Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Neatsfoot Compound

I'm taking a short break from clearing the garden shed. On one of the shelves we discovered this can of Neatsfoot Compound. Until fairly recently I wouldn't have known what it was, but in recent years it came up regularly in conversation with my wife's father.

My father-in-law was born in 1918, and had been a keen cyclist in his youth. When I began cycling again a few years ago, he wanted to help me keep on the right lines, so we heard some interesting stories, and I was never short of advice. He was a big advocate of Brooks saddles, and strongly recommended applying Neatsfoot Oil to the leather.

It's not something that I had come across before. I did chose a Brooks saddle for the touring bike, but I've been using Brooks Proofide to dress the leather.

We know that there were some keen cyclists in this house before us. They seem to have agreed with my father-in-law.

According to Wikipedia Neatsfoot oil is a yellow oil rendered and purified from the shin bones and feet (but not the hooves) of cattle. "Neat" in the oil's name comes from an old name for cattle. It has nothing to do with those not in employment, education or training (that would be neets-foot oil). I see that Vanner and Prest Neatsfoot Compound is available: here.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Cut Throat Letch

One of the most useful books on my shelf of cycling stuff is "The Golden Wheels of Albert Winstanley" by Albert Winstanley. It isn't useful because it is packed with valuable information. It's useful because it encourages me to go out exploring on the bike. It takes an approach that some might find old-fashioned, but which suits me fine. On each of the trips that Albert describes he takes obvious delight in some aspect of history, the landscape, or just the name of a place. In that spirit I rode off this afternoon to explore some minor country lanes, and to find a stream called Cut Throat Letch.

I have no idea where the "cut throat" bit comes from, but in this context, letch comes from an Old English word, leccan, which means to make something wet. It's related to the verb to leak. Around here it normally refers to a stream that runs slowly through a bog. And that's pretty much what we have here.

So it's nothing much to look at. But as a name for a destination you couldn't ask for much more. I have had a nice ride on quiet roads, and now I can drive the family nuts by going around for the rest of the evening saying

 <pirate voice>"I've been to cut throat letch"</pirate voice>.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Over the hills, not far away

No cycling today, but we discovered a lovely walk from Bellingham through ancient woodland to this waterfall at Hareshaw Linn. We were a bit late - this walk seems to have been popular since Victorian times. Details here.

This was originally intended to be a side trip on the back of our other plans, but they went a bit pear-shaped, and our walk turned out to be one of the highlights of the day.

The other highlight was the magnificent road out to Bellingham, passing through the National Park. The weather was perfect, the views were magnificent, and the roads were lovely and quiet.

We saw a few cyclists on the way, climbing the hills, and swooping down the descents. For me the car was doing the hard work today, and I could only envy those on two wheels. The roads over these hills must provide marvellous cycling.

At this stage I know that I couldn't manage them comfortably myself, but I already aspire to be in good enough condition to tackle them. What I realised today was that the proper goal is to be in good enough condition to enjoy them, not just to tackle them. It remains to be seen whether that's possible, but I live in hope.

Thursday, 18 August 2011


When we acquire a new gadget we always keep instructions, and carefully file them away in any number of different places. The places I put them make perfect sense at the time, but not much afterwards. On top of that, when we get rid of a gadget we never think to dispose of the obsolete instructions. One day the house will be full of instructions for things we no longer own, and we will have to move out.

You can't read the f'ing manual unless you can find it, and because I'm not properly organised it's become near impossible to find instructions when I need them. Usually I need them when the clocks go forward or back; or when a battery needs replacing. So when the battery needed replacing on the cycle computer I did what I always do. I had a half-hearted look in several different places to try and find the original instructions. I found all sorts of other interesting stuff, but not what I needed. So I gave up and fiddled around for a while trying to work it out by myself. Just before I got frustrated and destructive, I went and downloaded a copy of the instructions from the web site. Not for the first time, we next had a protracted debate about the best place to buy lithium button cell batteries, until my wife had to go into town. She kindly brought back the ones I needed.

Fitting the battery only took a matter of a minute or two. It took much longer to re-set the clock and enter the right tyre size. I'm sure I must have written down the right setting for the tyres last time, and I filed it with the instructions (how pointless that was). This time I didn't bother. Now the old battery is waiting with all the other stuff that needs to be taken to the recycling place.

It's only changing a battery for goodness sake. How can such a trivial task end up being so complicated?

Monday, 15 August 2011

Grand old Duke of York

Squeezed between getting ourselves organised, doing the tasks that have to be done, greeting visitors, meeting neighbours, and otherwise enjoying ourselves, I have managed a short outing on the bike this morning. I only had a limited amount of time, so it seemed best to face up to the contours of the land, and head straight out to explore possible routes over our nearest decent hill. I reckon that once I'm a bit more comfortable with climbing that, several interesting longer routes will open up to me.

I did manage to climb it, but I was a long way off being comfortable. The first part wasn't too steep, and I was able to acknowledge the morning dog walkers without looking like a complete numpty. But further on as the road got steeper I was beginning to puff and pant a bit. Luckily, by then there was nobody else around, so I didn't feel I was at risk of embarrassing myself. Then the road levelled out a bit more and I realised that I had earned some lovely views. From higher ground I could also begin to see the line of some of the more  ambitious rides that I am planning.

Today wasn't a good day for me to undertake any of those though. There are too many things on the To-Do list. So I turned back to loop home, and carefully negotiated an even steeper route back down the hill.

A ride like that is never going to add much to the mileage in my spreadsheet. However, it was good to get out. When I was up I was up. The views were worth the climb, and I've got a better idea of potential future rides.

And now I am down, am I down? A few hours after I got home my legs are still feeling the effects. I might not have got as much done today as I planned, but I can definitely feel that it did me good to take some time out.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Normal service to be resumed shortly

We have now moved into our tenth home, far from the Thames Valley, near the Northumberland coast.

Choosing where to live has always been a big decision,  and usually involves some compromises, but this time we haven't been as constrained by work and family commitments as we have in the past. With more options, and without others forcing some of the decisions, we have had to make up our own minds about what is important to us. Obviously the promise of some decent cycling featured somewhere in the list, but there were a lot of other things to consider too. So we've taken our time coming to a decision, and over time we have built up some high expectations.

So far, a week after we moved, things seem to be working out. We are gradually getting stuff sorted. My bike was the first thing to come off the removal van, but on balance it didn't seem the best idea to ride off immediately. In any case, it has taken longer to discover the related stuff. All the important things are unpacked now, though, and today we reached the point where I felt I could take off for a couple of hours to go exploring.

I rode out towards the coast, taking a 15 mile loop, mostly along quiet country roads. It was glorious, with almost perfect weather, and lovely views. Away from town, I came across very little traffic.

I thought I had picked a fairly flat route for my first outing, but it was still more hilly than I'm used to. However, every important decision involves some compromises. I will just need to work on my hill climbing (which is probably not a bad thing). When I stopped for a break, another cyclist pulled up to share the bench, and we had a chat about the best local routes. I already had some ideas, but now I have some more to try.

This is going to be fun.