Sunday, 29 August 2010

Chilterns Cycleway-ish

I'm a bit behind my planned mileage at the moment, and there's a temptation to pick flat routes where all the effort goes into burning up the miles, rather than anything else.

I need to work on handling hills though, so I'm trying to resist the temptation to stay on the flat, and today I decided to try out parts of the Chilterns Cycleway that recently appeared on Open Street Map.

My original plan was to start in Henley, and work my way clockwise around the Chilterns Cycleway to Stokenchurch, then head home and leave the next section for another day.

However I was slow getting started, and the weather wasn't brilliant. So by the time I got to Stoke Row I was running late. It was windy and wet.

If  I had stuck to the original plan I would have dropped down to Ipsden and Ewelme, then I would have had to climb back up the escarpment to Christmas Common. In principle I was up for a bit of hill climbing, but in practice I wanted the option of cutting things short if the weather didn't improve. So I left the published route and continued north along the top of the escarpment, to Christmas Common.

Road between Northend & Turville
By then the weather had improved again. The rain had stopped, the sun was out, and while it was still windy, it wasn't the steady head wind that I had been battling earlier. So it was a glorious run down one of my favourite bits of road - Holloway Lane, between Northend and Turville.

I then continued to Hambleden and stopped for coffee and a lovely piece of flapjack in the churchyard. After Hambleden my normal route home gets a bit spiky. I've been promising myself for ages that one day I would manage these hills without getting off and pushing. Today was the first day I have actually achieved it. That is a bit of a milestone, and it raises the bar for the next time I do this route. To some extent it made up for skipping the tougher hills earlier.

A bit further on about eight Red Kites were circling overhead as someone ploughed the fields. That's probably not a hugely unusual sight around here any more, but it was pretty impressive just the same.

In summary, things didn't quite go to plan, but total distance of 55 miles moves the numbers along a bit. More importantly I got in a bit of practice at hills, there were some memorable moments, and there is plenty more of the Chiltern Cycle Route to explore.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Sonning Cutting on Osmarender

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Following a bit of tweaking after last week's visit.This is a very minor contribution to some lovely detail that others have provided in Reading. To my eyes the general area looks better on Mapnik, and best on the Open Cycle Map, but neither of those picks out the railway cutting.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Should you take bananas on a bike ride?

I ask myself:
  • Would bananas appreciate spinning almost effortlessly along country lanes; with the feeling that everything is flowing smoothly, hedgerows sliding past, and hardly any sound except the birds, and the tyres on the road?
  • Would bananas gain a sense of satisfaction from covering 68 miles, lifting the Eddington number to 47, and bringing the annual mileage a bit closer to being back on plan?
  • Would bananas help to navigate a couple of complicated bits of route, that could have saved a few miles if I hadn't got muddled?
  • Would bananas have been interested in visiting an early Georgian church, that turned out to be locked when we got there?
  • Would bananas have been suitably impressed by the size and defences of the Roman town of Calleva at Silchester, not to mention the size and security measures at the Atomic Weapons Establishment in nearby Aldermaston.
  • When I drifted off my planned route, I ended up embroiled in the roadworks at the A33 / M4 Junction 11. Would bananas have understood that the point where the plan falls apart is the point where the real adventure begins, and enjoyed discovering a new route into Reading down the "wrong" side of the canal?
  • Would bananas have helped to lift the bike over the extended barriers in Reading that are supposed to discourage motorbikes from using the towpath. I don't know how effectively they discourage motorbikes, but they are an almost completely effective deterrent to a touring bike.
  • Would bananas feel a sense of fellowship with the other cyclists who are out enjoying a day in the country, including the man who was cycling home from a meeting of Harley Davidson enthusiasts?

In each case, I think the answer is no.

I don't think bananas are really cut out for a day like today. They wouldn't enjoy it. To take one with me would have been cruel. I'm glad I left them all sitting in the fruit bowl. It was an act of kindness, not the mistake that some people might have thought.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Sonning Cutting

I didn't feel much like going for a ride at the end of the day yesterday. I felt tired, and the weather wasn't ideal. But I needed to get out.

I decided to head west, because there are several different options for cutting the ride short, and coming home early. By the time I had covered five miles though, I felt like carrying on, despite a head wind. I ended up going through Twyford, and part way along the A4, to reach Sonning Cutting.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Acting lesson

You have 5 seconds to silently express the following emotions through the windscreen of a large black 4x4 coming up the motorway slip-road, straight towards me....

  1. I've had a rotten day...
  2. ...but I'll soon be home
  3. Crikey, I didn't notice that cyclist on the roundabout
  4. OMG, I'm going too fast, and I'm going to plough straight into him
  5. Thank goodness, he's getting out of the way
  6. Blimey, that was a bit close for comfort
  7. Sorry, mate, I didn't see you
In retrospect it was almost funny, but it could have been a real mess.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Trafalgar Way Route Options

Larger map here

Following on from the previous post, this shows two different suggestions of cycle routes from Falmouth to London. The blue line is taken from Bike Route Toaster, and the black one from Open Street Map.

Bike Route Toaster seems to be chosing the more interesting way for the final leg, but I don't have time to compare them properly at the moment (I'm supposed to be working, but I couldn't resist experimenting). I will take a proper look later. Meanwhile I would be interested in comments from anyone who knows the areas they pass through. The Bike Route Toaster route is 277 miles, and the OSM one is 447.02km (278 miles) - so not much difference in total distance. (This is the OSM "recommended" route. The "shortest" route is about ten miles shorter).

I don't have a map of the original route, but according to Wikipedia it went from Falmouth through Truro, Bodmin, Launceston, Oakhampton, Exeter, Honiton, Axminster, Bridport, Dorchester, Blandford, Woodyates, Salisbury, Andover, Overton, Basingstoke, Bagshot, Staines, and Hounslow to the Admiralty, and was 271 miles long. It sounds like a bit of a mix of both of these. 

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Trafalgar Way

On Sunday I passed a plaque commemorating the route that Lieutenant Lapenotiere took in 1805 to carry news of Nelson's victory at Trafalgar from Falmouth to the Admiralty in London. The bi-centenary of his journey was celebrated in 2005 by marking out the route with plaques, and producing a map. One of the plaques is on Kensington High Street.

Lieutenant Lapenotiere covered the 271 miles in 37 hours in a fast carriage called a post chaise, drawn by four horses. He changed horses 21 times at a cost to the admiralty of £46 19s 1p in expenses.

It occurred to me that one day his route might make for an interesting longer cycle trip. So this evening I started playing around with route planners to see what sort of options there were.

If anyone has produced a Post Chaise Route Planner then I'm not aware of it. Bike Route Toaster generates a straightforward suggestion that takes a fairly direct line through Exeter, Yeovil, Salisbury, Andover, Reading and Slough. The most significant difference form the original route seems to be that Lieutenant Lapenotiere took a longer, more southerly loop through Dorchester between Exeter and Salisbury. Then he took a more direct route through Basingstoke and Staines rather than today's longer suggestion further north through Reading and Slough.

Falmouth to London is too far for CycleStreets to plan in one go, so that will need breaking down into shorter steps. Meanwhile I thought I'd give Google Maps a try. It does't have a cycling option, so I asked for a walking route, and got an interesting suggestion.

Perhaps it's a good thing that they didn't have this stuff automated 200 years ago. Under the circumstances touching down a couple of times in France would have been a little tactless in 1805.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Yesterday's ride

At the start of the year I planned to reach 15 more famous churches on the bike to bring the total to 40. Having achieved that in May I decided to up the ante and aim for another ten. I reached one more in June, but since then I've not made much progress.

Each time I reach one church the distance to the next is a little bit further, so the circle of those I reach is gradually expanding. It happens that this tranche of churches on my list is now starting to reach into London.

So yesterdays ride was a bit different to my normal trundle around rural lanes. It was relatively flat, but route finding needed a bit more attention than it normally gets, and the level of traffic, even on a Sunday, meant that I needed to stay alert. Not that I would admit to daydreaming on a country ride, so lets say that the metropolis offers a higher level of visual stimulation.

Obviously churches in London tend to be clustered more closely than they are in Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire Hampshire and Surrey. That means means that it's relatively easy to reach more than one in a single outing. Normally an outing involves reaching one, or at most two churches on my list. Yesterday I reached four: Saint Cuthbert in Philbeach Gardens, Brompton Oratory, Holy Trinity in Prince Consort Road, and Saint Augustine in Queens Gate.

Brompton Oratory is the most impressive from outside, but I wasn't comfortable leaving the bike outside for long, so I didn't spend much time inside. Holy Trinity in Prince Consort Road was locked, so I managed to get the best look inside Saint Augustine in Queens Gate, and St Cuthbert in Philbeach Gardens.

Apparently John Betjeman was particularly keen on the former. It's nice enough, with some interesting wall panels, but the more remarkable interior to my eye is St Cuthbert in Philbeach Gardens (pictured). The web site describes it as "a spectacular example of late Victorian architecture", which pretty much captures it.

There are many reasons why I am enjoying this project to visit famous churches. One of them is that walking into many churches is like stepping back in time. Parish churches have often been around for hundreds of years, and history has left a series of memories in the building and the monuments that traces changes in the way that the community has lived.

St Cuthbert's was different though. Stepping into this church was also like stepping back in time, but into a  frozen state that has passed everywhere else. It wasn't like watching a recreation of Victorian life in a film or television programme, or even visiting a preserved railway or country house. However carefully these are handled you know in your heart that they are now artificial creations. This was more like opening a Victorian book, and making contact directly with a different age. Quite an uncomfortable experience. I couldn't help wondering how much of this past world is still preserved along with the building itself, and why?

I used to plan my route there and back through Colnbrook, Brentford, and Hammersmith, which all worked fine. Apart from the ride into London and back, the rest of the day was spent tootling between Hyde Park, South Kensington and Earls Court. For London cyclists it was probably all relatively quiet. For me it was quite different to normal. I bottled out on a couple of occasions, and walked the bike through Hammersmith Broadway and busy bits near South Kensington tube, but otherwise didn't find the traffic as much of a challenge as I expected.

Total distance for the day was just over 60 miles, which helps the numbers along. By the time I got home I was more tired than I should have been. That could be all the excitement, but I suspect it really means that I'm out of practice and need to get more riding done.

The expanding circle of the churches that I have visited is mapped here

Sunday, 15 August 2010

The UK's ugliest cycle path?

Running along the central reservation of the A4, under the M4, and covered in cigarette ends.

On a positive note, it is painted green.


If you have to park in a cycle lane, you couldn't choose a better place

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Ordnance survey survey

Last week the Ordnance Survey reported that two thirds of the population admit to regularly getting lost, and 38% pretend to know where they are going even when they have no idea.

The point of all this was so that they could remind us that we tend to rely heavily on out-of-date paper maps.

Although half of us are happy to ask for directions, more than half have given misleading ones. Apparently the most reliable people to ask for directions are men aged over 55 from the north east of England. I fit that demographic exactly, so perhaps I should point out that I regularly get lost myself, before a flood of requests flows in. At least it explains why I hate asking for directions myself.

Monday, 9 August 2010