off the beaten track

Today I cycled 8 and a half miles, saw two rabbits, a squirrel, a fox and a *huge* dragonfly.

I also got quite lost and had a puncture.

I had a brilliant time.

Regular readers may recall my recent bike-related post, the road less travelled, in which I trundled my merry way around bits of the Wakefield area that I hadn’t explored. I mentioned there was a track down by the golf course under a bridge that I hadn’t yet explored, so today was the day.

I’d had a busy day and only an hour or so to fit my ride into, so set off from home towards the train station. There’s another interesting track down there which I’ve always wondered where it would end up. Turns out it runs alongside the railway track for about half a kilometre and brought me out roughly in the right direction for the golf course. Cross that one off my ‘where does it go?’ list.

I got up to the golf course, found the track and trundled along there quite happily for a while before coming out on the main road about fifty metres from the road leading the golf course.

Cross another one off the list.

Quite pleased with my exploring, I reckoned I had about half an hour left. There was yet another unexplored road nearby (as mentioned in the previous post), so I set off down there.

Up past the houses the road drops to a single track down between the hedges. I spy a couple of fellow cyclists up ahead, just as the road forks. They head off to the left, but I spot a sign saying that Newmillerdam is 2.5 miles off to the right. Now, Newmillerdam is roughly on my way home, ish. So I turn right.

The road disappears at this point, and I’m bumping along a dry track next to some fields. It’s all very scenic and quiet and as I’m bouncing along I spot a rabbit bounding along ahead. It takes off into a field on the left and I come to the end of the track.

There’s a field ahead of me with some fledgling cabbages neatly planted in rows, but there’s a fairly clear path across it, and on the far side I see a yellow marker post for the path. I set off across and soon get to the trees on the other side. The track here is pretty narrow, but just wide enough to cycle down, albeit very carefully. There’s a bridge at the bottom crossing the railway track, then it opens out onto another field.

This is where it goes slightly pear-shaped.

Now, this field is thigh-high with greenery. There’s no obvious track going across it. I can go left or right. Right looks a bit overgrown, and left is downhill.

Left it is. I get to the bottom of the field and there’s still nothing obvious indicating which way to go. I pause for a swig of water and another rabbit bursts from cover, spots me and hurtles off into the hedge to my left.

Oh well. I continue down the edge of the next field – I can see a road in the distance, and have worked out roughly where I am. I just need to go down this field, find a way through the hedge, and I’m back on the road.

After a dozen or so yards I realise that I really need to be carrying my bike so it doesn’t damage the crops. I’m being nettled and brambled, but the sun is shining and I’ve just spotted the biggest dragonfly I’ve ever seen keeping pace with me. The bottom corner of the field yields no exit, but a curious fox pokes its head out to see what this lycra-clad lunatic is doing.

Along the bottom of the field then, and there! The road. I send an apologetic text home to say I’ll be a little late and set off up the hill.

Hmm. It’s very bumpy.

A little… too bumpy.

Puncture in my rear tyre. And guess who didn’t pack a bike pump? I’ve got all the other paraphenalia for fixing a flat, but the pump is handily attached to my other bike. Ooops.

Still, it’s a fairly slow puncture, so I struggle on up the hill and make it home, a little late, a little sunburned, a little bloody from the brambles, but with a grin on my face.

Look. If I hadn’t taken that track, I’d not have seen the rabbits, the fox or the beautiful dragonfly. I now know that the path *does* lead directly across the field.

But that’s for another day.

The road less travelled

cycle path

It was a glorious day for a bike ride. I dug my bike out of the garage and set off down our street, got to the end of the road and paused.

Left or right?

Left would take me downhill, and into Wakefield. Right would mean a short uphill, but heading out towards the countryside. Not much of a choice then. I dropped a gear (or two) and set off.

Up and over the top of the hill and I’m faced immediately with another choice. Left at the lights, or straight on? Straight on follows the main road down past the big supermarket and out towards Pugney’s Country Park. It’s nice enough, but always busy on a nice day, plus the road by the supermarket is often heaving with traffic.

Left it is then.

Within a few hundred yards we’re away from the traffic and into the countryside. Up another hill (and down a few more gears) and I’m huffing and puffing up past the golf course on the outskirts of Wakefield. I’ve been cycling around here for many years, but oddly this is a route I’ve never taken. Towards the top of the hill I’m passed by a bunch of lads in a white Audi, who wound the window down so they could lean out and yell at me.

Out of breath as I am, I reply with a one-fingered wave in their general direction, to which I get a toot of the horn in reply. It puts a grin on my face, made wider as I reach the brow of the hill and I see the rolling fields ahead. Quick swig of water and I’m off again, zooming down the hill hunkered over the handlebars, half an eye on the bike computer’s speedometer and the rest on the road. I coast up to the next junction and again face the choice. Straight on, or left again?

Left heads towards Haw Park Woods – we’ve been there with the Scouts a few times so I take the turn and trundle off down the road. It’s not long before I come across a sign for a cycle track. It’s off to the left, and it feels like a left sort of a day, so I turn onto the bridleway. Up a short track and I find myself at Cold Hiendley Reservoir – somewhere I’ve seen on the map many times, but again, I’ve never been. I cycle along past anglers enjoying the sunshine and a cup of tea, couples out walking and a few dog-walkers. It really is a nice day to be out and about, made all the better for being off the road.

Not too much further along the track is Haw Park Wood itself. There’s a fence in the way, with one of those V-shaped sort-of-gates designed so that walkers can get through but not bikes. I half consider going through and up through the woods, but notice the main track heads off to the…

You’ve guessed it. Left. Off we go.

I’ve no idea where I’m likely to end up, but reason that as I’ve been turning left quite a lot, I’ll either end up back where I set off, or cross one of the tracks or roads I’ve already cycled down. Besides, the sun is out, the sky is blue and my bike is whirring along underneath me. It’s a glorious day for a bike ride.

It’s along this track that I took the photo above. The light was coming through the trees just so, there was nary another soul in sight, and it felt like I had the world to myself. I stopped, took the photo then just enjoyed the peace and quiet for a few minutes.

Off we go again and it’s not long before I reach the far edge of Haw Park Wood, and find myself at Waterton Park Golf club – another of Wakefield’s golf courses, and a different one to the one I passed earlier. The track continues enticingly on under the bridge, but as I check my watch, I realise that I’m running out of time and need to head home. One for another day.

As I’m leaving the grounds of the golf course, I realise that I always turn right at the end of the road to go home. I’ve got a few minutes, so I see where left leads me. Another enticing single-track road soon appears, but I add that to my list of places to explore another day and turn back.

I’m soon home, having clocked up a very modest distance of just under seven and a half miles in about 45 minutes. It’s not far at all compared to the distances I was getting to last summer, where a 30-miler wasn’t uncommon, but for today, it’s enough. I’ve done some exploring, found some new places and had a splendid time.

That’s what I love most about my bike. The freedom to just get out there and explore, to see where the wheels will take me. All part of life’s big adventure. In the words of Ferris Bueller:

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

Stop and look around. Then choose.

Left or right? Where will it take you?

The great outdoors

BEDN day 28 and we’re talking about The Great Outdoors.

Ah, there’s nothing quite like it. Whether you’re out for a ramble, camping, or just out on the bike, it’s brilliant to be outdoors.

We live in Yorkshire, on the edge of Wakefield. So it doesn’t take long before you’re out in the countryside. One of my favourite bike routes takes about ten minutes then I’m into the countryside, onto the little roads where it’s nice and quiet, rolling along past fields and hedgerows. And you get views like this

Sunlit tree

We’re also lucky enough to have some friends with a house up in Cumbria, and never pass up a chance to go and visit. This is the view from their front door

Harter Fell

and looking back across the valley towards their house. You can see why we never turn down a chance to get up there. There are a couple of lovely cycle routes around there too.

Sprintgill Cumbria

It’s not all about the countryside though. There’s nothing more that the clan enjoy than a trip to the seaside – holidays are usually chosen depending on the how many beaches we can get to!

This was one of our favourites from our holiday in Cornwall this year. Porthtowan beach, near Newquay. Brilliant for some bodyboarding.

porthtowan beach

And, closer to home, there’s nothing quite like being able to sit outside on a lovely warm summer evening, chatting with friends over a nice glass of something.

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Or pottering around down the allotment. I think I need to work on my carrots!

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Where’s your favourite Great Outdoors? Are you a beach person? Or do you prefer the countryside? Where’s your favourite place to get away from it all?

Cycling: Let’s be safe out there

Today’s prompt for Blog Every Day In November is ‘Newsflash: talk about something in the news.’

This story in particular struck a chord with me as a cyclist.

Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, has said he will consider the possibility of banning cyclists from wearing headphones, following a spate of deaths in the capital.

Six cyclists have been killed on London’s roads in the last two weeks.

Speaking on BBC London radio, Johnson said headphones were an “absolute scourge” and it was “absolutely nuts” to wear them while cycling.
Boris Johnson considers ban on London cyclists wearing headphones

Boris’ comments have come in for some stick – on the face of it they could appear to be pointing the finger of blame at cyclists and taking the focus away from HGV drivers. And nine out of the 14 fatalities this year have involved HGVs.

Strange as it is to say it, I think that Boris has a valid point on this – cycling with headphones in makes you less aware of your surroundings. You simply can’t hear the other vehicles on the road as well. It’s an incredibly dangerous thing to do, for yourself and for other road users.

And of course Boris is a bit of a twit, as we can see in the photo in this tweet.

Come on Boris, put the phone away. Numpty. And then Boris got caught on film cycling through six red lights, failing to stop at a zebra crossing AND mounting the pavement (thanks to @susborne for the link)

I used to commute into Leeds by bike most days until I moved to south of Wakefield, making the journey impractical. My approach to other road users was always to assume they hadn’t seen you. Never undercut another car/van/bus at a junction. Yes, sometimes it takes a little longer to get to where you’re going, but I’d rather get there in one piece.

Of course there are still accidents, and always will be. Take your eye of the road for an instant, hit a loose rock or pothole and bad things can happen.

Now just to be clear – I’m not for a moment suggesting that it’s the cyclists’ fault.

Other drivers, especially those in vehicles with limited visibility need to be just as aware of their surroundings as cyclists. It’s our duty as road users, all of us, to be safe on the roads, for ourselves and for others.

The Department of Transport has some excellent (though largely common-sense) advice for cyclists… (from the BBC article Is cycling getting more or less dangerous?)

  • Ride positively, decisively and well clear of the kerb
  • Avoid riding up the inside of large vehicles, like lorries or buses, where you might not be seen
  • Always use lights after dark or when visibility is poor
  • Wear light coloured or reflective clothing during the day and reflective clothing and/or accessories in the dark
  • Follow the Highway Code including observing “stop” and “give way” signs and traffic lights
  • Wear a correctly fitted cycle helmet

Don’t get me started on people not wearing bike helmets. That’s a rant for another day. And yes, I have read the research.

Three Good Things

Liz at Margot & Barbara has started a new series of blog posts called Three Good Things. Her first week’s post is here. She says:

Each week, I shall choose three things to share. Things that have made me happy, made me smile, brought me a bit of joy or peace and made me grateful for the life that I have.

Various other bloggers have taken up the challenge (Kirsty at Hello Kirsty and Isobel at Leeds & Me for example) and I thought it sounded like a splendid idea. Here then, are my three things.

One

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Coffee. A good cup of coffee is a wonderful thing, and we’re blessed in Leeds with a fabulous range of indie coffee places. My mornings just wouldn’t be the same without a quick pick-me-up from the lovely folks at Bottega Milanese, or a delicious filter coffee from Luca & the boys at Brewbar Espresso. If I’m feeling slightly more energetic, a walk down to see Dave at Laynes Espresso is always rewarded with quite simply the best coffee I’ve ever had. It’s got to the point where now I just ask what he recommends and go with that. Never been disappointed.

Two

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My bike. I don’t get out on it enough, but when I do it’s like medicine. Worldly worries fade away as you zoom through the beautiful countryside on my doorstep in Wakefield. The word ‘zoom’ may not be entirely accurate, especially on the up bits, but zooming definitely happens on the descents, after which you’ll find me grinning like a loon.

Three

Learning Chinese. I was recently introduced to Memrise, a website to help you learn languages. I picked their Learn basic Chinese: read a menu course and was soon hooked. It’s a brilliant system, introducing the chinese characters via flashcards to help you remember, and it gets you to ‘water your memories’ to help them grow by going back over earlier concepts again at regular intervals. Both kids picked it up immediately and really enjoyed it. I was in the Chinese supermarket in Leeds the other day and picked up this packet of noodles:

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Which both myself and the kids were able to translate! How cool is that?

So, there are my three things for this week. I’m not sure it’ll end up being a weekly thing, but it’s a great way of looking at the good bits of your life.

What are your three things?

the greatest long distance cyclist

Ah, July. Le Tour de France is upon us once more. Tales of incredible efforts over the course of the three weeks’ cycling, covering in this centenary year, 3,404 kilometres (or about 2,115 miles) over 21 stages. Up and down mountains, through fields of sunflowers and onto the Champs-Élysées. Sir Bradley took the Maillot Jaune to Paris last year. Will Chris Froome make it a second Brit atop the podium?

Le Tour is a truly impressive bit of long-distance cycling, by any measure.

But let me tell you about the greatest long distance cyclist. And no, he’s not a Tour rider.

Let’s start back in 1911. Frenchman Marcel Planes set the record for the longest distance cycled in a year, riding 34,666 miles. The record changed hands over the years between Great Britain, Australia and France. In 1937, the record was up to 62,657 miles, held by Australian Ossie Nicholson.

On the 1st of January 1939, Bernard Bennett and Tommy Godwin set off to take the record back.

Bennett managed a staggering 65,127 miles over the year, but it was Tommy Godwin who took the record, cycling 75,065 miles.

That’s an average of 205 miles per day. Compare that with le Tour’s rather more modest average of 101 miles per day, and remember that le Tour has two rest days (and only goes on for three weeks!), and you get some idea of the enormity of Tommy’s achievement. What’s more he did it on a 14 kilo steel-framed bike with only 4 gears!

On 21st June 1939, he rode an incredible 361 miles, the equivalent of Wakefield to London and back. Even the outbreak of World War II in September 1939 didn’t stop him despite food rationing and blackouts meaning that he couldn’t cycle at night unless there was enough moonlight so he could see his way. Also no lycra for him, and cycling over the winter meant heavy woollen jerseys which must have been sodden!

By the 26th October, Tommy had beaten Ossie Nicholson’s record with 66 days to spare, but he didn’t stop there, pushing on to break through 75,000 miles on December 31st.

What’s even more astonishing is that he didn’t stop there either, but continued on until May 1940 to secure the fastest-ever 100,000 mile record.

There’s a brilliant website dedicated to Tommy’s record-breaking ride, with stats for each month, photos and the routes Tommy rode. And thanks to Ned Boulting, whose fantastic book On the Road Bike: The Search For a Nation’s Cycling Soul introduced me to Tommy.

I wonder how far he’d have managed if he’d attempted it today, with a carbon fibre bike…

The Perfect Coffee Stop

Another great post by Ian on intotheorchard.com. Reminds me that I must dust off my plans to visit as many coffee places in Leeds as possible…

Into The Orchard

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I’ve recently noticed a new addition on my cycle commute into work which is a mobile coffee shop, housed within a fab little Piaggio Ape 3 wheel van, situated in Park Square.  I’ve whizzed around the square saying to myself that I must stop there and give it a go.  Today was the perfect storm, nice early ride in, no first thing meetings, fantastically warm weather so I rolled into the park unclipped and ordered a morning pick me up.

Now both street food and coffee have been slowly picking up over the last couple of years in Leeds, we may not be in Portland’s class but there are now several very good coffee shops and some great things happening on the quality street food scene, exemplified in my view by No Fishy Business showing that you can understand and sell a high quality product from a mobile kitchen.  It’s no…

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