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The loneliness of the long-distance cyclist

26 Jan

(And before you get all worried about me being lonely – consider that I might actually enjoy that feeling of being alone.)

Regular readers of this column will know that I like to hop on a train in Peterborough and then get off at any of the exciting destinations that Virgin East Coast will take me to. The fact that I can sometimes managed to get a trip up to the Northumberland coast for £20 just adds to the excitement. Some of you will also know that one of my very favourite places to go is to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne… under 3 hours to Berwick-Upon-Tweed and then a bus ride to the Holy Island. Apart from the fact that if you go between September and May, the buses only run on Saturdays and Wednesdays. If the tides are right. Maybe.

Holy Island is cut off from the mainland by a tidal causeway. It opens for around 6 hours a day – attempting to cross the causeway at any other time will result in your vehicle being swept nonchalantly out to sea.

So.. last time I visited, I got the bus down and then walked the five miles back from Holy Island to the A1 and then caught a more frequent bus back to Berwick.

THIS time, I wondered what would happen if I cycled it. Now I know.   
   
A leisurely start to the day, then, although the frantic rush and pressure from the station staff to get the bike on the train is guaranteed to frazzle all but the most Zen-like of souls.

And then, off at the other end, and, carrying a full pack, I and my bike are off on the 26km journey to the Holy Island. Now, you need to be aware of a couple of things. Firstly, I am carrying a reasonably heavy pack. This, when added to the weight of a reasonably heavy human, is making for difficult going. Secondly, I have four hours to do this trip in. Any longer, and I won’t make the crossing. Which means I won’t have anywhere to sleep. And it’s January. This should be easy, but the possibility of issues with the bike are ever-present.

As I set off, I become aware of two other factors. The first is that cycleway route one is not exactly what I would call paved cycling surface. Now, I knew this. But now I am experiencing the difference between knowing, and REALLY knowing. And I have slick racing tyres on the bike.

I also realise that although I have checked the weather forecast for rain (none), I have not checked it for winds. The current 50 mile an hour winds blowing make travelling east a delight, but really do take it out of you when travelling west.

But the day is lovely, the sea is gorgeous, and provided I don’t get blown off the cliff edge, I should be fine. This is what I love about this part of the world – the wild, rough, pure nature – the elements truly unleashed to create an intoxicating and refreshing day out.

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(rocks I am trying to avoid being blown onto.)

  
It’s hard work, but eventually the causeway comes into view. Unfortunately, route one now wants to take me inland. This is the toughest part of the ride across fields in the wrong direction – but knowing that all will come good in the end. The road. The causeway. And finally, I am over the bay and onto Lindisfarne. Tonight, I will have a bed to sleep in.

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Lindisfarne is beautiful. Truly beautiful. And this time of year, it is especially gorgeous.. and quiet. Once the day visitors are gone, and the tide comes in and the causeway shuts, a wonderful peace descends upon the island, punctuated only by the clinking of ships’ rigging – and the incessant winds.

I collapse into bed – deeply deeply happy, deeply deeply peaceful, and totally and absolutely exhausted.

The winds have not died away overnight, and the island is swept by never ending gusts of wind. The gulls seem to be in their element – playing in the wind, held aloft by the roaring energy that they face into. Every now and again they turn and race downwind, as if just for the sheer joy of it all.

One of my favourite spots is The Heugh, a ridge of rock that runs down the west of the island. From there you can see back to the mainland, the twin spires of Heugh Hill and Guile Point obelisk lighthouses, and the ruins on St Cuthbert’s Island, another tidal island cut off at mid tide, where St Cuthbert spent time before leaving for the total isolation of the Farne Islands.

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I wander down to the harbour – the boats are riding out the waves, and I am taken by surprise by a seal in the dunes. The seal is equally surprised to see me, but flops back to sleep – exhausted, I suspect, by the storm. When I check back later, he is gone.

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The shore is peppered with upturned boats, turned into storm-proof sheds with tarpaulins. It is also liberally strewn with crab pots and the detritus of a working harbour.

The castle is still closed for maintenance – surrounded by a giant marquee and a skeletal scaffolding, it should reopen this spring.

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And off I go, braving the wind for a three hour walk round the island. I see very few people, which suits my mood of thoughtful introspection. There are plenty of sheep, gulls, snipe and migratory geese to keep me company..

   
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In places, the sands drift-race across the beach as they dry, freeing up the grains for a mad dash across the beach before they are caught by grass, pebbles, seaweed, a stray seashell. And I am very glad of my hat. And my gloves.

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The dunes are hard work, although at least they offer shelter from the wind, the heavy covering of grass holding them in place.

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But finally I make it back into the village – most of the shops and tea rooms are closed for the winter, although the one or two that remain open show a steady trade.

And so to the evening. Another peaceful walk round the village and out into the welcoming darkness. Time to think. Time to dream. Time to plan. This is my time of year for planning – my New Year starts on February 1st at the Celtic festival of Imbolc, and 2018 feels like a blank canvas, ready to be drawn upon, filled with colour and vivid images. Much has changed for me in recent months – new freedoms, new possibilities, new options – and 2019 brings the possibility of new beginnings, fresh starts, new adventures.

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And the stars! Away from much of our light pollution, the stars are vivid flecks of possibility on a velvet field – reminding me that this universe is so much greater and so much more incredible than I can ever imagine.

Tonight, I dream. More vividly than I have in a long time. The depth of relaxation and peace is working its way into my subconscious, healing and restoring me at ever deeper levels.

   
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The next day, after an early morning walk and some sunrise photography, I am off back on the bike again. The wind has finally dropped, and I cross the causeway with ease, my only deadline being a 6:18 train home. I have 7 hours. I set off on a diversion because: pretty.

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This being a story of me on two wheels, keen observers of my path through life will notice that this trip, apart from the tension of deadlines and the perils of being blown into the North Sea, has been lacking in drama.

Fortunately, normality is restored, and the drama that I have been running from arrives, slightly out of breath. I have a puncture. I manage to reinflate the tyre and cycle on, as I have green gunky puncture proof sealant in my tyres. Sadly, the reinflating does not last. Not only this but the valve core is now stuck in my cycle pump. When the pump is removed, the tyre rapidly deflates, showering me with the remaining green gunk and leaving me looking like Shrek on a bad hair day. A trip to a helpful garage and I manage to recover the valve core, only for the same thing to happen again. Finally I manage to inflate the tyre to something like rideable, and press on. I am ten miles from Berwick.

I try not to put too much pressure on the front tyre as it is only about half pressurised. Unfortunately, this means that I cannot relieve the pressure on my already distressed derrière, and every imperfection in the road is..less than comfortable.

But the bike is rolling. The day is glorious – a bright, sharp January day. The countryside is full of beauty – stark trees yet to gain their spring plumage, snowdrops braving the cold, and in the distance the snow-capped Northumberland hills.

I stop off at a charming 11th century church on the way ..

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And so I ride into Berwick. My legs ache, my posterior even more so – but I am happy beyond measure. A brief ride by the Tweed to catch the sunset, a warming hot chocolate, and back on the train. I am, of course, at the wrong end of the train. The guard gives up, dumps me on the train and rides the bike to the other end. I expect the announcements to be “we are sorry for the delay to your service today..this was due to an idiot cyclist being at the wrong end of the train”.

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In this, at least, I am disappointed.

What will I take back from my trip to this wonderful, spiritual, peaceful place? New dreams. New plans. New possibilities. An end to some dreams, and the opening up of new options. In the blink of an eye, the world is remade anew. Mistakes are erased like footprints on the beach, while possibility and hope rise again like the sunrise bringing the promise of a new dawn. I know that whatever life has thrown at me, and wherever I have been less than I could be, I know with absolute certainty that the world is remade in the moment of now. New starts, new choices, new adventures beckon as I create them seemingly out of the gusts that surround me.

Today, I remember that the world is.. perfect.

Find out more at www.timhodgson.org

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A vote for hope

7 Jun

compassion

Tomorrow the United Kingdom votes for its next government in what may be the most important election in my lifetime. The democratic system in the Western world has seen some shocks in the last twelve months – and perhaps this time the shock may be one that benefits this planet and moves us forward rather than taking us backward into darker days.

So far I have stayed quiet, watching what others have been saying, taking note of other people’s opinions.. and hoping and praying.

This time, I will be voting Labour. Not particularly because I want to vote Labour – it will be the first time I have, as I have usually favoured voting outside of the two party system – but because I am choosing to vote against a government lacking in compassion, in love, in those shared values that make us human. I am choosing to vote for a future where there is hope, rather than one of despair. And for me, Labour show me the possibility of that future, whereas a vote for the Conservatives is a vote for a return to the dark ages of modern politics.

For too long, this government have chosen to support the wants of the few over and against the needs of the many. Their approach to the NHS, to the disabled, to the disadvantaged, to the elderly, has been inhumane. Theresa May’s willingness to tear up the Human Rights Act – a bill of human rights that is one of this country’s proudest achievements – is irresponsible and dangerous, and would take humanity back centuries.

Their protection of the rights of the few, prioritised so heavily over the needs of the many, is anti-humanity and actually works against the prosperity of the nation as a whole. They gamble the future of this nation and the future of its people to line the pockets of a few powerful individuals.

We are ‘threatened’ with a Labour party that would apparently ‘take us back to the seventies’. And perhaps we need to remember those days. Those were the days when we had a National Health Service that worked. A police force that was respected. Where we were still grateful to be a country that was no longer at war. Where the ordinary people were finding their voice.

I have nothing against people becoming prosperous. I cheer on those who become successful. But I do stand up against those who use the power that wealth brings to take more and more for themselves while they forget the simple values of kindness, mercy, love, compassion.
In our continual pursuit of wealth we have forgotten that money is there to be used, not to be owned. We have forgotten that people matter. We have fallen prey to the thought that power is in the hands of the wealthy, the elite. We have listened to those who have the most to lose and to those who control the media that tells us what we should think. Our attention has been diverted to a false enemy when the actual enemy and danger to our humanity is far closer to home.

We have an opportunity in this election to vote for our true values. To vote to take humanity forward, not backward. To vote for love, compassion, hope, integrity. To vote for this country to be an example of what a nation can be – a demonstration to the world of what is possible when a country looks to what it can bring to the world.

So when I rock up at the polling station to vote tomorrow, I will definitely vote with my head. I will vote with my gut. I will certainly vote with my heart. And I will vote with hope that we can change our future.

 

Find out more at www.timhodgson.org

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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

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.

Treat yourself to a sunset

25 Mar

DSCF7087One of the things we need to do is to take time out for ourselves… look after ourselves a bit. Maybe kick back, relax, let the world pass us by. Maybe treat ourselves to something that makes us feel good. One of the recommendations for those of us seeking to be wealthy and successful is to set aside 10% of our income as a ‘play’ fund – to be spent on those things that make us feel good. Like a massage, or a manicure – or maybe a nice meal, or… well, you get the idea.

DSCF7075And then there are the other things, too, the things that sometimes come for free… a walk by the river, a date to see the sun rise, time out to just watch nature going by. Time out to let your heart speak, to enjoy a truly spiritual experience as this beautiful planet shows off to an audience of one.

DSCF7085Yesterday, I watched the sun setting over Barnwell Park near Oundle – just a few minutes walk from my home and a beautiful setting to watch the sun slowly disappear in a explosion of coruscating orange and red, throwing the pale blue sky into sharp contrast. The swans and geese glide across the lake, while ducks play fight and a moorhen scuds across the surface for the sheer exultation of it, never quite flying but not really swimming either.

Tonight, I didn’t have my camera as I took a twilight stroll to think some things through and let some dreams settle – to let go and release some stuff that had been troubling me, while letting the new begin to excite my spirit. As I stood on the bridge overlooking the river, and as the sky slowly shaded from softest blue into gentle coral pink, I felt my heart start to relax and let go. The new moon was just a slender crescent suggesting the shape of the disc behind, while Jupiter and Venus watched like proud parents standing guard over their newborn child. On the river a pair of swans glided silently yet purposefully up river, while all around dozens of bats cavorted and danced a wild pirouette through the evening sky.

Eventually the sky grew to an inky black, outlining the stars and the silver white shard of the moon. Sure, I had no camera, but the feelings and the images lie precious and close to my heart… and somewhere, it seems that Truth has spoken and something else has become clearer – and I feel as if my life is in safe hands…

Buns of glass, legs of jelly

26 Feb

So, time for a different adventure – having had my bike released from captivity, having been kidnapped by builders who said they would store it safely and bring it back the next day… three weeks ago… it’s time to get some exercise – and what better way to do that than by cycling over to see little brother (who is, by some genetic mismatch, bigger than his big brother). I’ve got his birthday presents to deliver – although it won’t actually be his birthday for four months. The last time I set out on this epic journey, my pedal fell off after two miles, so it’s with a bit of trepidation that I saddle off and ride off into the sunset. Perhaps a bit early for sunset, but I have a sneaky feeling that the ride back might be in the dark…

The first six or seven miles pass uneventfully enough, although I am convinced it’s mostly uphill – a sensation supported by the simple fact that I am climbing out of the Nene Valley. I’ve cycled this way before, and pass the familiar landmarks until I enter uncharted territory at Aldwincle.. and the gentle rolling slopes of the Nene Valley turn into the savagery that is Islip Hill – and the peace of the Northamptonshire countryside is punctuated by main road traffic. But this is half way, and piling on the pace I emerge triumphant at the top of the hill, ready for the drop down into Barton Seagrave. The road is pretty familiar, apart from one minor complication – the A14 has carved its way across the landscape, slicing across minor roads with gay abandon. The shortest distance between two points is the old railway line, but sanity takes me down the old roads and suddenly I am completely confused… convinced I’ve taken the wrong turning, I backtrack only to decide that I was right first time (regular readers will see a pattern emerging here – check back to a post from Thailand HERE).

Following the wind turbines proves a sensible navigational aid, and finally I sail, rather later than expected, into little brother’s driveway, with a sore rump and jelly legs, to find him spitting feathers at Liverpool’s performance against Cardiff in the Carling Cup (1-0 down at this point). Sustenance is on hand in the form of coffee with far more sugar than usual, and a Muller Corner yoghurt. 17.49 miles in 1h53 is a bit off my top score.. but I made it. A pity I have to get back as well.

Nr Atherstone (1)

So, leaving Liverpool 1-1 and in extra time, it’s back onto the bike, pulling on my London Marathon sweatshirt for warmth against the evening chill. The light is fading fast as I weave my way through the short cuts around Barton (got them right this time) and out into the Northamptonshire twilight. Over my shoulder, the thin sickle of a crescent moon looks over my shoulder from a hazy wintry setting, with Jupiter and Venus in attendance to add extra glamour to the scene. Rather than the detour, and with my heart in my mouth, I decide to brave the shortcut down the A14. I’ve had scarier rides on my bike, but it’s with relief that I pull off the A14 and head into the countryside. From the other direction, Islip hill is a whoop whoop exhilarating ride downhill, and the corresponding slow grind up the other side takes me steadily into the darkness. The moon and its acolytes still hovers over my shoulder, while around me the stars are coming out to play. I’m grateful for the extra layer of warmth against the chill – and for the reminder that I’ve overcome this kind of challenge before.

In the darkness, the landscape is eerily different. Skeletal trees loom large against a pale sky, and hedgerows form fantastical silhouettes against the skyline. Here and there small communities gather together against the darkness, while churches and the local stately home form way-points on the journey. All the cues to distance have changed – hills seem interminable with no indication of when the summit will appear, while sudden inclines spring up unexpectedly forcing a rapid gear change lest I fall off the bike.

A startled bunny ducks for cover. I apologise profusely, realising that I’ve missed my turn and driven into Aldwincle Playboy club. But the night is spookily dark and quiet, just the sound of the gear chain and the soft roar of rubber on tarmac to disturb the silence as mile after mile of country road falls beneath my wheels.

Landmarks come and go until the welcome sign for Stoke Doyle appears… the final village before home. Across the valley, the welcoming lights of the Oundle School houses beckon from the centre of town. After the challenges of the Northamptonshire contour map, Stoke Hill is of little consequence and I sail triumphantly into Oundle.

So, a total of 32.77 miles and 3 hours 31 minutes of cycling later… it’s time for a hot bath, and a very late breakfast….although whether I will be able to move very far tomorrow remains to be seen….

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