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.
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First ride of 2014

This was the first ride I’d done with my local CTC for some months and so I’m linking to my report here:

Ride Report – Sunday 5th January

Really enjoyed the ride – great company!

A London Tourette

On Sunday 29th December I joined The Fridays‘ annual Xmas/New Year Day Ride.  This year’s ride was christened the London Tourette by Simon, the Fridays’ leader, and was a ride around the city’s best architecture.  We started, as usual, at Hyde Park Corner and finished, as usual, at All Bar One, Shad Thames.  On the way we made eight stops and Simon, himself an architect, gave a personal account of his choices.

Getting there

Getting to Hyde Park Corner by 10.30 a.m. by public transport from Northampton was not easy on the Sunday between Christmas and New Year.  No trains were running south of Watford Junction but a bus replacement service was promised for the final part of the journey.  I left home on my Brompton folding bike in the dark on the frostiest morning of the winter so far.  From Kingsthorpe onwards the roads were clearer but became frosty again on approaching the station.  No mishaps and I caught the 0753 service.  The ticket collector announced that the promised bus replacement was cancelled but that passengers could use the London Overground from Watford Junction instead.  The train arrived late and missed the Overground connection but a replacement coach was offered. This turned out to be an “express” service in that it didn’t stop at Harrow & Wealdstone!  It reached Euston just before 10.00 a.m.

Three miles of quick pedalling along a direct route (quiet on this Sunday morning) meant that I was one of the earliest to arrive at Hyde Park Corner.  By 10.30 a.m. we were ready to go – and the Tourette proved to be well worth the effort.

The Household Cavalry see us at the beginning of our ride

The Household Cavalry see us at the beginning of our ride

1 Westbourne Grove public toilets and florists, Piers Gough, 1993

Westbourne Grove public toilets and florists, Piers Gough, CZWG, 1993

Westbourne Grove public toilets and florists

Our first stop was at these remarkable public lavatories (unfortunately closed on Sundays).  Local residents took the initiative of commissioning this design as an alternative to Kensington & Chelsea Council’s own mediocre proposal. An area of triangular paving was reclaimed from the centre of two diverging roads and furnished with benches and trees. The plan of the building echoes the triangular site with the lavatories at the wide end.  The plinth at the sharp end is partially enclosed by glass to form the florist’s kiosk.  Gough is an architect in the CZWG practice.

2 The Royal College of Organists, Kensington Grove, Henry Cole Jr, 1875

Royal College of Organists, Kensington Grove, Henry Cole Jr, 1875, with charming sgaffito decoration

Royal College of Organists with charming sgaffito decoration

This building – which looks to me as if it really belongs in a medieval town centre in Germany or Austria – is opposite the Royal Albert Hall on the west.  It was the original home of the Royal National Training School for Music, now the Royal College of Music.

3 Natural History Museum (Alfred Waterhouse, 1873-80) and shared space of Exhibition Road

Exhibition Road shared surface with Natural History Museum

Shared road surface outside the Natural History Museum

Waterhouse’s museum was a very modern building in the 1870s: an iron frame on which rest terracotta tiles, so much more interesting than the stodgy V & A next door.  The shared space controversy seems to have died down a bit.  Taxi drivers make life interesting.

4 The Michelin Building, 81 Fulham Road, François Espinasse, 1911

The Michelin Building, François Espinasse, 1911

The Michelin Building

To quote Simon, “Zut alors! You want decoration?  You got decoration!  The Age of Motoring has arrived.  To be followed by the Age of Eating Out.  Both involving Spare Tyres.”

Stained glass window featuring the original Bibendum

Stained glass window featuring the original Bibendum

Notice how the original Bibendum (or Michelin Man) was made of cycle tyres and had a pince-nez for eyes.

5 The Royal Danish Embassy, 55 Sloan Street, Arne Jacobsen, 1977

Royal Danish Embassy, Arne Jacobsen, 1977

Royal Danish Embassy, Arne Jacobsen, 1977

Designed by the late great Arne Jacobsen this modern embassy is shared by Iceland too.

6 Lambeth North Underground Station, Westminster Bridge Road, Leslie Green, 1906

Lambeth North Underground Station, Leslie Green, 1906 - ox-blood-red tiled façade, arches

Lambeth North Underground Station

Leslie Green designed over thirty London Underground stations in five or six years after 1900.  They have iron frames covered in ox-blood-red tiled façade and the semi-circular windows of the first storey – arches in all but name – indicated straightforwardly to the Victorians and Edwardians that these were railway stations!  The arch serves no purpose at this level – but railways meant arches!  The tiles were resistant to London soot.

Opposite this station is a church – a Congregationalist chapel – with an interesting historical connection.

Lincoln Tower above Christ Church Chapel, (1) E C Robins (2) Paull & Bickerdike, 1876

Lincoln Tower above Christ Church Chapel, (1) E C Robins (2) Paull & Bickerdike, 1876

Erected on the centenary of the United States Declaration of Independence, the driving force behind it was Christopher Newman Hall.  He had lectured extensively in support of the abolition of slavery during the American Civil War and afterwards he raised funds for the tower as a London memorial to President Lincoln.

Lincoln Tower - Stars & Stripes detail

Lincoln Tower – Stars & Stripes detail

7 Christ Church Spitalfields, Nicholas Hawksmoor, 1714-29

Christ Church Spitalfields, Nicholas Hawksmoor, 1714-29, west front

Christ Church Spitalfields –  west front

The highlight of the tour!  Christ Church Spitalfields makes it into Jenkins’ hundred best churches in his 1999 book “England’s Thousand Best Churches”.  Then – fourteen years ago – he noted that the restoration was far from complete: “the ceiling seems to rest … on gloom and dust”.  In 1970 the church was near to collapse but Jenkins was able to describe it as “London Baroque at its most self-confident” although he does quote Pevsner’s view that it “could not be called anything but ugly”.

Christ Church Spitalfields,  interior facing east

Christ Church Spitalfields, interior facing east

8 The Blue House, Hackney, FAT (Shaun Griffiths), 2002

The Blue House, FAT (Shaun Griffiths), 2002

The Blue House

A delightful final stop.  Domestic house and offices by FAT, the practice that has just announced that it is calling it quits.  We see the cut-out form of a diminutive pitched-roof house, stuck on to a cartoon office block.  “Adolf Loos on the inside, South Park on the outside,” as Griffiths put it.

And so to the bar

Ten minutes riding from Hackney, across Tower Bridge, and we were at Shad Thames where Simon had reserved tables for the group.  Much beer was drunk, food was eaten, conversations had, and plans made.  Old friends who had not made the ride were welcomed on arrival.  Like the whole day, a good time was had by all!

IMG_0250

Getting home

So much easier than getting from home!  A straightforward bit of pedalling from Tower Bridge to Euston station, a train to Northampton, and a final pedal saw me home by mid-evening.

My route for the day in London (starting and finishing at Euston station) is here on Ride with GPS.  My friend Els had an interesting account of the day here on her blog with additional pictures, often lovely little asides, here on Picasa.

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.

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 go to Normandy – The Prologue

 

After the epic that was LonJoG (see the report in “Cycle”, Dec 2012), this year The Fridays expedition was to Normandy.

Prologue Day 1 – Friday 14th June – Northampton to Portsmouth

I felt very organised in the morning.  My Dawes Galaxy touring bike was prepared with four panniers (two front and two rear) and a rack pack.  I knew where every item was and everything was waterproof.  The bike had been very recently serviced and was as sweet as a nut.  Pedalling to Northampton station was easy.

The 1250 train to Euston was very crowded but I got the bike into a good space and found a seat opposite.  London was busy (busier than I’m used to – because I’m normally pedalling in London on Saturdays and Sundays) but the journey from Euston to Victoria was straightforward.

Once in Victoria station I quickly met Gordon and Lonica.  Gordon had been on the recce trip and he and his wife were staying at the same gîte as me.  We got our bikes onto the Portsmouth-bound train and travelled comfortably to Portsmouth & Southsea station.  The three of us were staying at the Travelodge hotel opposite the ferry terminal and, after a short walk through the pedestrianized city centre and then pedalling along some quiet back streets, we were soon there.

We met Pam (Anything But Vanilla) and Dan at the hotel and the five of us went out for an evening meal, pedalling over to the new harbour developments at Gunwharf Quays and a branch of Café Rouge.  Scampi, lamb, and treacle pudding – accompanied by Hoegarten and Merlot.

We returned to our hotel and I was waiting for my room-mate Charlie.  The pub next door – The Sovereigns – had last orders just before eleven o’clock on a Friday evening, which struck me as very old-fashioned.  But Charlie soon arrived and, as I knew he would be, he was good company as a room-mate throughout the entire tour.

Mileage for the day = 16.

Prologue Day 2 – Saturday 15th June – (a) Tour de Portsmouth (b) A high-speed ferry crossing (c) Cherbourg to Brix

(a) After breakfast in The Sovereigns, six of us pedalled to StuAff’s house in Portsmouth for a guided tour.  We went out of the city to an elevated vantage point at Portsdown Hill where we had a view of the whole city.  Stuart pointed out that, properly speaking, Portsmouth is an island.

On Portsdown Hill - (l to r) Charlie, Gordon, Lonica, Stuart

On Portsdown Hill – (l to r) Charlie, Gordon, Lonica, Stuart

We then swept down to the historical dockyard where HMS Warrior, one of the first “Ironclads” is moored – accompanied today by a statue commemorating the “mudlarks” – before moving on to elevenses at Southsea Castle.

HMS Warrior

HMS Warrior

We went then back near StuAff’s house to meet up with Claudine, Sonia and the others at The Star & Garter for lunch.

Portsmouth route here.

(b) And so to the ferry terminal for the high-speed catamaran crossing to Cherbourg.  I sat next to (mmm)Martin – who is always good value; met Andy and Jo who had arranged the gîte and managed to get to sleep while almost all the others were seasick.

(c) With that organisation for which he is famed, Simon (DZ) had arranged for luggage to be carried from Cherbourg to Brix and so my bike was relieved of its panniers for the eleven miles or so to the château.  Energetic cooks had already been working and, amongst other, Jim, Steve and Rachel had prepared a meal of pasta, cider and wine – what’s not to like?  And the gîtists were quickly onto our final destination.

Our gîte

Our gîte

Route from ferry terminal to château here.

Mileage for the day = 33.  Cumulative mileage = 49.