Saturday, 15 January 2022

Day 2 - home

Well, that must be one of the shortest tours ever.   I rode down to Marlborough (1 mile?) and stopped in a coffee shop to consider my options for travel home, over a bacon sandwich.   Bedwyn was a few miles south, but entailed heading back through the Savernake Forest, which I'd done yesterday.   It was quite muddy yesterday, so I decided to go to Hungerford, only 9 miles east along the A4.   The A4 was pretty quiet and wide enough for traffic to pass with plenty of room.   And no ice.   I had my fourth coffee of the day in Hungerford, and then hopped onto a train back home, feeling a bit sorry about abandoning the trip but knowing it was the right decision.

Thank you for all the comments on the blogs, both encouraging and also confirming my decision to stop!

Trip stats and maps:

Day 1: Andover to Savernake: 53 miles, 1192m ascent, average temp, 0.0 degrees C*.

Day 2: Savernake to Hungerford: 13 miles, 157m ascent, average temp 1.7 degrees C.

* according to Garmin Connect


Change of plan

Well, I've learned a lot about winter cycle camping already.  I had a good night and stayed warm, with a clear sky, a full moon and ever changing constellations of stars above me whenever I opened my eyes.  Also a few aeroplanes and a shooting star!  I didn't  see any bears, wolves or slugs.  When I woke it was already half light, with a fearsome frost on everything.  I treated myself to a hot coffee and a peanut butter bagel.  So nice that I had another coffee.

Breakfast

Frosty bivi bag

Frosty panniers

But - you can't  really do anything in the dark, even use the phone, as it's  too cold to put your hands outside the sleeping bag.  By the time I was ready to ride it was 10am.  I realised that I couldn't  keep to my original plan of a 60 mile ride today. There just aren't  enough daylight hours to pack/unpack the camping gear, eat properly, write something  for the blog, stop to take photos, and ride, especially with a loaded bike.  There were also a worrying number of frosty or icy patches on the roads yesterday.  So, unfortunately  I've decided to abandon the trip for now.  Longer daylight hours would make a massive distance.  Or not camping, of course.

Friday, 14 January 2022

A night in the forest

As I write this, I'm lying on a grassy patch in the Savernake forest, looking at the stars.  Just a bivi bag, the Centurion sleeping bag, another sleeping bag, two sleeping mats, and several layers of clothes to keep me warm and dry.  It's 6pm, it's dark so it must be bedtime.


Today was a lovely ride, pretty hilly and tiring though.  I didn't have enough time to stop for lunch as I wanted to get to the campsite before dusk, which I did.  There isn't  enough time in the short days to do 60 miles with a heavy load and have a couple of stops (breakfast? Lunch?) and finish by dusk.


Vale of Pewsey

Crofton beam engines - pumping water into the Kennet & Avon canal, I think

Countryside was lovely, big open spaces with many tank crossing points, all the way up to the Vale of Pewsey .  Then different; smaller scale with sunken lanes and big hedges, more like Surrey or Devon.  Mucky roads too, at one point I had to ride through a big patch of muddy water right across the road, about 4 metres long, but luckily got through without having to put a foot down.

Bike handling is - interesting  - with the Centurion on the back.  You can't  swing your leg over the saddle.  When pushing the bike, it behaves more like a wheelbarrow than a bike, which can be tricky.

More tomorrow...,  if I haven't  been eaten by bears.

Day 1 - a cold start

I rose at 3.43 to catch the first train.  There was a heavy frost, and the lock to the bike shed was frozen solid - not a good start.  But I was soon on my way to Surbiton  on well gritted roads for the train.  Surprisingly  there were as many cyclists as cars at this unearthly hour.  The temperature recorded by the Garmin was falling as it adjusted to the outdoor conditions.  By Kingston it was showing minus 0.5C, and I was too excited  to look after that.  Much colder at Woking, where I changed for Andover


My luggage focuses on staying warm, and what with food and cooking equipment, is surprisingly  voluminous.  I have a lot of merino wool stuff for day & night time, and many over-layers.  Two sleeping bags, including a bulky ex-Army bag which is nearly the weight of a Centurion tank.  The packing arrangement is not ideal but it's a learning opportunity.

Dawn was stealing over the horizon, oily layers of red, orange and yellow supporting a pale cloudless sky above mist and frosty fields, as I chugged towards Andover, a few miles outside the Wiltshire border, arrining at 7.45, ready to start.  (Impossible to photograph from a brightly lit train unfortunately.)  My destination tonight is a forest near Marlborough, but first... I had 50+ miles to ride through quiet lanes, before sunset at 4.15.  It was still cold, and there was no rush,   so I stopped for a mid-morning coffee.
 


The sun came up over a winter wonderland as I left Andover, and I was instantly on deserted roads, with the odd thatched cottage or farm every do often.  The rising sun cast a pink glow on the frosted hedges. It was beautiful,  but the wrong sort of beautiful:  I was still in Hampshire, but not for long.  The temperature was now -2.7 degrees.,  but it soared to nearly +1 after a bit, and I had to take one of my many layers off.

The morning's ride continued (carefully) with the odd frosty patch on the empty lanes, a few hills and plenty of vast views into the distance.  A group of deer standing in the middle of a field, ran off when I stopped to photograph them.  After so long, I remembered the pleasure of exploring  somewhere new.

No villages to speak of for 20 miles until Ludgershall,  well known to regular A303 drivers.  I was expecting a post office and a castle, but was delighted  to find Mary's Vintage Tea Room, just in time for elevenses.
Ludgershall castle, built by Henry VIII

Wednesday, 12 January 2022

A Winter Tour

I haven't been able to continue my coastal tour for two years now, because of difficulties in getting somewhere to stay.  So I decided to do a Covid-resistant tour which doesn't depend on youth hostels (only whole-room or whole-hostel bookings available) or B&B (Covid cleaning means they dislike accommodating one person for one night even more than usual).

I thought I would challenge myself by doing a winter tour, camping.   Something I've never done before.   There are a few possible challenges:   It's cold.   The days are short.  There might be mud.  Also, I like the idea of not using a tent: maybe just a bivi bag?

I decided to ride around Wiltshire for four days, starting this Friday 14 Jan.  I can get there & back by train.   Campsites are few and far between, especially at this time of year, and they are not that near to places to eat, so self-catering may be required.   Possibly in the dark.  On the plus side, the camp sites are unlikely to be fully booked.

What could possibly go wrong?  Well, if I never try, I won't find out. That's what adventures are for.   I'm a little bit scared, but in a good way.   As I write, I have a mountain of stuff to take, just in case.   No idea how to fit it onto the bike, and I'm definitely not going to weigh it.

I'll try to post on this blog each day, maybe with a picture or two.   If you're interested, check back here to find out how it goes.

Saturday, 6 November 2021

Mallorca in 2021

Sue and I have been visiting Mallorca for many years, for a mix of chilling and cycling . After a two year forced absence October seemed a good time to return, Covid restrictions being a bit easier, but before the predicted “winter surge“ not to mention our concern that our much rolled-over airline tickets would expire.

Still there is plenty of bureaucracy, not to mention passport control to remind us that while we are personally welcome, officially we are now distant cousins. By all accounts Mallorca has been relatively Covid free so it was reassuring to observe that the health controls were strictly applied, even for us arriving on the last flight of the day. At our hotel the owner had been an early Covid victim, spending 72 days on a ventilator. Although now officially recovered, he is a daily reminder of what a toll this disease can take on ones body. The law was for masks to be worn indoors. There was no visible enforcement, but was respected by almost everyone. This apart, there were no other restrictions.


 

We stay in Puerto de Sóller surrounded by mountains. It’s not everyone’s ideal cycling base, given the minimum 500m climb to leave the town, not to mention the return. But I don’t mind the climbing, and it does have a super bike hire shop, with bikes to suit almost any taste. My first ride is a Trek Emonda SL6, nice and light, though the 11-28 gearing gives me an extra challenge.

Sóller is on the route of the Mallorca Moonpig Audax, a 130km tour of the island’s biggest climbs, totalling 2,800m. I have ridden it a few times, but the last time was 2 1/2 years ago so I’m unsure if I’m up to the challenge. Day one cycling is therefore a combined 100k recce and fitness test for the real thing planned for day two. Thankfully my legs were ok, and the various cafes and pit stops I had used before had survived.

Riding in Mallorca is a revelation. Roads are mostly silky smooth surfaced and potholes rare. But above all motor traffic is light, and almost always courteous. Climbs can be long, but gradients gentle by Surrey standards; mostly 6% to 7%.


Cyclists were on the road almost everywhere, in groups or solo, fast or slow. In the past I have found many dourly introspective, but now most wave, nod or smile, doubtless thankful to be out at last enjoying what they like to do best.

An early finish to my 100k recce meant there was time in the evening for a visit to hear local guitarist Damià Timoner play his regular gig in a nearby hotel. He plays mostly his own compositions as well as arrangements of popular songs. The location is tranquil, a nearby hotel, converted from a huge c17 stone farmstead. Normally in summer he plays outside surrounded by ancient olives and carob trees. If you are lucky the local slow worms and geckos turn out. He plays for 90 minutes nonstop and for that time you can believe that the world is indeed a wonderful place.

Back to cycling, and day two is the day of the Moonpig challenge. Mornings start late at this time of year so an 8am start is before the sun has shown itself over the mountains. But it’s warm enough, dry and almost windless, so perfect riding weather.

 

                

The first climb, around 800m goes well, I think probably my quickest ever, doubtless due to the lower gearing on this Trek Domane rather than my fitness.

                          

Time for a coffee before the next leg, a 40k round trip, first descending to sea level at the cycling Mecca at Puerto Pollença, turning round and climbing back to the coffee stop. It’s a bit of a drag but at the top about half the day’s climbing is done. Time for lunch. The place is the isolated Petrol Station atop the Coll de sa Batalla, a sort of crossroads for Mallorca cyclists, and an ideal place for rip-off cafe prices. But to my surprise a freshly made tuna baguette and a big bottle of water costs just €4. And it comes with a bowl of my favourite Sóller olives, reputedly so bitter that they cannot be sold in the rest of the EU. Wonderful.

                                     

The lunch is ideal fuel for a long descent, where the only concern is to wear just enough clothes to be comfortable both at altitude and lower down where the warmth is welcome. You are now in undulating farmland, with dry stone walls surrounding fields of almond and olive.

Thankfully the big climbs are over for today, just three colls around 500m each. But it’s the tiny Coll de Tofla at 260m, barely higher than Leith Hill which is for some reason the biggest mental challenge. At the top I can sense that the end is in sight and I feel good. The final climb up the Coll de Sóller takes me 40min, my slowest ever; a few years ago I would be disappointed with a time of over 30min, but now I know it’s downhill all the way home.

The descent has some technical bits, and can be damp even in the afternoon, so I’m cautious. The Domane has a slight tendency to oversteer which is odd, perhaps it’s the suspension, or the gradient, or perhaps it’s just me. Anyway I get back just fine and I’m happy with my time of just under 9 ½ hours. I believe I have ridden more Moonpig Audaxes than anyone else, which is a kind of record.

Day three of cycling I decide to head south along the coast to Andratx. There are a few colls on the way, but the coastal views are superb, and the roads quiet; it’s away from the main tourist areas, and even most cyclists don’t come here as it’s a bit far from the popular cycling base at Pto. Pollenca. 

 

 

 

There’s a tailwind too, but that’s no help when I turn for home, and it’s cold, blowing from the northeast. Normally I wander back through the inland lanes, but today I decide to shelter in the hills. Which brings me to the climb to Es Verger; this is a real back road, and as it gets steeper the surface becomes atrocious. Garmin consistently says 17% but when it hits 20%, I’m walking. Finally I’m at the top, 530m and the highest point of the day. 

 


 

A bumpy descent follows. I met only one cyclist, and he was coming the (easier, I believe) way from the north.

Before the final climb up to the Coll de Sóller I need refreshments. There’s the delightful town of Bunyola ideally placed, with several cafes. Unfortunately the traditional bakers which I have visited for delicious ensaimadas and other delicacies, is closed. But there’s a small supermarket where you can get the next best thing, a packet of cakes. They appear to be composed mainly of hydrogenated vegetable oil and super refined sugar, just what I need right now, and they are very cheap. I down a couple, put the rest in my pocket for later, and have a nice coffee. Now I’m prepared for the final climb. It still takes 40 minutes, so no great fitness gain since the previous ride, but no matter. I get back to find I have done more climbing even than the Audax, and it certainly feels that way.

Tomorrow I will settle for Sunday lunch with Sue and a stroll round the harbour to admire the boats. There’s no chance of going anywhere as the roads will be closed for the Mallorca 312k sportive, displaced from its normal April date. I have huge respect for these riders taking on more than twice my distance and over 5,000m of climbing at competitive pace. But I do permit myself the smug thought that they won’t be climbing Es Verger.

On this trip I have ridden over 350k and heard no horns blown, no abusive rants, and only one close-ish pass. What is it about UK drivers which makes them so abusive?

The final day is reserved for Covid bureaucracy, form filling for our return home. It’s been a great few days, and doubtless much of my feeling of wellbeing will be erased by a day spent in airports and plane, but there will remain a warm feeling that things can be better.

Thursday, 31 December 2020

Welcome to our new Touring blog

If you go on a trip this year, you are invited to post your pictures and stories here, as it happens!  Whether it's the Dieppe Raid or your own personal cycling adventure, other Sou'Westers would be interested to read about it.  If you are writing after the event, the Sou'Wester newsletter remains the best place, and will be read by most Sou'Westers, but this blog is intended for perhaps more frequent updates and photos posted during your trip.

To become an author, please ask Simon Lambourn or Tim Court.  If you add a "label" for your trip to your post, then your friends and family can easily find all the posts about your trip.

Wednesday, 2 September 2020

Day 12 plus one......

After an early start, catching the Corran ferry at 8.45am, and a late arrival into Euston at around 10.45pm, the final day of our tour was a long one, even if most of it was sitting on trains!. After re-attaching panniers and for the first time on this tour, adding lights, we were ready to ride again.



The tour started as it finished with a ride through an eerily deserted central London, this time at night, and even quieter than our early morning ride the other way had been. Barely a car was seen as we rode right through the centre of town and down onto the Embankment, and pretty much every traffic light turned in our favour as we rode towards them....this is probably as enjoyable and safe as riding through London will ever get.

If you haven't tried it yet, its definitely worth a go.

The 16-plus miles from Euston to home was covered in barely over an hour, and I arrived back home a few minutes after midnight.

The tour in numbers :-

12 days of riding
559 miles
28,870 feet of climbing (not quite an Everest....)
1 puncture
2 tubes used fixing said puncture
3 attempts at fixing the same
5 days with no rain
5 different train journeys (2 of them unscheduled)
7 different overnight locations
8 ferry journeys (although on only 2 different crossings)
24 lochs ridden alongside

....plus loads of laughs and an infinite amount of enjoyment.

I hope that you have enjoyed reading our ramblings about our travels, and if you did......we would love to hear about yours!!! (I'm thinking of you Mike Reynell first up....cycling in Italy?....tell us about it!!).

Tuesday, 1 September 2020

Day 12: Life in the Slow Lane

(with apologies to The Eagles).

Speaking of eagles, we saw an eagle yesterday on the long climb out of Lochaline.  It was wheeling and floating high above the high moorland.  Dave also spotted another otter in Loch Aline, playing at the end of the ferry slipway.

Corran ferry

Mini lighthouse at Ardguor

Today is our last day.  We had a ten-mile cycle and two ferries to get to Fort William,  just your average commute, along the quiet road we'd used three times already, the other side of Loch Linnhe.  After a sizeable breakfast, we set out at a cracking A Group pace until the first small incline, when our legs reminded us of the past few days, and we decided an Easy Riders pace was more appropriate.


By the way, as we set off from Corran we met a couple of guys who were just setting off to cycle the NC500 route. Corran is a weird place to start from, but never mind.  We mentioned that we'd done it in 2018, and they asked for advice for any sights to stop and visit, as they were "only" doing 100 miles a day.  They were staying at Lochcarron, Ullapool, Durness, Wick and Inverness, before heading back to Corran.  Our NC500 trip had twice as many stops.

Ben Nevis across the loch

We realised we had four miles to cycle in an hour, so we slowed down again.  As we rode, I was trying to capture the memories of this place: no stunning photo opputunities today, but the small things - the mossy crags, the little woods leading down to the shore, sun(!) sparkling off the water.  The salmon farm, with noisy pipes delivering food out to the salmon cages 24 hours a day, or so I assume.  A few goldfinches twittering and flitting along in front of us. The little white house with a field as front lawn, a wooded mountain as back garden.  And the friendly welcome in different ways from everyone we met.



Arriving at Camusnagaul, where we caught the ferry on our arrival at Fort William, was the end of our ride.  Unless... We dared not think of the consequences if the ferry didn't turn up.  Luckily, we didn't have to.  Fort William was a ten minute choppy ride on white horses across the loch.  We stocked up for the four hour Most Scenic Train Journey to Glasgow, and caught the train with a few minutes to spare.



It's a fabulous journey, but this is a cycling blog, so you'll have to look it up, or watch the TV programme.


Thank you for taking the time to read these blog posts, and for your encouraging comments, which were very much appreciated by Dave and I.  We're sorry that it wasn't possible for all four of us to come this time.  And thanks to Dave for taking the risk, being a great riding companion, and never complaining when we reached a closed cafe for elevenses.




Monday, 31 August 2020

Day 11...Corran to Lochaline out and back

Today was our last full day's riding before the long journey back home tomorrow. We chose an out and back route to Lochaline, down towards the bottom of the Morvern peninsula, and on the other side of the Sound of Mull from the island of Mull itself.

The weather forecast was benign, if a little cool, and we were granted our fourth successive day with no rain. Unfortunately blue skies were nowhere to be seen, and there was a strong southerly wind to test us on the route out.

After taking the Corran ferry across Loch Linnhe once again, we headed south down the main A861 road. This is slightly misleading, as the only traffic that comes down this road is that which comes off the small ferry. So, every half an hour a small convoy of cars or trucks whizzes by and then nothing until the next ferry unloads its cargo and the next convoy comes along.


We turned off the "main" road onto the very minor B road that leads down to Kingairloch. The first 5 miles or so is through rolling but quite barren hills, and then it follows the side of the loch for about 4 miles. The surface along these 9 miles or so varies from excellent to appalling, with the vast majority being of the rough variety....but the views are fabulous.



After passing through Kingairloch, which appears to consist solely of 5 houses and 1 church, the road turns inland and rises almost unnoticeably through the valley. The road for the next 4 miles is almost a perfect surface, and we saw as many cyclists as cars....and we only saw 4 cyclists!!!


This 13 mile detour away from the main road proved to be some of the most enjoyable cycling of our whole trip....lovely views, good roads in parts, almost no traffic, not too taxing...what's not to like?

As the road reaches the head of the valley it rejoins the main road for a very long gradual descent all the way down to Lochaline, where we stopped for lunch at the snack bar by the ferry...the only cafe of any sort open for many miles around.


Of course a very long gradual descent on an out and back ride also means a very long gradual climb on the way back, and of course the strong wind that we had hoped would be behind us for the return had disappeared. Still, being a very gradual climb, it didn't feel too arduous and we were soon back at the junction where we decided to ride our new 13 mile detour away from the main road back in the opposite direction. It was as enjoyable in reverse as it was on the way out, and Simon took the opportunity to inspect a bothy at an outdoor Leadership Centre on the way.


Alternative accommodation is available

After this, it was a straight run back to the ferry, with just enough time to make it back across for a quick shower and change before taking advantage of the last night of Rishi's Eat Out to Help Out offer.

All in, an extremely enjoyable days ride to finish off our tour around this area of the West Highlands.

63 miles, 4100 feet of climbing (but feeling nothing like that much) and very few cars.