Tag Archives: cycle

Time to get cycling again

It has, as they say, “been a long time between drinks” on this blog site. The last post was just over a year ago. This has not been due to any tardiness, simply that the events of life took over and this blog had to be temporarily put on ice.

I hope to now reverse this situation and get regular posts going again. There is so much to tell, and so many questions to ask of you cycling fraternity out there, it is difficult to know where to start 馃檪

Perhaps it is appropriate to have a quick review of where our cycling adventures have taken us, the things we have learned and what we would like to try next.聽We have completed 3 major biking tours and have learnt so much from each of them. Each one has been remarkably different in some way.

Waiting for a train in with our loaded bikes. Let our French adventures begin!

Waiting for a train in with our loaded bikes. Let our French adventures begin!

For our first, somewhat timid foray into cycle-touring, we booked ourselves into B and Bs along the beautiful Loire Valley in France, and then rode avidly聽from one to the next for 4 weeks. It was a superb trip, but on reflection, we spent far too much time in the saddle, trying to cover as much distance as we could.

All things wonderfully French!

All things wonderfully French!

There was not enough time to explore unexpectedly lovely spots, and not enough rest days. And we went too late in the season and got cold. Frosty cold! But at least the rain stayed away, and we had聽fine weather for almost the entire month.

The take home message for this trip聽was not to be in such a hurry to “get there”.

Our second trip took place in the聽聽UK. It was a cyclo-tour with a family history flavour in that we tried to visit a number of the places where our ancestors had lived.

Having learnt not to pack too many kilometres into each day, we took a bit longer to cover the same distances, but then got the聽train, so聽moved around the countryside very quickly, while still being able to do a lot of cycling. This plan worked very well, and we were able to ride in the lovely Cotswolds, the Scottish borders and highlands, around Bath and London, and along the south coast of England. Accommodation was a lot easier (and cheaper) because we stayed at Youth Hostels in most locations.

Cycling in the lovely green English countryside.

Cycling in the lovely green English countryside.

The weather was a bit more of a problem on this trip and we got drenched a number of times (there is nowhere for cyclists to get out of the rain in the UK!).聽One particular evening stands out in this regard: it was pouring rain (and had been for most of the afternoon) and we arrived at our destination absolutely soaked. Once we were dry, there was no way we were going to voluntarily go back out into the wet to find a meal!

Our third trip took us back to France.

One of our Hubba Hubba tents which were a breeze to carry, erect and pack.

One of our Hubba Hubba tents which were a breeze to carry, erect and pack.

We had enjoyed ourselves so much the first time, and loved all things French, especially the people. This time we packed two tents聽and聽enough camping equipment to give us some basic comforts and headed to the Rh么ne Valley to see what this area had to offer.

We wisely started in the north and cycled southwards, so had the Mistral (wind) helping us most of the way. The area had some amazing surprises for us, with N卯mes and the Pont du Gard being the highlights. A train trip later and we entered the Albi area which also had a few surprises in store. The highlight for me was the incredible Millau Bridge and the fun times riding through inky black tunnels on our bikes.

The amazing, 4 lane Millau Bridge, France.

The amazing, 4 lane Millau Bridge, France.

Admiring the spectacular Millau Bridge from a distance.

Admiring the spectacular Millau Bridge from a distance.

The camping lost its appeal when the weather turned wet, but it was not a problem when things were fine (I am not fond of mud!). We did find that many of the campsites where we stayed were quite expensive, and a more comfortable (dry) bed could often be found at a local three star hotel or F1 hotel.

What you can see when you cycle through one of the tunnels between Millau and Albi.

What you can see when you cycle through one of the tunnels between Millau and Albi – it was bright daylight outside!

So what is next? We think a hybrid trip, using busses and trains to go longer distances (since this worked well on both the last two trips). But getting bikes on and off trains can be rather nightmarish, and some buses refuse to carry them altogether. So we are planning to take two Brompton folding bikes, which pack down so nicely into compact bundles with wheels. The tents will probably be left behind and a greater reliance placed on finding reasonably priced hotel accommodation. Such are our tentative plans.

A Brompton folding bike can be carried on and off trains and easily  put on a bus.

A Brompton folding bike can be carried on and off trains and easily put on a bus.

The challenge now is to figure out how to get a folded bike and all my gear into a single bag or suitcase. Ideally, the case needs to have wheels and be “inversible” When the bike is airborne, it needs to be inside the bag, but when the bike is unpacked, its bag needs to be able to fold up somehow so that it can travel on the bike racks i.e.聽“invertible”. 馃檪 聽Does anyone have any helpful suggestions?

Fields of lavender

One of the greatest things about cycle-touring as opposed to touring by bus, train or car, is that one is very close to the action when it comes to activities going on along the road. One of the most significant things missed by those whizzing along is the aroma of a plant in flower, the sea or perhaps the smell of something a bit less pleasant!

Surprisingly, there are a large number of smells to be experienced as one rides a bike. These range from the early dampness (and perhaps a mist) giving rise to an earthy smell that is quite invigorating. Village bakeries emit welcoming aromas fresh baked croissants and baguettes that vie strongly with the enticing suggestion of coffee in a nearby restaurant. Along the roads, plants compete with each other – producing and emitting their perfume in perfectly designed ways to entice a visit from as many insects as possible.

In August this year, I found myself in the Rh么ne Valley with my partner, my son and our bikes! Travelling from Lyon in the north to N卯mes (further south) we got to experience lots of smells of the European summer. In one place where we camped, our tents were pitched on a soft bed of what I think was catmint. It smelt just lovely and so did all our camping gear for a few days afterward!

Lavender plants about to be windrowed before being harvested. Rh么ne Valley, France.

Lavender plants about to be windrowed before being harvested. Rh么ne Valley, France.

Our visit had luckily also coincided with the harvesting of the fields of lavender flowers. It was not unusual to come around a corner in a road to be met with the sudden overwhelming fragrance of lavender and then to come across a farmer busily cutting and retrieving these heavily scented blooms.

Windrowed lavender ready to be picked up. Rh么ne Valley, France.

Windrowed lavender ready to be picked up. Rh么ne Valley, France.

Where the paddocks had yet to be cut and windrowed, the flowers were large and their smells quite pungent – particularly in the late afternoon as the heat of the day started to wane.

Harvester picking up Lavender flowers. Rh么ne Valley, France.

Harvester picking up Lavender flowers. Rh么ne Valley, France.

Being able to cycle slowly past these fields and to inhale the heady fragrance is one of my favourite memories of this cycling trip.

This is the first of two things that came to mind when I read Ailsa’s suggestion for a travel theme this week – fragrant. The second will take you to the south of the African continent:聽Bush fragrance.聽You can read some of the other posts that were put up in reply at ‘Wheres my backpack‘.

Chalky white horses

It was day 16 of our cycling tour of the UK. The weather was overcast and pleasantly mild as we rode across to Devizes (Wiltshire) from Hungerford. The day’s ride was not very long (47km) and we had plenty of time to appreciate the countryside.

Map of the day's ride from Hungerford to Devizes

Map of the day’s ride from Hungerford to Devizes (Tracked using the Cyclemeter app and opened into Google Earth)

We were 聽approaching the village of Alton Barnes聽when KJ casually asked if I knew about the horses.

I glanced around. There was no traffic, the roads completely deserted – if there were people about riding horses, they would have been quite obvious. But no riders, and no horses. I was a bit stymied.

But he was referring to the White Horses which are located on various hills around Devizes and are quite famous. After getting this explanation, I proceeded to scour the local hills, but could not see anything remotely resembling a horse!

The Alton Barnes White Horse on a hill in the distance

The Alton Barnes White Horse on a hill in the distance

But as we got closer to the village of Alton Barnes, I saw one of the horses on the far hill. The image above is what we could see from the road, and the image from Google Maps (below) shows what it looks like from above.

Google maps overhead view of Alton Barnes White Horse (Credit: GoogleMaps)

Google Maps overhead view of Alton Barnes White Horse聽(Credit: Google Maps)

Using the zoom on the camera, we were able to see the horse in greater detail. It 聽is made of white chalk which is placed on an area which has been cleared of vegetation. This horse was commissioned in 1812 by Robert Pile who lived in Alton Barnes at a place called Manor Farm.

The chalky horses require regular attention to keep them in good condition. The chalk washes away and weeds and other vegetation have to be kept off the cleared areas.

The Alton Barnes White Horse

The Alton Barnes White Horse

This horse is located in a nature reserve and has no direct road access. It has been re-chalked recently in recognition of the fact that it is now 200 years old. 150 tons of chalk was delivered by helicopter for this task (Source:聽MailOnline).

Apparently, each winter solstice, there is a traditional lantern parade where the locals position lights around the edge of the feature making it visible in the dark.

Google maps overhead view of Devizes Millennium White Horse

Google Maps overhead view of Devizes Millennium White Horse (Credit: Google Maps)

Further along on our route, we also saw another horse, this one was immediately north of Devizes. It faces the other direction to the Alton Barnes image (it is one of only four that face this way in the UK). Unfortunately we could not get a good photo of it but it is visible in the Google Maps image above. This horse was created in 1999 to mark the advent of the 3rd millennium.

These horses were something that I had not expected and I really enjoyed seeing them. It was by pure chance that our cycling route took us past such good vantage points.

Background information used in this post is from the聽Wikipedia聽website. Further information on both these and a number of other white horses in the UK is also published on this website.

(Follow this link for details on our overall聽UK cyclo-touring route).

Autumn reflections – all mine!

Around Kintbury and Devizes in southern England, one can cycle along canal towpaths instead of cycling on the road. In the autumn of 2010, we rode along some of these routes to see what they were like and also to get a different perspective of the English countryside.

Beautiful reflections of autumn foliage in the water

Beautiful reflections of early autumn foliage in the water (cycling trail on far left)

Historically, the towpaths used to run up both sides of each canal and provided a place for horses to walk as they towed along the barges and other river vessels. Nowadays, only one pathway tends to be maintained and with the horses long gone, traffic is limited to walkers, runners, fisherfolk, boat owners and cyclists.

Exquisite reflections in the still water

Exquisite reflections in the still water

We had very much enjoyed our rides on the canal towpaths in France and were keen to see what this part of England had to offer. I must confess I found the condition of the trails somewhat disappointing (they were quite muddy and/or narrow in parts).

However, the one thing that was outstanding about these routes was the scenery.聽The weather over the few days were there was balmy, still and overcast, creating an atmosphere of quiet suspense (which I really enjoy). With no breeze, the water was very still and the reflections just amazing.

Pretty houseboats line the canals

Pretty houseboats line the canals – they are long and narrow to facilitate navigation on the waterway

Cycling in these conditions is when I find myself really living in the present – savouring every moment immediately as it unfolds. It is very relaxing and most enjoyable.

When asked recently what I would consider to be solely “mine” in life – it would have to be these moments when absolutely nothing else invades my space. The photos I have included are examples of the reflections and peaceful surrounds that I enjoyed so much.

Kintbury Lock

Kintbury Lock – beautiful overhanging trees make a sheltered place for the boats to be secured

This post is a response to the Weekly Photo Challenge: Mine. The time I had to myself (immersed in my thoughts) was definitely all mine!

(Follow this link for details on the overall聽UK tour route).

Cycling on a bomber runway

Almost two years ago to the day, we were cyclo-touring through the UK and were headed towards York. It was mid afternoon as we approached the city from the south-east. About 8 kilometres from our destination, we unexpectedly came across Elvington Airfield.

Elvington was a Halifax bomber base in the second World War, and boasts one of the longest runways (3km) in Britain! It is now a private airfield and hosts many air displays as well as other intriguing sporting and community activities, including land yachting, motor cycle racing and car racing.

There was a (ground based) air display in progress on the day we discovered the airfield. Spitfires and other war machines were beautifully displayed for an appreciative audience. However, as we had arrived fairly late in the day and were rather weary, we decided not to stay too long. Instead, we confined our viewing to a quick look at the displays from a distance.

But one thing we did get to do before we left, was to ride around sections of the main runway which were open to public access. Up the far end, a land yachting regatta was in its final stages (which I found intriguing – I thought people only ‘sailed’ land yachts in places like central Australia where the rivers seldom have water in them!).

The loaded Anthem and Trance near the nose of the plane

The loaded Anthem and Trance near the nose of the plane

It was incredibly windy and this was another reason we did not dally! The wind might have been good for the yachts, but it made cycling challenging work!

On our way back down the long runway, we deviated to have a look at a few older planes that were parked away from the rest – well to one side. It seemed that in all the activity of the main show, they had been forgotten (I am sure this was not the case, but it just seemed like it!).

I am not an expert on planes, but one rather strange looking bomber particularly attracted our attention. So we parked the bikes and went to have a closer look. Lusty Lindy was certainly an imposing lady, but I must confess, I am in awe of the people who flew in her. She seemed formiddable, yet somehow rather fragile (maybe due to her small size?) and I thought it must have taken a lot of courage to trust one鈥檚 life to the likes of this machine!

KJ looking at the plane just before the bikes blew over

KJ looking at the plane just before the bikes blew over

The wind got a bit stronger while we were looking at the plane and when the bikes both blew over, we decided it was time to move on. But not before we got some photos to remember the day we rode up and down a runway and parked the bikes under the wings of a Victor bomber plane!

Lusty Lindy's tail structure

Lusty Lindy’s tail structure

As a post script to this story, we later emailed our route for the day back to friends at home (with no explanatory details!) and they were astounded and somewhat concerned when they loaded the files onto Google Earth to find that we had been cycling on a runway!

I have checked the details for Lusty Lindy. she is a Handley Page Victor K2 XL231 – these bombers succeeded the Halifaxes in the Royal Airforce. Victors were used until 1993 and Lusty Lindy is one of only a handful left. She is now permanently grounded at Elvington. (All these details and more excellent photos can be found on the SmugMug website).

(Follow this link for details on the overall聽UK tour route).

When a canal crosses a river

It is no secret that France is criss crossed with hundreds of canals. These used to be the inland highways, taking goods across the country and back again, using barges towed by horses.

Those days are obviously long gone, but the canals remain, along with much of the beautiful scenery and well-maintained towpaths. The latter are now predominantly used by walkers, fisherfolk, joggers and bicycle riders and are very popular.

What is less well known is that there is a fascinating infrastructure also waiting to be explored and enjoyed, which has been maintained along with the canals.

An excellent example of this was an old bridge that we came across while trying to get out of a heavy downpour of rain at Savigny-en-Sancerre. Riding our bicycles along a nearby road, we could see the lower parts of the bridge quite clearly, but the top section was frustratingly elusive. Assuming it was a road bridge, and hoping there would be somewhere to shelter from the rain, we made our way up side track to investigate.

A side view of the bridge with the river and the floodplain below

A side view of the bridge with the river and the floodplain below

The bridge was enormous and very beautiful. The track which had led us to the top of the structure went on further to what must have been a loading dock. Ornate roadside bollards now teeter at unusual angles, providing evidence that this was once a well maintained and busy place.

The bridge stretched across a wide, low area as well as the river and was consequently quite long. But the thing that startled us most was that there was no road 鈥 it was a canal!

The canal stretched as far as one could see along the bridge

The canal stretched as far as one could see along the bridge

When a canal crosses a river, a bridge is required! I was fascinated 鈥 never having seen anything like it before!

Entry to the bridge - view from under the tree

Entry to the bridge – view from under our shelter tree

And it was no ordinary bridge either.聽 Two very ornate pillars complete with carvings and twin lights flanked the bridge on the side where we were. We could not see the other end, but I am sure there would have been another pair there too. There were light posts all along the bridge 鈥 beautifully shaped to complement the bridge design.

I could have spent a long time exploring this new discovery. I was particularly keen to ride across to the other side. But sadly, the rain continued to pelt down and we were getting soaked through. A huge (fig?) tree provided sufficient respite to take a few (gloomy 聽:-)) photos before we moved on …….. still hunting for some shelter.

Travel challenge: Night (riding in the inky dark!)

About half way through our cycling trip in France in 2009, we left Pellevoisin on a chilly morning and headed for the Brenne National Park. This is a large park, which is characterised by many hundreds of lakes in a relatively flat landscape.

Ailsa from “Where’s my backpack” has set a challenge for a travel theme of “night”. This post is a bit out of the ordinary, but describes one of the most memorable nights rides I have done!

One of many hunting/holiday lodges near the lakes

Brenne National Park is a bird watcher鈥檚 paradise – this being one of its main attractions. We were told that it is also a favourite place for hunters!

However, we were here to explore the area from a cycling perspective and had not brought our binoculars! We did, however, manage some shooting – with our cameras! It was interesting comparing the different lakes (size, surrounding vegetation and depth of water) and the types of birds attracted to each. Some of the lakes were quite small and others were really huge – all having been constructed at some stage (ie none were naturally formed). Some were also quite full, while others were nearly empty.

Cycling around the lakes during the day

The cycling was easy as there were no hills and we were able to explore the area quite extensively as a result. We covered about 80km for the day – one of our longer stretches in the saddle (but also one of the crusiest!).

Clouds reflected in the water make a lovely image

We were headed for a fabulous B&B about 5km north of Rosnay – it was an old 19th century school house which had been beautifully renovated. On arrival, we were greeted and spoilt with tea and cake by our lovely hosts. My French was getting reasonable by this stage, and the discussion was animated and a lot of fun.

The one thing we were not able to get at this B&B was dinner. Knowing this, we had spent some time during the afternoon finding a suitable restaurant which served meals. It was about 4km away on the shores of Etang de la Gabriere (Gabriere Lake) – a very large expanse of water when full (which is wasn鈥檛, so we did not get to see it in all its splendour). Our plan was to cycle around to this establishment later that night to get our evening meal.

Every lake was different – the trees around this one were so beautiful

The lakes had a shroud of mist over them in the early morning

The weather had warmed up considerably and it had turned into a very pleasant evening – just right for a night time ride. We left in the daylight and had no trouble navigating our way back to the restaurant. I doubt that the locals had ever had anyone arrive for a night time meal on bicycles, because we were certainly a topic of conversation and amusement. Perhaps it was the combination of the cycling gear, helmets and Australian accents!

It was dark when we left – really, really dark! There was no moon and since we were out in the countryside, there were no streetlights either. The road back to our B&B was quite narrow, only a single lane, but the thing I had not noticed on the way over was that it also had no markings on it. No lines or marker posts anywhere! 聽It was also a very quiet road – we did not meet a single vehicle on our return trip.

The result was that we were riding completely in the dark! The bikes had their headlights, but these were like small torchbeams bobbing about in the intense inkiness. Because there were no lines or guideposts, it took quite a lot of concentration to make sure the bike stayed on the winding, narrow road! It was one of the most fun and memorable experiences of my life!

I would include a photo, but since it was so dark, there would be nothing to see!

(Follow this link for the itinerary and details for our聽Tour of France)