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June 07, 2005

Cycling to the windmills

When the sun shines brightly as it did today nothing beats a good bike ride. So what to do was never in question, only where to go. I'm sure Warwickshire is full of lovely places, unfortunately I don't know where any of them are, so I plummed for heading out towards a sleepy (pun intended) sounding place called Napton on account of there being a windmill there.

I got everything packed up and ready to go, including putting on sun tan lotion from a bottle I know I've had for at least two years. Perhaps I'd be aswell to pour water on my arms. No matter, I seldom burn anyway. Off I went.

I don't mean to be insulting to the Warwickshire countryside, but as someone who rides primarily in the Peak District it's a bit dull. Everywhere in Warwickshire's called Birdingbury or Long Itchington. It's all very quaint, but I'm used to aggressive sounding names like Burbage Rocks or Froggatt Edge or the Lord's Seat. Names like that really inspire you and you don't mind cycling up massive hills to see them, whereas, say, Kites Hardwick, apart from sounding slightly comical doesn't exactly draw you in. What's Kites Hardwick like? I have no idea, I'm sure it's a lovely village but I really can't be bothered to go, though thinking about it, a pciture of the sign for the village may be nice.

I rode along quite merrily enjoying the fresh air, but not feeling terribly excited by my surroundings. I did, however, see this nice sign:

I really liked the one at the bottom, all that was missing was a little person in the cabin throwing up their hands in disgust. Soon I came to these pleasant looking canal locks:

This is certainly not something I'd expect to see in the Peak District. Who knows, maybe they did try building a canal once but had to close it down because it scared the hell out of people in boats flying down hills at a hundred miles an hour. Regardless, I don't imagine anyone will disagree with my saying that canals locks are pretty.

Before long I'm in Napton-on-the-Hill. There's a number of places with similar names around here. I find it a trifle optimistic, they're only hills in the sense that those things you see on crazy golf courses are windmills. Speaking of which…

I'm not sure why I love cycling to windmills so much. Perhaps I'm hoping I'll be magically transported to Holland and I'll ride up and a beautiful Dutch girl will come out offering me a nice cup of tea and she'll invite me in and say that her bed's faulty and she needs someone to take a look at it, I'll do that, fix the problem and be on my way. What were you expecting me to suggest might happen? Some people have dirty minds. Here's another picture of the windmill from a different position:

Napton was more or less what you'd expect it to be, though clearly whoever founded the village has a sense of humour:

I'm so mature. There was also a rather intimidating looking church, check out my bike rides gallery if you're interested, and yes, there's more windmills in there. I think I'm turning into Jonathan Creek.

All this had only taken until lunchtime so I decided to go a little further to a place called Hellidon, care to guess why? Yup, it's got a windmill. I continued without getting lost, I'm used to doing so, which made this experience slightly perculiar, as though I'd forgotten something. I couldn't get that near to the windmill though, and it did appear to be lacking something, see if you can figure it out from the picture:

I head back towards Napton and come across this:

14% gradient in Warwickshire? No way! I couldn't quite believe it, I didn't think there was enough elevation change in the whole of Warwickshire combined to warrant such a thing. I nearly fell of my bike. As it happens I suppose it probably was about steep enough, but it certainly wasn't very long, so I'm not sure if the sign was necessary. Perhaps each county council has an alotted allocation of gradient signs and Warwickshire was desperate to put them up anywhere they could remotely get away with just to clear space in the warehouse.

I come through Napton again and some old idiot in a Rover (of course) parps his horn at me for riding the recommended one metre from the edge of the road. I hate it when drivers are rude like that. After he'd gone past I waited to see him check the mirror and shook my head disappointedly. That probably had much more affect than if I'd stuck a finger up at him. Ha!

I tootle along nicely and am soon home. I look in the mirror (not pretty) and notice a mark, a bit like a love bite, on the side of my neck. Heck, maybe those dutch windmill fantasies were actually real, or perhaps it's just from my helmet strap rubbing on my skin. No matter, I know which I'll choose to imagine it was.

Chav Watch

Chav's are rude to everyone, but as a cyclists you're vulnerable to attacks from even the most cowardly little shits, seeing as you're quite exposed and a chav can drive past and shout obscenities out of their car window. Witness the spitting incident on my previous bike ride. So here is the first instalment of Chav Watch, a compendium of stupid things Chav say (or do) whilst I'm on my bike.

Today's is: Indecipherable. I was sat on the verge taking a drink when a car rushes past and someone shouts out a mishmosh of syllables. I don't think they were even words, just noises. Seriously I can't think how to possibly type it. Oh I don't know, maybe it was Chav speak for "Hello, lovely day we're having. Good Afternoon Sir." But I'm not convinced. More likely someone should ring up Twycross Zoo to tell them one of their Orangutans has got free.

May 31, 2005

Cycling to Stratford

I woke up this morning and the sun was shining so brightly from behind my curtains that I thought they might set alight. You'll be relieved to hear that they weren't but I decided today might be a good day to go for a decent bike ride.

I'd been wanting to ride to Stratford for a while, it is rather pretty, so I set of at around 945 from Warwick campus. A few miles into the ride and somethings bugging me. You know that feeling you get when you're sure you've forgotten something? Well that's what I was having. For the life of me I couldn't figure it out until I stopped for a drink, looked in my bag and noticed the distinct absense of a map. Before you call me a muppet think about how insulting that would be to Kermit the frog. Back I went.

At 1030 I set of from campus. I was riding merrily along towards Warwick when a white transit van (It's always a white transit van) goes by and I have sudden impression of moisture on my face. My initial reaction is that the van had kicked out water from the road, but the road was clearly dry. Clearly the fuckwit in the passenger seat had come to the conclusion that perhaps his mouth contained too much saliva and chosen the moment the van was going past me to rectify the situation. I waited until the van was out of sight before wiping my face, I wasn't about to give them the satisfaction. People really don't treat cyclists with enough respect in this country, in France they'll shout "Allez! Allez!" at you, and here's the important thing, they actually mean it as encouragement, but here you're more likely to get "Oi! Knobhead!" The most comforting thing in these situations is that the perpetrators are probably so stupid that there's every possibility that they'll just drive straight into a wall or something.

I get into Warwick and dismount. It's a nightmare around there with one way systems and busy junctions, safer to take your chances as a pedestrian. I've been to Warwick a few times, one thing that always astounds me is how difficult it is to find the castle – astonishing considering it's one of the country's most famous. Maybe it's got something to do with the topography of the place but I can never see it. Perhaps when explaining how muggles don't stumble across Hogwarts JK Rowling should get the people from Warwick castle to help out, they seem to have it down to a fine art. It must have been very useful if Warwick was under attack, any opponents would stroll in thinking how easy it was and suddenly there's a great big castle and they're all full of arrows before they know what's going on. Who'd've thought a castle could attack by stealth?

I get back on the bike and head out of Warwick. I hate this part, I never know where I am with Warwick. However hard I try I never leave where I mean to. I'll approach from the north and want to ride straight through exiting in the south. I'll try and keep going in the same direction but I'll end up in the west, it's crazy. Today I don't even bother trying to figure out which way I'm going, I just wait until I'm on the outskirts and sort things out then – sure enough I'm not where I planned to be but it'll do.

From here I have an uncharacteristic spell where my sense of direction functions as it should and I make it to Stratford without undue hassle.

I saw this on the approach to Stratford, now isn't that clever? The picture's not great, but take my word for it, it was neat.

In Stratford I survive the incredible amount of traffic. I guess isn't that surprising considering it's the school holidays. I find a spot on the grassy bit between the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and the nice sort of docks they have with canal barges converted into shops selling Hot Dogs or Ice Cream. It's quite clever really. I'm very tempted to buy a Hot Dog or burger but I made some sandwiches and I'm not about to let them go to waste. Damn my stubborness.

The nice dock bit in Stratford, unsurprisingly there were plenty of people about.

People go on about ducklings, but aren't these baby swans sweet? What are they called, swanlings? I don't understand why they're ugly ducklings, they're not the slightest bit ugly. I think of myself as a bit of an ugly duckling, except the ugly duckling turned into a beautiful swan whereas I had the misfortune of turning into me.

The grass was full of people, but there was a ring that had been made around a tramp. Seeing as I probably didn't look all that great after cycling all morning I wondered if people would give me the same treatment. Hell, maybe the tramp would've have moved away if I'd sat anywhere near him. Who knows? I certainly wasn't going to try and find out.

The Royal Shaekspeare Theatre. It looks awfully grim here, I don't think the clouds around it helped. It does look more like a prison than a place for performing arts though.

After lunch I head off, I pass this guy with a ventriloquists dumby and tacky music playing. You know the sort, one track was used in an advert I believe. I can''t remember what for but it was along the lines of "Take good care of yourself, you belong to me." Truthfully it's not all that impressive, but it wasn't particularly liable to offend.

Leaving Stratford proves tricky. I cycle in what I believe to be the right direction but I just come to dead ends, I cycle back to where I'd started. The guy with the dumby is still there. I try a different direction, but soon realise that this is taking me deeper in Stratford, I'd been fooled like this before here, I'm clever and avoid making the same mistake again. I head back and end up going past the guy with the dumby again, he's starting to annoy me now. Off I go again, but I soon come to a church I remember going past on my first attempt. Christ! Stratford must have been taking tips from Warwick, except they've taken it to the next level, you can't leave at all! The street I've just come up is one way, but I turn around and ride in the wrong direction. I'm past caring, really I am, I'm getting out of Stratford even if it's in an ambulance. Cars drive past me and shout "It's one way!", I respond with a cheery smile and a "You have a nice day too!"

I go past the dumby guy again, if I don't get out of Stratford soon I won't be held responsible for my actions. Currently the guy has his hand up the dumbies arse, I can envisage a scenario where these roles are reversed. I try another direction. I'm going to stick with it even if I end up in Timbucktoo.

I soon end up in Timbucktoo. I'm kidding! As luck would have it this is the right way, and hurray! I'm out of Stratford. I'm on quiet country roads now and despite a few wrong turnings I do okay and don't end up in Wales.

Doh! Oh dear! I keep getting lost. But if I hadn't I wouldn't haave come across these deer.

I make good progress and I'm soon in Leamington. This is a great relief seeing as I know the place more or less like the back of my hand. Largely this is because it's not actually much bigger than my hand. Unfortunately I have more navigational issues as the shopping parade is closed off for roadworks. Luckily a detour isn't too difficult in spite of more one way streets. From here it's plain sailing and I'm back on campus just after four. I'm knackered! For the past few months I've been doing little but revising, which frankly doesn't take much physical exertion, unless perhaps you study pogoing. So a six hour plus bike ride to follow that might not have been the smartest move. I have a shower, collapse on my bed still in my towel (now there's an image) and fall asleep.

May 02, 2005

Cycling to… Meriden 28/04/05

This is the monument on the village green in Meriden. Take a look at it. What do you reckon this? Left over firewood from the Bonfire Night? The remants of the village pub that became infested with termites? Perhaps it's from some ship that was sailed by someone from Meriden?

No, this "cross" in fact marks the geographical centre of England. I don't know what's in the centre of America, but I'm prepared to bet it involves lots of neon lights. Mind you, according to the plaque on the cross it was re-erected before Christopher Columbus, that master of navigation, had set sail looking for India. Nevertheless "cross" seems a slightly optimistic description. Whilst standing there I couldn't quite put my finger on what was wrong with it as a cross. It's made out of wood, which seems reasonable, it's not a draincover so that rules that possiblity out, wait… I think I have it… shouldn't a cross have, well, a _cross_beam?

It's a little disconcerting. On my way into the village I saw a banner saying "No Mast Meriden". Well this is a blatant lie as on the afore mentioned village green there is a rather obvious ship's mast. It makes you question the honesty of the people of Meriden. Perhaps the real cross is hidden in the village hall and is made of solid gold and is encrusted with diamonds. Perhaps the cross on the green really is left over firewood. Though you'd have thought for a convincing scam they'd have put more effort into making it look cross like.

Leaving slightly overegged cynicism aside, Meriden is very much what you'd expect the centre of England to be. Within spitting distance of the cross is a fish and chip shop. And it's all rather quaint if you like that sort of thing. It certainly looked very pretty on a sunny evening.

And it's not at all far from university, 7 or 8 miles perhaps. Now, you'd expect 7 or 8 miles on a bike to be nothing too difficult, but you have to take into account the fact that as far as bikes go I am cursed. Sure I got there easy enough, I didn't even get lost which is quite a novelty! However the journey back was less succesful.

A few miles from campus and suddenly my foot lurches forward on the pedal, "hmm this isn't right," I think. I try pedaling but its no use, the back wheel doesn't turn. "Damn, the chain must have come off." But oh no I look down and the chain rather than being a nice continuous loop has become a line on the floor. Theres two responses to this: To shout and swear and kick the bike or to simply let out a deep sigh.


I've read Lance Armstrong's autobiographies and if in a spot of mechanical trouble he would either ring his wife to pick him up or one of his friends to ride a bike out to so that he could ride back and leave his friend stranded. Seeing as I have neither a wife nor unbelievably stupid friends I reisgn myself to walking and pushing. Lucky for me it didn't happen too far from home, I don't think a walk back from Meriden would have much agreed with me.

I get back just as the sun's going down, and people are milling about campus. I'm just glad I was coming the way I was as if I'd pushed the bike up Gibbet Hill from Kenilworth I would have been thinking "It's broken, don't look at me like that" everytime someone drove past.

April 05, 2005

Cycling… to Chesterton Windmill 05/04/05

The British Cycle Quest is 402 locations 6 in 67 regions, each with a question about the place you have to answer. You send off for "County Cards" containing the questions. Always keen to go new places on my bike I have a county card for Warwickshire and the West Midlands. One of the questions is about Chesterton Windmill, which is where I went today…

Coming up to three o' clock my revision takes a beating as my brain grinds to halt. Do I force myself to learn about the Qualitative Theory of Ordinary Differential Equations (every bit as much fun as it sounds) or go for a bike ride, hmmm. After giving this much careful consideration I'm on my bike and heading out of the university at approximately 3:01pm.

The route I planned was to go through Stoneleigh and towards Cubbington then out through the pretty but slightly unspectacular Warwickshire countryside, once you've seen one field you've seen them all.

Living as I do on the doorstep of the Peak District I'm always astonished by how far you can travel on flat land. After being on the bike about half an hour I stop to check the map and nearly fall down with shock at the distance covered, however I soon realise that the map I printed off multimap is 1:25,000 scale whereas I'm used to Ordnance Survey maps at 1:50,000. Slightly disappointed that I hadn't suddenly developed Jan Ulrich's legs, I set off again.

A common feature of cycling is getting hopelessly lost, especially the way I do it. Being lost on a bike isn't a sudden epiphony, it's a feeling that sneaks up on you gradually, for some reason you start to think, "hmmm, there should have been a junction round here somewhere" then you start to think "I can't remember there being a city when I planned this route." In extreme cases you end up with "SCOTLAND!!!???". Today's, er… excursion took me out towards Northamptonshire, luckily I didn't get that far as my map wouldn't have covered it. One bonus of this detour was that it took me past a nice canal lock, which is probably very pretty in the sunshine, but that was slightly lacking today so it looked kinda drab.

After figuring out why I wasn't fast approaching a windmill I set off in the correct, non-Northamptonshire direction. However I soon got lost again, but this was a thankfully small detour somewhere around Harbury. I was making good speed, but the damn wind kept blowing in my face, though this had the advantage of helping me find my bearings as if I kept straight into the wind I was going in the right direction, if only it were the other way round. Cursing about the wind (literally, I swear alot on my bike. It's where I use up alll my aggression, I hardly ever get angry otherwise) I come into sight of the windmill. Well at least the wind makes sense, I mean they wouldn't build a windmill if they didn't expect wind surely.

In order to get to the windmill I have to ride through a field. Which is okay because I'm on a mountain bike, but it's a deliberately crappy mountain bike. I bought it for £30 from someone over the road having a house clearance. The reason for riding such a lump of junk are three fold:
1. Last term my old bike was emasculated (ie. the wheels were stolen), if anyone wants these wheels, though I can't imagine they would, they can have 'em.
2. I don't care if it gets wet and rusty. and, perhaps insanely:
3. You have to work hard to get it anywhere, it's great for keeping in shape. Okay yeah I could ride a nicer bike that'd zip along, but where the hell is there to go round here?
Anyway I reallly start to appreciate the front suspension on my old bike as I jar along.

Eventually I make it to the windmill, to be honest it's a bit of a let down, I was hoping for something a little more Jonathan Creek, beggars can't be choosers I guess.

I pause to take a drink and to write down the answer to the question, take the picture, and plan to route back. I wanted to avoid riding through Leamington to miss the traffic, but after my earlier adventures I decide that traffic may well be the lesser of two evils, I did want to get home today afterall.

I set off in that direction, however stopping has made me realise a familiar pressing sensation so I stop to fertilise a hedge. The route towards Leamington takes me past Leamington F.C.'s football ground. It exists! It's rather unspectacular but I'm delighted to finally know where it is. Soon after this I ride past Mr Karting. Leamington's premier motorsprt venue. Well, I don't know that for a fact, but I can't see it not being true unless some rich kid in North Leam has the mother of all Scalectrix sets. I keep an eye out in case anyone from Warwick Motorsport is around. As a member of the said Sports Club I can safely say "Never get in a car with these people!", as such I'm a little concerned about being a victim of some, er… over-exuberant driving.

From here it's a quick blast into Leamington. Here I remember that cycling in traffic is actually quite fun. All those sudden bursts of accelaration, trying to fit into tiny gaps, actually going past car and not the other way round. Plus I get to see one of those awful Tory "Are you thinking what we're thinking" posters. I doubt it, unless they're also thinking they wouldn't slow down if a member of the shadow cabinet stepped out in front of them. Nevermind the fact I'd probably come off just as worse, it'd be worth it.

I ride up the parade, so if anyone was around there at about 5:30 and saw someone with a dorky looking fluorescent cover on their bag, "hello". I wish the town council would sort out that road surface it's horrible, I almost wish I was riding across a field again. From there it's plain sailing on a route I know well. For some reason home always seems much closer when you're on familiar roads. I get home just as the sun breaks through a little and gives us a lovely evening.

March 22, 2005

Cycling… to the dams 17/03/05

I once again am a cyclist. I was bike-less all last term, or rather my bike was wheel-less, which is more or less the same thing. Some gits stole the wheels in week one, sigh. Anyway last week I bought a Dawes Discovery, which by all accounts seems a very ride-able bike, in spite of a few inexplicabilities: such as a suspension seat post and about 451 gears. Well I suppose taking into account those of which are accessible and not counting duplicate ratios there's probably about seven.

Anyway Iíve managed two rides since then, hereís the report of the first:

17/03/05 Dronfield-Dore-Totley-Ringinglow-Burbage Rocks-Ladybower Dam-Derwent Dam-Ladybower Dam-Bamford-Hathersage-Owler Bar-Holmesfield-Dronfield: 40 miles

I set off just after 10am to try and get a good days riding in, my intention is to ride along by the dams at Ladybower, Derwent and Howden. Iím used to riding a mountain bike with great fat tyres and my new bikeís are thinner and more road-sensible, combine this with greasy road conditions and I decide to take things easy, 2 miles from home I come to the bottom of a hill and a turn off, I go at what I think is a sensible speed but oh, whats this? The bike starts to slide, I try to steady myself with my feet, but oh no! Toe-clips! Completely not used to this restriction I find myself stuck the bike and skid down and graze my leg. Nice start, seeing as my previous ride was a kamikaze effort in winter over snow and ice on Totley Moors this makes two accidents ["Hmmm, there's a big patch of ice there… I know! The quicker I go over it the less time I'll spend on it, the less chance I'll fall off…" I start to wobble "ooo, ahhh, ow!"] in two rides, excellent. Fortunately a nice cyclist comes past and checks if Iím okay. I am and set off again cursing myself for scratching the pedals and bar ends, oh well at least I was sufficiently in the way to protect anything important. Student mentality means I'd rather break both legss than have to pay to repair a bike.

Coming through Dore Iím forced to stop again after I knock the front mudguard with my feet and it starts rubbing on the tyres. Things are going really well! Fortunately I am carrying spanners, otherwise I'd feel liek one. I say fortunately because it's a new habit. My mountain bike had special gel stuff in the tyres that automatically fixed punctures so I didn;t bother with tools. I'm soon off again to the outskirts of Sheffield wondering why I would want to be riding when itís so cloudy and ominous, ďbut the weatherlady promised me sunshineĒ I think. I come to my first view of the day. Burbage Rocks, they're nice when the sunís shining, however today they just look bleak. Also itís very windy (why is it always a head wind?) up there so it makes life hard work.

I head off down a massive descent, all in all I think it goes down about 250 metres in the space of around 4(?) miles, well it sort of bobs up and down a bit but gravity does the most work at least. Seeing as Iíve only ever been up that way and not down it kind of feels like revenge, though after my earlier adventures I take it quite easy.

After over two hours on the road, or perhaps one and half hours on the road half an hour fixing the bike or myself I finally make it to Ladybower dam, itís quite spectacular in a British sort of way. The dams were builtÖ wheneverÖ and the bed of Ladybower reserviour used to be a town, perhaps there aare other towns out there that ought to follow this lead.

Feeling thoroughly dejected at having only come about 15 miles in two hours I stop to have some lunch. After this I set off for Derwent dam, finally I get there a little after one oí clock. I take a few pictures for the blog and wonder how on earth this ride is taking so long.

As a point of interest, these dams were used to practice dropping the bouncing bomb – inactive naturally! Yíknow the whole dambusters thing, see history everywhere.

I abort my plans to ride all the way along, Iíve done it before I doubt much has changed. Heading back I feel much stronger and get a fair bit of speed going and soon Iím in Hathersage, here I come to the biggest climb of the day. Itís long, about 2(?) miles against gravity, but itís not especially steep and you only go up by around 150–200 metres in all that distance. Indeed when the Tour of Britain cycle race came by it wasnít even a ďclimbĒ which depresses me greatly as I struggle up, it wasnít this hard work last summer Iím sure!

On bike rides I usually find songs going round and round my head, today I started with the Futureheads and Hounds of Love on endless repeat, however all this thinking about last summer means I now have that godawful Lost Prophets song stuck in my head, this really is turning into a horrible bike ride. Soon enough though I find myself going past Padley Gorge and the Fox House Inn. From here itís plain sailing because itís mostly downhill home. I get back and sit down. Iím quite disappointed, but I hadnít ridden since December so no wonder I struggled. Nevertheless it was nice to be riding again.

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