Here’s a little historical piece, written before I discovered blogging. The objective was to cycle south down the one degree west of Greenwich line of longitude, having done the same to the Greenwich Meridian the year before; I’ll post that some other time.
Saturday, 8th September 2001
· Start at Saltburn by Sea 1600
· Finish at Barn Hotel, Hutton-le-Hole 1757
· Distance 22.9 miles
· Ride time 1 hour, 42 minutes and 23 seconds
· Average speed 13.4 mph
· Maximum speed ~40 mph
After a sleepless night, H drove me to Taunton to catch the 0931 Newcastle train. Dropped in to Ralph Colman Cycles to buy a new cycle lock – three at home and no keys to fit any of them.
Virgin train punctual and the bike safely installed in the guard’s compartment and myself on a comfortable seat in coach D. Although the train was busy, I managed to have the pair of seats to myself for nearly the whole journey – much better than sharing, if selfish. In to Darlington on time and caught the local to Saltburn. Very rude member of Arriva staff snapped at me whilst I was trying to work out the best place to stow the bike. Good run across to Saltburn, one of those small Victorian seaside resorts. Ran down to the front to take a couple of photographs. The town sits on top of a cliff, not unlike Bournemouth, with a stream valley running down to the pier and some boats pulled out onto the shingle.
Started off from the top of the cliff and ran down a steep hairpin to the beach by the pier, before finding the immediate steep climb up a spur between two stream valleys, running south towards Shelton. Through Lingdale, easy route-finding, even with the 250,000 scale maps, and over the hill for the first sight of the moors. Beyond Lockwood Beck Reservoir the road ran straight uphill towards the horizon. A quick dog-leg across the Whitby road and the first moorland climb towards Castleton. Foot and mouth disease disinfection mats at the entrance to the moors, which are closed for walking. The mats were in very poor condition and the ramps either side in need of some repair. Not particularly effective as a consequence. Sheep roam across the heather slopes and the line of the road is marked by tall wooded posts on its western side, a sign of winter blizzards and a lonely road.
Strong northwest breeze provides the cycling equivalent of a broad reach and the climbs pass with reasonable ease. Perhaps I’m just stronger than last year. It’s worth saying that the weather forecast for the weekend and the early part of the week is for strong north to north-westerly winds and reasonably dry conditions. Dropping down towards Castleton the main body of Westerdale Moor and Glaisdale Moor can be seen across the valley of the River Esk.
Steep climb up through Castleton and out onto the moor again, leaving behind the three boys who ran alongside me through the village. The next three miles were the major climb of the leg, gaining nearly 1000 feet in altitude. Slow work, but steady, and I felt strong and confident. This felt like a good start to the next few days. These are grouse moors and a number of the birds whir and clatter around. Several more of their brethren lie by the side of the road, probably the result of ignorance of the world beyond the breeding pens, particularly the vagaries of motor traffic.
At the summit, nearly 1400 feet above the sea, is a cross by the road. I stop to take a photograph, meaning to take more on this ride than I did last year.
Just beyond the cross the view opened up. To the southeast runs Rosedale and to the south lies the great plain around York with the chimneys and cooling towers of four power stations punctuating the horizon.
The road now runs along Blakey Ridge and the gradient, although gradual, pulls the bike forward to an easy 30 mph. From here it’s a spectacular eight miles down the ridge to Hutton-le-Hole (le is a Victorian affectation, according to the information board in the village). The road is good and I easily reach 40 mph, but with the loaded panniers and the gusty crosswind the bike feels twitchy and as if the back end has a mind of its own, so ease down. Very soon I’m in Hutton-le-Hole and quickly find the Barn Hotel on the left, just beyond the Crown Inn.
The Barn Hotel is run by Gordon and is a labyrinth of converted outbuildings. My room is at the front and looks out onto the village green across which is the beck which divides the two parallel streets of the village. It’s very National Park, with a couple of ghastly exceptions. The buildings are of the local golden limestone. Houses have tiled roofs and public buildings slated ones. Apparently these are the Tabular Hills and the flat plateaux on their tops could be the derivation of the allusion.
After a quick shower, Gordon sets out a cream tea for me in the comfortable residents’ lounge; most welcome.
Evening meal in the Crown Inn. The beer is foul – gas-topped Cameron’s Creamy Bitter, so it’s quickly back to the Guinness. Peppered pork to eat; the balance of flavours not quite right, but the meat was well-cooked. The majority of the people in the pub seem to be middle-aged couples, reinforcing the impression of a village of second homes and retirees. Probably the only people who can afford to live here. Later on a table of women get together and their talk is of the problems of farming. Some younger people drift in as the evening gets on and a couple of musicians set up for later, but after I’ve left and gone back to the hotel.
Well, what of tomorrow? At H’s delightful command I have to be in Messingham, south of Scunthorpe, in time for dinner at 5.30. Skirting York via Stamford Bridge and coming down by way of Goole, it looks like 65 to 70 miles. Just about flat all the way and the friendly, following wind (with luck) so should cover the distance in five to six hours in the saddle. No problems.
Should be an easier run to Lowdham and R’s on the following day. Might go via Lincoln and I certainly want to have a look at Southwell Minster. By then, just about halfway to the Channel; let’s find out.
Sunday, 9th September 2001
· Start at Barn Hotel, Hutton-le-Hole 0920
· Finish at Messingham 1550
· Distance 79.4 miles
· Ride time 4 hours, 45 minutes and 29 seconds
· Average speed 16.6 mph
· Maximum speed 41.1 mph
A good eight hours’ sleep and a cooked breakfast at 8.30. Off at 9.20 with a strong tailwind, which was not to ease off all day. The wind made for fast riding, by my standards at least, reaching 22-223 mph on the level.
A few short, stiff climbs over the Howardian Hills, which kindly have their scarp faces to the south. A steady run down to Stamford Bridge, 28 miles from the start, and a pot of tea and hot, buttered teacake in the Cottage Tearooms. The route by Stamford Bridge skirts round to the east of York and follows the line of the River Derwent. At Sutton-upon-Derwent picked up the B1228 for the run down to Howden. At Brind there was a strange conical windmill, unlike the tower mills familiar to Somerset.
From Howden I ran on the A614 parallel to the M62 and its great viaduct over the River Ouse. I crossed at the Boothferry Bridge and took the road to Goole. At Goole the docks are vast, running inland on the Aire & Calder Navigation and the Dutch River.
Lunch in the Kings Head at Swinefleet, a pub set some way back from the road. Ghastly gassy Theakston’s, with the flavour quite ruined. A couple of baps of hot beef from the Sunday roast and a rest for an hour. The girl behind the bar was baffled by the request for a sandwich, but fortunately her mother was acquainted with the term. I think the local vernacular is “pack-up”.
From Swinefleet I ran east along the seawall of the River Ouse and then south along the Trent to Keadby. To the east of the Trent is a long, wooded ridge which dramatically improves the flat landscape. This is otherwise dominated by large industrial plant; chemical works, grain silos and more power stations, not to mention battalions of pylons marching across the land. The oil-fired power station at Keadby stinks of sulphur when I get downwind of it. Across the river at Keadby and follow the A18 into Scunthorpe. Right at the second roundabout and down the Scotter road and across to Messingham, where I easily find Pat’s house and eventually persuade her to let me in. H arrives about an hour later.
The plan for tomorrow is to take the back lanes to Gainsborough where I can cross the Trent and then run south-west towards Retford, Broughton and down to Southwell. Southwell is between 40 and 45 miles at a guess. I’ll give R a ring from Southwell, probably, and that will give me an afternoon to laze about and look at the Minster. This is a change of plan from going down via Lincoln, but there doesn’t seem to be an obviously bike-friendly route from Lincoln to Southwell.
Monday, 10th September 2001
· Start at Messingham 0940
· Finish at Lowdham 1740
· Distance 58.4 miles
· Ride time 3 hours, 52 minutes and 19 seconds
· Average speed 15.1 mph
· Maximum speed 37.0 mph
Before I left Messingham Pat asked me to do some word-processing for her, which I was glad to do. Pushed the key back through the letter flap and away.
A cold morning, with the strong north-westerly still present. Even with that abeam or behind me the wind chill was considerable and my uncovered arms and legs were getting very cold.
I ran straight down the main road to Scotter and then right, to run parallel with the Trent down into Gainsborough. From here the road ran through woods for several miles, which gave some relief from the wind. Noted some pink flowers in the ditches near Scotter, which I’ll have to tell H to look at. Not sure, but they could be marsh mallows.
Gainsborough is bleak and industrial, but the first chance to cross the Trent below Scunthorpe, so that I did. Two miles along the A631 with heavy traffic before I could bear south towards Retford. Rather than take the main road, I follow country lanes, past West Burton power station, through Sturton le Steeple (only a tower, but a pretty one), North Leverton and Grove to emerge on the main road south of Retford. The B6387 takes me across the A1 and down to the ex-mining villages of Broughton and Ollerton.
It’s gone twelve and, because I don’t have to rush, I decide to stop for lunch soon. In Wellow I ignore the garish first pub and turn right onto the land to Eakring. Here the village of Wellow opens out onto a large village green with a 40 foot-high maypole, opposite which is the Old Red Lion, looking so perfect that I immediately pull in.
I chat to the landlord about the iniquities of the modern brewing and pub trades while I have the first decent pint of the trip. Not only decent, but probably the best drop of beer I’ve tasted in some years. Timothy Taylor’s “Landlord”, and the first from the barrel.
At lunch I am joined by a gentleman who is travelling north for a funeral. He is a keen rower and has umpired for many years at the August Bank Holiday regattas on the Wye. He is a friend of John Hartland’s whom I only recall with some trepidation – the impatient, very sporty PE master confronted with the unwilling and un-sporty Patrick.
We talk of many things. Of churches and cathedrals, favourite and less so. Of cycling and his journey on bike to Santiago de la Compestella. One day, perhaps. I do not discover his name, but he retired some ten years ago as County Secretary and Solicitor of Wiltshire County Council. His company made for a perfect lunchtime.
When I emerge I find the weather has changed; it’s sunnier and warmer. The wind is still there, but I wonder if a front has moved over while I’ve been in the pub. Certainly the next few miles south to Southwell were a delight; the rolling hills of this part of Nottinghamshire in considerable contrast to the re-formed spoil heaps around Broughton.
I arrived at Southwell Minster at quarter past three and walk around it. There are unusual scalloping effects at the eaves of the first storey. A square, delightful Norman cathedral. I give R a ring and he answers, just leaving a visit five minutes away, so I’m soon greeted by a familiar grin, even if it’s surrounded by a less-familiar grey hair and beard combo. Change of plan; R’s wife’s PC has packed up and he has to drive the girls around, so he can’t ride the last few miles in. He gives me good directions to his house and I take a long, peaceful visit to the Minster. I am well-greeted by a lady steward who gives me a leaflet and an introduction to the church. The nave is powerful Norman work; muscular round pillars and semi-circular arches over, the latter rising in tiers above. There is a new (1996) Angel Window in the west end which rewards careful attention.
Like all cathedrals there is good modern art to be found and, unlike may, some wonderful ancient glass. The east window has five lights of medieval Venetian glass, showing scenes from the life of Christ. It glows and dances in the bright late summer light. A modern sculpture of the Way of the Cross has a sombre rhythm, cadence and weight about it that draws everyone’s attention. The Cross grows in size in its journey to Calvary, and the figure of Christ is more and more crushed under its weight, and the sins of the world, each time He falls. Christ is nailed onto the cross, but at the crisis, is within it. These were the impressions that spoke to me and my experience.
The chapter house’s delight are the carved leaves around doorways and the seats of the clerics. Astonishingly fine work and entirely naturalistic.
Leaving Southwell I ride out on the lanes to Fiskerton and then to Bleasby. R passes me in the car with his daughters, Lauren and Sophie and we agree on my time of arrival at his place.
Coming back onto the A612 at Bleasby I decide to run straight down the main road to Lowdham rather than loop back again towards the River Trent. In Lowdham I run up the old main road through the village and find R riding down to meet me; with an escort for the last half mile, I soon arrive at High Orchards. R and J have extended and renovated this to make a comfortable home. The delight is the garden, which rises up from the patio at the back of the house, through shapely lawns with herbaceous borders to open out onto vegetable beds, glasshouses and orchards. The whole combines to present the visitor with a sense of great peace and homeliness. These are a happy couple. R and I reminisce quite late after an excellent family meal. We share some Kingston Black brought up from Somerset and get to bed at about quarter past eleven.
Southwards today. The first day without a definite objective, but I hope to reach Towcester or even Buckingham, about eighty miles away.
Tuesday, 11th September 2001
· Start at Lowdham 0955
· Finish at Silverstone 1740
· Distance 85.5 miles
· Ride time 6 hours, 8 minutes and 52 seconds
· Average speed 13.9 mph
· Maximum speed 39.4 mph
After a very comfortable night with R and J, set off across the Trent and south again. Good progress at first, but it became a day of climbs and descents which made for hard work and a slower pace. I crossed into Leicestershire near Saxelby and stopped to enjoy the apples and plums provided for me from R’s garden. By lunchtime I had covered 45 miles and deviated from my planned route to go through Foxton, because it appeared to be on a river.
Lunch at the Shoulder of Mutton in Foxton and a couple of pints of the local Caudle bitter from East Langton. After lunch I visited the canal junction, locks and inclined plane museum before resuming the run.
A few miles south is the site of the Battle of Naseby. At the monument I met two ambulance men from Merseyside who were returning after delivering a patient to Papworth. Oaseby was on a ridge, as was Guilsborough, and Ravensthorpe, and Great Brigton and Little Brigton. This is Althorpe estate country with the house itself to the east of my route. I cross the A45 and M1 near Northampton and run down towards Towcester. I decide that this, some eighty miles from breakfast, would do for the night, but cannot find any accommodation at all, so I carry on to Silverstone. I ask at the White Horse and they direct me to Barbara Cox at the Walnuts, who has a delightful stables conversion providing two rooms for letting. Down to the pub to catch up on the news, which I haven’t heard for a couple of days. I get considerably more than I bargained for, with the devastating and horrible news of the attack on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. The news, which rolls on and on through the evening, is almost impossible to comprehend, even seeing the same clips of horror time and time again, the scale of what has happened is beyond my mental grasp. I remember expressing the hope that one outcome of this disaster might be a more humble foreign policy from the USA in the future.
As for Wednesday, the Chilterns are about 45 miles away, so I may not get much further than Hook in Hampshire. There shouldn’t be a good reason why I can’t get to Hayling Island by Thursday.
Wednesday, 12th September 2001
· Start at Silverstone 0850
· Finish at Reading Station 1330
· Distance 55.4 miles
· Ride time 3 hours, 52 minutes and 17 seconds
· Average speed 14.3 mph
· Maximum speed 33.0 mph
The weather forecast is bad. Strong winds and rain are forecast across the south of England later today with storms for tomorrow. £25 for bed and breakfast at Orchard Lodge (not the Walnuts as I’d thought last night) and after a good breakfast I set off. Past the vast Silverstone circuit complex and the headquarters of the Jordan F1 team and on towards Buckingham. The landscape here is dominated by the Stowe House estate and the last two miles into Buckingham are essentially the grand avenue leading from the town to the house. A young man in a horse-drawn caravan is camped by the side of the avenue, with a sign seeking work in drystone walling or hedging. He’s not going to have much luck around here; all the hedges are mechanically-clipped and there’s not been a drystone wall closer than Derbyshire.
I get slightly off course in Buckingham and onto the Aylesbury road. I work out a route back to the intended one via Steeple Clayton. Through mainly arable land with small woods and oak-studded hedgerows towards Thame. The land is less hilly than in Northants or Notts and I reach Thame at about eleven o’clock. I stop in a tearoom with a Portuguese theme and think about the rest of the ride. I know that I’d need to cover about 105 miles to get to Hayling Island in the day and that the stretch between Reading and the coast would be very hilly. This would be twenty miles more than I’d done in a day, so I might not complete the ride today. I also don’t want to cycle for hours in the pouring rain; this is supposed to be a pleasure trip after all. So it’s decided; I’ll catch the train back to Castle Cary from Reading and leave the last leg for a less rainy day.
South from Thame along the B4012, which is fitted with solar-powered cats’ eyes. Across the A40 and under the M40 and get hit by a heavy shower, which means the first outing for the new jacket. It passes over and dries up, so the jacket goes back in the pannier.
Watlington is a pretty little village and the start for me of the Chilterns. The wooded scarp rises up in front of me and soon the hardest climb so far up through the woods. This run for ten miles or so though the wooded plateau is delightful, but soon I’m into Reading and head for the station.
After waiting all afternoon, I catch the 1701 Penzance train down to Castle Cary. On with the lights and about fifty minutes later I’m home.
I’ve spent a lot of time wondering what this decision (to go home from Reading) says about my fortitude, determination and motivation. The irony is that there were probably less than fifty miles between me and the sea, and it didn’t rain that afternoon after all.
Friday, 14th September 2001
· Start at Reading Station 0915
· Finish at Hayling Island 1338
· Distance 58.7 miles
· Ride time 3 hours, 43 minutes and 46 seconds
· Average speed 15.7 mph
· Maximum speed 37.8 mph
Alright, consider yesterday a rest day. My excuse and I’m sticking to it. The promised gales and storms did appear for Thursday, but the forecast for Friday and Saturday has been much better. After a day back in Street it just seemed the logical thing to do, to finish the ride today. So, on the 0747 from Castle Cary to pick up the traces again at Reading Station.
Arrived at Reading Station and set off at 0915, haring through the tunnels of the inner ring road. Clear blue skies with fleeting clouds driven by a blustery westerly wind. South across the M4 and pick up the B3349 (the old A33) south to Hook. Here I shatter a 35 year old illusion, that Odiham is spelled “Odeum”. Fast roads take me past the air base and into Alton. Out on the Selborne road and start climbing the easy dip slope of the North Downs. The road down the scarp face into Petersfield has stunning, spectacular views through gaps in the trees, all gone by too quickly to stop and photograph. Out of Petersfield and a short, stiffish climb takes me past War Down and a long, chalky valley south to Havant, chasing the railway all the way. The dual carriageway in Havant is clearly signed for Hayling Island and I’m soon crossing the Emsworth Channel onto the island itself.
I push hard and run down the island at 20-23 m.p.h., getting to the English Channel at 1338. I stop for a couple of photographs with the bright sea and the Isle of Wight beyond and on towards the ferry at Eastney. This I miss by no more than a minute, so have a couple of pints of Adnams in the Ferry Boat Inn. The beer is well-kept, but the food is poor. A tuna baked potato at £2.70 manifested itself as: one potato, one pat of butter, one dish of very grey and discoloured tuna mayonnaise (on which a smear of pink sauce is also visible) and one paper napkin. No garnish or any attempt to make it appetising. The tuna looks so awful that I leave it and only eat the potato. When the barman came to clear away he asked if there was a problem. I explained that there was and he gave me an unexpected full refund. (Note: sampling fillings in pubs could be a very interesting exercise.)
The ferry ride to Portsea Island takes less than five minutes and quarter of an hour sees me at Portsmouth and Southsea station trying to persuade the man in the ticket office that I am a passenger, not a problem, just because I happen to have a bicycle with me. The journey back to Castle Cary takes three trains and two delays, with the best service, as usual, on the intercity service.
Well, there it is, 360.3 miles in 24 hours, five minutes and six seconds, averaging fifteen miles an hour. Would have been nice to get under the twenty-four hours.
I am pleased to have completed the whole journey in the week, even if I took a day off and went home. For me, cycling is about travel and arrival, not doing it through all sorts of weathers just because – just because. The two full days were around eighty miles covered, which is much better than last year, as is the average speed. I was also a lot stronger and didn’t have so much trouble with the climbs. I did have better gears this year and was able to use the small crankwheel (28 cogs) for the worst of it.
I still don’t really understand my motivation for riding. I’m not spending time absorbing the countryside nor stopping to explore new places or buildings. For most of the journey it was fairly hard work and sometimes pretty miserable, as in riding south from Towcester wondering whether I’d actually find anywhere to stay in Silverstone. Perhaps the satisfaction is in the completion, the pleasure of arrival rather than the journey itself. This may be why I think in terms of linear routes for tours rather than peregrinations around a region, although Norfolk and Suffolk attract me for meandering.
Looking at the map … two degrees west starts at Berwick-upon-Tweed, the most northerly corner of England, and finishes on the Isle of Purbeck. Another hundred miles, with the option of carrying on to the most southerly point of England in Cornwall and even Land’s End. Now there’s a thought to sustain me through the winter.