Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Donkeys, parking, 'splash and crash'

We slept well at the campsite, until the usual problem emerged, and it's always worse when the girls haven't been in the tent for a little while - they wake at daybreak! Fine for them, because they can sleep it off in the trailer, but not so handy for the other three of us. Being on a working farm, and having picked up some eggs the night before, the rooster that sealed the deal and made sure we were all well and truly awake shouldn't have come as much of a surprise!

Within half an hour, we'd all nodded off again, and so by the time we surfaced, we weren't as washed out as we ought to have been after our exertions the previous evening.

We were really shocked to find that such a beautiful spot, and a site with plenty of pitches, was empty but for our tent, during the school holidays and decent weather, but it was wonderful to be able to let the children roam, and before we knew it, they had made friends with a pair of rescued miniature ponies, 'Tosh' and 'Tug'. 

Porridge and donkey rides contributed to a leisurely departure, but we knew that only 20 miles lay ahead of us if we left the Humber Bridge to start day three. There was no hurry, and after a mile or so's riding we paused at a bakery for a second breakfast.

We pottered along, hurriedly crossing the A15 on foot (if you're slow getting rolling, sometimes it's just easier to cross the big ones perpendicular to the traffic, and run!), perhaps not contemplating enough what we might do for lunch; by the time we reached Brigg we hadn't seen anywhere that looked like it was serving food and suitable for our outfit.

Sometimes, you reach a town and everything seems to be on hand; other places you reach and you just get an inkling before you even get in, that it's going to spit you out before you've had chance to think about it. I have no doubt that Brigg has all sorts of lovely facilities, but the main road through town offered us Tesco as the best opportunity for lunch.

I have all sorts of issues with Tesco - but right at that moment, a quick stop in their cafe seemed like the best chance of getting fed, stocking up for the night, and getting rolling once more. The trouble was, the cycle parking was a total joke - you could not stand a bike up in the rack, such as it was, because it had been put hard up against the wall rather than allowing room for wheels to protrude. In the end, we improvised and a very cycle-savvy and slightly embarrassed chap, who was otherwise looking after the trollies, looked after our bikes personally. The store turned out to be tired, poorly stocked and had no cafe at all, so we got out of there with some sandwiches, rode out of town and found a bus shelter on the edge of a housing estate for lunch.

A word about cycle lanes. Coming out of Brigg on a fairly busy road, I saw what looked like a generously proportioned cycle lane set away from the road, which in the first instance meant Thomas Ivor, whose wheel I was on, could avoid a busy roundabout. I persevered with it for all of a mile before Katie and I stopped and agreed that riding on a split path (pedestrians and cyclists notionally separated, but on a path not wide enough to pass freely on) where you had to give way at every single junction to the left, was far more risky for Thomas Ivor and stressful for us 'sergeant-majoring' him, than just holding a sensible line on the main road. On reflection, we shouldn't have been surprised that the little guy agreed - riding the road was less complicated for him, and he didn't mind the traffic.

Any suggestion that Lincolnshire is flat as a pancake is not strictly true. A bit like Norfolk, whose Northern coast is anything but flat, Lincolnshire has a few 'lumps' just to keep you on your toes. As we homed in on the Humber Bridge, one sharp rise, which we'd seen coming for a while, strung us out. The traffic was light but fast, and the twisting of the road as it rose meant that as I flogged up on foot, taking my turn with the trailer, I had to be careful to move quickly when I couldn't be seen well, and rest as and when the verge had space for me. There's no point killing yourself trying to ride up with a heavy loaded bike, when walking is quicker and more efficient - that's something you lose your hang-ups about quite quickly when you're towing. What tends then to happen is that the girls either decide to start cheering you on, or, more often than not, implore Daddy to 'go faster'! By the top of the hill, on foot, I'd dropped Thomas Ivor and Katie, who were 'riding and resting' - and a tired Ruth was becoming irritable with Rhoda trying to tickle her under the chin. The wind was getting up, the rain was closing in, but from the top of the hill, we could see the Humber estuary. If only the campsite we wanted would answer the telephone, we might get pitched before we got wet!

Peeling away from the side of the main A15, the old Brigg Road drops down into Barton-upon-Humber, depositing one in what feels like the heart of town. Faced with the prospect of riding on into the now steadily falling rain, for more miles, away from the bridge, that might be fruitless and force us to retrace, I looked dead ahead as I waited at the junction for Katie to catch up, and something told me the hotel I was facing was worth an enquiry.

It is rare that we stay overnight in a hotel, and even rarer that it isn't a hurriedly booked Premier Inn. Part of that is down to the homogenous nature of the latter, when you are a sizeable tribe with peculiar needs. I stood in the rain, holding two bikes, trying to distract Thomas Ivor and taking muttered abuse from pedestrians, wondering what, if anything, might be on offer.

The George Inn turned out to be a wonderful place to stay, a characterful place accredited for both 'Families Welcome' and 'Cyclists Welcome' under the respective Visit England schemes. We had a really great time, enjoying superb food and really attentive care from the staff. We will write a separate review in due course. From contemplating a bowl of pasta on a rainy campsite, we sat down to steak and chips. Sometimes, that's just the right thing to do.

Tomorrow starts with a crossing of the Humber Bridge, hopefully without too much wind!

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Getting out of the door

'They' say that getting out of the door and getting on with it is the hardest bit.

'They' are spot on.

With any bike trip, it's not a done deal until you hit the Tarmac, and in our case, departure day never seems to go quite to plan, but just as inevitably, as soon as we've got the bikes rolling, we're fine. Once you know you've got going, carrying everything you meant to bring, with you, that's the hard bit done.

With a growing family (numerically and in stature!) it follows that you are forced repeatedly to break one of the golden rules of bicycle touring - get to know your kit and your capabilities, and once you have a setup that works, stick with it unless there is a compelling reason. It's just not possible to do that long term, when the number, size and capabilities of your 'team' is ever-changing. We are already contemplating kit changes for next year, and the year beyond.

The purpose of this trip, then, building on day rides of increasing length, to make sure, ahead of our trip to France in the summer, that Thomas Ivor, who was on the Mountain Train last year, mostly being towed by me, could hack the daily mileages and pace required to get us around Brittany; a predictably late start gave him an even warmer baptism of fire, because it was only at about 1535 that we wheeled off from Newark-upon-Trent station car park, with a day's worth of riding ahead of us.

Five minutes later, we set off again, after my run back to the car to shut the windows. It was starting to feel like we would never make our booked overnight stop. Leaving the station, with Thomas Ivor still getting settled, we crossed the road on foot and elected to try the cycle path alongside the road. It turned out very quickly to be one of those utterly useless and potentially lethal paths that was put in by a local authority who wanted to tick a box, designed by people who had never ridden a bike. Sure enough, giving way every few yards, kamikaze pedestrians, thick brambles at chest height, stinging nettles and impassable chicanes all saw to it that the first couple of miles out of town were stressful. Interestingly, Thomas Ivor very soon opined that he preferred roads to cycle paths, and we were pleasantly surprised how calm he was, not only in traffic, but on roads he didn't know. I can but speculate that all those miles on the back of the trailer bike, watching us and being used to holding a line amongst other vehicles, have taught him well.

We stopped in the village of Collingham after a run along a curious cycle path which was mainly asphalt but skirted fields and a quarry. Having turned onto it, we were worried we'd committed to a pace-killer, but with nobody else about, we kept going, already conscious of the fine balance between mileage and daylight remaining. As we crossed the road from a disappointingly poorly-stocked shop, a rough-looking dog leapt out of a tradesman's van and scared the wits out of the little guy. Had we not been pushed for time, I might have followed up the insulting laughter of the owner, but we had to get weaving.

For the most part for this trip, we plotted a route using the CTC's journey planner, using the 'balanced route' setting. Just occasionally, it gets over-optimistic, and we were pretty cheesed-off when, soon after Collingham, the route sent us up a sharp rise before telling us to cross a field and immediately lose that height using a rocky bridlepath at the side of a field. Gritting our teeth, we got on with it and crossed the railway line, only to discover that far worse lay in store.

The moment you hang a trailer on the back of a bike, especially a two-wheeler, in fact as soon as you load the bike meaningfully, your ability to cross a field of oilseed rape using only a bumpy, rocky rut diminishes. By the time we'd crossed two of them, we were seriously demoralised, by the time lost and in Katie's case, the bruises she'd picked up from her pedals, as the bouncing trailer caused her bike to keep clattering into her. Finding the road once more, we pushed on.

We kept to quiet roads for the remainder of the day, and the children were treated to a lesson in agriculture, passing cows, pigs, chickens, and fields of various crops. Eventually we found a Co-op from which to pick up some provisions, stopping soon after in a bus shelter to demolish some hastily-assembled sandwiches. Long stretches skirting fields were punctuated with the odd small village, and it would have been nice to have taken it in at a slightly less insistent pace, but the beautiful sunset we were shaping up for was at the same time a threat. We really didn't want to be riding in the dark. Murmurs of fatigue from Thomas Ivor disappeared after he'd eaten, I took over towing the trailer, and the girls settled down inside, to watch the Paddington film on an old iPhone clamped to the rollcage.

As the light began to fade, Thomas Ivor had to celebrate smashing his daily mileage record by keeping rolling and stretching it! We were amazed at how little fuss he'd made, having not ridden at all for a fortnight. At last, we made it to our campsite at Kirton-in-Lindsey for the night. A delighted Thomas Ivor secured a box of fresh eggs for his breakfast and with the site to ourselves, we had the tent up just as night fell.

First question answered - yes, the boy can do a 40 mile day if he has to. He can do 37 miles in six hours, including food and shopping stops! Second question is, will he, or we, pay for, tomorrow?

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Bicycle Tourists: we did it!

We are at home looking back on our bicycle touring adventure in the Outer Hebrides and wishing that we had the money to go back and do it all again.

We would have loved to have blogged each day, but after leaving Glasgow for the ferry from Oban, the 3G disappeared, along with the rest of the mobile signal.  

So, after the event, here is what we got up to: eight islands, 93 miles, six days. 

We survived five ferry crossings, two car crashes(!) and the Scottish midges.

Time to write it up!