Friday, 18 September 2015

END OF SUMMER: BAY CYCLE WAY


 BARROW IN FURNESS TO GLASSON DOCK
 
Cyclists dance with Eric during the Morecambe Bay cycle ride

The start of this ride at Walney Island, just outside Barrow-in-Furness is easily accessible by train.  The journey is a delight, notwithstanding the grumpy guard at Preston who kicks up a stink at the thought of putting six bikes in his little two-bike space.  The train chugs way off the main line passing through stations with names like Silverdale, Kents Bank, Cark, Ulverston and Roose, with a special treat crossing the causeway where the river Kent blends into Morecambe Bay between Arnside and Grange-over-Sands.

To my big-city eyes, Barrow is a nowhere place with ghosts of shipbuilding propping up the bruised pride of a town once famous for helping Britain go to war, bombed but unbowed, memorialised by Nella Last’s wartime Mass Observation diary.  

On a blowy day in August 2015, there’s no sign on Walney Island of airships, warships, foundries and ammo factories, just the West Duddon  wind farm nine miles out in the choppy waters, ever-moving peaks heralding the free energy that’s being harvested.

Hats off to Sustrans for mapping and signing another delightful cycleway. There are downsides such as lack of signage through supermarket car parks, and underwhelming announcements at the start and finish points.  But the downers are well compensated by the uppers, with a route taking us along serene coastline, water meadows, up and over Cumbrian hills, adjacent to treacherous quicksands and bird heaven, and if you’re lucky a tidal wave: the Arnside Bore. 

We set off with the wind behind us, riding the flat coastline past sun-kissed pebble-dash houses whose conservatories and sun-rooms look lovely today, but the back of my mind ponders the prospect of rain-blasted windows staring at a monolithic blank grey horizon where you can’t distinguish where sea meets sky.  We’re lucky to pass through in sunshine.

We roll into Leece, past a dinky village green complete with quaint English pond and brown geese.  The Dusty Miller tea room at Gleaston Mill is tempting but we’re determined to get on so that we can have lunch at the incongruously sumptuous Kadampa Buddhist Centre at Bardsea.  Its golden turrets peek through the trees as we cycle down the driveway of this imposing ex-stately home.   The well-kept premises and restaurant provide leek and potato soup with cake to follow: just right for pedal-turning travellers.

Every Sustrans route seems compelled to include a rough section that is only suitable for mountain bikes.  In this case, the narrow path before crossing the river Crake qualifies for this status, and we grumblingly push our road bikes the short distance to the bridge.
 “This is bank holiday weekend,” we remind ourselves, as the sun uncharacteristically continues to warm our backs.  We're used to negotiating freezing, lashing rain on bank holidays.  We encounter our first serious hill on the road out of Ulverston.  “You see that, on top of that hill,” pointing to the Hoad Monument, Ulverston’s most distinctive landmark, “that’s where we’re going,” says Paula, with the benefit of having been here before.  She’s not a fan of hills, but we manage it with a certain amount of huffing and puffing and wine gums.

Six miles of rolling landscape follow, and a feel-good factor seeps into our bones as we use our cycling skills to negotiate the ups and downs, leaning into the bends, clicking gears high and low through the different gradients.  Panoramic views to the east over the Leven estuary, and northwards to the mountains of the Lake District, are stunning in their bare green and brown hillsides and blue stretches of water.

Our peace of mind is rudely interrupted by a long – I mean looonnnngggg – hill up towards Cartmel.  It starts off quite manageable, but from the halfway stage only the ‘mountain goat’ cyclist in our party is still in the saddle, while the rest of us push our bikes up the increasingly steep incline.

According to the eternal law of cycling, where there’s an up there’s a down, and the descent to Cartmel brings us down alongside the racecourse.  We rest our bikes against the drystone wall just in time to hear, and then see, a bevy of horses thundering towards us, jockeys bouncing precariously over the steeplechase jumps. 

From Cartmel we take a beautiful early evening seven-mile glide, with only one stinker of a climb, to our destination at Grange-over-Sands. 

The next day the lanes out of Grange-over-Sands are flat and fast towards Arnside, and we stop for coffee at Silverdale’s Wolf House Gallery.  We bypass the hill at Warton Cragg, skirt round the edge of Carnforth and follow a long, bumpy stretch along the Lancaster canal, standing on the pedals every so often to catch a glimpse of the majestic vista of Morecambe Bay.



















Riding two miles along the prom, the extensive sands covered by the incoming tide, and mountains rising faintly in the distance across the bay, we are pointed onwards by a friendly local woman who presumes we “want to know where Eric is.”  We do indeed, and break into a chorus of Bring Me Sunshine while queuing for a photo with the famous son of Morecambe.

Afternoon tea at the Midland Hotel does not materialise as we haven’t booked two weeks in advance, so we continue on the four mile cycle track to Lancaster.  Our equilibrium is interrupted by a local youth who hooted with mirth as he dumped a bucket of murky liquid over his back fence onto one of our riders.  Grim-faced, we carry on along the path. Entering Lancaster alongside the River Lune, we cross the river and turn right to follow the Millennium Path along the Lune estuary to Glasson Dock.  

As so often, the end of a cycle ride is somewhat of an anti-climax.  We can’t find any mention of the end of the Bay Cycle Way, so have to content ourselves with a sign commemorating the dock’s industrial past.  Its recent notoriety is as the place where coal was imported from Poland to break the Miners’ strike in 1984-5.

We congratulate each other.  We’ve completed the 81-mile ride in fabulous weather. A part of the north has been revealed in the true colours of its diversity and allure.  There were hard bits, high bits, long bits and lost bits, bumpy bits, hard-on-the-bum bits, laughing bits – all adding up to a fantastic way to end the summer. We’re planning to take a group of inexperienced cyclists back next year.

 






 

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Foray into Wales on the Lon Cambria


Lon Cambria Mid Wales cycle route: Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth on NCN Route 81 with Team Glow
Officially 113 miles but we did around 120 due to discrepancies between the map, Garmin and route 81 signs.






Before we even arrived at the start, we got soaked cycling to the station.  First pair of socks bit the dust, stuffing shoes with newspaper on the train.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
After an hour circling Shrewsburys ring road the first blue NCN Route 81 sign appeared and we're off into Shropshire. Soon we're puffing up lanes taking us high above the Severn valley.

Its Nics first trip.
 - I've only done Cheshire lanes before, she says.
Liz makes a plea for undulating terrain.
- I like undulating.

Red-faced, much puffing later, we all sail down the last hill to Welshpool for heartening vegetable soup and obligatory flapjack with coffee (this is a Glow trip, remember) at the cycle friendly Coco coffee shop on the High Street.     




 
Pedalling on, the youngsters lithe legs turn faster than me and Liz, so we take up the rear at our own pace, merrily clicking our gears and when we run out of those we get off and push, clicking our cleats on Tarmac. 









As we pushed deeper into Wales the hills became steeper.  Following the blue signs from Welshpool up a back road past Powys Castle, Garmin screaming to do a u-turn, we rode up and up, finally turning a bend and descending into Berriew (Aberriw in Welsh) and along a river path to Newtown.  Despite travelling westwards towards the sea, the river flowed against our direction of travel somewhat disconcerting.

The good thing about Sustrans routes is the tiny back roads they take you along. The bad thing is the state of your bike when you emerge from a river path, mud clinging to your brakes and spokes, clogging up your cleats and hiding in great globs in your mudguards.

Rising up from the river path into Newtown, the blue signs have grown a big H on them.  Halfway up a hill into a modern housing development we conclude that this is a cycle route to the hospital not National Cycle route 81.

It takes another 15 minutes scrutinising the map to find our way through this tiny town and into an industrial estate where Eureka! A blue 81 sign pops up out of nowhere.

Suddenly, the red and pink tops of our fellow Glows also pop up, heading our way.  But hang on, its the wrong way. It's 6pm and we've been on the road for 8 hours so maybe it's a mirage.

-    Don't go that way, we met a man and he told us it's 4 miles steep up, up, up, we'll never do it, says excitable Jen.

Met a man? we wonder

-    He said You don't know who I am, do you? And we said no, and he said I'm Barry Hoban and Ive started the Tour de France 12 times and completed it 11 times so I took a picture of him. That's H-o-b-a-n, said Jen.

-    My gears are slipping said Becky.

Unsure whether Barry the legend's faith faltered because we were female or because of our bikes, we decided to be on the safe side.  We bombed it the last 12 miles to Llanidloes on the flat main road with traffic zooming past. Very un-Sustrans-ish.  Total at the half-way stage: 68 miles, should have been 58. A tidy 3,618 ft of climbing, max speed 33 mph.

That night I screwed back my cleat that had worked loose during the day.

Day 2 - by concentrating very hard we went the right way out of Llanidloes (historic home of the Welsh weaving trade), and immediately started climbing away from the River Severn.  Becky with her clicky gears had decided not to come.  Up and up, me and Liz in our traditional position at the back out of sight of the others, playing cat and mouse with a red Royal Mail van delivering to houses and farms on our route.

We're on the road to Rhayader and the Elan Valley, with not much in between.  Good old Sustrans takes us on a gated road to the right of the River Wye, and we can see heavy traffic on the main A470 the other side of the valley.  Red kites circle thirty feet above our heads, and little ickle lambs on rickety legs snuggle up to their mothers. Liz takes a lovely lamb photo while the ewe glares at her.  I've been stared at by so many sheep on this trip; I could start to get a complex.


The wildlife is doing us a treat, and the landscape is backing up the feel-good element: blue rippling water, lush emerald fields, pine green wooded valley-side, and then the sun comes out and showers the whole lot in a sparkling light. All of a sudden the road flattens out and we're bowling along side by side on the undulating route and we're on our way to heaven.
 
Rhayader is a blip.  We brush by the outskirts to follow a canal path to the Elan Valley trail. It's well laid out and we breeze past pedestrians, heading for the Elan Valley visitor centre, and boom! Round a bend the thousand-foot dam streaming with water fills the eyeballs. A wall of water ahead.



Our mates are there with sandwiches and cake
-    We just got here 5 minutes ago.


We set off again after food, photos and discussing whether there were thousands or billions of gallons in the reservoir.  Within 10 minutes Emily got her hands dirty sorting out Nics puncture. 

We're in one of the officially wettest places in the UK, on a gloriously sunny Easter Saturday, barrelling past cyclists of all types and ages. The trail alongside the water is cycling paradise: the orange, green and brown of the surrounding hills contrasting against the deep blue-grey of the water. Once there were two villages down there until the Victorian burghers of Birmingham decided that this Welsh water was jolly nice and deserved to be drunk by their city's residents.

Rounding a bend at the end of the lake I click across into my granny ring for the sudden climb. Crunch, crrrrrunnnch.

-    Chain off! I'll catch you up in a minute

I tug at it. Nothing. Bit jammed. Unhook my panniers, turn bike upside down. Tug again. No result. Liz freewheels back round the hairpin bend towards me.  I show her the problem. She yanks. Nothing. Yanks again. Yes! that bit is freed. Just that bit now, and that bit behind the large cog, and that bit right down there.  She pulls, I brace by pushing on the pedal. Nothing. Repeatedly no joy.

Traffic is streaming past, I feel pathetic. Why doesn't a Hulk-like character loom up behind us and solve our problem?

We examine our tools. Can't get enough purchase or leverage using the multi-tool.  We cant release the chain connector link and I break the chain tool trying to force out a rivet, so we try to break the chain.  Can't.  We're stuck, miles from anywhere, no mobile phone signal. We can't walk the remaining 30 miles to Aberystwyth.  Liz rejects the adjustable spanner but the 14mm spanner is thin. I wedge it between the sprocket and chain ring to create a space and humph!! her oomph frees a section of chain. Again! Shove, wedge, bend, pull - it's out! Can't believe we've done it. I'm all shaky, my hands are filthy, I'm dying for a wee, and it's 3.30 pm and we're not even halfway.  But fate is on our side and after an hour of mechanical struggle we're back on the switchback, pulling easily up the hill into dramatic Welsh mountain scenery.

At the top, gaping at the vista behind, in front and around us, we know we're going to make it along the undulating road. Some of the undulations are heavy duty, but we keep our spirits up by glorying in the colours, the mountain scenery, the feeling of This is my world and I belong in it.


The next wrong turning on a forest road is nothing we can't cope with, and - lo and behold! We encounter our mates in the hippy village of Cwmystwyth. They've been all over the place, finally found themselves back here on the route.  We cram crisps and haribo sweets into our mouths and a shopkeeper with green hair fills our water bottles, saying that today's splendid yet uncharacteristic weather featured on todays news. The cleat on my right shoe is wiggling like a loose tooth but I ignore it.

It's not exactly downhill from here: there's more mud and forest and missing signs and we're all furious at a blue sign pointing uphill onto a narrow muddy forest.  Push, push, grump, grump for half a mile. A horse rider says You should have stayed on the main road. Yeah, thanks. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
We join a dank, overgrown ancient railway line for a pleasant flat ride, plummet down a road, then re-join the railway line before finally returning to the bliss of Tarmac.

 
 
 
 
 
It's 7.15 and we're heading towards the low blazing ball of the setting sun.  As Aberystwyth is on the West coast of Wales we're going in the right direction but when on earth are we actually going to see the sea?    

-    Sod it, let's just get there on the main road.

We pause to gather our energy for the final push, downing gels and mouthfuls of sweets. 

-    Oh no, not more hills, said Nic.


The gods smiled on her as eagle-eyed Jen spotted a blue 81 sign leading through a housing estate  to another old railway line - Tarmac this time.  We loved ourselves and our bikes and each other and Wales and the whole world. 





The sea finally materialised at the end of a dyke, and Aberystwyth's funicular railway rose in the distance at the other end of the bay.

Through the town and arriving at the pier, my Garmin went mad - dingdingadingdingding - announcing we'd reached the end of the route. We hugged each other in the gloaming, starving, filthy and dying to get to our accommodation. We'd done it. No probs. 57 miles.



Max speed today 31 mph. 4038ft of climbing. We were out there from 9.30am to nearly 8pm, arriving at sundown. 125 miles altogether.

Definitely recommended.
 

 
 
 
 


PS Next day Id lost a cleat screw and my shoe got stuck to the pedal, so I finished the adventure wheeling my bike through the station hop-along style, one-shoe-one-sock mode. Who cares?

 


Tuesday, 21 October 2014

GLOWING IN THE PEAK DISTRICT


 TEAM GLOW'S ANNUAL RIDE AND SOCIAL EVENT 

Hartington Hall Youth Hostel

Just like buses, there's an absence of cycling weekends then two come along at once. You'd think the recent jaunt up Holme Moss would be enough, but no, here we go again. 


Last weekend was Team Glow's Annual Ride and Social Event (I leave you to work out the acronym) featuring our very own BikeRight! MD as Guest of Honour.

The weekend was impeccably organised, sating 42 women's thirst for riding and networking, whooping and drinking with three differently graded rides on each day emanating from Hartington Youth Hostel and an evening event at the Village Hall. Fair play to all you women for the miles crunched, hills nobbled and hours socialised - you certainly know how to pack it all into a weekend.

Oops!!
On Saturday we went for a pootling 17 mile ‘A’ ride led by Yasmin Green - except you can't pootle anywhere on the Peak District, it's too damn hilly.  Severely undulating country provides a good whack of personal challenges: changing your attitude to climbing (it's no good dreading hills when there's one every 45 seconds), and  tackling the fear of descending (thankful for that bit of extra weight keeping you firmly in touch with terra firma).

The added thrill on Sunday was developing these skills whilst gusty winds threatened to blow us off our bikes at any unpredictable moment.  We ‘B’ riders handled it with aplomb; it was the ‘D’ women who called it a hurricane.

Staying upright this time
Sunday's 25 mile circular led by Glynis Francis, founder of Team Glow,  from Hartington to The Roaches took us up hill and down dale (hang on, isn't that a Yorkshire term? But we were in Derbyshire.)  It turns out the Holme Moss effort was just a practice for the testing gradients in Derbyshire - 2,885 feet of climbing narrowly beat the last weekend's 2854 ft.  Ok, it wasn’t all in one go, but toiling repeatedly up hill after hill requires its own level of stamina and determination.


A personal best for me was being housed in a room once occupied by my ancestor, Bonnie Prince Charlie in the historic Hartington Hall.  You may laugh (many do) but be aware: the force of the Stewarts endures.  





Many women plan to follow up the weekend with bike maintenance and ride leader courses at BikeRight!, and there’s a 2015 LEJOG (Lands End to John O’Groats) ride in the offing.

Go girls! Glow girls!


Monday, 13 October 2014

Ey up Le Tour





 BikeRight! conquers Holme Moss

We missed the climb of Holme Moss at the Skylark Sportive in March (too windy hence too dangerous). So we’d had to content ourselves with watching the unfolding drama in July on TV as Froome, Contador and co powered up the 2-mile ascent & encountered the spectacular Yorkshire-meets-Derbyshire summit, not to mention the eye-watering descent through dalesides to die for. 

Second hand excitement via a TV screen is not really our bag, so we were delighted when fit friends Jude & Simon announced not only had they bought a house in Holmfirth (congratulations) but also they were inviting us to join them and the other fit friends last Saturday on a 25-mile loop including up & down the veritable, the very same, the now notorious Holme Moss. 

You know what - October can be gloriously sunny and warm, and even when the cloud descends you know there's a rainbow and magnificent scenes over the valley and reservoir just waiting for you the other side. 

And that's how it all went. Yes we got a bit wet, but hey, up we rode, the steep bit out of Holme village, the flatter bit just beyond, the steady pull and then a couple of steeper efforts round bends (pushed aside by inevitable boy racers in souped up cars but fortunately only two of them).  The road markings reminded us that Froome had been here before, and Contador (although "you've got no fans" was not a nice way to send Yorkshire hospitality to our foreign friends), and Hull CRC.  

The motivational 1-mile, half mile and quarter mile road markers did their job. Yup we got to the top, and it was not too hard, despite our last ride being the Great Manchester Cycle at the end of June. 

Ey Up Le Tour!




Friday, 13 June 2014

Tour de France early Grand Depart


TOUR DE YORKSHIRE

It never occurred to me when I organised a Team Glow ride on the route of the Tour de France Grand Depart, that 14 women would be tracing the tracks of a race that only men can enter.

I was bowled over with the prospect of the Tour de France in the North of England, zooming around our beautiful hills, barrelling under crags and flying up the best gradients the UK can offer, teetering on tops before plummeting down descents which rival the Alps in their trickiness rather than length. Not to mention the quaint villages, Yorkshire stone, duck ponds, cricket matches, medieval castles, abbeys an' all. And then there's the moors, plenty of them for a racer to get moody on as he forces his legs to cleave through the hostile wind.
 I wanted some of that so our group of Glowees took to their bikes to ride over 2 days what the racing guys would do in 1 day.  The sun shone and shone and shone for the whole weekend, proving that there is a God and she wants women to ride the Tour de France.
 
The joy of packing.......
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
....or forgetting
 
 
Half the group started at Leeds Town Hall, and met up with the rest of us at Ilkley with a resounding rendition of "On Ilkley Moor Bah' t'at"
 
 
 
 
 


From Ilkley we warmed our legs up spinning through busy Skipton on market day, past the castle and winding up towards Kettlewell.
 
At Kettlewell some extreme members of our crew shot off up the 1 in 4 climb that the Tour de France athletes fear to tackle. I've been DOWN that hill, hugging Great Whernside for a perilous descent.  Now there's an idea: a women's tour that tackles the climbs too tough for the men. Yes guys, on the day, if you want a bit more excitement, just follow the Glows' wheel tracks up and down the 25% incline out of Kettlewell. Chris, Bradley, Mark are you listening? Hola! Alberto Contador?  Allons! Thomas Voeckler.  Apres les Glows!
 
Meandering along Wharfedale didn't last long and we were soon toiling up what  is cutely now called the Cote de Cray but when i did it last year it was Kidstones Pass. The lung-busting climb is made more delightful by the superb views of swathes of Yorkshire at its best - green fields, stone walls, luscious rivers inviting you to splash in the fresh water, followed by a supposedly easy ride to Hawes. 
 
Easy ride my foot - blasting headwind transforming it to torture at the end of the day.
 
Did I mention hills? Did I mention the climbs the Fit Guys aren't doing. On Sunday morning two sturdy Glows continued the theme as they toiled up Fleet Moss against a flood of descending riders on the Etape de Dales sportive hurtling through their own Yorkshire experience.
 
The rest of us set out towards the rude awakening of Buttertubs - sorry, M'sieur, Cote de Buttertubs. It was hard, it was long, it was hot, it was steep, it went on and on, it was beautiful, it was exhilarating, it was the top of the world. It was everything a cyclist would want on a Sunday morning.
 
Coming down is tricky. You've got to have your wits about you, feather those brakes for all theyre worth,  keeping one eye out for silent sportive speedsters whizzing past who've still got 80 miles and another 6 climbs to go. I passed a terrified guy cautiously descending who must have come from down South and had never encountered the glorious gradients of the North.
 
Soon we bowling through the villages of Muker and Gunnerside to Reeth, along the valley flanked by more green fields dotted with stone barns and obligatory gorgeous lambs.
 
The final climb was tough but the pull up to Grinton Moor was merely sweaty and puffy compared to the terror of Buttertubs.  "This is why we cycle!!" I yelled at the top of my voice as the expanse of majestic moor unfolded before us. The moorland ride and rolling descent to Masham should have been a breeze, but rather more than a breeze in our faces forced us to push every inch of the way. God's own country can be harsh.
 
The last 10 miles of every long distance ride is always a come-down - literally and metaphorically. The A61 has nothing to say for itself except it takes you to Harrogate and that was our destination. Pretty as a postcard, cycling past the famous Betty's tearoom (but too filthy to go in), we all congratulated each other on our ride - not to mention the achievements of the extra super-duper efforts. 
 
So there you are. 8,000 feet of climbing, 128 miles. Fastest speed 43 mph. The hardy types climbed 12,728 feet over 143 miles.