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

Early morning rant for the Festive 500

Friday 28 December 2018

Festive 500: Rail trails in England - Day 5

Marriott's Way - Norwich

Kms ridden: 40
Running total: 342
Kms left: 168
Refreshments: 150ml water
Weather: Cloudy but mild 12 degC

Highlight: Marriott's Way

Ride on Strava
Norwich - Drayton - Lenwade - Norwich

This was a long and a short day - long because I had an early wake-up call in order to do my chores before leaving the house for a few days; I stopped off briefly to visit my sister before getting in the car to drive to Norwich to do a more Festive 500 riding.

As ever, due to cramming in various other chores I set off later than planned, and by the time I started my bike ride it was 2.30pm.

I had bemoaned starting my Brighton stage at almost 1pm, or starting my Kent coastal ride at midday. But I felt I really had surpassed myself today by setting off in the mid-afternoon!

The plan had been to ride Marriott's Way and another nearby trail called Bure Valley path, but I realised that the latter would be done in darkness. That was something that bothered me - not necessarily the idea of riding in the dark. After all, my USE Exposure lights would have been perfect for illuminating my trail.

For me, the issue was that when riding somewhere for the first time, particularly somewhere scenic it's nice to be able to appreciate the beauty of the area. That's not something you can do in pitch black!

I started the trail from near where I was parked in Hellesdon - I was too much in a rush to take any other photos

So I resigned myself to just getting on with it, while understanding that not seeing the landscape around the Bure Valley path is my penance for setting off late.

From the Hellesdon neighbourhood of Norwich where I parked, it was a short ride to reach the Marriott's Way. This is a very pleasant woodland trail that passes arable fields and parks.
It would have been nice to just zoom along this path to reach Aylsham, the end of the Marriott's Way and the start of the Bure Valley path.

However, it wasn't to be as the trail was slow-going. This was a forest bridleway, with a lot of muddy sections - the polar opposite of the smooth tarmacked Bristol-Bath path. Furthermore, this was not a continuous off-road path. Sections of it would go on-road and I had to keep my eyes peeled for the blue signboards indicating the directions to the next section of the trail. At one point I missed the sign and ended up completely lost. Even when I asked one of the locals about how to get to the Marriott Way she was clueless. Do the locals here really not give a toss about their rail trails?

I eventually found my way after having lost a bit of time, but as the going was soft I would not have been able to match the speeds I had done on other rail trails.

Maybe the lady I had asked for directions was not representative because there were actually quite a lot of people on the trails - walking, on family bike rides, and a few horse riders.

Onwards I pressed until my route came to an abrupt halt when a bridge over the River Wensum was closed, meaning I had to make a diversion via a busy main road.

Initially I stood there lamenting at the possibility of another delay to my ride. In the end I saw it as a blessing in disguise. I had ridden far enough to return to Norwich while still getting in a reasonable mileage.

I decided I wasn't going to do the Bure Valley Path, and instead I would make my way over to my lodgings and enjoy a relaxing evening. Well, with all this travelling around I think I deserved a rest. So back to Norwich I went!

My return to Norwich was quite fast - it may have been that I felt motivated to get back to my car, but it was more the fact that the path was slightly downhill.

After a quick spin around the city centre, which I can't tell you much about because it was dark, I returned to my car and made tracks to Wisbech where I would stay for the night.

This is definitely a place I will return to next year, and do the Full Monty of trails. But for today I was satisfied with my taster.

Related Posts
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


Thursday 27 December 2018

Festive 500: Rail trails in England - Day 4

Crab and Winkle Way - Viking Coastal trail - Kent

Kms ridden: 83
Running total: 302
Kms left: 198
Refreshments: 250ml water; cheese sandwich; cereal bar
Weather: sunny, cold, later misty 9 degC

Highlights: mad traffic in Canterbury; Riding along the Kent coastline; Mist suddenly dropping down, getting lost and having to take the train back!

Ride on Strava
Tankerton beach - Canterbury - Cliffsend - Ramsgate - Broadstairs - Margate - Birchington-on-Sea

Not too much to say about this day. I guess the phrase, all's well that end's well is fitting here. I was not happy to have had to end my ride by being compelled to catch the train, so that was a bit of a downer.

One moment I was enjoying a ride along the beach, just after Margate, looking foward to getting back to Whitstable, and the next minute it all went dark, misty and cold and I could no longer find the trail. I was the only one around, as everyone I'd seen was going in the opposite direction to me.

Margate beach, right before the mist arrived
That made me feel even more that continuing onwards would not be a wise idea. The alternative route was a fast busy road - which I did not want to risk in the fog, or even just the dark.

I got rather scared as I was just surrounded by this massive cloud and I didn't know which way to go. So regrettably I had to get on a train at Birchington-on-Sea.

In typical style the train was cancelled, so I waited for the next one. By the time I added in the faffing around, the train cancellation and the train journey itself it took me almost an hour and half to get back to Whitstable. If I had ridden it would have taken me just over an hour!

Maybe I should have been bolder and not panicked about what to do. Who knows. So for that reason I don't think today was the best.

Having said that, I would recommend the ride along the Crab and Winkle Way to get to Canterbury. The 7-mile trail is a mixture of gravel and tarmac. It is a bit undulating, with a steep climb when riding from the Whitstable end, but it is a very pleasant ride.

Ramsgate harbour
I also liked the ride along the Kent coastline, starting from Pegwell Bay - known as the Viking Coastal Trail. It is generally well surfaced, and you get great views of the different beaches. Some are nicer than others.

I would definitely recommend Whitstable and Tankerton, plus seeing Ramsgate Harbour. The places seemed much of a muchness to me. But maybe I am just biased because I was traumatised by the fog!

Related Posts
Festive 500: Rail trails in England - Day 3

Festive 500: Rail trails in England - Day 2

Festive 500: Rail trails in England - Day 1

Wednesday 26 December 2018

Festive 500: Rail trails in England - Day 3

Downs Link - Brighton

Kms ridden: 87
Running total: 219
Kms left: 281
Refreshments: 300ml water
Weather: dry, cloudy, mild 10 degC

Highlights: St Leonard's Forest; Arriving in Brighton; Riding empty country lanes in pitch black

Start/end of the Downs Link in Shoreham-by-Sea

Ride on Strava
Colgate - St Leonard's Forest - Downs Link - Shoreham - Brighton - Pease Pottage - Colgate

After an interlude from riding along disused railway lines, normal service resumed and I rode the rail trail of the day, the Downs Link. The full route is 37 miles from Shalford, near Guildford and runs all the way to Shoreham-by-Sea on the Sussex coast.

Bridleway through St Leonard's Forest
I joined it from about two-thirds of the way down at Copsale, after having done a very pleasant ride along a bridleway through St Leonard's Forest.

Having done the Downs Link in the past, I knew what to expect - a long straight path mainly through forest and at short intervals passing through villages. The main difference this time around was that the surface was a bit wetter and muddier than in the past. That was not a problem for me though, as it meant that the trail was a bit more comfortable to ride than the bumpy ride that I usually get when going over the stony path in the summer.

There were lots of folks out riding, especially kids on what was probably their Christmas present. I like this time of year because people seem so much more care-free. One little girl who can't have been more than 7-years old, smiled at me as she passed, saying "Happy Boxing Day". That made my day.

Although there were quite a lot of people out, the refreshment stops at West Grinstead and Partridge Green were closed. Everyone needs a holiday, I guess!

My arrival run into the coast was nice and flat. When riding to Brighton, I usually have to go over a climb like Ditchling Beacon or Devil's Dyke. In fact, the first time I rode on the Downs Link I got a bit bored of the flat unchallenging stuff and diverted onto the South Downs Way at Bamber to go up Edburton Hill. Today, was feeling much too sensible to do such a crazy thing, and kept to the text-book flat route all the way to Shoreham, before riding along the tarmacked traffic-free path along the coast from Portslade to Brighton.

Arriving in Brighton at dusk
Because I had started my ride so late it meant that by the time I arrived in Brighton it was dusk, and I ended up riding back to my car (which was parked in Colgate) in the dark.

The route back was signposted, (I followed the signs for Crawley) and took me on paths and country lanes that went parallel to the A23 trunk road. And then nearer to the end of the route I was on empty country lanes above the M23 motorway.

Thankfully, my USE Exposure Lights, were pretty powerful, and when on the empty, pitch black country lanes the roads were perfectly visible. I also wore a Proviz 360 jacket which is totally reflective at night. So I didn't feel vulnerable at all.

Being in the dark when there's no one around feels great. I felt so free and it was really peaceful. Only the sound of the natural night life, and the creatures running out of the way could be heard as I zoomed past the trees. I need to do this sort of thing more often.

Maybe I'll do another night ride tomorrow.

Related Posts
Festive 500: Rail trails in England - Day 2

Festive 500: Rail trails in England - Day 1

Tuesday 25 December 2018

Festive 500: Rail trails in England - Day 2


Kms ridden: 64
Running total: 132
Kms left: 368
Refreshments: 250ml water
Weather: dry, very cold (frosty start), weak sunshine 5 degC

Highlights: Waterlink Way; Regents Canal; Highgate Hill; Primrose Hill 

Ride on Strava
London Tour -Greenwich - Hackney - Islington - Highgate and Hampstead - Primrose Hill - Westminster - Battersea - Crystal Palace

Whenever I'm in London on Christmas day I always do a bike ride around the city. It's probably my favourite day to ride a bike.

I love travelling through this great city with hardly any traffic around, and seeing the sights and the architecture in their full glory, without needing to have too much added focus on the crazy traffic!

Also, the Christmas lights and many folks out walking with their families just adds a feelgood factor to the atmosphere.

For today, rail trails had to be put on hold as there are hardly any in London. There are disused underground stations, but that'll be for another day, and I think cycling underground might present some problems!

Regents Canal near Victoria Park
Having said that, I did find lots of traffic-free places to ride, notably on the Regents Canal towpath. It's a lovely thoroughfare where you see the different architecture and degrees of stylishness as you go along.

Industrial ride
I joined the towpath at Mile End, over in East London, and continued past Hackney and Victoria Park (the people's park). These areas were quite industrial-looking with urban graffiti, with some parts looked a little bit run-down. I have to say, I like these scenes though because there is character in these places and there are always interesting stories to find out about the history of these places - something else to do for another day.

Then as I got nearer to Islington the path became more stylish as I went past the backs of design studios, and hip cafes.

I did leave the towpath at Islington to head North to Highgate and Hampstead, but rejoined it later on at Regents Park, where this section of the towpath had a regal feel, particularly as it passed near some of the most affluent parts of London like Primrose Hill and St John's Wood.

I finally left the canal at Little Venice, which must make for one of the most alternative addresses to have, for the folks who live on the boats moored there.

Little Venice
For this London loop I had considered riding all the way up to Alexandra Palace, but given the time constraints I just went as far as Highgate. Once again my ride included another pretty arduous hill - Highgate Hill.

Living in Crystal Palace, I am no stranger to hills in London, and I always thought the that the steepest hills can be found in and around my neighbourhood.

In fact, Highgate can't be discounted as having the steepest hills in London. This hill went on for about a kilometre and was a real grind. This should not have been a surprise to me as this hill runs parallel to Swain's Lane, a road I have competed on in the past for the Urban Hill climb. So therein was the clue that this road wouldn't be flat!

Beautiful Belsize Park
Once the road levelled off I was able to "recover" by doing a stretch across Hampstead Heath. One of the great things about having the Cube Nuroad gravel bike is the freedom to get onto gravel trails at will, which is what I did on the heath.

Even at times I completely off-pisted it by riding across the sodden grass. The tyres aren't specifically adapted for riding on wet or really muddy trails, but the Nuroad still coped over those short stretches - as it had done along the River Avon trail yesterday.

After these capers I then made the homeward run via the sumptuous neighbourhoods of Belsize Park, Primrose Hill, and down through Chelsea to get home and enjoy some Christmas dinner.

One really interesting find for me during this ride was the Waterlink Way - a traffic-free, tarmacked cycle route very close to where I live, that goes through Sydenham, Catford, and Lewisham, all the way to Greenwich. It is a very pleasant ride that basically follows the River Ravensbourne.

I almost feel ashamed that I didn't know about this route earlier. It is a much more pleasant way to get to Lewisham than on the road route, and I would highly recommend it.

I guess that's the thing about a Christmas ride in London - it is the chance to discover new places and new routes that I generally feel too much in a rush to bother looking for during my busy schedule at other times of the year.

Rail trails resume tomorrow.

Related Posts
Why I like the Festive 500

Festive 500: Rail Trails in England - Day 1

Monday 24 December 2018

Festive 500: Rail Trails in England - Day 1

Bristol and Bath cycle path; River Avon trail

Kms ridden: 68 
Running total: 68 km
Kms left: 432
Refreshments: 300ml water
Weather: dry, cold, cloudy, 6 degC

Highlights: Struggling up Naish hill climb; Clifton Bridge; Spotting Team Sunweb's Pfeiffer Georgi; River Avon trail 

Rides on Strava

After more than a month of planning, the day finally came for me to begin the quest for those all-important 500 kilometres between today and New Year's Eve, to attain the challenge.

Even though I have done various cycle tours over the years I still felt quite nervous about this one. It was probably a combination of starting the ride somewhere far from home, that I was not familiar with, a weather forecast that didn't look great, not knowing what the state of the trails would be like, and also using new equipment.

My steed for the Festive 500 - Cube Nuroad WS gravel bike
I had a new bike to test - a Cube Nuroad WS women's gravel bike, new lights for off-road biking, and a new portable hydration pack - none of which I'd had the chance to rehearse with.

I wasn't altogether happy with some of my old equipment, notably my mountain biking shoes. They were in a pretty damp and muddy state after having spent the two previous days in back-to-back mudfests (also known as cyclocross races!) particularly after yesterday's soggy conditions at the Mendips Raceway.

This year's theme for my Festive 500 is rail trails. I will ride as many of these converted disused railway lines as is practical.

Today's ride started from the village of Easton-in-Gordano just outside Bristol, and went out to Portishead, then back to Bristol via the Ashton Court Estate, and onwards to Bath via the Bristol-Bath rail trail.

From Easton-in-Gordano I found an off-road path known as the Sheepway, part of the Avon Cycleway network and that took me straight to Portishead. The trail was a mixture of gravel and compacted earth. It was slightly muddy, but nothing excessive. 

Although I was quite near the coast I wouldn't have known it because there were various industrial parks nearby blocking the view. However, the sound of seagulls couldn't be concealed.

Portishead town centre looked pretty, though being Christmas Eve the high street was very busy. Somehow, because I had been thinking so much about doing rail trails I hadn't thought much about cycling up hills anywhere. 

Clifton Suspension Bridge
In fact, I ended up doing a pretty big climb on the run back into Bristol - 2km up Naish Hill. It was pretty steep, and quite unexpected. As I struggled up it, a club rider flying past in the opposite direction shouted "Keep going" across to me. I was grateful for the encouragement  as I was only half-way up at that point!

After that, it was then a rolling road to get to the Ashton Court Estate, where I got onto an off-road trail to reach Clifton Bridge. I do like this bridge. 

It's quite picturesque, as far as suspension bridges go, and judging by the number of people hanging around there it seemed like more than just a bridge, as there was a visitor centre, as well as the nearby Leigh Woods and Ashton Court Estate, making it a pleasant day out. Ashton Court Estate is also popular with mountain bikers where there are a few technical trails plus a novice trail to try out too.

Once in central Bristol I did a lot of stop-starting to find my way to the Bristol-Bath cycle path, and that probably cost me a bit of time - not really what I want when trying to get in the miles. Eventually I found the path, which started from the St Philip's area of the city. 

I've gotta say it wasn't the prettiest of venues to start the trail, and I hoped things would look nicer as the ride progressed. Thankfully, once past the rough urban streets I was again back into Bristolian leafy suburbia.

This rail trail is the former Midland Railway Bath to Mangotsfield line, which was axed along with loads of other trails around the country, following the Beeching Report in the 1960s. Nowadays it is a very popular path with walkers and cyclists. 

The whole 15-mile route between Bristol and Bath is tarmacked so you can ride it quite quickly when there's no one around. The remains of Warmley station, with it's platform are still there and the old building is now a mini cafe with toilets. There is also a cafe further along, at Bitton. 

Along the way, I saw a few leisure cyclists, and a lot of club cyclists on training rides. One person I spotted was someone in Team Sunweb kit who was particularly going for it. 

Initially I thought it was someone in replica kit, but something about their lean frame and concentrated look made me think it must be an elite cyclist. It was only after I passed the rider that I realised it was Pfeiffer Georgi - previously in Team Jadan-Weldtite, now part of Team Sunweb. 

Avon Valley Railway briefly runs parallel to the Bristol-Bath rail trail
The last time I saw her was when she won the Queen of the Mountains at Stage 1 of the Tour de Yorkshire earlier this year. If only I had had my wits about me to talk to her today. Mind you, I'm not sure if she would have wanted to stop given that she was in full flow!

The rest of this trail has other attractions, like sculptures, the Avon Valley Railway, on which a vintage train passed through while I was there. For other off-road rides there's the River Avon Trail, the Avon Cycleway and the Kennet and Avon Canal Towpath.
These attractions definitely give me a reason to come back here in future.

As things were though, I had to push on to Bath, where the end of the trail was definitely prettier than the start. All that regency architecture definitely makes the city appealing, and it was heaving with shoppers and tourists alike.

I had just enough time to do a quick spin around the city centre before getting the train back to Bristol Temple Meads and do the 10-mile route back to Easton-in-Gordano. By the time I reached Bristol it was 4pm, and getting dark. 

In fact, night fell while I was on the River Avon Trail en route to Pill. Thankfully I was able to use my mountain bike lights. 

I had a Lezyne Macro Drive Duo 700 helmet light, and a USE Exposure Race Mk13 light for the bike. The Lezyne alone was enough for these conditions.

Glad to have made it to Bath
 To be honest, as there were a few hardy souls out running along these trails I felt it would've been inconsiderate to dazzle them with both of my lights. The Lezyne was enough of an annoyance for them!

The River Avon Trail is not a rail trail but it is a popular off-road cycle route. You go along the River Avon gorge and for a long section of the ride there is a great view of the Clifton Suspension Bridge above, as spectacular rocky outcrops tower over you. You'd almost forget you were in a city if it wasn't for the fast Portway road on the other side of the river. 

Given all the rain from previous days the trail was quite muddy in parts, but the Cube Nuroad coped well. I was very glad to have put mud-guards on the bike. I was completely dry at the end of what ended up being a pretty messy end to my day. 

The bike will need a bit of a clean-up before I set off again tomorrow, but I don't mind. Considering how apprehensive I was feeling beforehand, if a muddy bike at the end of my day is the biggest hardship I can't complain. It was a good first day! 

Related Posts

Monday 10 December 2018

Why I like the Festive 500

I got the message on Strava to register for the Festive 500. So what else could I do but to go forth and oblige! Why wouldn't I want to try and ride 500km between Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve?

Why not! I don't normally sign up to the 101 challenges that come up on Strava, but when it comes to the Rapha Festive 500 I do like to get involved. 

It seems a good time of year to do it - when the days can be a bit grey and you are tempted to not go out at cycling, preferring to stay home stuffing your face. I am still likely to stuff my face, but at least it will be safe in the knowledge that all those calories are being burned off. 

Record your kilometres by registering on Strava or you can go old school with a brevet card
What's more, I can enjoy tracking what others around the world have got up to on their challenges. I will try not to get too envious of the folks in Australia or South America who will be enjoying long summer days - or even folks in Southern Europe or across in California who will have mild weather during their days.

This challenge has been going since 2010, though I did it for the first time a couple of years ago. When I did it my theme was based on rides in and around London along the points of the compass. There were some areas like Box Hill, Reigate, Sevenoaks and Windsor which I knew well. But the challenge was also a great opportunity to discover other areas like North-East London and parts of East Kent.

Also last time around I had to challenge myself to being out all day in less than favourable conditions while still staying safe. The first couple of days were mild and sunny, whereas the week became cold, icy and then shrouded in mist by the end of the week.  
But by the time I reached my final day, on New Years Eve as I rode from Hampstead back home, I felt a great sense of satisfaction to know I had completed the challenge. 

As I had mentioned previously, 500km in eight days is not necessarily a massive challenge for a club rider. It is something that I can manage during a warm-weather training camp, or during one of my cycle tours in the summer.

But something about doing it at this time of year can be an effort because of the wish to stay home with the family and celebrate Christmas, and the weather not being appealing enough to get the bike out. Many people start the challenge and a lot fail.

So this year my theme will be rail trails - disused railway lines converted into cycle paths. It's not the easiest way to get in 500km as I will be on a gravel bike. The miles and kilometres tick over a lot slower than on the road. However, it will be scenic, and bad weather is less of an issue when on traffic-free paths.

So I will get in as many as I can around England. The rides won't be entirely off road, as I will still have to get to use the road to get to and and from them, and there may be some days when I just need to take the quickest route home.

I will have some special off-road lights as I may well be riding after dark on a trail, so that'll be fun!

My first day will begin in Bristol, going along the Bristol to Bath trail, and my last day will be somewhere on the coast - either the South Coast or the Yorkshire coast - I have yet to decide, but whichever one I end up at, I look forward to enjoying a celebratory ice cream on New Year's Eve!

Related Posts

Saturday 1 December 2018

52 Cycling Voices - 22: Jenni Gwiazdowski

Jenni is well-known in the cycling scene in London, having made her name through the London Bike Kitchen that she runs and it featured on BBC Radio 4's Women's Hour last year.

In addition, she mans the desk at the WheelSuckers podcast along with Alex Davis. Oh, and she's the author of How to Build a Bike: Simple Guide to Making Your Own Ride. I have known of Jenni for a few years but funnily enough, it was only recently that I got to speak to her at length when I went to a women of colour cyclists' meet-up at Look Mum No Hands! So while there, I thought I'd find out a bit more about her.

Jenni Gwiadowski, aged 39

From: San Diego, California, USA

Lives: London

Occupation: Founder and Director of London Bike Kitchen

Jenni at Look Mum No Hands!
Well we always biked when we were kids…but I’m originally from San Diego, California where there is a strong car culture. The minute I turned 15 I got my license, started driving and I didn’t really touch a bike again until I was 24 when I was living in Japan (My mother is Japanese and my father is Polish.)

I moved to Japan to teach English, and the school I was at gave me a bicycle as my transport – an old sit-up-and-beg bike - and I was like, "What is this? I haven’t ridden this since I was a kid." But then riding it became the smartest way to get around as I was in a small town in the countryside. Cycling turned a 20-minute walk into a 5-minute bike ride. 

It was fun, I was on my own schedule, and I was outside. It wasn’t until I moved to London 11 years ago, that I started to identify myself as a cyclist, because I feel like here you are definitely in a minority and you’ve got to stick together.

You really, like stick up for other cyclists as well, and connect with other people who ride.

When comparing cycling in the different places I've lived, San Diego is very similar to London in terms of volume of cars. I really like cycling on the continent, as I feel like drivers are way more respectful over there. 

In Japan people are very respectful. You don’t need infrastructure because the infrastructure is in their minds. Everyone is really respectful, and you can ride on the pavement and it’s fine because people just do that….and you can ride on the road and it’s totally fine because the cars are really polite and everyone is just aware – almost hyperaware. Whereas here it’s like you’re on your own. You’ve gotta fend for yourself.

I’m the founder, director and benevolent dictator, and janitor at London Bike Kitchen. I set it up about seven and a half years ago and we opened a year later.
I guess my reasons for starting it were personally selfish. I really wanted to learn how to build my own bike and there was no classroom space to learn how to do that. So I thought, I’m just going to set it up. I’m going to make it so I can learn how to build my own bike. 

Director, benevolent dictator and janitor outside LBK - Jenni does it all! 
I was pretty sure other people wanted to learn as well. But I also realised I love bike riding and when I used to send my bike off to the bike shop to get fixed I was not really sure what they were doing and I felt disempowered by that experience

So I thought to myself,"Well I can change a puncture, I can now change my brake pads, I feel good about being able to do that. What if I can do more? Surely that’s gonna make me feel better." That was an additional incentive to become a mechanic and set up this space where it’s all about education.

I consider myself a mechanic now but there are different areas of expertise when it comes to bike mechanics. There’s definitely some things that I can’t do, like I can’t do hydraulic disc brakes. The ironic thing is we do a class on that, so I have to attend our own classes! But I can be great with quarter pins – like old bike stuff. So although I do consider myself to be a mechanic I am not some all-knowing all-seeing mechanic, though I know my way around a bike.

London Bike Kitchen is aimed for everybody, but right at the very start I knew I wanted to do a separate women’s night because I just don’t see other females working in the bike industry, especially not as mechanics and you don’t see a lot of women riding bikes. And I feel like they’re related. 

It wasn’t actually me who started the sessions for women, it was another person who had seen a blog post I wrote even before Bike Kitchen opened in 2011 and they contacted me and said they wanted to set up this women’s night, and they were gender variant and didn’t identify as being female, but they weren’t male either. So I told them they could take ownership of that project and decide how they wanted to present it. 

So they decided to call it Women And Gender-variant, kind of playing on the WAG acronym which is pretty derogatory I think, but I don’t know it because I’m American. But here, wives and girlfriends is not considered a good thing. So they helped create the space and we experimented with how often we should do it and how long it should be, what should we cover, what are the logistics of it. 

It took us probably about a year before we figured out the magic formula of twice a month - every second and fourth Monday from 6.30pm until 9pm. We have a set schedule that comes out every six months that lists everything that we are covering, so it gives people a sense of security when they come in – because it’s a really foreign environment. 

Going into a bike workshop is weird for most people – it’s going to be really weird for women, so we are trying to remove as many mental blocks – as many barriers as we can.

The first year we opened we were getting like one, maybe two people coming, and it was really sad. But we kept pressing on, because we thought this is a good idea and we just have to find the right way to do it. 

Now we’re getting maybe 10 people coming to each session, so we're doing okay now. Our space is pretty small so it feels really crowded, but it works.

Being featured on BBC Radio 4 Woman's Hour helped raise the profile. They got in touch with us because of our WAG nights. I don't listen to Woman's Hour so I wasn't really star struck. But it was great having all these different women in the cycling world come to the shop!  

Wheelsuckers Podcast with Ned Boulting
With Alex Davis I form half of the Wheelsuckers podcast. I’m the stoker, Alex is the Captain. She steers the whole thing while I’m just the engine in the back.

It’s really fun. It’s hard work but we form a good team. Neither of us would be able do it alone. I think Alex does have the hard work, with all the editing, but I think she likes it!

We are always researching ideas for who to invite as guests on the Wheelsuckers Podcast, since we are both active on social media so we’re always kind of aware of what’s going on. The most interesting podcast we did was the one with Ninon Asuni. She's a very knowledgeable bike mechanic and one of my personal heroes. Currently we're hoping to interview Dr Rachel McKinnon, the first transgender woman to win a World Championship race. We hope to interview her next year. That will be an amazing opportunity. 

We also like to interview Ayesha McGowan [who is bidding to become the first African American female to race for a UCI road team] every time she comes into town. I remember seeing her when the BBC did a video on her and I was like…."this woman’s amazing"….I need to follow her, and then suddenly a year later I’m interviewing her - WTF?

On the back of Ayesha talking about under-representation of women of colour in cycling Jools Walker and myself organised a women of colour get-together at Look Mum No Hands!. I thought it was great.

The first women of colour meet-up
Before our first meet-up me and Jools were so nervous. We didn’t know who would turn up or what we were going to be doing. We had no plan. We just wanted people to get together and talk. That’s all it was. 

It's been so nice for people to come together and share their thoughts, ideas and hardships. you know we will definitely be meeting up again, and getting some rides out of it.

It’s hard to say where my favourite location is to ride as there are so many great places. I did have a really amazing bike packing trip last summer. 

We were in the forests of Burgundy off-road for four days, and it was amazing just camping and cycling. 

You don’t go very far on a mountain bike but you don’t need to because everything around you is beautiful.
Then we’d pop into the town and get some food, and we'd always get a bottle of wine.

Whenever I go cycling, I never go out without my Happy Bottom Bum Butter chamois cream. It's great. I can't live without it! 

To anyone who wants to get into cycling  I'd say get some cycle training. Four of us do free cycle training in the London area. 

If you are not based in London, your local authority may run cycle training sessions. Otherwise find a friend who rides a bike and just go out with them and make it fun. 

Always do baby steps. Don’t go out thinking you have to know everything at once; you’re always going be learning. 
Hashtag never not learning. That’s my saying. You will always be learning. 

Twitter/Instagram: @money_melon
Twitter/Instagram: @LDNBikeKitchen
Twitter/Instagram: @WheelSuckersPod

Other Cycling Voices
Alex Davis

Ayesha McGowan

Rochelle Gilmore

Tracy Moseley

Geraldine Glowinski

Emily Chappell

Michelle Webster

Carolyn Hewett-Maessen

Niusha Doyom

Maria David