August 19, 2011

My cycling has been a bit (whisper it) boring for most of this year – I’ve been busy and haven’t had the time to just go out for the hell of it and my two cycling buddies have been as bad, inexplicably letting husbands and children and their careers take priority over going out exploring by bike. So realising that I was in danger of wearing a groove in the road between here and the papershop, I siezed an opportunity today to do a ride I’d long wanted to try out.

Sanquhar is a little town up in the hills, that seems rather a long way from anywhere, and there was a lunch being held there which I’d been invited to. I knew I’d never manage the round trip, but there’s actually a station there and I calculated that if I took my bike up with me on the train, I could ride it back along the back roads. Google maps calculated it would be about 28.5 miles, (plus 8 miles to the station in the morning) – not too much of a stretch, although rather longer than I’ve done in a long time. And, more importantly, more or less downhill, although of course I knew that even so the roads have a way of going up as well as down.

The only problem was navigating home. The back roads are signposted on the basis that if you don’t know where you are you probably shouldn’t be there, and the google map instructions were of the ‘travel along unknown road, take third left onto unknown road, right on unknown road’ sort that didn’t fill me with confidence. My GPS had only a very out of date OpenStreetMap map on it that didn’t show any of the roads in the area as it dated from the time when practically the only mapper in the region was me. Time to update it, I thought. And then left it to this morning to actually do, not calculating that downloading several hundred meg of map file on our internet connection was going to take a looooong time.

Still, download it did, with about five minutes to spare and I unzipped it and started transferring it onto my GPS. ‘transfer will be completed in 18 minutes’, it said. Aargh. Cancel that. Could I memorise the route? Could I print it out in time and still catch my train? Could I rely on an almost blank GPS to point me in the right direction and just wing it?

It was at that point I remembered that in the other room we had some amazing hi-resolution navigational gadgets with an incredible battery life, and wide screen, full colour views of the whole route – and all weighing just grams.

Whatever will they think of next?

And no, I didn’t get lost, although I did (stop me if you’ve guessed already) get rained on on the way home.


Gauntlet Laid Down

August 21, 2009

GOM1, over on TLATET, has been doing some crunching of the OpenStreetMap numbers and produced this. It’s an estimate of coverage in Scotland in Wales, following an earlier version he did for England. The colouring is a little difficult to interpret, but the numbers are here (and no, I don’t know what’s going on in Anglesey either – possibly some understandable confusion there between sheep tracks and major A-roads). Anyway, Scotland is looking fairly dire, and – despite my best efforts – it’s not looking much better round this neck of the woods. I shall have to get on my bike and get going. And if anyone is living in London (or indeed Anglesey) and is fiddling around mapping individual buildings and wants something to get their teeth into, come up here! Not only are we more or less Terra Incognita, but there’s some of the finest cycling, on or off-road, in the country*. Don’t believe me? Come up and see for yourselves…

*Especially if you like hills**

**and rain.


August 13, 2009

Not long ago, I got an email via OpenStreetMap telling me about a forthcoming mapping party in Bigtown. Obviously they’d noticed that having just me doing the mapping, at my current rate of do-a-few-side-streets-on-my-bike-when-I’m-in-town-if-I-have-time, it was going to be a while before Bigtown’s coverage reached saturation, and they’d decided to come up and give me a hand. Which is cool, but it did make me realise I had better get a move on and with today being the last fine day predicted on the weather forecast I decided to get out and put one of Bigtown’s two big cycleways on the map. This proved a bit of an adventure. The routes themselves aren’t bad – well signposted, beautifully surfaced, lit, reasonably well used and – miracle of miracles – not carpeted in broken glass. But – and how did you know there would be a but? – there are a few minor flaws. There was the ‘cyclists dismount sign’ at the entrance to one section, but then that’s usually how you know you’re on a really serious cycle route in the UK. And then every time it got to a road there would be a chicane, although I’m better at cycling through those than I used to be. And, worst of all, there was the slight sneaking sensation of boredom I got as I bowled along a flat, straight, untrafficked path with nothing to think about but pedalling – but that’s just me, and hardly the path’s fault. On the whole it was pretty good, and if I lived or worked round there I’d certainly use it in preference to the road.

But there are cycle tracks, and there are cycle tracks. On the way back, I noticed a sign pointing me off to the right, indicating a short cut home. I had a quick look at the map and couldn’t see how it crossed the river, but in the spirit of mapping, and exploration, I decided to follow it to see where it went. Lulled into a false sense of security by the wonderful facility I’d been on before, I didn’t smell a rat when I ended up diving through underpasses beneath a big roundabout. Nor did the roar of lorries tip me off as I rounded a corner, until I found myself right on the edge of the major A-road, the wind in my face, on a narrow pavement, heading against the traffic, with what seemed like every lorry in Scotland bearing down at 60mph towards me. True, I was off-road, technically, and therefore ‘safe’, except where the bushes were overgrown and I had the choice between ploughing through branches or going head to head with an articulated lorry. But it was deeply unpleasant and scary and there was no way off, and nothing to do about it but grit my teeth and put my head down and cycle for the longest mile of my life.

It was a relief to get off and onto the roads once more, albeit the quiet back streets. After a quick stop off for much needed fuel at the garage – a Yorkie bar, as it happens – I was happy to thread my way through the cars queueing for their fuel (rather pricier and much less tasty I’ll bet), and head for home.

So it’s Never…

June 5, 2009

… a good sign when you’re trying to navigate down some tiny road in Northern Ireland, and you’re not 100% sure where you are but you’re pretty sure you’re heading north and that you’ll know it if you’ve gone too far, and then your phone beeps and you find you’ve got a text message that says

Welcome to the Republic of Ireland

No, that’s never a good sign at all.

And I’d say, well at least we got lots of mapping done, but frankly, you’re hardly going to trust any maps I draw now are you?