Wednesday, August 28

This is why I love cycling......

We'll get to the point of the title later on, but first here's what I've done since this post on August 5th.

Sunday 4th - a really interesting ride round Oxford, led by the chairman of Wantage CUK, called "Oxford Urban Safari". A clockwise route round backstreets and canal and river paths, starting and ending at Seacourt Park and Ride. One of the other riders kindly picked me up and drove us both there. Part of me thinks that driving to a ride is cheating but I did it anyway! About 16 miles.

Link to the route -

Monday 6th - Shopping, normally 8.8 miles, but with an all-round-the-houses route home. 18.31 miles.

Thursday 8th - A Wantage CUK Family Bike Ride, 8 regular riders plus one mum and her 3 children, the youngest of which was only just 7. The ride itself was about 10 miles so she did very well! 18.93 miles total (that includes my ride to the start, and then a slightly different route home after leaving the group early on the return).

Monday 12th - a solo ride to Shrivenham, with the intention of trying out a cafe there that I hadn't been to (see review on my Cafes page) and also trying out a route for when I become a ride leader (that's all going through now - eek!). 22.53 miles.

Thursday 15th - missed my usual group ride as I had some shopping and a lot of other bits and pieces  to do. Bought a new adjustable stem for my Trek, to raise my handlebars up a bit, in my local bike shop Ridgeway Cycles. 10.17 miles.

Saturday 17th - I had a parcel to collect, plus I wanted to try out the new stem which Husband had fitted. I like it! 13.22 miles.

Tuesday 20th - Shopping. Also did a bit of exploring of a local path, again with the possibility of using it in a future group ride. Home a long way round, incorporating a local hill of some renown, which I usually manage on whichever bike I am on.  However, I find that sometimes when I approach a hill, even from a good distance away, I know whether I am going to get up it easily, or struggle, or not make it at all. This time was one of the latter, which is quite rare I'm pleased to say. It didn't help that there was a large vehicle coming up behind me which I knew would be edging to overtake me. I just gave up and got off! Sometimes one has to admit defeat.... 11.47 miles.

Thursday 22nd - another Wantage CUK Family Bike Ride, with the same family that came last time (3 children including the 7 year old) and another couple and their 10 year old son. About 14 miles for the actual ride (well done the 7 year old again!). Then I visited my daughter and baby granddaughter in Wantage, so my total was 27.89 miles.

And now we are nearly up to date, as we get to the Bank Holiday, Monday 26th. 

It was extremely hot.......... I had decided to cycle to a little village called Garford, in our local Vale of the White Horse. There were two reasons for this -

   1 To find and possibly ride a bridleway eastwards to Drayton and Abingdon. To get to those two      places in the past I have always cycled on what is known as Cow Common, a rather busy road from  East Hanney to Steventon. Recently while reading the map (I love reading maps!) I noticed this bridleway, and after looking on Google Earth found that it appeared to be more a road than a track. You can get on to it via Garford, with just a short stretch of the busy A338 in between.

   2 To find a footpath which goes from Garford across to Millets Farm, which is, apparently, "Oxfordshire's number one family day out for food, shopping and entertainment"!! Hmmm, well yes it is a nice place to go, and has a good cafe, where you get a free biscuit with your coffee (always good!) but as with all these places most people go by car. I have cycled there but that involves a stretch of road that, although not horribly busy, would be nicer avoided. This footpath would provide that alternative route. 

Well, I found the number 2, pushed my bike along it and easily negotiated two gates. But you never know with footpaths whether you are going to come across a stile or a kissing gate that's too tiny to get a bike through. I got to this bridge - [*]

Rats!! I tried to lift my (quite heavy) bike over but didn't think it was a good idea as I might hurt myself. I climbed over and walked a bit of the path, which even though not particularly rideable was  pushable. But there was nothing for it but to turn back. 

So, off to find the number 1. To cut a rather long and hot story short, I found the bridlepath that leads to said bridlepath that leads to Drayton..... but decided against going down it as it was very exposed and by that time Noel Coward's words about mad dogs and Englishmen were going round in my head. Mad Englishwomen too. 

So I left that adventure for another cooler day, and headed off back home. However, this particular mad Englishwoman hadn't had quite enough of exploring, and when I got to the little village of Lyford, I decided to veer off down another off-road shortcut to the village of West Hanney. I'd walked down here before and had it in my head that this was a bridlepath, and therefore legally rideable, and passable, with a bike, but after a mile or so I got to a stile..... and then realized it wasn't a bridlepath but a footpath. Oh dear, another about turn. Then I really did go home, but it was so hot that I had to keep stopping and resting in shade (which was rather lacking in this area) and both drinking water and pouring it over myself to keep cool. At the lovely little village of West Challow, about 3 miles from home, I paddled in the stream and took advantage of the cool bottles of water that I knew were to be had in the church - what a thoughtful gesture! I made it home, rather exhausted.

The thing about this ride was that I really did not enjoy it! This was mainly, but not entirely, because of the heat. Even two miles into the ride I wasn't enjoying it, although I thought things might improve, as they often do, but they didn't really. Why am I doing this I thought? But - as I always say, even the worst bike ride is pretty good! I did, after all, achieve what I set out to, which was to find those paths, even though I ended up not going on one of them. And I found two tennis balls! 24.87 miles.

And now we really are up to date, Tuesday August 27th - 

I had to go to Wantage today to get some elastic for a customer's sewing job. Our local sewing shop has been closed for holidays and the last time I bought elastic online proved to me that I need to see it first, or I end up with something unsuitable. I did other bits of food shopping too, returned some books to the library, and had free coffee in Waitrose, where I sat outside and enjoyed people-watching. (Interesting observation of the day - most women were wearing sandals of some sort, with bare feet, whereas hardly any men were.) It had hotted up since I left home at about 9, but wasn't as bad as yesterday. 

And now the explanation for the title. I had taken my camera with me, and on the way home I stopped frequently to take photos of my usual route home to explain what went through my head as I rode, which was -

"This is why I love cycling......!"

And here are those photos - with a bit of farming information as well..... 

1 My route takes me down Locks Lane in Wantage towards the ford, then over across that wooden bridge over Letcombe Brook (a chalk stream - more than 85% of the world's chalk streams are found in the UK) - 

2 Up this path past a row of cottages. See the cat? I always say hello to passing cats - 

Up the main road for a while, and then I walked up a footpath, at the bottom of which was a man unloading firewood which was packed up very neatly in a wooden crate. None of your slung-into-a -builder's-bag sloppiness. This was a work of art! (Why didn't I take a photo?! I nearly turned back to do so.) I told him it was like an artwork and then from somewhere nearby came the voice of another man, unseen, asking -

"Is she in a rush?  We  could do with a hand.... "

I hesitated....

"Would tea and cake persuade her?" said the voice.

 I was tempted......

"Is she hesitating?"

Yes I was!

I replied that if I hadn't just had coffee and a Kit-Kat in Waitrose I might well have been persuaded!

3 Just past the school at East Challow - I think you can just make out 6.02 miles on my Garmin at this point. Just after this the road officially becomes a bridleway - 

4 Here the school is on the right. Look closer - see that apple tree? It has the most delicious apples ever! I tried one the other day - not quite ready yet. Even my husband likes them, and that's saying something! He's very fussy when it comes to apples. Remember this tree....there's more about it later. The solar powered light is recent and I can't see the need for it - just another light to spoil the dark skies.

5 Further along the bridleway wheat was being harvested; I just had to stop and watch as it took me back to the days when, during school holidays, I used to take my children to watch the combines, and the tractors carting the corn, on the farm where my husband worked. He would have been one of the ones driving a tractor.

This is looking back whence I'd come. I had watched the combine coming up the field and was waiting for it to flash its light to signal to the tractor driver that he was ready to empty his load of corn. Here in the distance he has just done so and the tractor on the right has moved into position -

The combine's auger is out now and the wheat shoots down into the trailer -

That tractor now leaves the field with his load of corn -

 And the other one that was waiting in the field drives over to receive the next load from
the combine -

Another tractor and trailer comes in to replace the one that's gone -

Here you can just see that the combine has gone back down the field, and the two tractors are awaiting their next loads -

 Quite a nicely choreographed operation really.

Now I'm looking ahead to the next bit of my journey. The Ridgeway is in the distance. Look into that corn field on the left - see a tiny dark spot? That is a hare running away as fast as his long legs will carry him! While I was watching the harvesting I was amazed to see him suddenly appear on the track in front of me, but as soon as I moved to take a photo he ran off.

6 I'm now in the village of Childrey, where I passed the time of day with a man who I often see walking, either on his own, or pushing his grandchild in her pushchair. Childrey not only has a lovely pond but a lovely VW camper van too! And a rather, dare I say it, upmarket village shop and cafe, which is very popular with walkers and cyclists -

The pond. There's just something about a village pond.....

This is my last downhill section, heading towards Sparsholt, where I have never yet managed to get up to more than 20 mph. Further down on the right hand side, there are some woods whence cometh the most lovely fragrance in spring.  Every time I cycle by I breathe it in and go "Ahhhhh.....". About 8 years ago I went walking with a friend who pointed out to me something called Poplar Balsam, and when I first noticed the smell coming from these woods I instantly recognised it as that. They say you remember smells even when you haven't smelt them for years.  My plan is to sneak in there and pinch a cutting and grow my own -

8  Oh, and here is the local library, in the phone box! I've read books from there and also donated some, as well as my Cycling UK magazines!

Remember that apple tree? I now have 7 trees growing from its apple pips I sowed last year!

Apple trees, with a side of orange buddleia.

The beautiful orange buddleia is one which I discovered growing locally, and took some cuttings from. It's Buddleia Weyeriana "Sungold". Buddleia is incredibly easy to grow and I love seeing the butterflies on it. Just today another cutting I took has come out in flower at the bottom of the garden.

This is just my very ordinary cycle ride to go shopping and although I couldn't ask for a much nicer route,  I wouldn't miss it for all the tea in China even in the winter. I could have used the car today as Husband didn't need it, but if I'd done that, I'd have seen none of this, as my route would have been all on road. No stopping to watch the harvesting, no sighting of that hare, no banter over the firewood artwork, no passing the time of day with the man with his grandchild, and certainly no exercise or fresh air.

So there we are, that's why I love cycling!

*Apologies for the change of font - I just couldn't get it to change back although as you can see eventually it did by itself!

Monday, August 26

Some light hearted Bank Holiday reading

For any readers that haven't cottoned on yet, the reason for this blog's title is this book - Mrs Armitage on Wheels - written by the wonderful Sir Quentin Blake. In the book Mrs Armitage says quite frequently "What this bike needs.....". She thought it needed things like "somewhere to wash your hands" after getting them dirty doing something to her bike. And somewhere to put her dog. I used to love reading it to my children. Some time ago I penned this poem to the said knight and sent it to him, though sadly never received a reply (sob sob....). Today is a Bank Holiday here in the UK  and I thought some light hearted reading, such as this, was called for. If you're not in the UK, well, I hope it brightens up your day anyway. If not, you clearly need a bike ride.

To Sir Quentin Blake

Dear Mr Blake, I don't know how,
You ever can forgive me,
But here I am, down on my knees,
Begging you for mercy.

I'll try to be brief, cut a long story short,
And trust that you'll be kind,
And let me off all copywrite fees,
(I've no money to pay, you'll find).

Now please Mr B., keep calm, carry on,
Whatever you do please don't shout,
But I've used her words - I'm sorry, I'm sorry!
There, I've said it, it's out..........

And now - “Whose words?” I hear you bellow,
Mrs A.'s, Mrs A.'s!” I reply,
She's long been my hero, my bicycling hero,
But still, I hear you ask - “Why?”

Well you see Mr B., I'd decided to write
A blog about cycling and sewing,
And I needed a name that stood out from the crowd,
To start my readership growing.

So I thought long and hard and came up with a list,
Hours and hours it took,
But none had that, I don't know, je ne sais quoi,
Until I remembered your book!

What this blog needs.....” I said to myself,
As I twiddled with my necklace of beads Mrs A.'s words!” and there you have it -
Read my blog – it's called “What This Bike Needs!”

Apologies for not addressing you as Sir in the poem but Mister scans better.

And now I'm off on my bike! 

Monday, August 5

A week of less ordinary cycling!

Having said that I was going to write about ordinary cycling, this week I have done less of the ordinary cycling and more of the "Wot-I-did-on-my-holidays" sort of cycling. That's because Husband had the week off and so did I (ish!!). He's been paragliding, and building a garden arch. I've been cycling on 3 days and we had a lovely walk together on another day, when we saw crayfish, both the good (native) and bad (non-native) sort. The baddie was dead.

So, on to the cycling.

There are days when I think -

"I'll go on a bike ride today."

 - but have difficulty making up my mind where to go. Last Sunday I ruminated on whether to go to Hungerford (which meant a climb over the Ridgeway at some point - was I in the mood for that?) and possibly go along the Kennet and Avon canal a bit, or do almost the same ride I had done the week before, in order to find a bridlepath I hadn't been able to find then.

In the end the frustration of not having found that bridlepath won out. The particular path I was looking for was one near a tiny place called Carswell Marsh and which I thought might be useful, and interesting, on future rides as a quiet cut-through from one busy road to another. I like sussing out these little byways, bridlepaths etc. when I've got more time, to see how rideable they are on bikes like mine (hybrid and  touring).

Once home I had had a better look on the OS map and could see where it was meant to start, so off I went again. I'm glad to say I found it this time - the sign was very faded and hard to see, but probably the week before I hadn't looked carefully enough. The first part was rough grass and thistle, so I pushed the bike, the next part was flatter grass so I rode, then it became a tarmacked farm track, albeit very potholed (not much different to most roads then!) so all in all, at this time of year, an acceptable route for cyclists, as long as you're not in a hurry, which I rarely am! At one stage it even goes through somebody's garden; it wasn't very clearly signposted but I was very polite and did my best not to nose around too much....

I rather hoped I might then be able to get across the Thames via a footbridge, and cut across more footpaths to Bampton, but unfortunately the kissing gate at the bridge was too narrow to get my bike through, and even if I had I might have encountered more such problems further on. I know cyclists aren't meant to cycle on footpaths, but it's often handy to be able to use them and either cycle, giving way to pedestrians, or just push. Anyway, I carried on to the Thames Path (which I cycled - here it was wide and not too rough) and got back on the road at Radcot bridge.

Thence I went to Bampton and on to Aston Pottery for a very belated cup of coffee (I'd eaten my sandwiches earlier in a field) and cake. The observant of you may have noticed that I now have a Cafe Reviews page on the blog. I update it whenever I go to another one, and I've added Aston Pottery now. I have been here lots of times over the years, and it's extremely popular with cyclists. It's gone from being quite a small shop to a much bigger one selling not just their own pottery but lots of other stuff as well, and the cafe has expanded too, but I can't help thinking that it's one of those places that was nicer when it was smaller.

Anyway, I was not impressed with either my coffee or my cake. The americano I had was bitter, and the carrot cake was so dry it fell apart whenever I stuck my fork in it, so I contacted them via their website to tell them so (politely...). I have not heard anything so shall have to resort to a letter as their website gives no email address. That always makes me wonder if having a contact form and not giving an email address as well isn't a cunning trick to get rid of annoying customers. Sometimes you can copy an email address even if it doesn't actually show up on the website but I couldn't even do that. I won't give up.... I have to say that their lunches looked very appetising though.

After that it was home again, a flattish ride south via the villages of our Vale of the White Horse. The weather had turned out quite hot, and windy. I did 35 miles and when I got home I was rather knackered, and I thought to myself that I have in the past done 50 miles in a day (I once even did 67 on my very ordinary Trek) and found myself doubting whether I could still do that, so just to prove I could I went out the next day and did! Husband laughed and said he was going to tell his paragliding chum that -

"My wife cycled 35 miles on Sunday and said she was knackered afterwards so the next day she goes out and does 50!"

If you're interested, here's a link to this ride -

My decision to go out and try for 50 after a tiring 35 made perfect sense to me even if Husband found it amusing. I wasn't so knackered that I needed any longer than overnight to recover, and I tend to analyse things a lot and I wanted to know exactly why I was knackered - was it perhaps the food I ate, either the type of food or the quantity? Or something else? With these thoughts in mind I set off the next day at 9.15 (not as early as I'd have liked but I had been distracted by various bits of housework that needed doing) to explore further our local NCN Route 5 which travels east from Wantage to Didcot and Wallingford, and north to Abingdon and Oxford. I'd been as far as Abingdon previously but fancied going up to Oxford. The first 9 miles or so of my ride were again via villages in the Vale of the White Horse - Childrey, Denchworth, and West and East Hanney, then a boring and sometimes busy road across to Drayton and on to the NCN path. I'd stopped 8 miles into the ride at West Hanney for a drink and bits of fruit, and then my next stop was for free coffee at Waitrose in Abingdon.

I usually take home made sandwiches with me, as well as fruit, tomatoes (yes I know that's also fruit!) and a snack bar but today I had brought with me a tuna John West Creations range meal  instead, but when I got to Waitrose at 11.30 I fancied some of their sandwiches. Bearing in mind what I had been thinking about food, I went for something substantial - chicken and bacon - which I sat outside eating, along with a few tiny chocolate biscuits from home (I only bought them as we needed a tin!) and my free coffee. A lady joined me and we chatted about walking. It was very pleasant sitting there, and I was interested to see that many shoppers came by bike, more than do in Wantage.

Then it was off through the Abbey Meadows -

to join NCN 5. I had worked out a circular route home and decided I hadn't quite got time to go as far as Oxford, so I turned off west just north of Radley, having passed this Millenium milepost marker -

NCN Millenium milepost marker
What spoilt this ride for quite a few miles was the noise of the traffic from the A420. It certainly spoils the lovely village of Sunningwell, which I had never been to before but had heard of as I had seen it mentioned in the Oxfordshire Art Weeks booklets - it has a School of Art in the old school building. Just fancy - a little village with its own School of Art! Imagine the conversation -

"Oh, you went to art school? Glasgow? St Martin's?" [They're the ones I've heard of]

"Oh no - Sunningwell!"

[Cough, splutter] "Where????"

I went in the church opposite to have a look round; I often stop and go in churches, and it is good to find that invariably they are open. I have only found one, on my recent jaunts, that wasn't. I also refilled my water bottle at their outside tap - I have said in a previous post that most churches have an outside tap somewhere! The water is usually lovely and cold too.

After Sunningwell I went through Shippon, which I hadn't realized was the home of Dalton Barracks, though I could tell it was somewhere military just from the look of it. I've often passed the sign to Dalton Barracks on a different road but had no idea it was in a place called Shippon! You learn something new every day! The next place of any significance was Tubney, and here were the usual signs of wealth - big houses set back from the wide verges, electronic gates by the dozen -

Nice bike in the foreground.

- and anti-climb paint, which apparently never dries and is therefore an effective anti-intruder measure. It is apparently difficult to remove from clothing so it's a good job that I didn't get too close to the fence it was on. I just think - what's the point of having that much dosh if you're so terrified of invaders that you need these electronic entry devices and anti-climb paint, and no doubt intruder alarms and probably CCTV as well? Maybe there are even security guards lurking in the gardens too. And probably fierce Alsations. Or perhaps those latter two are a bit old school!!

Part of my mission on this ride was to find the tunnel under the A420 at Fyfield; I had read about it on Wantage CUK ride reports. I could see it on the OS map on Husband's old smartphone but couldn't find the path to it. I ended up having to cross the dual carriageway (had to wait ages for a gap in the traffic) to where I could see the bridlepath opposite, then pootled along it, saw another path off it, went down there, found the tunnel, went through it, and followed the path back to where I should have got on it! Interestingly, when I got home and looked at our older paper OS map, I could see the old road, that is now really just a path, that led to the tunnel, and where I should have got on it. I suppose it's no longer classified as any kind of public right of way, so is no longer on the map. Just goes to show, the old maps are useful.

The tunnel in the distance

At the other end of the village of Fyfield there is no tunnel and if you want to get across the A420 at this end then you do have to cross over it, but here there is a place to wait between the two carriageways making it easier and safer to cross -

You can just see where the path comes out on the opposite side of the road.

I then found another old bit of road, now re-classified as "other route with public access" which led me to Kingston Bagpuize, and here once again I went on the search for a short cut, which on both the old and new maps is clearly marked as a "restricted byway" but which is simply not there at all in places, or where it is it has an unofficial notice calling it a footpath. I did some homework when I got home, looking it up on the Oxfordshire Definitive Map, a legal record of public rights of way, and it is definitely marked as a restricted byway, so my next step is to go and see if I can find physically where it originally came out onto the road at the other end. I've looked on Google Streetview but can't see evidence of it. The next step after that is to report it to the County Council.

I was beginning to flag slightly at this point; I'd done about 35 miles, the same distance that had knackered me the day before! I tend to stop more often later in a ride, both to rest and to drink and eat. I wasn't actually particularly hungry but bearing in mind my thoughts the evening before about food intake I thought that maybe I should eat the John West meal. I was jolly glad I still had it with me; I think I needed it as I ate the lot quite easily and felt better for it. I also walked for a bit, pushing the bike. The explanation for this is that a) it uses different muscles for a change and b) every bicycle and rider creates some noise, and sometimes I just want to be able not to hear that noise but to hear the sounds of nature around me and c) I just like walking.

I visited another church on the way home, at West Challow, where they had no tap but offered free bottles of water inside. They also had books you could borrow, and I picked one by Mark Tanner, entitled "The Introvert Charismatic: The Gift of Introversion in a Noisy Church". I have since read this interesting article about the author, who transports blood by motorbike in his spare time.

I had begun to realize by now that if I carried on and went straight home, I wouldn't reach 50 miles, but only about 44. I really wanted to do 50 if only to prove to myself that I could do it (OK, I admit, it looks good on Strava....) so when I got to within 1 1/2 miles of home I went back and did a 2 mile circuit before heading towards home again. Uh oh, still not far enough........ but some more veering off the route and I did it! 50.14 miles to be precise. I got home about 7.20 pm, not too knackered!

I have to say that this wasn't, overall, the most enjoyable of bike rides. As I said earlier, for quite a few miles I could hear the busy A420, and the roads across from Radley to Fyfield, although rural, are quite busy, almost rat runs in places, but, as they say (well I do anyway) "there's no such thing as a bad bike ride - just some that aren't as good as others!"

And just out of interest, here's a list of what I ate while out -

2 clementines
2 quarters of tomato (I didn't fancy the other 2)
2 chicken and bacon sandwiches
About 5 tiny chocolate biscuits
John West Creations meal
Yogurt (bought in Waitrose)

In case you're interested, here's a link to this ride -

Then I had two days break from cycling before going on our local Wantage CUK 1* group ride on the Thursday. The 1* group may be the bottom rung of the ladder but we certainly put in some miles, and for me at a pace which is usually faster than my normal one. To put that in figures, I've noticed that my normal pace when out on my own is between 8 and 9 mph, whereas with the group it is between 10 and 11, which is considerably faster, and I have on some rides felt that I was not only struggling to keep up but that I simply didn't want to go at that speed. After one particular ride I even thought - do I want to do this? I ruminated a lot on it........... However, I'm happy to say that more often than not on these rides I have been perfectly able to keep up and have thoroughly enjoyed them.

The pace of today's ride turned out to be a fraction over 10 mph - perfectly acceptable even to me! - and was about 20 miles long. I joined the group at the usual start, 6 miles away, and left them after the stop at the Huddle Coffee shop at Stanford in the Vale to make my own way home. A note about the coffee, my usual Americano - it wasn't quite as good as last time (see my review) when it was very good. I do wonder if the standard of a coffee in the same cafe can vary from time to time for some reason unknown to me - something else for me to investigate! As it was beyond mid-morning coffee-and-cake time and well into lunch time I had egg mayo sandwiches with a side of salad* and they were excellent! Proper home made style. We did a flat ride of the Vale and although we cycled roads we've ridden lots of times before it was still very enjoyable. We had a couple of new riders join us this time, which was good.

So, there we have it, a week of Less Ordinary Cycling. Back to the more Ordinary this week I think....

* One of Eldest Son's Strava (and real life) friends has a habit of adding "with a side of" to the title of his Strava rides, which I think is rather amusing, so I've decided to slip this into my blog on occasions, even when it's nothing to do with food.....