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It’s just air. Until you need it.

9 Sep

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Regular readers will know that I like to take time out to go camping for a few days in the summer just to clear my head and think about what’s coming up. Regular readers will also know that I had my motorcycle stolen, which rather limited my plans. And my son took his tent back up to Edinburgh, which left me tentless.

So, what to do? The obvious answer, of course, is to cycle 50 klicks to Rutland Water, stay overnight in the open and then cycle back. What do you mean, that’s not obvious? It’s obvious to ME!

I got off to a late start, mostly by messing around doing stuff that didn’t need doing. Finally I had a bag packed with the stuff I thought I might need – but not so much stuff that I couldn’t get it in a backpack. Probably not the RIGHT stuff though. And off I went. A mile out and the puncture I had just repaired started to fail. I cycled home, since that’s where things like sinks full of water are. (To check where the leak is, for those who haven’t done this before). Puncture repaired, I set out again.

There are a LOT of hills between Oundle and Oakham. I have mentioned this before, but I feel that it is important to mention it again.

670px-Mend-a-Puncture-in-a-Bike-Tire-Step-6-Version-3Round about 30 kilometers out, the repair failed again. But I had brought a spare inner tube! Ta-Da! I fitted the tube and set off again, conscious that time was against me. By the time I reached Hambleton peninsula, my goal, it was getting dark… which means I had no real idea where I was setting up camp. I decided a bench overlooking the reservoir would be ideal, although I was keen that the sheep didn’t disturb my repose in the night.

Rutland Water is a very spooky, quiet body of water. The water is quiet, tranquil, ruffled only by the wind. Somewhere under there lie abandoned villages, fields and farms. On the peninsula in the middle it is almost eerily silent, the only noise being the lap of water on the shore, and the occasional hoot of an owl.

I settled myself down, lit a fire and boiled some water for coffee, as I watched the moon set over the water. Above me the stars came out, and I was treated to a beautiful display of stars set against a gentle veiling of clouds. I stretched out on the bench and gazed peacefully up into the darkness, letting the quiet and the solitude soak into me, bringing a sense of true peace and calm, as I snuggled into my sleeping bag. Memo for next time – if you have a shaved head, bring a beanie.

As I dozed I was suddenly shocked awake by awareness of a presence next to me. I am not sure which one of us was more surprised – me or the deer that had wandered up to check out the strange apparition in the darkness. Startled, it scurried off into the forest, and I settled down to sleep as best I could. This is not particularly easy when you’re 5’10” and the bench is something short of 5’, but stuffing my feet out the end solved that problem. Benches also tend to be slatted. This is not comfortable, so I began my usual approach of rotating like a washing machine until sleep overcame me. I woke a lot in the night, and watched the progress of the stars across the sky. Finally something like sensible sleep gripped me, although by this time I was completely buried in my sleeping bag…

…which was why I didn’t notice the rain that started around 5am. I scurried to collect my stuff together, by which time I was wet and the rain was over. So I sat and watched day break over the water, the sky gradually lightening as the sun rose behind me, painting my vision with bold strokes of blue and gold, red and yellow, orange and grey.

Time for breakfast. A 6km ride into Oakham, and I hit Costa just after it opened. I debated buying another inner tube (somewhat seduced by the idea of self repairing tubes), having used my spare, but decided not to bother. Of course, this would prove to be the wrong choice. I mean.. I have a repair kit with me – and for heaven’s sake, my tyres are lined with Kevlar! 

Suitably refreshed, I set off to circumnavigate the reservoir. And around 10km into THAT, my earlier poor decision making skills bore evil fruit, as I got another puncture. Undeterred, I had puncture repair equipment with me and I set to fixing the problem, while I was overtaken by all the cyclists I had jauntily whizzed past on the way. This puncture was not going to be easy, as it was too close to the valve, and I had to surrender. I could return to Oakham, or walk on to the cycle hire shop on the North Shore. I decided to press on, and was confronted with a 5 km walk with a grumpy bike.

Finally arriving at the hire place, the sales assistant and I decided that given my luck so far, the purchase of an extra spare would be advisable. This proved to be one of the better decisions of the day.

New tube fitted, I rode off – the exertion of the previous day now starting to take its toll (and, come to think of it, earlier rides in the week). All I really wanted to do is to head home, which (probably due to the aforementioned hills) is not really a straight line affair. Choosing not to duel with lorries and BMW drivers on the major roads, the only options were to zigzag home through pretty little villages.

I may have mentioned the hills. But I feel it’s worth mentioning them again.

I decided on a shortcut. You can already tell that this isn’t going to end well. Part way through the shortcut, another puncture struck. I had to use my precious spare, still a good 35k from home, to fix this, as I couldn’t actually locate the hole. At this point, every single bump in the road felt like the tyre was going down again, shredding my nerves with every jolt.

I was now hungry and thirsty.. I began an approach of zigzagging from village shop to village shop, buying water and snacks to keep my flagging muscles moving.

Finally, the welcome sight of Oundle church spire hove into view. Redoubling my efforts I soared home, incident free, and collapsed. Until I remembered that I have to cycle out to feed my son’s animals later….

But lesson for the week… having declared a desire to become more intuitive, perhaps it is wise to listen when your intuition says ‘buy an inner tube’.

On retreat . . . to move forward

4 Sep

Every year I decide to take myself off for a couple of days away from everything, to get my thoughts back in focus, to chill out, relax and reconnect with the essence of who I am – and to reconnect with Spirit. Just time to be alone, and recharge my batteries – and find new vision.

While I might wish to do this in Maui or Tahiti, my usual retreat is to go up to the shores of Rutland Water, to a little camp site at Lydon Top (£7 a night, tell Arthur I sent you when you get there. And the Indian in Uppingham delivers. Apparently). Just basic amenities, but a lot of solitude and an AWESOME view.

I take minimal technology and take time to listen to the voice of my heart, and to inspiration.

Usually I motorbike up, but this year I decided I would cycle it. It’s only about 30km, but North Northants and Rutland between them serve up some pretty mean hills, especially with a 13kg pack on my back.

This is me.

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It didn’t help that I confused myself and set off in the wrong direction.

It was cool when I left, so I had my coat on… then I got hot, so I took it off… then the heavens opened. With no cover worth speaking of, I ploughed on into the rain. Arriving at the camp site, I struggled to get dry – or warm – and the fact that I had left the coffee at home did little to help. I’d decided to eat little that day anyway, just to kick start the thinking process.

But I had this view to inspire me . . .

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A night on hard ground then, working hard to stay warm… and then a quick bike ride into Oakham to get coffee and write a few notes.. allowing some of the things that had been spinning round in my head to come together. And then a 50km bike ride round Rutland Water (and a few detours).. it’s a spooky yet beautiful place, England’s largest reservoir (by area): I can’t help but think what it was like before it was flooded, and imagine the Hambleton villages that lie beneath.

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Oakham meant I could stock up on food as well as giving me more thinking time.. so that evening was a far more well managed hot and warming curry… which I sat and ate while pondering.

Lots of thoughts spinning round.. lots of new ideas, lots of possibilities to consider. Some of them will see the light of day over the next couple of weeks, I’m sure… while others might take a while to germinate and grow. But it feels like a corner has been turned, and something has shifted. For me, I always need to get away from it all to really listen to what’s going on – away from all the voices that scream for attention, from the distractions, the conflicts… just time to centre, ground and believe again. The last few days have been truly awesome.

For those who are interested in these things…

Here’s how I got there….

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(note setting off in completely the wrong direction. Only 50m climbs but it felt worse! 31km and 338m total ascent)

…round the reservoir…

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(yep, made a couple of unnecessary detours there. I get confused easily. I COULD have carried on… but coffee was calling. Oh yes, and a cycle back to the pub for the purposes of recharging my phone. Honest.) (49km and 255m total ascent. I thought this was going to be the easy day! The official cycle track is only 37km)

 

…and getting home…

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(38 km and 258 m ascent)

The reasons for the diversions? A little bit of caching. It helps motivate me to go further, to work harder.. and discover lovely places. Nothing particularly interesting this time out – a cache attached to a rope to stop it floating downstream.. another cunningly inserted into a signpost so it looked as if it really belonged… and a lot hidden in scratchy nettly places – but with some gorgeous views..

Like this view.

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Or this one

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Or these charming cottages.

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Or this unexpected village duck pond

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Or this viaduct (I love the Welland Viaduct… it’s over a kilometre long and has a total of 82 arches… it’s quite breathtaking how it crosses the Welland valley.)

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Or a dog that wanted to share its teddy bear.

Or a roadside sandwich bar.

You know, life is damn good fun.. when I just stop and enjoy what’s going on all around me.

Just… breathe… listen… and be happy.

 

 

Find out more at www.timhodgson.org

Seeing stars….

27 Mar

So. I haven’t been feeling great this week, so I felt that I needed to get some fresh air. In my infinite wisdom, I decided that this could best be achieved by a trip to Stamford. In order to maximise the ‘exercise’ part of this jaunt, I felt it would be best to do this by bike. A quick check of the map suggested this would be around a 50km round trip. Not too shabby. To add interest and make it a bit tougher, I thought I would take a short cut across some tracks and through the woods (it seems that the idea of going from Oundle to Stamford fell out of favour a while back, compounded by the fact that someone built an air base in the way). To add incentive, I promised myself a large vanilla milkshake when I got there.

The journey out was uneventful. I failed completely to get lost, break down, get a puncture or even lose anything. I had however failed to recognise the combined effects of listening to the entire 3 CD set of ‘Greatest Prog Rock Tracks Ever!’…. although this contains some wonderful gems by the likes of Curved Air (Back St Luv), Nazareth (This Flight Tonight), Argent (Hold Your Head Up) and The Sensational Alex Harvey Band (Faith Healer) the combined effects of too much jazz based guitar noodling and overblown synth playing may have left my head rather fuzzy. (This CD set brought to me by the best brother on the planet (and I don’t care how great your brother is, I’m not backing down on this one) who has the knack of buying the best possible presents EVER).

But I digress. Stamford duly reached, vanilla milkshake duly consumed, I am back on the bike. I make good progress home, although a late start has created a certain amount of increased pressure to get back before dark. I set off across the country track and make it to the woods before disaster strikes. A flat tyre. In the gathering twilight I duly repair this puncture, the process being aided by it being quite clearly obvious where the damn thorn went in in the first place.

All sorted, I ride on. I decide to take the road out of the wood rather than the track I came in on. However, it becomes apparent that this is the (very) long road out of the wood. I decide to take a shortcut and head down another track marked on the map. This track is not particularly well travelled (for a reason which will become clear in a couple of paragraphs or so).

I ride down the track, avoiding the occasional marshy area and the worst of the ruts, but failing to notice a large tussock of grass in my way. Such a nice word, ‘tussock’ all soft and rural gentle. Do not be deceived. They lie in wait as traps for the unwary.

The tussock stops my front wheel. Dead. Stopping the front wheel, of course, invokes certain other potential side effects in order to dissipate the kinetic energy I have put quite a lot of effort into creating. The first of these is to launch one (1) human over the handlebars. The second is to pivot the rest of the bike over the front wheel, ensuring that it then is launched over the top of the aforementioned human.

I am, very briefly, flying, albeit pursued by a cartwheeling bicycle. I do not really have time to enjoy this experience before I have to deal with the concept of landing. I forget all my training to ‘tuck and roll, minion, tuck and roll’.

I land. Face plant. In the mud. If a face plant can be said to be perfect, this is one of the perfect one. I am of course wearing my helmet. This helmet is of no use whatsoever, of course, because it is actually my face that has hit the (fortunately fairly soft) ground, avoiding neatly the helmet covered part of my head. However, there is quite a lot of kinetic energy still to dissipate, so the rest of me is now launched over my own head in an ungainly somersault. I am not sure which bit of me hurts more. I am pretty certain I have the right number of legs and arms, and the requisite number of fingers and toes attached to these.

However, I now have a flat nose, and a suspicion that I might have actually broken my neck. Gentle exploration and tests suggest that while it’s going to hurt like buggery in the morning, I am, all things considered, in one piece.

I gather my scattered belongings and take some comfort in the fact that no one was watching, and set off down the track. Which ends at an impenetrable hedge. There are tyre tracks leading up to the hedge, so whether some sort of Platform 9 3/4 magic is going on or not I do not know. It is clear, however, that I am not getting home that way.

I set off across a track, probably forged by others who have fallen into the same trap as I (although probably without the whole ‘tussock’ incident). It seems I have been misled again. The track dumps me into a small wood of brambles and trees, which would be difficult to navigate even without a bike in tow.

Finally I find a gap, leap the ditch and head across the field. The stars are now truly beautiful, although I am still a long way from dinner. Finally, my tyres touch the cold hard tarmac of a rural Northamptonshire road. All is well.

Until I stop and realise that my phone is missing. Although I had retrieved it after the somersaulting circus performance, it seems that it is no longer in my bag.

I set off back across the field. Uphill (to add insult to injury). Fortunately I have a torch. I retrace my steps to the tussock of doom. No sign of a phone. I set off back again, navigating my way through the mini-forest on the path I think I can remember taking. Hurrah! There is is, the little beauty, all safe and sound..I can relax again (and cancel the early morning alarm that would have me back at the crack of dawn to check again).

Back across the field, pausing yet again to look at the stars. They really do look beautiful tonight.

TimSignature

Haste to the wedding

23 Aug

Northamptonshire (where I live, for those new to the story) is quite pretty, in a gentle, rural way. Rolling hills, lots of fields, pleasant towns – a place of spires and markets as my old headmaster used to say. It’s a long, narrow county with the River Nene as its tranquil backbone, which miraculously changes pronunciation north of Thrapston, a navigable waterway that (when it’s not in full flood) has its fair share of pleasure cruisers, barges and canoes. It’s a pleasant contrast to the merciless flatness of the Fens, where the Gods gather to drink beer and play billiards, or roll cabbages in crown green bowling.

But if you want drama in a landscape, then you have to go West, young man, in search of peaks and mountains, escarpments and gorges. In truth, you could go NorthWest and SouthWest too (for the purists amongst you)….and this time the adventure leads to Derbyshire.

So, to Buxton, home of spring water, for a wedding. I get invited to one of these every year, and each year we predict who the lucky ones will be. This year sees the turn of Paul and Caroline to step out on a life of joy, happiness and more cake than you can shake a stick at.

But what would make it an adventure? What would make it unique? What, in short, would be mad enough for it to get mentioned in the groom’s speech?

What about cycling there?

DSCF7237Well, short of absolute lunacy, perhaps some reason needs to be added to the plan. For me to cycle to Buxton is going to take several days… so perhaps we’ll use the train as well. So, rising early and off to Corby station. Early experience reveals several new pieces of information. Firstly, it’s much harder cycling with a 20 kilo pack on my back. Secondly, Corby is pretty much 90% up hill. While heartening for the trip home, the trip out isn’t going well, particularly since I have also miscalculated the distance. Pedalling furiously, I scream into the station just in time and collapse onto the train.

Of course, negotiating the station platforms is fun too, but eventually I alight at Matlock station ready for the next leg of the journey. I just wish my legs would co-operate.

So, an afternoon cycling along the Derwent. For the non cyclists amongst my readers, the word ‘along’ is a preposition beloved of the two wheeled fraternity, like its companion, ‘down’. ‘Along’ means flat, gentle and calm. Of course, I’m following the river up stream, so there is an insistent rise to the terrain. I arrive into Bakewell, home of the Pudding and the Tart, along with the Rain. This is enough excuse for a coffee and a scone as I watch hikers pour off the Monsal Trail – the fortunate ones  have umbrellas or newspapers to fend off the deluge.. the less prescient have lopsided and sheepish grins and look very bedraggled.

CampSite (6)The final few klicks introduce a new word into the vocabulary. ‘Steep’. This is the description of the final push to the campsite, where I unpack my tent (see right) (and suddenly the pack seems much lighter) and collapse onto my mattress. Eventually I unfurl myself enough to walk to Monsal Head for a pint – suddenly realising that this is the first alcoholic beverage I have had since March.

CampSite (2)Next day a stroll along the Monsal Trail, 8 miles of disused railway line and a flat route (if I had but known it) from Bakewell to my camp site. ‘Flat’ is another good cycling word, and a plan for my return unfolds.

(this is the view from the camp site. Nice, huh?)

 

 

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(left hand side – Monsal Trail viaduct – right hand side – River Wye)

And then to the wedding. The road down to the river Wye is speedy and fun, but another adjective describes the route up to the wedding venue. ‘Vertical’. Convinced that no-one can attempt that particular hill without crampons and rope, it’s time to walk (slowly) up hill. I’m very early, and the staff are somewhat confused as they aren’t expecting wedding guests to be wearing muddy shorts and looking quite so dishevelled. But after recuperation, I change into the suit that I have been carrying for so many miles, and look reasonably presentable.

And what a marvellous wedding. Much happiness, a beautiful bride, lots of romance, witty speeches, plenty of confetti, marvellous cake, nice people and cheesy 1980s dance music. Not, perhaps, a time to dance the blues, although both Paul and I briefly push the modern jive boat out.

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Although I am quite looking forward to the hill this time (the word here is ‘down’ along with ‘whizz’) my friends take pity on me and whisk me back to the camp site, where, mercifully, sleep claims my weary body swiftly.

And then, a gentle cycle home. Well, you’d think so, wouldn’t you? But no, if mountaineers climb mountains ‘because they are there’ then the same thing applies to a cyclist confronted with a flat trail. So before I set off down the Monsal Trail to Bakewell, it seems only appropriate to see where the other end leads. Which is, of course, nearly to Buxton. And, after a wild mountain side ride down to the trail – it’s all uphill. Fun though – although later on the trail will be full of cyclists, walkers and joggers, it’s quite in the morning as I pass abandoned platforms, disused mills and cycle through old tunnels, and pass the abseilers gearing themselves up ready to leap off the bridge. Time then to relax briefly before turning round..

Monsal Trail (27)Monsal Trail (9)Monsal Trail (5)Monsal Trail (3)

Disassembling the tent I repack my bag, wishing yet again that I had a one man tent and not a three man (weight, it’s all in the weight) and set off back to Matlock. Which should be downhill. It doesn’t feel that way, but I do seem to be faster arriving back, despite being overtaken by weekend cyclists who want to emulate Boardman and Hoy (or they’re late for Sunday lunch).

DSCF7236The train (not, I have to say, this train, which is the Peak Valley Railway) zips me back to Corby and then the final ten miles. Mostly downhill. It’s been a good, fun weekend.. but I think I’ll stick to walking for a bit. And I’m beginning to see the attraction of the unremitting complanate velodrome that is the Fens…

 

Although a plan to rollerblade round Edinburgh next week is beginning to evolve….

 

(all photographs © Tim Hodgson 2012)

(‘Haste to the Wedding’ is an Irish jig. It seemed appropriate somehow)

Oh, those distances:

Oundle to Corby – 10.8 miles

Matlock to the camp site – 10.7 miles

Camp site to Cressbrook – 1.7 miles

Camp site via Monsal Trail to Wyedale – 13.5 miles

Camp site via Monsal Trail to Matlock – 13.5 miles (and I took a bit of a detour on the way back)

Corby to Oundle – 10.8 miles

So 61 miles in total.

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