Upgrading the Brampton Valley Way cycle path

I was out for a bike ride this morning and took the opportunity to look at and photograph the improvements to the Brampton Valley Way cycle path (where it crosses the A5099 near The Windhover).  I’ve written text and photos on the blog I maintain for CTC Northampton here:

Upgrading the Brampton Valley Way cycle path.

Hedge laying – an update

You may remember that I noted earlier this month an impromptu lecture by John Cutler on the subject of hedge laying (when we were riding home from New Year’s Lunch at the Sibbertoft Reading Room.

And it’s hedge laying, not “layering”.

Well, John has shown he is not just an authority on hedges but a skilled craftsman.  I was out cycling this morning and stopped to admire the hedge that he is laying at the boundary of his property in the village of Chapel Brampton.  This is impressive!

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Well done, John!

Pump and Circumstance – Edward Elgar and Cycling

It’s a terrible pun but “Pump and Circumstance” turns out to be a very good radio programme about Edward Elgar’s love of the bicycle.

I’d known for a long time about the composer’s enthusiasm for cycling.  There’s a well-known photograph:

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which seems to emphasise his love of his bicycle rather than his love for his wife – with Alice placed well behind the gate to the Elgars’ house in Great Malvern, Worcestershire.

I’d also known of Elgar’s enthusiasm for football.  He was a great supporter of Wolverhampton Wanderers. In fact, he regularly cycled to see their home matches at Molyneux, a round trip of ninety miles or so.

Those two enthusiasms I had used as pegs to introduce his music to students in school assemblies in 2007 to mark the 150th anniversary of Elgar’s birth.  And the fact that he married one of his pupils – against her family’s wishes – which added a frisson to the tale.

BBC Radio 3 broadcaster, Andrew McGregor, and Elgar scholar, Dr Kate Kennedy, presented a programme about Elgar and cycling in a “Twenty Minutes” slot (the “interval” slot when Radio 3 broadcasts a live concert) last week.  Naturally they were photographed outside the Elgars’ house:

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The BBC wrote that, “Andrew McGregor takes to the saddle, riding in the tyre tracks of Edward Elgar to explore the role of cycling in Edwardian England and how the composer’s own relationship with his bicycle influenced his music.”

“Twenty Minutes” isn’t limited to the usual seven days’ availability on the BBC i-Player.  It seems it will be available for a year or more here.  Well worth a listen!

Ride to the Northampton & District Cycling Association Lunch

Colder today.  More like real January.  Left starting until the latest possible time to give any frost and ice time to disappear from the roads.  Just twenty-five miles out-and-return to Wollaston – to the 77th Annual Dinner of the Northampton & District Cycling Association.  Route here.

Usual fascinating venue – the Commonwealth Centre at Scott Bader.  This is a multinational company which is an independent common trusteeship.  Hence, common wealth.  Information here.

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Yes, you can just see the bikes!  About seventy of us enjoying lunch.

I left before the speeches/presentations/raffle as I wanted to make sure I got home in the light and before the roads froze.

They don’t make rims like they used to!

Well, that’s not quite true.  This rim lasted 17 years of heavy braking usage on an off-road bike – until last Thursday.

First the bike: I bought this Saracen Tufftrax in 1995.  Not quite their top-of-the-range model but quite close to state-of-the-art!

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No, they didn’t have suspension systems as regular then.  And I still feel it’s one more thing to go wrong.  This bike has been all over the Peak District, the Lake District, Exmoor and the Brecon Beacons.

Then, last Thursday, descending to the Brampton Valley Way quite near my house, I put the brakes on and, afterwards, the bike didn’t seem to want to move.  Interesting!

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I understand now that one isn’t supposed to let rims achieve a concave profile!  I pushed the bike home and only then did air slowly escape from the tyre.  The lovely people at Pitsford Cycles (I used to teach the young mechanic) put me right!

The Woman Who Shot Mussolini

I’ve been interested in photographing graveyards, graves and memorials for some time now.  So, inspired by a question in this blog, this post is about a local grave – at the bottom of my street – and not about cycling at all.

Violet Gibson is known as “the woman who shot Mussolini”

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In 1926, Violet Gibson – from a well-to-do Anglo-Irish family – travelled to Italy, stayed in a convent in Rome, and one morning packed a small revolver into her handbag. She went to a public appearance of Benito Mussolini, drew her revolver and shot at Il Duce at point-blank range.  She missed!  The bullet grazed the bridge of his nose.  Mussolini kept his nose bandaged for months and fascist propaganda photographs hailed him as a superman.

How did she end up being buried in a Northampton cemetery thirty years later?  Well, after the media fuss in Italy died down, she was returned to Britain under the pretext that she was mentally ill and she spent the rest of her life, pretty much alone, in St Andrew’s Hospital here in this town.  (St Andrew’s had other interesting patients such as John Clare, the nineteenth-century poet, and Lucia Joyce, the daughter of James Joyce.) Hence, on her death, she received a simple burial in Kingsthorpe Cemetery.

I’ve often wondered about the comma and the full-stop in her inscription.

I’m very grateful to Peter Mulligan, a local historian of all things Irish in Northampton (and much else besides) for pointing out her grave to me in 2009.  I was a history teacher and had taught Fascist Italy at school; I knew all about the 1926 incident; I’d never realised Violet Gibson had a local grave.

In 2010, Frances Stonor Saunders published “The Woman Who Shot Mussolini” about Violet Gibson if you would like to read more.  The Amazon page for the book is here.

Ride to New Year’s Lunch at Sibbertoft Village Reading Room

There!  I knew that headline would grab your attention!

Although I didn’t do much personal blogging of my bike rides in 2012, I did post almost 100 items into the blog I maintain for CTC Northampton.  Having written today at this sister blog, I’m thinking I would share my words and photos here!

I enjoyed a splendid first ride of the year with CTC Northampton.  Five of us met at the Brampton Valley Way in damp but mild conditions for a ride led by Bill.  Having wished each other a Happy New Year, we went at a brisk but comfortable past north on the A5199 to Creaton and then onto country lanes through Naseby and Clipston before joining the A508 just south of Great Oxendon.  We soon entered the Waterloo Farm café and met up with Max and our friends from CTC Kettering.

After refreshment – bacon sandwiches went down a treat – there were only five more miles to Sibbertoft where an excellent welcome awaited us not only from our CTC Leicestershire friends but also from the ladies of the parish church committee!  This was the annual New Year’s Lunch in the Sibbertoft Village Reading Room.

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This room was erected before the First World War by the local lady of the manor, Elizabeth Mansel of Sulby, in memory of her brothers who were officers in the HIghland Light Infantry and the Durham Light Infantry.  (Sulby Hall was demolished over sixty years ago but the name lives on for students of the English Civil War – the parliamentary dragoons hid behind Sulby Hedges at the start of the Battle of Naseby in 1644 to emerge at a crucial point in the battle.)

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Today her reading room was set out with tables for fifty cyclists to be served lunch by the ladies who are responsible for Sunday afternoon teas in the summer. Brilliant: shepherd’s pie, apple crumble and tea/coffee.  And seconds, too!

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After a lovely lunch, it was a pleasure to cycle home.  Bill led us via Naseby and Cottesbrooke to Brixwoth (and the A508 south to Northampton) but by different lanes so that we completed a figure of eight.  Route here.

And there was a final treat of the day.  At an extensive hedge being layed at the edge of the Cottesbrooke estate we stopped and John gave us an extempore lecture on the craft of hedge laying.  The hedge we studied was typical of the “South Midlands style” and was clearly “bullock-proof”.  We could easily see its advantages over an adjacent hedge which had merely been strimmed.

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Big thanks to Bill for sorting out our route, to Max for reminding us about the event, to the CTC Leicestershire committee for the organisation, and to the Sibbertoft parish ladies for their hospitality!  Splendid!!