Autumn Colour Redux

October 31, 2012

Hmm, so it turns out that it’s not my carefully crafted prose you’re after, but pictures of our roads so you can dream about cycling along in a bidirectional headwind completely unhindered by other traffic, albeit vaguely troubled by the scent of slurry. Unfortunately, the weather today was not co-operating so my only outing to date has been up to the walled garden for beetroot, which is still going strong (and still tastes of dirt, yet strangely I sort of like it now).

At least the autumn colour is similarly still going strong – but mostly on the ground now. Stand by for November, and a whole lot of whinging about the weather.


You have been warned.

Oh, and Happy Halloween

The Scenic Route

October 30, 2012

A combination of busy-busy and not particularly inviting weather means that my cycling outings of late have tended to follow the well-worn groove of down to the papershop and back with a bit of down to Bigtown and back thrown in for good measure. All on generaly lovely roads and scenic and everything but perhaps becoming a tiny bit routine. And then, coming back from Bigtown the other day, I realised that not only was it a gorgeous crisp and bright autumn afternoon, but I had time to take the alternative route home: down the road which used to be Big A Road and is now a half-forgotten appendix, an ox-bow lake of tarmac left over when they bypassed Bigtown and made some dual carriageway. Purely by accident, this has turned into one of the best bits of cycling infrastructure in the county

Old A Road 1

It starts off as a full-dress A-road, only without the traffic, except for visitors to the new not-really-farmshop and ripoff shortbread emporium just off the roundabout (I mean, seriously, charging entrance to a ‘nature trail’?).

Not long afterwards, it narrows and occasionally you get close enough to its replacement to see what fun you’re missing dodging lorries on a dual carriageway (deliciously, the old road even skips the worst of the hills). As the road is effectively a dead end, by now bikes only really have to share it with the few residents living on the road (one of whom was busy with a leaf blower as I passed, blowing the leaves off his lawn and into piles on the road. That’s how much traffic there is).

Old A road 3

There’s much fevered, if necessarily abbreviated, discussion on twitter at the moment on the merits of traffic reduction versus building separated tracks to encourage cycling. Obviously I’m all for traffic reduction in general, whether it encourages cycling or not. But it’s rare you can manage quite this much traffic reduction except by building a whole nother road.

Then again, when you come to the bit that’s just for bikes, as opposed to even just one or two cars, you can see why folk are sceptical of what separated dedicated bike tracks might be like (and this is the wide part).

Old A road 4

I think that tells us fairly clearly which is the more valued mode of transport around here…


October 29, 2012

… just occasionally, I win at weeding

dandelion rootI’m thinking of having it stuffed and mounted on the wall.


Meeting my Waterloo

October 25, 2012

OK, I’ll admit it, I’ve only actually cycled around the Waterloo Imax roundabout once, and that was only because I had forgotten that was what was at the end of Waterloo bridge. When it comes to big scary multi-lane roundabouts I’m as much of a wuss as the next cyclist with all her arms and legs intact. I can just about handle two-lane roundabouts if they’re quite small and not too busy and I’m going left or straight on but a big fast three-lane, London, choose your lane NOW puny cyclist NOW not in a bit when that bus has gone but NOW come on accelerate and signal and look behind you all at once NOW you need to be doing at least 20mph to play in traffic you know type roundabout then well, I’m all for getting off and pushing. And on this occasion I was on a Boris Bike. Admittedly I had company – I was following the Vole O’Speed and a number of other fine Cycling Embassy folk on a tour of London’s finest infrastructure – and was just enjoying the view of the lights reflected on the inky waters of the Thames as we cycled over the bridge when I looked in front of me and saw the Imax and remembered the roundabout. The Vole, once he gets the bit between his teeth, is not one for stopping or even hearing people announcing that it’s been fun and all, but they’ll be dismounting and taking the underpass, thank you very much, so there was nothing to do but plunge after him pedalling for all I was worth while mentally going something like ‘aieeeeeeeeeee! I’m going to dieeeeeee!‘, only not quite so coherent.

Unfortunately, when I do return to London on occasion with my bike, Waterloo Bridge and its scary roundabout are quite awkward to avoid for most of the journeys I’d want to cycle. So I was pleased to see that this is one of the junctions that TfL will be tackling as part of its review of London’s most dangerous junctions. And I was impressed at the balls of steel displayed by London’s commuters as 5,500 of them apparently cycle around it every weekday, most of them (I imagine) not screaming like a girl, or at least not much. Given that that’s a quarter of the traffic on the roundabout, you’d hope that the end result would be something pretty spiffy for the cyclists but it looks like in fact what it’s going to be is a bit of paint on the road and a promised 20mph speed limit (but not yet).* Given that this is coming after the mayor signed up to the London Cycling Campaign’s ‘Go Dutch’ pledge (possibly under the mistaken impression that that meant cyclists could just share the road and pay half) it’s a little disappointing. You can read what the real grown up bike bloggers think here, and have your say here, although given that work starts a week after the consultation closes, I don’t imagine they’ll be paying much attention. Yeah, one of those consultation exercises.

There are times – like this morning, when I had to cycle a 15 mile round trip just to get a paper – when I miss London. So I’m grateful when TfL come along to remind me why it is I should be delighted not to have to live there any more.

* ‘Well, duh,’ said the other half when I read this out to him. ‘If you’ve already got that many cyclists going round there you don’t want to encourage any more of them.’

The Joy of Bike Maintenance

October 24, 2012

OK, so when you buy Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres (because the whole internet tells you to) you know that their only downside is getting them on and off the bike – but that’s OK because they’re Schwalbe Marathon Pluses and (as the whole internet knows) you don’t need to ever take them off the bike because they don’t puncture. Until suddenly they do

Anyway it turns out there are two ways to get a Marathon Plus tyre off a wheel which are: feebly asking your other half to do it, and then just knuckling down and doing it yourself with tyre irons and a fair amount of swearing. The latter after you’ve erroneously assumed that the spare inner tube that was in the shed had been efficiently repaired by your past self after the last puncture and not put away still punctured to be repaired later when your past self was less busy and then forgotten about because you now had Schwalbe Marathon Pluses which, as every schoolboy kno, don’t ever puncture. Until, you know, they do.

So now I have three repaired inner tubes, including the one which is back on the bike, and we have used up an entire puncture repair kit’s worth of rubber cement, which feels like some sort of make-do-and-mend victory. Getting the tyres back on proved to be difficult but not impossible with two of us plus some brute force (him) and ignorance (me, playing the part of the cable ties). The pump is now permanently installed in my pannier bag, my mobile phone firmly zipped into my pocket and the other half has been instructed to wait poised by the phone in case I ever need rescuing whenever I’m out on my bike. None of which, I’m sure, will do anything but postpone the attentions of the puncture fairy…

But as I rode out for the paper on my freshly repaired bike, I was reminded that if you clean and oil your chain and pump up your tyres properly, and remove roughly a smallholding’s-worth of fine agricultural loam from under your mudguard then your bike suddenly will sail along as smoothly and speedily as a bird on the wing, a joy to pedal and a delight to ride.

Or at least up until the point until you reach the papershop and turn around and discover that was mostly the effect of a tailwind…

Counting your Blessings Before they Hatch

October 23, 2012

So I was cycling back from the papershop this morning, just thinking that really I ought to take more time to be grateful for things: it was a mild day, we’d had a glorious weekend, and here I was living in an area with roads so quiet that they are admired by people right across the internet when badumm … badumm… badum… I was alerted to the fact that not all was well with my back wheel. It was, in fact, flat. And not just gone-a-bit-soft flat, but making-horrible-noises flat in a way that suggested I wasn’t going to be riding on it anywhere without damaging the wheel until I’d at least managed to get some air in the tyre. With the pump I had not brought. Which was sitting at home alongside the mobile phone which I had also not brought. Because I was after all, only popping out for a paper, along our lovely quiet – nay, deserted – country roads. All five miles of them.


My route back from the papershop goes through two farm yards and past several cottages, all of which managed to appear completely deserted. At the farm where I had been rescued before, not a soul stirred – and besides, turning up twice in the same farm with a flat tyre looked more than a little incompetent. I might have asked for help if someone had been around, but there was no way I’d go knocking on anyone’s door. At the next farm, the only thing moving was a cat and while cats can ride bicycles, they’re not much cop at fixing flats. The trudge of shame continued, made only less marginally shameful by the fact that there was nobody to witness it but some sheep all of which stopped eating to watch me go by identical expressions on their faces: ‘seriously, woman, not even a pump? Not even your mobile? What kind of a cyclist do you call yourself?’

So there’s a lesson there, I suppose, apart from the obvious one about the difference between puncture-resistant and puncture-proof tyres: from certain angles, it’s very hard to tell the difference between counting your blessings, and tempting fate. Especially when it comes to that most vengeful of all furies, the puncture fairy.

And now I’ve got to find out just how hard it is to get a Schwalbe Marathon Plus on and off my wheel…

Roadside Treasure

October 22, 2012

One of the benefits of riding a bike is that you can spot things along the roadside as you go. Of course, sometimes this is a downside as it means you notice all the litter and the roadkill (it’s peak pheasant-running-over season at the moment, with the countryside freshly restocked with what are basically fancy chickens but without the road sense) but this is more than offset by the good stuff. Sometimes it’s a handful of ripe blackberries or an interesting mushroom, sometimes it’s merely a fleeting moment as the sun catches a hazel bush in the late afternoon

Sometimes, though, it’s something a little more permanent. I don’t think I’ll ever need to buy string again, for instance, as there’s almost always a handy length of baler twine about should you need some. And bungee cords, for some reason; I have what may amount to a lifetime’s supply of those hanging off the bike shed door from being picked up on my travels, because you never quite know when a bungee’s going to come in handy. And sometimes it’s something a odder like planting trays or children’s building blocks…

I have no idea what the story is here. I actually cycled past them a couple of times and left them where they were because I assumed someone would want them back, and I have absolutely no need of them myself, but after a day or two they were beginning to look quite sad and did appear to come in rather a nifty sort of duffel bag. So after both the other half and the neighbour had independently pointed out that if nothing else we could burn them, I set out yesterday on a rescue mission. Well, it was a nice day and I needed a ride.

And it was a chance to use both one of my handy pieces of string AND a bungee, so it’s win win.

So, er anyone got a use for some children’s building blocks, slightly foxed, other than on the fire? And any suggestions for repurposing the bag?

Ahh, Autumn

October 19, 2012

A time to enjoy the spectacular colours of nature’s fireworks display …

autumn colour

Or a time to curl up by the fire and hope for spring?

You decide (but given that it’s been raining ALL DAY, I know which one I’m going for…)

Other People’s Jobs

October 18, 2012

ford signI feel somehow that four years’ obsession with the level of the ford was vindicated this morning when a driver pulled up to ask us if we knew how high it was (he being on the side of the river where the sign was broken) before he risked crossing.* If all else fails, a useful career as human depth gauge beckons – or perhaps FordCam is after all an idea whose time has come.

Meanwhile this tweet proved premature yesterday:

We had my aunt and uncle staying last night and by the time they had had arrived, had a reviving cup of tea and a bun and settled in, the road was fully flooded again. By this point it didn’t matter what the drains were doing: the water was so high it was draining off the road through the gaps between the stones in the dykes. Our guests having somehow neglected to bring waders (despite reading the blog), we decided against checking the level of the ford and retreated to spend the evening by the woodburning stove.

Today, after creating an extremely satisfying bath-emptying type whirlpool with my trusty stick, I attempted to clear the drains out properly, much to the amusement of the passing postman. As he pointed out there’s not much you can do when there’s basically a burn emptying itself onto the road faster than any culvert can clear it. That said, he’s not averse to doing the council roads department’s jobs for them either: it turns out that it was he who cracked and removed the ‘ford closed’ sign after 7 months and returned it to the depot (I did think at the time it was a bit quick), while it was a local farmer and his tractor that removed the latest tree. Perhaps we could get together with some paint and a ruler and sort out another depth gauge …


He then handed me our letters and the neighbour’s and asked me if I’d mind delivering them for him to save him going up the drive. Which I did. Other people’s jobs are always so much more entertaining than your own.

So if anyone would like to finish rewriting my book for me while I go out and clear some culverts, please get in touch. I’ll be the one up to my welly tops in water, poking things with a stick.

*Nine inches; he made it across with no problems

Fishing for …

October 16, 2012

Well, thank you for all your lovely responses to yesterday’s cri du coeur – I hadn’t meant it to come across as quite such an open plea for compliments* but I’m grateful all the same. Especially today, which dawned dreich enough to keep me off the bike all morning (and then cleared up just as I’d finally given in & sent the other half down for the paper leaving me not only bike-rideless but faintly guilty at being such a wimp unnecessarily). On the plus side, a morning’s worth of rain combined with a summer’s worth of hedgerow growth blocking the drains meant that I had an opportunity this afternoon to work out my frustration by Poking Things With a Stick, followed by the satisfying gurgle when the flood water began to clear. Of such small satisfactions is a fulfilled life made, as nobody once said.

Oh, and I have found my camera. It was in my bag. For the last three months…

*oh all right then…