Saturday, 22 October 2011

Where can you cycle to in an afternoon?

It has been another lovely autumn day today. I thought I would set off after lunch and see how far I could get along the coast. The plan was to head north until 3pm, then turn round and head back again.

It turns out that I can reach Chinon in the Loire Valley. Or, as it is known around here, "Bamburgh".

I claim Chinon, on the basis that The Lion in Winter is set in Chinon, and they are using a picture of Bamburgh Castle on the poster for the current production at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket. It's perfectly recognisable, under Robert Lindsay's beard, though it seems to be back-to-front. Since Chinon has a medieval castle of its own it's a slightly odd choice.

My route crossed the East Coast main line several times, and as I rode towards one of the level crossings the barriers were closed. As I got closer I watched the train pass, then as I approached the barrier it opened to let me through with perfect timing. It was a magical moment and from then on I seemed to be riding more easily. I built up speed, and felt I was flying along with little effort.

Once I reached my destination I realised why it had got so easy. Sadly it was nothing to do with my performance at all. A tail wind had been building up, and it was pushing me along as I headed north. On the return journey I was riding into the wind, and found it more heavy going.

However, the wind aside, it was a good clear day, with lovely views towards the Farne islands. That's been my longest ride for a long time, and now that I'm home I feel tired, but pleased with myself. I didn't see Robert Lindsay, or Joanna Lumley though.

(I was going to show my age by remembering Bamburgh as one of the locations for the 1968 film of The Lion in Winter. But that would really have shown the toll that age is taking. I think it was actually the 1964 film Becket that I was remembering - wrongly).

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Jum today

One of the quirks of place-names around here is that an ending of -gham is normally pronounced "jum". So Bellingham, for example, is pronounced "Bellin-jum" rather than "Belling-ham". This isn't always the case though. Chillingham is pronounced the way it is written.

What has been confusing me even more are two places fairly close to each other called Edlingham (pronounced Edlin-jum) and Eglingham (pronounced Eglin-jum). I get the two of them muddled.

Both names have Anglo-Saxon origins. Edlingham was the home of Eadwulf, and Eglingham the home of Ecgwulf. This was before we had post-codes, and Anglo-Saxon postmen obviously liked to keep things simple.

Today I decided I would ride to both. They looked like interesting places, and they are connected by about 10 miles of quiet country lanes. I thought it would make a nice ride, and it might stop me getting them mixed up. And pronouncing them wrongly.

This was definitely one of my better ideas of the week. Both places are lovely. Edlingham is perhaps the more interesting to visit. It boasts an 11th century church, a 14th century ruined castle, and a large viaduct left over from the old Alnwick to Cornhill railway. For what it is worth, it also lies on the Devil's Causeway, an old Roman Road that ran from Hadrian's Wall to Berwick-upon-Tweed. But Eglingham also has a church with a 13th century tower. And it has a pub too, but I forgot to take any money with me, so I didn't feel I could really drop in to sample it.

The main point of the outing though, is that the road connecting the two is terrific for my level of cycling. It rolls gently, without being too strenuous, and the views are wonderful. It's also very quiet. I thought I was going to be able to say that I only saw one car in almost ten miles, but just as I was entering Eglingham there was another. Two cars in almost ten miles isn't too bad. Almost like having a dedicated cycle path to myself.


The ride out wasn't bad either. It was a bit more hilly than I am comfortable with, but it was almost as quiet as the main stage. I must have seen half a dozen vehicles in about ten miles. And the views here were quite something too.

My route back was on a busier road (at least a dozen cars in nearly ten miles), and the views weren't in the same league, but it was an easier ride - because it was largely downhill.

I've seen quite a bit of wildlife today - mostly pheasants, but there were also a few circling birds of prey that I can't identify. Judging by the quantity of fresh road-kill there were even more pheasants around yesterday. It's a bit puzzling how so many of them managed to get hit by so few vehicles.

The only other cyclist that I saw was on the way back. For a long time they were riding ahead of me in the distance, but then they stopped and as I passed they were crouched over something on the verge. Naturally I stopped to check that everything was OK. "I'm fine", was the answer, as they put a fresh pheasant into their pannier bag.

Today was perfect autumn weather for a ride, but this would be a good route even on a day that was less than ideal. I'll definitely be going the same way again. However, we have other plans for the rest of the weekend, and I'm afraid I won't be visiting either 'jum tomorrow.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Please refrain from parking on the footpaths

In another universe all the road signs are as polite as this one.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

On the grid

In our previous house Wifi comfortably reached all rooms, and provided some coverage into the garden, but before we moved we were starting to have intermittent problems losing broadband access. We decided that the best thing was to transfer the old equipment into this house and wait to see what happened.

In this house we have almost 2 feet of stone on some internal walls, and there is a longer reach to some parts of the building. We found that we could get a decent wireless signal in most of the main rooms. But it was no surprise to discover that the signal was a bit flimsy in other places. And we continued to have the same intermittent problems with dropping broadband. So we decided it was worth replacing our old Wireless Router / ADSL Modem with separate ADSL Modem, and smarter wireless router.

I'm always a bit wary of fiddling with network stuff. It seems like a bit of a dark art, and I tend to panic and start flailing around when things go squiffy. But for once installing and configuring it all went remarkably well. Credit is due to those who design the software. The only real problem I encountered was that immediately after placing the order I realised that I hadn't changed the default delivery address properly. I had to ring up the supplier and explain that I was an idiot who had moved house. They were very helpful. From then on, everything went pretty much to plan. It has been working for the last week or so, touch wood. And I can prove that by posting this.

Happily, the wireless signal does seem to be stronger in the more distant parts of the house. Also, for whatever reason, we no longer seem to be dropping the broadband connection  occasionally (touch wood again).

Unfortunately, after sorting all that out, I discovered a few days ago that my GPS system for the bike has also gone belly up. I've tried all the obvious fixes, with no result. All I can get is a blank screen.

A replacement will have to wait, so in the meantime I'm trying out some of the alternatives on the smartphone. So far I've only used these while walking, rather than while cycling, because on foot it's easier to fiddle without falling over and it doesn't matter so much when you bump into things.

I'm quite impressed with apps for collecting GPS tracks. There seems to be a decent choice, with each concentrating on a different mix of priorities. I've found one that seems to fit my needs, and which is particularly adept at collecting tracks and transferring them into OSM. This seems like an elegant way of exploiting the technology, and using it to combine a number of different functions into a sensible solution which is easy to use.

However, I'm not so taken with the apps that emulate the functions of a basic cycle computer. A bit like those which emulate a compass or a spirit level, they look lovely. But I don't really understand the point in investing so much effort in getting a relatively expensive piece of complex technology to look and act like a relatively inexpensive piece of fairly simple technology.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

You know who you are

There are lots of good reasons to go cycling, and losing weight isn't one of the best. However, it is what got me re-started. Without any scientific evidence whatsoever, here are my tips for anyone else who wants to lose weight cycling. In no particular order:

  • It's probably bulk that matters to you, rather than weight. So assess progress by the length of your waistband rather than your weight. This is a more visible measure, and improvements are likely to be more predictable, so progress is more satisfying. And it avoids any need to explain that increased weight is due to converting fat into muscle 
  • Find a good greasy spoon about 5 miles away, and ride there for a bacon sandwich whenever you fancy one. You get to eat all the bacon sandwiches you want (at about 350 calories each) but you burn off more than that in getting there and back
  • Work out a standard half hour route, and try to ride it on more days than you don't. It's really easy to think of excuses to avoid more ambitious rides, but it's hard to invent excuses for avoiding something which is so quick and easy
  • Write down some goals, and tell people about them. It doesn't really matter what they are. What matters is that you write them down and tell people. Anyone with a bit of imagination can fool themselves into thinking they are achieving a goal that they haven't written down or shared.
  • Once you've told people about your goals, it's important that you brag about achieving them. If you find you can't achieve them, then just change them to something easier. If they turn out to be so easy that you are embarrassed to brag about them, then change them to something harder
  • Getting a bike solves nothing. You are going to have to ride it. And unless you are having fun you won't. So find some better reasons than weight loss for going for a ride