Day 3 of #30DaysOfBiking

Much easier today in that I was going to cycle to a meeting anyway!

So the ride on Day 3 was to a committee meeting of CTC Northampton, the local member group of the UK’s Cyclists’ Touring Club.  And via a little bit of shopping at my local supermarket, Waitrose in Kingsthorpe.

I’m having a little bit of an argument / complaint / polite discussion with the supermarket.  They have reduced the number of cycle-racks and moved them away from a window where they could be seen from the café inside the store.  I’ve now had a couple of conversations with the customer service people and their manager.

I took a photo and posted it on social media.

The bike-racks in their new position

The bike-racks in their new position

Here are some of the comments that followed:

1 That’s a bit disappointing. I would have thought that Waitrose had a sustainability officer who should be encouraging and incorporating green efforts from their customers. Better signage might help and also better bike racks. CCTV, space for cargo bikes,panniers etc (I saw better examples of units at The London Bike show so will go check my blog for a reminder) Also removing the trolleys rather than the allocated space would be my expected approach, not the other way round. Waitrose do listen to their customers so perhaps if enough peeps requested cycle storage they might consider it? Here’s hoping…!

2 My local branch knew all about the free bike-trailer scheme operated by their Chichester branch!

3 Our local Waitrose removed the bike racks from a covered area to put trolleys there that were previously in the store foyer. I complained but they said tough, there was bike parking elsewhere (in a narrow section unprotected from the rain). I always leave Alfie where the old bike racks were, freestanding of course! (A reference to a recumbent trike.)

4 No bike racks. No trolley scheme. Not up round ours, Nothing on the plans for the new store either, and it will be ‘wrong’ side of town centre race track DC too. grrr.

5 Bike parking at my local Waitrose is ropey as well. I don’t give a damn because I park my bike IN the trolley. Actually, if they were really serious about the sustainability thing, they should launch guarded bike parking.

The assistant brought the manager to me and said to him, “This gentlemen always cycles here. Sometimes he brings his foldy bike in. Sometimes he parks a proper bike. He’s a regular customer.” To be honest, I hadn’t noticed the lady before! Loved the foldy/proper distinction she made!

Today, I was on the foldy bke.  Spoke to the manager (he was excited by the bike; I don’t think he’d seen a Brompton before; he was really interested!).  The store was empty.

Plenty of room

Plenty of room

And then it was on to my meeting where another member is taking a different approach.  Instead of complaining to Waitrose, he’s been complaining to the County Council as the planning authority.  When the shopping centre was built, he wondered, did planning permission include the provision of a certain number of bike racks?  Can they be reduced by the supermarket without consultation?  Have they broken the planning agreement?  I hadn’t thought of that line of reasoning!

Really the meeting is about planning weekend rides and social events – and seeking opportunities to promote cycling.  But, once in a while, our campaigning side comes out!

Summary Day 3 – Bike: Brompton, Distance: 4 miles, Total: 8 miles. Weather: cloudy evening with hint of rain after the meeting. Route here on RideWithGPS.  I did ride home afterwards!

A cycle route saved! But an opportunity lost!

I attended a meeting of Northamptonshire County Council’s Cabinet for their discussion of the re-opening of Abington Street in Northampton town centre to traffic.

I went to County Hall yesterday afternoon silently supporting the Cycle Touring Club (CTC) Right-to-Ride Officer who was going to exercise his right, as a member of the public, to address the Cabinet.  (An individual is entitled to up to three minutes to make his or her points.  This happens at the start of an agenda item before the Cabinet Member with responsibility for the item speaks.)
John and I met in Reception and parked our bikes in the 18th-century Courthouse Room before being invited into the Blue Room to attend the meeting.  Seven members of the Cabinet were meeting and the room was packed with other councillors.  I was a little surprised at this but a journalist from the Chronicle & Echo to whom I got chatting said that our item was the one which had attracted them.  I’d wrongly assumed it would be the item after ours – about HS2!
In the absence of Cllr Jim Harker, the Council Leader, the meeting was chaired by Cllr Heather Smith, the Deputy Leader.  She took the meeting briskly through the first five items, all procedural ones.  Item 6 was a review of Special Educational Needs Units (which I sort of found interesting as a retired teacher).  And then it was Item 7 and John’s turn to speak.
John was very good.  He opened with CTC’s objection to the making of St Giles Terrace one-way for all vehicles (severing the west-east cycle route from the Railway Station to Billing Road), following up with observations on the opportunity to make the town centre more cycle-friendly (this time by allowing two-way cycling in Abington Street) in preparation for the re-location of the university to the town centre.
He reminded Cabinet that they had adopted a Cycling Strategy in 2013 to encourage cycling in all schemes – and yet here was the Highways Department entirely forgetting this.
Very soon John’s three minutes were up and, from the floor, he received a loud round of applause!  We were both surprised and delighted at this.  Later, however, it became clearer that the applause – from opposition party Councillors – was politically motivated and may not have helped our case with the ruling party on Cabinet.
Another member of the public – an Abington Street trader – used his three minutes to suggest reducing the use of disabled parking bays in the proposed scheme.
Cllr Michael Clarke then introduced his report.  He made one concession: St Giles Terrace will remain two-way south of The Ridings (hence preserving the current cycle route).  But he then spoke against two-way cycling in Abington Street (missing, in our opinion, an opportunity to enhance provision).  Nevertheless, a concession gained – and gained, I feel, thanks to the number of my fellow CTC members who had e-mailed the consultation process with our objections!  (Cllr Clarke: “This is a listening Council …”)
The floor was then opened to other county councillors.  Liberal Democrat and Labour councillors spoke against the TRO.  Their objections, however, were not against the details of the arrangements but against the scheme in principle.  In fairness, this had already been decided by the Borough Council and was in the Conservative manifesto for the Borough Council elections.  Cllr Smith, in the chair, reminded them of this but they were having none of it!  You can read the Chronicle and Echo’s report here.  (“Further criticism for plan to reopen part of Abington Street to traffic”)  This is when I realised that the applause for John’s comments were not in support for cycling but a bit of party knockabout.
Last speaker from the floor was the leader of the Borough Council, David Macintosh.  He was heckled by opposition County Councillors.  And Cllr Smith was, in my opinion, a little easier on him when he strayed away from the TRO onto the scheme in principle!  (The relevant gist: a marvellous TRO and Highways Department had been wonderful …)
Then something happened that reminded me of rowdy teenage boys in a classroom!  The councillors on the floor began to argue amongst themselves, swearing loudly!  I think the chair was a little non-plussed at this.  She asked for an end to swearing.  ”You tell him off for swearing then!  He swore at me first!” said one – clearly finding his inner thirteen-year-old.  Amazing!
None of the other Cabinet members contributed and the discussion concluded with Cllr Smith declaring that the report on the TRO was passed.

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.

I wimped out / did not complete / abandoned …

Yesterday, possibly for the first time without a mechanical (although someone will, I am sure, remind me when I’ve been a wimp before), I abandoned a ride because I just was not enjoying myself.
The weather forecast for Friday had looked very poor for several days.  My wife Sue had repeatedly asked me if I was sure I wanted to go.  But the plan – to cycle to the CTC East Midlands Camping Rally at Beaumanor Hall in Leicestershire – had been some time in the making.  And the camping fees had been paid.
Three riders gathered in Chapel Brampton and had cups of tea and a tour of John’s huge garden so that I could see his fence laying from the garden side.  I’ve written about John’s fence-laying before: here and here.  His work is clear and visible from the road side immediately opposite The Spencer Arms but I enjoyed seeing his craftsmanship from inside, so to speak, and then realised that he had laid a longer fence at right angles where his garden adjoins the neighbouring field.
John's craftsmanship - a good hedge

John’s craftsmanship – a good hedge

John's craftsmanship in detail

John’s craftsmanship in detail

This meant, of course, that we waited until it was actually raining before we started to cycle!  And so wet was it that, even from the start, I donned winter off-road waterproof overshoes!  There had been talk of pedalling just as far as Market Harborough (via a leisurely lunch at the Waterloo Farm Café), catching a train to Loughborough, and then pedalling south – with the wind at our backs – for the three miles or so to Beaumanor.  But John in the end packed his trailer and we thought this ruled out a train journey.
I’d describe the weather as stormy squalls, rather like a storm at sea, in that there were periods of lashing rain and then periods when it was just damp.  Then the lashing rain again.  The two constants were the very strong winds (swirling about so that occasionally there was protection from the hedges – how ironic! – but usually headwinds) and the dark grey or black clouds which filled the sky.  There were perhaps three minutes of sunshine during the morning.
You’ll know that sudden realisation that you have when ALL the clothes you are wearing are damp.  This time the realisation hit me when we reaching Sibbertoft.  When we reached Theddingworth I saw a road sign that indicated Market Harborough was just four miles to the east.  I was beyond dreaming of trains by this point.  I was dreaming of the coffee shops there and of phoning Sue and getting her to pick me up in the car!  I was having nightmares about pitching a tent in a sodden field and of never getting my clothes dry for the next day.
At the crossroads in Theddingworth, I carefully explained my lack of enjoyment to John and David.  They attempted to use arguments: (a) that it would be terrible to admit my wife was right, (b) that the worst of the weather was behind us (yeah, right!), (c) that it was building my character.  It may have been at this point that argument (d) was put forward: that we could sleep in the drying room at Beaumanor!  To end this surrealism, I agreed to pedal on to our planned lunch stop – The Old Greyhound at Great Glen – for a final decision there.
The next village, Mowsley, appeared through the rain and wind to have closed and then – like St Paul on his way to Damascus – The Queen’s Head appeared (bright, clean, dry and welcoming) at Saddington.  My companions agreed to stop for lunch!  No arguments were holding me back now.  The phone was in my hand, Sue readily agreed to pick me up, and I abandoned.
The moment of my disgrace - I phone home (picture by David)

The moment of my disgrace – I phone home (picture by David)

We had pedalled into the wind and rain for two-and-a-half hours and covered just nineteen miles.  (The route is here.)  It was 1.15 p.m.  The pub’s coffee was hot, the fish and chips excellent, and the sticky toffee pudding comforting.  Sue arrived and more coffees followed.  My companions, although maintaining their plans, showed no signs of hurrying back into the storm.  The other customers left and the four of us had the warm dry pub to ourselves.  John remembered that it was his birthday!  This seemed the perfect excuse to drink more beer.  Eventually, John and David calculated that they might reach Beaumanor by 7.00 p.m. if they started pedalling again.  They put on the layers they had taken off on entering the pub; they were just as wet as they had been.
Today – Saturday – John and David will probably be enjoying a ride in the dry.  But the forecast is not great and I would expect more downpours before they return on Tuesday.  Ah well, we live and learn!

30 Days of Biking – across five countries

Oh dear, I didn’t bike for 30 Days!  But I did bike in five different countries (England, France, Belgium, Holland and Germany).

I’ve borrowed my friend Iain Dawson’s words – and then added my own photographs – to describe (on the sister blog to this) our ride, as CTC Northampton, to meet up with our new “twin” organisation, ADFC Aachen in Germany.

You’ll find them here:

I’d like to express deep personal thanks to Sabine Neitzel, a lovely cyclist in Aachen who took in Alex and myself – two unknown cyclists – and looked after us for five days.  Sabine, you are magnificent!

A recce ride around London

With my friend Iain D, I went for a lovely ride around London last Saturday.  We rode our Bromptons to Northampton station, caught the 0850 and we were at Euston in under an hour.  The purpose?  To recce a ride we’ll offer to CTC Northampton in the summer.

I’d therefore better not, at this stage, disclose our route in detail.  Suffice to say that we are old-school – no fancy GPS gizmos on our handlebars; Iain D had worked out a route and written it down; I’d added one or two amendments and pinned my copy to my ‘bars (small print, though, so I had to wear my reading glasses throughout the day!).

The route is a mixture of main “tourist sights” (but they do look different from a bicycle saddle) and some obscure and eccentric sights (which are well worth seeking out).  It will be much appreciated, I’m sure.  Some uncaptioned photographic clues:


And shortly after photographing Virginia, we encountered this!

Isn’t it brilliant?

Well, that’s it for the moment.  I hope I’ve tickled your curiosity buds!

We caught a very fast train back from Euston, the 1649 gets into Northampton at 1741 – 52 minutes.

A local Sustrans ride

This afternoon I went along to my local university (the main campus of the University of Northampton is less than five minutes away) at the invitation of Dan Romberg who is Sustrans’ university officer there.  With a colleague who works in local schools, he has a project to reduce congestion in the “Kingsthorpe corridor”.  With two other CTC friends – John and Phil L – I was to help him lead a group ride out to, and then along, the Brampton Valley Way.  The individuals who made up the group were staff members from the university, most of whom lived locally and might be helped to make a decision to cycle to work rather than always travelling by car.

It was a great afternoon! Sustrans has found the money for half-a-dozen new hybrid bikes.  (By coincidence from Pitsford Cycles where my touring bike is presently being serviced.)  We collected them from a secure bike park and this was to be their first outing.  Dan had checked them in advance and my job was to adjust the saddle height for the riders who chose them.  When the ride started, I was Tail-End Charlie.

We went out through the quiet roads of two or three housing estates (including the one where I live) with just a short stretch of 300 metres along the A508 before turning onto a great downhill down Brampton Lane.  Hats went flying!

We re-grouped at the start of the Brampton Valley Way.



and then there was no stopping anyone!  One or two stretches of the path, where it was exposed, were bitterly cold but in the sheltered parts (which form the majority) it was lovely and … sunny!


Our leader, Dan!

We passed the restored Pitsford railway and the Merry Tom crossing and almost reached the Brixworth-to-Spratton road – before someone remembered that a pub stop had been promised!  We turned about and pedalled to an old favourite, “The Windhover”.  The first puncture (someone had been flailing hedges and there were thorns aplenty) happened just before the pub.  The rider manfully carried on until it could be repaired indoors!



Well-earned refreshment

Dan was a whizz at repairing the puncture inside the pub.  I don’t think I’ve seen that before.

And then, finding a quiet way back to the university, our second puncture happened just having left the pub.  Dan was even faster at getting that one repaired.  John had chosen a route that didn’t take in too much hill climbing although, because we’d all enjoyed the chatter in the pub, dusk was upon us.  The Sustrans bikes had lights and so all was well.

Everyone had enjoyed themselves, agreed that the exercise had been good fun, and some were enquiring about other organised rides – and indeed the possibility of cycling to work once or twice a week!

Part of the route – from the University to The Windhover is here.

A great afternoon!