Monday 28 May 2018

Bristol to Cardiff - bicycles, trains, bridges and horses

Friday night was to be a very different sort of night ride. It wasn't to start in London and I would be cycling in another country. In addition to this, when I set out for my nocturnal adventure, the sun had not set and it would not for a few hours.

The ride was actually Bristol to Barry (but as the blog title indicates I bailed at Cardiff).  So rather than the usual central London meet / start point I travelled the short distance to Paddington Station where I was to meet Geoff - also on his Brompton.

The start of a nocturnal adventure in daylight!

Paddington was very busy when I arrived and people were milling about and waiting for or running to catch their train. While I waited for Geoff to arrive I admired the roof which had been originally designed by the great Isambard Kingdom Brunel. In fact much of the Great Western Railway line was also engineered by Brunel as well. There was definitely a running theme to this ride.


While I took a few photos of my Brompton I kept a close eye on a little dog that looked like it could be a savage little beast if it wanted to! It kept a watchful eye on my movements and looked ready to strike if I advanced any closer to what it obviously considered its territory!!

While this was all going on a brass band played a few well know tunes. They were very good and I for one was grateful that I had this to listen to while I waited.

Soon Geoff arrived and after getting a cup of tea we waited for our train to pop up on the electronic departures board. With the train and its ever important platform number appearing we boarded the train, locked the bikes to the luggage rack and retired to our seats. To go with our tea, Geoff had kindly brought some custard donuts. These I consumed with enthusiasm.

Don't let its petite size fool you. He was a beast!

The journey to Bristol Tempe Meads - much it also being designed by Brunel - took a few hours to get to but the journey did seem to go quite quickly. Once out on to the station platform the night was still fairly mild and a mosaic of Brunel continued the running theme.

Bristol at night was dominated by clubs and pubs with lots of people being half cut and enjoying themselves in vocal fashion. Seeing a lady in her late 20's on her knees vomiting with her friend by her side trying to step away from the growing puddle like the tide coming in, was not really a spectator sport!

Geoff and I navigated the mile or so the the meeting point that had Bristol Cathedral as a backdrop and generally a more subdued part of Bristol.

Soon more riders came. A veteran of all things Friday night Stuart actually rode 100 miles or so to get to Bristol and then had the 70 or so miles of the actual night ride to do. Chapeau or what!! Before long were were over twenty in number and going through the interactive safety briefing. That done we were off.

We soon found ourselves cycling across the Clifton Suspension Bridge. The bridge is world famous and has a grade I listing. The original bridge was designed by - you guessed it - Brunel but built to a design by William Barlow and John Hawkshaw. Despite this, ask almost anyone who designed the Clifton Suspension Bridge and 9 times out of 10 you will hear the name Brunel.

Not long after the Clifton Suspension Bridge we saw another in the distance - Avonmouth Bridge. Geoff and I stopped to take a few photos of it before pedalling hard to catch up.

Crossing the Avonmouth Bridge was very pleasant insofar as there was a dedicated cycleway. The bridge was opened in 1974 and despite being 98.4 ft above the water below, those suffering from a fear of heights need not have worried as all that could be seen was darkness. It was as if we were almost flying.

Next on the list was the Severn Bridge. Again this had a very pleasant cycleway all blocked off from the traffic of the M48. The cycleway is 154 ft above the River Severn below and again nothing could be seem - which is probably a good thing.

Taking photos was difficult but it didn't deter many of us from trying. I mean, it isn't every day you cycle across the Severn Bridge. Of course there may be people who do just that!

Geoff and I were both very keen to spot a sign that said we were now in Wales. I couldn't see any but luckily Geoff did and we stopped to take a photo just for good measure.

Perhaps due to the smallish group of 20 or so riders, the wonderful route, the company or a combination of all of these, the miles seem to fly by. We approached the tearooms at Goldcliff in good time.

The half way stop was memorable for all the right reasons. After collecting a cheese toastie - wrapped in tin foil and when opened just right - a mug of tea and a rather fine slice of homemade carrot cake, many of us retired to a large garden shed with lots of seating. It was as quirky as it was  welcoming.

When we emerged from the shed and got ourselves ready we lined up outside and the lady who owned the tearooms took a photo of us all lined up.

Sadly, James came off his bike. He had not really got going but he had a nasty fall and looked as if he had damaged his wheel slightly. Unfortunately he had also damaged his chainring which meant the chain would always come off after a few revolutions. For him the rider was over.

Sheep in the distance trying to see what was going on

Pressing on towards Newport we came across another quite amazing bridge in the form of the Newport Transporter Bridge. There are less than 10 of these left in the world and this one is fully working.

The suspended platform can take a few cars and if it had of been open I know that I would have gone on it a few times.

The scenery of Wales in the early morning was wonderful. One strange feature was seeing ponies at the side of the road on grassy verges, happily munching away. I must have counted 15 of them on one stretch of road.

No, not a pony.

Sadly, after checking my phone for messages I had to get back to the big smoke a little sooner than I had anticipated so at Cardiff and 59 miles in I bailed. Saying goodbye to Geoff and Adrian (on a rather fine Surly a particular bicycle and brand I have coveted for many years) I made my way to Cardiff Central Station.

The journey home took nearly three hours and when I arrived at Paddington I was glad to be off the train. I could have taken the tube home but decided it was a lovely day and I needed to make up the miles so I cycled the 13.5 miles home. As I passed Kensal Green Cemetery the theme of this ride continued further as the Brunel family are buried in a a modest plot (by the standards of the surrounding graves) there. I wondered what Brunel might of made of a small wheeled folding bike? I strongly suspect he might have been able to provide a few ideas but would surely have approved.

This was a great adventure and I really enjoyed it. Thanks to Steve for leading the ride and providing an excellent route, Adrian for his role as TEC and Geoff for his company throughout the ride. If this is on next year (which I hope it is) I would like to do it all again.

Sunday 20 May 2018

London to Maldon Overnight on an Orange Brompton

The week building up to Friday was hectic to say the least. The usual pattern on the day of the Friday night ride is for me to think about and look forward to it throughout the day. This Friday was a little different as it was very busy and consequently I didn't give it a thought until I returned home.

Getting my bike ready (my new Orange Special Edition) I retired to my bed to lie down for a nap. This lasted all of 30 minutes. Saying goodbye to Mrs Orange and the the Orangettes I headed off for the tube station for the short journey to central London.

My journey was thankfully uneventful, although one gentleman with a carrier bag full of strong tins of beer and one open in the other hand, eyed me and my bike with suspicion. I returned fired, giving him a withering look that all but said, how very dare you!

As I passed the Tate Modern I saw yet again another couple in the throngs of breaking up. There were tears and loud voices and again it struck me that this stretch of the River seems to be the place for this sort of thing.

I arrived at the meeting point in good time and soon Geoff - the only other participant of the old firm - arrived shortly after.

Our ride leader was Nick. He explained that this was his first time leading a ride. I have to say that he did an excellent job!! After the interactive safety talk, we were told to inspect our bikes - just in case - and almost on the stroke of midnight we were off.

After the truly epic London to Felpham - which I bailed on - and its equally epic weather, Friday into Saturday morning was pure bliss in terms of weather. There was only the gentlest of breezes and it was Goldilocks in many ways - not too cold and not too hot.

Our ride leader Nick stated that he did not like hills. Although there were some, they were few and far between and the ride was - for a Friday night ride - almost devoid of them.

Progress was good and at a petrol station our arrival was greeted by a few gentleman who sang, chanted and asked to see various parts of our bodies.  It all happens on these sort of rides.

Geoff was on big wheels but despite this we spent much of the ride not far from each other chewing the fat about all sorts. The great thing about these rides is that you are never too far from someone to have a chat to - if you want to of course.

At I think Enfield we came to a stop and waited for the tail to catch up. A lone cyclist -James - going home on his bike (a pretty fine Mercian) enquired about what we were doing and where we were going. He liked the sound of it and ended up riding the rest of the journey with us. How brilliant is that! I chatted to him for a while. He was on his way home after a drink with friends when he saw us. Asking whether he had the ride on STRAVA he said that he did. Thankfully that all important evidence is there.

At just over 36 miles we reached the halfway stop 'The Village Tearoom' in Hatfield Heath. Well it was a little over halfway but who is counting. When we arrived it was just after 04:00 and dawn was approaching fast.

Inside we were treated to ham sandwiches and a choice of cake. I decided upon a slice of Bakewell that had raspberry seeds sprinkled on the icing. It was loverly!

After spending about an hour we all got ready to go and outside the sun was just about shining and dawn had well and truly broken.

The last 30 miles were wonderful. With clear, blue skies and the sun shining the countryside looked beautiful. In the distance mist could be seen rising over a rural idyll. Villages came and went and ones eyes picked out the cutest cottages with thatched roofs.

The miles seemed to fly by and near the turning to Hatfield Peverel a few got the train back to London while the rest pressed on.

The last few miles done we arrived at the 'Jolly Sailor' in Maldon just after 08:00. I got in quick and ordered a breakfast for Geoff and I. Basking in the sun we enjoyed a full English and a cup of tea.

Saying goodbye to Geoff I made the 6 and a half mile journey back to Hatfield Peverel station using the WAHOO Bolt to navigate me there. Yet again it was faultless and gives me renewed confidence that I could actually get to A to Z without visiting a few more letters of the alphabet!!

I arrived at the station with plenty of time to spare and boarded the 09:33 train to Liverpool Street. Getting home just after 11:00 it was a trouble-free journey.

At just under 65 miles this was a great ride and I really enjoyed it. I hope that the powers that be consider London to Maldon  to be featured in rides next year. Special thanks to Nick for a great route and for leading this ride.

As always many thanks to Geoff for his company. Until next time. Like London to Maldon, the next time will be uncharted territory!!