Thursday, June 29

Bob the Brompton goes to Devon!

  Last week, Husband and I planned to go to Cullompton, in Devon, to visit our daughter, and I realized this was a good opportunity for me to take the Brompton in the car and cycle/take the train home.  As happens so often when I am considering a longer or more unusual bike ride, I find myself getting nervous and mentally backing out, thinking of all the possible difficulties, and that's exactly what happened, emphasized by the newness of this adventure with Bob. However, as our 2 year old grandson has a habit of saying - "Did it!".

My original thought was to cycle to the station at Tiverton a few miles from Cullompton, get the train to Bristol, cycle the railway path to Bath (I've long wanted to ride it), wild camp overnight nearby, then get the train the next day to Swindon and cycle home from there. However, I realized that this was too much new-to-me activity in one go, too much luggage to think about getting onto the train, and I only had a couple of days to plan it, and so I decided instead to do the whole journey home in one day.

Cycling trips like this take me ages to plan. I've got a spreadsheet of what I need to take but it still took me a good few hours over a couple of days to plan exactly what I needed for this particular trip, and the first leg of the route. I knew what the second leg would be, having already cycled it here, (4th paragraph down) 

Regarding luggage, I had to think about the act of getting the bike onto the train; I needed both hands free for this, one for the bike and one for the bag - a Brompton Borough bag, which easily contained all I needed - which goes on the front of the bike, so the best place for any other bags was on my back, hence I also took my small 5 litre rucksack, strapping it to the rack when cycling. So, for the first part of the route, I needed to get from Cullompton to Tiverton Parkway, which was a choice of either a fairly straightforward one out of the town and then onto a cycle path which takes you straight to the station, or a slightly longer, but more scenic, route, but one which needed a bit more navigating. 

On the morning of the Monday when I left my daughter's, I had a rough timetable in my head of the day. I decided that if I got away soon after 8, I would take the longer more scenic route. If it got to 8.20 I'd probably take the shorter route, which, once I was on the cycle path, would be straight there without needing to look at the map. Neither of the two routes were very far, one about 5 1/2 miles and the other 7 1/2, but as I said, with the longer one I had more to think about as I had to navigate more, which meant memorising as much as I could but no doubt having to stop and check the map as well.  I found out that when you're suddenly cycling in a different area, rather than having cycled to it, it's very different. I wanted to buy a railcard at the station too, so that would add on some time, though I'd already filled in the form.  In case you're wondering, I obviously hadn't got time to wait for one to arrive in the post, and I don't have a smartphone so couldn't get a digital one, which I wouldn't want anyway....I do possess a mobile phone but it is about 14 years old. All I want it for is the odd phone call or message. And even that I could happily manage without!!

 As it happened, by 8.20 when I left  I had already decided to take the cycle path anyway. I was a bit concerned about the roads in that area being quite busy, and both narrow and hilly in places. I'm still getting used to the Brompton and to knowing what I can manage in the way of hills on it, so this decision was all about making life easier for myself!

You might by now be thinking - "Get on with it!" But I am always curious as to what goes through other cyclists' minds when they are planning a trip, hence my detail in case you are curious too! 

Now follow me out of Cullompton if you will....  I was too intent on getting to the station to take photos at this point unfortunately. Trying to find a different road out of the town to avoid the busier road wasn't successful, but I know where I went wrong so next time I'll get it right. I had to get off on a hill as I hadn't engaged the right gear; I stopped at the top for a drink and my second clementine of the day (more on food later). Finding the cycle path out of the neighbouring village of Willand wasn't as easy as it looked on the map. Back at home I'd done my research on where it was, and I checked the map again. It was only when I saw a postman driving down a tiny lane between two buildings that I realized that that must be where it started. I also saw a blue NCN sign  - I hadn't realized it was part of an NCN route.   Why are the blue NCN signs so small and hard to see, and why aren't there more of them?!!!!! "They" want us to cycle more so why don't "They" make it a bit easier by spending more money on better signage, for a start.... I wish I'd taken a photo of the usual tiny hard-to-see sign at the start of the path just to show anyone who's not familiar with them how ridiculously tiny they are.

I got to the station a bit later than planned, so I gave up on buying the railcard that day and just bought my ticket (a real paper one....). Then the moment of folding the bike in public for the first time came! And yes, I did mess it up slightly! but I sorted it out and was rewarded as I got on the train with the lady behind me saying - "I think you're very brave!" I felt rewarded anyway! The train wasn't crowded and I successfully put the bike on the bottom of the luggage rack, and then found a seat right in front of it, where I could keep an eye on it. Some people actually lock the bike to the train, so I've read, to deter opportunist thieves. Phew, Stage 1 of the journey successfully completed! The only eventful thing that happened was that later I went to the loo, came back, and after a while  realized I hadn't got my rucksack - which contained all the important stuff. My stomach turned over as I imagined that someone had pinched it when passing down the aisle. Then I realized I must have left it hung up in the loo, went back, and there it still was - thank God!

I had to change at Bristol Parkway, and again I was nervous about this, having only 12 minutes to change, and not being familiar with this station. As it happened all I had to do was cross a matter of yards from one platform to the neighbouring one - no stairs or lift involved. Again I got on the train and put the bike on the bottom of the luggage rack, and found a seat  in front of it. Stage 2 successfully completed! About 40 minutes later I arrived at Swindon, and, breathing a sigh of relief, immediately made for the cafe, where while waiting to be served, another cyclist, and owner of a Brompton he didn't use any more, came up and chatted to me about mine. I can see that it is definitely a bit of a conversation starter - like dogs and babies! I think I'm going to get a lot of enjoyment out of it.

Up to that point I had only had two clementines, plus water and tea to drink. The reasons for this are  to do with what's called "intermittent fasting" - leaving a longer gap between your last meal on one day and your breakfast on the next. It was also to do with feeling nervous about a ride and wanting to just get on and go rather than trying to force myself to eat while in that nervous state. Once upon a time I used to feel almost sick if I didn't eat before going out in the morning, but  I have discovered now that I feel much better when doing this, even when I go out on my bike. The other day I went 15 miles before stopping to eat. So, I ate my lunch, trying not to wolf it down in my hunger (origin of that expression - the digestion of dogs starts in their stomachs, not in their mouths as does ours, so for them "wolfing it down" is fine!), bought an apple for later, and then for the first time in my life used the lift (well, obviously I've used a lift before but not at a station) to get down to the exit. 

Then to unfold the bike, again for the first time in public. I think by now I was getting slightly more confident and I did it correctly, and off I went on my cycle ride out of Swindon. Please forgive the awful quality of these photos - I'm putting them in just to give some indication of what my ride out of the town was like. My camera has stopped working and I was using Husband's old smartphone.

Just left the station. Beautiful Swindon...

This is the world famous "Magic Roundabout", in the middle of Swindon, and is actually 5 roundabouts, if I remember rightly. It's OK once you are used to it, but if not.... I remember a friend telling me that her husband used to go quiet when negotiating it...When I took this photo there wasn't much traffic about, surprisingly.

The "Magic roundabout"!

Shrivenham Road - getting greener...

As I said, I'd done this ride before so didn't need to consult the map, but, yes, you've guessed it, I still managed to go wrong. but that isn't necessarily a bad thing, because it teaches you to use your brain! I looked round me at my choices, and realized which direction I needed to go in, and was soon on the right path. 

Apart from some quiet roads and backstreets, I rode on cycle paths, and over this bridge -

Over the A419 near Go Outdoors

until I got to the Cop Shop on the A420 -

and then I was out of town and onto this bridlepath - 

Bridlepath (where the yellow arrow is) to South Marston 

From South Marston I went through Nightingale Woods to Rove's Farm, to buy some more food to keep me going.

Brompton Borough bag on the front, rucksack on the back, home made bag on the stem.

Incidentally, I made this stem bag, to put my water bottle in, from a chalk bag -

I was able to push the bike right up to the cafe/farm shop (behind the buildings in the photo) where I felt it was safe to leave it while I went in. They have a drinking water tap where you can fill up your bottle, as well as loos. Then it was on through Sevenhampton (Ian Fleming is buried there) Shrivenham, Longcot (stopped again for water - there was  a tap outside the church. The water from these church taps is always deliciously cold!) and Uffington (John Betjeman lived there) to home a couple of miles away. I did not attempt one last local hill, because by then I was tired and hot and again because I'm not sure of what I can do on this bike, and now didn't feel like the time to try. I got home at 5 pm, having left my daughter's house at 8.20 am. About 27 miles (peanuts!) in total on the bike, but a long day! 

I am amazed by how comfortable the Brompton is to ride. It wouldn't be the bike I'd choose out of my 3 to go on a long tour - though plenty of people do - but I'm more than pleased with what I've been able to do on it so far. 

Money - about £1650 with the bag and a couple of upgrades - well spent!!! I don't mind being honest and revealing how much things cost sometimes. but you know that noise that people make when you've told them the cost of something and they think it's a lot? Well, someone did just that recently when I told them the price in answer to their question. I could have spent a long time in conversation about it...

In conclusion - what a great way to travel!!

Friday, June 16

Cooking breakfast outside on my Trangia stove

Before I explain the title of this post, let me just tell you about my trial run to Swindon railway station. I'd already ridden to Didcot station on Bob the Brompton and wanted to compare it to a route to Swindon station, which is a bit further away from us. I didn't ride the Brompton as I wasn't at all sure of a part of the route I'd chosen, which was a bridleway, so I rode the Koga. I cycled via Uffington, Shrivenham and Bourton and then on a bridleway to the village of Horpit, on the outskirts of Swindon, after which I had to negotiate unexpected building works for a new road near the Commonhead roundabout.  Despite there being no signs for pedestrians or cyclists, I found my way through, and then it was on to the cycle paths, or quiet roads on NCN route 45, in Swindon all the way to the station. The whole journey there was 19 miles and took me about 4 hours.... but I didn't set out to do it as fast as possible, but to explore a possible route and to enjoy it. And to chat to people like the lady with a dog who came along just as I was emerging from a field,  having been looking for a bit of privacy to obey the call of nature (unsuccessful) and asked me, probably because I was well off the footpath that runs through the field, if I was lost! We had a nice chat and then further on I was successful....

The bridleway was very muddy in one or two spots but I got round them, and by now they will probably have dried up. It was a really lovely route as far as the roundabout, and even after that in Swindon town it was mainly traffic free. It's rather an odd feeling to cycle somewhere you've only ever driven to before. "Did I really get here on my bike?" I found myself thinking.

I would just like to add a note about Swindon here: As a child I had some friends who lived down the road from me, in a flat over a shop, and when they moved to Swindon my mum made a negative comment about it (I can't remember the comment specifically) and ever since then whenever I think about Swindon, in my mind it is a grey's that thing of associating names and nouns with colours. 

My route home was to go out of Swindon through Lower Stratton and past the police headquarters, and then I was out in the countryside again and going through the village of South Marston, then Nightingale Woods and Rove's Farm (had cup of tea in the cafe and looked round the farm shop) , Sevenhampton (burial place of Ian Fleming), Watchfield (home to the Defence Academy of the UK - I wouldn't mind a snoop round there..!) Compton Beauchamp, and the hilly and winding B4507 to home. 39.46 miles in about 8 1/2 hours....

So - back to breakfast outside. I'm not someone who just goes for bike rides for the sake of it - I like to have an aim and a purpose behind it. As well as cooking breakfast outside, I wanted to see if some bridleways and byways were rideable on my bike, for future rides perhaps. With reference to the stove, I have often used my Trangia burner with cross members, and kettle, to boil water for coffee (and no I don't pour it on boiling, I leave it to cool for precisely one minute) when out on a ride, but had only ever used the whole stove (a Trangia 25 Duodossal) to cook breakfast in our garden, and it hadn't been particularly successful. I knew that I had to challenge myself to take it on a bike ride and cook in the wild (with the hope of doing a spot of wild camping this summer) so that was the aim of this ride. After much map reading I decided on a route, and while preparing to go I remembered that on that route there was a very beautiful and peaceful wooded burial ground at Sheepdrove Organic Farm. This is it - Sheepdrove Natural Burial Ground. Jus' perfick! as old Pa Larkin of The Darling Buds of May would say.  There were two good climbs on the way there, one of which I knew I could do, and did, and the other I knew I couldn't (up to the Ridgeway) and didn't....but I like to have a go.

The owners of Sheepdrove Farm,  Peter and Juliet Kindersley, of Dorling Kindersley Publishers fame, live in the house below, on the byway - the house is very unusual, surrounded by trees on three sides,  and the garden is beautiful, though my photo doesn't do it justice.

And opposite. Not a bad view to have from your house.... 

I chose a nice spot on the edge of the wood, with a fairly new grave (the mound in front of the bench, complete with dead tulips. Incidentally, none of the graves are marked with names.) and a bench. As Mrs Armitage would say - "What every campsite needs is somewhere to put your stuff!". If everything has to go on the ground, including yourself if there isn't even a log to sit on, then it all gets a bit tricky, I have discovered. A bench served the purpose of both table and seat. 

A bit burnt but still very tasty, and  better than my garden attempts - 

I also had yogurt and banana and my home made elderberry syrup, and two small chocolate digestives -  I don't often have biscuits these days but my son and family, who have recently been staying with us, had left them behind and I took upon myself the onerous task of finishing them. It was a lovely spot to sit and eat, and I thought - I must do this again!  However..... I was just packing up when a group of mourners appeared on the path ahead of me, which shocked me a bit! I wondered if the smell of bacon and coffee was lingering in the air..... Fortunately they weren't visiting "my" grave, and in fact they didn't even glance in my direction, though they were only yards away. 

Having had quite a chilly start (it's been like that for many days now, chilly days that take ages to warm up, and I have only just stopped wearing winter clothes) it was now getting pretty hot, and after leaving the wood I removed two layers from on top, and the zip-off bits of the zip-off trousers I'd recently bought. I am always interested in what other cyclists wear (unless it's lycra...), so in case you are too, these were Peter Storm men's ones. They actually fit me really well, though I don't think I've got a manly shape.... The men's clothing in Go Outdoors, where I bought them, is always in colours much more to my liking than the women's, and they also seem to have a better choice of styles and fabrics. I bought some women's Brasher trousers a while ago, in a synthetic stretchy fabric, although I don't normally go for fabrics like that, and for a while I really liked them for cycling in, as they were very comfortable. I even bought a second pair. However, they have gone out of shape and look terrible. The Peter Storm ones are a much nicer cotton mixture fabric. I used to like Craghoppers trousers and shorts until they too started using synthetic stretchy fabrics.

And after that I rode on bits of bridleway, and parts of the Ridgeway, going east. Some were easily rideable, like this part of the Ridgeway (you can see why it is called a white road) and some I had to get off and walk. I nearly fell off once, but recovered myself and bike in time.

In the photo below, looking down from the Ridgeway, the arrow on the left is pointing to new houses (there are thousands...) built on the east side of Wantage, the one in the middle points to the road to Wantage from Newbury, and the one on the right points roughly to Didcot power station.

Another part of the Ridgeway, looking east.

I took a byway down from the Ridgeway towards East Hendred, and then turned off onto part of NCN route 544 and headed west to Wantage, and then home, refilling my water bottles with lovely cold water from a tap outside Ardington church.

I am glad to have completed the challenge of cooking outside in the wild, and I really enjoyed doing the off-roading. I wouldn't want to do it in the winter on my bike, but at this time of year it was fine, and made a lovely change from riding on the road all the time, and I don't mind at all having to get off and walk. About 26 miles - in 8 hours!! That's my kind of cycling!!