Friday, 25 January 2019

Burns Night again - so more cycling poetry

How about a bit of cycling-related poetry. Every year I say I'd like to get into poetry - along with writing that great novel that gets turned into a film! Once again I haven't got round to it, so here are a couple to celebrate while you enjoy a bit of haggis and whisky.  

The first poem has a moral at the end - if only I could ride a horse! The second poem is an ode to a place that many club cyclists go to for warm weather training, and I imagine for the other delights this Balearic Island has to offer!

Mulga Bills Bicycle
'Twas Mulga Bill, from Eaglehawk, that caught the cycling craze; 
He turned away the good old horse that served him many days; 
He dressed himself in cycling clothes, resplendent to be seen; 
He hurried off to town and bought a shining new machine; 
And as he wheeled it through the door, with air of lordly pride, 
The grinning shop assistant said, "Excuse me, can you ride?" 
"See here, young man," said Mulga Bill, "from Walgett to the sea, 
From Conroy's Gap to Castlereagh, there's none can ride like me.
I'm good all round at everything, as everybody knows, 
Although I'm not the one to talk - I hate a man that blows.
But riding is my special gift, my chiefest, sole delight; 
Just ask a wild duck can it swim, a wildcat can it fight.
There's nothing clothed in hair or hide, or built of flesh or steel, 
There's nothing walks or jumps, or runs, on axle, hoof, or wheel, 
But what I'll sit, while hide will hold and girths and straps are tight: 
I'll ride this here two-wheeled concern right straight away at sight.

'Twas Mulga Bill, from Eaglehawk, that sought his own abode, 
That perched above the Dead Man's Creek, beside the mountain road.

He turned the cycle down the hill and mounted for the fray, 
But ere he'd gone a dozen yards it bolted clean away.
It left the track, and through the trees, just like a silver streak, 
It whistled down the awful slope towards the Dead Man's Creek.

It shaved a stump by half an inch, it dodged a big white-box: 
The very wallaroos in fright went scrambling up the rocks, 
The wombats hiding in their caves dug deeper underground, 
As Mulga Bill, as white as chalk, sat tight to every bound.
It struck a stone and gave a spring that cleared a fallen tree, 
It raced beside a precipice as close as close could be; 
And then as Mulga Bill let out one last despairing shriek 
It made a leap of twenty feet into the Dead Man's Creek.

'Twas Mulga Bill from Eaglehawk, that slowly swam ashore: 
He said, "I've had some narrer shaves and lively rides before; 
I've rode a wild bull round a yard to win a five-pound bet, 
But this was the most awful ride that I've encountered yet.
I'll give that two-wheeled outlaw best; It's shaken all my nerve 
To feel it whistle through the air and plunge and buck and swerve.
It's safe at rest in Dead Man's Creek, we'll leave it lying still; 
A horse's back is good enough henceforth for Mulga Bill."

John Cooper Clarke-Majorca.


By John Cooper Clarke (1976)
Fasten your seatbelts says a voice
Inside the plane you can’t hear no noise 
Engines made by Rolls Royce 
Take your choice 
…make mine Majorca
Check out the parachutes 
Can’t be found 
Alert those passengers 
They’ll be drowned 
A friendly mug says “settle down” 
When i came round i was gagged and bound 
…for Majorca
And the eyes caress 
The neat hostess 
Her unapproachable flip finesse 
I found the meaning of the word excess 
They’ve got little bags if you wanna make a mess 
I fancied Cuba but it cost me less  
…to Majorca
(Whose blonde sand fondly kisses 
the cool fathoms of the blue mediteranean)
They packed us into the white hotel 
You could still smell the polycell 
Wet white paint in the air-conditioned cells 
The waiter smelled of fake Chanel 
Gauloises… garlic as well 
says if i like… i can call him “Miguel” 
…well really
I got drunk with another fella 
Who’d just brought up a previous paella 
He wanted a fight but said they were yella’ 
…in Majorca
The guitars rang and the castinets clicked 
The dancer’s stamped and the dancer’s kicked 
It’s likely if you sang in the street you’d be nicked 
The Double Diamond flowed like sick 
Mother’s Pride, tortilla and chips 
Pneumatic drills when you try to kip 
…in Majorca
A stomach infection put me in the shade 
Must have been something in the lemonade 
But by the balls of Franco i paid 
Had to pawn my bucket and spade 
Next year I’ll take the international brigade 
…to Majorca
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Women of Colour cycling group - is it necessary?

Look Mum No Hands! Cafe in London holds various types of events and regular meet-ups. One group they have formed is a Women of Colour meet-up. The first meeting was held in December of last year, and another meeting took place a few days ago. It will now become a monthly event.

First Women of Colour cycling group at Look Mum No Hands

I went to the first one, as I was a little curious to see how the meet-up went, and as someone who likes to meet different types of people in cycling I was looking forward to meeting new people. Also being experienced in cycling and in the cycling community I was looking forward to sharing lots of information about the cycling scene and giving tips to anyone wanting advice.

This group was an initiative borne out of an article written by a woman who bemoaned the fact that she hardly saw any women of colour when she took part in the Ride London 100 last summer. She also claimed to have encountered white MAMILS (middle-aged men in lycra) who gave her "uncomfortable gazes" at the cycle event, or "microagressions" from white males as they overtook her when commuting.

This was then picked up on by the likes of Jools Walker (aka Lady Velo), Jenni Gwiadowski and Ayesha McGowan, an Afro-American bidding to become the first black female professional racer, who felt that there was a need to group together black women who don't feel that they could get into cycling because of a feeling of being different from others around them.

As someone who has known Jools since 2011, when I interviewed her at the Tweed Run cycle ride for Cycling Weekly magazine, I felt I would like to support her cause, so I attended the event. (I arrived a bit late as I had been at fitness class that evening.)

There were quite a few women, and Ayesha McGowan who linked up to the meeting from her home in the United States via Skype. Although I missed the early part of the meeting it seemed that a lot of the women talked about how they never received encouragement to get into cycle riding, and felt uncomfortable because there was no one else in the group that looked like them.

Some felt they were ignored, and didn't feel confident about getting involved, others talked about being passed over to become brand ambassadors for different marketing companies, or that black women cycling are not represented in the media.

While I believe every word of what the women say, I still find it hard to say that there is some kind of racial or discrimination problem, or even that there are barriers to entry for black women to get into cycling.

That has not been my experience at all, and I have never perceived any barriers to entry or discrimination.

No one in my family was particularly into cycling. My dad bought a Peugeot bike in the 80s and I had a go on it a few times, but generally my parents didn't like me cycling. I have two sisters, neither of whom ride a bike and have never shown a particular interest in doing so even though they are aware of all the activity I do on two wheels.

I grew up in an area where we were the only black family. There were local people who were happy for me to join their cycling groups, however I didn't have the means to join in.

Not having a suitable bicycle, and living in a remote village in Yorkshire where the nearest group was 10 miles away, meant there was no practical means of me joining them. My parents were certainly not going to let me cycle all the way there. And there was no way they would encourage me to ride on public roads.

I did bits and pieces of cycling over the years, as described in my 52 Cycling Voices, and eventually got into regular club cycling almost 20 years ago and I have really enjoyed it. Various people have encouraged me over the years - men, women, black, people, white people, including MAMILS!

Through cycling I got into journalism and testing out kit for brands. It is true that I have not seen many black people out cycling, and very few black women. However, the numbers are growing.

The thing is, I still can't say that the lack of black people cycling would be a barrier to entry.

In fact the biggest barriers I have had were from my own folks! My parents did not want me to ride, thinking it was too dangerous. My dad always used to say people who cycle on public roads just want to kill themselves!

My mum couldn't understand why anyone would want to ride any distance over a few miles if they could do it by car. Black women that I met when I came to London found it a bit strange that I would like to ride a bike. At dinner parties mentioning cycling was more of a conversation stopper!

"Did you find the place okay?"
"Yes, I cycled over - it was quite straightforward."
"Hmm.... I never understand cyclists - they always get in the way on the road."

When I was growing up, getting around by bicycle was seen as something you do because you don't have access to a car. Doing it as a child is fair enough. But cycling around as an adult was just a sign of failure - that you hadn't managed to find a job that paid you enough to buy a car!

With these traditionalist views and encounters, which aren't unique to my situation, it's not surprising that black women aren't thinking about cycling as an activity.

I would say this is a bigger barrier to entry than any white MAMIL! I too have done the Ride London 100, and never got any strange looks from anyone. In fact for a while I joined a chain of guys until my legs turned to lead after Leith Hill!

Finish line of the 2017 Ride London 100 
People have been saying "if you can't see it, you can't be it," meaning that you can't become something if you don't see people who look like you doing it. I can't say I identify with that phrase though.

Fair enough, if I had seen other black women cycling I would have found it inspiring. However, there were no such sights when I was a child.

Nevertheless, I still got inspired by the occasional young man I saw on a road bike around South Yorkshire, or the men I saw on TV riding the Tour de France.

These Italians, Spanish or Irish guys who looked nothing like me still made me dream of riding up a mountain pass in Europe - and I eventually did it for the first time on a Graham Baxter training camp to Spain in 2000. I was the only black person in the part of around 60 participants, but it didn't bother me one jot.

At no point did I ever feel that I should join a group of other black female cyclists, or black cyclists. I have only ever been interested in joining groups of pleasant people I can get on with, who have similar interests to mine. I find it hard to see how being black and female would be the basis for forming a group.

There are various statistics around cycling. According to Cycling UK, in 2017 4% of the population rode their bike more than once a week, and 5% rode between two and five times a week.

White people were three times more likely than people of South Asian and Chinese origin to cycle more than three times a week, rising to four times more likely than people of black origin.

Another Cycling UK survey reported 8% of women in the UK describe themselves as regular cyclists (compared with 20% of men). So the figures for black women who cycle, would be low.

There are various explanations such as issues around confidence and negative experiences on the road -  things which aren't race-specific.

A survey by Transport for London did call out family responsibilities such as caring for children and other family members as a barrier to cycling for ethnic minority women.

I am not querying these statistics, but for me the bottom line is and will always be about not allowing reports and statistics to bog me down, and just getting out there and doing the thing I want to do.

As for the other points around representation, brand ambassadors or finding cycling groups where one can feel comfortable, there are various responses to that.

Transport for London marketing photo

On representation: Many years ago, when I first got into racing, British Cycling published a full-page photograph of me in action in their events calendar. I was wearing full club kit, with my race face on. It was quite a shock to see my mug plastered next to "March", but one can't say I was invisible!

Some years after that I was photographed along with a few others as part of a marketing campaign for the Sky Rides. I regularly see photos of black women in Transport for London's marketing materials on cycling.

So I find it hard to say there is no representation. In fact, considering that black people make up 5% of the UK population, and black women represent an even lower number than that, it wouldn't be realistic to see loads of women of colour in a campaign - particularly as so few ride a bike anyway.

If black women would want to see more women represented in cycling campaigns, more black women need to get out on their bikes. And the facilities are available for that to happen.

There are Breeze Rides, Cycling UK rides, Regional women's cycling groups and on-line forums, and a Velovixen forum specifically for women cyclists. There is no reason for any woman to feel isolated in cycling - regardless of race.

I, myself set up a women's local cycle racing group with some other women in 2010. We appealed to women of all levels to join, and we organised rides for beginners too. We marketed this on-line and through the cycling media, but no black women turned up. Now I was racing at the time, and was regularly photographed racing.

So what of "If you can't see it, you can't be it" for those black women who may have wanted to try biking?

As for ambassador programmes - that is extremely competitive for anyone who applies. With hundreds of applicants, the odds of being selected are always going to be stacked against you, particularly as marketing managers want to see specific evidence that an individual's cycling activity fits with the essence of their brand. There are plenty of white people whose applications are rejected!

Getting into cycling and doing it regularly is not especially easy for anyone, regardless of gender, race or the level people would like to achieve. You may well have to go out of your comfort zone at times, as well as reading and researching around the subject.

That is just part and parcel of trying any new physically demanding activity. I am not saying that prejudices and issues don't exist in society, but I am inclined first to remember that we have a responsibility to put in the effort if we want to achieve an outcome, and we shouldn't be so quick to attribute difficulties in progressing, to society.

So from a personal standpoint, a specific cycling group for black women isn't really necessary. Such groups that set me apart because of my colour give me a feeling that there's a special need and we're not like other folks.

I am happy to go along to the meet-ups and socialise, talk about the latest cycling news, exchange tips and ideas.

I am not interested in joining a moan-fest of people talking about being downtrodden and excluded though. At the meet-up there was talk of organising rides, and I would be happy to do some - though my rides will be defined by the terrain and level/speed, and not by people of a particular race or colour. They will be open to any woman (or man even) who wants to come along.

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52 Cycling Voices: Jenni Gwiadowski

52 Cycling Voices: Ayesha McGowan

52 Cycling Voices: Maria David

Photo shoot in the Chilterns

London women's circuit racing

Thursday, 3 January 2019

Reflections on Rapha Festive 500

It was only a couple of days ago when I finished riding the Festive 500, but now that Christmas is out of the way and we are back into the usual routine it seems a distant memory, but I wanted to list the things I learned, in case anyone want to tray this sort of thing.

A section of Bristol to Bath cycle path

Why did I do rail trails?
To get in 500km I could have just done various rides and club runs from my home along the usual routes like Surrey Hills, the Kent lanes and Pilgrims Way, and even out to Windsor. But I felt that given it was a specific challenge I decided to try something different and give it a theme that would motivate me.

Riding rail trails was a way of staying off-road and not worrying about being unsafe due to the climatic conditions or the traffic.

Why did I travel around the country?
As someone who writes about cycling I feel it is important to know about as many cycle routes and locations as possible. By doing a theme that took me to different parts of the country I would be killing two birds with one stone.

I had already planned to do cyclocross races outside of London (in the South-West and in the Peak District), plus I have family in Yorkshire, so it was a no-brainer to do rail trails in those areas.

How did I know which rail trails to ride?
Some of the rail trails were ones I had written about for cycling publications in the past, such as the Down's Link and the Crab and Winkle Way. Some were trails I was familiar with because I lived near them or used them when visiting family - for instance the Middlewood Way and the Hudson Way.

Then there were other rail trails that I was aware of from word of mouth, articles, or just looking at an Ordnance Survey map and they are quite obvious. That's how I found out about the Marriott Way and the Bure Valley rail trail. Checking out an area on an Ordnance Survey map is extremely useful as it gives information about local trails, some of which may be relatively unknown (like the Bubwith rail trail) but also cut-through routes and of course how hilly an area will be.

There were loads of others rail trails that I would have like to include, but logistics just couldn't allow it. For instance in the Peak District there were Tissington, High Peak, and Sett Valley Trails. Closer to home there were the Forest Way, and Worth Way. There are loads more around, so I will probably have to do another series on rail trails.

Did I have any contingencies in case of problems?
I did as much as possible to plan for the controllable things. For instance, I put mudguards on my gravel bike, knowing that the trails could be muddy.

They worked well most of the time, but the day I did the Longendale trial the conditions were very wet so there was nothing I could do about that. So then, it's just a case of having spare clothes and the means to wash down your bike.

Margate beach, before the fog arrived
I generally try to plan routes that are not too far from train lines so that I can resort to that if something goes wrong.

For Christmas Day and Boxing Day when there were no trains I aimed to do local rides so that I would not be so far from home if things went wrong, or so that a taxi ride would still be feasible if I really had to take one.

I did do an impromptu train ride on the Kent day when on the Viking Coastal Trail and got lost in the fog after Margate. There had also been a lot of talk of local train strikes and engineering works over the Christmas period so I kept a watchful eye on that. For instance, I knew that trains would be sketchy in the East Anglia area so I planned my day to Norwich being aware that trains would not be working.

And of course I always have tools - at least to do the repairs that I know how to do! Then the usual things like money and enough charge on my phone. I also had strong mountain biking lights as I knew it was highly likely that I would be riding at night.

How did I cope with doing it all alone?
I never really gave it any thought. I do loads of travelling and bike rides on my own, so this was no different. If I am not sure of something I don't have any qualms about asking passers-by for local information.

Did I get tired?
To be honest, it was more tiring than I had expected, and probably more time-consuming as well. Because the rail trails were in different parts of the country I needed to allow time to drive to the places, find somewhere to park, then set up the bike before I could get going.

On the first day I set off in good time in the morning, but most of the other days my rides started late because before I could leave the house I had to blog and do social media across the different platforms (Blogger, Instagram, Facebook, Strava, Twitter) about my previous day's ride. I wasn't very good at using some of the platforms - especially the Instagram Stories and Facebook Live - and I ended up taking longer than usual!

Even though I was getting up at 6am to do social media it still led to late starts because I also had to gather my things together, load the car and drive somewhere.

By the time I was starting the ride it was practically the afternoon, and by the time I'd done the ride and moved on to the next place I would just have time to eat, rest up and go to sleep - something which I did quite easily because I did get increasingly tired as the week went by.

On one day I did social media, drove a couple of hours, did a rail trail, raced cyclocross and drove to the next place - and somehow I fitted in some Christmas shopping. I think I might need a social media team to travel with me next time, as well as someone to do my chores!

I was most relaxed on the last day because I didn't have to drive to get to the start of the ride, and I knew that I wouldn't have to get up early the following day.

What else did I learn?
The need to have lots of clothes for when night falls. The weather was generally mild over Christmas week during the day, but at night the temperature would drop suddenly and dramatically. I was glad to have extra coats, hats and gloves.

Would I do it again?
Most probably yes, but not necessarily as part of a Festive 500, so that I can take my time. Having said that, the next time I do a Festive 500 it is likely to be based around a new alternative theme which could also end up being equally challenging!

Review of the Rail trails

My favourite rail trail
This was strictly not a rail trail, but I liked the River Avon trail from Bristol back to Pill because on that section I was in the Avon Gorge with Clifton Bridge right above me. That looked quite spectacular. As for pure rail trails I like the Monsal trail for the beautiful views of the Peak District, and the series of tunnels.

Monsal Trail just before one of the tunnels

Most remote lost and lonely: Market Weighton to Bubwith - you just don't see anyone around as you bump along rugged terrain past farm houses and stables for over 10 miles.

Best maintained: Bristol to Bath - it had beautifully smooth tarmac and was well signposted to various other trails and bridleways. Selby to York was also well maintained.

Most dramatic: Longendale - it goes the length of the Torside and Woodhead reservoirs, with the Peak District towering over you. There are also nice views of the Woodhead Pass in the distance.

Most family friendly: Monsal trail - there are seating areas, refreshment stops, and a good compact off-road surface; sections of the Downs Link, especially around West Grinstead and Partridge Green where there are places to eat, and play areas.

Start of the Crab and Winkle Way in Whitstable
Most logistically convenient: Middlewood Way - it is never far from the villages. Both ends of the trail are near train stations and there is a train station at the half-way point, at Middlewood.

There are places to sit, picnic areas and nearby shops and pubs in Bollington and Poynton which are along the way.

Most challenging to ride: Crab and Winkle trail - there is a tough gradient to get up whether you ride it from the Canterbury side or the Whitstable side;

The full length of the Down's Link could be a challenge as it is around 36 miles when starting from Shalford and going all the way to Shoreham-by-Sea. There is a brief section with a steep climb and a steep descent; Market Weighton to Bubwith is quite bumpy and may require reasonable off-road biking skills if you are not used to that terrain. A mountain bike may be a more comfortable option for a novice.

Hidden gem of the week: Waterlink Way - a traffic-free route through south London that is round the corner from where I live, but had never previously ridden it in all these years; Market Weighton to Bubwith rail trail - a good trail to practice for cyclocross practice if I lived up that way. It appears that hardly any cyclists ride it because no one seemed to be on it when I was there!

And I can't neglect to mention other key traffic-free cycleways I rode on, that aren't necessarily rail trails - Avon Cycleway, Regent's Canal, Viking Coastal Trail, and Transpennine Trail.

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Festive 500: Rail trails in England - Day 8 (Last day)

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Monday, 31 December 2018

Festive 500: Rail trails in England - Day 8 (Last day)

Hudson Way - Bubwith Rail Trail - Selby-York railway path - East and North Yorkshire

Kms ridden: 82
Running total: 502
Kms left: None!
Refreshments: 500ml water; OTE Sports energy bar; walnuts; Cafe stop food - pate, salad, almond and raspberry cake, coffee.

Weather: sunny, cold with moderate wind; 12 degC

Highlights - Beverley Minster; Cafe Velo; St Helen's Well; York Minster

Ride on Strava
Hull (Willerby) - Beverley - Market Weighton - Bubwith - Skipwith - Riccall - York

I woke up feeling pleased that the challenge was almost over, save for the small matter of riding 80km to reach my journey's end in York.

I had ridden to York before, going along the Transpennine trail, with a run into the city via the Selby-York rail trail. That route is largely traffic free and goes along farm tracks and canals.

Today's route would also be mainly traffic free, but would go slightly further north, and via two rail trails. I was slightly nervous about what condition the Hudson Way and the Bubwith rail trails would be in, knowing that this would determine how long my ride would take.

Having previously ridden the Hudson Way I knew that would be on a not-so-well manicured trail and could be slow going depending how muddy the trails would be after the drizzly conditions from weekend.

I had no idea what the Bubwith trail would be like, and guessed that it would be smooth given that that Google map had recommended it as a route from Market Weighton, where it had not recommended the Hudson Way when cycling from Beverley to Market Weighton.

During yesterday's ride it took me almost 90 minutes to cover 10 miles, as the Longendale trail was in such a muddy state. Riding at that pace today was not an option today, so I was prepared to ride on the parallel road. The nearby roads were not particularly busy, but I wanted to stay as true as possible to the off-road theme for the Festive 500. At least the Selby-York rail trail would be fine as that is tarmacked.

Cafe Velo
The main thing for me, was to get out of the house in a timely way - something which I had not done at all, apart from on the first day. On this day though, I made an effort, despite the sky looked uninviting.

From my hotel in west Hull it was a pleasant traffic-free ride up to Beverley, and along the way the sun came out. Whenever I go to Beverley I normally like to stop off at Cafe Velo and look at the beautiful Minster, but on this day I preferred to just push on, as I did feel a slight sense of urgency.

I would definitely recommend stopping at these two places though. Gary, who runs the cafe is a former racer and a very friendly guy too. And Beverley Minster looks as impressive as York Minster, but without loads of crowds.

Hudson Way

Anyway, it was onwards to the first rail trail, the Hudson Way, which runs for 10 miles from Beverley to Market Weighton. The initial section, to my pleasant surprise, had been surfaced and was now a wide gravelly, well drained trail.

Start of the Hudson Way - nicely resurfaced just at the start
That didn't last long though, and afterwards, became a farm track, interspersed with short stretches of gravel, and then a descent surface in the last mile before Market Weighton. The trail also crossed a few country roads - sometimes with steps or steep slopes to take you down to and up from the roads.
The main difference between this trail and other trails that I had done during the week was that the Hudson Way was not touristic. It was more like a local trail with comparatively few people on it, and locals taking their dogs for a walk. There was a picnic site at the disused Kiplingcotes train station, but it still didn't seem like a trail for a recreational afternoon out with the family.

I guess most people would prefer to go out nearer to Beverley, with its pastures, or further into the Wolds in places like Millington Dale. Having said that there were some pleasant views of arable fields, some of which may have inspired the likes of David Hockney in his paintings of the area.

A splash of colour at St Helen's Well
One noteworthy thing along the Hudson Way, is just outside Market Weighton when the trail goes through the woods. I am not sure what St Helen's Well represents, but it added a splash of colour to my ride.

With lots of colourful ribbons hanging from the trees it certainly made for something that broke the monotony. If anyone knows what the tradition is here I'd love to know!

Market Weighton to Bubwith Rail Trail

After Market Weighton, I then reached the Bubwith rail trail. This was not the easiest path to find. It did involve going along a 3-mile stretch of the main A614, and it was only by keeping my eyes peeled that I found the right-hand turn to get onto the trail.

In fact, initially when I found the gap in the hedge I wasn't sure if I had reached the correct place, but after riding for around 400m I found a sign-post marked "Market Weighton-Bubwith Rail Trail". Then it was just a case of going straight on for around 10 miles.

This was barely a rail trail at all. It was a narrow track, sometimes a single track and there were no tell-tale cycle tyre tracks to show this path was used by cyclists. There were just horse-hoof marks for most of the way with the ground being cloddy, and in some places churned up by the horses. All along the way were paddocks and nearby stables.

It felt like I was in a cyclocross race - especially because I was working hard, trying to ride quickly over this challenging terrain, and removed my jackets on this mild winter's day.

Over the 10-mile stretch I saw two or three walkers and just one cyclist, but I did see five horse riders. The trail seemed hidden away like a little secret just for the landowners in the area and their horses.

There was practically no human life around; the horse was definitely king! Needless to say there was no picnic site! In fact, I kept thinking someone might pop up and have a "get off my land" moment!

The route was pretty bumpy, and well suited for mountain bikers, though the Cube Nuroad, with its Schwalbe G-One tyres still coped fine. Then, just when I was wondering how long I could be bumped around for, the path finally reached Bubwith, and my bottom got some rest.

Selby to York Rail Trail

At this point, I began to feel good about the fact that I was now in the county of North Yorkshire, and therefore not so far from York. After a pleasant interlude through the Skipwith Nature Reserve I arrived at Riccall and picked up the final rail trail of the day, the Selby-York rail trail.

This was on lovely smooth tarmac, albeit with ruts from pushed-up tree roots, but it was straight-forward. It was completely straight and flat, and child's-play to navigate. This is a popular path, used very much as a commuter link between York and Selby. As commuter paths go it is scenic, with various sculptures along the way related to the solar system and the planets.

On this day there were a few challenging moments when I was buffeted by a few gusts on this slightly windy day. Although there were plenty of sections to take a seat along this nine-mile stretch. I sucked up the wind and focused on reaching my destination - York Minster.

Once the path ended, the run into York was easy to follow. From the racecourse it was a case of following the Transpennine Trail signs which led to the River Ouse, and before I knew it I was in York City Centre.

Finally at the finish line, in York Minster
However, at that point my Garmin was only showing 75 km on the counter. So I carried on along the riverside, up to the Youth Hostel and then rode back into the centre of York on the opposite side of the Ouse, to reach Lendal Bridge and York Minster.

I had done it - and before sunset! I couldn't have chosen a nicer place to end my Festive 500 - on the last day of the year, in front of one of the most famous landmarks in England.

After taking a couple of photos I had a celebratory snack at Cafe Concerto, opposite the Minster. It had been a varied and pleasant ride, and is highly recommended.

These 500km covered this week have taken me to different parts of England and it's been an enjoyable ride. It's a bit of a blur now, but I'm glad I took enough photos to remind myself where I went and the nice time I had.

Related Posts
Festive 500: Rail trails in England - Last day story

Festive 500: Rail trails in England - Day 7

Festive 500: Rail trails in England - Day 6

Festive 500: Early morning rant

Festive 500: Rail trials in England - Day 5

Festive 500: Rail trails in England - Day 4

Festive 500: Rail trails in England - Day 3

Festive 500: Rail trails in England - Day 2

Festive 500: Rail trails in England - Day 1

Sunday, 30 December 2018

Festive 500: Rail trails in England - Day 7

Middlewood Way and Londgendale Trail - Northwest and Peak District

Kms ridden: 43
Running total: 420
Kms left: 80
Refreshments: 250ml water; Clif Bar; tortilla chips; walnuts

Weather: light rain, drizzle, hanging mist; 12 degC

Highlights: Seeing the sun set over Torside Reservoir and Woodhead Pass; getting an extremely muddy bike from the trails

Rides on Strava

Middlewood Way

Longendale Trail

Start of the Middlewood Way just outside Macclesfield (medieval labrynth just behind)

No cyclocross for me

Today was probably the worst day so far in terms of weather, which also impacted on the riding too. I had hoped to get out early and ride the Middlewood Way before my planned race in Macclesfield. However, at 8am it was still pitch black (Sun rises later up here than in London!), misty and raining. I really wasn't ready for this, so I waited for things to clear up a little.

In a way, if I were doing one continuous ride during the day that would have been easier to manage. At least once you stop riding you know you've finished for the day. However, my plan had been to do a ride, then stop to do a cyclocross race, then get in the car to drive somewhere else and do another ride. So taking off and putting back on drenched kit wouldn't have been great, and given that I was on the move there wasn't the facility to dry my clothes - logistics....

So after waiting an hour or so I ventured out, but the weather had only marginally improved. Then I began to worry about doing the cyclocross race. Last week when I raced in similar conditions at the Mendips Raceway it was at least 90 minutes after finishing racing before I could get going. That's how long it took to clean myself and my bike up after getting covered in mud. I couldn't afford to spend that much time again, knowing the other things that I had to do.

So in the end, I had to choose between doing the cyclocross race or doing the trails. Well, given that a cyclocross race only gives about 10km as opposed to a trail ride giving me double that amount in the same time period, for the purposes of getting the 500km-challenge done, I had to leave out the cyclocross race. It was sad to have to leave it out because Macc Supacross is a good event, and I have fond memories of going to South Park in Macclesfield.

Middlewood Way

Without too much crying over spilt milk I got on with the task of riding the Middlewood Way. I am familiar with this trail as part of it was my regular commute when I worked in Macclesfield. It was great to ride or run on it, through the woods, to get to Tytherington.

That section near Macclesfield is fully tarmacked. However, with the damp weather it was still a messy affair with all the leaves and mud on it. The surface is still fairly compact through Kerridge, and up to Bollington. Then after the bridge in Bollington it becomes a forest trail, which is very muddy in the wet.

Picnic time! Middlewood Way near Poynton
Still, the weather didn't deter people and there were lots of folks out - more groups of mountain bikers than leisure cyclists. Lots of people were on lunchtime walks too. In fact, the picnic area near Poynton was quite popular even on this dreary day, as was the nearby Boars Head pub!

Some years ago, I wrote an article for the now closed magazine, Cycling Active. I remember having a good day out when we did the photo shoot here.

I didn't do the full 10-mile trail, which runs from Macclesfield to Marple (near Stockport), but instead turned around at Middlewood train station and returned to Bollington via a road route, just to give the bike respite from the mud. The road route is still pleasant, and passes along the edge of Lyme Park. It burns more calories than being on the trail though, as there are a few steep climbs to get through the village of Pott Shrigley. Thankfully, there's a handy coffee shop along the way.

Longendale Trail

After the Middlewood Way, I jumped into the car and made my way over to Glossop, to ride the Longendale Trail.

The last time I was in this area was when I rode the Transpennine trail from Southport to Hornsea a couple of years ago. Discovering this trail was a real delight, especially when the weather was so much nicer than on this day.

Torside Reservoir shimmered beautifully in the sun, there were loads of brightly coloured flowers of early summer, and near the Woodhead Tunnel people were even sunbathing. Not so today!

Torside reservoir seen from the Longendale trail
It was misty and damp, there was low cloud on the hills, and the trails were very muddy. People had shied away from coming out today, as there weren't many people at all.
Up until now my clip-on mudguards on the bike had done a good job. But with today's conditions were probably a big ask, and the bike plus my ankles and shoes were covered in cack.

Once again, I didn't ride the full 8.5 miles as it was just too dark, damp, and miserable. The riding was very slow-going, and I needed to get to my lodgings in East Yorkshire that day.

So I turned around after around 5 miles and returned to the car via a minor road. It was lovely seeing the sun set over the hills and the reservoir, with the lights from the towns in the distance. In a strange way I felt lucky to have the chance to ride along this road through the Peak District at this time of the day.

With my Proviz jacket and Exposure lights, plus a high viz cover on my rucksack I was sure that any vehicles would have seen me, so I felt pretty safe. The road wasn't busy in any case. This route was slightly longer, and hillier (naturally) than the Longendale trail, but nothing too steep. The best bit was the long descent into Padfield, which made the road route worth it.

I still have around 80km to ride, and I will have to do it all tomorrow. Hopefully, it shouldn't be too difficult. I would prefer not to deal with a lot of mud though!

Related Posts
Festive 500: Rail trails in England - Day 6

Festive 500: Early morning rant

Festive 500: Rail trails in England - Day 5

Festive 500: Rail trails in England - Day 4

Festive 500: Rail trails in England - Day 3

Festive 500: Rail trails in England - Day 2

Festive 500: Rail trails in England - Day 1

Saturday, 29 December 2018

Festive 500: Rail trails in England - Day 6

Monsal Trail - Derbyshire Peak District + a cyclocross race

Kms ridden: 34
Running total: 376
Kms left: 124
Refreshments: 500ml water; nutella sandwich; raspberry jam on toast

Weather: sunny with cold wind; 10 degC

Highlight: Tunnels through the Monsal trail; Notts and Derby League cyclocross race

Rides on Strava
Monsal Trail

Cyclocross race


This was a day to look forward to, as I had heard a lot of good things about the Monsal trail. It appears to be one of the most popular rail trails in the country, yet for all my cycling in the Peak District I had never been on it. So it would be good to finally make it onto the trail.

One of four tunnels along the Monsal trail

There was also a cyclocross taking place. That's my favourite type of racing. Mind you, these days it's the only type of racing I do!

So after another longish drive cross country to reach Bakewell I checked out the Monsal trail. Again, I was limited on time because I needed to be back in time to sign up and prepare for the race. By prepare that just meant getting my bike out of the car and putting on my race number. There wouldn't be time to pre-ride the course, so I would be racing it blind - something that I quite regularly do!

Monsal Trail

At least today, I would be nicely warmed up after a quick blast along the 8.5 mile Monsal trail. Finding the trail was easy enough because it was right behind where the race was taking place. I just had to navigate around the various tapes across the field, which was fun and games given that racing was already in progress!

The start of the trail from Coombe Lane
The first section onto the trail involved a steep ramp and I feared that it would be this steep all the way along. In fact, this was the only ramp on the ride. There are many places to enter and exit the Monsal trail, and all of them will involve a steep ramp given that this trail is above the village and the dales.

Immediately onto the trail and I could see that it was definitely popular. This trail had more people on it than I had seen on any of the other trails I had done during the Festive 500. There were groups of walkers, groups of cyclists - leisure bikers and mountain bikers - even a group of horseriders. It seems everyone was on the Monsal trail, and those who weren't were at the cyclocross race!

The surface is compacted earth and gravel that drains well, so it was not muddy. Along the way were refreshment stops in the disused railway stations - notably at Harrop.

One of the main features of this trail is the tunnels. There are four of them, each being around 400m long. They are fully lit in daylight hours, though I think it woud be good to still have lights on the bike just to alert walkers. When travelling towards Bakewell the route goes slightly downhill so you can pick up quite a speed if you want. So from a safety standpoint a light would be a good idea.

Views over the Derbyshire Dales and the Peak District
I went through two of the tunnels and then turned back in order to get back to my race in time. In the afternoon sunshine the Monsal trail is a lovely place to be. There are beautiful views over the Peak District and the surface is very easy to ride on, and easy to navigate. This was definitely my favourite trail to date during the Festive 500 week.

Notts and Derby League Cyclocross race

Once back at the Bakewell Agricultural Showground I set about preparing for the cyclocross race. Although the temperature was advertised as 10 degC, the windy conditions made it feel a lot colder, and for the first time since I can remember I actually did the race in long tights. I didn't overheat either - not even on the testing climbs.

As with races in the Notts and Derby league, the women's field was pretty big. There must have been at least 30 women signed up for it. The level would also be quite high as I recognised a number of names of people who race the National Trophy series of races.

For me, this was just a chance to do a cyclocross race and get my pulse rate working a bit higher than the plod I had mainly been doing over the rail trails.

Conditions were nowhere as claggy as the two races I had done the previous week in Tonbridge and at Mendips Raceway. There were still a few sticky patches though. More importantly there were some tough climbs and a very tricky descent that was steep with loads of bumps. I have no idea how I managed to do it without crashing. In fact as I bounced down the hill with my body being thrown around like a ragdoll, there was a "whoa" from the crowds as they were expecting me to stack it. But somehow I stayed on the bike. I guess it's called focus and core stability!

Overall, the race was hard work and I languished near the back, as usual sparring with a couple of local women from Ilkeston and Derby, fighting not to be the lanterne rouge. I think I finished third last in the end, but I was just happy to have got round without any incident. I felt reassured to know that I could do this race even after all the other stuff I'd been doing.

It remains to be seen how much energy I have tomorrow when I tackle another cyclocross race as well as two rail trails! Whatever happens tomorrow, I can say that today was a good day.

Related Posts
Festive 500: Early morning rant!

Festive 500: Rail trials in England - Day 5

Festive 500: Rail trails in England - Day 4

Festive 500: Rail trails in England - Day 3

Festive 500: Rail trails in England  - Day 2

Festive 500: Rail trails in England - Day 1