Category: CYCLING

Lord, wont you buy me….

If you have to drive in England, and please avoid it at all costs, then at least do it in style. You will not get to your destination more quickly but your ageing arse and the pain that stands in for your lumber region will at least find some relief. 

For, it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a man in possession of a car on English Motorways is in want of his sanity. Don’t let the adverts fool you. You will not speed along empty roads in glorious sunshine and spectacular scenery accompanied by a headscarf wearing Kathryn Hepburn lookalike who promises a happy ending upon arrival at your destination in some romantic hotel. No, your fate is to be tearing into the abyss of grey water being thrown by the bucket load at your windscreen as you find yourself surrounded by towering trucks driven by demons from the seventh depths of hell whose only care is to get to wherever they are going regardless of any collateral damage be that rabbit, bugs or your wellbeing. 

You will be tailgated. For some unknown reason many drivers want to know what is on your back seat and thus play chicken with the brake lights they see in front. Data on stopping distances on wet roads are but a dim and distant memory to them as they leave their fates to the capricious whims of the furies. I’ve seen better driving skills being exercised by rum soaked drunken and testosterone fuelled matelots riding the dodgems at the fairground on Helston Flora Day. 

You will crawl behind a truck who is ‘overtaking’ another truck at 58 miles per hour while the fast lane is out of bounds to you due to the wide boys and sales reps, high on crack cocaine, exercising their ‘right’ to drive like complete wankers at over 90 miles an hour in a soon to be crashed BMW. 

You will wonder where everyone is going? Surely someone must be at work? Did everyone take today to go somewhere? Is the school run allowed on motorways? 

The A roads are no better. 

King’s Lynn to Norwich is not Route 66. You will certainly not ‘get your kicks’ nor will you be tempted to roll the window down, put on your shades, with arm resting on the door and sing to Elvis Presley on the radio. The road ahead will not stretch into the desert sunset in a straight line along the cactus lined highway to Hotel California. You will instead follow a tractor, the white van delivering tat to twats in time for teatime, the prat in an Audi who thinks he is Lewis Hamilton, a distracted mother with a car full of brats all shouting at her and a businessman in a hurry to get to the next Premier Inn where he can dream of eating a microwave dinner in the ‘restaurant’ before going to bed disappointed that Sharon from accounts was not there. He will go to bed after a late night snifter, turn to Babe Station and think of the short skirted but unavailable Sharon while he falls asleep only to wake up with his dick in his hand at 3 am. 

That is an English road trip. Pissing rain, bitter disappointment and a wank. 

Where was I?

While Mr Harris and Dr Tatham head to the ‘Jewel in the Crown’ that is Norwich in a Mercedes Vito van (nice), I drove the Mercedes C200 (even fucking nicer, excuse my french). I am not usually impressed by cars. They are merely methods of transportation infinitely inferior to trains. For a start you have to drive them yourself and keep awake while doing so. You cannot drink, nor can you drift aimlessly into a reverie about the time you found yourself covered in chocolate and being thrown into a party of sweet toothed lesbians and their overly sexed entourage of bisexual partners. 

(I might have dreamt that).

The Mercedes C200 deserves a mention, due to its overwhelming comfort. Everything in it works beautifully as it should. Every section of the seat can be adjusted, I counted at least 4 different moving parts to it. It heats up in the winter and gently caresses one’s testicles with what feels like a soft hand in a velvet glove, if you press the right button. German built and designed, you see. I wish we’d lost the war. I had previously already spent the best part of 10 hours getting to Kings Lynn in it, and upon arrival felt as fresh as the cherry blossom in spring, and as the smell of freshly baked bread and a day old baby’s head. The car gently and soothingly consumed the miles to Norwich enabling me to treat every other road user with contempt and pity. Come the revolution, I shall mandate that if it is necessary to travel by road, then a Mercedes should be issued to each and every citizen (except the couple who live in the flat upstairs and seem to be unaware that 50 shades of Grey is fiction and does not need reenacting at two in the morning. A man can only take so many muffled screams. By the way, I now know their ‘safe words’). 

Arrival in Norwich as the sun sets over the river is a delight. It would have been better if the Sat Nav had the correct post code coordinates. After a bit of map reading and a lot of swearing I find the hotel itself. The Premier Inn (for t’was our hotel…I hope they have Babe Station) overlooks the River Wensum as it winds it way through the city. The Cathedral Spire pokes above the trees a short distance away. There is a pissed women shouting near the bridge over the river, “lets be ‘aving you” I think it is. 

Tonight is beer and curry night. Dr Tatham’s medical chums of yore are in town with a half baked plan to cycle from Norwich to Romford. A distance of quite some miles across Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex, it has to be said. If they are as good at medical practice as they are at organising a cycling trip, I suggest you go kill yourself now. Their bravado is matched only by incompetence and a complete ignorance of the art of cycling any distance further than the mile to the pub. Team Sky they ain’t. We met up in a pub to enjoy some pre curry bonhomie and the talking of bollocks. 

The good doctors currently come from far and wide….Droitwhich, Diss, Romford, Ireland and Never Never Land. I think one gave his address as Number 1, Clueless, Cloud Cuckoo Land. I blame the parents. Tomorrow it will rain. I suspect that will not dampen their spirits, merely soak their bones and stoke their bloody mindedness. Beer and curry is a great combination, but in preparation for a 60 mile cycle in the rain it may prove exciting as their normal bowel patterns are disrupted. The crown will go to the chap who can find his way to the loo the quickest after mile 10. 

Our plan is different. We will not be rushing to join them southwards to The Only Way is Essex.

So we bid the chaps goodnight in the hotel bar as we prepare to go our separate ways on the morrow. 

Now, settle down. Get comfortable. Mr Harris planned a trip around Norwich that must be just one of the greatest journeys ever taken. In our estimation that is. You may like the Maldives, or a weekend break in New York. You may enjoy bashing your bishop in Barnstaple or choking your chicken in Chichester…but, nothing can quite match a trip on the North Norfolk Steam Railway. 

You need to realise that there is nothing like a steam engine to gladden the heart and quicken the pulse of three silly old ugly blind bikers in Norfolk. We can hardly curb our enthusiasm at the thought. We’ve talked about this for months, boxes of tissues have been used, imaginations running wild at the thought of steam hauled steel on rail. The sight, sound and smell of coal, fire and steam, brass and copper pipes, steel connecting rods, hissing, misty clouds, dirt and smuts from chimney, oil on trousers and dirty rags. Bloody heaven. 

Norwich railway station is just across the river, its gothic dome standing proud above the platforms. The plan is to take a train to Cromer and from thence cycle to Sheringham on the coast. The NNR starts at Sheringham and clatters some miles to a nowhere called Holt. One of our party, overcome with the thought of travelling by train and thus devoid of judgement, boards the wrong train, and as he enters the doors lock behind him. Thankfully, this train is going nowhere and after much jollity the guard releases the doors to facilitate his disembarkation for the correct train. 

Our train then winds gently across the Fenland and the Broads towards the coast. Our bikes are safely stowed aboard. Giggles are hardly suppressed. There is something touching about the ease with which grown men can be pleased. All it takes is a beer, or a train, or a rumination on the aesthetic similarity between a pint of Guinness and the stocking clad legs of a young lady bent on flirtation. It is the juxtaposition of black and white that does it. This latter thought had been prompted by the sight of a young lady hitching up her skirt to adjust her stocking tops as she walked down the Prince of Wales Road in Norwich the previous night. This remembrance had nearly caused a member of our party to choke with laughter whilst cycling and thus risking a crash into the hedge. Easily pleased, men are. 

Sheringham is a pretty seaside town, bunting fluttered in the sunshine in the high street. Tourists crowded the pavements and the coffee shops. The sky above the roofs hinted at blue. The North Sea sparkles and glistens, reminiscent of the Balearic Island paradise of Ibiza. The warm breeze caresses the skin, prompting the shedding of clothes while bikini clad women laze upon the golden sands in a coquettish demeanour. That’s what I saw anyway, rather than the hordes of Nora Batty clones stuffing their faces with fish and chips while shouting to the kids as if we are in an episode of East Enders. Fat blokes waddling along the sea front grunting for beer in a fashion free zone, dressed as they were for the Arctic but with sock footed sandals and Heavy Metal T shirts. 

Upon arrival at the station, the steam engine slowly glides in. I’ll leave it there. I will not be responsible otherwise for what I write next given the level of excitement this drew from us. The station, as with most heritage lines, is of course exactly like it would have been pre Beeching (damn his soul), and so dates from anywhere between 1930 to 1960, the heyday of the Railways. The tickets are cardboard and the guard punches them with a hole punch. The excitement just mounts. We rattle slowly along the coast and then inland to Holt. Heads are out of windows, waving at people in the countryside, the engine is chuffing up slopes and then gliding down the other side. 

At Holt there is even a model railway layout, and a proper row of red fire buckets hanging on the wall. We disembark and one member of the party is minus a bike helmet, due to over exuberance back at Sheringham, leading to momentary lapses of reason and forgetfulness. It is probably in the lost property office right now. 

The journey back to Norwich is a delightful 30 miles (ish) jaunt, the last 5 miles or so along a disused railway track (bugger Beeching but a boon to bikers). Upon arrival in the city, the route takes us past a pub called the ‘Adam and Eve’ and yes we would believe it. Being only a mile or even less from ‘Lenny’s’ we are able to make a decision about visiting the Norwich City Football Club shop or stopping for an ale.

Its thirsty work, cycling, and so the decision was swiftly made. 

Did you know Norwich cathedral’s spire is off centre? No one notices this at all, unless you stand at one of the gates (can’t remember which one), then line your self up with a ‘gable end’ (?). Suffice to say it takes a mathematical mindset to notice this. Once spotted however, it could grate. It is the princess and the pea of the cathedral world. I guess it is too late to put it right? I blame the monks who, proud of their ale making and goat comforting skills, probably did not bother supervising the masons due to a surfeit of ale infused bonhomie and a little light afternoon buggery. That’s medievalism for you. 

Somewhere in the world there are three old blokes on bikes, cycling languidly along the countryside noting all the relevant flora and fauna, learning about the local history and reminiscing about the times when access to stocking tops was as easy as falling off your bike in a gale. Getting away from the madness of car stoked roads into bucolic whimsy is an absolute joy, and should be prescribed as primary prevention for heart disease, diabetes and erectile dysfunction. Wives and girlfriends are welcome of course to join in but I suspect the degree of pointless drivel being talked would drive them to insanity and knitting. This is not a gender/sexist issue. I just think most women are just a bit too busy, too sensible or giving birth. The humble bicycle is thus a stairway to heaven, providing access to dreams, steam trains, revolutionary fervour and country pubs.

Ugly Old Blind Bikers

Ugly Old Blind Bikers

Once upon a time there was three blind mice. Except that was a nursery rhyme and not true. 

This time, there was one half blind chap and two other short sighted miscreants who required the miracles of modern science to see anything beyond the end of their frothy ale flecked noses. A plan was hatched long ago by these ‘three degrees’ (of insanity) to conquer the mountains of Fenland by bicycle. And so it was that King’s Lynn became host to three men and some bicycles. 

Getting there from the dark North and the subtropical South West required the navigational skills of a maritime mathematician, long in the tooth and firm of buttock, who longs for a tall ship and a star to steer her by. 

Mr Harris (pragmatic northerner) and Mr Tatham (a Newfoundland exile) trundled down the A1 in t’van while my good self braved the rain sodden waterways that pass for English motorways, from the south west. To say the weather was bad is to suggest that Satan may have been a tad dubious in character. I suggest that the Ms 5, 42 and 1 should be rebranded as canals given the amount of surface water sloshing about just waiting to throw the unwary driver into the back of a lorry. Every now and then, a thin sliver of sunlight crept in between the dark foreboding heavens to promise relief. 

It never came.

A Frenchman in a bordello has been relieved more often and with less fear.

Kings Lynn, formerly Bishop’s Lynn, lies on the Great Ouse as it empties into the south eastern corner of the Wash. There are boats, mud and the odd scared goat. In the middle of town is the ‘Nip and Growler’, a real gem of a pub selling micro brewery ales, some of which will result in depilation of the nether regions. They are that good. The Campaign for Real Ale has a special section reserved for such hostelries, including vouchers for fast track entry to Accident and Emergency or the local asylum. They hand out moistened tissues at the bar in case of ‘accidents’. The ‘Nip’ is a few short steps away from the town square which was at one time host to witch burning. This part of the country had a reputation for its enthusiasm in engaging in faggot lighting in order to roast the toes and tits off the local women, and did so with the gusto of a Catholic priest with the keys to the dorm at a boys school. Legend has it that one poor wretch’s heart burst from her chest as she burned, and it then splattered onto the walls of a nearby house. 

Nice.

Her crime, and thus accusations of witchcraft, included being nice to squirrels, knowing the names of a wide variety of herbs to apply to festering sores and the plugging of orifices, and commenting on how certain fillets of fish would be fit for Jehovah. 

That’s the church for you. You may bugger a goat with your ale soaked cousins, but don’t go picking lavender in case that is an act mistaken for spell casting. Women like picking herbs and flowers which goes to explain why they get mistaken for witches. Well, that and turning people into newts. 

And the pointy hats.

Never mind, stories like that enhance the taste of ale and pies. So, suitably victualled first in the ‘Nip’ and then at a quayside eatery, the intrepid three retired to the B and B to dream of conquests new. 

Prior to arriving in Fenland, Mr Harris and Mr Tatham had already been having far too much fun at the National Railway Museum near Darlington. In addition, culture was engaged in at various historic places of interest such as the the grave of the Vulnerable “oh, please don’t be mean to me” Bede, whose claim to a place in posterity rests upon his reading of some books on Jesus and his sheep. 

Day 1.

“There will be pies”.

Breakfast. The French may have their croissants, and the Canadians their maple syrup, but by thunder a ‘Full English’ is second to none. Tourists may be forgiven for thinking a ‘Full English’ is a euphemism for the furtive arts practiced by ladies of a wayward reputation near the docks, but the sight of a sizzling snorker sitting alongside its various accompaniments should disavow them of more carnal thoughts. Our hostess served up three plates of the most joy you can have with your clothes on and your inhibitions off. The breakfast was of such high quality that we clean forgot to consider a spanking. You, dear reader, may wonder why a spanking would even be considered at all before breakfast. Suffice to say that there are times in an old man’s memory that recall such episodic ventures into the realms of fantasy. 

Straight after breakfast, all kit was checked and ablutions completed. The bicycles had already been fettled and waited like the ‘stallions of steel’ they (nearly) were, straining at metaphorical leashes for the off. 

Mr Harris’s bike was a wonder to behold. A proper touring bike with panniers, tyres the width of a runway and gadgets that turn on its lights automatically. Oh, and mudguards. It is thanks to his planning and organisational skills that we were there at all. He even had a list, an itinerary, and downloaded maps of the route. Navigation was aided by a Garmin GPS system which beeped at regular intervals to tell us that a) a turn was 150 yards way and b) the turn was just ahead as we approached it. There should be no way we could get lost. I had every faith in the pragmatic and systematic approach of our Northern guide. He had the whiff of precision engineering about him, an ‘everything in its place’ kind of thing. He could spot a mislaid joist at a hundred paces. He looked the part. It was that of a long distance cyclist. Tall, and a lean frame frame befitting someone who is planning a very long trip to cycle every stage of the Tour de France won by a Brit.

Given that he often had his arm up a cow’s arse, which I believe calls for judgments of distance around clearances of inches rather than thousands of a millimetre, I found his attention to detail refreshing. I should also say that his inserting of limbs into dark places was for business reasons and not for leisure. His day job had been the welfare of animals, which includes killing them. 

That’s what vets do. 

Mr, actually Doctor, Tatham is garrulous to the the point of distraction. Think of the exuberance of Toad of Toad Hall. His clothes are often arranged in loose formation, the main colour scheme being that of a rainbow crashing into a paint factory with little regard for aesthetic juxtaposition. His bike was one of Mr Harris’ contraptions with the emphasis on “Will Dr Tatham survive without wrecking it?”. A permanent grin would accompany the permanent camera and cries of absolute joy rattling o’er the treetops. Plying his trade as a General Practitioner in Canada has prepared him well for East Anglia. There has not been an orifice, lump, secretion, protuberance or bleed that has phased him in the past. The inbreds of the Fens will not therefore shock. There are bits of him that require attention (and drugs) and a decent service, but the 50 miles should not present too much of a challenge. As long as we don’t pass a pretty young thing, then our progress should be smooth. For Dr Tatham, precision and planning are two words in the dictionary rather than concepts to be applied in everyday life…and so it is a good thing indeed that Mr Harris takes charge.

The bikes had been fettled, the loins girded but the butt cream forgone. Ahead was 50 circular miles of Fenland adventure. The sky was blue, the odd cloud skittering high above, the wind but a breeze although forecast to be stronger. Taking a north eastern route out of town, we found ourselves quickly into the countryside on our way through to the Sandringham Estate. We passed by one of the Royal Gates, a huge black wrought iron affair with spikes and what I thought was a Royal Crest. It’s message was clear. We might have paid for this Estate, with the blood of the proletarian martyrs while the robber barons, with a Royal nod, dispossessed the common folk from the common land as the enclosures tightened around their necks, but there is no way a hairy handed son of toil was going to set foot upon monarchical property. Even on a bicycle. In the background, as we stood for a picture by the gates, we could hear birdsong in the surrounding woods. I thought I could hear the sound of the sharpening of guillotines among the chirruping of sparrows. 

As we leave Sandringham, it is soon time for tea and cake. However, we are in the countryside of Norfolk. There are fields, and trees, and lanes, and pigs, horses and crows. We spot Red kites and the odd rabbit. The wind sweeps across the open hedge free fields kicking up dust and leaves. There are no signs saying ‘Tea Shop this way’. I hear a banjo. The only other sound is the swish of rubber tyre on lane and the occasional fart.

We quickly agree that it is impossible to fart while peddling or remaining in the saddle. So, if you see the cyclist in front of you stand up on his peddles and ceasing turning the crank you may suspect with a high degree of accuracy what is about to occur. So to add the to the gently shushing of breeze and tyre we hear the odd ‘tharp’. I blame the Guinness. 

A windmill is spotted in the distance.

As we cycle we come across the little brown tourist sign which of course says ‘Windmill’. This is overkill because we can see the bloody thing from 1000 meters away. Now, we could plough onwards looking for a tea shop for cakes and pie but this little gem has to be seen up close. We turn left off course and down to the mill. We stop at a gate to admire it and take a picture. Pretty as it is, the agenda has quickly focused on tea, but there is no sign of a tea shop. We might have to clench buttocks and grit our teeth. 

However, the inquisitive Mr Harris, cycles a few yards down the lane to the other side of the mill. Unbridled joy erupts as he spots a tea shop hidden from our view. There is still no sign pointing to it, but hey ho we have found Nirvana.

One of the absolute joys of cycling is the stop for tea and cake. This tea shop has cake, pasties and pork pies. We push open the door into the relative darkness inside, but the sun comes out and its rays floods the tea room with warmth. It is good to be alive.  As I am about to order I spot the pork pies, hand made with crinkly crimping around the edges. They are not uniform in shape indicating the hand crafted nature of each individual pie. They are lovingly made by jolly buxom housewives in the back kitchen who sing while they work, their nimble fingers caressing the pastry after the high quality pork is placed inside. Only the finest pigs, hand fed on acorns while otherwise roaming free foraging in the forests, provide the meat. The shortcrust pastry is light and crumbly upon the bite, the jelly inside explodes onto the tongue. They would be perfect with an ale. ‘Cornish’ pasties are also on offer, and I inwardly bridle when this is said. But the mistake was very quickly rectified and the ‘cornish’ was retracted. Just as well, they were crimped over the middle and the inside contained peas and carrot. How do I know? We bought three for the end of the day’s ride. In terms of size they were just above a cocktail pasty and just below a small. After 50 miles, however, they were fantastic. 

Suitably victualled we set off down the Norfolk country lanes. The sun continued to shine, with little evidence of the predicted shower. The riding at this point is fairly effortless, at a pace of about 10-11 miles an hour. This is slow enough to take in the sights and sounds and provided ample time for photo stops and banter. 

The next stop would be for lunch at the ‘Dabbling Duck’ in Great Massingham. You just can’t make this up. A village green, a village pond (with ducks), the church, old cottages thatched and tiled and the pub. Just the perfect village scene. I spotted its idiot hiding behind the red pillar box doing something uncalled for with a bucket, some lubricant and a cat. At this point my garmin was telling me I had used 1400 calories. Thats 7 pints and two pies worth, therefore a lunch of a ham and cheese sandwich to be washed down with a pint of ‘Nelson’s Revenge’, served in a dimpled beer jug with handle, was hardly going to make a dent. The sandwich was served with a side salad, red cabbage and these new fangled hipster type crisps which I think are some old vegetables sliced up and passed off as a ‘crisp’. I think to qualify as a ‘crisp’ the sliced potato (not parsnip, beetroot or carrot) has to be come in a bag preferably with a little blue bag of salt.  

We learned from the barman that the mansion we had previously passed was Houghton Hall, the summer holiday home of Lord and Lady Cholmondeley (‘Chumly’) whose main residence is Cholmondeley castle. These country houses were no doubt built with the blood, sweat and tears of the peasants from whom the Chumleys had stolen their land. As you gaze upon these monuments to exploitation and slavery, in the historical winds you can hear the cries of ill fed babies straining to get what little milk there was from their mother’s breasts; mothers who had put in a 20 hour day and who had only a carrot to suck on for dinner and a cardboard box to sleep in. Never mind, as long as Lady Chumley has a second home for her holiday, it was all worth it. The village green at Great Massingham was host to various hangings of miscreants who lost their lives for no worse crime than muttering rebellious thoughts about the aristocracy, tickling a pig or licking bread crumbs from the kitchen floor of Houghton Hall. During the first world war, Lord C rounded up the loudest critics, enlisted them as the Massingham Pals and sent them straight to the front line at the Somme. Some 56 local lads of Norfolk left. None came back. Well, one did, but upon return, his mind so traumatised by whizz bangs, he developed a taste for goat ‘worrying’ and was hanged without ceremony at Norwich assizes as a lesson to the revolutionary classes. 

And that is why we still have Tory governments today. 

The afternoon session, post lunch, saw us plunge deeper into Norfolk. I’m all for deep plunging…it has been said that I am one of best at it given a fair wind, some notice and several ales. My plunging exploits however are surpassed by one of my colleagues who shall remain nameless. We followed a straight road into a village called ‘Castle Acre’. We soon discovered why. 

It has a Castle, that is probably an acre in size. Don’t think of Windsor, Cardiff or Edinburgh. These are still pretty much intact. This one however dates from the 11th century is nowt but a ruin. However, it is pretty impressive, sitting upon the earthworks, dried up moats and rampart. parking the bikes we look up at the walls and are taunted by some French soldiers. History oozes from every stone. Close your eyes and you can hear serfs cleaning the floors, feeding the pigs and dying early from malnutrition and syphilis. Keep them closed and you can hear the Lord exercising his ‘droit de signeuer’ with the latest available, but unwilling, virgin brides. There is a some medieval graffiti on one wall. Simply says ‘Help, we are ruled by a madman’ but in Latin: ‘Aidorum, Nos est Regularum ab Lunitacus Illigitimus’  It was conditions like this that provided the inspiration for Marx’s ‘Communist Manifesto’.  Such Castles probably prevented the peasants uprising by working them to death, keeping them ignorant and feeding them fetid turnips. 

And that is why there are turnips/swedes are in Cornish pasties. They are there to remind you of your place in the social hierarchy. The present queen keeps pictures of Castles and Turnips in her favourite privy in Windsor as an historical comfort should Jeremy Corbyn become Prime Minister.  

Castle Acre also has a ruined Priory, courtesy of ‘our ‘enry’ no doubt. The monks are long gone but their recipes for beer and mead live on, the results of which can be seen on any Glasgow street at night. Many a young lady has lost her virginity, and many a fight in backstreet pubs across the land, can give thanks to the dedication of the Christian soldiers of the past who never stinted in going onward in their quest for brewing a drink to lose your mind to. The three of us, however, turn a blind eye to the hideous past of Castle Acre as we cycle past its only pub ‘The Ostrich’. This is an unusual name for a pub in this part of the world as to my knowledge there are few flightless birds indigenous to this region. I would have thought a better name for village pub out in the wilds of the Fens would be something like ‘The Sheep and Shagger’. Its pub sign would have to be carefully designed so as not to offend the local vicar with its depictions of an indifferent ewe being held by a cross eyed and furrowed browed bovine enthusiast son of the soil. 

The final stretch proved delightful if uneventful. 

The most exciting part was stopping for 5 minutes and watching potatoes being picked in a field. 

The industrial scale of the machinery has to be seen to be believed. In days of yore no doubt a thousand farm labourers would stoop and pick by hand each lovely spud and place it carefully in a wicker basket. They would carefully brush off the dirt and look for blemishes as they went. They would be paid in cider and wenches at the end of the day in the village pub, where they would pass many a happy hour growling and muttering in what passes for the local dialect. The Squire would pop in to the “Thirsty Ferret” at the end of the potato picking season and raise a glass of port to the study yeomen who make him rich by his taking the surplus value from their labour. Oh how they laughed and japed in their bucolic poverty not knowing that elsewhere townsfolk could enjoy hot tea, a log fire and sanity. Here however, ‘rural idiocy’ abounded due to the hard work and the diet of raw potato and worms, their lives made bearable by the beer. 

Today, tractors the size of Panzer tanks pull alongside massive machines that made all of these workers unemployed and stupid. Now all that left is for erstwhile labourers to make the trek to Norwich to cheer on a football team whose enthusiasm is in inverse proportion to their skill. 

The circular ride over, we scoff the three ‘pasties’ before setting off to Norwich for the night. 

  

 

Cycling back to fitness

Mont Ventoux

Tommy Simpson rests on Mont Ventoux. The cyclist died (on my birthday – 13th July) while attempting this stage of the Tour de France in 1967. One passes his memorial on the way to the top with only 1 kilometre to go. This fact became particularly salient as I passed it while experiencing chest pain on 29th July 2017.

After a further 500 meters, I had to stop due to the chest pain. Sitting astride the cross bar, gasping for breath, I could look up and see the weather station at the summit which was a mere 500 meters away, including a hairpin bend with a 20% ramp. I had completed this ascent just the day before and so I knew what I was up against. My friend, Sean, was already up at the top no doubt enjoying the views. We had already cycled from Chartres down to the Alps (via Alpe D’Huez, Izouard and Galibier) and therefore had quite some miles in our legs. After about 10 minutes, I cracked on to the summit.

Angina. Chest pain. When coronary arteries become ‘clogged up’ they no longer can deliver enough blood to the heart itself when demand rises for oxygen during exercise. A complete blockage will bring on a heart attack as blood flow becomes occluded resulting in cell death. Angina can be a precursor, a warning, if you like that something is wrong with your heart. Being told by your GP that you might have had a heart attack and being prescribed drugs to address the issue, is a life changer. In my case, scans revealed the extent of the occlusions which meant that I needed an angioplasty with the insertion of a stent to improve blood flow to the heart.

Now I am in need of returning to fitness after a 7 month rest from cycling. This time however, the challenge is very different given the new medical condition. Few of you reading this will be in the same position as I am. You hopefully do not have a heart condition. Before I comment on getting back to fitness, i need to outline the medical bit just so that you are aware so as not to make false comparisons. I am 59, now overweight coming in at 12st 6lbs. I need to take the following for the heart: Clopidogrel (only for 12 months following the angio as a blood thinner), Aspirin (same but now for life), Bisoprolol and Ramipril (to slow the heart and reduce blood pressure) and finally a statin to reduce cholesterol. My resting heart rate is 50, and my blood pressure has been reduced to about 125-75.

The challenge is training using heart rate zones. Normally we can estimate my maximum and threshold heart rate to set up a training plan using something like training peaks.com. Grant (Cycle for Fitness) provides these structured plans using training peaks. A problem is that my heart rate zones have been reduced by 30 bpm by the the NHS’s cardiac rehabilitation team due to the medication I am taking. My new zones are 64-101!   This in practice results in a very very slow regime of exercise. You might already know what level of movement will take your heart up to 80-90. believe me, it is not much.

I am now finding cycling to those zones to be a nonsense. It is for me a non starter as far as training goes. The plan now is to complete the 8 week very gentle exercise regime given to me by the medical team before I make plans to whizz up Mont Ventoux.

A lesson here is that we should not under estimate what having coronary artery disease is, the effect of having a stent inserted, the effects of the drugs and the time it will take to recover. I have heard stories of bravado – men rushing back to work only to find fatigue setting in. Honestly, just don’t do it.

At one point in January, before I had seen the cardiac team to set down new heart rate zones, I thought I’d go for a cycle. Feeling great along the flat, I pushed the heart rate up to 135-140. I suddenly felt dizzy and had to stop for 10 minutes. Knowing now that my new upper limit should only be 101, it is not surprising that I felt ‘off’. I have had 1 more episode of dizziness while merely sat at the table.

So, for all you macho types that want to blast away getting fit again..great. Just don’t rush it. Discuss this first with your cardiac rehab team…then access Cycle for fitness to co create a training plan right for you but you must do this with your medical team.

Having a stent, an angioplasty, is not the end of your life on a bike. Well, I hope so because I have plans to return to France. First, I have to lose the weight gained and get fitter. I’ll be posting progress.

 

 

The last French Post.

Penultimate, next to the last, the one before, nearly.

I have built this up in my head to be a big one, a long hard day in the saddle not so much because of the distance but because of the elevation to climb. Rosporden to Landernau is 89 miles and over 6500 feet climbing. That is like climbing 10 Carn Breas without a pasty. Landernau to Roscoff is only 39 miles. Piece of cake. As it turned out 89 miles is no problem. We are hard.

We arrive finally in Roscoff having completed about 1600 kms of cycling. No one died.

The hotel is a four star spa hotel and well worth it. We have been upgraded to a ‘suite’, complete with sauna, massage and other stuff. The staff are very helpful, as have the majority of the people we have met here. Today has been relaxing with wine, food and more wine. In fact it is probably fair to say that we have enjoyed the hospitality that France has to offer to the maximum. We are now being comforted with what we call a ‘nightcap’ but the French call a ‘derniere pour les autres’ which means the ‘last before others’. This difference seems to really differentiate the Anglo Saxon from the Gallic. ‘Night cap’ has a finality about it, a sort of puritanical end point which says ‘this far and no further’, whereas the gallic ‘derniere pour les autres’ invokes the feeling that , yes this is tonights last one, but by jimminy there will be more’. Vive La France!

Dear reader, I would very much like to entertain you with tales of derring do, but the sea air of Roscoff do overcome me with with ‘ennui’ and other abstract french concepts. Not only that, there are weird sounds that resemble dogs being interfered with.

Tonights dinner involved Moules, a fish I’ve no idea were it came from, and four fromages. It was necessary to drink two demi bottles of Pouilly Fouisse and then some. I think it it best if I finish now for fear of incoherence, bonhomie or immanent arrest.

Thank you all for bothering to read such drivel.

A Bientot.

Day 12 Rennes to Vannes

Nothing happened in Rennes.

Nada.

Nowt.

Well, if it did we were not there to see, hear or touch it. This was because we decided to stay at the hotel rather than tramp into town, pretty though it is.

A lovely warm evening calls for a lovely cold beer, served by the lovely hotel receptionist/barstaff/problem solver/breakfast preparer. Lets call her ‘fifi trixie-belle’ which is as good a name as any save ‘Bert’. Fifi looks about 17 and I wonder what she is doing working here. She should still be in school. Many of the hotels seem to run on just one or two staff who do everything (apart from Thai massage and kitten fluffing). Fifi is no exception. Her english is pretty non existent and so my french had to suffice, and it is good enough now not to need hand signals, a book or an emergency call to the British Consulate to get me released from jail. She is a size 10, wearing a burgundy blouse, a figure hugging black skirt and has the eyes of Catherine Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. She also has the teeth of a dog eating breakfast in a dumpster. I did not notice, but Sean did. I think he may have overstated the case.

That was as good as Rennes got for us, except of course for dinner.
We set off the next morning for Vannes, another 72 miles away on the south coast of Brittany. Another blue sky greeted us, with temperatures set to ‘very comfortable’ rather than ‘mad dogs and englishmen’ of the past days. There is a boulangerie (isn’t there always) beside the hotel so we stock up and go.

Lunchtime finds a bar/restaurant rather than just a bar/tabac open. So, and for just 11 euros, we have salade nicoise/assiete of meat for starters then a steak frites. We passed on the desserts but it was all inclusive. Great value, good food. We sit outside on the terrace in warm shade. Food is of course very important as it is easy to get ‘bonking’ on a bicycle. Its that sinking, weak low energy feeling that results in cycling through treacle. We have found the heat to be especially sapping of energy. Lunch is thus very welcome, in addition to packing our daily baguette, bananas and sweets.

As this is Brittany, the country resembles Devon and Cornwall. This means hills rather than beaches, moorland and questionable locals. As we are inland there are no short sharp steep bastards like Portreath or Porthtowan. There are however long ascents that creep up on you like a paedo in a darkened cinema, if you know what I mean, kind of unexpected. The last 20-30 miles today began those hills in earnest, and despite lunch we were very near to bonking before we got to Vannes. I might have said some rude words at some hills and slopes given the energy required and energy available ratio getting really low. Sean was quiet which is always a sign of trouble up Mill.

Fortunately, Vannes has a rest day planned for tomorrow to enable us to take stock, let chalfonts settle and prepare for the last push to the north coast. We have 61 miles to Rosporden, 88 to Landernau and 31 to Roscoff, For now, there is a cold beer waiting for me at the bar.

a Bientot.

Day 11 Champtoceaux to Rennes

Cockerels crowing at daybreak. About 3 at least. Daybreak is of course about 5:30.

The hotel window is open, the shutters drawn halfway up, the town sleeps. The view from the third floor bedroom window looks over red pantile roofs, making this scene more like Spain than France. I can see house martins below us darting under eaves to their nests, I can’t see any chickens. This is before bedtime. We have dinner and stroll to take in the panoramic view of the Loire. There are swifts, swallows and martins, we have seen bats, but no chickens. A nightcap of a Talisker and a Balvenie see us off to bed. All is quiet. The town clock chimes its bell in the stillness. No rowdy drunks, no sirens and no chickens.

Until about 5:30.

Neither of us can be arsed to get out of bed and close the window. So we both are half awake listening to cockerels. Nothing else, just a few Colonel Sanders volunteers if I had my way. They sound the same in England as they do in France; evoking the countryside like clean air, tractors and dung. Knowing the behavior pattern of the male chicken in the vicinity of a female chicken, each crow actually means “whose next for a damn good seeing to?”. Well this is France, and I guess if a French Cock can’t give french cock there is no justice in the world.

Sleep, however, would be nice.

Undaunted we are up for breakfast at 8 and leave the Loire for Rennes, 70 miles away.

At this stage we are both feeling the weight of the demands made upon us. We are both carrying ‘minor’ ailments onto the road. Both bikes are fine. No more spoke or chain issues.

There is often a time during any long challenge, be it hill walking, cycling or pasty eating, when for a fleeting moment the thought occurs that the endeavour is a bit much. Day after day of the same routine while at the same time any bodily niggles get amplified because there is no rest, no time for the body to repair or recover, no recuperation or respite. Scott at the south pole probably thought “bollocks to this” but a bit late in the day, Nelson may have thought “cant be arsed” the day before Trafalgar and David Beckham, thinking he’d shagged Ginger Spice before waking up with Posh, thought “is this really worth it?” But we are all British and we just get on with it. No fannying about, JFDI.

We stopped halfway at Chateaubriant for food, lots of it, and a chilled coke. Chalfonts had cooled down from ‘fiery’ to merely ‘spicy’ while Sean’s old shoulder injury required some medication. As is often noted (by old farts) that youth is wasted on the young. Well, it is. The bastards. when was the last time you heard a teenager complaining of chalfonts or sore joints? Yes they moan about having no money, freedom or “justice in the world” but they don’t go on about bits of the body not working. I would trade worries about spots, haircuts and being caught wanking for bodily malfunctions any day.

We hit some super fine tarmac after a town called Janve. It is as smooth and as black as a snooker ball or the charred testicles of an Isis suicide bomber. On surfaces like this the bike goes quiet, just the gentle roll of tyre on road and swish of chain on cog. It becomes Zen* like. Even the road kill looks glad to be there.

We reach Rennes in good time to shower, cold beer and a dinner including oysters and foie gras, accompanied by a Muscadet sur Lie. Life is hard.

Vivre La France. So why are those at Calais trying to get across the channel? Have they not seen Dover on a cold grey January morning? If the Daily Mail is to be believed, all they will get upon setting foot in the UK is a hefty dose of racism served up alongside deportation.

Another 70 miles tomorrow to the seaside town of Vannes on the south coast of Brittany before a rest day. There is then an 89 miler up to Rosporden and then the last day to Roscoff of 46 miles.

A beintot!

*pseuds corner

Day 10 Saumur to Chamtoceaux

We are still following the Loire as it slowly flows towards the Atlantic. It is a wide shallow river flowing over many gravel banks of yellow and white chalk or sandstone. We joined it at Orleans 3 days and 270 miles away. Sunshine all the way, in our faces, as has been the wind. It has been a steady headwind of about 20 miles an hour. French weather forecasts put it at 50 kph. Try pointing a hairdryer at your face for three days, while also getting the ambient air temperature up to between 30 and 43 degrees. We have forgotten what a tail wind feels like. The good news is that in this wind a cyclist’s fart reaches Paris way to the east long before the sound of it reaches the cyclist’s ears.

From Saumur there are small roads that hug the riverbank which we follow for about 10 miles. The river flows almost exactly from East to West and is flanked on its southern bank by rocky escarpments all the way. Vantage points allow a view across the the flat north bank while the rock on the south provide for many caves for storing wine. This is of course wine country, the many vineyards sitting on the southern hill and slopes. At one point we pass a cave called La Herpiniere selling sauvignon blanc. I know this because Ann and I visited here a few years ago. We still have the wine glasses. The wine itself is long gone. Whites predominate but we also pass through Anjou where a half decent rose can be found.

We make steady progress towards lunchtime exchanging the occasional bonjour with passing cyclists. The day is getting hotter, we are drinking plenty of fluids but need to stop for food. The small towns seem uninterested in playing any role as a victualing station as time after time we find whole streets closed. With blood sugars getting low we reach a road that starts winding up a hill more than usual. The D751 from Saumur uses the southern bank and thus hits the escarpment from east to west. The result is a series of undulations and mini hills through the villages and towns. Very scenic, quite tiring. At a panoramic viewpoint we decide the stop and eat what remains of this morning’s baguette. It is hot, we sit in the open air under a baking sun. The view across the northern bank extends for miles as we are high above the river. Time came to move on to try and find some food. The road continues to climb and bend. We’d got no further than a few meters when we saw a restaurant with an ‘open’ sign. So, all the while when we’d been eating a bit of bread and cheese in the heat, just above us on the road was a terrace restaurant complete with sunshade. On seeing the sign we both burst out laughing, if only we had kept going just a few more meters.The sting however was that chef had just stopped cooking and so no more food orders were being taken. Instead of a decent meal, we sipped ice cold coke in the shade while the staff had their freshly cooked lunch.

We cycle for another 16 kms until we reach a town that is open, sort of. Bar Tabacs might not serve food but they will allow you to eat what you bring. We find a boulangerie, buy the necessaries and sit in the shade at the Bar Tabac on the main street in Challones sur Loire. There are a few french loiterers, but otherwise any noises people might make are drowned by the tumble weed blowing down the street. Rural France is never open it seems, it is peace, heaven, unless you want something to eat apart from a baguette from a boulangerie.

We’ve been on the road for 10 days and covered at least 1000 kms. It is a challenge, make no mistake and personally the biggest problem is chalfonts. It is a constant battle to prevent a full blown crisis down there. Yesterday’s taxi was result of losing the battle temporarily. If you ever think of long distance cycling and even think about chalfonts being a problem then just get them sorted. Creams, a blow torch, pliers, it does not matter what you apply, just make it affective.

The last 30 miles was through the heat of the day, sapping energy and judgement. The views continue to be stunning. We finally reach our destination but at mile 70 the road decides to go into a series of uphill hairpins. We discover why later at the hotel. The town is an ancient fortress and thus is built at the top of a big hill overlooking the river and surrounding environs. There is a viewpoint just a few meters from the hotel. The Loire is silver in the evening sun which is setting while casting pinks, reds and oranges up to the clouds above. the viewpoint is atop a rocky escarpment probably 400 feet up. Way down in the valley on the northern bank runs the TGV to Nantes. words fail. we’ve just had dinner and a half bottle of Muscadet sur Lie and a nightcap of proper malt whisky. It could only get better if Ann were here.

Tomorrow is another 70 miles north to Rennes.

You just have to love France.

a bientot!

Day 8 Blois to Saumur

Another number for you.

650.

This refers to the price of a rental, in euros, from Amboise to Saumur (a distance of about 50 miles) by Europcar. Or as it should be called “Euroshaftyourarse”.

The day started well in warm sunny Blois as we found a fantastic bike shop. We really went to town on this one. Sean bought a new chain and a pair of Ortlieb Panniers and eyewear. I got my back brakes fixed and bought a new front wheel, two new drinking bottles and cycling shorts.

The two chaps in the shop were brilliant, all was ‘avec plaisir’, they just got on with doing the necessary work without an appointment. Watching the mechanic fix the brakes was a wonder and demonstrated why we could not have possibly done it at the roadside. It required zen and the art of bicycle maintenance, coffee strong enough to stop your heart, and a certain ‘je ne sais qoi’. the shop is called ‘Detours de Loire’ and is another fine example of a true service business that really adds value to us all, unlike the c*nts that work in finance. By 1200 we were ready to roll and faced a 92 mile stage to Saumur. It was going to be a long day. In preparation we stuffed our faces with jambon et Emmental baguette and packed a chorizo quiche, there being no pasties in France.

The route again follows La Loire, which is one of the finest rivers in Europe, so a bit like the Tamar but without Devon. The Loire is a wide but shallow river flowing over chalk and clay beds, and as we crossed many bridges we could easily look down upon large fish swimming lazily upstream among the weed beds. The water is crystal clear and shimmers in the daytime sun. This is still very flat land and so the cycling is a dream. The river is home to shallow draft sailing boats used for fishing and generally mucking about. The sky again is blue but without the blast furnace heat of yesterday.

The day is generally uneventful until we get to Amboise. This is a delightfully pretty riverside town complete with medieval street plan, eglise and chateau. There really is nothing wrong with Amboise. We indeed have a good lunch there. It is not until we have to leave that things turn. I refer the dear reader to ‘Chalfonts’, the scourge of every free born cornishman. Without going into graphic detail, just imagine having to perform what is, for some, a daily ritual. For me, this is turning into a thrice daily ritual that includes the pain of lucifer’s three pronged fork being poked wickedly, and with vicious targeted skill, into an area of the body that only proctologists are normally interested in. Think of the baby eating Bishop of Bath and Wells and his sword and Blackadder’s failure to repay his loan, think of red hot chilli peppers the morning after, think about white hot pokers and the damage they can do to orifices. Such was half the discomfort I felt after completing daily ritual number three at Amboise. I was not looking forward to getting back on the bike equipped as it is with a saddle as narrow as a Puritan’s mind and as sharp as a newly forged razor.

After about 2 kms of standing in the pedals and with over 70 miles to go, we decide that this is just not going to be feasible. We turn back to Amboise with the express intention of hiring a vehicle. A very nice lady called Emilie in the Renault garage referred us to Europcar rentals. We decide that sean should go ahead on his own while I rent a car. Plan A is to meet at Villandry, a very small village to the west of Tours. As sean heads off with a map, we realise that I have his wallet, passport, food and the name and address of the Hotel we are staying in tonight. If we do not meet in Villandry we are f*cked. neither of us has a working mobile phone. Do not underestimate the value of a working mobile phone. Ever.

I have to cycle another 3 kms standing in the pedals to find the europcar rental office, only to be greeted with bemused ignorance as they do not have have a car available. The ‘ring of fire’ meanwhile is doing its best Vesuvius impersonation at Pompeii. This is when I find out that 650 euros will be the cost of getting my sorry arse to Saumur. So instead we call a taxi and 100 euros later I’m at the rendezvous at Villandry but without being able to call sean who is still without money, food and water. I fire up the ipad, connect to wifi and put out a call to those who might have his number. I know that he will connect to wifi at some point and will be at Villandry. I’m only there for about 10 minutes when Sean appears having helped someone with a puncture and having negotiating Tours. My chalfonts at this stage have relented and so I decide to cycle the 45 miles to Saumur. All is well.

It would be boring to yet again describe the valley of the Loire, its chateaux, willow trees, the bridges over the rivers Indre and Char, its sweeping empty roads and the setting orange light of the sun, but its all true. We make good progress into Saumur, a riverside town dominated by its chateaux in cream coloured sandstone and finally end up meeting two french rugby players called Francois (an English teacher) and Fabian (who makes wine) at a bar. We eat and drink too much thanks to their hospitality.

It is now very late and I need sleep.

A Bientot!

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