Tuesday, 28 April 2009

C&C day-2

After a sound nights sleep, I opened the curtains this morning, on this magnificent view of Warkworth castle. It's the first of today's four great castles - Warkworth, Alnwick, Dunstanburgh and Bamburgh.

Unfortunately that was about the last of the sunshine. From Warkworth to Alnwick, it rained steadily, and rather than see Alnwick castle, I spent a happy half-hour in Barter Books drying out in front of an open fire.

Then onwards to Alnmouth, and up the coast to Craster where I broke for lunch. By then the rain had cleared, and it was grey and windy, but dry.

There is a choice of route from Boulmer to Craster. I chose the coast path over the metalled road. It's not a good surface for a heavily loaded road bike, so I had to walk and push most of the way - but that was a small price to pay for some magnificent views of the sea and coast.

From Craster to Seahouses and from Bamburgh to the day's final destination in Beal, the route moves away from the coast. So for the short leg from Seahouses to Bamburgh I ignored the proper route and kept to the coast road.

The end result was that I caught glimpses of Dunstanburgh castle as I passed, and watched Bamburgh getting increasingly impressive as I approached.

For the last few miles it was raining again. So the weather could have been better, but the scenery was as good as I expected.

C&C day-1

I am riding the Coast and Castles cycle route from Newcastle to Edinburgh. Day one took me from Newcastle, along the river through Wallsend to Tynemouth, then up the coast through Whitley bay, Seaton Sluice, and Blyth to Amble and Warkworth.

Some of these places are not obvious holiday destinations, so why not skip them, and start at Warkworth, where a more conventional tour of beautiful Northumberland might begin?

I have two reasons. One is that I like to see things completed, and now that Sustrans have included this part of the route I feel compelled to cover it. If I skipped the first day, I would never feel that I had done the job properly. I also have personal reasons, in that my father's family came from this part of Northumberland, and I have been visiting some places with family connections.

Perhaps this first day doesn't need justifying. Most of the ride is pleasant enough for an everday outing, and there are interesting places to visit en route. But after 40 miles or so, I didn't feel that I could make a convincing case to somebody else against skipping the first day, and starting at Warkworth.

Then in this morning's newpaper I saw a letter from someone in Kent who describes Britain as a "bankrupt and derelict Brown-created wilderness".

This is someone who really needs to get out more.

A hundred years ago North-East England was an industrial power-house, but for most of my working life chunks of it have been in economic decline. It wouldn't have been ridiculous to describe parts of the region as a "derelict wilderness".

I don't know the current figures for the local economy (and I'm on holiday so I'm not going to look them up). But my impression yesterday was not of a region in decline.

For sure, the former Northumberland coal field is still not a particularly prosperous part of the country. Some industries now only exist as museums, and as the picture shows, I rode past the demolition of the Swann Hunter shipyard. But at the same time I saw new housing, new factories, and new offices. There's a whole mix of good stuff and bad stuff going on out there, as there always has been.

If our letter writer is really looking around Kent and seeing a derelict wilderness, perhaps he should now consider migrating to Blyth.

On the other hand, it could have just been empty rhetoric. If it was, then riding the first day of the C&C might help our angry letter writer chose their words more carefully.

Breakfast at Tynemouth

Today's tip - if you ever ride the Coast and Castles route from Newcastle to Edinburgh, then set off early, and leave room for a bacon butty at Tynemouth fish quay. Possibly the best bacon butty you will ever eat.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Tyne bridges

I've arrived back in Newcastle today, to start the Coast and Castles route tomorrow. I spent a very pleasant evening near Hexham last night, and rode down the Tyne and explored Newcastle this afternoon.

Bridges have been a recurring theme through the day. To some extent that is inevitable, when part of the journey is along Newcastle Quayside, and it's collection of magnificent bridges. But even before that, there were some interesting examples.

On the way I met lots of people out on their bikes. That's normal on a sunny sunday, but today I got into conversation with more than usual.

Perhaps I'm in holiday mood, and perhaps it's a more friendly northern culture.

One fellow rider told me that he was old enough for his free bus pass, but never used it. He described it as his "ticket to be grumpy". As he sees it, until you get your free bus pass, you are not allowed to grumble, but once you get one the government has said that it's OK.

If I had anything to complain about I would just have to wait a few years.


Saturday was a railway day.

I started with an early train to Paddington at about 7am. Then my first cycle ride in central London, from Paddington to King's Cross, along Marylebone Road and Euston Road. That's probably not the easiest route to start with, but it had the advantage of being straight and fast, and at 8am on a Saturday morning it was manageable, if a bit more exciting than a simple country boy should need to cope with.

At King's Cross I put the bike on the train to Newcastle. They have a special luggage section behind the engine so it was securely stowed, and when we arrived at Newcastle they were already getting it ready for me by the time I had walked back along the train. It's a remarkably easy way to move a bike from one end of the country to the other, so all credit to National Express.

From Newcastle I set off to visit my mother, who lives south of Hexham. For the ride out to Hexham I used NCR 72, the Hadrian way, which follows the banks of the Tyne along an old railway line to Prudhoe (birthplace of Ruth Archer).

It's a lovely ride, and because it's an old railway track the long slow climb is barely perceptible, even with a couple of heavy paniers on the back of the bike. On the way, I passed the birthplace of George Stephenson, which I had never visited. I suppose I still haven't, because I just rode past, but at least I've seen it now.

From Prudhoe, the route is a bit more rolling, as it follows country lanes to Corbridge then Hexham.

So far the weather had been kind, but after a steep, hard climb out of Hexham, I got caught in a couple of showers before I reached my destination, and a warm welcome. Thanks mum, for a very pleasant evening.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

St Mary, Thame

Today was a good example of my self-imposed Jenkins quest at its best. The basic idea is that I use the bike to visit the best of England's churches (as chosen by Simon Jenkins). Each time I visit one, the next is a bit further away. So it forces me to discover new routes, and gradually increase my mileage.

I like old churches. They have been the heart of their communities for generations, and at their best they capture a unique atmosphere. Sometimes exploring my destination is an additional bonus. But when it comes to the crunch the main point of the quest is not the destination, it is the ride.

When I reached Thame, the church was locked. It looks impressive, and it sounds as though the interior would be interesting, but all I could see was the outside and the churchyard. I suppose I could have gone to find a key, but time was short, so I moved on.

Thame isn't very well covered on Open Street Map, and I think I will be able to add a few more streets. But my journey out to Thame, via Marlow and Stokenchurch, then back via Princes Risborough and High Wycombe is already well covered.

Lacey Green Windmill
It's now a common experience, on the long climb out of Marlow to be overtaken by someone older but fitter, who passes with a cheery "hello", at a much faster speed. Infuriating. Today was no exception.

On the return journey, along the Phoenix  trail from Thame to Princes Risborough, other cyclists  were mostly families. It was nice to see a wide age range, including little girls on pink bikes, little boys on bikes with lots of gizmos, and fathers on high-tech mountain bikes. Elsewhere the people on bikes were mostly what  I think of as "proper cyclists" with knobbly legs, and brightly coloured lycra.

Beyond Princes Risborough I rode past the windmill at Lacey Green, then RAF headquarters at High Wycombe. It's a lovely fast ride down a long descent from Lacey Green to High Wycombe.

So a special day. Fifty-odd miles in total. And all of this because I set out to visit a church in Thame, which wasn't even open when I got there. And why not?

Friday, 17 April 2009

Relation analyzer

My efforts to plot the boundary of my local authority last weekend haven't shown up properly yet, and this evening I think I've managed to figure out why, using the Open Street Map Relation Analyser.

Unfortunately, OSM is only providing a limited service for the next couple of days, while they do some important changes. So I will not be able to fix anything until Monday. The world will just have to wait.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Open Moko

Openmoko™ is a project to deliver mobile phones based on open source software. That sounds like a pretty ambitious plan to me, but all power to them.

Yesterday Joseph Reeves linked to my Walter post, to support a suggested feature for OpenMoko, and it's generated a burst of activity on my blog.

If someone does attempt this, then here is another suggestion. 

On my GPS I can tell how far my alter ego is ahead or behind me in distance - but not in time. More importantly I can't compare my current speed with the speed I managed at the same point on the original trace.  So until I get home, the only way I can tell if I am going slower up a particular part of the climb, or bottling out of going faster down a steep hill is whether the gap is increasing or decreasing. What's more, let's assume Walter is ahead of me going up a hill.  He reaches the top first, and starts to accelerate down. So the gap increases, even if I am now climbing the hill faster than he did. 

So in practice, once I've fallen behind it's very difficult to know whether I am catching up or not, except over quite a long stretch. Not that this is very important, but it would be a bit useful.

Another screamer

This evening I did a quick thirteen mile loop round the edge of Maidenhead at about 5:30 and met all the frustrated drivers on their way home. There were a couple of close shaves with motorists in too much of a hurry, but the unpleasant incident was a woman in a blue VW beetle who wound down her window and had a good shout at me for some reason. I'm not sure what I was supposed to have done wrong, but something had obviously upset her, and she really let rip.

It was a bit of a Basil Fawlty / Victor Meldrew moment, and by the time I got home I couldn't help feeling sorry for someone who felt she needed to let that amount of venom out of her system. Then I discovered this on Twitter from Jack Thurston at the Bike show

You have to laff.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Silchester angel

I managed a long ride today, of just over 60 miles, to reach Silchester and tick off another church in my Jenkins quest.

St Mary at Silcester is another lovely old church, which lies inside the surviving walls of the Roman town of Calleva Atrebatum, and dates from the 13th century. It contains some impressive woodwork, including a row of angels along the top of the Chancel Screen.

The route I took was a dash along the A4 to Reading, just to cover distance quickly. Then I followed National Cycle Route 4 along the Kennet & Avon Canal. This part was new ground for me, and it was very pleasant, though a bit slow because of the number of people who were out for a walk on a fine Bank Holiday Monday.

When I reached Midgham I turned south, and made my way on more familiar roads to Aldermaston then Silchester. To get home I followed National Cycle Route 23, and the Round Berkshire Cycle Route.

I should have got myself a bit better organised for lunch. Shops were closed, pubs were busy, and I left it all a bit too late. I should have attempted more long rides in recent weeks, so that my legs weren't suffering quite so much as they now are. But the destination, the route, and the weather couldn't have been bettered. It was a good way to spend a bank holiday.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Losing to Walter

One of the neat things about my GPS is that I can record a ride, and then go back and race myself to see if I can cover the same route more quickly. I think of it as racing against Walter E. Geaux - my alter ego.

It's been a while since I used this feature, but this evening I decided to test myself again, racing the Winter Hill loop that I originally set up last year.

If I had thought this through at the time I would have taken the first ride a bit more slowly, and set up less of a challenge - but I didn't. Since then I've been struggling to get round the same route more quickly.

This evening I was held up by traffic quite early on, but I pressed on and managed to make up the time I'd lost, until somebody stopped me to ask directions to Maidenhead bridge. 

"Turn left at the bottom of the lane, then when you get into town, turn left at the main road". 

  • "So that's left at the bottom of the lane, then left at the main road"

"Yes that's it" tick, tick tick.....

  • "We turn left twice, to get to Maidenhead bridge"

"Yes that's it" tick, tick tick.....

  • "So it's left and then left"


  • "Then once we get to the bridge, do you know how we find such-and-such road" 
I could have stalled the timer for a while, but I didn't think of that until later. By the time we had sorted it all out I was several minutes behind schedule. 

I tried really hard to make up the time. As I passed through Cookham I was almost back on track, and by the time I reached Maidenhead riverside I was  ahead. Unfortunately I couldn't keep up the faster pace, and in the last few miles heading home I ended up losing all the time I had regained earlier.

So it was all a bit frustrating, but for a short outing it was a pretty good ride, and afterwards I was certainly ready for a good dinner. I'd like to think that Walter was too.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

We are amused

As it is the weekend, and it's raining, I've been working out how to add local government boundaries to OSM this morning, and ended up circling the whole of my local authority (Windsor and Maidenhead).

It's surprisingly tricky to do, because the out-of copyright map doesn't show the boundaries very clearly, and things have been chopped around with re-organisations of local government. Much of the northern boundary of the authority follows the Thames, and the area around the eastern boundary is mapped on OSM to a very detailed level, so there is a lot of other data that you don't want to mess with.

Anyway, I think I've got it reasonably accurately now. Others are doing a sterling job in the rest of the country, so an open map of England's administrative boundaries is beginning to come together. Progress is nicely tracked here.

I'm a bit conflicted about campaigns like this and this to release more public data into the public domain. On the face of it, it's a fine principle that taxpayers should have free access to data that they have already paid to collect. But then shouldn't those with a special interest or need for the data contribute more of the cost than everyone else? Somewhere there is a sensible line to be drawn, and I'm not sure where it is.

But when it comes to electoral boundaries, I can't help feeling that they should all be released into the public domain on principle, not on economic grounds. Anyway, I've amused myself for a few hours setting a little bit of data free. There are worse ways to waste a rainy Saturday morning.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Pootling about

Ambitious plans were thwarted by my laziness today. After a morning mucking about I set off after lunch, and spent the afternoon pootling around plugging a few gaps in OSM around Beaconsfield. The weather was fine, and it was all very pleasant, but I've not been keeping up the distances recently and after 37 miles it showed.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

There's another planet out there

And I'm thankful that I don't live on it.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009


The Guess Where UK pool on Flickr is one of the treasures of the interweb. A year ago I could even win the occasional point by recognising somewhere before anyone else, but I was never close to being in the same league as the real experts, and these days I am in awe of the standard of detection.

The regulars have excelled themselves for April Fool's day though. It's worth another look if you haven't dropped in for a while.