Tag Archives: rain

Wet? Need shelter? Try the local market square

I have often lamented the lack of shelter for cyclists in England, Scotland and France (the three places in Europe where I have cyclo-toured). Quite simply, there is nowhere to get out of the weather when it turns nasty or even inconveniently wet (unless you can squeeze yourself and your bike into one of those very rare bus shelters).

I find this quite amazing, because winters in these countries are very cold and wet – and I would have thought porches, verandahs and the like would have featured on almost every building.

There is, however, one place where a soggy cyclist may be able to find respite in French towns and that is at the central marketplace. I have found reference to these areas in other rider’s blogs too, so obviously it is not just me who has made this discovery!

Market2

The market area was virtually empty when we first arrived.

Market

Beautiful, ornate steel posts support the large roof area.

This place is big, open and has plenty of room, all under a convenient high roof.

Unless of course, you have arrived at the same time as the local market is in full swing, in which case you will probably just be able to find a corner to hover until everyone departs.

The upside of market day though, is that there will be plenty of fresh fruit to purchase and to enjoy 🙂

We passed many of these markets, but this was one of the few where we actually stopped while en route from Sully-sur-Loire to Checy (just east of Orléans).  I must confess that I did not write down the name of the town at the time, but I am fairly sure it was Jargeau (on the southern bank of the Loire River). According to the sign in the photograph, entry was not permitted on Wednesdays between 12:30 and 8pm and Jargeau has a market each Wednesday afternoon.

The marketplace was deserted when we arrived, but this was not the way it stayed.

Market1

Stall owners start to arrive and set up for the afternoon’s trading. First in, best placed!

Market3

Rails for clothing, umbrellas to hang things. These vendors were well organised.

As we sat and ate our lunch, we watched a hive of activity suddenly erupt as stall owners arrived and prepared to set up their afternoon of trading. By the time we left, the covered area was full, crowds were arriving and vendors were fussing with last minute preparations.

Market4

Metallic lace work shows up against the lighter background. This structure was quite beautiful.

One can buy a fascinating variety of goods at these gatherings. Fruit and vegetables, meat and specialty cheeses all find a place. Fun toys and trinkets keep the children tempted and amused while their parents search clothing racks for elusive bargains. It was a delightful taste of the French culture.

It also seemed a bit of a waste because the weather was clear that day and we had not needed to shelter at all!

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My kingdom for a bus shelter!

There is no doubt that cyclo-touring on warm, sunny days is the ultimate way to see a country and to enjoy the sights on offer. But what happens on those days when the weather is less kind, when cold and wet are the order of the day?

English: Bus stop shelter in Wagga Wagga, New ...

English: Bus stop shelter in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, Australia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The solution, you would imagine, is easy. You still have to ride to reach your destination, but when you stop for rests along the way, you simply find somewhere out of the weather to have a break.

In Australia, awnings or coverings along walkways near shops are commonplace. So common that we take them for granted. Parks have rotundas and shelters over benches, and bus stops frequently have at least a one wall and a roof of some description.

I am not sure why this is. Perhaps it is simply that the country gets quite hot in most places during the summer and people seek out the shade? Whatever the reason, it is generally possible to find shelter somewhere nearby when the weather is inclement or there is a sudden shower of rain.

Not an awning in sight

Not an awning in sight

When riding locally at home, the sensible thing is to simply avoid riding in potentially wet weather (if at all possible). Having said that, I know of people who relish the challenge of riding every day irrespective of the weather and sometimes get very wet when caught in a sudden downpour! They are a tougher breed than me!


However, if you are cyclo-touring and have accommodation booked or are working to a tight schedule for some other reason, you may find yourself having to pull on the wet weather gear and bravely tackle the drizzle or worse – the persistent rain.

Oxford

Oxford – a popular cycling spot, but few covered areas for shelter

Riding in the wet is not all that bad once the body has warmed up and settled into a routine. It can even be fun as it was when we were riding in serious rain for 2 hours near a loch in Scotland. The creeks filled up and small waterfalls abounded all along the roadway – it was an unforgettable experience; something that would have been totally missed in a motor vehicle or when cycling in the dry.

There comes a time, though, when it is necessary to stop for a break. Sensible souls then look around for a shelter of some sort. Sitting in the rain drinking cup of coffee is not a good idea – it gets cold too quickly 😦

If you are cyclo-touring in the UK or France, this is where the fun starts! One could stop under a bridge if there is one available. We did this many times on both of our tours. If it is only light rain, then a tree with a dense canopy will keep you dry for a while – long enough for a cuppa perhaps.

A park bench for a fine day, where to go in the wet?

A park bench for a fine day, but where to go in the wet?

A phone booth will shelter one person, or two if coziness is not a problem! A bus shelter with a roof is a rare find out in the countryside, and they become prized spots for wet fellow cyclists, so one needs to take quick possession when the rain starts! With a bit of strategic organisation, we have found it possible to fit two bikes and two riders into a Scottish bus shelter!

English: Bus shelter At bus stop by junction o...

English: Bus shelter (Photo credit: Wikipedia) [Similar to the one we fitted two loaded bikes and ourselves into in Scotland!]

But sometimes there is just nowhere to stop! Few of the buildings have awnings or verandahs which we found quite perplexing, given that it rains so much in the UK and France. In these situations, the best idea is to just keep riding to stay warm and to resort to the water bottle for refreshment. Stopping means getting soaked and cold. Not good.

Three Swans hotel has a rare shelter facing the street

The lovely Three Swans Hotel has a rare shelter facing the street

Has anyone else experienced this lack of shelters in the UK and France? I wonder if the rest of Europe and/or Ireland have similar issues for cyclists looking for a dry place to stop for a break?

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 – 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 – 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.  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 – 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  :-)) photos before we moved on …….. still hunting for some shelter.

Scottish Highlands tour (Part 3 of 4): Across the ranges

This is the third of four posts describing our Highland cycling tour in Scotland a few years ago. If you have not already done so, you can read the first and second posts before continuing with this section.

Day 2 of our Highland ride promised to be quite a challenge as we had to climb over a range of quite steep hills to get into the valley to our north. Unbeknown to me, it would also go down as one of my most memorable and most enjoyable cycling days of the whole UK tour. The rainy weather which we had encountered the previous day seemed to have cleared a bit, but unfortunately, more was predicted.

Start of the ride – an easy run along the north shore of the Loch (with a tailwind and reasonable weather)

Loch Tay

KJ has issues with his brakes. Took us a few days to find the problem (Note the blue skies!)

The first part of trip was easy, as we were going with the wind and the weather was quite unexpectedly pleasant. We were riding along the northern shore of Loch Tay going back the way we had travelled the day before – but on the opposite shore.

We had to make a few stops to check out KJ’s brakes which were misbehaving and making the most annoying noises (it took us a few days to work out what was actually wrong with them and get it repaired).

At the most easterly end of Loch Tay, we had to make a decision (based on how the weather looked) about whether to go directly back to Pitlochry or to tackle the climb over to Kinloch Rannoch. Finally, we decided to bite the bullet and take on the weather; turning the bikes to the south – up and over the range.

The weather starts to close in

going south

The weather seemed to sulk at our decision, it got gradually worse as the day went on, then as we climbed higher, seemed threw everything at us! It poured rain and then blew hard. Then it did both together and even sent down a shower of hail (which was fortunately only small hailstones!). The slopes were quite steep in places, with the longest, steepest section taking us up 300m to the top of the range. At the summit of the climb, the sun came out and the wind stopped blowing for a short while. We were in the heathland at this stage and it was rather surreal – like being on top of the world!

A sudden sunny break between the showers of rain and strong wind

There were sheep grazing everywhere, quite unperturbed by us or the weather! Stone walls once separated the large grazing areas, but there are now no fences along the roads and gaps in the stone fences everywhere, so they obviously have fallen into disuse. But the most incredible thing was that the stone fences went right to the tops of very steep hills, some must have been built on almost vertical slopes. The people who built those fences must have been very tough!

Unfortunately, there were few opportunities to get photos, it was just not good weather for cameras.

This downhill section required hard pedalling against the wind

Many times it was necessary to pedal hard going downhill, because the wind was so strong coming the other way! Every now and again, we got out of the wind and rain, and the sun came out as if to encourage us along! But the effort was worth it – the ride was curiously exhilarating rather than exhausting (probably because there were so many extreme changes in the weather that we did not get worn down by any one feature on its own!).

There was not much traffic on the narrow road – we came across a few hardy hikers setting out from their cars at one stage – they must have wondered at our sanity! But the lack of traffic added to the atmosphere – we felt as if we had the whole place to ourselves.

I did not get as wet as the day before when I had been wearing relatively light rain gear. This time I dug out my serious raincoat, and this kept me quite dry. My feet eventually got wet, but it took a long time, and I did not have to deal with the squelchy wet feet like the day before. I think this is why I got a lot more out of the ride. We also had shower caps over our helmets, which kept the cold out, and kept our heads dry.

I really enjoyed the day, and it will go down as a high achievement for me, because I was not sure how I was going to find the steep climbs. But I surprised myself by how easily it went, despite the elements!

The next stage of the Highlands Tour saw us return to Pitlochry via Blair Atholl Castle.

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

Tracks, but no trains

There is no doubt that Tasmania (Australia) is one of the most beautiful places on earth. The natural beauty of the rainforests on the western coast has to be seen to be believed.

Exquisite scenery

But beware! Tasmanians think nothing of their wet weather and when they casually invite you to explore their ‘railtrails’ on the western side of the state, you had better make sure you are well prepared!

Most importantly, you will need a good camera to capture the magical waterfalls, creeks and the magnificent rainforest vegetation. But, you should also take a raincoat, even if the sun is out when you leave (the weather is notoriously changeable, and it gets wet, very wet, very quickly!).

The wise railtrail cyclist will realise that they will most likely also get somewhat grubby! If you are really keen, and love splashing through the mud, then you will be in for the ride of your life and will emerge in dire need of a hot shower. It will also be weeks before you get all the grit out of the moving parts of your bike, no matter how well or how often you wash it! If you are not an avid mud lover, you may even be tempted to consider porting along some gumboots for the really wet bits (just kidding!) 🙂

Remains of rail sleepers left in the forest to decay

Old wooden rail bridge, now overgrown with mosses and ferns

In the summer of 2010 we tackled the railtrail near Zeehan. The trains have long since ceased running but evidence of their presence can still be found in some old wooden bridges and half buried sleepers.

I am a bit sentimental about disused railways and never get tired of marvelling at and exploring the relics of bridges and other infrastructure that is now sadly abandoned and left to rot. It is difficult to imagine those heavy old engines and their loads steaming over the fragile looking wooden bridges and stone culverts with their shrill whistle echoing through the valleys.

Being a bit passionate about plants too, I found the forest truly awe-inspiring. It is one of those places that is spectacular regardless of the weather. We rode through rain, mist and smatterings of sunshine and the vegetation was different and lovely in each one.

A few sections on the trail posed some interesting challenges. I must confess that I was not overly impressed at the creek crossing which had to be negotiated on foot, given the size of the boulders in the river bed.

There was no mention of rocky beds and creek crossings in the guide book!

But my fellow cyclists were highly entertained by my discomfort and delightfully caught it on camera! Afterwards, when I was no longer wet, it did get me laughing too! The only consolation was that it had not been raining for long, so I only had to negotiate shallow water. It would have been a different story if the creek was full!

Railway cutting, now only accessible to bush walkers and cyclists

We rode on two sections of the trail. One part is only open to cyclists and bush walkers. The condition of the track was excellent in this part and gave you the opportunity to look around as you were riding.

Unfortunately the other part, which is open to motorised transport, was very degraded with big muddy potholes and slippery sections. Here it was necessary to watch the road carefully all the way to avoid ending up in the mud. If I did the ride again, I would not bother with this section, as I really did not enjoy it.

But overall, it was a great experience and a wonderful way to experience the incredible natural beauty of Tasmania.