A splendid day riding a Brompton in Herefordshire

Just over a week ago, I had a lovely day out in Herefordshire, attracted by The Folding Society‘s “Origami Ride” for July.

An early start saw me pedal to Northampton railway station for the ticket office to open at 6.00 a.m.  Why not use the ticket machines as I normally do?  I wanted a “West Midlands Day Ranger” – travel anywhere in the West Midlands for a day for £14.50 (Railcard price); I bet you didn’t know that both Northampton and Hereford are in the “West Midlands”!  Anyway, it’s cheaper than buying a Northampton-to-Hereford off-peak day return.

At that time of the morning, the trains were very quiet, both from Northampton to Birmingham New Street and then from New Street to Hereford.

Hereford railway station is just to the north of the city centre – the right direction for Leominster – and a quick climb of Aylestone Hill brings you to lovely country roads.  Quiet again on a Saturday morning and still quite cool during this heatwave, the route I’d planned took me through Sutton St Nicholas and Bodenham.  Two hundred yards on the A49 and then a B road in Leominster.

I’d only cycled once before in Leominster – during my Land’s End to John O’Groats trip in 2010 when I stayed at Leominster Youth Hostel behind the Abbey.  This time I met up with the Folding Society at Savery’s Café on Broad Street.  As ever, FoldSoc members are very socialble indeed and, as we chatted over coffee and cake, we had to be reminded that we were there for a bike ride!

Local riders chatted about cycling in Herefordshire and, not too far away, in The Malverns – with an Elgar cycling route – so that’s been added to my “must do” list.  In Kingsland we missed a turn because the leader and I were deep in conversation but we were soon at Shobden  and its airfield where a converted WWII Nissen hut was to be our lunchtime café.  I enjoyed the draught cider which was nice and cold on the hottest day of the year so far!  Not quite up to Normandy cider though!

After Shobden, it wasn’t far to Eardisland and a quirky village tea room run from the proprietors’ house – we sat under the shade of trees in their back garden.  The shortest leg of the day was back from Eardisland to Leominster.

After quick good-byes to my friends, I pedalled back the way I had come to Hereford.  It was hot but my Brompton moved quickly and it felt great.  I went past the railway station and into the city centre to look at the Cathedral.

At the west door of Hereford Cathedral

At the west door of Hereford Cathedral

The trains were as pleasant on the return journey as they had been in the morning and by the time I pedalled home from Northampton railway station it was just about nine o’clock in the evening.

A splendid day out!  Fifty-five miles pedalled on the Brompton.  A map of the route in Herefordshire here.

The Fridays in Normandy – Wednesday ride report

To St-Vaast-la-Hogue (elevenses), Barfleur (lunch) and the Phare-de-Gatteville

The eagle-eyed and sharp-witted will see that elevenses and lunch were swopped around from Sunday’s ride.  But we took quite a different route (and, of course, different eateries) for this ride around the north-east coast of the Cotentin peninsula.

We gîtists pedalled over to the château to meet up with the big group – and, before one or two members left early, a group photo at the front of the chateau.IMGP6233The sun was bright, the lanes were lovely and traffic-free.  A stop in St-Vaast for coffee and bakeries and then two stops in Barfleur, the first for a light beer and cider aperitif; the second for moules crême with more cider.IMGP6239Then we went to the lighthouse at Gatteville – the second highest lighthouse in Europe.  Unlike the white Stevenson lighthouses for the Northern Lights, French lighthouses turn out to be grey.  It’s a popular outing for the locals and they, and all the drivers on the little lane to the lighthouse, were astonishingly polite.IMGP6240We then went up a corker of hill (the coastline is difficult and bumpy at this point), decided we needn’t do any shopping in Cherbourg and looked for a quiet way back to Brix.   Tiny lanes, huge bulldozers and a little girl on a pink tricycle – who overtook us shortly after we had overtaken her!

My room-mate Charlie was on cooking duty this evening and made a lovely spicy Moroccan vegetarian dish based on chick-peas.  More beer, cider and wine were drunk.  A wonderful day!

Route here.  Mileage for the day = 55.  Cumulative mileage = 284.

Cycling touring with T S Eliot

I break off from the accounts of The Fridays in Normandy to tell you about yesterday’s Audax from Oundle (Northamptonshire).

Organised by Richard Daniells on behalf of CTC Northamptonshire & Milton Keynes – and within the rules of Audax UK – this was a 100k event starting and finishing at the Joan Strong Centre in Oundle.  I was bang on time with my preparations for the start  and so didn’t have any spare time to count the number of participants, let alone say hello!

Riders were responsible for finding their own way, following a detailed route sheet.  Naturally, everything looks better in good sunshine but the route was actually delightful.  And the instructions were very accurate.  To ensure the route is followed there was one manned control (at Grafham Water) and three information controls – where you answer a simple question based on observation at  junctions.  It’s not a race; it’s a tour within certain time limits.  Today, the time limits were to complete the route between 3 hours 22 minutes and 8 hours 5 minutes.  No racing, no places, just touring.

The first part took riders out from Oundle to Grafham Water, going east and south.  There was an early information control at Lutton less than 10k from the start and by that time riders were well spaced out.

Then the high point for me of the route: pedalling through Little Gidding, the hamlet that gives its name to the title of the fourth of T S Eliot’s great last set of poetry, “Four Quartets”.IMAG0317 And there was the smallest of boards advertising an Eliot Festival over the weekend, presumably at the house associated with the seventeenth-century Anglican community established by Nicholas Ferrar.  It must have been cycle touring through the hamlet, on a journey from Oundle, that inspired Thomas Stearns Eliot to write (“Little Gidding”, section 1, lines 21-23):

If you came this way,
Taking the route you would be likely to take
From the place you would be likely to come from …

Anyway, it wasn’t long and I was at Grafham Water, meeting up with friendly faces and enjoying beans on toast to propel me through the second half of the ride, west and north back to Oundle.  Two information controls on this part – the first just before Keysoe and the second in Riseley – before joining the River Nene at Aldwincle and cycling that lovely part back to Oundle.

Which of course inspired the poet to write (“Little Gidding”, section 5, lines 1-3)

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.

The poem culminates of course with the motto of the cycle tourist (“Little Gidding”, section 5, lines 26-29)

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

A great day out!  You can find my route here.  I completed the route, including my refreshment stop at Grafham Water in 5 hours 15 minutes.  The time on the bike was 4 hours 22 minutes.

The Fridays in Normandy – Tuesday ride report

To Quineville (elevenses), Carentan (lunch), Volognes (aperatif) and Ruffoses (dinner).  The day also took in Utah Beach and the Orglandes German war cemetery.

From the summary above, you’ll see that this was a long and pleasant day!  We gîtists made an early start and, by the time we got to the château, everyone was ready to roll.

The start of the day

The start of the day

The opening ride was delightful, through hedged lanes, going east to the coast and Quineville – with a lovely coffee stop.

Next we rolled south along the coast, perhaps the only flat part of the Cotentin peninsula and where the American forces had landed on D-Day.  We spotted the Îles St Marcouf, the first part of France which they liberated, at about 4.30 a.m. on 6th June 1944.

That's the Îles on the horizon!

That’s the Îles on the horizon!

We stopped at the monument that commemorates the landing of General Leclerc’s 2nd Armoured Division – the Free French forces – at the beginning of August.

The Fridays on Utah Beach

The Fridays on Utah Beach

We passed the Utha Beach museum.  Although suitable sombre, this whetted the appetite for another visit later in the week.

Lunch was in the pleasant seaside town of Carentan.  Pâté, steak haché in a camembert sauce, and a cheese plate.  My choice too cheesy, you say?  Well, I was in Normandy!

Lunch in Carentin

Lunch in Carentin

After lunch we were on and up away from the coast.  We stopped at Orglandes German war cemetery, where over 10,000 German soldiers are buried from the Battle of Normandy in 1944.  Quiet and moving.IMGP6224Cider and calvados at Valognes again!  This time only the three hardened drinkers: Olaf, Gordon and myself.

Suitably fuelled and in lovely sunshine, the short climb from Volognes to Ruffoses was a delight and, far from being late, we were the first to arrive at “Chez Cri-Cri” for the first of our group dinners!  Sliced meats for starters, beef for mains, a huge cheese plate, and a crême brulée – washed down with copious amounts of beer, cider, red wine and calvados.  If I may quote Martin: “Last night at Chez Cri-Cri was epic.  Noise.  Huge portions.  Vast amounts of red falling-over juice.  Industrial quantities of Cidre.  Four courses.  €22.50 each.  No wonder we’re going back on Thursday night.  Oh and it is downhill on the way there and downhill on the way back.”IMGP6231


Route here.  Mileage for the day = 77.  Cumulative mileage = 229.

The Fridays in Normandy – Monday ride report

To Carteret (elevenses), Briquebec (lunch) and Brix (aperatif)

We left the gîte nice and early to meet the main group in the Place Robert Bruce in Brix.  It turns out that an ancestor of Robert the Bruce was from Brix and had crossed with the Conqueror; Robert de Brix had become Robert the Bruce.IMGP6175

Martin’s CycleChat account of the day is a classic:

“Another absolutely stonking day.  Thanks to the Weather God that overlooks and protects all outings by The Fridays there was no need to don waterproofs at all.  A tailwind blew us to the coast and we turned left, across the traffic, with no real problem apart from a nice lady in a campervan needing to be told to stop, and whizzed southwards.

The coast cannot be far!

The coast cannot be far!

An excellent coffee stop saw lots of hot blooded chaps queuing in the boulangerie in the hope that all such places are staffed by beauties such as we see in the Brix version. Alas we just had to buy cakes and walk away disappointed, albeit only slightly.

For some, the boulangerie is not enough!

For some, the boulangerie is not enough!

A quick 12k saw us in Briquebec for lunch, where someone riding a Brompton was seen at a trailer that was selling chips. Someone else cast a covetous eye on a kebab house and some of us made sure Gordon was supervised as he took his ladylove out for her birthday lunch.  As he had already celebrated her birthday with a Calvados at the coffee stop we worried he might become slightly overcelebratory and we’re not here for that malarky.

The birthday girl outside the chosen restaurant

The birthday girl outside the chosen restaurant

At lunch I learned that an unnamed Friday peep not only knows all about Lenin’s Linoleum but has also spoken to John Lennon and Mick Jagger.  However I managed to recover a small bit of self-confidence by working out a route back to the château that avoids a bit of the Brix hill. I shall name this the Enigmatic Variation because while it removes some climbing it also removes a chance to stop in the bar in Brix.  And I am ashamed and shocked – SHOCKED – I tell you to reveal that the entire membership of this trip seems to have stopped there and is probably drinking Calvados as we speak.  If Greg was here this would not have happened I can tell you.  However it is not all bad news as it allowed me to raid the secret store of cider without anyone knowing. An ver’ niysch it ish, too.”

Sahar, Simon and Giorgos are among those sampling calvados, beer and cider

Sahar, Simon and Giorgos are among those sampling calvados, beer and cider

And the menu at lunch?  Assiette viandes, andouillettes, cheese, cider and coffee!

The route is here.  Today’s mileage = 43.  Cumulative mileage = 152.