Cycle Touring – Kenilworth to Cheltenham

Last summer, my beautiful wife and I cycled most of the Highland 500 up in the remote wilds of north Scotland. We loved it, even though it was wet, windy and hilly.

This year, partly due to my wife starting her own cake making business (Bunny’s Bakes in Lancaster), we couldn’t get away in the summer, hence why we cycled in September. We also decided that our touring holiday should include a bit less cycling and a bit more sightseeing and enjoying the view. To that end we planned our route to include visiting a few relations, starting with Helen’s brother near Coventry and including two nights with my parents in Salisbury. Initially we had wanted to visit more of my relations in South Wales, but it was a struggle to obtain enough time off work, plus my sister was in the process of moving to Portugal.

Therefore, our cycling holiday would be eight days long; five days would be cycling, two rest/sightseeing days and one day travelling to Kenilworth. Same bikes as last year, a Jamis Aurora for Helen and a Trek 920 for me, although I had new yellow Ortleib panniers, a birthday present from Helen.

With Nelly, our loyal English Pointer taken to stay with Helen’s youngest son and our bikes loaded onto the car, we headed down to Kenilworth. It was good to see Helen’s brother Phil and his wife, especially as we were plied with good food and a beer (or two), followed by an early night.

The next morning and Phil had gone off to work while Helen and I had a relaxed breakfast. Just after 9am we set off through Kenilworth, before quickly finding ourselves on some nice quiet back roads. We pootled along, enjoying the pleasant weather.

Our first stop was after about 15 miles; well it is hard work heaving those heavy panniers along. Luckily we pulled over underneath the Edstone Aqueduct, the longest aqueduct in England and part of the Stratford-Upon-Avon Canal.

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We walked up the steps to have a closer look. The aqueduct was made using large iron troughs welded together, with a lower walkway on one side (which made me think of the log flume ride at Alton Towers) and no barrier on the other, which must be a little disconcerting for the boaters.

Back on the bikes and it wasn’t long before we criss-crossed the route of a sportive that we had done two years ago. Deliberately making each cycling day a little shorter than last year, meant that we could have a laid back lunch in the town of Mickleton, watching the expensive cars clog up the place.

Unfortunately the roads then started to become a little busier, mainly due to road works and diversions off the A46, although the roads weren’t too bad. We continued into Broadway, which was an archetypal Cotswold chocolate box village; very posh and full of tourists. We continued on to another similar village, Winchcombe, which nestled on a long climb with idyllic cottages with names like Pear Tree, Toad Hall or Brexit Haven.

The road then continued up, and then up a bit more as we climbed Cleve Hill, and although the descent was brilliant it was over too quickly. We rolled into Cheltenham just before 3pm and surprisingly found the Premier Inn without too much of a problem. It was clean and tidy and they let us keep our steeds in the room.

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A wander around Cheltenham, a meal at Bill’s, some take-out cans from Tesco and we were ready to hit the sack by 9pm. A good first days riding.

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Commuting Hell

There’s been a great deal on the news and in the press about just how rubbish the trains are in the UK, especially Northern Rail. So I thought that I would blog about my experiences. Last month the company that I work for moved offices from Leigh to Horwich, which I no longer have an cycling on my commute, but I know have to use Northern Rail instead of Virgin.

My wife and I share a car so I don’t have to use the train every day, in fact yesterday was only the fifth time that I’ve used the train to get to my new office. Four of those days I’ve ended up applying online for a refund using the ‘delay repay’ system. The other day the train was ‘only’ 25 minutes late, so no refund.

It gets worse, the trains are old, very old. Buses on rails. There aren’t enough carriages, so it’s not uncommon for them to be cattle truck busy.

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The photo from Preston doesn’t really show just how many people were waiting at the station, but it was  too cramped for me to get my phone out of my pocket once I was on the train.

There’s more. It’s 45 miles from Lancaster to Horwich, for which I have to pay £22.60 per day. Someone is making a fortune. Northern Rail are owned by Arriva, who in turn are owned by the German National Railway, so the hundreds of millions of pounds in profits are used to subsidise the German railways. This should make you really angry, and is probably why over 70% of people in the UK want the rail network to be nationalised again.

Book Review 2018 – Part XI

You all know that I’m a sucker for a round the world bike ride book, so as soon as Mark Beaumont had finished writing his latest book there was never any doubt that I would be buying it.

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This is Mark’s second round the world book. His first detailed how he broke the round the world record, taking it down to about 180 days, although he was riding unsupported. This book is all about taking the record down to 80 days, following in the steps of Phileas Fogg. The difference this time is that Mark was fully supported with two camper vans following him all the time. This allowed Mark to concentrate on averaging 240 miles per day and sometimes more than 16 hours of riding. I have ridden over 200 miles in a day on a number of occasions, and I can tell you that I didn’t feel like doing it again the following day.

I avidly followed Mark during his attempt as his team uploaded his route each day to Strava, and I was just one of thousands of people to give him Kudos each day.

The book doesn’t just cover the round the world section, it looks at the team and the fundraising, as well as the two week trial run around the coast of Britain, where not all of his team made the grade.

I literally rushed through this book, much like Mark did around the world, and thoroughly enjoyed it, finishing it in a couple of days. The dynamics between Mark and his team on the road, and between the team based in the UK was riveting. It will be interesting to see what Mark does next, and also interesting to see if anyone tries to break what is surely an unbreakable record.

Free e-books

I’ve had a Kindle for many years, and one of the features that I love is being able to browse the website for the best selling ‘free’ books. In the last few weeks I’ve read three sport related short free e-books.

The world’s biggest cycle race by Paul Stevens

How running saved my life by Andreas Michaelides

The bike ride: Diary of an incompetent cyclist by Graham O’Neill

All three books are short, which is great for when I’m commuting by train and I need a distraction. The first book describes a large sportive in South Africa, which I had never heard of but does sound intriguing to do. Maybe one day when I cycle through the whole of Africa.

The second book, as the title suggests, is how one man turned to running after gaining weight and losing motivation. Again I enjoyed it, even though it was short.

Finally, Graham’s short free e-book was the best of the three and I would definitely consider buying an e-book from him. This book is all about a small touring adventure in the south of England, and is humorous and well written, so much so that I am now going to have a look and see if he has written any more books.

If you have a Kindle I would suggest looking for some free books, as there are some hidden gems. My cycle adventure short book was downloaded over fifty times when  I made it available for free, although Amazon don’t allow you to offer books for free for too long.

Barbondale

Barbondale Valley is quite probably one of the greatest roads to cycle on. Located in south Cumbria it climbs gently from the Village of Barbon with spectacular views until a steep drop down into Dentdale.

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This photo of my lovely wife doesn’t really do it justice, especially as it was dull and overcast last weekend, but even then it was amazing. I’ve written about this valley a couple of times in the past, once on a 212km Audax, where the guys I was riding with had never been there (read about it here). The annual Coal Road challenge also uses this road, but in the other direction, with the steep climb out of Gawthorpe and the long gentle descent. This climb is mentioned in Simon Warren’s book ‘cycling climbs of the north-west’, although it only gets a 7/10, and is called Stone Rigg Outrake, which no one ever calls it. I’ve also blogged about the Coal Road challenge (read about it here).

If you are ever in the area there are so many great roads, but this is one that is often overlooked, which is a shame.

Beard care products

When I first started to grow my beard a bit longer I never used to use any beard products, although there weren’t too many on the market at the time. I used to shampoo my beard after swimming, but that was about it. When I went to my first beard competition I was given a goody bag containing a couple of beard oils and balms. As my beard became more of a statement relations would give me beard care products for Christmas or Birthday, and then I received yet more goodies at the British Beard and Mustache Championships (BBMC) (read about it here). What I’m trying to say in a round-a-bout way is that I have very rarely bought stuff for my beard. The one exception was buying a taster pack of beard balm from Fine Fettle, which is great stuff.

Over the last couple of years I’ve been trying to look after my beard a little better, and because I didn’t go to the 2018 BBMC I’ve run out. I therefore have had to buy some care products for my beard. So, what do I use?

Firstly, the bad stuff. You can buy some cheap stuff at Boots. Don’t, it’s not very good. I’ve also found the stuff from Lush not to my liking either.

The good stuff! One of the free samples I had was from the Bedfordshire Beard Co. My wife really likes the smell, which is reminiscent of liquorice torpedoes.

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It’s quite firm so I only use it when my beard is wet, and I have to rub it between my palms for a while to get it soft enough to apply, but as I said earlier, my wife really likes the smell.

The name of my blog might suggest that I do triathlons, and swimming does make a mess of my beard. After a swim I have taken to using Braw Beard wash and oil.

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This stuff is good, especially the beard wash. After using it my beard is soft, manageable and feels great, and the oil keeps it soft all day. The oil has a delicate smell and isn’t overpowering, and the beard wash is so good that I only use it every couple of days. I always used to only use beard oil if my beard was dry and balm if it was wet, but Braw Beards suggest using their oil when the beard is wet. Conversely, Fine Fettle suggest using their balm when your beard is dry.

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This is a new flavour, but I really like it. Fine Fettle is very soft and a little bit sticky, very different from most balms, and it acts almost like a gel, holding the shape of your beard. I’ve tried using this when my beard is both wet and dry, and it works great either way.

These are the three brands that I currently use. They all help me to look after my beard and are of exceptional quality, although I’m always happy to try out free samples, hint, hint.

Male Suicide Prevention

Last night I watched a BBC Horizon documentary on male suicide. It had interviews with survivors, relations, charities and emergency services. Most terrifying was the statistic that suicide is the biggest cause of death for men under 50, not car accidents or cancer. A few months ago a member of the local triathlon club took his own life. He wasn’t a good friend, as we didn’t see eye to eye on many things, and had had a couple of arguments over dangerous cycling or swearing in cafes. That is beside the point, it shocked me when I found out that he was gone, and it shocked a lot of people in the tri club.

I’ve suffered some very dark days myself, at school and in my early 20’s where I struggled to see the point of everything or anything. Most recently these feeling returned when I was at Uni, less than ten years ago. I didn’t talk to anyone and tried to work things out for myself, but as the documentary mentioned, you’re never really cured.

There are many reasons for suicide, relationship breakdowns or losing your job are the most common, for others it might be the feeling of complete loneliness or that nobody truly cares anymore.

Men, on the whole, don’t talk about their feelings. We all need to talk more. Do you have any friends that you’ve not seen for a while? Send them a text or a message, nothing serious, but let them know that it would be cool to meet up some time. Let friends know that if they needed someone confidential to talk with, you’ll be there for them. As the documentary also illustrated, it might not be the friends you expect to have issues, it might be the most outwardly lively person you know.

I’ve seen a few people copying and pasting a paragraph on Facebook letting people know that their door is always open and the kettle always on. This is a good start, but try to make it a bit more personal, write it in your own words instead of copying it.

We should all reach out to people more, even if you think that they are the last person in the world who would ever take their own life.

Finally, if you’re reading this and feel that you really don’t have anyone to talk to, message me, or even better, call the Samaritans, they do amazing work. I don’t have the answers, but please guys, talk to each other more about how you’re feeling, especially if you’re feeling suicidal.