Midsummer Christmas Ride

It was a fairly prompt start from Shenfield Station, since Ben, Janet I were the last to arrive. At something like five past 10 we were on the road, a foolhardy band since the Met Office’s website showed the entire country covered in red as severe weather in the form of thunderstorms was forecast. However, our first worry was that we might get to the elevenses stop in Blackmore before it opened. Hall Lane, past Shenfield Church, is a very pleasant long descent, the ideal start to a ride, and one whose corresponding climb is well-concealed, so our speed was quite respectable. Through Doddinghurst we dashed, then Stondon Massey, another easy freewheel down the Nine Ashes Road and there was Blackmore, just as it always was, cake-laden and inviting.

Tea, coffee, cakes were all consumed and then Mike arrived from Cambridge, riding the storm like a very suave valkyrie on his stunning new Ti steed. We hung around for a bit waiting for the rain to subside a little, and then we would have been away other than an unsporting visitation form the pianoforte, or at least, something whose initials were p. f. Jurek was the victim, and it proved to be a bit of a problem, but just as Nutty was begining to flex his scar tissue ready to enter the fray, the faerie decided that discretion was the better part of valour and the tyre stayed hard.

Those of us who had donned our waterproofs now removed them again as the sun turned the wet roads into swirling vapours. We found our way along Spriggs Lane, noting the presence of the ostriches and llamas, and then crossed the main road at Norton Heath, carefully avoiding the café there as it appeared to be full of cyclists and we didn’t want to be mixing with that sort, now, did we?

These Essex lanes are an absolute delight, unless of course you are a bit short of time at the back end of a 200k audax, and I often wonder why it is that the road which approaches Willingale from the south has quite so many hairpin bends. It’s almost alpine with one very obvious omission, and that being stout red-faced yodelling fellows in Lederhosen. Through Wilingale we went, noting Spain and Doe, the two churches in one churchyard, separated by an elegant avenue of lime trees, in full flower at this time of year, and then onwards and northwards through Berners Roding and High Easter before emerging on the B road which heads towards Dunmow.

High Roding was our lunch stop, and the bar staff had done a grand job, providing us with some really tasty fare quite promptly. The beer was also very acceptable, and there was a certain amount of minor silliness involving a Father Christmas hat which Nutty had provided. I suggested singing a few carols but no-one seem interested, so after a brief snooze we wended our way. Mike left us at this point to return to Cambridge.

As we began our southward plod so the weather seemed to want to disrupt proceedings. There were dark clouds, rumbles of thunder, a very menacing looking storm to the south-west and another one to the east. Yet undeterred, the bold and intrepid party sped swiftly on until somewhere near Loves Green large raindrops began to bounce around us. Almost immediately the faerie was back, having sunk her fangs into Fixedwheelnut’s rear tyre. This was looking quite seriously like a water-born sprite which only emerged to do its damage in the rain.

Not long afterwards we found ourselves quite by chance inside a pub, the Viper, and again beer was consumed. Thereafter we sped through a wet Fryerning, not really interested in finding the Hall, even though it was apparently the birthplace of Charles Kortwright, thought by some to have been the fastest bowler in the history of cricket, and coiner of the phrase “Are you going, Doctor? You’ve still got one stump standing!” We decided to give the Buttsbury Ford a miss, on the grounds that it might have swollen to bicycle-consuming proportions, and headed along the old A12 and back via Mountnessing and Arnold’s Farm Lane to Shenfield.

If we had had any doubts beforehand, we knew we were in Essex now: the Mercedes driver who couldn’t safely overtake us spent about 10 seconds leaning on his horn; and when we entered the station we were treated to the Disruption of Service notices as some woebegone unfortunate had ended it all at Romford. The first train to Southend was announced but was on its way before we had had time to board it, and while second was being prepared, I overheard a couple approach the driver, who patiently explained that someone had committed suicide at Romford and that services would not be as per the timetable.

“Really!” exclaimed the youth, “Some people are so shtoopid!”

Another Audax poem

When bicycles stand by the wall
And tyre-treads leave a tell-tale trail
And flapjack’s in the village hall
And Arrivée’s the Holy Grail

When blood is nipt and ways be foul
Then randonneurs are on the prowl,
A mass of legs all pushing hard:
“Will you please stamp my brevet card?”

When lanes are all awash with skog
And Charlotte finds a garden cane
And Hummers gives Chris S a snog
And Comet’s gears have gone again

Amidst all this mayhem and trauma
We must be on the Willie Warmer!
A mass of legs all pushing hard:
“Will you please stamp my brevet card?”

W. Spokesheer.

This be the Version for Long-distance Cyclists

It fucks you up, Audax UK,
And sends you to the very brink
Of craziness; but others say
That Audax is their meat and drink.

100k is just a stroll
Or so my friends have said to me;
But when you reach the next control
It leads you straight to PBP.

Addiction is the scourge of Man –
It fills us with unearthly dread
So pack as early as you can
And please do something else instead.

A Century before Lunch

“I once saw Walter Brearley, the fast bowler, hit Fry on the hand; and Fry walked almost to the fence on the square-leg boundary shaking his bruised finger, with not any loss of dignity at all, not to announce his agony to the world; he was simply absorbed, like a student of metaphysics, in the problem of pain.” (Neville Cardus, Manchester Guardian, early 20th century)

Having made my decision, I went back to bed. But there was no sleep, no rest even, to be found there. Just the pain, like a frozen blade inserted into the back of my wrist, and the voice of a chess acquaintance of mine echoing around my head. On his surprise to see me appear to control the Essex Open Championship last year, he greeted me with the cheerful and encouraging “Hello Peter! I thought you were on the scrap-heap.” No, Norman, I’m not!

Even if a 200-mile driven round trip to the Sussex Corker was out of the question, I had to conquer this demon. But if I was going to do so, I’d make sure I was on home territory and that it was a level playing field, not an away match in sloping Sussex where the odds were seriously stacked against me. Even the seemingly simple task of securing the bike onto the carrier would have presented problems for me this morning.

I had to refit my saddlebag. I had taken it off last night in preparation for the Corker, cutting out as much weight as I could. I probably didn’t need it today, but its presence was somehow reassuring and I prefer it to be there. Not logical, but I put a waterproof and a warm top in there, even though the weather forecast deemed them unnecessary. I even put my marmite sandwiches in my front bag.

I didn’t have a route planned as such, and I didn’t take a map, but I headed towards Battlesbridge, the Gateway to Everywhere Else. It was tough going. I was angry at having to change my plans. The legs were working OK but even the slightest unevenness in the road surface twisted the demon’s blade. I found, though, that I could change gear if I wrapped my thumb and forefinger very lightly round the twist-grip and moved my arm from the shoulder. Surprisingly, braking was easier. The first time I applied the front brake I winced, but then felt a fool: it hadn’t hurt nearly as much as I expected.

That’s the curious thing with pain: a great deal of it is in the mind. I am expecting my arthritis to hurt me so it does. When I’m lying awake at 5 a.m., it is my total, my only occupation. Like Charles Burgess Fry, arguably the greatest all-round sportsman the world has ever seen, I was totally preoccupied with the problem of pain. The purpose of being in bed is to sleep, so the demon wins every time. I’m awake and my wrist is all I can feel. To win the battle with the demon, you have to do other things. Today, all the other joints were in order, so why let the right wrist dominate the rest of the body?

By the time I reached the roundabout on the borough boundary, I began to notice my surroundings. There were two baby rabbits playing “chicken”. The first ran out in front of a car, the second waited until I arrived and then ran out in front of me. Both won that time. After the roundabout, though, there was gory pile of hedgehog bits which had lost. I crossed the Roach river bridge and saw a little egret paddling around in the water and of all things, there were three mallards strolling up Rochford High Street. “Good morning m’llard’”, I said in suitable deference, but they didn’t reply.

My computer was making very optimistic work of the 3-mile trip to Rochford and it dawned on me: that was because I had set it to display kilometres last night in preparation for today’s Audax. You can’t switch the Cateye Micro to imperial from metric and vice versa when it’s got a trip in memory, so I was stuck with it. Never mind, thought I, lets ride 100k anyway because that’s what I would have done in Sussex, albeit at about half the speed. I think that was when I made up my mind: I would go to Bradwell and then work my way back to Battlesbridge and on home. That should make a good 100k ride.

There were two beautiful fields of hemp growing near Doggetts Farm and the air smelt like a dodgy party as I rode through, yesterday’s rain still bringing out the morning scents. On my right a whitethroat warbled its sandpapery song and was answered by a chaffinch on my left. The a wren provided the descant from a willow tree on the right. I sailed easily past the llamas’ field in Hyde Wood Road and as I approached a terrace of cottages on the Canewdon Road, I thought “That’s a large swallow”, having seen a bird of the right outline perched on a wire. A closer inspection revealed it to be not a swallow at all something a bit parrotish, perhaps a cockatiel, but without doubt an escapee of some kind. I understand that there is a fairly large parakeet presence in parts of London, but if I remember correctly parakeets are green and this certainly wasn’t.

The swan was still asleep, sitting on her eggs with her head somewhere under her wing, as I crossed the Crouch at Battlesbridge, and after the railway bridge, where I often hit 30mph when coming in the opposite direction, I just stood up on the pedals and had no trouble at all, my speed hardly dipping below 15kph. I used the cycle lanes to negotiate the roundabouts, which even at that time in the morning were busy, and sped towards Woodham Ferrers.

Now my route was in my mind, I was set on getting there. Workhouse Lane led to Edwins Hall Road, up Bushey hill to Edwin’s Hall, where a performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is to take place at the end of the month, tickets £20, and along to Flambird’s Farm. No traffic here, of course, and it was a very surprised hare which loped towards me, not spotting me until I was close to, then, like a middle-distance runner, finding a gear I hadn’t got and disappearing round the bend in the road. I thought I might get another glimpse of him, but no: instead, so surprised to see me that they didn’t take off, a pair of red-legged partridges, no more than three feet away, gorgeous little birds with very distinct colouring and white throats.

After passing the water tower at Cold Norton I came across another cyclist so we rode together for a mile or two. She was riding to Danbury hills so that she could go for a run. That struck me as a bit odd: why ride a bike so that you can go for a run? but I didn’t express my opinion out loud. I told her that I ought to have been in Sussex and she had heard of Audax but had never got involved. I mentioned the Three Coasts 600 going on as we rode, and she became very interested “That sounds exactly like my kind of thing!” I just had time to tell her about the Audax website and then our routes diverged, as she headed north to Danbury and I took the easterly road out towards the Dengie and Bradwell-on-Sea.

I was still going well, and when St. Lawrence Hill appeared in front of me, still smarting from its demotion and lost chevron, I couldn’t resist and up I went. “I am climbing well today!” I said to myself, and although I did eventually engage bottom gear, my legs were spinning like Catherine Wheels until I finally ran out of steam and ground my way up the last few metres. After that there was a lovely long descent where I almost came a cropper: a car had the temerity to come in the opposite direction just as I was leaning over to take a sharp bend. A quick wiggle and I was OK, but it was a slightly unnerving moment for both the driver and me.

As I reached the Bradwell road, I could see a cyclist in the distance. My levels of fitness must be picking up, because at one time if I saw someone in the distance it wasn’t for long as they had disappeared over the horizon. This time I gained on them, for tandemists they were, and eventually caught them. They were riding a beautiful blue Mercian of a late 1980s vintage but without a mark on it. The Wolber Champion rims shone as though freshly forged and it was a veritable jewel of a bike. They had recently bought it second hand from a couple in North Yorkshire, who were the original owners and had had it purpose built for their retirement and then had not used it much. “There are lots of good tandems like that: this one was kept in their front room under a cloth cover and it’s hardly been ridden!” the pilot told me proudly.

We chatted amiably about this and that: LEJOG (“I quite fancy that” said the Stoker); WNBR; Audax, and of course anothercyclingforum.com. Then we went our separate ways. I headed south through Bradwell Village, where I noted that the village shop has ceased trading, and then Tillingham, where one of the pubs has opened a very small coffee shop. One Beans on toast and coffee later, and I felt as though I could phone Jan to let her know where I was. “You’ve left your helmet and gloves behind,” she said reproachfully, but I reassured her that I was wearing my Tilley hat and my Pearl Izumi gloves. I’d already done 67k so I should be home about 1 o’clock.

Once again off I went but avoided Southminster by taking Green Lane. Latchingdon, Cold Norton, Stow Maries and then into Woodham Ferrers by the “over 40s” route and back onto the Battlesbridge road. Just over 50kph going down the hill towards the railway and then the irksome pest of motorists overtaking me  – I was still doing over 30kph – just so that they could stop in a queue for the single-lane bridge. I didn’t bother to waste my breath on them but just slipped round the outside and over the bridge. I took Coventry Hill (I wonder why they call it that?) by storm and kept up a very respectable speed all the way to Ashingdon. Back past the llamas, through Doggetts where Dan Squier himself was riding the lawn mower. He appears to be a dying breed – a gentleman farmer – and he gave me a very cheerful smile as I whizzed past. Then it was through Rochford, without mallards, up Sutton road and home. The demon had been exorcised – this time.
Distance: 116.51k
Riding time:5h 31m 43s
Average: 21 kph
Max speed: 50.4 kph

World Naked Bike Ride

What a surreal, embarrassing, terrifying, amazing and ultimately exhilarating day!

I set off from Liverpool Street to Hyde Park in much lighter London traffic than I have ever before encountered – not a lot seems to happen on Saturday afternoons in the City – and made my way to Hyde Park Corner, arriving a little before 2.30. I couldn’t believe the sight that met my eyes. The place was absolutely awash with Orangemen – bowler-hatted, dark-suited, sash-wearing, craggy-featured unsmiling Orangemen from a plethora of Loyal Orange Lodges, complete with pipe-bands, drums, mock weddings of William and Mary and banners, one of which bore the coat of arms of the Ulster Special Constables, 1920 – 1970. Weren’t they the infamous “B Specials”, whose violence perpetrated against Civil Rights marchers sparked the “Troubles”? And somewhere in the middle of all this anachronistic sinister sectarian nonsense someone was trying to organise a bike ride. Welcome to multicultural Britain!

Gradually the Ulstermen filtered out across Park Lane to the deafening sound of drums, fifes, skirling bagpipes and twirling batons and shortly Charlotte appeared. She was riding her Thorn, her hair even more of a beacon than usual. We nattered coyly about this & that, not daring to mention the other, when Liz and her friend Greg joined us and also Mercury (aka Phil). We were being ushered close to the official start of the ride, where more and more cyclists, mostly male, were donning their birthday suits. None of us took the plunge to begin with, but a few minutes before the off, I summoned up the courage to remove my top & shorts, knocking my glasses off as I did so. There I am in cycling shoes, socks, Pearl Izumi gloves, spectacles and Tilley hat, reliving a regular nightmare of mine in which, starkers, I run a gauntlet of jeering textiles. I can’t remember the order in which the rest of it happened, but shortly, there in solidarity were Charlotte, Liz, Greg & Phil, wearing even less than I was (remember, I had a hat and spectacles). Oh thank you, thank you!

We were all quite bowled over by the numbers. Forget the BBC’s 700: this was bigger than any Critical Mass I have ever been to. At one point the whole of Piccadilly from Park Lane to the Ritz was full of naked or near-naked cyclists, 2000 at least, all stationary, unable to move because of some log-jam or other. We were, of course, very slow and this added to the embarrassment factor. Ordinary tourists, shoppers and other passers-by were lining the streets to try to get a view of us and out came the camera phones. The police took charge fairly well, stopping up side roads to keep the cycling traffic moving, and by the time we reached Whitehall we were able to give it a bit of a blast, moving in excess of 20 mph. This was the exhilarating bit: who needs wicking tops when you have the cool breeze caressing naked skin? There was a short delay at Downing Street as a few of us turned our bare buttocks in Mr. Blair’s general direction, and then we were off again. South of the river, by Waterloo, back over Waterloo bridge and then not that far from Jermyn Street (“We’d all like to buy a shirt please”). Tottenham Court Road, Oxford Street and I remarked to Charlotte that I was suddenly reminded of one of the more repeatable couplets from Eskimo Nel:

“Eighty tits is a gladsome sight
To a man with a raging stand.
It may be rare in Berkeley Square
But not in the Rio Grande”

Well, today was one of those rare occasions.

By now the ride had spread a little, and Oxford Street came and went and we were in Park Lane. Now we really got some speed on and we were heading back under the arch into Hyde Park. By this time, of course, we were inhibition-free and were actually enjoying being nude and perfectly relaxed in each other’s company and we were as reluctant to put our clothes back on as we had been to take them off in the first place. However, beer and food wait for no naturist so we donned a layer of lycra and hied us to Mayfair where we enjoyed an ice-cream and I had a pint of Lancaster Bomber. Then it was another exhilarating ride, led by Liz & Charlotte, as we dodged the bendy buses all the way to Islington where the barbecue awaited us.

Simon, be warned: you might have more than you bargained for on your next Friday Night Ride to the Coast.

Bums away!

This little beauty turned up on Flickr. It’s also in “Caption It”.

We had been held up at some lights and Charlotte suggested racing along Whitehall. Liz took her at her word. This is the pursuit. Grin

I’ve called it “Chasing Comet’s tail”. Roll eyes

A few days away

Tuesday 29th May

The dreadful Bank Holiday weather had been swept away in the night and the normal working day dawned cold but bright. The tandem was soon loaded and we were away. Graham also caught the 10.48 from Prittlewell, heading back to Uni for his Finals, and laden with bottles of red wine. He left us at Shenfield.

We arrived in Liverpool Street to time and re-assembled the bike. Although the sun was shining as we left, the rain soon began. We decided not to stop to put our coats on. At one point we got stuck at a kerb and in our efforts to free the bike we had a right-sided slow-motion clipless moment. Fortunately there was no traffic coming at the time. Soon we passed Kings’s Cross and almost missed Euston, so well concealed is it these days by plane trees in full leaf.

Mr. Branson’s employees were most obliging. The tandem was soon stowed safely in the Train Manager’s Compartment (aka Guard’s Van), we were ensconced in our seats and tucking into cheese & pickle sandwiches, licquorish allsorts and coffee. I recalled seeing, years ago, a lion cut out of the chalk in a hillside somewhere near Cheddington station and within seconds there it was as we whizzed towards Birmingham at well over 100 mph.

There were “minor technical problems” at Shrewsbury which caused some 30 minutes’ delay and a further wait at Newtown because there was another train coming the other way. We eventually arrived in Caersws at 4.50, 37 minutes late.

By now, all the clouds had cleared and there was a fairly brisk headwind. We set off along the B road and on this occasion it was probably a mistake to avoid the designated cycle route, which seemed to be a little further but also flatter, as it followed the Severn more closely.

We descended into Llanidloes through a cold tunnel of beech trees and after a brief look around the deserted town centre we climbed again. This was as hard work as parts of Cornwall and Devon had been and we had two or three “1 in 7 or greater” chevrons to negotiate.

There was a lovely white farmhouse for sale at Tylwch,

which was as good a place as any for me to don my longs. We managed to keep cycling up some of the tougher hills and I think we are considerably fitter than we were at the start of LEJOG.

We came across a sign saying “Rhayader 6” rather sooner than I expected, which was encouraging, and eventually we reached the long, screaming descent into the town. Our highest speed of the day was 41.2 mph and we arrived at the Liverpool Guest House at about 8.15. After unloading the bike and changing our clothes, we had an audience with the Rev. James and then it was time for a Madras.

30th May.

After a wet night, it was a damp morning. We selected a walk to the north of the town, along a narrow lane then a track over the mountains and into the Marteg valley. Eventually we came across Gilfach, a grade II listed Welsh longhouse, in which livestock were kept at one end while people lived at the other. There is a nature reserve round about and we saw a pair of stonechats and a pair of bullfinches. There were, as ever, plenty of red kites and we were treated to aerobatic displays as ravens and kites mobbed one another.

We came across a field of cattle where a large and impressive bull

took some interest in us, but fortunately there was a fence separating us from him and his progeny. We reached the Sun Inn at St. Harmon at lunchtime, but sadly there was no lunch to be had there as the place was shut. We stomped hungrily down the B road for 3.5 miles until we reached Rhayader again and had a very agreeable baguette washed down with a pint or two of Hancock’s bitter. We then dropped the walking gear off at the guest house before tackling Clive Powell. Mike & Jeff ordered some hire bikes for the morning. There was a really nice Goretex jacket in Jan’s size which had been reduced from £125 to £70, so we bought that.

The weather had improved greatly by this time so we walked along the Wye Valley path and found a very comfortable picnic table. We just sat,

enjoying the warmth andd tranquillity as swallows, house martins and sand martins all flew up and down. We saw a dipper and a grey wagtail and of course there were lots of kites flying around as at 3 pm they had been fed at Gigrin.

I had a telephone conversation with each of the children. Denis had made a liver cake for Morphy and he found a couple of pub phone numbers for us. Heather thinks she has found someone competent working for the Student Loans company and is therefore a little more hopeful of sorting out her finances for next year. Ellen had been entertaining Mike Schurer and was suffering from the consequences of that, as well as her cold, and Graham had just finished his penultimate exam. This time tomorrow he will be a B.A., marking apart.

After an hour or so’s relaxation back at Liverpool house, we were ready to begin the evening’s operations. We had noticed a pub, the Corn Mill, which had 4 real ales on although they had no food. They also had a seemingly resident Irishman who expounded volubly his theories relating to Life, the Universe and Everything. He tried to sing the Lark in the Morning, but got the tune wrong and didn’t know the words. He did however, have two redeemng features: the top joint of the middle finger of his right hand was missing and he thought I looked like a professor. We had ample reason to adjourn to the Lamb & Flag for a meal.

31st May.

We loaded the tandem and hied us to Clive Powell’s Bke Shop where Mike & Jeff hired two Giant hybrid machines. On heading for the Elan Valley trail, it soon became apparent that once again Janet & I would be the slowest. Today my back decided to misbehave and the old pain returned. It didn’t seem to affect me while we were going along, but gave me the occasional sharp stab when we were stopped.

We saw quite a few interesting small birds: wheatears, a couple of redstarts, and Jeff thought we saw winchats. I don’t know what they look like so that didn’t help me much.

We had an elevenses / lunch stop at the point where the Elan Valley road meets the Mountain Road


and on the descent Janet & I reached 38.1 mph where in the same spot last September we cranked the old tandem up to 40.8 mph. On reaching Blaen-y-cwm, we turned right onto the rough track and disturbed a whole family of wheatears, the parents becoming particularly alarmed when one of the youngsters strayed far to close to us for far too long.

We gained the impression that there were more wind turbines on the top than there were last September and we also noted that we were capable of cycling up hills which had defeated us the last time we were here. We kept riding even on the steep downhill which saw Francis leave the road in the September ride and we arrived at the Blue Bell Inn in time for a drink but too late for food. We had Butty Bach and I did like the name of the brewery: the Purple Moose Brewery, which assuming that the Welsh translation is grammatical becomes Bragdy Mws Piws.

There had been several light showers during the morning but as we headed south along the Wye Valley road, the sun shone and we stopped for more lunch. While we were eating, a stoat whizzed across the meadow in front of us and ran down the hill towards the river.

We were interruped by a downpour, by far the heaviest of the day, and eventually got fed up wth the totally inadequate shelter provided by a small ash tree and continued riding. This was probably the heaviest rain we have ever ridden through and the braking was definitely affected. We were part way through a fairly rapid descent when the phone rang. When we eventually returned the call it was Jen Jameson. We talked about our ETA on Saturday and that was about it.

We arrived back in Rhayader shortly before 5 p.m. and after Jeff & Mike had returned their steeds to Clive Powell, we went to the digs for showers etc. Our landlady made it plain that she wasn’t going to do any washing for us (I had thought that B & Bs displaying the CTC logo and “Cyclists Welcome” sign were prepared to take on a bit of laundry, even if they charged extra for it) so I did today’s shorts & tops myself and hung them up in the shower to drip-dry.

Our meal was at the Lamb & Flag again and it was adequate rather than memorable. We were all so knackered by the day’s proceedings that we retired around 10 p.m.

1st June

It was cloudless when I opened the curtains at 8 a.m. Before setting off on the walk that Jeff had planned, we visited the sandwich bar in the town and bought some baguettes for lunch. We then drove to a car park near to the southern end of the Caban Coch reservoir. We were to tackle two hills – Gorllwyn at 613 metres and the Y Gamriw at 604, one above and the other below 2000 feet.

We climbed behind a farm and followed a track. This gradually petered out but we continued due south

until we reached a summit of just over 500 metres. We stopped here and had the first instalment of lunch – we all felt that we could heartily recommend the sandwich bar in Rhayader – and then headed across some very boggy ground towards Gorllwyn.

There was quite a lot to see. There were the usual kites and buzzards, and at one point a buzzard swooped low towards a pair of ravens. There then ensued a few seconds’ aerial combat which I felt sure that the buzzard had deliberately provoked. We also saw plenty of skylarks, the first of which caused some debate amongst us as it continually flitted from tree to tree in a most unskylark-like fashion. However, we reached a consensus that a skylark it was. At one point I saw something wriggling in the grass and a closer inspection revaled that it was a common lizard.

As we climbed we noticed that there was a lot of new growth as a result of a fairly recent and very extensive hillside fire, which presumably occurred in the April drought.

However, the recovery was well under way and it may well have made the going easier as the grass was much less tussocky in the affected areas.

The view from the top was spectacular. Although a little hazy, we could see the whole spread of the Brecon Beacons from Pen y fan to the Black Mountains with the Mynydd Eppynt in the foreground. Just wonderful!

For a good deal of our route we followed a line of concrete posts which apparently marked the watershed between the Elan to the north and the Irfon to the south, both of them tributaries of the Wye. There was plenty of boggy stuff and at one point the landscape was reminiscent of Bleaklow or the Moon. Eventually we reached some impressive cairns. The trig point at Y Gamriw

was, oddly, at 599 metres whereas the cairns at the top of the hill were at 604. There were other large stone piles which apparently dated from the Bronze Age. One wonders why they put so much effort in to build something in so remote a place.

On our return we headed west and then north across some pretty rough tussock grass and more boggy stuff. As we were approaching the farm close to where we had parked the car, we heard a cuckoo. I cuckooed back and we saw it from a distance. It did actually come close enough for me to hear it “clear its throat”, but we didn’t get a close-up view of it. We arrived back at the car at about 6 p.m. having walked nearly 10 miles. During this time we hadn’t seen another human being unless you count the complete bastards who practise flying their jet fighters over remote countryside in Wales so that later they can drop bombs on unfortunate peasants in the remoter parts of the world. I think you would be hard pressed to cite a single example in which jet fighters have ever been used in the defence of this country.

We booked a table at The Triangle, an attractive little pub tucked round the corner and overlooking the Wye at Cwmdauddwr. The food was excellent – quite the best meal we have had all week. The beer, the wine and the whisky were also of he highest order…

2nd June

We breakfasted and said our farewells to Mike & Jeff, setting off from Rhayader shortly after 10 a.m. The weather was fine as we turned off the main road towards Abbeycwmhir.

We knew that we were in for some climbing but it did not begin immediately. The high point of the ride was 417 metres, only slightly lower than the highest pont of LEJOG when we crossed the Forest of Bowland on April 15th, but the Lancashire hills are treeless and bleak by comparison. We succeeded in cycling up one of the 1 in 7 stretches, but still had to get off and push for others.

We came across a beautiful house for sale in Abbeycwmhir, but didn’t buy it…

Our arrival at the Bungalow shortly before 1 pm was well timed and Bill & Jen plied us with a good lunch. We played with their very amusing hounds and spent a happy afternoon watching birds. Their feeder was visited by robin, chaffinch, greenfinch, tits, a bullfinch, sparrows and a  family of nuthatches.

They also have a redstart’s nest in their second-hand dovecote. As dusk was falling I felt sure I had seen a treecreeper on one of the conifers.

We had more food and tried several incarnations of alcohol. To quote Porters Grange kids down the years: “I liked it – it was good!”

3rd June

Janet’s injuries sustained during the Y Gamriw walk proved to be more of a handicap than we first thought. The blister on her right heel had become an area of raw flesh bigger than a 50p piece and this was even more of a problem than her swollen knee.

We spent an educational morning rounding up sheep and then watching the performing of vasectomies on the male lambs, the inoculation with a live vaccine against sheep scab for all the youngsters, the clipping of the hooves of all the sheep, young and old, and the removal of the dags from around the arses of the old ewes. Derek and Maggie came over from their smallholding a mile or two away in order to assist with these interesting tasks.

The operation on the male lambs was not what I expected. I thought that they were to be castrated, but no. Apparently this is still the preferred method amongst the older, more traditional farmers who then offer for sale the sweetbreads for human consumption. The process we witnessed was the “crimping” of the scrotal sac in what looked like an overgrown set of pincers. This apparently damages the spermatic cord to the extent that the males are unable to reproduce.

I was struck by the manner in which the sheep, both old and young, do not struggle once they have been caught and are forced into a sitting position with their legs sticking out in front of them. The males did not bleat whilst their goolies were being crushed, but I cannot honestly say that they looked as though they were enjoying the experience.

In the afternoon Bill & I went for a walk on some of the higher hills above Llanbadarn Fynydd. I am pretty sure we had actually done this walk a year or two ago on a previous visit, but it was well worth a repeat.

4th June

Although the night was starry and the day dawned bright, it was fairly dull by the time we emereged for breakfast at about 7.45. There was some superb blackberry jam for the toast. By 8.45 we were loaded and on our way.

Although the northward climb lasted for 4.57 miles it was never very strenuous, just a bit irksome towards the end. We were rewarded with a long, gentle downhill pretty well all the way to Newtown. The town appeared in the distance rather earlier than I expected, but then the road curved and twisted for a further couple of miles before we arrived at the traffic lights. I like the A483: there was little traffic even though we were travelling at “rush hour” and pretty well every vehicle gave us a wide berth. Only one plonker decided to hoot as he approached from behind but on the whole it was a much more positive experience than riding on Sutton Road.

We had time to visit the Co-op for some provisions before heading towwards the station, but once we were on the platform we were engaged in conversation by a youthful Village Idiot whose sole topic was football. I did my best to edge my way out, but this left Janet in the lurch. She is far kinder and more tolerant than I am and even managed to keep a straight face when confronted with such piercing observations as “London’s a big place – much bigger than Newtown”. This experience made the wait for the train, which in reality was something less than half an hour, seem like an eternity.

The cycle accommodation in Welsh trains is exceptionally badly designed. You have to squeeze your steed through a gap which is actually narrower than the handlebars and into a cubby-hole with another bike where the two frames can soothingly grate the paint off one another with the rocking motion of the train. In both directions, there were too many bikes chasing too few spaces. Why do we have to make cycle reservations when there is nowhere suitable to put bikes?

The remainder of the journey is best glossed over. We were late into Birmingham so missed our connection by a minute or so; the next train, half an hour later, was diverted so arrived in Euston further half-hour late; then some poor unfortunate had ended it all near Seven Kings so that caused a further delay at Liverpool Street; and the Epitome of Essex Man chose to get on the train at Stratford, where the platform was on the side where we had stored the bike. Rather than walk a few yards to another door, he insisted on coming through “our” door. When I pointed out that it would have been rather easier to use the other door a few paces away, his response was “I don’t care how many fucking doors there are. Move your fucking bike!”

Welcome back to Essex.