What can you do to promote world peace?
Go home and love your family.
- Mother Teresa
India's monsoon rains have covered the entire country a month ahead of schedule,
brightening the prospects for a
bumper output of summer-sown crops such as rice, oilseeds and
cotton in one of the world's leading producers.
During the year I spent following the monsoon in a dozen countries, I learned to see it as a critically important event,
Well, after much debate, humming and hawing, to-ing and fro-ing, shall we, shan’t we, the decision was made and we placed our order for…. two Brompton bicycles! ‘What’, I hear you say, ‘are they MAD, you can’t go cycle touring on a Brompton!’. Chris felt exactly the same – she was worried that the cycling would be harder because of the little wheels; we have heard people say that they are ‘twitchy’; how can you possibly get all your touring gear on a little Brompton?
Our local cycle shop http://www.pedalscyclecentre.co.uk is a Brompton B-Spoke Centre, this is the highest level of retail categorization of a Brompton dealer. Sharon, the owner, has herself just bought a Brompton and is so enthusiastic about them – as are all the staff – that you can’t fail to be impressed. They have demo Bromptons that you can hire for the day, so a couple of months ago, we did just that.
We took the folded bikes out of the Landie and then spent the next few minutes trying to remember the sequence of unfolding! Fortunately, there were no onlookers and we eventually managed to get the bikes up. We wobbled off down the road – people were right, they did feel twitchy, but we had gone no further than 100 yards when they stopped feeling strange and we felt in full control. We cycled about 10 miles and were really surprised at what fun they are to ride and how nippy they are. Chris was loving it! Decision made… the order was placed and we had to wait patiently for our B-spoke Bromptons to be made up.
We had done a lot of trawling of t’Internet to look for people who cycle tour on Brompton bikes. Surprisingly, there are quite a few: http://www.travellingtwo.com, http://www.pathlesspedaled.com, http://www.shanecycles.com, http://www.heinzstucke.com. They all rave about their Bromptons and, really, it seems to make perfect sense. No more problems about trying to get your bike on a train – just fold it up and carry it on as luggage. (This was one of the reasons we starting thinking about getting Bromptons – we wanted to do a cycle tour of the Outer Hebrides but getting our bikes from Bournemouth to Oban seemed a logistic nightmare.) No more cycling through boring parts – just fold your bike and jump on a bus. No more getting caught in bad weather – just fold your bike and travel by public transport until the weather improves. If you’re not on a mega tour to remote parts – and perhaps even if you are – the Brompton seems to be the ideal solution.
The weeks passed slowly, we were counting the days and then we finally got the call we were waiting for, ‘Your Bromptons are in!’. We couldn’t get to the shop quick enough! Chris was delighted with the colour she had chosen and promptly named her bike Betsie (she’s called mine Billy)! So, we are now the proud owners of four bikes.
We have had our Bromptons for a week now and have been out on them almost every day. They are such fun to ride and we absolutely love them. We have yet to pack them up for cycle touring – that will take a bit of practice, some major rearranging of how we pack and some trimming down of our gear (which isn’t a bad thing).
Unfortunately, I’m still suffering from the bad back (trapped nerve) I acquired on our last trip a month ago and can only walk a few steps before suffering excruciating pain (. Very frustrating, especially as summer seems to have arrived in the UK at last. I have a physio appointment booked for next week, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed as we have an idea for a short cycle tour in the UK to try out the Brommies.
I have also been testing out my new GoPro Hero 3 camera (which I also purchased from http://www.pedalscyclecentre.co.uk, who stock all the GoPro cameras and accessories). Here’s my first attempt at a short video with the GoPro camera – I should improve with more practice!
(For full screen viewing of the video, click on HD in the RH corner to get the best quality.)
Having waited for what seems like an absolute age to find a slot in both our work schedules when we could take some time off, we booked a short cycle packing trip last week just to get us back into cycling fitness in readiness for longer trips hopefully throughout the rest of the year. Of course, we picked the wrong week – it should have been the previous week, which had wall-to-wall sunshine and reasonable temperatures! Never mind, we packed our gear and battled against the wind to head for the Purbeck Hills, on the Dorset section of the Jurassic Coast.
We cycled to the Sandbanks Ferry in Poole, by which time the strong blustery wind was accompanied by light rain. We alighted from the ferry and began the long, slow climb up towards the Purbecks. We were heading for the campsite at Langton Matravers (Tom’s Field), just outside Swanage, which is located conveniently close to the many different walks in the area.
Fortunately, we were too late to get caught up in the ‘Jurassic Beast’, a local cycle sportive arranged by Wiggle, the online cycle store, that goes up and down the steep Purbeck Hills. Although, while I was waiting for Chris – who by this time was pushing her bike – one of the marshalls who had stopped to take down a sign, looked at me slightly quizzically and asked if I was riding in the race. As if – loaded up with all these panniers, you must be joking!! We duly arrived at Tom’s Field, slightly damp and somewhat windswept but looking forward to a few days camping and walking the coastal paths.
The following day dawned sunny but still windy. Fortunately, we had tucked the tent in behind the wall, so were out of the worst of the wind. We spent a leisurely morning soaking up the welcome sun rays and generally chilling out. We were visited by a very tame Mr and Mrs Blackbird. Mrs was the braver of the two and actually took a few crumbs from my hand. She also inspected the inside of the tent and afterwards removed any remaining morsels left on our plastic folding plates.
After lunch, we took the short walk across the fields to Dancing Ledge, on the coast. We crossed the Priest’s Way, which is an old track that winds its way from Swanage to the pretty village of Worth Matravers. In the old days, this track was used by the local priest as he trudged his way back and forth between the churches in his care.
After following the footpath across several fields, in which the sheep had tucked themselves behind the drystone walls to keep out of the wind, we arrived at the cliff tops above Dancing Ledge. The gorse bushes above the cliff tops were in full bloom and looked absolutely stunning. About the only time of the year that gorse bushes look attractive! They even smell nice too!
Dancing Ledge was once one of the many local quarries used to provide high-quality limestone for building.
There is a small swimming pool on one of the rocky ledges that the quarrymen cut into the rock at the beginning of the 20th century so that the local children could swim there. The edge of the swimming pool can be seen in the bottom righthand corner of the photo.
The ledge is also used by climbers and we saw a group preparing to climb one of the rock faces.
The whole area comes under the stewardship of the National Trust and we noticed that they had put up some new signs after a recent spate of major landslips further along the South West Coast Path. The unusual weather patterns of the past couple of years have had a massive impact on the stability of some parts of the coast, which have had to be closed off due to the damage caused and the danger of further cliff top collapse.
Walking back to the campsite, we crossed a field to get on the leeward side of the wall to shelter from the cold wind. Unfortunately, I stepped into a slight depression in the ground and jarred my back. At the time, it wasn’t that painful but later in the evening my back started complaining. After a very uncomfortable night, I could hardly walk the next morning. Realizing that this would take more than a few days to settle down and would not be helped by crawling in and out of a little tent, I reluctantly decided to call for help. My brother-in-law has a long wheelbase Landrover and is able to transport us, the bikes and all our panniers. Luckily, he was free and able to come to our rescue – for which I was very grateful.
Our plan to visit the Square and Compass at Worth Matravers had to be put on hold. This is a very interesting old inn that has been in the same family for over 100 years. Inside the pub itself there is a museum with some dinosaur fossils, as well as some other interesting artefacts such as prehistoric tools and bits of 18th century shipwrecks. If you are ever in the area, it is well worth a visit. And the ale is good, too!
Hopefully, our next trip will be slightly more successful!
Last weekend was the first hint that we might be coming to the end of what seems to have been a very, very long winter. Saturday saw the sun shining and when we poked our noses out of the door, it actually smelled like spring and there was even a touch of warmth in the air.
‘Quick, let’s jump on our bikes and go for a little ride!’ So, our rusty old legs got their second pedal of the year as we creaked our way into Wimborne and out the other side to find a nice spot to sit in the sunshine and soak up a few rays. It was so good to feel the warmth of the sun on our faces.
We just did a very short run as this was only our second bike ride since before Christmas! On our first ride, we just couldn’t get warm, no matter how many hills we climbed! Now it’s down to some serious training to get cycle fit, ready for the summer.
My blog this time round has nothing much to do with cycling or photography, as I’m not doing much of either at the moment! However, I thought I’d tackle a more topical subject… Christmas!
Last Tuesday evening, we braved freezing fog and subzero temperatures to drive
to Southampton to attend a Royal Marine Band charity concert in aid of
Seafarers UK. It would have been easier to stay in and curl up in front of
the fire, but I have to admit that we have a vested interested as one of our
sons plays trumpet and violin with the band.
The bandstands were bedecked with tinsel and twinkling lights, and there was
even a little Christmas tree on top of the piano. Unfortunately, the hall
was not filled to capacity, but who can blame people for not turning out on
such a bitterly cold evening.
As usual, this very professional band excelled itself (yes, I know we are
biased, but the band really is very good!) and produced a wonderful concert
varying from serious overtures, to a collection of James Bond film scores (which the Band played – to much audience acclaim – at the premier of the latest Bond film, Skyfall, in the Royal Albert Hall), to pieces with a sense of fun, with two of the band playing a xylophone duet dressed as cheeky imps! The band’s new Director of Music is a barrel of laughs and kept both the audience and the band amused with his hilarious quips.
Then came the time for the audience participation in the Christmas
sing-along. Well, we did our best to sing Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer,
Frosty the Snowman and Winter Wonderland with gusto, but just let me say that
we hardly brought the house down! Apparently, though, we were better than
the previous week’s crowd, so we should be pleased with ourselves – and it
certainly got us into the festive spirit!
By this time next week the presents will have been opened, the crackers pulled, the turkey eaten and we’ll be wondering what all the fuss was about! I would like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas, a happy, healthy and peaceful 2013, and may the wind be in your wheels!!
This past week the south-west of England has been battered by storm force winds and torrential rain. Trees have been blown down and rivers have flooded. Yesterday (Saturday, 24 November), it rained continuously all day long and most of the night, too. Today, we were promised a bit of a respite, but what has it done today…yes, rained! The day dawned full of promise, clear blue skies and even the sun was shining. Too mucky to consider going out on the bikes, so we decided to go down to the River Stour at Eye Bridge to photograph the flooding from the bridge. We turned into the car park but were brought to an abrupt halt…even the car park was under water! It was impossible to get to the bridge. I settled for taking a photograph of the car park – the depth of the water can be gauged by the top of the litter bin peeping out just above the level of the water to the right of the photo.
We decided to go back home and try to and cheer ourselves up by thinking ahead of warmer, sunnier times to come, getting the maps out and making some plans for next year’s cycle tour. Where shall we go? We are torn by which direction to take – we are drawn to remoter landscapes and a longing for some wild camping. We have thought of the Outer Hebrides – it is very appealing, but then there’s the weather… and the midges! Currently, trapped in the gloomy depths of autumn/winter, it seems more appealing to head south for guaranteed (one hopes) sunshine and plenty of warm, summery evenings. We love the idea of being able to cycle from our front door without having to use the car and we are very fortunate in that we live close to the port of Poole, which enables us to cycle from home and catch a ferry to France. A trip to the Outer Hebrides would mean a long, long drive up to Oban in Scotland. It is actually cheaper for us to catch a ferry to France than to drive up to Scotland and pay for car parking for three weeks – and it would be more environmentally friendly to leave the car at home! What shall we do? What a dilemma! Any suggestions?
Over the past few weeks, Chris and I have only been able to get in a couple of short bike rides and to snatch a few brief walks because my Mum has been quite poorly. Being up close and personal to illness has made me realize what a fine balance there is in a healthy body – there only needs one thing to go out of kilter for it to throw everything else out of sync. We take our good health so much for granted and get pulled up short when illness strikes either a loved one or ourselves. Being ill can take over your life, with not feeling well enough to carry on with your day-to-day living and having to make constant visits to the doctor and the hospital. Over the past couple of years, my dear sister has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer and one close friend with leukaemia and another with prostate cancer. However, I have been inspired by these people and the brave and positive way in which they have dealt with their illnesses. Obviously, they will have had bad days with fears and tears, but to the outside world they have shown a strong, upbeat attitude that has been awesome and I am certain that this mindset has helped in their recovery.
Determined to try to grab a little ‘us’ time, exercise and fresh air, a couple of weekends ago we decided to walk into our local town, Wimborne, to visit the Food Festival that was taking place. The centre of the town was full with stalls of independent food producers, brewers and winemakers showing off the very best in local food and drink. The aromas wafting around were mouth-watering, from fish and chips, Indian food, Thai food, paella, pancakes, BBQ, wine tasting… you name it, it was there! However, we resisted the temptation to indulge and wandered into the local supermarket to buy a couple of bananas and apples – how boring was that! While munching on our healthy fruit, we kept ourselves warm watching a very entertaining fire performer – with much oo-ing and aah-ing from the crowd – saw children hurtle down the helter skelter, swing high and low on the old-fashioned swingboats and go round and round on the merry-go-round.
Yesterday evening, after visiting my Mum in hospital, we decided to have a quick stomp around beautiful Sandbanks – a walk we do quite regularly as we love to be by the sea. We were lucky enough to miss the torrential downpours and found the beach almost deserted. The sky was black, with dark, forbidding, rain-bearing clouds. But, the light was quite unique and I took the opportunity to take a couple of photos on my iphone before we had to make a dash back to the car to beat the rain.
Whilst recently cycling along part of the National Cycle Network route NCN25 from Wimborne to Blandford in Dorset, we spotted a sign pointing to an historic church that we’d not noticed before. Always keen to explore local history, we turned into the little track leading to the Church of St Mary, Tarrant Crawford. These days, Tarrant Crawford is a tiny place consisting of just a church, a farm and a house. It seems that this is all that remains of the original Tarrant Crawford and it is set in an utterly unspoilt pastoral landscape.
The track follows the tiny river Tarrant and you cross over a little bridge to reach the church. I don’t think the church is used much these days, having a Sunday service just once a month throughout the summer. Fortunately, the church is now looked after by the Churches Conservation Trust, so is fairly well preserved. It is an attractive little church near the site of an old abbey. The east wall is probably 12th century, but the rest is mainly late 13th century.
On entering the church, one is surprised to see striking wooden rafters of an early 16th century wagon roof and impressive ancient mural paintings on the main church walls (in the nave). The murals had obviously been plastered over at some stage in the past but have now been uncovered. Easily seen are the paintings illustrating the mortality of the three living and the three dead: three kings or princes come upon three skeletons who warn them of the emptiness of earthly rank and riches. Nothing much changes over time, then!!
I revisited the site some time later to take some photographs in HDR (high dynamic range), the results of which can be seen below.
Several weekends ago the weather forecasters predicted a warm and sunny
weekend – the last of the summer. We decided to seize the opportunity and
get out for a cycle camp, the first since our Brittany cycle tour in
We gave ourselves Friday afternoon off (one of the few perks of being
self-employed, after all, I am the boss!), packed up our gear and cycled
off to the village of Sixpenny Handley and its campsite. It is a short ride
of only 15 miles but it was certainly H :O) T; so hot that several times
Chris had to stop after climbing a hill and douse herself with cold water
from her drinks bottle! She has vowed to get a better-ventilated cycle
On arrival at the campsite, we were slightly dismayed to see the family
field heaving with, well, families. We could see our anticipated weekend of
peaceful R&R being nothing but a figment of our imagination! Fortunately,
the camp owner led us to one of the quieter fields at the back of the
campsite, known as the Donkey Field, which Chris thought quite apt!
We had asked a couple of our cycling friends if they wanted to join us, but
only one, Trevor, could make it. He arrived shortly after us and we had soon
set up camp, so we then wandered over to The Shed for our fish n chips
The following morning it was again sunny and H :O) T – we couldn’t believe
our luck! The morning was spent lounging around in our Helinox chairs
talking about subjects as diverse as cooking equipment (we carry the kitchen
sink and some, Trevor has one pot and a cooker), bikes, the consumption of
alcohol, cycle helmets, illness, Prince Harry… and generally putting the
world to rights!
Having munched through a breakfast and then a lunch without really budging
from the spot, we began to feel guilty and felt it was about time we dragged
ourselves out on our bikes. Trevor, he who loves hills, planned to cycle up
the well-known and feared Zig Zag Hill out of Shaftesbury, which
apparently is No 1 in the list of the top 10 bendy roads in Britain. After
seeing the look of horror on Chris’s face, I decided on something a little
more sedate, if still somewhat hilly. Can’t be avoided in this area.
Trevor set off looking like a kamikaze cyclist (see photo) – perhaps this is
how the thought of tackling Zig Zag Hill made him feel! We pootled off on
our own route, making our way to Win Green, the highest point in Cranborne
Chase – I didn’t tell Chris that! Almost there, we had stopped to admire the
view – good excuse for a breather – when we saw a flash of red and white
zoom past in a blur. Trevor, on his way back to camp! This was a good enough
reason for us to abandon our attempt to make it to the top of Win Green and
begin our descent back to base.
The following morning was spent slowly packing up the gear, loading up the
bikes and trying to guess when the predicted rain showers were going to
arrive. Fortunately, everything went to plan and we arrived home before the
showers started, feeling fully refreshed after a thoroughly enjoyable
Have you ever been walking along and caught a familiar smell that immediately transports you back in time? Well, this happened to me the other day whilst out walking. I had decided to take a shortcut through an area of heathland in Dorset which I was very familiar with but hadn’t been to for many years.
I had spent a lot of time here as a young boy growing up. Memories came flooding back thick and fast. It was here that I first used to ride my bike along the dirt tracks and it was here that I first fell in love with cycling and the great outdoors.
I think it was my Tom Sawyer days, where I built rafts and tried to float them (but not always successfully!) on one of the ponds. Some days, my young sister would come with me and we would build camps and hideouts. We would also catch newts and water boatmen on one of the ponds, with fishing nets made out of Mum’s old stockings which were attached to an old garden bamboo cane. Anything we caught was put into an old jam jar. I don’t think you’d be allowed to do that now as I think the Palmate Newt is protected? This whole area now comes under the Herpetological Conservation Trust. Most of the heathland is of the dry type, dominated by Ling Calluna vulgaris and Bell Heather Erica cinerea. In addition to gorse scrub, there is habitat diversity provided by stands of Scots Pine and Birch. Many of the very rare animals confined to these lowland heaths can be found here, like the Sand Lizard, Smooth Snake, Heath Grasshopper and Dartford Warbler. and of course, my old friend the Adder.
The heathlands had three ponds, two small and one large. It was on the bank of the large pond early one sunny morning that I saw my first venomous snake – it was warming its body in the morning sun. I knew what it was by the dark zigzag line along its back… it was an adder, the only venomous snake we have in the UK. Although poisonous, its venom rarely kills anyone.
Fortunately, my childhood memories have been preserved for the moment because the heathland area has been awarded the status of a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
I do hope this area continues to be preserved, so that in the future more children will learn to appreciate and enjoy the diversity of plants and animals that these small pockets of heathland can bring.
The World’s Only Folding Portable Bicycle Stand
When we originally bought our Ridgeback World Panorama bikes (http://www.ridgeback.co.uk/bike/panorama), we ordered online a couple of kickstands to fit to each bike. However, when they arrived and we offered them up to the bikes, we realised there was not enough room to fit them due to the gear cabling running underneath the bike. Also, we found out that fitting these clamp-type stands to the frame voids the manufacturer’s warranty because of the possibility of over-tightening and crushing the frame tubing. This left us with a bit of a dilemma: how could we fit a stand to our bikes? After a lot of searching on the Internet, I alighted upon a website in the USA where a guy manufactures ‘click-stands’ (http://www.click-stand.com) – the ideal answer to our problem.
This is a simple but effective idea – a lightweight (approx. 75 g) pole made from expedition/aircraft grade 7000 series aluminum tubing that can be folded (not unlike a tent pole). It can fold down to between 7 and 10 inches, so is easily stored in your pannier, bar bag, or even attached to the frame of your bike. No more looking for something to lean your bike against, you can just flip out your click-stand and prop your bike up on it. The stand also comes with brake bands, which you keep on your handlebars and then slip over the brake lever when you stop, thus preventing the bike from moving whilst propped against the stand. The stand also comes in a choice of colours, so those who like to be colour coordinated can match the stand with their bike!
We have been using these stands for well over 2 years now and are very impressed with their ease of use and their effectiveness. You can stand your bike up anywhere. If you happen to be on soggy or sandy ground, you can place the foot of the click-stand into a plastic cap (we got ours from plastic milk containers – see our earlier blog on the Helinox camping chair); this gives it a larger surface area and stops it from sinking.
One point that I have thought of is, when using the click-stand in town with busy pedestrian traffic, it would be advisable to position the stand so that it and the bike are leaning towards, say, a wall and not out into the street where passersby could possibly trip over or kick the stand, causing the bike to fall over (never mind about the pedestrians!!!). Travelling as a couple, we always lean our bikes and stands in towards each other, if we have room to do so.
The click-stand can be used with all types of bikes – fully loaded tourers, tandems, mountain bikes, recumbents. Take a look at the website for lots more information:
…and here’s a link of what NOT to do with your click-stand!!