Saturday, 18 September 2010

Inner tail wind

The entire Wikipedia entry for Shurlock Row reads "Shurlock Row is a village in Berkshire, England, and part of the civil parish of Waltham St Lawrence. The settlement lies north of the M4 motorway, and is located approximately 5.5 miles (8.9 km) south-west Maidenhead."

So it's not a destination packed with excitement. It's a pretty village, a fairly short ride from home. It has a pond, and a pub, but if there's anything at all notable that I would pick out, its the pleasant mix of houses from different periods. I think of them as Shurlock homes.

Shurlock Row was where I headed this morning, via a circuitous route, on a quick spin before our visitors arrive.

Sometimes the roads in these parts can get busy, but they were fairly quiet this morning. There were a number of cyclists about, and  quite a lot of walkers, including a party of mature ramblers that I passed on one of the quieter lanes. They seemed to be equipped for mountaineering in the Alps.  That's not an uncommon sight around here, and I suppose it is the pedestrian equivalent of MAMILs* on expensive road bikes. Perhaps we should expect to see the emergence of a "real rambling" movement as some kind of backlash.

All that apart, the best thing about this morning's ride was that it was such a lovely, sunny, crisp early autumn day. There was a little bit of a breeze, but that was easily overcome by my inner tail wind, which drove me and the bike along briskly for an unremarkable, but very satisfying outing on a glorious morning.

*MAMIL="middle-aged man in lycra"

I've just discovered the old web site of Shurlock Row Garage in "maintenance mode" - how appropriate. Their real site is here.

Friday, 17 September 2010

The Church of Sit-Up Cycling

Everyone should know of the The Church of Sit-Up Cycling, which was established as a response to a Vancouver law which makes it illegal to ride without a helmet "unless the wearing would interfere with an essential religious practice". Thanks to CTC for the link.

The Church "requires its adherents to cycle for work and play wearing whatever they want (and) the freedom to choose headwear - which may or may not include plastic - is an essential religious practice."

According to their web site, they also hold that "children should do what they're told until they get a job and start chipping in with the rent". Personally, I think that children should do what they're told, full-stop. I never did, and I expect the next generation to re-align the universe. But as the family are getting together this weekend, that's a view that I should probably keep to myself. There's quite enough controversy around cycling helmets, without getting into inter-generational arguments.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010


I have a few regular routes, each of which takes me ten or fifteen miles and allows me to fit in a quick ride before dinner without having to think too much about where to go. Because I regularly ride the same routes, they are quite familiar. On each I have picked out little landmarks that mark progress - things like a nice bridge over the railway, or a view of the river.

On one of them there is a short section of country lane which is a most peculiar ride. The surface is crossed by ripples, with the peaks at just the wrong distance apart. So when the back wheel is in a dip, the front wheel is on a crest, and vice versa. The bike pitches backwards and forwards, as though it is on oval wheels. It's not a very pleasant sensation, but it is impossible to ignore, and it has become one of my markers as I progress round that particular ride.

On another of my regular routes there has been a trench down the road for the last few weeks while they do something important to the pipes (or so they say - I prefer to imagine them burying their loot). They have just finished one section, and moved on to the next leaving a new section of road surface. Cunningly, they've recreated the rippled effect from the country lane, almost to perfection. Now I have a way of marking progress around both routes.

I just hope the idea doesn't catch on.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

The most photogenic parts of the Sustrans network?

No, I don't know where they are either, but I've been playing around with different ways of clustering images, and eventually came up with this, based on geo-tagged images in the NCN group on Flickr. Kent wins.

Now with pictures added (click on a blob)

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Here come old flattop he come grooving up slowly

Those are the opening lines from the Beatles album, Abbey Road. Maybe not their greatest, but an important part of the soundtrack from my formative years. So when I found myself in the St John's Wood area on today's ride I couldn't resist a diversion to see the famous crossing, and the inevitable group of visitors taking pictures of each other marching across.

The real point of today's ride was to complete another two visits on my list of famous churches, to bring the total to 50. St Augustine in Kilburn, and Mary Magdalene in Paddington were the last two on this year's list. Unfortunately one was closed, and people were worshipping in the other, so I didn't get to see either properly inside.

The rest of the day's ride made up for that though. Apart from visiting Abbey Road, I had my lunchtime sandwich in Kensal Green Cemetery.It's the oldest of seven private Victorian cemeteries on the outskirts of London, and resting place of Charles Babbage, and Isambard Kingdom Brunel, among others (including George Melly, I now discover). I had a good wander round, but I failed to find either of the graves I was looking for.

Mary Magdalene in Paddington was the last stop on my planned route, and it is right next to the Grand Union Canal. So I thought it would be interesting to come home along the canal tow-path.

The Grand Union leads to the Slough Canal, which takes me as far as Slough,. As a result I can cover two-thirds of the distance home from Paddington on a nice traffic-free route. It meanders about a bit, the surface is a bit variable, and there are too many obstructions, so it's not fast. But it is a lot quieter, and a lot less stressful than the road. On the whole it is attractive, and it is quite beautiful in places. Odd that the idea hadn't occurred to me before.

In summary, I've had a great day, and covered 66 miles, which puts the annual target back on track. I've completed planned visits to 50 churches. If I had a project to visit all the places that had Beatles albums named after them, then I would have completed that one as well. I met a mix of interesting people during the day. But despite the efforts of Wikipedia contributors, I still can't make any sense of the lyrics from Come Together. Unless "I've got to be good looking 'cause I'm so hard to see" is saying something about cycling in traffic?.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Blue plaques

Perhaps I should have realised earlier, but I only noticed today that blue plaques are rendered by Mapnik at the highest zoom levels.

It's not very logical, but there's something particularly satisfying about seeing things I've added appearing on the map when I didn't expect them to. At least there was until I realised I'd failed to add a couple of the plaques that I found, and that I'd plotted one in the wrong place. Those are fixed now though.

Monday, 6 September 2010

To Hampstead, and back

From home I reckon that I can reach almost 3,000 square miles of South-East England in a day's bike ride (more if I combine cycling with the train). That covers a variety of landscape and heritage. The only things that I lack are easy access to mountains and the coast. On top of that I'm lucky to have the time, an understanding family, and a climate that means I can spend quite a bit of time exploring it all. There is at least one Unesco World Heritage site within reach, a couple of designated areas of outstanding natural beauty, and there are countless examples of outstanding buildings and structures. So there is no shortage of places to visit. Of course I enjoy seeing the well-known highlights, but there is also a lot to be said for the variety. And variety sometimes involves riding through areas that are drab and monotonous. Yesterday was quite a mixture.

My quest to visit famous churches has taken me through a lot of pretty villages, and along a lot of quiet rural roads, but now there are only 4 more left to take the total to 50, and all of them are on the outskirts of London. Yesterday I set off to visit two in Hampstead.

By any standards, Hampstead is posh. Average house prices around there are almost £1million for a semi, and almost £2million for a detached. Those are averages - the prices of some of the more spectacular properties run into tens of millions. But my route there and back took me through a much wider mix of suburbs, past the Polish War Memorial at Northolt, a huge Indian wedding party parading in Brent, and along the edge of some of the major arteries leading in and out of London. Towards the end of the day I also saw quite a lot of sky-riders on their way home.

The on-line route planners did a good job for me. The biggest problem I find riding near London is that the major routes are a bit too hairy for me. Although I know the general layout, I'm not familiar with the detail, so away from the major roads it is easy to get lost. That in turn involves a lot of stops to check the map, a lot of back-tracking where I mess up, and normally a combination of the two.

For yesterday I downloaded a route onto the GPS that ducked and dived around minor roads for quite a lot of the way. That made for a much more interesting ride than I could have navigated without the GPS, and revealed a few interesting new options (even nearer to home where I thought I knew the area fairly well). I still managed to get lost a couple of times, and ended up covering 70 miles instead of the 60 that it should have taken. That was partly because of diversions that threw me off track, and partly because I merrily rode past one of the destinations, and continued for a couple of miles before I realised what I had done, and had to retrace my steps. Quite how I missed a 178 foot spire is still beyond me.

Both of the churches that I visited were interesting, but in different ways. St Jude in Hampstead Garden Suburb is early 20th century, designed by Lutyens, and very imposing both inside and out. St John in the centre of Hampstead is Georgian, a bit sparse outside, but very pretty inside.

For anyone interested in maps, the grave of John Harrison in the churchyard of St John is notable. The book that I use as a reference list of churches to visit describes him as "inventor of longitude" which is inaccurate on many different levels. What he actually invented was the marine chronometer, which enabled ships to determine their longitude position with greater accuracy. He was (eventually) awarded £8,750 by the admiralty for his work. In today's money that would buy him a decent semi in Hampstead. They never paid him the full prize of £20,000 which they had promised.

Ironically, given that this was one of my least rural rides, the other famous person buried in the graveyard is the painter John Constable, who is best known for his rural scenes of the borders of Suffolk and Essex.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Atlas of the seas

I've just come across this rather nice interactive atlas of the seas around Europe, which is provided by the EU.

There is all sorts of intriguing information, from the height of tides, to coastal erosion, take-up of fishing quotas, and maritime transport. Nothing on sea cycling - but perhaps I'm looking in the wrong place*.

I'm not sure how useful it is in practice, but it looks nice, and it has distracted me from what I ought to be doing for the last half hour or so.

Enough for now, I must get back to something more productive (and billable).

* here, here, and here.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

August round-up

So we are now into the last third of the year, and it's time to take stock of progress over another month. It's been a month for milestones, but more of that shortly. First I must follow tradition and review progress against goals.

  • In terms of miles covered things are looking a bit better. I started the month about 130 miles behind plan, and I ended it about 30 miles behind. At the rate I'm going I should be back on track in the next week or so. That will leave an average of 73 miles a week to cover for the rest of the year if I am going to meet my annual goal. It should be emminently do-able. 
  • I've also visited a few more churches on my list, and only need to reach four more to take the total to 50. Again, that should be emminently do-able. 
  • My Eddington number isn't rising as fast as I would like, but it is well on the way to the goal of 50 for this year, and reaching that shouldn't be a problem. I am steadily racking up rides of more than 60 miles, and I ought to be able to manage another 5 this year to reach the planned total of 30.
We should probably skate over the fact that I'm still more than 8 inches short of the ideal height for my weight, and move onto the milestones.

  • Milestone number one is a real one, between Colnbrook and Heathrow. I've been unsuccessfully trying to find this one on several recent outings. It turns out that I was looking in completely the wrong place, on the wrong road, about half a mile away from where I should have been looking. Not the most effective approach. Now that I've got myself sorted, I've completed the list of all the remaining milestones on this stretch of the Bath Road. 
  • Milestone number two is just that the new bike and I have now covered more than 2,000 miles together since the beginning of March.
  • Milestone number three is getting around my Winter Hill loop for the first time in less than 45 minutes.
  • But the best milestone of all is that I've had an apology from a beeper in a hatchback. He followed normal practice, coming up behind me, and sounding the horn to try and make me jump. I looked round and gave the stare that is meant to say "do grow up you silly child", but to be realistic probably just makes me look like a silly old fool. He continued past me, parked a few hundred yards up the road, got out, and as I rode past he shouted an apology. Granted, it was on behalf of his passenger (who he blamed for hitting the horn). And maybe it was some complicated wind-up that I don't get. But it still felt like a breakthrough.