Welsh Mountain Ride

If they didn’t know it already, the splendid ACF folk on this ride now know that any ride in which Wowbagger takes part must become infinitely prolonged. We covered just over 50 miles in something like 9 hours including stops, which implies a leisurely pace: there was not much leisurely about this ride!

Mrs Wow and I began by visiting the riverside and understood, if we didn’t before, why the Wye is regarded as amongst the most beautiful of rivers

after which we made our way to Clive Powell’s Bike Shop, which is a bit like Aladdin’s cave with an alcohol licence. The ride began in the most civilised of ways: with introductions, a cup of tea, a chat and photographs


and almost an hour after the originally scheduled time, we were on our way.

Initially the going was quite easy as we started on the road leading west out of Rhayader and then took the Sustrans route around the Elan Valley reservoirs.

These were built in order to provide Birmingham with water directly using gravity feed.

There was a great photo stop

in which Jaded followed Emilia’s example of demonstrating a good head for heights.

This is no time for a clipless moment!

Once away from the fairly easy gravel paths around the reservoirs, the road began to get a little steeper and as we approached the Mountain Road from Cwmystwyth to Rhayader, we met our first chevron and Jan and I were obliged to dismount, as were one or two other riders. Our tandem was built in the days when a second chain ring was considered a luxury and a bottom gear of a little over 30 35 inches, and more particularly two unfit riders, forced a fair bit of walking in countryside with which we were pretty familiar from previous holidays.

We had a fair few sightings of my favourite British bird, the Red Kite

and we also saw some buzzards. At different points I heard at least one nuthatch and several goldcrests, but didn’t see either.

Once on the Mountain Road, a long straight descent allowed Mrs Wow and me to “open the throttle” and we reached our highest speed ever.

As we slowed down on the ascent, Emilia caught us and remarked on our speed and how she couldn’t keep up on the descent – a compliment indeed from the one rider who must have spent several hours at the top of hills waiting for us to catch up.

The descent to Pont-rhyd-y-groes was decidedly hairy, but perhaps the least hirsute of all of us was unfazed: Jaded overtook us like a man possessed, clocking almost 42 mph in the process. I’m not sure that he was aware of the “Give Way” sign at the bottom of the hill!

After lunch, which consisted of roast beef sandwiches and some rather good cake, courtesy of Bards, some of us tried to follow the Sustrans route through the Hafod estate, but typical lack of consistent signing brought us back onto the main road a little earlier than the Great God of Sustainable Transport had intended. He moves in mysterious ways his wonders to perform.

There was a good deal of walking now, as the Mountain Road has a good reason to be so named. When we reached Blaen-y-cwm, we took a left turn along a track or road whose status seems to have changed in the past 35 or so years of map making. Current OS maps have part of it yellow, older ones it is entirely white, and the Bartholomew series marks it clearly. However, much of it is simply not rideable due to a combination of gradient and debris.

On reaching the top, some 530m above sea level, we were treated to a magnificent view

which I for one prefer to the dismal pine forest which is the other great manifestation of man’s influence on the hills.

There followed an absolutely hair-raising descent in which the drag brake on the tandem worked magnificently. At one point, we rounded a corner to find Folkdevil picking himself up after a potentially catastrophic high-speed tumble: tackling a 1 in 6 hairpin on a fixie when the brakes are not at their best could have left him careering over the crash barrier another 10 yards further on. Fortunately neither he nor his steed was damaged but it was a salutary lesson and we walked for a while until the hill returned to more manageable proportions.

After Llangurig, we knew we needed to press on as the sun was sinking fast and not everyone had lights. The local farmer had very kindly left some lovely thorny rubbish all over the road and at least two people suffered punctures. I was concerned about the tandem as our tyres were probably at least 20 year old and quite narrow, but luck steered us through and eventually I turned on the bottle dynamo which provided a pretty good light through some gloomy wooded stretches.

We had repeated problems with our chain, which removed itself from the cogs, both front and back, at different times during the ride, and occasionally refused to change down to the smaller front ring. On one of these, we lost our balance rather and my trusty stoker rolled gracefully into the ditch, the only real casualties being her pride and her mobile phone, the latter of which needed replacing anyway.

We finally rolled into Rhayader nearly 9 hours after we had left it.

It only remains for me to thank certain key people involved in the ride. Firstly, Mark and Bards, whose route-planning was excellent; secondly, the entire company for waiting for us so patiently and with such warm, encouraging remarks; and finally my lovely wife & stoker, who a mere 6 months ago would not have considered any sort of ride within her capabilities, let alone 50 of perhaps the most gruelling miles to be found anywhere. It was her longest ride by far and shows what a great sport she is. It wouldn’t have been half as much fun on a solo machine!

Father Christmas gets a Present


One day a big box arrived at Father Christmas’s house.

He was pleased to get it.

He opened it carefully with one of Mrs. Christmas’s best kitchen knives. She didn’t know he had borrowed it.

Inside the box there was a bicycle.

“Out you come, my lovely!” said Father Christmas as he lifted the bicycle out of its box.

He carefully straightened the carbon bars with his special carbon bar straightening tool…

Then he stood proudly in front of the camera with his new bicycle.

There were some very pretty bits to the bicycle. There was a Rohloff Speed hub…

and a Schmidt hub dynamo.

Soon Father Christmas was ready for his first ride.

“I name this bike Charlotte Emilia Fatbloke!” said Father Christmas as he set off.

Soon he was heading out into the traffic…

…and down to the open sea.

Birthday Ride

It’s Graham’s birthday. He’s 22 and about to start is 3rd year at Essex Uni. He suggested that I join him for a ride from Wivenhoe (where he lives when at Uni) to Southend (where he lives when he’s with us). Last night I took the train from Prittlewell to Wivenhoe, and then we went for a curry.

This morning we started riding. There were bits of the route home with which I was not familiar, so I printed off a few maps fro streetmap.co.uk. We were due to set off at around 8.30 as I had to be back in Southend in plenty of time to get ready for a 3 p.m. teaching appointment. The first 15 minutes were spent pumping up Graham’s tyres. His bike is a “Uni Special” which we bought a year ago for next to nothing. It was new, but is so cheap that it’s not likely to get nicked, and if it did you just wouldn’t bother the insurance company.

We followed NCN Route 51 for a while and ended up in Colchester. It was pleasant, with the tidal stretch of the Colne to our left, and the railway and Essex Uni to our right. We then hit a wall, or more accurately, a fence, where some building work was going on. We were forced onto nasty busy roads around the Colchester port area and gradually left the traffic behind as we approached Rowhedge and Fingringhoe, a placename in which my son and his friends take a puerile delight.

Graham was flagging rather, and it turned out that he was suffering some after-effects from the previous evening’s curry. Eventually these effects wore off and we made better progress. We went through Abberton, Peldon, Little & Great Wigborough, Salcott-cum-Virley, Tolleshunt d’arcy, Goldhanger, Heybridge and Maldon. I cycled up the steep hill from Heybridge to Maldon, and when I reached the top I sat on the wall round the churchyard to wait for Graham, who was walking. An elderly woman approached and congratulated me on my achievement – “It’s all I can do to walk up!” – and I graciously accepted her accolades. Graham, meanwhile, had arrived and informed me that the only reason he hadn’t cycled up was that he can’t ride as slowly as I can and didn’t feel like overtaking in heavy traffic!

From Maldon we negotiated the nasty A414 and then left the main road through Hazeleigh and towards Cock Clarks. I noticed that Graham was flagging a fair bit now, and when he caught up with me at the top of one of the hills, he was evidently in pain as a result of a poor bike and a lousy saddle (his bike had an old Brompton saddle on it, but one of which the foam had torn and bits of it were hanging off). We went through Bicknacre and I offered the option of one of the Rettendon pubs and a phone call home for some motorised support.

While I was waiting for Graham near the end of Buckhatch Lane, a group of three cyclists went along the main road ahead of me. One of them looked dangerously like John Steer, one of the CTC top dogs locally. At about the same moment, SJS Cycles telephoned to say that my Thorn Raven Sport Tour was ready and when would i like it delivered? Tomorrow of course!

The pub and lift option became a necessity as poor old Graham was getting slower and slower and there was a danger of me being late for my teaching appointment, so we opted for the Wheatsheaf at Rettendon.  Normally I would have gone for beer, but not when teaching later, so it was soft drinks only. We must have been in the pub for well over an hour, but we were the only customers. The Wheatsheaf used to be a really nice little Ridley’s pub, but I can’t see them surviving on the sort of custom they had today. How much of that is due to the Greene King takeover and closing the brewery, I wonder?

Eventually our chauffeurs arrived and we were on our way.

Footnote: shortly after this ride, the Rettendon Wheatsheaf was boarded up and has not re-opened.

A Moment to Treasure

I did another Nick Cotton ride yesterday. The book suggests starting and finishing in Sudbury, but since Bures is the station before Sudbury on the “Gainsborough Express”, I got out of the train there.

It’s a circular route, supposedly of 33 miles. It’s through lovely peaceful countryside with all the usual trappings (farms, smells, bits of woodland, huge expensive houses) and the villages have splendid names: Daws Cross, Countess Cross, Colne Engaine, Boose’s Green, World’s End, Byndes, the Maplesteads (Little and Great), Castle Hedingham, Delvin End, Toppesfield, Great Yeldham, Tilbury Juxta Clare, Knowl Green, Belchamp St. Paul, Belchamp Otten, Sudbury, Ballingdon, Henny Street (with its interestingly named pub the Henny Swan), Lamarsh and back to Bures again.

I would like to be able to say more, but those place names say pretty well all of it except for one thing: Sudbury. It’s a fine little town with a statue of Gainsborough in the centre. I purposely hunted this down in order to photograph the good man, and to re-acquaint myself with the Town Hall, where I occasionally used to take the children to win prize money in chess tournaments.

Sudbury can be regarded as something of a success: the local campaign group successfully fought off a massive road development which would have seen a large by-pass built but which would have trashed the water meadows. The Govt. Offices for the East of England told me that this scheme had very strong business reasons for being built, but was turned down entirely on environmental grounds. Well done Sudbury!

Instead, the Highways Dept have introduced a great way of keeping the traffic jams out of the Town Centre: make artificial bottlenecks outside the town! This they have done, all the queuing is at the pinch points elsewhere, the traffic in the town centre flows smoothly, but all the hold-ups are on the main roads.

It was while negotiating the queue out of the town that my moment happened. Having gone clipless this week, I suppose I was due one… just couldn’t release my left foot in time (I didn’t forget, and I was trying, honest) and down I went. I actually elicited some sympathy from passers by in cars & lorries, but all I did was graze my left elbow slightly. I couldn’t even find a bruise on my ample and well-padded frame.

Oh yes, and photos