Near Miss

What is it with cars and country lanes!

We have been having a spell of glorious weather lately and have made the best that we can of it by going out as often as time allows on our bikes. Yesterday was no exception and we did a bit over 20 miles on our tandem, ambling along enjoying the scenery and the sunshine, much of it down lanes that were new to us or which we have only used once or twice before.

When out on the bikes we do try to avoid the main roads as much as possible, only using them as linking sections to a variety of country lanes. These lanes are generally quiet, scenic and a safe place to ride, being relatively free of any traffic. Mostly these lanes are little more than wide enough for one car and you do occasionally meet vehicles coming towards you or maybe catching up behind. Often it is almost impossible for those behind to overtake and so they have to creep along patiently behind us until we find a gateway or wider stretch where we can pull over. Most such drivers are extremely considerate and we always make a point of thanking them. Similarly many of those coming towards us do wait where the road is slightly wider if possible when they see us, or they at least slow down so that we can safely pass in a controlled manner. Again we always thank them.

Sadly to say, however, not everyone is so considerate. There seems to be a percentage of drivers who consider that country lanes are their own personal speedways, after all no-one else uses them do they? They are quite and empty aren’t they? Let’s face it this is their own short cut through to avoid traffic on the main road so why should they have to drive slowly and carefully? We met one such yesterday, coming towards us in a 4×4 with nowhere for us to pull off. Did he slow down? Not a chance! He came hurtling towards us regardless, so we had to jerk to a sudden halt and ram ourselves into the narrow stretch of grass verge while he hurtled past a hairbreadth away from us, without so much as a glance in our direction. We were lucky not to have been knocked off.

This set me to thinking. Whilst out on the ride we also passed first two people riding horses,  then a group consisting of mum and dad with two small children being led on ponies and later another group of about six horse riders. I dread to think what might have happened had said 4×4 driver hurtled round a bend and encountered any of these! The lead horse of the larger group actually shied and nearly stumbled onto his knees at the sight of us. Had we been a hurtling 4×4 it could have been fatal, the car might even have ploughed into the following horses, which were actually filling the width of the road as they came towards us (though they did move over and single up as we passed).

I’m sure none of you would be so inconsiderate, but just in case…. think about it and please always take considerable care when driving down narrow, twisting country lanes, you never know what obstacle might be round the next bend, after all other people are just as likely to consider the lane to be a quiet traffic free zone and themselves not be paying full attention or expecting speeding vehicles.

Incidentally large tractors and other farm vehicles also totally fill the width of the road in narrow lanes, but I have never felt unsafe when encountering a tractor. They are working vehicles and their drivers seem to be well aware of the risks they pose, they do not travel at excessive speeds and are high enough up that they can see far enough ahead to react accordingly. Being large they can also be seen in plenty of time thus allowing bike riders, pedestrians or horse riders to wait at a convenient gateway or other passing spot.

Country lanes are not the place for driving at top speed. The only problem in country lanes are speeding car drivers!

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On Your Bike

It occurred to me that it is some time since I wrote about my cycling activities here. That is probably because cycling has taken a bit of a back seat of late.

As regular readers will know we were away touring through France to Spain and back for a couple of months in the autumn last year. We took our tandem with us and whilst individual trips out were of varying lengths, some quite short and others longer, we covered quite a considerable number of miles peddling around with great enjoyment. It is an excellent way to see the countryside.

Since we got back however we haven’t been able to spend as much time on the bikes as we would have liked; an angina diagnosis for my husband, a sciatica attack for me, extreme weather (snow and ice) in this part of the UK and Christmas approaching fast all took their toll. When we did get out it was often separately as my husband didn’t want to go too far or too fast and was trying to avoid hills, just spin the legs and see how he got on. Although prepared to cycle up to usual speed I wasn’t sure how my sciatica inflamed back, hip and leg would stand up to it so didn’t want to ride out too far from home either. This meant that we restricted ourselves to the occasional ride of between 3-6 miles, weather permitting, until after Christmas. We have also interspersed these rides with short sessions on the turbo trainer in the garage – is it just me or is it really much harder work on the turbo? And it’s so boring!

Gradually things are settling down for both of us and we are upping our cycling activity again, making sure hubby doesn’t overdo it. Having done some rides of 8-12 miles over the last few weeks we went out on the tandem yesterday cycling a grand total of 15 miles, the longest distance completed since mid November. We are looking forward to better weather soon so that we can work our way up to our more regular distances before too long and perhaps go out again with the  Sunday morning gang.

We do have a few cycling aims on the plot for this year, depending on how my husband gets on. For the last two years we have been to Spain in the spring to take part in a cycling event for classic road racing bikes called La Pedals de Clip, however we have decided against doing it this year as the event is taking place a good month earlier than usual and this is not convenient for us due to other commitments, plus we have no guarantee that my husband will be fit enough in time. Instead we are looking at possibly taking part in a similar event in June here in the UK and we are also looking at participating in a sportive/fun ride event in May which starts and finishes, conveniently for us, at the marina where we keep our boat. If fitness is not an issue there is also usually a cycling event in support of our local hospice in April that we could consider.

We have not committed to any of these as yet as it all rather depends on how things go health wise. On the plus side at least my sciatica is now gradually easing up and I expect to be fully back on form before too long, especially once the weather begins to improve and spring wins out in the battle of the seasons. Fingers crossed I will soon be able to cycle off the couple of extra pounds accrued over Christmas and New Year!

Pedalling

On a bright and crisp morning
I pedal the cobwebs away —
me and my bike against the cold!

Back Home

Well, I have been back now for just over a week and am still not fully back in writing mode! I have been away for two months and have had a blissful break away from all things computer – well not quite all.

I took my computer with me as well as plenty of notebooks and pens but I confess I wrote nothing, apart from my diary and a few postcards! I also took watercolour paints and painting pads but again didn’t touch them. The time wasn’t entirely computer free, as I say I had it with me and I did look in occasionally to check emails and visit Facebook as I dreaded returning home to find hundreds of emails and notifications in my inbox. Checking emails beside the pool – bliss!

Not that I have been idle. We took our tandem with us and managed to go out for a ride most days. No heroic distances; I think the longest ride we did was about 26 miles and some as few as 5 or 6, but it was out in the fresh air enjoying the scenery. We rode along sea-fronts, around towns and villages and along ‘Via Verde’ paths (greenways, disused railway lines). We visited friends and relatives and had fun trying to communicate beyond the language barriers. I speak a little of both French and Spanish and one memorable conversation was with a Frenchman who spoke little English. I was trying to talk to him in French when I came up with a Spanish word by mistake (brain just thinks ‘foreign’!) and apologised. It turned out he also spoke a little Spanish so we had an interesting conversation in three languages, inserting the words we couldn’t remember in one language for those of another and completely understood each other!

Bread Dispensing MAchineSince my return home I have been running around in small circles trying to catch up with myself – garden to tidy, washing to do, magazine to edit and Christmas just around the corner.

It took a few days to get around to downloading all my photos but here’s one I just have to share with you. I have never seen anything like this before – a bread-dispensing machine in France. You could buy either a one euro or a two euro loaf. We bought a one euro loaf from it and I have to say it was really delicious and fresh, as if the machine had only been filled that day. I just had to take a photo. It was a Sunday, shops are shut in France on Sundays and we really needed some bread so it was wonderful to come across this machine a short way away from the motorhome ‘Aires’ where we had parked up.

The weather was mostly warm and sunny, except driving back through France when it gradually became colder with some frosty mornings as well as rain, and we were thankful that we had taken winter woollies with us. We are still adjusting to the cold back home, but it is good to be back!

N+1 Strikes Again

Regular readers may remember that a short while ago I wrote about my ‘new’ classic road-racing bike – a locally made original hand-built ‘Henry Burton’ dating from approximately 1960 which my husband was going to rebuild, the frame being a better size for me than my French made classic road-racing Motobecane bike. You can read about the project here. Progress has been rapid and it is now reaching completion. The photograph below shows it on the bike work-stand for the brakes to be fixed. The photo isn’t very good as it is taken indoors, however once the refurbishment is finished I will take a better photo outside so you can see it in all its glory.

Henry Burton bike

You may remember I had decided to call the bike ‘Bertie’, acknowledging that it is a Burton bike. Most of my bikes have names. Now, however, with the complete change of colour scheme the bike looks far too feminine to call Bertie so I am considering a name change. The suggestion so far is ‘Henrietta’, but the jury is still out. I’ll let you know.

Meanwhile, back to the N+1: We have just bought another tandem! Our original one, a French made Gitane, was bought fairly cheaply on e-bay for a bit of fun. Although we are not sure, it probably dates from the 1960’s or 70’s, has been well used prior to coming into our ownership and, it is fair to say, we have had one or two mechanical problems with it – all sorted now.  It is also a little on the big side for us.  However we have had some great fun with it and we have found it comfortable to ride, we have even done a couple of 40 mile rides on it. Interestingly we have never actually given the tandem a name.

Last week, however, we saw  a tandem advertised in ‘Cycling Weekly’ magazine. The bike was in Stoke-on-Trent, not far from where we live. It is a Longstaff, hand-built by George Longstaff in 1997 and has seen very little use so is in exceptionally good condition for its age and is built to a high specification as a touring tandem. Longstaff’s was and is a highly respected Stoke-on-Trent bike builder and they still have a shop there, although it is now (as is Henry Burton’s in Stafford) a shadow of its former self. They were especially well thought of as builders of fine tandems and my husband has always fancied one made by them. So now we have one! Photo below:

Longstaff Tandem

When we tried it before buying, it soon became apparent that the gears were not working properly. The bike had been kept in a garage and had been unused for some time. However a short period of fiddling with the tandem on the work-stand soon had the problem fixed. and after a little more fine tuning we tried it out properly today on a short ride, a 9 mile loop out from home and back. It is a little lighter in weight than the Gitane tandem and a very comfortable ride so we are well pleased.

We will eventually sell the Gitane, so if anyone is interested in buying a tandem to have some fun with you know where to find one!

 

Conversation

Daughter
and son
both at home.
Main topic of conversation?
Cycling.

Not Another Bike!

Henry Burton BikeYes, I’m afraid so, I have acquired another bike! Unexpectedly I must add.

Regulars will remember that I have written in the past about my bikes and I have one, a French made Motobecane classic Road Racing bicycle (circa 1980) which I call ‘Captain Beaky’ and which was bought so that I could take part in La Pedals de Clip in Spain this year. My husband and daughter both have English-made bikes from the late 1950’s and took part last year as well, but at the time I didn’t have a suitable bike.

I really would have liked to also have English bike but classic English bikes are very expensive, especially in good condition. Finding one in need of refurbishment and therefore not expensive is a matter of luck, especially if you want a small frame. The French one, however, was affordable though a little on the top end of a suitable size for me. We did what we could to make it fit better and it is not bad, in fact it is a very nice bike, but all along I have said that if I came across an affordable English bike with a slightly smaller frame I would get it. So, while not exactly actively searching for one we have been keeping our eyes open.

My husband recently made a visit to our local bicycle recycling charity ‘Back to Bikes’ in Stafford (they take in donated bikes, refurbish them and sell them at affordable prices. If they are not worth refurbishing they strip them for parts and/or scrap them).  He wasn’t looking for a bike but saw this one and brought it home for me. It is in need of complete refurbishment and there is a good chance ‘Back to Bikes’ would have scrapped it.

The bike is a locally made ‘Henry Burton’ bike circa 1960 (could even be slightly earlier). Henry Burton was an ex-cyclist cum frame-builder who built frames in his shop in Stafford, not far from my home, between 1950 and the early 1970’s. However he was apparently notoriously bad at keeping records and didn’t bother with frame numbers so we can’t be absolutely sure of the age. All we really have to go on is the style of the frame and its other parts plus the style of the ‘decals’. The shop in Stafford is now run by Henry Burton’s son and no longer builds frames although they do still sell Henry Burton bikes – built elsewhere and labelled as Henry Burton. My husband took the frame into the shop and Burton’s son has confirmed this is an original hand-made Henry Burton frame – see front decal below:

Front Decal

Our other aid to ageing the bike is the style of the script on the down tube, which is just about readable. Apparently Henry Burton had stopped using this style of script, opting for a more modern upright ‘print’ style by the mid-1960’s:

Down Tube Script Decal

This bike, which I have decided to call ‘Bertie’, is decidedly smaller framed than ‘Captain Beaky’ and is English through-and-through. At the moment it is totally in pieces and restoration has commenced. We have bought some new (old stock) wheels of the correct era ready to replace the not-so-good old ones, plus new tyres. A dent in the top tube has been repaired and the frame is in the process of being rubbed down ready for re-spray. We have found some replacement old style decals to be stuck on once the repaint job is done and the aim is that I will use this bike for La Pedals de Clip next year. If our youngest son decides to come along too then he can ride ‘Captain Beaky’, with some adjustment back to its original state in order to fit him. Watch this space.

Hot and Humid

Hot and humid
out on the bike
for a short, sharp ride
before the weather turns.

The Croxton Wells

Further to my post last Monday on the subject of Well Dressing, which you can read here, I did eventually get to visit the wells on Friday. They were only left in situ for one week so this was really my last opportunity. I half expected them to have faded, having been decorated using natural materials, but in fact they were still in good condition.

Well No. 6This was a good excuse to go out on the bike (‘Lola’) and to prove that I did here is my bike by Well No. 6.

I was intending to ride the 6.3 miles Heritage Trail which included visiting the five village wells and the sixth which was a bit further away along a lane out of the village. Croxton is about 3 miles from my home so the round trip would have been about 12.5 miles. Unfortunately I missed a turning down one lane (see Friday’s post) and ended up doing a round trip of about 14 miles.

As I mentioned in my previous post the theme this year was ‘Supporting the Community’ and Well 6 is a spring-fed well beside a fishing pond, near the remains of an old manor house. This ‘Dressing’ celebrated the Shropshire and Staffordshire Blood Bikes (which now also cover part of Cheshire). This is a volunteer organisation that transports blood, as well as breast milk for premature babies and microbiological samples on behalf of the NHS, using specially equipped motorbikes.

Boughy's Well No 1The wells all served the community in times gone by, some providing water for the people of the community and others were used to water livestock and passing coach horses. Well No. 1, on the left, is known as Boughy’s Well and is another spring fed well on an area known as The Flash. This well provided drinking water for the village and is now protected by a fence. It was ‘Dressed’ by members of the local community and represents the police, fire and ambulance services.

Well No 2

Well No. 2 on the right was created by local children and represents Staffordshire’s Lowland Rescue Service, helping find missing people and saving lives at times of flooding as well as transporting paramedics to casualties in adverse weather conditions.

Well 3 RNLI

The  small ‘Dressing’ for Well No. 3 sits above a ‘sloping well’ carved into the sandstone rock. It celebrates the work of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI).

 

Well No. 4 below is another ‘sloping well’ that was used to water farm animals and coach horses. This star-shaped ‘Dressing’ depicts the village groups that support the community, such as the choir, the church, the Garden Guild, the Tennis Club and the WI (Women’s Institute – who initiated the Well Dressing Festival).

Well No. 4

Finally Well No. 5, below, is known as ‘Cattery Well’ as it sits outside a local cattery! It is a deep spring-fed well and always has water. It provided a plentiful supply for local residents. This well is also fenced for safety purposes and the ‘Dressing’ sits above it. The ‘triptych’ design was created by children from the local primary school and references their school badge which includes a bee, train, kingfisher and the church. As well as learning about the ancient custom of Well Dressing while doing this the children also learnt about the importance of wells in rural villages.Well No. 5 Cattery Well

Missed Turning

A new cycling route today,
taking in the Croxton Wells,
slightly further than I had planned
due to a missed turning!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
If you are wondering what I mean by ‘the Croxton Wells’ check out Monday’s post here.

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