Checking out the Quantocks

The Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is without doubt one of the best places to cycle in the country. You should go there… now. In fact, every AONB that I’ve cycled through has been brilliant, so when work sent me to Taunton I took the chance to load up my commuting bike and check out the Quantocks. The hills were not as large as in Bowland, but I still managed 450m of climbing in 28km.

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I didn’t find the steepest climb, and I also found it hard to take a good photo as every lane seemed to have hedges big enough to hide giraffes. I only skirted the southern area of the Quantocks, as can be seen in my route, but next time I want to explore further.

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Another reason that I was excited about seeing the Quantocks is that they get a mention in a song by my favourite band. And not just any song either, but probably the best song that they have written. Joy Division Oven Gloves by Half Man Half Biscuit from their Achtung Bono album. The song also became the unofficial anthem of the save the 6 music campaign back in 2010. How can you not smile at a song that mentions the Quantocks.

The Beards of Bowland search for Botton Head

Another Beards of Bowland outing, although it was only myself and the Prof. Our route was devised by the Prof as he wanted to look for some dead ends near to the Cross of Greet. We set off and leisurely made our way to the bottom of Bowland Knotts with a hefty head wind, where prof insisted on our first photo of the day. What is the difference between a headwind and a block headwind?

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From Bowland Knotts we returned the way we came, looking for dead ends. A couple of gravel roads were found that will be saved for another ride. Disappointingly there was only one other small dead end so we set off up the Cross of Greet, whereupon I got a puncture.

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This was the first puncture that I’d had on my road bike for over a year. My front tyre has now done 8640km, which isn’t too bad. I reviewed it a while ago here.

Once I’d swapped tubes Prof set off across the grass to climb a stone. You’re probably not allowed to do that.

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Once back on the road the serious business of finding Botton Head began. We were both sure that there was a sign post, but we couldn’t find it as we crisscrossed some more back roads, until there it was.

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There wasn’t much to see at Botton Head except for a small farm, although the farmer was surprised to see two cyclists and was happy to chat for a few minutes.

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We then headed back to Wray for a cafe stop. I’ve never been to the cafe in Wray, but others have said that it isn’t very good. £2.40 for a scone without any jam or cream. I won’t be going back.

During our ride we had discussed the relative merits of flat bars and how much better they are for descending. The Prof has flat bars on most of his bikes, while I have drops on my mountain bike. We also discussed close passes. I had had a very scary pass the other week (read about it here), while the Prof recounted an encounter he’d had that week. Coming to a traffic island he’d pulled out to take the lane much to the annoyance of a driver towing a trailer. If he’d gone through the gap he would have taken out the Prof, as the trailer was much wider than the car. At the next set of traffic lights the Prof shouted at the driver, who shouted back, before they both went on their merry ways. I’m not one for arguments.

It was then time for me to head home as I was meeting a real Prof from the Uni to discuss air quality, while the other Prof detoured up Roeburndale, getting himself a couple of KOM’s. I was obviously holding him up.

Another great day out with the Beards of Bowland, both of us. Next time will be my choice of dead ends. Previous Beards of Bowland rides can be found here, here and here.

Abersoch

Last weekend me and wife, along with most of her family, spent a great weekend on the Llyn Peninsula near Abersoch. We stayed in two lovely farmhouses next to Hell’s Mouth (here). My beautiful wife had been there many times, but it was the first time that I’d been anywhere near the area since I was about five, and had a holiday in Pwllheli.

It took less than four hours to get there, and we did stop for a reasonably priced and surprisingly pleasant coffee from a McDonalds. We also swapped driving. As soon as we got there we took Nelly to the beach. Have you ever seen a happier dog.

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Back at the cottage and soon Helen’s family arrived and did what families do, eating, drinking and talking loudly.

The next morning three of us (myself, Helen, and her brother Phil) set off to explore the peninsula. I had plotted a route that would take us around the coast before heading inland and back to Abersoch. Unfortunately I’m not very good at noticing hills on a map, so after five miles we found ourselves at the bottom of a wall.

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It kind of went on and on, but the views from the top were amazing.

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Once back at the cottages eating and drinking commenced.

The next morning me and Phil went out for a gentle 20 miler out to Aberdaron, and over the same hill as the day before, but up the easier side, which wasn’t much easier.

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In the afternoon Phil lent his bike to Helen’s eldest, so myself Dan (Helen’s youngest) and Tom went out for a gentle six miles, without any hills. I think Tom was hooked, so he should be joining us on rides in the future.

More eating and drinking followed.

The final morning, Dan was keen for a quick spin, so we returned to the big hill, which was a bit of a shock to Dan as he lives on the flat lands of the Fylde coast. We then found a different route back with a great gentle descent. Back at the cottages it was time to pack up and head home. The weather had been fantastic as had the cycling, and I would definitely recommend it.

Strava routes from the weekend are here, here, here and here.

Fleet Moss Audax

Can’t believe this was almost three years ago.

Beards and Triathlons

Last Sunday I cycled out past Garstang for the Fleet Moss Audax. Not too far but with the 214 km of the Audax this would end up with me cycling 264 km for the day. My last long ride before my big race. For those of you not familiar with an Audax, imagine a sportive but one where you have to navigate yourself. You’re given a route card and a Brevet, which you will have to either get stamped at various check points or answer a question. This is to ensure that you do the full distance, although you can chose your own route in between each check point if you wish. Audax’s are much cheaper to enter than a sportive, only £5.50 for members of Audax UK. They are also not races, so you set your own pace. Indeed some Audax rides will have a maximum speed of 30…

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Coal Road Challenge 2017

The Coal Road Challenge (CRC) is an annual event organised by Lune Racing Cycling Club, one of the cycling clubs in Lancaster, and as can be seen by the photo below, a fair few COLTS were joining in the fun.

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The Challenge is only £5 to enter, but it isn’t a sportive, or indeed a race. It’s a good old fashioned reliability ride. There are no fully stocked feed stations, no directional arrows (I spotted one), no mechanics to help out and no broom wagon. The onus is on yourself to ensure that you and your bike will be up to the Challenge.

This was only the second time that I had done the CRC, as I was ill in 2014 and living in Hull in 2015 and 2016.The photo below was from 2013, climbing up Gawthorpe out of Dent.

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It was cold that year, so cold that the ride had to miss out the Coal Road because of snow and ice on the top. The beard has grown a bit since then.

The proper route, with the infamous Cola Road is approximately 64 miles, with another ten for most people riding from Lancaster, along with plenty of up.

There were loads of people riding who I knew, too many for me to chat to all of them. Some, like me, would be taking it easy, others, like Ian, who rocked up in his Rapha onesie, would be caning it all the way round.

I decided to set off with the first group, containing a good contingent of COLTs, including Danny, Richard, Hobbit, Brett, Craig, Rachel, Jenny and quite a few others. Sorry if I missed you. With Danny, Richard and Hobbit setting a good tempo, the COLT train was soon leading the charge to Ingleton, and the first climb of the day. (Looking good for Ironman Wales Danny).

As expected the short but steep climb split the pack, with myself in no mans land, unable to catch the guys up front. I didn’t ride on my own for long as Richard soon caught me up complaining that Hobbit was rubbish to draft behind. We worked together, setting a gentle pace, until we reached the farm at the top of Newby Head. The farm has a sign advertising homemade cakes, but the place never looks too welcoming. Maybe I’m wrong and it’s brilliant. Please tell me if you’ve stopped there as it’s not on Trip Advisor.

Richard soon disappeared towards Hawes, while I took it easier, only reaching 50mph a couple of times. Hawes = Headwind, so once I’d caught back up to Richard I tucked in behind him until we reached the checkpoint at Garsdale Head. (Photo from Neil Pryde Bikes and Sweeneypix.) This gave me chance to eat a flapjack that my wife had made. You should check out her cakes at the Spar shops in Cabus and Scorton.

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It was now time for the Coal Road, and it is a beast. I’ve climbed it six times, and this was my slowest (did I mention that it was a bit windy), although my quickest time was less than a year ago.

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The descent was almost as bad with the crosswinds. Half a dozen fast guys then flashed past me, including Beards of Bowland guest rider Mark, TT legend Phil, and the mighty Sibs. There was no way that I could keep up, but they re-grouped in Dent, so I waved as I pootled on by. At the bottom of Gawthorpe was an arrow with CRC on it. Overdoing it with the arrows I think.

The road through Barbondale is beauty beyond words. Ride it you must.

The fast boys chain gang then overtook me once again, and this time I stayed with them for maybe two or three minutes, which was more than enough. As I reached Devil’s Bridge it started to rain, and that was the last I saw of anyone until I was back at the Bull Beck car park. I stayed for a quick chat with various people, along with being handed a certificate and Cold Dark North patch from Deb. Sorry for not waiting to see the rest of the COLT’s home, but I wanted to head home before I got too cold.

The Coal Road Challenge is a brilliant event, so big thanks to Lune RCC, The Cold Dark North and The Edge Cycleworks. You should have a look at some of the photos from The Cold Dark North on their instagram and Facebook pages, very iconic, and I’ll see you all next year.

Ingleborough

Last year, on 2nd January, me and Helen (my beautiful wife) ran/walked up Ingleborough, although we didn’t get all the way due to the heavy mist. We couldn’t see a thing, so we turned back early.

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This year we tried again. The weather in Clapham was great, sunny, no wind and not too cold.

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There is a waterfall behind us, honest.

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Progress was good, and we soon made it past the narrow gully with the rocks and over the last sty. You can see the top was covered in a light dusting of snow, which from down here was fine. Gradually as the path got steeper the wind picked up, until almost at the top the wind was ferocious, with ice covering most of the rocks.

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Wearing ALL my clothes 🙂

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Nelly, our dog, wasn’t happy at the top, and my foot was beginning to hurt, so we made the decision to head back down, passing loads of people all on the way up. I couldn’t believe how many people there were. Why aren’t you all in bed hungover?

We stopped for a break and our sandwiches in a sheltered area near the sty, and then set off down the rocky path.

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We saw an 80 year old couple near these rocks. I hope that we are still able to get up there in 30+ years. Once past these rocks the path is easy once again, and soon we were back in Clapham. We had only done 11.5 km, but it had taken almost four hours, which is a testament to how tough the route is.

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Once again we didn’t get all the way to the top, although Helen had a crazy idea that we could go in the summer. As I said – crazy.

To Huddersfield

Me and my lovely wife were off to Huddersfield to see her eldest playing a gig. I had a quick look at the map and realised that it was only approximately 75 miles from Lancaster, so I would cycle there while Helen drove.

I set off via Garstang to say ‘hello’ to friends from Garstang CC, who were doing a rufty tufty route. It appears that many of my friends have road and cross bikes with flat bars, while I appear to have a mountain bike with drops. After a quick chat we went our separate ways, and I soon had my first problem. The road from Longridge to Ribchester was closed. The alternative route wasn’t any longer, but it was a little lumpier. The same thing happened after Whalley, giving me a detour to Sabden, home of the Pendle Witches, which was apt as I had watched two TV programs about the pendle witch trials in the last couple of weeks. This detour again added in more lumps, although the descent into Padiham was great. From there I joined the Leeds to Liverpool canal through Burnley. Another issue here with my route taking me down a flight of steps, and then my Garmin switched off. This has happened before and I’ve ended up losing some of my ride, so I turned it back on, saved the ride up to that point and then restarted it.

I knew that from Burnley the route would get seriously hilly, and I had already done 71.8km with 779m of climbing. Past Turf Moore and then straight up for mile after mile, as I climbed over the moor. Fortunately it wasn’t windy or icy. I took the more direct route down into Hebden Bridge, which is not a descent for the faint hearted, very steep, with plenty of hairpin bends. I was glad I had disc brakes and 2 inch tyres. That particular hill is climb #139 in Simon Warren’s book Another 100 greatest cycling climbs, and is given 10/10 for difficulty. One day I will have to go up it instead of down.

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Hebden Bridge was full of traffic so I was pleased to have plotted a route off the main road, and while it was a through road for bikes, it was also more lumpy. After Sowerby Bridge there was another horrific climb before I headed towards Saddleworth Moor. I ducked under the M62 and rode alongside the motorway and the Scammonden Reservoir.

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Less than 10 miles to go, a quick text to Helen’s son to let him know I was nearly there and my last gel. It was mostly downhill as well, with a great section through Golcar, into Huddersfield, more dodgy traffic and taking the wrong road a couple more times, and then I was done.

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The section from Burnley was only 52km, but had over 1000m of climbing, giving me 124km and 1800m of climbing for the whole day.

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A tough day in the saddle, but plenty of the ride was on roads that I had never ridden before and it did give me another 40 explorer tiles from Veloviewer. Oh, and the gig was brilliant, you should keep an eye out for The Orchid Family.