out of Cambridge to take a picture of King’s College Chapel which, like almost every historic building, has scaffolding on the facade. From Cambridge I rode North on the B1049 against a stream of cyclists commuting into the city. I passed through the villages of Cottenham and Wilburton before entering the cathedral town of Ely, or should that be city? Ely wouldn’t qualify as a city by it’s size alone as it’s more like a small market town, but at it’s center is Oliver Cromwell’s house and a massive cathedral. I suppose Cromwell is best known for his creation of the New Model Army, killing a king, becoming Lord Protector, being nasty to the Irish (something many Englishmen have been good at over the years) and hating dancing. Close to the Cromwell house is the solid romanesque Ely Cathedral. The building dates from 1085 and it sits almost squatly with it’s thick walls and romanesque arches. It has none of the lightness or flying buttresses of later catherdals. Inside it has a beautifully painted ceiling.
I left Ely on the B1411 towards Pymoor and the geography really started to open up. I was entering the Fens and the roads became long and straight and the views were across potato and wheat fields. I now began to feel the strength of the wind as it blew across the open landscape. Beyond Pymoor I cycled along a long drainage ditch and crossed it at Welney. Now I had a decision to make, either ride 13 miles on the busy A1101 road to Wisbech or take the back roads. I turned off the main road and took a twisting route to Threeholes, but found that the route that I’d mapped out included a section of ‘bridle path’ that was completely overgrown so I decided to carry on through Upwell and just follow the signs to Wisbech. You’d think that in such a flat landscape the roads would criss cross it all over the place. Well that’s just not so in East Anglia. There seemed to be no way around Wisbech all the roads paralleled the drainage ditches and lead to a major crossing just south of the town center. There followed some hard miles into the wind. I pedaled hard, but my progress was slow. I got down on the drops and looked at the road and the mettled surface blurred under my wheels, but Wisbech stayed stubbornly somewhere farther up the road and the wind seemed to be playing with me. One minute helping and the next straight in my face. After a hour of graft I reached my goal and stopped for a sandwich at a local shop as all the pubs closed after 2:00pm. There were no hills, but it was still turning into a tough day.
After Wisbech the ride became rather Zen like. The miles were adding up, 50 then 60 and the scenery was monotonous. Open fields on either side of the road and drainage ditches. I was listening to Ted Hughes reading poetry on BBC Radio4 (that’s twice he’s popped into this blog) and being alone in such a wide landscape is a definite spur to introspection. My mind wandered as I rode through places like Long Sutton and I decided to get off the bike for 5 mins just to stretch my legs and drink some water. Mentally refreshed I got back on the bike and resumed my battle with the wind. Finally I took the turn North into Holbeach and a tail wind blew me at 20mph for 3 miles into town. My guest house was not open when I arrived so I found a pub and had a couple of pints and an “interesting” conversation with 3 guys in the bar about the Premiership soccer (as a Middlesbrough fan the took pity on me), how to cook new potatoes and the merits of various varieties of tomato plants. I was definitely in Lincolnshire as the accents were very thick and everyone was wearing muddy Wellington boots. After an hour I left the pub feeling the 70 miles and 2 pints of beer so tonight I think I’ll just have a meal in my hotel and get an early night.
Holbeach to Market Rasen: into the Wolds
Tuesday May 19, 2009, 56 miles (90 km) – Total so far: 206 miles (332 km)
I had a good steak dinner in the Mansion House hotel bar with the only other guest, a woman in Holbeach on business for the company that makes Banston Pickle. The dinner involved 3 more pints of beer so I went to bed wondering if I’d regret my indulgence the next morning.
I woke to bright sunshine and a thankfully clear head. I limited myself to poached eggs, a little bacon and some toast for breakfast. I also resumed my acquaintance with the Branston Pickle woman. Holbeach was just waking up as I rode out of town. I’m slowly getting a feel for the towns of eastern Lincolnshire. They have strong Georgian buildings with layers of Victorian and 20th century additions, but the layout of the towns haven’t been butchered by “urban renewal”. I think this is probably because the population and traffic volumes are still low and there just isn’t the perceived need to alter the organic layout of the towns.
As a result of this stable road layout I had no choice of route out of Holbeach, I had to take the busy A16 towards Fosdkye. But there was a reasonably wide shoulder and the traffic gave me plenty of room. I rode for about half an hour before I saw the first sign that mentioned Boston. Coming from Boston, MA I just had to ride through the original town.
After Fosdyke Bridge I got of the A road and turned right onto National cycle path #1 which meanders through cabbage fields. Some of the fields were just being harvested, but some had already been picked and there was a distinctive smell of rotting cabbage as I cycled along in the sunshine; great cycling, terrible smell.
I came to the town of Boston and stopped to take a picture of the church steeple which is the tallest in England. Boston is another town with solid Georgian bones. The building are handsome, but some of them need some TLC and the modern window displays and facades of the shops don’t enhance the way they look. People were busy shopping in the town center and I pushed my bike through the pedestrian only arcade. On the road out of Boston I was made to think of Holland as I passed a large windmill. I was now on another long straight road that would take me to Horncastle where I planned to stop for lunch.
Most of the morning the landscape was the same as yesterday, flat fields of vegetables and I started to long for a few hills to break up the monotony. I followed a dead straight B1183 road to Revesby and could now thankfully see the low hills of the Lincolnshire Wolds in the distance. What was this? I was actually looking forward to some hills, had I gone mad????? Maybe as after Revesby I was actually glad to be forced out of my saddle by a long gentle hill and also glad of the hedgerows and trees that now lined the road. It’s mentally difficult to ride along flat, straight and unchanging roads. I can now imagine something of what it takes to ride across US states like Montana. The fields of crops were now giving way to sheep and cattle farms.
At 11:30 I arrived in Horncastle and stopped for lunch at a nice little fish shop. The lady behind the counter was interested in my cycling gear as she and her husband were both cyclists and had just ridden the coast to coast route in the UK. We swapped cycling stories while she dished out an enormous helping of haddock and chips with bread and butter and lashings of hot tea. As I left the town center was full of school kids out for lunch. They weren’t wearing hoodies, they were in school uniform. They weren’t shaking down old people for money. In fact they were quiet and going about their business just like all the other good citizens of Horncastle. So the press reports of “dangerous gangs of kids” in the UK would seem to be hype….
It was only 15 miles to Market Rasen now, but they turned out to be quite hilly as I climbed further into the Wolds. Village names like Sixhills turned out to be very descriptive. I spent a lot of time out of the saddle and my thighs started to ache with the constant up and down. Perhaps those flat roads weren’t so bad after all. Then I turned left after Sixhills towards Market Rasen and sped down the escarpment of the Wolds arriving in the town at 2:30. I enjoyed the descent, but tomorrow I’ll have to climb back up it. I rode around town and found a pub, The Advocate Inn, with free wifi. So I bought a beer and settled in to up date the blog, which is what I’m doing right now. My beer has turned into two and now I’m off to check in at my B&B for the night Waveney Cottage.
Market Rasen to Malton: across the Wolds
Wednesday May 20, 2009, 75 miles (121 km) – Total so far: 281 miles (452 km)
After using The Advocate Inn’s wifi for a couple of hours a I went over to my B&B and was welcomed with tea and cake in the lounge. The Waveney Cottage B&B is a bit “blue rinseish”, but very comfortable and the welcome was fantastic. I settled in, showered and went back to the Advocate for dinner. I had a shallot and mushroom tart that was a bit heavy on the cream sauce. Then I went to the Red Lion for a pint and got roped into quiz night. I entered as “Fiesta Towers” and did poorly as lots of the questions were UK centric. I stayed longer at the pub than I had planned eventually leaving at 10:30 when the quiz finished. I was very quiet entering the B&B so as not to disturb anyone and quickly fell asleep.
Breakfast was at 8:00 and after mailing a couple of postcards I set off for Walesby. Immediately after the village I climbed the escarpment up onto the Wolds. This was the first significant climb of my trip, but it was short, and I quickly reached the top. I was down to 4mph at times, but felt pleased with myself making the climb in my 67″ gear. A couple of years ago this would have been an impossible feat for me to achieve, but now I actually like the challenge of a hill.
I made my way to Caistor on the ridge of the wolds and then began the descent towards the Humber estuary. This is where my route took me onto an off road section of the National Cycle path #1. It started well with an uphill section on wide, chalky tracks by the edge of a wood, but soon degenerated into some deeper tracks filled with sand that made cycling tough. The route was also getting hillier as the track went up and down some steep ridges. I managed with my light load, but wanted thicker tyres. The route would have been really difficult for a fully loaded touring bike. So my advice to most tourists would be to stay on the main road to get to the Humber Bridge. I was getting frustrated at my slow progress so when I saw a road at the bottom of the ridge I was cycling along I decided to head off down the hill on an even less traveled path to get back on a firm road surface as soon as possible. The path took me beside a field and into a small wood and soon after that I was on mettled road again and heading towards the Humber Bridge.
At my first glimpse of the two towers of the Humber Bridge I stopped to take a picture. I also saw a group of guy’s toiling up the grade. They stopped for a chat and I discovered that they were retracing my ride as they were heading for Market Rasen. I gave them some route pointers which mostly involved staying on the road and then headed off towards Barton on Humber. It was now lunchtime so I stopped at The Sloop pub right under the bridge. I ordered a club sandwich. The UK interpretation of the club sandwich is interesting, instead of sliced ham and turkey it came with a full chicken breast, english bacon and a fried egg. Very good!
I found the pedestrian path up to the bridge just off Farings Road and was glad that the wind was very light. The ride across the bridge was beautiful and I came onto the other side and made my way through the villages of Swanland, Little Weighton, and Walkington. It was now mid afternoon and I still had 24 miles to go to Malton. I wasn’t worried about the light as sunset wasn’t until 9:00pm. That’s one of the advantages of cycling in Northern Europe in the summer, the days are long, sunrise at 4:40am and sunset at 9 makes for the possibility of long cycling days. Still I wanted to get to Market Rasen as early as possible. I like to get to my destination by mid afternoon so that I can see the town in daylight and do a little exploring. So rather than take the quiet and wandering route I’d mapped out I just got on the B1248 for Malton. This road was quite busy, but the traffic gave me a good berth. The road was going up and down over the gentle hills of the Yorkshie Wolds and there was farm land all around. I put my head down and spun away at my single gear and soon enough I arrived in Wetwang. Obviously I had to stop and take a picture of the town’s sign. I wonder how much teasing the residents of this town get.
After Wetwang I turned right towards Malton and came to Towthorpe Hill, the toughest climb of the day. The landscape quickly changed from farmland to scrub and moors and my speed fell to 5mph and I pushed down hard on the pedals. I was now completely out of the saddle and pushing and pulling on pedals and handlebars as hard as I could. I felt the temperature fell as I climbed and eventually the hill lessened in gradient and I came up onto the high ground of the Wolds. Just as I passed into my home county of North Yorkshire it began to rain hard. I’d put my jacket on in Wetwang as I knew it would be cold going over the top, but the weather was now conspiring to make the end of the day pretty miserable. On top of the weather my left knee was starting to hurt and just after the descent into at North Grimston it became more that annoying as a sharp pain engulfed my knee. I pedaled through the village on one leg, but luckily the road was mostly downhill now. I gingerly flexed my injured leg but couldn’t put much weight on it. Still only 5 miles to go and I found that if I kept turning the pedals the pain wasn’t as bad. It was the first pedal turn after coasting that hurt the most. So I just kept pedaling and at last I limped into Malton with 75 miles on the clock. My hotel was a welcome sight and looked very nice. Unfortunately the girl on the desk couldn’t come up with any suitable storage for my bike so I just locked it up out of sight by the kitchen skips. Apart from that the hotel is very nice and the staff have been helpful. The beds have the largest number of pillows and blankets of any hotel I’ve every stayed in. So after a shower, a couple of advil and removing several layers of bedding I collapsed on the bed. I’ll ice the leg tonight and hopefully I’ll be ok for tomorrow.
Malton to Middlesbrough: over the Moors
Thursday May 21, 2009, 46 miles (74 km) – Total so far: 327 miles (526 km)
I woke to damp and overcast weather outside my window, showered, dressed and went down for breakfast. Today I limited myself to some cereal and poached eggs and black pudding. There’s nothing better than pig’s blood sausage first thing in the morning. Icing my knee had helped, but it was still a little tender and swollen. I checked out of the hotel and retrieved my bike from next to the kitchen rubbish skips. One of the kitchen staff came out to look at my bike and it turned out that he was a cyclist too. I told him my route and he sucked in some air and said that it would be tough. At that I was suddenly aware of my aching knee. It felt far better than last night, but it definitely wasn’t 100%. The kitchen guy also said that I could have locked my bike up in the shed next to the kitchen last night. So the moral of this is that the kitchen staff know more than young girls on reception. I rode over to the local bike shop as I needed some chain lube as yesterday’s off road adventure had clogged my chain with sand. I cleaned my chain and applied some lube, I didn’t want to end up like the two lads I’d helped on the way to Cambridge, remember ‘lubrication is a good thing’. I wished that I had some magic lube for my knee.
I took some pictures of a soggy Malton and headed off towards Castle Howard. On the way it began to rain so I stopped to put on my jacket and rain booties. After Castle Howard I turned North and road out over the Vale of Pickering. The terrain was flat and I was glad of the easy riding so that I didn’t have to put too much stress on my left knee. I rode past fields of sheep and into the village of Kirbymoorside which is aptly named as it’s on the southern slope of the North Yorkshire Moors. I bought some tea, a custard tart and a Yorkshire curd tart from the high street bakery as fuel for the up coming climbs. I also changed my gear by slipping my chain onto my 32t front ring and 22t rear freewheel to give me a ratio of 39′.
I headed out of town towards Hutton-le-Hole after which the real climbing would begin. My knee was holding up ok. Hutton-le-Hole is very picturesque with sheep, a fast flowing beck and stone cottages.
Leaving the town there is a steep pitch of about 10% that levels off to a constant 5% for about 5 miles that goes up to the high moor. My knee wasn’t too painful so I was happy. Once ‘on t’top’ it was a few miles to the Lion Inn at Blakey Rigg. This is a very remote pub on top of the Moor where I planned to have lunch. Then I saw some weather ahead of me. The clouds were low and a line of rain was coming towards me. The temperature fell dramatically and it became almost as dark a night.
A van came over the horizon with it’s lights on – it was 1:00pm and the traffic had to use headlights. Next came the wind and rain, within a few minutes my cycling cap was soaked and I was fighting against a gale. For 10 mins I rode through the storm until I saw the pub just and turned into the car park. I went inside and left my wet cap and jacket with a pile of other jackets and hiking boots in the entrance. There was a fire in the grate so I dried off a bit before ordering a pint of Theakston’s bitter and a steak and mushroom pie. The pie came with a mound of chips, peas and carrots that filled the plate. I spoke to an Australian couple who were on the final leg of a cross county walk, they’d left the sun of Melbourne for the changeable weather of North Yorkshire. When I went outside again the weather hand completely changed, now it was bright sunshine.
It’s amazing what a good meal and a little sunshine can do for a cyclist and I left the pub with renewed vigor. I took the left hand folk in the road at Ralph’s Cross and headed down an intimidating 25% grade into Westerdale. The general rule is that if it’s 25% down to somewhere it’ll be 25% out of it too. This proved to be true for Westerdale and I struggled up the hill out of the valley, this was doing nothing for my knee and I was out of breath as I reached the cattle grid at the top of the hill. I got off my bike and carefully pushed it across the grid.
Then I had to repeat the whole process as I rode down into Hobb Hole. At the bottom of the hill is a ford so I dismounted again and took my bike over a small footbridge. I’m familiar with Hobb Hole as it was where I would go camping with friends as a teenager. So I also knew that the climb out of the valley was another 25% brute. I started out optimistically, but half way up I had to stop as the hill was just too much for me and my 39″ gearing. So I got off and pushed. But that was the last of the really steep climbs and I now rode the easier lanes off the moors down towards the Tees River. I passed through the familiar villages of Kildale and Great Ayton. When I saw Roseberry Topping off to my right I truly felt that I was home. I came to the roundabout just outside my home village and went around it as I’d done so many times on foot and in the car. Finally I pulled up outside my mum’s house and received a welcome that only a mother can give!