Category Archives: Touring

First Ride of the Year

I got myself out  on my bike for the first time this year. Up ’till now the weather has been pretty miserable on my days off and riding in the rain goes against Rule#2 in my Rules for the over Sixties.

The original Rules as formulated by The Velominati are fine but I feel that there needs to be addenda/exceptions to them for us more mature cyclists. For example Rule#9

Rule #9
If you are out riding in bad weather, it means you are a badass. Period.
Fair-weather riding is a luxury reserved for Sunday afternoons and wide boulevards. Those who ride in foul weather – be it cold, wet, or inordinately hot – are members of a special club of riders who, on the morning of a big ride, pull back the curtain to check the weather and, upon seeing rain falling from the skies, allow a wry smile to spread across their face. This is a rider who loves the work.

This is fine for 25 year old Belgians or people called Sean with the surname Kelly or Yates (or wannabes). For us over sixties (and Sean Kelly joins us this year), if we haven’t proved ourselves to be badass by now, well it’s not going to happen. So my Rule#2 overrides Rule #9 if you are over sixty:

OS Rule#2 Riding in the rain is not compulsory. 

If you have read David Millar’s book The Racer you will find that certain more mature professionals apply this rule as well.

Rule #1 in case you haven’t read some of my previous posts is:

OS Rule#1 If you have run out of gears when climbing a hill it is acceptable to get off and push – especially if the alternative is a heart attack.

Back to my ride. I wasn’t planning on going very far, and I don’t really do fast any more, just a gentle little ride up to Banstead and back possibly stopping for a coffee. It is about 20km and would take about an hour (excluding the coffee stop). The weather was OK, a bit grey, but dry when I set out. I had done less than 1km when it started raining lightly. By the time that I reached the top of Sandy Lane it was tipping it down, so I invoked OS Rule#2. I took a little loop though some back streets which took me back down to the bottom of Sandy Lane on my way back home.

By the time I was back at the bottom of Sandy Lane It had stopped raining, so OS Rule#2 no longer applied. I thought I might as well do the ride as planned. By the time I was at the top of Sandy Lane again it was once more coming down like stair rods. I want back round the little loop again asking the weather to make its blooming mind up. Once more by the time I reached the bottom of Sandy Lane the rain had stopped. In fact the sun was trying to make an appearance. By this time, if I had gone up to Banstead, it would have been dark by the time I got home so I decided on a little 8 km loop round by Oaks park instead.

It wasn’t the most spectacular of bike rides but as the plate my sister gave us as a Christmas present says, “You are only ever a bike ride away from a good mood.”

The ride is on Strava if you want to see where I got to.



Cycling in Dorset: Part 3

 On the Friday,after we had returned from our Thomas Hardy day out around Dorchester, I decided I wanted to explore a bit more of NCR26.


As we had ridden most of the route south of Cattistock I decided to head north to see what was there. It was a little bit easier ride than the last two, all of the ride was on tarmac and there were no super long super steep hills. It was still up and down a bit though.

The views weren’t quite as spectacular as the other rides because I stuck to the valley road, but there were a few interesting things on the way. I came across this sign mounted on a bridge just north of Rampisham:

So I hope leaning my bike against the bridge while I took the photo didn’t injure it.

I decided that I wanted to do about an hour, which on my touring bike at my current state of fitness is about 20 km or 12½ miles if you still use imperial. However please see

Rule 24

  1. Rule #24
    Speeds and distances shall be referred to and measured in kilometers.

    This includes while discussing cycling in the workplace with your non-cycling coworkers, serving to further mystify our sport in the web of their Neanderthalic cognitive capabilities. As the confused expression spreads across their unibrowed faces, casually mention your shaved legs. All of cycling’s monuments are measured in the metric system and as such the English system is forbidden.

The ride itself was enjoyable but as Grace decided to stay home I didn’t have anyone to pace me up the hills. I stopped on the way back to take a few photos of the Frome Valley.

Frome Valley
Frome Valley
Frome Valley
Thomas Hardy’s Cottage

Cycling in Dorset: Part 2

Our second cycling adventure took us on a 33 km loop to the east of Cattistock, taking in Cerne Abbas and Charminster. Still no episcopal recommendations, but Cerne Abbas grew up around the Benedictine monastery Cerne Abbey and the church at Charminster must have been at least of moderate importance in medieval times to warrant the title “minster” .

On to the ride:

Cerne CerneElv

Again there were some  long and steep hills involved, more or less right from the start of the ride. With this ride however all the killer hills were in the first third of the ride. I’m not sure if that made it easier or not.

At the foot of the first descent there was a ford. Fords always present me with a dilemma when I am on the bike, do I ride through at full speed spraying water everywhere, or should I stop and assess the ford before either riding, through walking through or pushing the bike across the footbridge. Fords can be deeper than you might think and the underwater surface can also be more slimy than you might thing, both of which can lead to you becoming wetter than you might think. In the end Grace had stopped and decided that the footbridge was the better option.

So it was onwards and upwards towards Cerne Abbas. We decided to forgo the advice of the guy who showed us into the cottage on Saturday. He told us that there was a very good pub in Sydling St Nicholas should we need sustenance for the climb up and over to Cerne. However by the time we arrived in Cerne it was time for lunch. We stopped at Abbots Tea Rooms where they do a really good lunch, reasonably priced, at least to someone used to paying London prices. Opposite the tea room was this place which raised a question in my mind –

So how long has this been
So how long has this been “The New Inn”

The main thing that Cerne Abbas is known for is the “Cerne Giant”, a hillside chalk carving of a naked man brandishing a large weapon as well as an outsized club. The origins of the Giant are obscure. It looks as if it should be an ancient fertility symbol, but there is no record of it having existed before the c17th. This has led to speculation that it was originally intended to be a political satire on Oliver Cromwell, or possibly made by the c17th equivalent of a bunch of drunken Young Farmers or students. Cerne Abbas was famous for its brewing industry in the past.

There are many local legends associated with the Giant. One says that if a couple are having problems conceiving then they should make love on the Giant’s penis to guarantee conception.

We finished our lunch and it was onwards and upwards yet again. This time up Piddle Lane (as opposed to Cow Poo Alley).

Many places in this part of Dorset have Piddle as part of their name; Piddlehinton or Piddletrenthide for example. In some cases the  Victorians bowdlerised Piddle to Puddle, as in Tolpuddle or Puddletown, though in the latter case I have it on good authority that the locals still refer to it as Piddletown. This is because the River Piddle runs along the valley that we were climbing up and over the ridge to.

From the top of the ridge it was a long and fairly fast drop down to Charninster. The map indicated an unclassified road  , so I did not expect the amount of traffic that we encountered. The road was quite wide (a full two lanes) for an unclassified road so it wasn’t particularly dangerous, but we were both quite glad to get away from the traffic when we got to Charminster.

The last leg of the journey was back up the Frome valley to Cattistock following National Cycle Route 26. The part the we followed had varied sections, from a cycle path along a busy “A” road, a cycle path that was too narrow to allow two bikes to pass without at least one of them stopping, to reasonably well surfaced minor roads with little to no traffic, to farm tracks and one section through a wood that could probably be best described as moderately technical single track – well it was if you were on a road bike. The signage was reasonably easy to follow, though in a few places vegetation obscured it. However I must admit that my Garmin did help with finding the way. In short the eight mile section had everything that I love and hate about the National Cycle Network. At least the off-road sections made sense on this route, unlike some where the route deviates from a perfectly good, lightly trafficked road to take you down an overgrown goat track only to bring you back onto the self-same road about two miles later.

Rant over.

All in all it was an other great ride in stunning Dorset countryside. The hills are steep, but they are worth the effort,  and anyway you can always push up (or buy an e-bike).

Cycling in Dorset; Part 1

Last week we were in Dorset cycling (among other things). My post on Cycling in Suffolk mentioned that the former Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich wrote a book on cycling in the county. Sadly I can find no such Episcopal recommendations for Dorset. Perhaps because the area, or least the area we were in doesn’t lend itself to cycling on a typical vicar’s (or bishop’s) bike.

The first route we did started and finished in Cattistock (where we are staying) In fact all the routes started and finished in Cattistock

Probably the main difference between Dorset and Suffolk is that Dorset has hills. It was the first one that I noticed anyway. The ride started off innocently enough, just a gentle meander down to Maiden Newton following NCR 26. It was climbing out of the Frome valley that reality hit home. A wall suddenly appeared in front of me. A hill about 1.5 km in length with gradients up to 15% and generally averaging over 10%.

I had my sixtieth birthday a few weeks ago. I have decided that now I am sixty I can get off my bike and push if I think that a hill is too hard. So about half way up I concluded that I had a choice; I could get off and push, or have a heart attack. I got off and pushed.

imageHowever the view, when I got to the top was worth the effort.

Grace of course was already at the top waiting for me. The joys of having an e-bike.

The next section of the ride followed a Roman road along the ridge so we had brilliant views all the way along. The route continued going up and down, fairly steeply, but not quite as dramatically as the first hill. We would descend into wooded valleys then climb out to the open downs. Until we got to a place called Mount Pleasant.
Just down the lane I could see a tractor. Not a problem, modern tractors go about 30 to 40 m.p.h. then I noticed that we were catching it quite quickly. I also noticed that the road conditions had changed to slippery and slightly smelly. It, and its driver, were herding about sixty cows to the farm for milking. I always irks me to push down hill, but we didn’t really have much choice. Constantly riding on the brakes with the road surface well lubricated with cow poo would almost certainly have ended with one or both of us locking a wheel and ending up in it.

After the cows turned off to the milking parlour I thought it would be plain sailing, albeit up a reasonably steep hill. However just before the start of the hill a woman in a very old four-wheel drive vehicle came past us trailing a cloud of dense black smoke. We decide to let her go, although I thought that I preferred the exhaust from the cows to the exhaust from her vehicle.Grace set off up the hill, which was narrow and fairly steep with a promise to wait for me at the top.I was about half way up and thinking that I might get away without invoking my sixtieth birthday resolution, when a van appeared behind me. There was no room to overtake so I pulled over to let it past and discovered that the hill was too steep to get started again, so I had to push. Up ahead I noticed that Grace and the FWD appeared to have come to a halt as well, the van that had just passed me stopped as well. The hill was too much for the FWD and it didn’t even have the excuse of being over sixty. We managed to squeeze by and pushed on up the hill to where it was less steep and carried on, leaving the van and the FWD to negotiate their way past each other.

The rest of the ride was fairly uneventful, a downhill (mostly) run along the Frome valley to Cattistock. Despite the cows and the FWD it was a lovely ride, with some great scenery. The only minor problem was that there was nowhere to stop for a cup of tea or a pint. The only tea room  and the only pub on the route were in Cattistock (though there are probably pubs and tea rooms in Maiden Newton I wasn’t looking for one at that stage of the ride).

The Cattistock Tea Room, however does a good cup of tea and excellent fruit cake.

Cycling in Suffolk

The British comedian Hugh Dennis’ father John was until 2006 the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich. Hugh Dennis was once asked if his father had ever been considered for the post of Archbishop of Canterbury. He replied;
“I wouldn’t have thought so. To become Archbish you have to write weighty theological tomes with titles like ‘Scripture and the Authority of God’ or ‘Reimagining the Eucharist in the Light of Women Bishops’. To the best of my knowledge the only book that dad had published was called ‘Bicycle Rides in Suffolk’.”

If that was the only book the Most Reverend John Dennis wrote then he chose his subject well.

As we already knew, but discovered again, Suffolk is a lovely county to go cycling in. The roads are quiet and while it is not flat, climbs tend to be short, so with 30 seconds to a minute’s effort you are over them. (Especially if you have an e-bike like some people but not me) Most villages have pub, and if that isn’t your choice of refreshment then there are plenty of tea rooms and farm shops that also sell tea and cake. This makes it a county suitable for tourers and pootlers rather than hard-riding col bashers. Grace and I fall into the touring and pootling category, so we love the place.
I’m not sure why I did it, but a while ago I joined the M.A.M.I.L.’s* website of choice Strava. I doubt that I will ever be top dog on any of the sections, but you can compare yourself with previous efforts and it also records the routes that you covered.

The rides we did:
Around the Saints
Wandering from Waldringfield

*Middle Aged Man In Lycra

Bike ride to Scotland: Part 7 Duns to Wallington (the easy way)

Day 7 – 10/05/2003 (Saturday) Duns to Wallington

There are no maps or elevation profiles for today’s journey. There was also very little cycling involved.

I needed to be at Heathrow by 11 o’clock on Sunday the 11th to collect Mrs johnm55 after her trip to Canada. (I also needed to be back at work at 8 o’clock on Monday the 12th). Cycling back home to Wallington unfortunately wasn’t an option. I could have probably thought up an excuse for not being back at work, but not picking Mrs johnm55 up at the airport…. I don’t like to think of the possible consequences.

As I had stayed the night with my sister and her husband, we loaded the bike back into the pick-up for the trip back to Duns to say cheerio to mum. My sister then took me down to Berwick to catch the train back to London. I put the bike in the guard’s van and settled down to make the return journey in fewer hours than it had taken me days to cycle up.

The East Coast Mainline follows roughly the same route as my bike trip, so as we flashed past various places I had been on the bike I took some photos through the window of the train.

The Tyne Bridges

The Angel of the North

York Minster – it is there honest

Having ate, drank and dozed my way back to London, I wheeled the bike out of King’s Cross Station onto the Euston Road ready to ride back home to Wallington. But… after a week of cycling on quiet back roads with about three cars per hour passing me, I decided that dicing with death and London traffic could wait for another day. So I wheeled the bike back to the station and onto the Thameslink train to East Croydon

The Galaxy on the train

I did have to cycle back from East Croydon, but I was up to that by the time I arrived.

The next morning I was up bright and early to make sure that I was at Heathrow in time to pick up a jet-lagged wife back from Toronto. We both had a good week.

Bike ride to Scotland: Part 6 Wooler to Duns

Day 6 – 09/05/2003 (Friday) Wooler to Duns

Friday morning dawned bright and clear over Wooler. After a breakfast of porridge and toast I set off on the last leg of the trek to Duns (and what should have been last night’s evening meal). I was now back in the part of the world that I grew up in, on roads that I cycled long ago.

It was an easy day, just under thirty miles to ride and while it wasn’t flat there were no serious hills or wind to contend with. I decided to take the back road via Ford and Etal crossing the Tweed into Scotland at Norham. For the first part of the journey (as far as Norham) I followed National Cycle Route 68 although I ignored the off-road bits. Once you climb out of the valley of the River Till there are spectacular views across to the Cheviot Hills. Just over half way I crossed the Tweed into Scotland.

Writing about the Tweed and the Till reminded me of a dark little poem that I learned at school. The Battle of Flodden was fought near here and I think that the poem has its origin in the aftermath of battle.

Says Tweed tae Till,
“Why dae ye rin sae still?”
Says Till tae Tweed,
“Though ye rin wi’ speed,
whaer ye droon ae man
A droon twa”.

I was now in Scotland and took a photo of my bike to prove it

I forgot to take a picture of Norham Castle, so you will have to make do with Turner’s take on the scene.

After just over an hour’s ride through the rolling Berwickshire countryside I had reached my destination

By the time I had finished my shower and changed out of my cycling gear, Mum had lunch ready for me. It was a satisfying feeling to sit down to lunch knowing that I had cycled all the way from London to eat it. Later on my sister turned up with the pick-up to take Mum and I down to her house for dinner. I could have cycled there, it’s not much more than fifteen miles, but I was back wearing my normal clothes and I had done what I set out to do, so I put the bike in the back of the pick-up. Later on my brother and his wife turned up and we had a bit of a family reunion over my sister’s excellent food and probably a wee bit too much wine.

Bike ride to Scotland: Part 5 Egglestone to Wooler

Day 5 – 08/05/2003 (Thursday) Egglestone to Wooler

The Moorcock Inn does a very good breakfast, but it also lies about its location. If you click-through to their website you will see its address given as Hilltop, Egglestone. This is a lie, it is nowhere near the top of the hill. Well, I suppose the road does go down slightly for the first half mile or so, but then it goes up and keeps going up, sometimes alarmingly steeply for a long, long time.

On top of that my nemesis of a couple of days ago, the wind, was back with a vengeance. The first ten miles from “Hilltop” over the real top of the hill and down to Stanhope took well over an hour. It was so windy I was having to pedal going down a 10% slope to keep my speed up. The scenery was spectacular, and I had plenty of time to appreciate it, especially on the way up.

I made an executive decision in Stanhope and abandoned my original route over the hills via Hexham and Rothbury and took the wind and incline assisted route down the Wear valley which would eventually take me to Newcastle. It helped for a while. Going down the valley with the wind behind me I probably averaged over 30 km/hour for the first half-hour or so, but eventually I had to get out of the Wear Valley and into the Tyne. That meant more hills, though not as long and steep and more wind in my face, though not as strong.

My route now took me into Newcastle. The last time I had been to Newcastle was back in my days as an Engineer Cadet at South Shields Marine and Technical College. That was about thirty years ago. I would probably have saved myself about five or six miles if I had crossed the Tyne at one of the up river bridges. I decided that having made this detour through Newcastle that I might as well make a further detour and cross the Tyne on the Millennium Cycle Bridge.

Newcastle has changed a bit since my student days. The Quayside area which was derelict coal staithes and warehouses is now all smarted up and trendy. The roads also seem to have altered. It took me a while to find a way out that didn’t involve an urban motorway, but I eventually made it onto the back roads from Ponteland to Morpeth.

At this point my intention was still to make it to Duns today, but time was getting on and I still had over fifty miles to go. I decided that going straight up the main road from Morpeth to Coldstream would be quicker than the back roads. The A697 isn’t usually too busy because most of the north bound traffic goes up the A1.

There was one memorable point on the journey. I was descending in to a valley,I think it was the Coquet, and I looked across and thought to my self, the climb out the other side can’t be as steep as it looks, it must be foreshortening. The I looked down at my computer and saw it reading 85km/h and thought maybe it is as steep as it looks.

By the time I was getting up to Wooler it was around seven in the evening. There were still at least two hours in the saddle to get to Duns. I decided to stay the night at the Wooler Youth Hostel. I called my mum to say that I wouldn’t make it that night, but she could have my lunch ready for me the next day if she wanted. My sister offered to come and collect me and the bike, but the idea was to cycle up to Duns not just to get there, so I said thanks, but no thanks and had a night on the town in Wooler.

< Part 4 York to Egglestone

Bike ride to Scotland: Part 4 York to Eggleston

Day 3 – 07/05/2003 (Wednesday) York to Egglestone

At least the wind died down today, or if there was any it was helpful, but we did find some hills. After two days in the flat-lands it was quite pleasant to be somewhere with contours.
Actually the first two-thirds of the trip was reasonably flat. I was climbing steadily and there were hills to my left and right but the roads were quiet (excluding the first few km up the A19) and it was pleasant cycling. It was only after Richmond, going on into Co. Durham that it became necessary to shift into the Granny Ring now and then.
Continue reading Bike ride to Scotland: Part 4 York to Eggleston