A Day to Remember

The last day of our Scottish holiday began in a B & B in Melrose. The night before, on examining the “What’s on” folder in our room, we found   Christopher Rainbow’s Tandem Hire, operating out of a tiny hamlet near Jedburgh. This was only a short drive away, so we decided to give it a go. We booked the tandem by text message and received a return call pretty well straight away to confirm the booking.

We arrived at Timperdean Cottages before 10 a.m. and were greeted by the sight of three Thorn tandems on the lawn, leaning against stakes. Chris appeared and was immediately surprised that a potential customer had heard about Thorn tandems. Jan decided on the softest saddle available, we selected the largest tandem, Chris supplied us with an under-scale laminated 1:50000 OS map of the area and we were off.

The weather was bright and sunny (from our experience over the past week, Scotland sees little else!) and this time with a pleasant fresh breeze blowing away the oppressive humidity of much of the previous week: in other words, perfect cycling weather. We headed north-east to begin with, and then turned off the busy A68, ignoring a sign saying “Private” and cycled through the grounds of Harestanes and then crossed the B5400 up a fairly steep hill heading north. I engaged the lowest gear, and we twiddled away for quite a long time before going down the other side. There were occasional protests from behind, sometimes because of the steepness of the hill, at others because I was allowing our steed to gather such momentum before slowing our frequent, swooping descents.

We took a right turn towards Fairnington, through an avenue of massive beech trees, and then meandered our way towards Roxburgh. This was something of a disappointment as I expected Roxburgh to have rather more there than it actually had, a pub at least. My misunderstanding was based upon having remembered that David Steel, the Liberal Party Leader from the 1980s, represented the Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles constituency and I thought that somewhere that had an MP ought at least to have a pub. Attractive though Roxburgh was, it was not an active commercial centre on a Sunday morning. There was a buzzard and a heron, though, and the River Tweed was flowing nearby, so there was some compensation for our unslaked thirsts.

We returned via several tiny hamlets called Rutherford something-or-other, where barley was being harvested, finally entering St. Boswell’s via the A68. We didn’t like the look of the big pub on the main road, so went through the village, expecting some other hostelry, but again were disappointed. After a bit more meandering, we found our way to the most elegant Dryburgh Abbey Hotel. We were dressed in our scruffs, but still we went in and were given a warm welcome. Jan chose a fishcake, I opted for the smoked salmon, and we sat outside on a seat overlooking the River Tweed as we did our best not to allow the wasps to share our lunch.

I was conscious that time was getting on, and it was about 3 p.m. when we left the hotel. I knew that we had about another 15 miles to go before we handed the tandem back to its owner and that at least 3 hours driving lay ahead of us before we reached our bed for the night in deepest Salford. We headed towards Whitelee, as I was not keen on riding on the A68 again. There were, of course, some more hills to climb, and we did this with a fair bit of straining and the occasional graunch of the derailleur as we put too much stress on the chain and I mistimed the changes. However, we didn’t get off, and it wasn’t too long before we were turning the corner from the B6359 towards Ale Water.

Here, the lack of detail on the map made life a little tricky: the road deteriorated to a rutted, stony track before fording the Ale Water and we didn’t feel confident in tackling the steep climb afterwards on such a rough surface, so the next 200 yards or so were the only walking we did. Once it resumed its status as a road, we found that the wind was behind us and we really cranked it up on some of the downhills, now gathering sufficient momentum on the rather wider road that we could keep up our pace much of the way up the hills as well.

We saw a sign saying “Ancrum 4” and it was barely 15 minutes later that we were speeding into the village. Imagine our delight on coming across the pub, so obviously open for business. We bought drinks, and that was an extra special reward, as Kildonan Ale, brewed by the An Teallach micro-brewery in Dundonnell, was being served. Apparently, the brewer comes from Ancrum and visits his mother every month or so, filling the car with barrels each time he makes the 250 mile journey from Wester Ross.

After a brief conversation with a local, we downed our pints and were on our way again, for the last mile or two back to Timpendean Cottages. We paid Chris his money (£35 for a day’s tandem hire) and left triumphant. The total ride was little short of 40 miles and there had not been a single complaint from my trusty stoker. It was at least double her previous longest ride and now I’m going to have to buy a wide, soft saddle to replace the Brooks Flyer which I had thought would be the ideal choice.

Our route can be found at http://www.gmap-pedometer.com/?r=334036

London to Southend Bike Ride

Well, we just completed this and, as Tim C says, jolly good fun it was too.

To my complete surprise, when I rose at 5.30 and went round to wake the other participants, all were already awake and one was in the shower! A reasonably leisurely breakfast (porridge) was followed by a short trip to Southend Victoria station where there were enough cyclists around to make me think we had got the right day.

A 12-coach train was laid on but it wasn’t until we had walked the entire length of the train that we found somewhere to put the tandem. Why cannot any of the train companies “sacrifice” a few carriages, take the seats out of one half and put in Sheffield stands? Plenty of room for bikes, plenty of room for passengers. Put one carriage like this on every train running at rush hour or weekend, cyclists catered for for ever.

I am very familiar with the Southend to Liverpool Street service, and I was most disappointed (although I don’t really know why) that this non-stop train to Stratford actually took longer to get there than the normal weekday stopping service. Then, towards the end of the journey, the driver announced that they “hoped” that we would be approaching a platform so that the bikes could be unloaded on the same side as that from which they were loaded. Was he being facetious? Possibly, but I felt that there was a very real possibility that the most inaccessible cycles would need to be taken off first.

Getting out at Stratford still presented problems. Bikes had to be carried up and down several flights of stairs. More steps outside the station when following the directions to the official start of the ride. Then, when we arrived at Victoria Park, every bike had to be wheeled through a narrow pedestrian gate and lifted over a barrier when there were (locked) double gates right next door. Why didn’t anyone alert the London Borough of Tower Hamlets to the possibility that cyclists’ progress should be facilitated by actually letting them get into the park?

After a loo queue we were ready, and at almost exactly 9 a.m. we started on our journey.

If you have to cycle through Leytonstone, then I suppose that just after 9 o’clock on a Sunday morning is as good a time as any. We crossed the A12 via the Lea Interchange and then skirted Wanstead, arriving at an eerily deserted Charlie Brown’s Roundabout before heading to Chigwell. It was at about this point that we actually reached some pleasant countryside, but I think that the truth of the matter is that, for the greater part of this ride, you are just too close to London for the roads to become quiet; or, when you do finally shake off the metropolis, the pleasant rural roads don’t last long enough. The last 10 miles or so into Southend are on over-used, often fairly narrow, roads, because Southend dominates a peninsula. OK, I have learned from Nutty that there are some ways of escaping from Southend which are quieter than others, but you would hardly recommend them for a ride of this sort.

The four of us who rode were my daughter Ellen, her fiancé Ben, and younger son Graham, acting as a substitute for his older brother: the kidney transplant was nearly 6 weeks ago, but Denis has wisely decided to lay off any sort of exerting physical activity until he really feels ready.

Ben rode his ancient Raleigh, which has definitely seen better days. Ellen was on her lovely little Ridgeback, while Graham and I rode the tandem. Graham’s first ever ride on a tandem was the previous evening, and he had done virtually no distance cycling before, so this promised to be an ordeal. An interesting point was that I could tell the difference between Graham and Janet being on the back. With Graham, initially the beast became much less manageable, but by the day we were “pulling together” really well.

The Epping Forest area is, for Essex, rather hilly, and that put us through our paces early. It was not long before G & I had pulled well away from E & B: our hill work was no less effective than theirs, and of course our wind resistance was less (more favourable weight to surface are ratio on descents), our road resistance was less and we had a lot more power. This was the first time I had ridden a tandem on a communal ride and was agreeably surprised at our ability to outstrip pretty well any but obvious greyhounds on slender frames.

Once we had left the forest, we rode along more and more familiar roads. Kelvedon Hatch is getting close to my “stomping ground” and Mountnessing definitely so. Nevertheless, it was a surprise when we suddenly came upon the half-way stop at the windmill, and G & I spent quite a long time there, drinking tea and eating flapjack, until B & E arrived.

After Mountnessing, we travelled through Stock and, to my surprise, the route avoided the Lower Stock Road to West Hanningfield (a quiet, pretty and narrow lane) in favour of rather wider, busier roads. Thus we all but circumnavigated Hanningfield reservoir when there was a much more direct, and, in my view, preferable route. In addition, we “messed about” approaching East Hanningfield from the north. This meant that the Windmill was the second pub we reached. The hot dogs were acceptable butthe beer (Maldon Gold) was superb.

It was on the road between West and East Hanningfield that we chanced upon by far the most objectionable motorist of the entire journey. The road was narrow and with cyclists as far as the eye could see yet this fool still insisted on trying to overtake, just to get held up by the next set of cyclists. I decided it was too narrow a road to allow him the space to try, so I held the middle ground while he revved his engine behind me. At one point he made an attempt at overtaking but stopped because he clearly didn’t have room. It would be euphemistic to say that we exchanged greeetings, but it was a good mile later that the road became wider and I did give way for him to pass. Within a minute he had had an altercation with another cyclist who did nothing whatever to annoy him that I could see, and this chap was understandably aggrieved. Apparently our four-wheeled friend had made some comment or other along the lines that he paid his road fund licence and cyclists didn’t so he was perfectly entitled to drive in any way he wanted and it didn’t matter who got killed in the process.

After East Hanningfield there is a faily long downhill section which took us to the old A130. This has receently been converted from dual carriageway to single carriageway, and a cycle lane has been put in. This would be great except, of course, it disappears into nothingness at one point and, where it reappears, it is cluttered with gravel and other surface litter which makes it quite hard to cycle along.

Soon after this we reached Battlesbridge, the lowest bridging point of the River Crouch. From here to Southend, none of the lanes is quiet and there were far too many 4*4s, so, as TimC pointed out, it is pretty boring and none too pleasant to cycle.

Our arrival in Priory Park was greeted with a reception committee which reminded me somewhat of “Porky’s”: a buffoon in a yellow suit was accompanied by helpers who looked like superannuated cheerleaders. We were applauded in by people who somehow think that riding 60 miles on a bicycle is an extraordinary feat and would be quite amazed if they ever found out that there are people who do this sort of thing pretty well every Sunday.

Total mileage: 60.23. Total time: 7 hours 20 minutes. Time in saddle: about 5 hours.

On Football

I think that this world cup merely served to illustrate football’s infinite capacity to disappoint.

Examples abounded of cheating players (Rooney’s stamp, head butts from Figo & Zidane, Henry’s face-holding, Ronaldo’s entire approach to the game).

There was a disgraceful brawl after the Germany – Argentina game.

There were two games with massive violence (Italy – USA and Portugal – Holland).

The refereeing was generally poor. “Unfashionable” sides seldom received the support they deserved. Ghana should have had two penalties against Italy, Italy should never have had one against Australia, Graham Poll completely lost control of the game in which he booked the same player three times, the refereeing was very inconsisent (Figo’s head butt was only worth a yellow card, Zidane’s a red) and the 4th official only seemed to intervene when he felt like it (again, Graham Poll’s debacle, Figo’s & Zidane’s head butts).

England were, predictably, second-rate, but our media hype seemed to raise public expectation way beyond the reasonable.

The BBC continues to employ John Motson as their main commentator when the man is a complete buffoon who repeatedly displays that he has no capacity to learn from his mistakes. It seems to me that every other sport that the BBC covers has commentators who know their game inside out: Jonathan Davies on rugby, MacEnroe on tennis, (don’t know about golf – never watch it), Dennis taylor on snooker, but football is stuck with Motson.

Every so often we see a game played in the right spirit by sporting players. This year’s FA Cup Final was one such but that is a rarity, and at the highest level it’s the cheating which sticks in the mind.

Giving it some Welly

That was the best yet!

Erik Richardson (good man) sorted out the freewheel and our new chain this morning, found a couple of broken spokes and re-shimmed the stoker’s seatpost so, this evening, after a pleasing meal consisting largely of pasta and garlic bread, we set off. Thorpe Bay, sea front, Wakering, Barling and home was the plan.

We reached in excess of 20 mph going past Southend Girls’ High School and turned towards the sea front and its oh-so-narrrow cycle lane. A few other good people were out on their irons (although of course these days most of them aren’t), the tide was in, the kite surfers were doing that, the sun was shining and the overpowering humidity of the earler part of the day had lifted a little. My one regret was not taking my cossie with me: Shoebury is one place where I feel that daytime skinny dipping would definitely be frowned upon.

A small amount of saddle adjustment took place near the coastguard station, from where we travelled to East Beach. On leaving, I tried something I can manage quite easily in my solo machine: I negotiated a fairly narrow gap designed for pedestrians.

After taking the thorn out of my finger and checking that the patch of blood on my right upper arm wasn’t getting any larger, we carried on and at a junction found that we couldn’t pedal backwards to get the right hand pedal to 2 o’clock. The chain had jumped off the front ring. It was only a short job to replace it, but we were watched carefuly by two rottweilers whose job it was to guard an ostentatious development which appears to be destined for the ownership of some nefarious member of the Southend underworld, possibly Councillor Kelly.

At this point a fairly fit- and serious-looking young man on a mountain bike went past as though he meant business so, once under way, I resolved that we would overtake him. As we rounded Cupid’s Corner we achieved a personal best: there were some squeaks of protest from behind me as we actually leaned over to take the corner! We were indeed gaining on the mountain biker rapidly but then he cheated and turned off towards Foulness Island. We carried on along Wakering High Street until the temptation to visit one of my old haunts got the better of me. The Adnams at the White Hart is as good as ever, but the barmaids are not a patch on Margaret and Pauline, who years ago would ensure that regulars received the best of drinks at the most reasonable prices.

From here we sped through Little Wakering and towards Barling, the sun now dipping towards the horizon. Again we reached 20 mph or more, but this time the protests from behind were because our cadence rate was too high. Mucking Hall Road was a delight, the corn still green but with a coppery tinge imparted entirely by the sun’s glow. I remarked absent mindedly “Isn’t this just gorgeous?” and Jan agreed enthusiastically that it was.

On this occasion we avoided the “rough stuff” bridleway which takes well over a mile from the journey but would give all 96 spokes a real testing, installed as they are on narrow wheels with positively emaciated tyres. Instead we kept to the road, which in itself is almost rough stuff, and made or way back towards Sutton Road and the metropolis of Southend.

Imagine our pleasure when we met two tandemists coming in the opposite direction. “Well hello!” I hollered, they returned the compliment, and were gone. I hope we meet them again soon and can compare notes.

It was a really good ride of 17.45 miles and thoroughly enjoyed by pilot and stoker alike. I feel quite confident now about tackling a day ride on excess of 50 miles, provided it’s not too hot and there are regular stops.