Another great cycling day in sunny autumn weather. A bit chilly at the start but soon warming. Quite a lot of glare at first from wet roads following overnight rain, but these dried up by mid morning.
We paused almost as soon as we started to visit a bakers and buy rolls for lunch. While Sheila was shopping John realised that we had left our trike flag behind (we have never done this before), so he pedalled back and retrieved it from where we had left it propped up on our car.
The Yorkshire Wolds are not flat. They roll up and down. But we cycled all day in the middle chain ring, just roaming up and down the rear cassette. This was adequate for hill climbing and as we were sightseeing not racing we were happy to go along at a steady pace and to freewheel once the gravitational pull of downward hills took us to speeds above 35kph. We did not see a single steep hill road sign, unlike during our recent cycle ride in the North York Wolds where such signs came along frequently with silly percentage gradient numbers on them. Some of the climbs were long, but this was the trade off for keeping the gradient to a sensible degree.
A day of variable road surfaces. Some were a bit rough and when we cycled past access points to potato fields we were then treated to plenty of mud until the next field gate. The trike front wheels, mudguards and other bits got well splattered. But there were also long stretches of narrow lanes with super smooth surfaces that were a treat to cycle along. The most bizarre road surface was the one we encountered soon after leaving Pocklington. The road was all patches and mended bits, which would not have been too good, but the surface of the road had a strangely bumpy surface as though an army of moles had been through trying and failing to break through the tarmac. Our front chain was bounced off twice in the first few kilometres. Would we ever get going? Happily it was not too far before things improved and normal cycling was restored.
Once we were up we had long views out across the Vale of York to the west and we contoured along the edge of the Wolds for some distance before dropping down towards Market Weighton.
We were going along nicely when we arrived at one of Sheila’s pre-planned possible stops. 10.30, is this too early for a coffee stop? Well, we had breakfast early, so the answer was yes and we turned left into the Fiddle Drill Café. It was quite new – a classic piece of farm diversification. Others in the café were tucking into very large late full English breakfasts, but we were very restrained with our large coffees and no buns.
We continued on a mixture of Sustrans routes and the Yorkshire Wolds cycle way. Most of the lanes were single track. Luckily there was not too much traffic, but from time to time we pulled off to let a car overtake us. Most oncoming vehicles were very considerate, pulling well off the road and stopping to let us through. The undulating farmland was arable and looked well managed. We saw a few sheep sitting in a field with lush grass, not standing up trying to scratch a meal like the hardy upland sheep on the moors.
We turned into Cranswick Garden Centre for a possible pre-lunch cold drink. But because the bike parking was not ideal, we left again and continued to Hutton Cranswick where the White Lion pub provided ginger beer and a sunny, secluded beer garden, which we had to ourselves to eat our picnic lunch.
From here on it was mostly ‘potato-land’. Lots of trailers with boxes of potatoes. JSR farms have their headquarters here and for miles every farm had the JSR name on it. During this part of the trip we found ourselves on a never ending climb that just went on and on. The gradient was not too steep, so we happily chugged along expecting each distant skyline ridge to be the top, only to find a short false flat as a prelude to the continuing climb. We were pretty sure that we would eventually emerge at the highest point in the Wolds. The end, when it came, was a quite steep drop requiring proper braking until we stopped at a main road crossing and started climbing again towards Huggate (pronounced hug gate? Probably not).
On our left we spotted Rachel’s Walnut Cottage Café. Time for a tea stop? It was only 2.15 pm so a tea stop was not really needed. We dithered for approximately two seconds, John said ‘we are on holiday’, we turned left. The 10m drive to the café was proper steep and our Karoo GPS, which was obviously feeling a bit deprived of really challenging climbs, woke up and announced a ‘climb’. We ordered tea and tiffin to be served in the garden.
We continued and taking a right turn found ourselves on a steep descent into Millington Dale. We continued down, but at a reduced gradient through the valley. Millington Dale is known as one of the Wolds most scenic spots for cycling and walking. The landscape of this classic dry valley lived up to its reputation. The Dale turned left and right revealing folded hills on each side as we went along.
As we climbed away from the Dale we had to pull off the road and stop quite often to allow large 4×4 vehicles to overtake. These were returning home from a pheasant shooting party we had seen in the Dale. Once out onto the B1246 we good progress to return to Pocklington.
We arrived back with plenty of time to take the trike apart and put it into the car, then have another cup of tea before sorting ourselves out, showering and writing this blog post.
If you read our recent post about the Tandem Club ride from Charlbury last Saturday you will have noticed that we talked about Cotswold hills. After today’s ride around the North York Moors National Park we have reassessed our comments. The Cotswolds do undulate but not in an excessively challenging manner.
The North York Moors however……
A few opening comments about our ride today: 1. Sheila had done a bit of Google street viewing and found that there were two really steep hills on our route (one at 25% and another at 33%) but we went down, not up, both of them. She was correct in this, but what about the dozens of other hills? 2. There were lots of steep hill signs. We found one at 14% and one at 15%, but the general rule seemed to be that all such signs were at least 20% and often more. 3. Our Karoo gps does hill profiles with gradient colour bands as you cycle along. Today we had some colours we have never seen before! Also just when you stagger over a summit it tells you how far it is to the next similarly challenging climb. This is rather demoralising because the distances between were always quite short. 4. Sheila had made our route by taking two National Park routes and stitching them together as a figure of eight. With hindsight we realise that they were probably meant to be alternative day rides, not intended to be joined up for one ‘see everything you can’ day out cycling.
So, the North York Moors is a great place to cycle if you are fit and aged about 30, or you have an e-bike with a spare battery and a boost button, but OAPs on a ludicrously heavy tandem are likely to end up searching for gears lower than those that are available.
We put the trike together with the sun coming up, and we had a fantastic mostly sunny day with fabulous scenery. A real A+ day out cycling.
Our start from the Fox and Hounds pub in Ainthorpe was very easy. We freewheeled downhill to the first road junction. Our second junction had a sign saying that the road ahead was closed. We decided to take a chance and press on. After going far enough to not want to retrace, we reached the barriers that really did shut the road and two workman were preparing to dig their way right across. John tried charm and persuasion and they kindly allowed us to remove barriers and cones so that we could wheel the trike off the road a bit and get through. They even put them back again for us. We continued along this valley road. No attempt had been made by the road builders to level anything out, but the bumps up and down were OK and we were making good progress, commenting on how great was the scenery. This included a pretty historic packhorse bridge called Duck Bridge. It was just wider than the trike, ramping very steeply up and down again.
We left the valley fields to climb steadily upwards for 7km to reach the high moorland. Our average speed at this point suggested that we might be out well into the evening, but on the tops we made good progress including some gently downhill stretches for about 6km to reach a left turn with a sign for a 33% descent. It was about a 1km of narrow and twisty hurtle that at times felt like falling off a cliff and requiring bursts of heavy braking. The gloves that John was wearing saved his hands from the heat coming back from the disc brake rotors but they smelled a bit singed.
At the bottom we came to the Horse Shoe hotel in Egton Bridge. It was 11 o’clock. Time for a coffee stop.
Lots of cattle grids, but we are used to them. Nearly all looked to be recent replacements, with new short sections of of road either side and through new bypass gates alongside the grids. Also, as expected, lots of sheep. Unlike New Forest ponies who sometimes just stand aimlessly in the middle of the road, these sheep were always head down eating. If we went by at a reasonable pace they ignored us. If we went slowly they looked up and stared, then trotted off.
Suitably refreshed we continued past the school and soon saw another 33% road sign. Unfortunately this one was proclaiming an ascent. It was hard work, but at this stage in our journey we little realised that there were many more such hills to come.
Most of the rest of the morning was more up than down with the high moorland to our right. Then we dropped down a quite long and steep descent, just managing to stop beside the National Park Moors Centre outside Danby. We had visited this once before as an elevenses stop on the Lymington Tuesday Cycling Yorkshire Tour run to coincide with the TdF starting from Leeds.
This was Sheila’s planned lunch stop and it was exactly 1 o’clock. We pedalled into the grounds, past the visitor centre to reach the Park Life Café with picnic benches outside. Lunch was cups of Yorkshire tea and toasties with cheese and red onion marmalade. We commented that the Wensleydale cheese was from the wrong Yorkshire national park for a North York Moors centre.
John had deliberately changed into the trike’s lowest gear as we arrived, remembering that the road onwards immediately became a steep climb. In fact on the LTC tour we had ‘officially’ designated it as a post-elevenses walk-up hill, (That is for all but one of us who was on a self-imposed challenge not to move forwards for any part of the tour without pedalling her bicycle). Today on the trike we had no option but to set off pedalling our way up.
After the short relief of a downward spell, we climbed again to reach Castleton.
From here our route took another steep drop into the next valley, but just before crossing the river bridge at the bottom we turned left and set back off up a tough narrow and twisty climb to Dibble Bridge Bank. Pausing there we looked back across the valley to Castleton and were impressed at just how far away it now looked.
The great scenery and the sunshine remained unchanged, as did the steeply up and down and twisty nature of the lanes we cycled along. At one point we saw an e-bike going the other way, which, unlike back at home, was unusual enough for comment.
Somewhere on this stretch Sheila made a couple of pronouncements warning that we would soon reach a ford. We were obviously not travelling as quickly as she thought because these were rather premature and John looking at the road ahead continuing to rise into the distance thought a ford might be an unlikely feature on a hill top. A sharp left turn onto Crag Bank led us to a downhill plummet finally to reach the ford, which turned out to be just a damp spot across the road.
Up and over another summit took us to yet another steep drop and nearing the bottom we saw a van ahead of us brake hard at a left hand bend. Turning the corner we found out why. This really was a proper ford with a flowing river crossing the road. Recumbent tricycles are not the best adapted vehicles for crossing fords. Our mesh seats are very efficient at draining away heavy rain so that you do not end up sitting in a puddle. But so far as water permeability goes they work just as well in the opposite direction. The under-seat steering means, as its name implies, that all of the mechanical stuff that lets you turn corners is lower still. The front chain also goes under the front seat and the back one is equally low slung, so any significant water in a ford is bound to give the chain and rear derailleur a good wash. A couple of times while on tours and not wanting to become stranded mid way through, we have turned away from fords that looked to be just too exciting. This one had a cobbled, but quite even looking base and a manageable depth of water. We continued, remembering the importance of choosing a low gear and travelling slowly, but without pausing on the way through.
Perhaps we were a bit tired and not so fresh as when we set off, but we were beginning to think that this afternoon half of the ride was even tougher than the morning. In fact we were right. In the morning there were plenty of extreme climbs and drops, but we also enjoyed some ‘flat’ sections running along the top of the moors. However the topography of the area has the dales running as a parallel series of clefts through the moorland and we were now travelling mostly west to east across the grain of the land with no significant flat bits between the climb from one valley to the drop into the next.
Another 6kms of similar cycling brought us to our third ford. Not much more than a puddle, but we made sure to be in a low gear as we approached because the road was very steep into and out of it. No chance to take a ‘run up’ into the following climb.
More clambering took us down to the village of Westerdale and then back onto the tops at a staggered crossroads. Our way onwards was a narrow lane with a well established band of grass in the centre. A trike with three wheel tracks does not go well on such lanes. We were in a lane with hedged sides, not open moor, and by just brushing the hedge we could get the near side front wheel and rear wheel onto the road surface, leaving the offside front wheel up on the grass. It was downhill, but not too steeply. We bumped along fairly cautiously for some considerable way. Once started there was no way back because the width of the lane was much less than the length of our trike making turning around impossible.
We reach ford number four. It did not look good.
It was a proper ford with a good stream of water flowing across it. But the way out on the opposite side was a closed field gate with a field beyond. Had we missed seeing a ‘No Through Road’ sign when we turned at the last junction?
We got off the trike and ventured to the edge of the ford for a closer look. The bottom of the ford was cobbles and the water depth looked to be manageable. More importantly we found that we had come to whatever you call a staggered crossroads where the main road is replaced by a stream. Back on the trike we set off into the ford and on reaching the middle turned sharp left heading downstream a short way before turning sharp right to gain dry land again. It would have made a great photo, but we did not have a film crew with us and neither of us felt a need to go paddling.
We were climbing once more in a narrow lane, but with all wheels on the rideable but not brilliant road surface. It felt rather remote, but a farm building came into view in the distance leading Sheila to suggest that there must be a better road beyond it and our route could not be the only way in. We reached a closed gate across the road. The normal arrangement of a cattle grid with a gated bypass for animals was reversed by having a gated road and a gridded off-road bypass. A car arrived coming towards us, bumped off the road, crossed the cattle grid and stopped so that we could squeeze by going off the road towards the grid. This appeared to be a very tatty homemade affair with widely spaced and very narrow bars. We cautiously walked over pushing the trike.
Not too much further climbing and we came to a junction with a ‘proper road’ that took us along beside a craggy escarpment to reach the main road we had arrived along by car yesterday. In a short way we reached our left turn onto a small lane. We knew we were in for a very steep drop because when we had driven by this junction we had spotted the 33% sign.
It was fast and twisty, but by now we were getting used to these gravity induced plunges. We bottomed out on a sharp corner and just as the road turned upwards met a very large lorry coming towards us. Both vehicles stopped, then we inched partly up the bank and the lorry just managed to squeeze by us and around the corner. We were very glad not to have had this meeting earlier when we might have been dropping down at 50+kph.
Up again and down again to reach a junction where John spotted a conveniently sited bench. Time to pause for a drink and bananas. Our road onwards was above the bottom of the dale and contoured along undulating very gently with a general downward tendency to bring us back to Ainthorpe. We avoided an unknown gated road short cut and instead pedalled the final short distance up to the Fox and Hounds that we had set off down much earlier in the day.
Trike dismantling was undertaken and we had the front half of the trike in the car when it started to rain. We quickly put the second half in. A bit too hastily because the pedal crank was in the wrong position for the car side door to close and had to be pulled back again and re-arranged.
A final check to make sure that no tools, pedals or other parts had been left out and we scurried indoors out of the rain glad to have arrived home just in time.
Time for tea and showers, feeling very pleased to have had such a good day out on the sunny North York Moors (and dales), albeit with slightly more challenging cycling than a spin around the New Forest.
Tandem bicycles have been on the road almost from the beginning of cycling in the 19th century and the Bicycle Touring Club (later ‘Cyclist’s Touring Club’ and later still ‘Cycling UK’) was formed in 1878. But there was no separate organisation devoted to tandem cycling until almost 100 years later when seventeen cyclists, all CTC members, met in the Cotswold Village of Charlbury on 9th October 1971 and formed the Tandem Club.
The idea arose from correspondence in Cycletouring (the CTC magzine) started by Don Journet. The meeting was the culmination of nine months work collecting information from tandem riders as far apart as New York, London, Edinburgh and South Africa. Altough the reason for the formation of the club was the provision of spares and technical advice to members, thoughts soon turned to events, both touring, racing and rallies.
This year the Tandem Club produced some 50th Anniversary buffs for all members and we suggested to the Chairman and committee that there ought to be some sort of celebration tandem event starting in Charlbury to mark the anniversary. Others took up the idea and the organisation of a ride route, and about 40 tandem couples signed up to participate.
So, Friday 8th October saw us with the Greenspeed trike in two pieces bolted down securely to the special trike-carrying floor in our car, with various pieces of personal luggage stowed in the remaining free spaces. This was more complicated than just going for a ride and then home again because the Charlbury event was the start of a trip also taking in dinner with Sheila’s niece (who lives in Charlbury), cycling in North Yorkshire and the Yorkshire Wolds, a National Parks conference and and couple of museum visits. One set of cycling clothes was not going to be enough to cope with a requirement to have off the bike informal clothes, plus being formally smart at times and being prepared for any type of outdoor terrain from paved streets to moorland in whatever weather that October might deliver.
At our hilltop B&B / Campsite near Charlbury, the 50 year to the day anniversary dawned with mist rising that soon turned into light fog. But there was a hint of early sunshine below the murk as we assembled the trike and as the mist lifted we were treated to a sunny day with no noticeable wind. Just about as perfect an autumn cycling day as anyone could wish for.
Getting to the ride rendezvous in Charlbury required no effort at all because it was just about downhill all the way. We did realise, however, that returning later in the day would not be so easy!
Lots of chat and tandem inspecting as people and machines assembled. It was good to see quite a few familiar faces. The tandems on parade included a growing number of tandems with electric assist – not something that would have been seen in 1971. There were also several George Longstaff built tandems still going strong and both large and small wheeled machines. A good sprinkling of Hases too. Some tandems with chunky tyres might have just rolled in from a long tour, while a gleaming Cannondale rebuild with belt drive and slim aero wheels exuded a feeling of speed. Pat and Bob were on solo bikes not Ronnie the recumbent so we were the only tricycle and fully recumbent representative present. There was no prize for the best mobile advert, but had there been we would have won with our 50th anniversary poster and flag.
After a short address by the club chairman and the ride organiser we set off. We paused as we left town because we expected Sheila’s niece who lives in Charlbury to be at the end of her road to wave us on our way. (We later learned she had been detained by a Zoom business call. Perhaps Zoom like social-media is now an embedded part of our culture?)
Quite soon we got to the first of the many hills that we had been promised. Settling into heavy recumbent tandem hill climbing mode (i.e. slow) we were soon overtaken by a stream of tandems. Just one stayed behind us and we discovered that they did not have a route sheet. We were happy to be followed but pointed out that they had chosen possibly the slowest tandem in the group to follow on a hilly ride.
We were getting along fine with our new Karoo gps that previously had only been out on some trial trips near to home. We were not too sure about the feature that split the screen to show the profile of each significant hill we reached with the gradient in colour bands just like those used for Tour de France mountain climbs. Sometimes the little white dot representing our position moved very slowly, and knowing that there was a lot more hill around the next bend, rather than optimistically thinking “we must be near the top”, was perhaps more information than we needed.
It was all very scenic and quite ‘trikeable’ although early on some of the roads were a bit rough with certainly not enough smooth surface for three separate wheel tracks.
As we approached Eynsham the flatter middle section of the route that was promised proved to be true and we bowled along with much less effort. Two possible coffee stops were offered in Eynsham. The first (The Market Garden) was busy and promised a long wait, so we went on to reach the church square where there were plenty of benches and the Lyall and Co. café provided takeaway coffee and pains au chocolate. We were treated to a practice session by the church bell ringers. They were quite good, but a bit loud. We lingered and chatted to other tandemists and passers by.
Onwards on fairly flat roads towards Witney included a section of narrow road turning into a cycle path, but we were pleased to find it was wide enough for the trike. This brought us out into Witney on a busy sunny Saturday with lots of activity. Reaching the market square we found other tandemists picnicking, sprawled on the grass at the end of an extensive green. Coffee was not that long ago, but it was lunch time and Sheila bought sandwiches while John reserved places on a conveniently situated bench. As we were taking a photo in front of the historic market building before setting off again, the rest of the Wessex tandem contingent rolled in. We exchanged important local intelligence we had gained such as the location of good loos in the nearby Wetherspoons pub.
There are lots of roundabouts in Witney. We went off route a short way at one, but soon returned to get back on route again. Flat and fast roads with a service road and cycle path to keep us off most of a busy A road.
Then it was a very scenic ride, but we were back into serious Cotswold hills once more. The ups and downs were to continue all the way back to Charlbury, but a sunny day, quiet lanes and good views more than compensated for needing rather low gears. In fact it was down or up without any flat bits in between. Ascending slowly up one hill we encountered a swarm of flying creatures, which proved to be ladybirds. Three landed on us briefly, then they all vanished.
Approaching Charlbury we enjoyed a long whiz downhill to the River Evenlode, which, of course, then meant a final climb to return to the community centre from where we had set off. Time for tea and some more chatting.
Then it was back up the hill to our B&B. Strangely, after all the other hills this seemed shorter and much less steep than we expected from our early morning freewheel into Charlbury.
Took a 90km spin on the recumbent tandem trike today.
The back story (part one):
On the last day of our 2020 trike tour in France the hydraulics for the left front disc brake failed. We continued cautiously to the end of the day cycling slowly, leaving plenty of space in front to us. Luckily there were no particularly long or steep descents. The force of just one front wheel braking would mean the trike veering to the right and the additional stress on the wheel would be a good way to break spokes.
Back home in England we put the trike away for some time before setting about investigating the problem. Checking all of the hydraulics did not reveal any damage or leaks, so we had a look inside the brake lever reservoirs. The right wheel was OK, but the left one was nearly empty. Changing the hydraulic fluid and bleeding the system for both brakes resulted in two functioning brakes. So, where had the left brake hydraulic fluid gone? The answer was revealed a couple of days later when a ‘drip detector’ under the left brake caliper was found to be ‘damp’.
The brake was completely stripped down to show that the left brake piston instead of being nicely shiny was badly corroded. Clearly a replacement was needed. Unfortunately these ‘Closed 2’ Hope brakes are quite old and spares are no longer available. Hope were helpful but had no practical suggestions. An internet search failed to turn up any old stock on someone’s shelf apart from a couple of eBay offers, which on investigation turned out not to be ‘used’ but complete rubbish. We did manage to buy a complete set of replacement seals (and a couple of new reservoir caps. These were not the problem, but were badly worn – new ones would be no bad thing.) Not having a lathe and the means to fabricate a new piston, we did our best to clean up the corrosion and polish the piston surface. Better but not super-smooth. It was all put back together complete with new piston seals and the seal between caliper halves. The system was re-filled with hydraulic fluid, bled and left to see what would happen. Within a couple of weeks no sign of leaking fluid could be found.
We took the trike out for a gentle test ride. OK, two working brakes and stopping in a straight line. A longer, 50km, ride with some hills went OK as well.
Our suspicion is that the brake had probably been leaking very slightly for a long time, either every time the piston moved or when braking hard, or both. Not ideal, but if this is very slight taking a large distance to become a problem and we keep a check on the hydraulic fluid in the brake lever reservoir we might be able to live with it. Like the rest of the trike the brakes have had a long and hard life, not just stopping us at an occasional red traffic light, but having to cope with many Alpine mountain descents and similar extreme braking situations.
The back story (part two):
The UK tandem club will be celebrating its 50th anniversary in a few weeks’ time in October 2021. There will be a celebration ride starting and finishing in Charlbury, which is where the founders of the club met to discuss the setting up of such an Association. We have signed up to take part and thought that it would be good to have as many different types of tandem as possible participating. We could fill the recumbent tandem trike slot.
Which gets us back to today.
We have not ridden the trike (apart from the test runs mentioned above) for almost a whole year. Any ‘recumbent legs’ we might have had were quite lost and our general fitness is not much better, having done nothing more challenging than pottering around for very short distances on our upright tandem.
We thought we ought to do a few recumbent rides!!
We also noted that the 50th anniversary event would be in the Cotswolds, which are not particularly known for being some of the flattest English landscapes. So we thought we ought to include a few hills as well.
Lymington to the Avon Valley and back should do.
We left the town hall car park and were immediately on our first hill. Not too challenging because we were going down not up East Hill. But once out of town we put this right by heading to Brockenhurst via Vicars Hill and the climb up Sandy Down.
From there Rhinefield Drive was not too challenging but undulated a bit. The Ornamental Drive after crossing the A35 is mostly uphill with one short but mean ramp. Our lowest gears were used and we climbed OK, but very slowly. After a comfort stop at Boldrewood it was down under the A31 and then a proper hill to get up onto the top of the New Forest on the Linwood Road. Reaching the Avon Valley it was a steady pedal to a coffee stop at Hockeys Farm café.
Feeling refreshed, the Avon Valley escarpment offered lots of climbing opportunities. We clambered up to Abbots Well and descended just to climb right back up once more and then go back down to the valley again. On to Fordingbridge and over the river allowed us to climb again from the Avon Valley, this time on the west side, before coming down, crossing the river again and back to Moyles Court. A bench in a small open space just after Ringwood was ideal for a picnic lunch.
From here to home via Bransgore should have meant no more serious hills, but we actually went around instead of through Bransgore by taking in Braggars Lane as a bonus hill climb.
From there it really was mostly easy cycling with just a bit of a pull up to Downton and up to Pennington from the Wainsford Road. Middle Road in Lymington, while not a hill, can be a tedious false flat at the end of a journey.
We rolled into the town hall car park with 92km on the clock. And we had achieved the essential cycling requirement of coffee, lunch and tea stops (this last one on the cliff top at Barton).
A few more runs and we might even survive (going slowly) a cycle event in the Cotswolds.
Our plan was to cycle a ‘panhandle’ route with an out and back ‘handle’ from Flyford Flavel to Bidford on Avon and a loop from there. But by now we had cycled all of the ‘handle’, so we re-thought today’s outing to use car-assist to Bidford and then cycle an extended circuit taking in Stratford-upon-Avon.
After a bit of a struggle with an iPad now well past its Apple intended use-by date, we created a gpx track for our extension and transferred it to the Karoo GPS. This extra section also included a section of the Sustrans Route 41 former railway cyclepath. When it came to it the Karoo did not fancy following the cyclepath but offered a straight line as the crow flies version. No problem because once on the railway path it is hard to get lost. The issue may well have been in the way we made the gpx track. Further investigation required.
We cycled through a couple of Graftons (Ardens and Temple) to reach Alcester. On the way we gained plenty of height at times to give long views over the surrounding countryside, including to the Malvern Hills. It was hot!
We wandered through the town centre of Alcester admiring its historic buildings, but did not stop because it seemed a bit early for coffee. From there we continued to Great Alne, where we picked up Sustrans Route 5, which led us to Wilmcote, where we went to the house of Mary Arden (Shakespeare’s mother), but it was closed, except to school children, because of Covid. Nonetheless there was a good view from the road and we saw a double deck Shakespeare tour bus pause outside to point it out to the onboard tourists. We took a short pedal to reach the Stratford upon Avon canal, took a look and returned. It was now coffee time. We sat on a hexagonal bench around a tree on the grass triangle and Sheila went to see if the local Londis Store sold coffees. The bad news was that their all varieties of coffee machine was broken, but the good news was that they happily hand made two cups of coffee with a kettle for Sheila. While she waited there was some discussion about Sheila’s 1960s ‘Flower Power’ design cycle jersey. She told them about ‘Quirky Jerseys’. Excellent coffee and chewy bars stop.
The Sustrans Route 5 continued to Stratford-upon-Avon via the canal towpath, but we had plotted an alternative road route, which inspection of the towpath confirmed to be a more practical option for a tandem not wanting an involuntary dip in the canal.
The GPS did a good job to take us to and into Stratford city centre, including a short walk in the pedestrianised High St, to reach Bancroft Gardens beside the theatre, River Avon and canal basin.
We looked at the canal boats, including one working through the lock, lots of geese and swans on the river, and crossed over on the now pedestrianised old tramway bridge. Stratford-upon-Avon was very busy. Lots of deck chairs on the lawns. No Japanese tourists but heaps of ‘staycation’ Brits getting just as sunburnt as they would have done in Spain.
We re-crossed the river and found a suitable spot for a panini lunch.
Moving on, without too much trouble we picked up Sustrans Route 41 out of town that led us to the start of the Stratford Greenway. It was race day in Stratford and there were some pedestrians who had used the path to gain a grandstand view of the racecourse. We paused to become onlookers as one race swept by close to us. John even used his phone for a short video!
Continuing we had the path pretty much to ourselves until we turned off onto the road at Milcote.
Our route took us to Welford-on-Avon, where there is a ridiculously tall Maypole (65ft). Apparently this is the third tallest maypole in Britain, with the one at Nun Monkton, North Yorkshire (88ft) the tallest and Barwick in Elmet, West Yorkshire (86ft) the second tallest. The present maypole at Welford-on-Avon was erected in 1967. The maypole and much older base on which it stands is now a listed structure for its historic significance. A photo was taken with Sheila standing beside the Maypole to give some idea of the scale. Given the very small size of the raised grass area on which it stand we could not imagine how the residents of Welford-on-Avon manage to dance around it.
From here our route continued via Barton offering us a few final hills and dips before we crossed the River Avon for the last time to enter Bidford on Avon.
For dinner tonight we met Jane and John at the ‘Bridge at Bidford’ and enjoyed sitting outdoors on the terrace overlooking the River Avon.
Today was an interesting little excursion that turned out to be shorter than expected. Approximately one and a bit kms from the start we had already travelled 10 kms! We did not realise this at once because we were faithfully following our Karoo GPS instructions. But it became apparent when we arrived at places too soon. It turned out that Sheila’s route sheet instructions and the gpx track did not exactly match. We just had to re-think coffee and lunch stops. The intended late lunch stop looked like it might be an early lunch.
Our first intended stop was at Dunhampstead Wharf on the Worcester and Birmingham Canal. Here we saw the Trinity boat yard, which claims to produce individually designed and high quality narrow boats (posh stuff). Day boats to full length 70ft narrow boats, from traditional to all mod cons and more.
Pleasant lanes, not too much traffic and good road surfaces took us on to Shell where there was a ford and a very narrow, one bicycle width bridge over the Bow Brook. We stopped for a photo, some water and apricots. We then continued to follow this stream steadily uphill for some distance.
It was all countryside with no villages until we reached the top of Cruise Hill, where we had been instructed to admire the view. This we did, then sat on a conveniently available millennium bench for our Elevenses.
From here it would mean that we would arrive at our intended lunch stop in Feckenham too soon. We freewheeled down from the hill top and cycled on with not too much effort to Feckenham for a bit of walk around sightseeing without lunch. One interesting house was a conversion from an old needle factory (Grade 2 listed building). We had not seen a needle factory before, now on this trip we have seen two and have discovered that the Redditch area was the world’s major needle making district in the 19th century.
Continuing on we headed for Inkberrow as our revised lunch stop. Jane and John had instructed us to visit the Old Bull pub, a favourite of their’s. We arrived and read the sign saying, “no lunchtime food this week”. Sheila enquired and had this confirmed, but tea or coffee and cake was available. We decided this would do fine. Also, on the green at Inkberrow was a fine maple tree with a hexagonal bench around it with plaques commemorating George 5th Silver Jubilee and the Queen’s Silver and Golden Jubilees. 2020 had been the WI centenary and the tree and bench had been comprehensively yarn-bombed by the local WI branch. There were various scenes and Sheila was particularly taken by the the 3D sheep.
From there we were on our homeward run, arriving back early for further snacks and tea.
Our evening meal was in Crowle, which should be a short car journey away, but a road works diversion on the A422 sent us off into the countryside, with no further directions or signs. We continued for a while, but then consulted the map and could see no sensible route back to the A422 beyond the road closure. We headed back on another small and getting smaller lane with a growing tail of cars behind following us. Back at the road closure we all completely ignored the road closure sign, turned left and carried on, as did other vehicles arriving on the main road. Going back home later we took a quite different rural route ignoring the A422.
Today’s outing was a slightly complicated excursion to visit local villages with a few out and back stretches and some loops.
Hot and very hot weather.
We set off steadily and in just a short while turned left to go to Kington to see the tiny St James Saxon church dating from 1285. It has a picturesque black and white timber framed tower. From here we made our first retrace to our route that would take us on through rolling countryside towards Abbots Morton that we reached via a loop detour.
Abbots Morton was chocolate box pretty with as many timber framed houses and cottages as any of the Hereford black and white villages.
Continuing on we re-joined our main route that took us to a longer circular excursion through Dunnington and with more closely spaced contours on the map, down to cross the River Arrow to reach Broom village, which was in Staffordshire until the mid-19th century when it was transferred to Worcestershire.
Throughout the day we felt we were travelling through a very prosperous part of England with large expensive houses or immaculately kept timber framed buildings.
Quite a lot of steady (and steeper) climbing brought us to Ardens Grafton. There are other Ardens and other Graftons, but not on our circuit today. We gave away the height we had gained with a very steep plunge downwards. While paused at the bottom a group of three road cyclist went by heading towards the hill. The last of the three commented, “A bit of a climb…” He was right.
Next was the very black and white village of Exhall, from where we continued to a T-junction at Wilford. A very large pub offered every kind of refreshment so we though we would just ask. “Sorry, not open “
At the end of our loop we turned left. It was 11.00am and there on the right was a very large garden centre, café et al with lots of parked cars and visitors. Easy decision, we turned in and after a a bit of a walk spotted and bagged a table in shade. John asked a couple of women at another table whether they minded if he parked the tandem against the fence beside them. No problem, but they wanted to know how long we had owned the tandem, where we had been on it and more. John politely gave them the very short version.
There were other road cycling club groups, including Stratford on Avon, coming and going with this as their Elevenses stop. We did the full works. A cold drink and coffee with toasted tea cakes. We lingered. At one point a dog not under its owners control decided to sit under our table. Despite Sheila’s kicks it took a long while to decide it was not wanted and to wander on and annoy another table of possible dog lovers.
We considered the options and the heat, and decided to carry on as planned, returning back past Abbots Morton before turning left for a final and longest loop through the Lenches. This was to be a circuit of “two halves”. The first delivered the steep hills and drops that the map contours showed, and second eased up into flatter rolling countryside.
Our first Lench was Rous Lench. John and Jane had recommended that we stop there to see the Victorian pillar box set in its own stone and half timbered ‘house’. And also the George the Fifth jubilee oak and the Queen’s silver jubilee bench. In addition on the same grassy triangle was a hexagonal millennium shelter and bench. Having inspected them all we decided it was time for our first lunch, sitting on the Queen’s bench.
After lunch the road went seriously upwards. John and Jane had annotated our map to tell us to look back at the top of the hill and see the long view. They could have added, “after lying down on the neatly mown grass beside the footpath sign in order to recover”.
We meandered up and down through Church Lench, Atch Lench and Sheriffs Lench. A Lench is Anglo-Saxon for rising ground or hill, so they were well and appropriately named, but we only found this out later!
As we cycled past the Vale Country Club John spotted a flowery bicycle and stopped, explaining to Sheila the reason why. A photo was taken. An interesting sign offered reindeers for hire, and also the possibility of ice cream at the Reindeer Café. We considered it but decided it was just too soon after lunch.
Cycling through Bishampton, Throckmorton, Naunton Beauchamp and Abberton finally returned us to our road home.
We arrived back very hot, stowed away the tandem and headed for cold showers. Once cooled down our second lunch became afternoon tea.
Dinner was in an Italian restaurant in Alcester where we were the only customers.
Our drive back home was not helped by the low evening sun streaming in through a rather less than clean windscreen. Investigating the problem back at home showed that the entire car was uniformly coated in a sticky and gritty film. Hard to explain because parking under the wrong tree would not affect everything so evenly, nor would a sprayer. It was as though the car had been immersed in some sticky toxic atmospheric pollution. We cleaned the windows and lights using water from our bottles, shampoo and a pair of Sheila’s knickers as a pad, then rinsed everything and ran the car wipers and washers.
Today all that was required of us in terms of route planning was get ourselves and tandem to the house of our tandeming friends Jane and John in Redditch. They were then to be our local ride leaders for the day – just follow the tandem in front. Jane and John were cycling on their Hase Pino tandem on which they seem to have done a very great number of miles in the last few years, notwithstanding Covid19. Their house has a commanding view across Redditch and not so nearby countryside, so we were pretty confident it would be a downhill start.
First stop was near to the Redditch needle factory museum. J &J explained its history and how interesting are the factory visits. Like so many industries the hand labour of needle sharpening was very hazardous because of the fine metal particles in the air causing an early death for most workers. When safer machines became available they were resisted by some workers because it would mean they lost the extra ‘danger money’ included in their pay. Our next pause was for J&J to buy a newspaper, which made a change from other more frequently deployed reasons for stopping. We then enjoyed a spell on a wide road that was restricted to buses and bicycles only. Beside the road were elaborately decorated bus shelters!
Then we were out into the countryside. Pleasantly rolling but not over-challenging terrain, good road surfaces, sunshine and not too much traffic and we did not have to do any navigating. Just about perfect cycling. And J&J moderated their normal cycling pace so that despite our poor fitness we did not have to struggle to keep up.
We paused in Tanworth to admire the village. Our journey on took us into Stratford on Avon District. Well away from the River Avon and things Shakespearean, but we did cycle past some very grand and expensive houses.
On cue, at lunch time we arrived at Packwood House (a National Trust property), parked our bikes and settled down at a table in the shade for lunch. A fairly leisurely lunch – we are on holiday not a timed cycle event. Talk about tandems, tandem cycling friends, cycling plans (and parents).
An equally pleasant journey back included stops to view a hill top obelisk near to the M40 erected by Thomas Archer, 1st Lord of Umberslade in 1749. His reasons for building it are uncertain, but it must have formed part of the mid 18th century landscape of Umberslade Park; and a large former windmill converted in ‘Grand Designs’ style to become a dwelling, where there appeared to be 80th birthday celebrations involving children and sheep!
We also paused on a bridge over the Grand Union canal to watch a narrow boat entering a lock. And quite close to home we stopped at a quay on the Worcester to Birmingham Canal, which is now a base for Anglo Welsh narrow boat hiring.
One small variation from a day on smooth roads came quite near the end as we entered a hill keeping our speed up and in a dark shaded spot hit a patch of severely bad road surface, bounced into it and pedalled out a bit shaken.
Back at J&J’s house we stowed the tandem in the car and relaxed for afternoon tea in their back garden.
In the evening it was a short drive to the pretty village of Feckenham for dinner in the garden of the Rose and Crown pub. A lovely warm summer evening.
Thanks to John and Jane for an enjoyable day out seeing a bit of Worcestershire and Warwickshire countryside and some of their local sights.
Today was a no cycling transfer day to set up ‘camp’ in the Boot Inn east of Worcester.
A leisurely morning stroll across Hereford cathedral close and beside the River Wye took us over the pedestrian bridge to the other bank and back via the old stone bridge to reach the cathedral in time for a visit. It has solidly chunky columns supporting very decorated arches leading to fine fan vaulting. St Thomas de Cantilupe’s shrine was a major medieval pilgrimage site. It went missing in the Reformation but was later recreated in repro-medieval splendour. Then, well up Sheila’s bucket list of things to do was to see the Mappa Mundi exhibition and the map itself depicting everything from local Clee hill to Jerusalem. As well as world geography, fauna are shown and morals explained to be sure that one was on a journey to salvation not damnation. And then the chained library with books dating from the 8th Century. The cathedral also has one of the copies of Magna Carta (the others are in Oxford). And we should not fail to mention the three legged Sir Richard Pembridge (see below).
And then it was just the right time for coffee and cake in the cathedral café.
We decided to break our journey in Great Malvern. John had never been there. Sheila had been there twice and remembers being made to walk up to the Worcester Beacon on the highest point of the Malvern Hills. Driving in was quite tricky because the town sprawls down the hill and liberal street parking effectively made roads into a single lane trying to cope with two way traffic.
We wandered around the town and read about its history as a spa. Cold water cures with water poured 20ft onto naked bodies was just a part of the ‘kill or cure’ regime. Apparently C S Lewis used to hang out here with his mates, Darwin brought a sick daughter who, sadly, died and Bernard Shaw was a visitor. We lunched in a Vegan plant-based café. It was quite tasty. Then made a visit to the Priory that has an amazing selection of tiles on the floor and some walls, dating from locally made 14th Century ones to Minton 19th Century ones.
While Internet browsing for what to see in Great Malvern during lunch we kept noticing that ‘top ten’ lists included the railway station. So, from the Priory our curiosity took us on a downhill walk to reach the railway station. Great Malvern station was opened by the Worcester and Hereford Railway in 1860 and the present buildings, by architect Edmund Wallace Elmslie, were completed in 1862. Lady Emily Foley was a key sponsor and had a waiting room made for her exclusive use. The outstanding architectural feature of the station and putting it on the must-visit list are the floral capitals to the canopy columns. The station’s deep canopies are supported by elaborate, cast-iron girders, which are in turn are supported by columns with elaborate capitals decorated with high relief mouldings depicting different arrangements of flowers and foliage. The sculptor William Forsyth was employed to work on the buildings and designed these unusual decorative metal features. Unfortunately they are now a bit shabby, deteriorating and in need of restoration. Nonetheless well worth a visit.
Having done Malvern without a compulsory walk up to Worcester Beacon, we travelled on to reach and book into the Boot Inn in Flyford Flavell.
Note Sir Richard Pembridge’s third leg:Sir Richard Pembridge (died 1375), who is interred in the cathedral, was a knight who fought at Crecy and Poitiers. He was made a knight of the garter by King Edward 1. When his alabaster tomb was constructed the effigy correctly showed him wearing the garter on his left leg. The right leg was damaged during the 17th century Civil War. A replacement wooden leg wrongly included the garter. In the 19th century a new alabaster leg without garter was commissioned. Sir Richard’s spare leg has now also been reunited with the tomb thanks to a private donor.
Cycle trips out from Hereford probably ought to include at least one day exploring the so called Victorian black and white architecture revival. We are not quite sure why a few architects in the 1850s set out to ‘revive’ a black and white appearance on timber framed buildings that had never had black coloured timber or pristine white plaster. But they made a great success of it including in Herefordshire where the tourist industry promotes black and white villages coach tours, car tours and for us today a Sheila-created tandem tour.
We planned to take in Dilwyn, Eardisland, Pembridge, Luntley, Weebley and others.
As usual our first stop was Sainsbury’s. Sandwiches, but no tandem conversations with passers-by.
Then getting out of town was a bit of a fiddle. In fact we took to walking and then pavement cycling for one stretch of particularly busy main road that failed to offer the adjacent cyclepath we had expected. Once out in the countryside we steamed along to Sutton St. Nicholas and then Marden. Near Marden was a large quarry and we saw two large trucks arrive, but luckily none came or went while we cycled along the road they used.
There were then plenty of hills ahead of us, but the good news was that our road although steadily climbing skirted most of the high land and went around one particularly tumpy looking hill. However, after Canon Pyon we did a bit of steady climbing and then plunged steeply down hill until the road became a farm track in very poor condition. We got off the tandem. Although we were faithfully following our GPS route we were on a private access track. Sheila walked ahead and said there was a large historic house with a posh B&W gatehouse. We decided to continue and John and tandem followed out of the hole. Outside we courteously greeted an elderly woman tending her garden and apologised for coming through her private road. She thanked us and said, “most people just cycle through without asking”.
We continued on a dreadful road to Kings Pyon. It was a bit drizzly (not enough to put on a pertex top) and being 11.00am we decided to stop for Eccles cake elevenses in the church porch. From the church we walked past a horse rider who was ‘parked’ in the centre of the road, then pedalled on narrow rough lanes with holes and loose gravel to Dilwyn – our first B&W village. There was a very postcard-worthy run of black and white cottages. We took a photo.
We left Dilwyn on a nice smooth road, turned left and were back on narrow, steep and rough very minor roads. Pressing on we arrived in Eardisland on the River Arrow. This village was described by Pevsner as being an ‘uncommonly pretty village’. The A44 used to run through the village centre, but a bypass now leaves the village in peace. It was very well kept with a team of volunteers for flowers along the street, maintenance of the village weir and running the community shop. We sat on a bench overlooking a leat off the River Arrow eating our lunch and watching ‘water boatmen’ skimming along on the water.
Good road from here to Pembridge. Hooray! Pembridge was very B&W, but sadly with the A44 thumping through as the main village street, in complete contrast to Eardisland, the constant heavy traffic was a major detraction. Nonetheless we stopped at a pub for coffee. While we were there we saw several cyclists go by, and on leaving we saw a cycle tour support van parked by the covered market. We spoke to two women eating there. They were on an organised End to End cycle tour. We explained that we had ridden E to E on our tandem and talked about routes through Scotland including the Cairngorms. We assured them that despite the name the Scottish Highlands were fairly flat. (This is true, when you get to the Highlands the big set piece climbs are behind you).
Super quality road out of Pembridge to the hamlet of Luntley with B&W dovecote dating from 1673 opposite a fine large B&W house + duck pond. Bad roads again!! until we joined a main road before Weobley.
At this point John decided he needed a comfort stop and wandered back up the lane. A car turned off the main road, so John just vaguely looked at the verge until it went by. But it didn’t. The car stopped and a woman wound down the window to ask, “Can I help? Have you lost something?” Tricky question to answer because I knew what I wanted and was pretty sure it was not lost, but still in my shorts where I had last left it.
We then entered Weobley on a ‘B’ road to admire an amazing collection of B&W houses. From here we heading back towards home on a nice smooth road. The only snag was that there was a large hill in the way. We climbed steadily for quite a long way obliquely crossing the contours as we cycled up an escarpment with good long views to the north. But it then turned straight for the summit justifying the arrow notation on the OS map. This became our only ‘hill walk’ of the day.
From here our journey was mostly downhill, with just a few up and over bits, on good roads.
We reached the northwest suburbs of Hereford that sprawl a long way on this side of the city.
We followed estate roads past the racecourse until Sheila spotted a sign saying, City Centre cyclepath. This was not our planned route but looked a good idea?
We started on a surfaced traffic free path. The GPS even routed to follow this option until the path ended. The GPS said turn left, but this was straight into a vast Heineken brewery complex. We dithered and looked a bit aimless until Sheila, again in sign spotting mode, saw a sign on a small gate saying ‘pedestrian gate’. A Heineken operative came out of the gatehouse and asked if we were looking for a way through. He explained that there was but pointed to a narrow pedestrian footbridge with access steps a bit like a ladder. He said that he was a cyclist and carried his bike over that way, but we were not going to manage with a tandem. We are normally up for a challenge, but agreed this really was ‘a bridge too far’ . He explained that if we went the other way to the main road and thence to Sainsbury’s super store that would take us towards the city centre. Sheila interrupted saying, “We know Sainsbury’s”.
We set off, but with a slight doubt that a city the size of Hereford might have more than one Sainsbury’s. Not too much shared pedestrian and cyclist pavement brought us to Sainsbury’s and it was our Sainsbury’s.
Put the tandem away in the car, tied down ready for the transfer to Worcester tomorrow.
Dinner was in the Bookshop restaurant, which had a limited but interesting menu to go with the claim that it was an ‘ethical’ restaurant, although we were not entirely sure what that meant.
(PS. We learned something else about the Karoo GPS before setting off in the morning. John logged into the WiFi to make a small change to the saved route. No problem here, but a ‘map update’ message flashed up and without thinking John clicked accept. Britain is part of a chunky bundle covering all of Europe and the update download had not got very far before a message said it was blocked. The guesthouse WiFi was either overloaded with other users or was set to prevent massive downloading of films etc by guests. And there was no way to go back to the previously saved maps. So the lesson was not to try a 4GB update on an unknown WiFi. In fact after several attempts and turning on and off the download did carry on at painfully slow pace. We left it to carry on, occasionally checking that progress was being made. Luckily this was before breakfast an an hour before we were intending to leave. But lesson learned – don’t click on anything internet without thinking through the implication even if it is not a phishing attempt.)