Sunday, 30 May 2010

Bath road

Things are fairly hectic around here at the moment so there's not a lot of time for a decent ride. However I did manage a quick spin this morning. In the process I found several more of the milestones that are still in place along the Bath road. I photographed four and added them to OSM.

I can't get over how many milestones from the 18th / early 19th century are still around. Along the old Bath Road there's a bit of a gap in Reading, but between Twyford and Slough almost all of them still seem to be in place. A lot of those across England are listed and shown here. Pictures of those on a short stretch of the Bath road are here.

The old turnpike road from London to Bath lies along what is now the A4, so in itself it's not an ideal road for cycling. But on a Sunday morning things are fairly quiet. Today I joined up part of the A4 with some nice quiet lanes and bits of the Sustrans National Route 4 to make up a pleasant circular ride of about 18 miles.

From "A booklet on the Turnpike Roads around Reading" by Alan Rosevear:

Until the late 17th century the western road out of London was referred to as the Great Road to Bristol, the nation’s most important Atlantic port. However, this emphasis changed after Queen Anne began to patronise Bath as a restorative spa. Through the genius of Beau Nash this inland town to the south east of Bristol, grew to be the premier recreational destination for the wealthy and famous during the 18th century. The only practical way to Bath from London was by road and large numbers of private vehicles and public coaches began to travel along what became known as the Bath Road.
The Bath Road through Berkshire follows essentially the same route described by Ogilby in 1675. The route west from London, through Kensington, Brentford, Hounslow and Slough was over relatively low-lying ground, underlain by London Clay. Although the route did take advantage of stretches of heathland on old river gravels, most of the ground was wet heavy clay. that was cut into deep, water filled ruts in winter and baked to a hard uneven surface in the summer. Along this northern bank of the Thames, minor tributaries such as the Brent and the Coln presented no great barrier to travel. Between Colnbrook and Maidenhead the ground was not so bad and in 1688 Pepys travelling in his private carriage was even able to comment that the way mighty good. The road was carried over the Thames at Maidenhead where a succession of bridges has stood since medieval times. From Maidenhead an exposed area of the Chiltern chalk underlies the southern bank of the Thames provides relatively firm ground for a highway. The roads to Henley and Reading branch along low chalk ridges, avoiding Ashley Hill. The Bath Road takes an easy crossing of the Loddon where it is divided into several branches at Twyford (the twin fords). It then picks a path between the river and the high ground at Woodley to reach the major crossing of the Kennet at Reading. Much of the route is over low-lying gravel terraces close to the rivers except for the section west of Maidenhead. Instead of the route taken later by Brunel’s railway, the Bath Road climbs onto the high ground to go over Knowl Hill. Whether this is a reflection of the route being pulled north along the line of the Oxford Road or was to avoid the deeper parts of the Royal Forest of Bray is not clear.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Participative budgeting update

A couple of months ago I posted on a scheme from our local council which invited us to vote on how we would like to spent £0.5m.

The results are now in. My neighbours clearly share the priorities of all right-thinking people, because more votes were cast to spend £100,000 to improve cycling facilities than for any of the other options. So the council are going to do that. Second in the ranking was £100,000 to plant trees. So they are going to do that as well. Third up was £100,000 for extra grit boxes and a snow plough. So they are going to do that one too.

That sounds like good news, doesn't it? Bear with me a while...

The other preferred options were town centre improvements, sustainable street lighting, traffic calming, heritage projects and improved disabled access. They are not going to do any of those.

Hang on a minute, those first three only add up to £300,000. What about the other £200,000 we were voting on?

Well it seems that they've decided not to proceed with anything else in view of the current financial climate. So the people who opted for not spending the money at all get 40% of what they wanted.

On top of that the council budget book shows that £100,000 was spent on the cycle network in 2009/10. Before the participative budgeting exercise the spending plan for the cycle network had already been reduced from £100,000 to zero in 2010/11. There's another £50,000 that might (or might not) come from developer contributions (section 106).

There are some much bigger spending shifts going on. They've also cut back spending in corporate functions (which I imagine few would fight to defend), and on care for the elderly (which some might). And they've reduced council tax, which I imagine had quite widespread support around here. And it's all confused by the complexities of local government finance, shifts in the size of the population and so on.

The bottom line though, is that they seem to have taken away £100,000 from the cycle network with one hand, then given it back with another. In the process they've managed to establish a lower baseline for next year's budget because the £100,00 they've given back is a one-off exercise. 

As an individual I think they've got their priorities muddled, but councillors would no doubt argue that voters gave them a democratic mandate to reduce spending.

I really wanted to look on this participative budgetary exercise in a positive light. The results of the vote were (more or less) what I wanted to see, but at the end of it I'm left with the feeling that we are having wool pulled over our eyes. I wouldn't make a great advocate for more spending on cycling facilities though, because can't help feeling that with a rising population in the over 85 age group the cuts in elderly care are  going to cause a deal more suffering.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

An early trip to Dibley

Turville (a.k.a. Dibley) was the destination for a rather short ride early today, that I completed before the heat of the day really kicked in.

Somebody once told me that one of the milestones as a "silver" cyclist raises their game is when they realise that they have stopped avoiding hilly routes, and started to seek them out. I'm not sure that I've passed that point yet. But I don't avoid hills to the extent that I used to. I can handle most that I come across around here, though I sometimes route around them on longer rides and I'm certainly not ready to climb the escarpment between Watlington and Christmas Common. On the whole, though, I now tend to chose routes on the basis of interest and novelty rather than gradient.

In Scotland, however, I came to realise that there are hills and there are HILLS. If I'm going to attempt some more adventurous routes in more rugged landscape I really need to get some practice in. Seen in that light my short rides since I got back home have been embarrassingly flat and easy.

It's a hot weekend, and I'm falling behind on a few other tasks, so I wasn't up for a full day of riding today. I wanted to pick a fairly short ride that wasn't too wimpy, so I returned to an old favourite that loops through Marlow, Fingest, Turville and Hambledon.

From home this involves a short climb over Winter Hill to Marlow, then a longer climb north of Marlow. For once nobody passed me on the climb out of Marlow. Admittedly that owed most to the fact that I'd made an early start and there weren't many people around at 8 am on a Sunday morning. Nevertheless I was noticeably faster up the hill, and not puffing and panting to the usual extent. Once that climb is over it's an easy ride over to Turville, then down to Hambledon, where I stopped for a coffee at the village shop.

The route back into Marlow is more spiky, with a couple of quite steep sections. I've promised myself that one day I'll manage to climb those without getting off and pushing, but unfortunately that day is still in the future. I did a little bit better than usual though. By the time I was free-wheeling back down the long hill into Marlow there were dozens of perspiring cyclists puffing and panting in the other direction. If I'd had a couple more hours in bed, or if they had started a couple of hours earlier I'm sure some would have been passing me. But perhaps not all of them.

I'm wiling to make a bit of effort to tackle more demanding hills, but I'm not all that energetic. So from Marlow I chose the longer flatter route home through Bourne End and Cookham rather than climbing back over Winter Hill. After stopping for an ice cream and boat watch at Boulter's lock I arrived home just after 11 am.

When I first discovered this route I used to view it as a full day's outing. Today it took just under four hours for thirty-odd miles (including a couple of decent breaks). Not all that impressive, but an improvement which shows that even silver cyclists make some progress.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Met office widgets

I don't know how long these have been available, but they are rather neat. Anyone can build their own here.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Back to normal

I had a great week in the West of Scotland, cycled 325 miles, saw some glorious scenery and a little bit of wildlife, met some lovely people, ate good food (while drinking - fairly - sensibly), and had fun trying out the Caledonian Sleeper, and the five ferries. Now I'm home, adjusting to normal family life. Having demanded more of my legs than they are used to I'm also nursing a few aches and pains.

Still, I took the bike for a quick spin around the block tonight. It felt very light now that it doesn't have the panniers on the back. I now know a bit more than I did about what a real hill and a real headwind are like, so it did feel like a QUICK spin.

I've also loaded up the GPS traces that I collected last week onto OSM. As a result I've been able to make a few additions to the map. But only a few.

I knew before I went that the whole area is pretty well covered on OSM. It's just as well, because I used Open Cycle Map quite a lot for planning the route. The trip itself confirmed that the level of coverage of the main routes is pretty comprehensive. So there wasn't a lot I could improve. However, I've been able to plug a few gaps. It looks as though Sustrans have made some slight changes to the route of NCR7 around Kilwinning, so I've updated that. And I've tidied up a few minor details. That includes joining up some of the ferry routes with the road network in the hope that will help routing services.

So I want to thank those who had already done the heavy lifting. Their efforts helped me to plan my week,and to find my way around. I hope I've contributed a little bit to helping those who follow.

Now I can start to plan the next trip.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Day-7: To Glasgow

The last proper day of this year's cycling trip took me from Arran to Glasgow along NCR7. This was the day with the highest mileage in the week. With few hills it was a much less demanding ride along a fairly flat route that was quite a relaxing (and unexciting) way to end the week.

On the whole it was a lovely day for a ride, but after breakfast it took me about two hours to reach the ferry from Brodick to Ardrossan. In that time the weather managed to run through several seasons, from a sunny spring morning to a heavy hail storm, and back again.

After the ferry, most of the route from Ardrossan to Kilbirnie is on minor roads, but from Kilbirnie to Glasgow it is mostly on dedicated cycle paths, following an old railway track and parkland for much of the way. Short parts of the route are a bit drab, but most of it is pleasant enough, and for a sunny Saturday afternoon it seemed remarkably quiet. It was not exactly deserted, but it was much less busy than I would have expected.

Apart from the hail, the memory that will stay with me from the day was the encounter with the white van man. Most of the route is straightforward, but I hesitated over a few bits. At one point I was stood by the side of the road checking the map. White van man pulled up, wound down his window and called out "I'm parking there, sonny".

I assume he took me for a teenager (more than forty years too late) and I imagine he got a bit of surprise when I looked up. Forty years ago I suspect that I'd have been just as miffed, but wouldn't really have known how to react. Not much change there.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Day-6: Arran

Today I really wanted better weather than yesterday (which wasn't setting the bar very high). I got a glorious day. It's mostly been sunny with blue skies, little wind, and no rain.

I'd planned a fairly short distance: ten miles to Claonaig for the ferry to Lochranza, then twenty-odd miles round Arran anti-clockwise. Tonight I'm staying in the south of the island.

The usual advice for cycling trips around here seems to be to travel northwards, and circle any islands clockwise to take advantage of the prevailing winds. I'm doing it in the other direction. That's not out of perversity, but because I was keen to start with the overnight sleeper to Fort William. Once that was decided, there wasn't a lot of choice about the overall direction, and for the last couple of days I've been paying the real price for using the sleeper in the face of a steady headwind. Today the wind was much lighter.

I read somewhere that the only advantage in circling these islands anti-clockwise is that it makes the distance shorter, because we ride on the left of the road, and hence anti-clockwise is along the inside of the circle. I reckon that must save several metres on a fifty-five mile circuit of Arran.

There was another advantage for me today, because my route from Lochranza took me round the back road. This runs along the west coast, and is lovely and quiet, but also pretty flat until you reach the southern end of the island.

I took things slowly, with plenty of breaks, but the combination of flat roads, short distance, and little wind still meant that I arrived very early at my destination.

There was plenty of time for a soak in the bath, a coffee and scone for ten-to-fours, and a nice amble through the woods to see an ancient burial mound, before sitting in the bar assembling this, and listening to some surprisingly good jazz as background music. I'm feeling chilled - in a very different way to the way I was feeling chilled at this time yesterday.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Day-5: Loch Awe & Crinan

There's no escaping the reality that today has involved hour after hour of slogging through driving rain against a steady head wind - not exactly ideal weather.

I mostly followed Sustrans route NCR 78. This runs down the west side of Loch Awe, past the prehistoric monuments at Kilmartin, then along the Crinan Canal. South of Ardrishaig the Sustrans route takes a long loop round Kilberry, but I couldn't face another three hours of rain in my face, so I missed that bit out, and headed straight down the A83 to tonight's stop just beyond Tarbert.

From Loch Ederline the route is fairly flat, but along Loch Awe it is another roller-coaster. I can imagine this part of NCR 78 being a delight for anyone on top form, and riding the right bike to handle the hills. However it was well beyond my capabilities, condition, and luggage after a tough day yesterday. Coupled with the wind and rain, I couldn't say I enjoyed it as it should be enjoyed.

That part of the route did, however, give me a high point for the day. I stopped to take a picture along Loch Awe from one of the many peaks in the road. As I was getting the camera out, a red squirrel peeped from behind this tree, then continued to scurry up and down. I managed to capture it in a couple of pictures. It's not exactly Simon King, I know, but a treat on a challenging day.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Day-4: Mull

On paper the plan for today looked straightforward. Starting in Tobermory I would follow the west coast through Dervaig, Calgary, and Kilninian then cross the island to Salen, and down to Craignure in time for the 3pm ferry to Oban.

I expected it to be a bit of a challenge, but at the planning stage six hours to cover 45 miles seemed ample to allow a few breaks. Faced with reality, yesterday's slow pace on hilly roads was the first wake up call, and a more detailed look at the map over breakfast this morning persuaded me that I needed a fall-back plan.

So I divided the route into sections, and worked out that if I covered the first section in an hour and a half I could still make the ferry. If I did it in an hour I would have time to spare. It actually took me nearly two hours. The next section was no better. So by the third section I had given up the original plan, and I was beginning to wonder what to do if I missed the 5pm ferry.

Then after 25 miles of roller-coaster the crinkles in the road levelled out. I don't know what got into me, but I covered the last 20 miles at a cracking pace, and arrived half an hour early for the 3pm ferry. There was enough time to sample the first Irn Bru I had tasted in many years - which was possibly a mistake.

From Oban I followed National Cycle route 78 up Glen Lonan, It's a lovely route. There's a bit of a climb out of Oban, but after that it's very gentle. Which was just what I needed after a strenuous time earlier in the day.

The weather was cool, but otherwise perfect, and I think I've managed to collect GPS traces of a few roads that haven't yet been charted on OSM.

All very satisfying.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Day-3: Ardnamurchan

Two days ago the forecast for today was sleet. As I ate breakfast this morning the weather changed from sun to rain to sun and back to rain again. As I set off it was drizzling. After a few miles I reached Loch Sunart, and the sun was shining again. It stayed that way for most of the day.

The planned highlight of the day was to reach Ardnamurchan lighthouse, at the most westerly point of mainland Britain, but the unexpected highlight was spending ten minutes watching an eagle swirling over the road near Loch Mudle.

At the end of the day, the second ferry of the trip brought me to Tobermory, ready for a day on Mull tomorrow.

Day-2: Moidart

From Fort William I followed the road along the south side of Loch Eil to Glenfinnan (the site, in chronological order, where Bonnie Prince Charlie's supporters gathered for the '45 rebellion, an outstanding concrete viaduct, and a filming location for Harry Potter). Then further west to Glenuig and south past Loch Moidart.

The rain threatened on and off for most of the day, but it stayed away for all but the last ten minutes. As far as I can make out nobody around here has much faith in the official forecast, and certainly nobody I asked was prepared to commit their own opinion on what to expect. The general view seems to be that anything to do with the weather is pretty much unpredictable.

Having started off flat, the roads gradually got more hilly, which could be viewed as a thoughtful way of breaking me in slowly. By the end of the day I was travelling at a pace that allowed me to fully savour the dramatic landscapes. Or to put it another way, I was getting off and pushing up hills quite a lot. Of course if I hadn't packed for the different weather possibilities the bike would weigh less.

So if they fixed the weather and the hills it would be just like home?

Not exactly.

On the whole, even the most minor roads have good surfaces. There is very little traffic, and drivers are friendly and cooperative. If they reach a passing place first, they will wait for you. If you wait for them, they wave to say thank you. I ride past people in gardens who call out good morning, and expect a reply. On top of which there are constantly changing views of lochs, the sea, and distant mountains.

Day-1: Beam me up

The first stage of my cycling trip this year was taking the Caledonian Sleeper from Euston to Fort William.

I had decided to ride the thirty-odd miles from home to Euston, and opted for the simplest route - which pretty much involves a straight line through Ealing and Shepherds Bush, then down Bayswater Road and Euston Road. Having allowed spare time for virtually every conceivable contingency I arrived at Euston far too early.

They split the sleeper at some point in the middle of the night, so bicycles have to be carefully stowed and labelled. I didn't like the idea of ending up in Fort William with the bike in Aberdeen. Perhaps it was worrying about that, perhaps it was the haggis, or perhaps it was the movement of the train, but I had a restless night, and got up at about 6:00 as we were leaving Glasgow. So I spent three hours watching the scenery glide by and become more dramatic as we worked north.

We arrived at Fort William on schedule. The passenger ferry to Camusnagaul leaves a few hundred yards outside the station. From there I was in another world.

It's the Scotrail equivalent of teleportation.

At one point I was pedalling madly to avoid buses and taxis in Euston Road. Then I had a few hours restless sleep. Then I was gliding along a single-track road where my own tyres were making more noise than anything except the waves lapping on the shore of the loch.

It's all a bit disorientating (in a nice way). How it will feel on re-entry doesn't bear thinking about. So I won't.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Parliament and how it works

In preparation for tomorrow's trip, I needed to go and get my pannier bags out of the loft. While I was looking for them I came across an old set of "The Children's Encyclopedia" that used to belong to my father. I started browsing through it (like you do) and came across an article called "Parliament, and how it works". I can't see when this was published, but it must have been in the 1920's. Here are some extracts that might prove useful in light of current events. I've scanned the whole piece, and stuck it here.

In all countries and in all ages men have been glad to submit to the rule of the best of their kind. The savage tribe found in some wise and doughty warrior a commander who could lead them in war and guide them in peace. Still today, in the most advanced civilisations, men instinctively look for leadership, and it is rarely that in time of trial a nation fails to find some man of distinction who seems to the great majority to embody the nation's spirit. As the cricket club finds its captain, so the tribe or nation finds its chieftain.

Members of  Parliament receive £400 a year, which enables poor men to sit in the house of commons.... 
A member of parliament who does his work thoroughly has a busy and exhausting time.... In practice some members work very hard and others very little; but forty-eight hours in a day would not be enough to get through all the work a member finds waiting for him.

The King's Government is a body of Members of Parliament chosen by the Prime minister, who is chosen by the King because he is the representative of the majority of the people who cast their votes. The Prime Minister is thus an exceedingly important man, and his powers are enormous.... It is impossible to exaggerate the degree of responsibility which rests on him, and all his waking hours are filled with anxieties.

I never did find the pannier bags. My wife uncovered them eventually, in the bottom of the wardrobe.

Real men don't read instructions

My old bike had schrader valves, and the new bike has presta valves. I've known this for the last few weeks, without really thinking about it. Tomorrow though, I'm setting off on a week's cycling trip, and it occurred to me that I had never tried to pump up a tyre with a presta valve. Sod's law says that a puncture always happens at the worst possible time, and I thought it would be better to have a trial run in the back garden, on a dry afternoon, rather than on a remote road in the dark and rain.

I already knew that I would have to release the little lock nut on the valve, and I knew that my floor pump has a dual head that fits both types of valve. So far so good - all that worked fine. Then I tried using the little frame pump that I take with me on the bike, and discovered that the head only fitted a schrader valve.

I've been riding around for weeks carrying a pump that doesn't fit, which is pretty dumb. Not only dumb, but arrogant as well. I tend to suffer from the attitude that real men don't need the instructions. Like lifeboats on the Titanic, instructions are intended for women and children first. So when I fitted the pump to the bike I had just unwrapped it, bolted it on and thrown the packaging away without looking at it.

Thank goodness for the internet. The solution is far from obvious, but eventually I found the answer. It turns out that if you unscrew the head of the pump, you can squeeze out a rubber plug, and remove a little plastic gizmo that sits underneath it. You then flip both the other way round, and reassemble it all.

To much relief it now works fine. I hope I don't get a puncture next week, but if I do I will be able to ignore how dumb I can be, and congratulate myself on my foresight. Particularly if it happens in the cold and dark and wet.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Nether Winchenden

When I started chasing down famous churches that I could reach on the bike it seemed unrealistic to try and reach more than a dozen. I did that many in the first year. In the second year I reached another dozen, plus one I'd missed - to bring the running total to 25. This year I planned to reach another 15 and take the total to 40. Today I completed this year's list.

St Nicholas, in Nether Winchenden was the destination.

There's part of me that wants to organise things so that I end each of these tranches on some kind of climax, with a particularly impressive destination, some unexpected revelation, or deep insight in to the human condition.

That would be over-engineering it all though. There is nothing dramatic I can see about Nether Winchenden. I quite like the name of the village, the box pews in the church are very pleasant, and they were offering cream teas in the village for Bank Holiday Monday. But in reality the distinctive thing about the visit was seeing a nice old country church in a pleasant village.

Unfortunately I didn't have enough time to sample the cream teas, but I enjoyed 20 minutes sitting in the churchyard, eating my sandwich, and listening to the birds.

I reckon that's how things should be.

It wasn't an ideal day for a ride. We have had a lot of weather for this time of year, with a mix of sunny periods, scattered showers, and a couple of hail storms. There was a strong blustery head wind all the way out, which was a bit of a pain, but it helped move me along on the way back.

So the only dramatic revelation I can offer is that I seem to have discovered quite an effective scheme for getting myself out exploring on the bike. Rather than trying to invent a new system, I suspect I'll just continue along the same lines for bit longer.

The map of the first 40 is here

Sunday, 2 May 2010

April roundup

At the end of April, four months into the year, I had covered 1,232 miles out of an annual goal of 3,759 miles. Give or take a mile or two, that's a third of my goal in a third of the year. I've ridden further in the first four months of this year than I did in the first four months of last year, or the year before. I'm more or less back on track.

My Eddington number currently stands at 44 and is slowly creeping up. It would be nice to have seen more progress by now, but looking over the longer term I particularly need to concentrate on longer rides, and I'm pleased with the progress I'm making on rides of more than 60 miles.

I've only got one famous church left to visit on my list for this year. That's ahead of where I expected to be by his stage. The only concern in that area is whether I should have set myself a more ambitious goal. It looks as though I might be able to reach another 11 before the end of this year and take the tally all the way up to 50.

In summary it was a pretty flaky start to the year, but things have picked up over the last month. The risk is that I get knocked back by a hot summer or wet autumn. The trick, I suppose, is to build up a buffer by sustaining the pace that I set in April for a little bit longer.