Rumours of War

Every here and there our peaceful tour through Europe held reminders of the war.  Hardly surprising, because making our way up the North Sea Coast we were tracing the line of potential invasion sites.

The most sinister of these was at Esquelbec in France, where the occupying Germans used forced labour to construct a massive blockhouse from which to launch V2 missiles at London.

An allied air raid set back the cause and this blockhouse was liberated before any of the rockets – brainchild of Werner von Braun, hero of the American space race – could be launched.

This is a VI, lots of which were launched.

Just as I was thinking how modern this looked, not like ancient history at all,  one of our group Crash Sally commented how scary these had been when she was a little girl in London during the war!

Those of us of a mathematical bent proceeded to work out her age.

Why is it that when I was a small boy the second world war seemed like a very long time ago, whereas now, 45 years later, it seems like just the other day?

A possible explanation is that our subjective assessment of time operates in terms of what we have experienced personally, ie our lifetime thus far.

So in 1967 when I was eleven years old the end of the war was a whole lifetime before I was born.   Now, in 2012, the end of the war was a mere one fifth of a a lifetime before I was born.  It’s got closer!

In Esquelbec we came across this church:

Looking more closely at the various memorial plaques – the result of far too many wars – this one stood out because it was in English:

Looking this up later, it turned out that retreating Welsh soldiers from Lllandudno were captured by the SS and shot in a barn in the village.   Just the other day!

Our tour didn’t go to any of the many first world war battle sites.  What we saw were remnants of the second world war, like these bunkers just just North of the Hague, built to repel the invasion that eventually came from Normandy:

I was left scared.  Within living memory, Europe was convulsed by the worst war ever.  It made the present Europe of  happy cyclists look incredibly fragile.      How long have we got to enjoy the friendly cafes and medieval towns before it all comes crashing down again?

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Dutch Delights

After more than a week in the Netherlands, I’ve been thoroughly spoiled by their famously good cycling infrastructure.  Barely a single close encounter with a lorry….  after much sorting and filtering of holiday snaps, here are some of the aspects of their provision that I noticed and appreciated:

This was one of the many causeways linking bits of land.  You can see the highway on the right.  Being so far removed meant this was peaceful and picturesque.

Navigating by Numbers.  The entire cycle network has numbered junctions or nodes,  and signs like this show you where you are and which way to go to the next junction.  I found that I still used the map (Half the pleasure of touring is in the map-reading!) but these often made route-finding easy.   The exception was if one accidentally wandered off the network, in which case the numbers would disappear….

This bridge didn’t have the cycle lane added as an afterthought. It was designed in from the start.  And there was another two-way cycle track on the other side!

With standards properly set and applied, and cycling taken seriously, the Dutch have machines like this to sweep the cycle paths.  This was the main road in a small village and you can see how pedestrians, bikes, and cars each have their own space.  And unlike in Britain, the poles and bollards and trees are not sticking up in the middle of the bike lane!

Traffic has been properly tamed in this residential street by the design.  Here bikes and cars share the road in safety.

I liked the fact that safety at night was provided by the extra lighting for bikes and pedestrians!

I found myself wondering whether it is something about Dutch politics or their institutions which allow this utterly sensible planning and execution of good design, all of which is continually being improved – we saw a number of bike lanes being dug up for resurfacing.  Perhaps once that first crucial decision has been made – that cycling is a mainstream form of transport – other things fall into place.

These details show a cycle path crossing driveways to houses.  The bike path remains level.  Drivers are reminded to give way by the angled kerb.  The red tar is not just paint.   And I don’t remember seeing a single one of these cycle paths blocked by a parked vehicle!

These double-storey racks were outside a commuter railway station, and I couldn’t resist having a go.  It was extremely easy to park and lock my bike.  From this position you lift the red handle and slide the rack with bike forwards.

Well so much for my holiday snaps.  If you have read this far, please leave a comment, that gives me some idea of who is reading the blog!



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Triumph and Disaster

Look closely at this group of happy tourers, and see if you can spot the one who had an almost catastrophic start to the tour, when they flew headlong from their bike and landed face first on the tarmac?

It’s not obvious, is it?

This picture shows how we were still in mile 1 of about 600 when the accident happened:

So what could cause a serious crash in a group of cautious riders, wide awake  and concentrating  like mad in order to ride on the right?  This was not the Tour de France, and there was no slipstreaming or jockeying for position going on.

Here is the offending bike.  There are clues in this picture.   Before reading on see if you can spot what might have gone wrong!

Well, in all good whodunnits there is a denoument, so here goes.

The front pannier rack contains a piece which passes over the front wheel:

Ironically, this is meant as a stabilizer.  It is secured by a bolt on each side, which is a pretty serious design flaw, as the nuts can vibrate loose, allowing the crosspiece to fall forwards onto the front wheel, stopping it dead in its tracks.  The bits of cord are to stop this happening again.

Not only was the rider thrown off, the front forks were bent back.  It took some serious wrestling with them at the campsite to get them usable again, and if you look carefully you may see that they’re still not quite right.

So, did you guess who the victim/hero of the incident was?  It was lucky for the group that our oldest member turned out to be the bounciest and the toughest  as well, all healed up and riding strongly just days later, and with the new nickname CRASH SALLY.

As I type this she is off on her next adventure riding the Yorkshire Dales.  What a cyclist!






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Assorted Bikes

Just back from my tour of France, Belgium, and The Netherlands, two weeks in which I saw more bikes than ever before.   Here are a few of them:

OK This was still in Dover, with our touring bikes getting to know each other, and looking light and airy in their unladen state compared to the beasts of burden they were to become.

These two Bromptoms were there thanks to South East Rail’s decision not to carry bikes during the Olympics.  They completed the 600 or so mile tour with elegance and style.

Before long our bikes were performing extra services beyond the call of duty:

One could even do withouth the anchoring peg in the ground, by working out the right lean angle, taking account of the changing load as the clothes dry….

The only problem with this set-up is when you need to pop out on the bike for some shopping…

Or to pop into Bruges to see the Bike Statue.  The red scarves were left from an unknown recent celebration.

Of course we also saw plenty of cargo bikes, including, some quite old ones, and at least one very old one:

This bike is being slowly swallowed up by the earth, as a sort of reminder to cyclists who are too precious about their bikes.

For dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

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Follow the Pink Line

You would think that taking bikes onto a ferry would be straightforward…. wouldn’t you?  At Dover they have even painted a helpful Pink Line for cyclists to follow.  OK, so the Pink Line does have some right-angled turns and some obstacles in they way, but still….;

Having walked the line or rather ridden as much as we could we were then asked to wait for our escort vehicles, one in front and one behind, presumably because car and lorry drivers can’t be trusted not to mow down any cyclists in their way.  After a longish wait while the drivers were summoned we set off.

Here we are dutifully following our escort vehicle:

Everything about the system showed that while they were certainly trying to help, it was in the face of a system designed for cars and lorries with no thought given to cyclists at the design stage.   Even on the ferry there were a few bike racks, but none of us used them because they were the sort that hold part of one wheel and are likely to wreck the wheel if the ship sways.  We ended up parking in the alcoves between bulkheads, and my bike ended up almost inside the cage for very large dogs.

But I shouldn’t complain, as we are heading for Holland which is supposed to be cyclist’s heaven.

Now I am off to sit in the sun with a glass of Rosè.   (Note mastery of the French keyboard!)

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The Sea is Cqlm Tonight

Thqt spelling error qnd qll future ones qre the fqulot of this most peculiqr keyboqrd thqt I qm using in Q French cqmpsite.  Don’t qsk…. enough letters qre in the right plqce to get by….

The peculiarities of Olympics meant that some of had to camp near Dover to get our bikes there in time.  The canpsite had a view:

A little path down to the beach made me think of Matthew Arnold’s poem Dover Beach:

The sea is calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand;
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.

Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

All of this was a perfect fit.   Here is the beach

Could any of these pebbles be the actual same ones that he listened to?

Sure enough after sunset we really could see the lights gleaming on the French Coast.  Here is a picture of them, which due to the limits of available technology may require a bit of imagination:

Next stop France, preferably without any ignorant armies clashing by night.  The full text of the poem is here.

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Ready to Roll

With luck and a following wind, some of my next few posts might come from France, Belgium, or Holland.  This depends on a near-miraculous conjunction of factors like campsites having computers, me being able to fathom them out…. you get the picture. (Or not, as the case may be.)

After borrowing some front panniers I am ready to go:

One last decision.  Whether to take my little camping stool.  It fits on the rear rack under the tent….more weight….. but I’m too old to sit on wet grass….hmmm…. I’ll decide in the morning.

Wish me luck and good weather!

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From Leek to the Peaks

Setting off from Leek made me think of Alan Paton’s famous opening to Cry the Beloved Country:

There is a lovely road which runs from Ixopo into the hills. These hills are grass covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it.

Ixopo is in Natal, South Africa, and it looks to me as though all the roads from Ixopo run into the hills:

Leek in the Staffordshire Moorlands is rather like this.  Whichever way you go, it’s uphill.  And if you head east into the peak district, it’s lots of uphill.

But it’s worth the climb to get the views.  This is from the ridge called the Morridge looking towards the Roaches:

And here is a view from the road out of Ixopo:

I’d call both of these beautiful roads, and one day I hope to go and cycle round Ixopo.

This week, though, it was Leek, and I went riding with friends John and Alison who seem to enjoy riding up hills, saying things like Let’s drop down to the Manifold River and up the other side…

After fine weather to start with we were rained on and had to take refuge in the Greyhound at Warslow.  To our previous cake stop we now added a pint and chips.  Clearly we would need more uphill to work off the calories.

After a great ride we dropped back to Leek.  Plotting the route on MapmyRide showed we had done no less than four ‘real’ climbs, so what if three of them were Cat 5, (the easiest). The interactive version of this map, with 3-d flyover, is here.

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Pedal Problems

When my right pedal broke, I thought it would be a straightforward matter to replace it.  Wrong! For some reason my right pedal, unlike the left, (yes I know, odd pedals) was a different size to the usual and too big for my pedal spanner.

So it had to be an adjustable, and this didn’t give me enough leverage….

Give me a lever long enough…..

Putting Archimedes to the test meant extending the length of my lever:

This gave me a six foot long spanner, which still didn’t do the job …

Admitting defeat I headed off to my LBS  (Local Bike Shop) which on this occasion (I have a choice of LBS’s) was Supreme Cycles in Crewe. Returning an hour later  they had succeeded – I didn’t ask how.  Probably had the right tool for the job.








Supreme Cycles have only once turned down a job for me, when the seat post on this same bike was well and truly attached to the frame and wouldn’t budge.  I had to sort that out myself, and the solution involved lumphammers, drilling, and very long levers….


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Going Up

My brother is a hairy man
But I am a smooth man

Jacob, Esau, Monty Python.  Where does all this come from?   Peering backwards in time into my psyche I think I was pondering the fact that Cheshire is a smooth county,  but other counties are hilly.  If you set out from Alsager on a bike, with the aim of going uphill, you have two choices:  Head towards Mow Cop, or head towards Talke Pits.

You guys are the pits of the world.

If you are old enough to remember that quote, you are of my generation.  John McEnroe was the brat of Wimbledon and the media agonised over the meaning of the pits of the world.  Armpits?   You can not be serious.

Anyway, heading out of Alsager I went up, up, up and I wasn’t on Mow Cop, so I must have been on the way to Talke Pits.  At the highest point I found this:

A water reservoir of the Staffordshire Potteries Water Board.  No doubt this no longer exists as a public body and has been sold off to a foreign company or a multinational.  But no matter how low the ownership goes, the reservoir itself is at the highest point for miles around.

This looks like a piece of squareist abstract art, or like a Motte and Bailey built by a particularly finicky tribe, but is in fact a simple water tank.

By jumping the fence I attained a state of nirvana – the highest you can get – looking out over the plains to the other high point, Mow Cop:

I have to admit that having cycled to both, Mow Cop is the tougher ride.

The positive side of getting to the highest point for miles around is that you have downhill all the way home.

Now, dear reader, ask yourself this: Do you know who supplies your water?  Do you know what dam or river it comes from? What company brings it to you?  Was your water fresh from last week’s rain or has it languished for a million years in an underground aquifer?  Should you know these things?

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