Back Again – Or Not!

Well I am back after a wonderful long weekend away with the tandem at the Tandem Club National Rally near Oxford. The weather was glorious for the time of year and I even caught the sun before remembering to slap on the sun scream cream. We managed about 124 miles over four rides around roads, lanes and tracks.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that I may not be around much over the next few weeks as I have rather a lot on. First my brother-in-law, who is moving back to the UK from Portugal is staying with us while sorting out the purchase of a retirement apartment a few miles from our home. Although an offer has been accepted on an apartment and this is proceeding it could take some time and it is always difficult to find time to do your own thing when you have a house guest!

Secondly, my poetry group has produced collections of poems by members from time-to-time over the years, often for special occasions. We have decided to produce one for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee and I will be editing it as our previous editor is not at all well and is no longer a member of the group. I shall need to get on with the job over the next couple of weeks so that it can be with the printer in time for it to be produced for the Platinum Celebrations in early June – and I haven’t even written my own contribution yet! The deadline for contributions by our members is 30th April so I must try to comply with my own rules. Most of my available spare time will be spent on this project.

I will drop in when I find the time but this may be infrequently until at least the middle of May.

Made for Two

On a bicycle made for two
cycling along in the cold,
hunkering down behind you,
isn't much fun, truth be told.

On a bicycle made for two
with fingers and toes turning numb,
not able to take in the view
as all I can see is your b_ _!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Naughty, naughty, slap my hand! Although we were out on one of our tandems this morning, which was a bit on the chilly side, this silly verse actually refers to our first Tandem Club ride of the year last weekend when it was bitterly cold.

To start from the beginning, our first tandem was a Gitane, which we bought quite cheaply on e-bay to see if we would like it. We then bought our George Longstaff tandem, which is the one we mostly use and to which we had added an electric assist. We had taken our Gitane out to Spain for our daughter and her fella but they hadn't ridden it very much and there were a few issues with it. So when we went out to Spain last autumn we brought the Gitane back with us and the boss spent much of the Christmas holiday period repairing and refurbishing it. We had taken it out for a short 'shake down' ride early in January after which he made a few tweaks. Then he decided that we would use it for the club ride, a bit over 22 miles on this occasion, which we would have to manage without electric assist.

The Longstaff has a fairly upright cycling position and I can usually crane my neck to see a bit over the boss's shoulders, (although more often I'm looking to one side or the other resulting in a crick in my neck!). The Gitane had me leaning forward over uncomfortable handlebars in a posture a bit like a racing cyclist and I couldn't see much of anything over his shoulders. I also kept sliding forwards on the saddle and bumping my knees on the handlebars. Although it was cold and uncomfortable I did actually enjoy the ride, out in the fresh air, with good company, although I didn't see as much of the scenery as I would have liked! We didn't really miss the electric assist as there weren't too many hills and the bike is quite a bit lighter in weight than the Longstaff.

So more tweaks were clearly in order followed by this morning's ride on it for a another test run. I now have different handlebars - much more comfortable and the saddle behaved. I still can't see very much out front but it was better and we actually had quite a nice 13 and a bit miles ride. Nothing, though, can change the fact that on the back of a tandem the most likely view is the back of the person in front - get used to it!

French Trails

Our first stop on our recent tour through France and Spain was with our friends who live just outside the town of Pre-en-Pail, near Alencon, where they run a B & B. They live up a single track lane off the main road between Alencon and St. Malo. A couple of hundred yards up, the lane crossed an old single track railway line, via a level-crossing.

As recently as our last visit in the spring of 2019 the track was still in place though rusty and overgrown, not having seen any trains for years. This time however, after a good eighteen months since we were last there, we noticed that the rails had been removed and the disused route had been turned into a cycling, walking and horse-riding route and only recently opened. Apparently this is part of a new long-distance route from Paris to Mont Saint-Michel. It is not yet complete, there is more work to do but we were keen to explore it.

We had bikes with us as we were to do La Pedals de Clip classic cycling event in Spain a few weeks later. For this we had solo bikes with us, but we also had our trusty George Longstaff tandem and this is what we used to to explore the new route. Of course we didn’t have time to ride the whole thing, but we did sample several miles in each direction from where it crosses the lane to our friends’ house.

Hubby looking up the trail towards Mont Saint-Michel
Me on the trail towards Alencon
Should you wish to ride it here is a Km marker showing the route length.

In some places as yet the route crosses the main road which is rather busy but at one place in the Alencon direction an underpass has been built, possibly as a test case for others. The problem with this is that it is goes quite steeply up and down under the road and in wet weather the gravel tends to get washed down into the dip. As we went through and put on the power to get up the other side we came to a sudden standstill as we slammed into the deeply piled gravel! We just about managed not to topple over.

Having said that and, despite the complaints of some locals (according to our friends) this route is a great use of an old railway line. It has also been advantageous to our friends as they have already benefited from several walkers and cyclists visiting their B & B. Maybe another time we will be able to explore a bit more of this new route, though I think the whole distance would be a bit ambitious for us!

Home

Home again after best part of a week in the heart of the New Forest. I now have a deal of catching up to do. I have been trying to write something poetic about our time away but the muse has not so far returned with me.

However we did take part in the Tandem Tarts Ten Time Trial and came a magnificent 15th (which I guess was probably last) in a time of 38 minutes, which my son informs we was about 16 mph – not bad for a couple of oldies over the ten mile course, we usually cruise at around 10-12 mph. As I had expected, most of the others took it all rather seriously, with several in full time-trial mode with pointy backed helmets etc. Unfortunately it was a wet day and we did get rather soggy. Photos not yet available but if and when any turn up I will try to post here, maybe with some witty verse attached!

We did have a wonderful break away. The New Forest is amazing; ponies, cattle and deer freely roaming. There are masses of trails and tracks, some obviously caused by the livestock activity, and we had a great time riding some of these on the solo bikes we took along with us as well as the tandem.

Camping in the forest, among all those trees, was amazingly refreshing. I could happily have stayed much longer but sadly other commitments called.

Away Again

Just dropped by to let you know I will be off-line for a week from today. I should be back here next Wednesday. We are off with our motorhome and a load of bicycles down to the New Forest where Saturday sees us take part in the ‘Tandem Tarts Ten Time Trial’. Yes, it’s a race, on the tandem! We are taking our most recently renovated one, a Peugeot, as the electric assist on our main one will be unlikely to be permitted and it is also a much heavier tandem than the Peugeot.

We have never time-trialed before, certainly not on the tandem, and we don’t expect to set any records over the 10 mile course. The event is only semi-serious, although I imagine some ‘competitors’ will take it more seriously than others. It is a bit of a fun event being run alongside a ‘proper’ time-trial, in aid of charity and judging by a few photos we have seen of previous events some of the teams dress up as ‘tarts’. We will hint in that direction but not be going overboard!

As well as the tandem we are taking a couple of solo bikes and will hopefully get out and about along some of the tracks and trails in the area – a part of the country I haven’t visited since I was a teenager camping with the Girl Guides.

The campsite we are staying at is very quiet and secluded, with no facilities and no electricity or WIFI connection so I am not taking my laptop and I don’t do the Internet on my phone (can’t cope with the small screen), hence why I will be off-line. Just keep your fingers crossed for us that we may get some good weather! See you soon.

They Think It’s All Over

Well I’m back from a wonderful Bank Holiday weekend in the Derbyshire Dales with our motorhome and our tandem. What beautiful countryside, with rough pastures full of buttercups, dry stone walls and verges full of wild flowers – much of it the ubiquitous Cow Parsley or as we called it when I was a child, Mother Die, but others were in evidence as well. Swallows flitted all around our camping field and I even spotted a curlew standing statue-still only a few yards from the road as we were cycling along. There were also plenty of hills and steep-sided woodlands rising up from the lanes beside us. I haven’t yet had time to download any photos from my camera so nothing to share I’m afraid.

One minor problem of the weekend is that we found that the whistling kettle that we use on the gas cooker (we had no electric hook-up so relied on the gas) was in serious danger of losing it’s handle which had nearly detached itself. The meant that we had to cycle into the lovely little town of Bakewell to buy a new one – this was Bank Holiday Saturday. What a mistake! The town was jam-packed with visitors (okay, so were we visitors too!), very few masks and no social distancing in evidence. It seems that, since everything is due to open up later this month all being well, the majority think it is all over already. The same problem was true of the off-road Monsal Trail that we rode along to get to Bakewell and back again – crowded, no social-distancing or masks. At least we found a kettle after spending quite a long time looking for a shop that could sell us one and being sent on some wild goose chases when we stopped to ask! I may have had both jabs but I’m still not comfortable with a quick return to so called ‘normality’.

This was however a minor hiccup, the weekend was most enjoyable and out and about on the country lanes we were virtually alone (except for passing traffic). We kept away from the popular places where crowds would gather. By gum, it’s hilly up there though and we were glad of our electric assist!

Anglesey Trip

We returned from our trip to Anglesey last Friday and since then I have been playing catch-up with all sorts of things. I have been busy coping with our garden and field harvest – freezing produce, making jam etc. and this hasn’t left much time to visit here and write a report to do justice to our jaunt away.

Suffice it to say we didn’t actually circumnavigate the island on our tandem. We ended up staying on just one site and we know we will have to go back again one day. It was a lovely, non-commercial, welcoming and peaceful site  on the outskirts of a small place called Llanfrachraeth on the main island but not far from Holyhead on the smaller Holy Island, with only two other couples also camping there, so there we stayed.

Cemaes Bay

Cemaes Bay

The weather was rather variable; there were some sunny spells but it was also cold and windy at times and at least one day was a wash-out, but of the eight days in total we rode out on five, with two travel days and the one day of heavy rain taking up the rest of the time. Mostly our cycling was out in the morning and back in time for lunch followed by a restful afternoon. Even so we covered some 90 miles during the week. Compared to much of Wales the terrain is relatively flat, but there still seemed to be a fair amount of up and down.

Llynnon Mill

As well as Holyhead we cycled to Trearddur Bay on Holy Island, to Cemaes Bay (pronounced Kem-ice – the ‘C’ is hard in Welsh) on the main island, photo above, and also to Cemlyn Bay, which is a Nature Reserve and bird sanctuary. On the way to Cemaes Bay we stopped at the lovely Llynnon Mill, just a few miles from the campsite (see photo also above).

One place I have always wanted to visit, because of its famous name, we stopped off at on our way home. Here we bought some Welsh Cakes (delicious!) and a few other gifts. I refer of course to Llanfairpwillgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwillllantysiliogogogoch, often referred to as Llanfair PG and shortened on the map to Llanfair Pwillgwyngyll. I am reliably informed that the name translates to “The church of Mary in the hollow of the white hazel near the fierce whirlpool and the church of Tysilio by the red cave”, which you may be able to read on the photo below, but don’t ask me to say it in Welsh!

Llanfair PG

Llanfair Pwllgwyngyll

All-in-all it was a lovely week away and we were almost sorry to have to come home again. We will go back; there is so much more to see and the scenery is wonderful.

Cycling Tour

Just a quick visit to let you know I will be away for about a week.

For several years now we have been talking about doing a cycling tour of the Welsh island of Anglesey, so now we are packing up the motorhome, complete with our tandem, and will be heading off in the morning to do just that. The motorhome makes it easy to maintain social distancing and we can be pretty well self-sufficient – though we may need to pop to the shops for the odd item now and then, masked and sanitised of course.

As with previous trips away with the motorhome this year I will not be taking my laptop as I think it likely that internet access may not be viable (and it’s good to have a break from the computer now and then). All being well I should be back in a week’s time and will report on the trip then.

Tandem Sunday

On Sunday we went out for our first tandem club ride this year. Bad weather prevented rides in January and February, then along came Lockdown! Now that this has greatly eased it was decided we could safely meet as long as we took care.

The plan had been to stagger the start so that we were not in a big bunch, however as only 5 tandems signed up for the ride it was deemed safe enough to ride along together, reasonably spread out.

We met at Audlem, near Newcastle under Lyme. Our criteria for a meeting place is that it has to be a car park where we can stop all day, preferably free of charge, there must not be a height barrier as some members transport their tandems in a van, and there should be public toilets available as some members travel a long way to our meets. Under the current circumstances we knew that facilities were likely to be an issue as they would probably be closed and this may have been a factor to put off some of the members from joining us. We opted to transport our tandem with our motorhome, thus having our own on board facilities!

Lunch is usually a cafe stop, though in the summer some of our rides are bring-your-own picnic rides and this was the chosen option for this outing, safety being a prime concern.

Canal Lifting Bridge

Canal Lifting Bridge

The ride was a repeat of one last summer. We rode out along a variety of country lanes and over the Shropshire Union Canal. When we arrived at the spot where the road crosses the canal we found that the bridge was about to be operated and thought we were in for a long wait to let a barge through but they kindly waited for us to cross first and then we stopped anyway to watch the bridge lifted and the barge pass.

Picnic at Beeston

Picnic at Beeston

Our picnic lunch stop was at Beeston Castle, where there are table and benches set out for visitors to use. Many of us were also thankful that the visitors facilities were also open. We then continued our round trip back to Audlem, taking in another stop for an ice-cream just outside Audlem at Overwater Marina.

Tandems at Overwater Marina

Tandems at Overwater Marina

The ride was just short of 42 miles, the longest ride we have done this year. The weather was kind to us; a bit overcast at times with a chilly breeze but some long sunny spells when it was quite warm. In all a lovely day out on the tandem and good to catch up with other tandem-riding friends after a six-month break!

To a Skylark

Sweet
trilling song.
Up on high
I spot him hovering.
Skylark.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Out on our tandem last Sunday, cycling through open countryside, I became away of bird song and recognised it as a skylark, also known in our house as ‘the never-wert bird’! I looked around and, up high over my left shoulder, eventually spotted it hovering; something of a rare sighting these days.

The skylark gained the name ‘never-wert bird’ in my childhood, aided and abetted by my father, also a poetry lover, from the poem ‘To a Skylark’ by Percy Bysshe Shelley which, as I’m sure you know, begins with the lines “Hail to thee, blithe Spirit / Bird thou never wert”.

One of my clearest memories of seeing skylarks was from when I was a primary school teacher many years ago. My classroom looked out over a fairly wide expanse of grass between our school and the associated Infant School next door. This stretch of grass was out-of-bounds for playing on and surprisingly skylarks nested there. What a delight it was for me and my class of 7-8 year olds, to see through the classroom windows, their regular comings and goings.

Needless to say ‘To a Skylark’ was my choice of poem for this weeks ’email’ session of our poetry group. We are unable to meet at the moment for obvious reasons, so instead we each email a poem via a group email to one of our members who correlates them into a pdf file for circulation to the whole group, to include those members who ‘don’t do email’. The only requirement is that the poem should preferably be uplifting and that we give reasons for our choice.

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