Archive for May, 2010

2000 miles for Help for Heroes – Day 31 – 25 May

30th May 2010

I just thought I’d mention that the marvellous Sandside Estate where I stayed with Charlie and Tamara on Saturday 15 May is well described on this web site: Sandside Estate

Tuesday 25 May

Odometer – 1920 miles. Sleaford – Nassington (38 miles).

This was an easy, delightful, day of 36 miles culminating at The Prebendal Manor, Nassington.
James Baile, a friend of my son Andrew, cycled out to meet and escort me back to the manor where he looked after me right royally while Deefer Dog (a Border Collie) was my constant companion. Deefer, I was told, “owned” a platoon of sheep in an adjacent field which she spent much of her time marshalling, moving the confused creatures from one corner to another for no apparent reason other than to keep her paw in.
The Prebendal Manor was connected both with the local church and Lincoln Diocese and Cathedral. The present stone manor house, dating from the early 13th century, stands on an historic site which includes two medieval fishponds and archaeological and historical evidence of one of king Cnut’s royal timber halls. Alongside the Manor House, there lie a 16th century dovecote, a large 18th century tithe barn and a 15th century lodgings building. This astonishing site is open to the public – The Prebendal Manor House. While Mrs Baile lives in the manor house, James and Sheila and their two children live in the lodgings building. I have been amazed to learn that the Prebendal site has been used and occupied since early prehistoric times.
Anyway, back to the present. James, a keen cyclist, serviced my bike and installed a new odometer. Many thanks, James! In the evening, I joined him at a faith group meeting which heard a talk about the Chester Mystery Plays which we all enjoyed. I left the meeting shortly before the very end to go and sort out my things. When James returned, he brought with him a small bowl full of cash from the meeting; they had all donated £85. I went to bed full of happiness and contentment and, as I pondered the day’s events, Deefer Dog nosed open the door and lay down beside the bed in order to see that her guest came to no harm during the night. What more could a man ask?

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2000 miles for Help for Heroes – Day 30 – 24 May

30th May 2010

Monday

Odometer – 1882 miles. Selby – Sleaford (78 miles).

This was a very long day of 12 hours and 78 miles. I got away in good time from my neat little bivouac site outside Selby, cycling past the Drax power station to Goole, along winding lanes to Scunthorpe. I was just becoming quite pleased with my route finding when I got lost in that fair town… but fortunately not for long before finding my way out towards that extraordinary Roman Road that is the A15. The going was generally good with a few significantly broken patches, a light south-westerly wind and it was moderately warm. I made pretty good progress. The land was an agri-desert – a flat landscape, straight road and villages set well back on either side. At least, unlike some of the great arable regions of France, there are scraps of woodland and the occasional decent hedgerow. I stopped at a Travelodge in Sleaford. It was £57 but I badly needed a wash and flat bed. I crossed the tarmac for a meal at the Little Chef. I ordered a hot pie. When it quickly arrived, covered in an industrial sludge, I discovered it was stone cold in the middle. Although, ravenously hungry, I couldn’t eat it and spoke to the dining room receptionist who said not to worry – she’d take it off my bill. Subsequently, I learnt that a couple of women with whom I had been chatting earlier had paid my bill in full on the way out; and it was too late before I realised that the receptionist had pulled a fast one on me.
In contrast, today I received £57 in donations from a number of people. To recall, I am covering my own expenses; all donations will be paid to Help for Heroes in full.

Climbing in 1990 – pics from the archive

30th May 2010

We found these pictures from the archive of Chris climbing in another era, 20 years ago. Even then, his gear was Jurassic. Commentary from his son Andrew and friend Nick, with whom Chris was climbing.


1. Preparing for a climb in the French Alps c. 1990. Camping at Les Chosalets campsite in Argentiere. Note the ex-army rucksack, and Dad’s favourite climbing breeches. Dad commented to Fuzz and me how clothing had progressed as we were climbing in tracksters. Note also the “A” frame tents in the background which these days are a thing of the past.
2. Pausing in the Vallée Blanche. You can see a couple of other tents in the background. A magical place. Cooling off in the midday sun. Roped up and approaching the Cosmiques ridge that takes you to the summit of the Aiguille du Midi.
3. The Vallée Blanche again; a superb and enormous bowl high up surrounded by peaks of the Chamonix Aiguilles. The hole in the snow was our access to unfrozen drinking water (of sorts). Dad filling up the water bottles for the following day before it freezes over night.
4. Morning preparations for a crack at the Cosmiques Ridge after a bivouac at the foot of the climb. Note the strap-on crampons (very old technology!) and the Whillans sit harness, guaranteed to ensure no further children should you be unlucky enough to take a fall in it. I am sure he still has it lurking somewhere. Also the classic Joe Brown climbing helmet. This stuff would not look out of place in a Mountaineering Museum. Dad proving however that it’s not what you wear, it’s what you tackle and achieve that counts.
5. On the Cosmiques Ridge itself, a great climb on mixed ground; wonderful Cham granite (or “grornit” as Dad would say) and interspersed with snow and ice pitches. The climb culminates at the viewing platform of the cable car station. One feels quite smug while tourists take you photo as you clamber, as dignified as possible, over the safety rail. Dad had a small bloodied, cut on his finger, which is not uncommon on granite, and a kindly Japanese tourist whipped out a plaster and administered first aid even before he could put down his ice axe!
6. R&R day at the campsite, again note ex-army ’58 mug. What do you think of the dormobile awning with the cute curtains?!

2000 miles for Help for Heroes – Day 29 – 23 May

24th May 2010

Sunday – Pentecost

Odometer – 1704 miles. Northallerton – Ampleforth – Selby (23+35 miles)

Today has been a superb day. I have reached Selby and am settled into a secret bivouac in a wood just off the bypass. No one has seen me go in, I’m sure, but I keep knife and phone (switched on) inside my sleeping bag.

I left the Station Hotel in Northallerton at 7am, spitting tacks. I had wanted to leave earlier but my bike was locked in the garage and no one could be found to open it up. Nevertheless, on a glorious morning, I covered the 23 miles and arrived at Ampleforth just in time to gather my wits, meet my son, Paul, with his wife and children and join them in the Abbey Church for the monastery and school Mass of Pentecost at 10am. I had cycled 103 miles since my last square meal but I couldn’t have been happier. After Mass, under Fr Chad’s organisation, I gave a 30-minute talk to 50 or so students and a few parents about what I was up to. People seemed genuinely interested and asked thoughtful questions. We then move to a barbecue lunch, overseen by Miss Fuller and cooked by the Upper Sixth in my granddaughter’s house, St. Margaret’s, which was not only most congenial but vital, being my only meal since yesterday’s breakfast. Fr Hugh organised some fruit, photographers and (the icing on the cake) three traditionally clad Bagpipers from St. Hugh’s. A dozen children from St. Martin’s Ampleforth (the prep school at Gilling) joined the farewell party. It was absolutely super! Here are some pictures:

I set off again towards York at 2:45pm with renewed heart, strength and spirit. There were some initial steep climbs and, before I left the valley, I stopped to take a farewell photo of the Abbey and campus, looking back through a hedge from high ground. Memories from 57 years ago came flooding back of borrowing a farmer’s horse with a friend when I was in the school and, two-up on the long-suffering beast, clomping along the same road to get up to no good. I arrived in York at 5pm and pulled into a pub for water. I ordered ½ a pint of beer to pacify the publican and chatted for a while with people at the bar. On my way out, people eating at a table stopped me, asked for my story and made a donation. It turns out that one woman’s son-in-law had just returned from Afghanistan. I encounter such connections in almost every town I stop in. I reached Selby bypass at 7pm and have now managed to transfer into cover without being seen. Good night on this day of the Holy Spirit!

2000 miles for Help for Heroes – Day 28 – 22 May

24th May 2010

Saturday

Odometer – 1646 miles. West Woodburn, Northumberland – Northallerton, via Durham (80 miles).

I am almost sorry to have to say this, but today was an unusually hard day. I have been trying to reach Ampleforth to enjoy the hospitality that the monks there have offered me, but I have failed. It wasn’t helped by my only reaching West Woodburn last night (when I had been aiming for Corbridge) but it was the Northumbrian fells that did it for me today.
The set-back was the nature of the A68, cutting across countless ridges and dales for many miles. I counted 30 hills on which I had to drop to first gear. 30!
Anyway, I left Woodburn at 7:30am and it took me 5 hours of continuous cycling to reach Castleside, only 30 miles down the road – 6 mph. I felt desperate. Then I was advised to run off the hills east-southeast to Durham before turning south on the relatively flat road to Darlington. I took this advice and was able to cover the next 50 miles to Northallerton in 6 ½ hours – 7.7 mph.
I had a slight accident just before Darlington: I swerved to avoid a huge pothole, hit the kerb and tumbled into a post-and-rail fence, grazing my forearm along the rail. It took a while to extract all the splinters (these fixtures are not finished like banisters, you see) and I was a bit concerned about tetanus. I thought of using a mini-bottle of whisky, that I’d been given by an extravagant Scotsman, to clean it but I was advised not to waste this on the basis that any animal soiling would be on the inner side of the rail. I ignored this rather specious advice and used the whisky – albeit sparingly.
I fetched up in Northallerton at 7:15pm and decided to spend the night at the Station Hotel. I was going to order in a pizza when the girl at reception said she’d order me a curry as they were very good. I regret to say that the delivered product was repulsive, appearing to be the scrapings off other customers’ plates, accompanied by a sort of industrial sludge. Honestly, I am not a fussy man, but I was unable to eat anything but the rice. Then to bed.

2000 miles for Help for Heroes – Day 27 – 21 May

24th May 2010

Friday

Odometer – 1566 miles, calculated. East Edinburgh – West Woodburn, Northumberland (73 miles)

I have reached a farm house B&B in West Woodburn, having traversed 73 miles of very hilly country.

I was up early and left east Edinburgh at 8am, having said goodbye to the kind couple who had put me up for the night.
The day was warm and still and the road surface was not at all bad. But the terrain was another matter: a long succession of ups and downs of increasing height to the border at Carter Bar (at 1368 feet, just a little lower than Shap). These hills reduce my speed, going on all day, over and beyond the Cheviots. On the upsides, I only manage 3 mph. On the downsides, I am doing 12 mph. But since the distances up and down are roughly equal (with very little flat), GCSE students will confirm that the overall average in the hilly sections (most of the route today) is as low as 5 mph.
Sadly, I couldn’t cycle with my head in the clouds, whistling merrily, enjoying the scenery because I was forced to watch the road surface like a hawk to avoid winter’s potholes while also dodging the passing traffic (with the help of my nifty wing mirror). I arrived at 8pm at this little B&B, run by a delightful Irish woman who has produced for me a huge sandwich and an entire bottle of red wine which I shall finish before bed time.

Ed: the mutual appreciation continues… here is James, the Kenyan Mountain Guide, on learning of the cycle ride:
Hi paul,this is James again.Paul am very right when i say your Dad is one of the very few men who know the important of keeping there body in good condition&the way i see&hear him yuo can learn more from him.Not many old men can frontier to do such activities.Let you children spend time with him when they are free,they can learn many thing about life from him,he is very inteligent man.Have a good time together with your family,greet them all&tell your dad congraturition.
James mt tour guide.

2000 miles for Help for Heroes – Day 26 – 20 May

24th May 2010

Thursday

Odometer – 1493 miles, calculated. Pitlochry – east Edinburgh with 5 extra miles (85 miles)

“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster / And treat those two impostors just the same…”

I got a taste of both today. I awoke to another disaster; I forgot to set the alarm. [I am told this is the sub-conscious winning over, in the struggle for more sleep.] My body clock jerked me awake at 7:40am, an hour and 40 minutes late. I leapt out of bed, wolfed a slight breakfast and jumped on the bike, sped away by the ever-helpful Nancy. We parted with lumps in our throats. Anyway, I had recovered 30 minutes.

Now, you may find my accounts of the next couple of days rather dry and narrow in perspective. Perhaps this is because I have had little time or opportunity to rise above the harsh minute-by-minute grind of covering scores of miles with a heavily laden bike, on frost-damaged roads, over an endless succession of hills, always against a head wind of varying strength. A kind of poverty, if you like: “Road surface. Hills. Head wind. Ablutions. Eat. Sleep. Road surface. Hills. Head wind.” [Ed: waning strength in advanced years really seems to tell, on all but the gentlest of hills.]

Well, the first four hours were a triumph – 43 miles to lunch at 1:30pm in Milnathort. There were no hills, a good surface and no real head wind (see what I mean?). It was warm and sunny and I was in a single shirt. The target was looking less impossible.
But the gilt was taken off the gingerbread just after lunch at Kelty whence the road went through a corrugated landscape requiring lowest gear in places. I took three hours to cover the next 15 miles to Inverkeithing and the Forth Road Bridge at 4:30pm. Disaster.
It was here that I tried to arrange a bed for the night, with Dalkeith still 21 miles away, the other side of Edinburgh. One friend of a friend turned out to be ex-directory. Disaster.
Then a kind offer came through from Martin Askey, an old climbing friend of my eldest. Triumph. But my phone was switched off so I missed it. Disaster.

Then there was the traversing of Edinburgh, which I found rather trying. I was keen to avoid the potholes that covered the roads, weaving this way and that. But this just invited honks and abuse, which a well-brought-up Englishman is not used to hearing. Then I hit the man trap of a pothole which jolted the front box off the bike, shedding its contents across the highway. I was forced to imperiously stop the traffic to re-gather my stuff, enduring more insults in the process. Disaster. At least the wheel wasn’t buckled. Triumph. Then I got seriously lost and queries at a bus stop seemed pointless; local knowledge extended to knowing where was the nearest Tesco and that was it. Suddenly I was struck by self pity, declaiming to the entire bus queue: “OK. No one knows the way to Dalkeith so I will have to sleep rough tonight – if someone would be kind enough to point me towards the nearest open country.” Whereupon Charlie and Catherine, a couple in their late 40’s, I guess, replied: “why don’t you sleep at our house tonight?” They gave me a map, pointed to their house in east Edinburgh and said I should meet them there. My spirits soared. I oriented myself with my compass, followed their directions and arrived minutes before them. Triumph.

Charlie and Catherine were perfect examples of the sort of sympathetic generosity I have met again and again over the last 1500 miles, much of it in Scotland. They provided me with more food and beer than I could possibly put away, followed by a hot shower and bed. Charlie, for the umpteenth time, “How about another beer, Chris?” “I couldn’t, Charlie. I’d be up all night, waking you both with the flushing of the loo.” Gales of laughter. We had a stimulating conversation on the superb qualities of our soldiers, serving not just us but millions of bullied people beyond our shores towards whom they have no natural loyalty based on “blood, nation or creed”. Charlie and Catherine backed their beliefs with hard cash and hospitality – many thanks to you both.

2000 miles for Help for Heroes – Day 25 – 19 May

19th May 2010

Wednesday

Odometer – 1408 miles, calculated. Aviemore – Pitlochry (58 miles)

I left Aviemore at 7:40 this morning without a breakfast. I woke just before my alarm at 6am, as is my habit, and managed to snuff it before it woke the rest of the dorm.

So I stopped at Newtonmore for refuelling. Then, before the A9 reaches Dalwhinnie, I took a hardly used side road to the north of it; it’s obviously quieter but also full of rabbits – a hilarious experience.

I had begun the day in very low spirits; I’d felt very disorganised with events overtaking me, and then there was that fiasco with the hostel computer yesterday evening. So the rabbits put a smile on my face as I traversed the Pass of Drumochter into Glen Garry, past Blair Atholl and Killiecrankie and finally into Pitlochry at 4pm.

The smile was wiped away when I got to the bike shop to find that the man has “gone away for a while”.

It took me some time to find a B&B as they all seemed to offer only double rooms. Then I found one, run by a splendid woman who has done my washing, fed me an enormous meal and poured me two stiff whiskies.

It’s been a day of highs and lows. It began with gloomy weather, specks of rain, matching my mood, but then the day warmed up and I discarded my Gore-Tex for the first time in 25 days. There was a strong south-westerly head wind, but then I turned south east over Drumochter summit, 110 ft higher than Shap, leaving the Highlands behind me… and this woman, running a B&B in Pitlochry, has restored my faith in myself.

I am now deliberating as to whether I can reach Edinburgh tomorrow (72 miles). I shall try to contact friends there to see if they can put me up for the night.

On a different note entirely, I‘ve been told that an e-mail has just come in from James Muriithi [muriitjimmo@yahoo.com] of the Mountain Club of Kenya, who guided me up Mt Kenya a couple of years ago. I think I should post it here verbatim, as an endorsement of this fine man who looked after me on Africa’s second highest peak for three days; please tell all your friends about him – or at least those who are planning such a trip:

“Hi Major,how are you doing?i just wanted to here from you because i have not heard from you a couple of months&also to alert you i have lowered the price for camping safaris&mounting trekking to be 100 dollars per day per person,this is to try to put myself in top possition to catch more client in this coming high season that is starting on july,so please try to market my business there to your friends&your relatives mostly this time of world cup.Major i wish you the best in every thing,you&your beloved family.

James,

Your mt Guide,Kenya.”

2000 miles for Help for Heroes – Day 24 – 18 May

19th May 2010

Tuesday

Odometer – 1350 miles, calculated. Tain – Aviemore (63 miles)

I left Tain at 8am and eventually got myself up and over the Black Isle before whizzing down over the great bridge at Inverness, to be followed by the long climb to Slochd summit (nearly as high as Shap). After that, it was a steady descent and there ahead, framed between the pines, I saw the great block that was the Cairngorms covered in much snow – a marvellous sight. There was hardly any rain and just a bit of a head wind, but the ascents kept me down in 1st and 2nd gears at just 6 ½ mph average.
On reaching Aviemore, I couldn’t find any bed for under £70 so the Information Bureau directed me to the Youth Hostel for a bed in a dormitory, which was fine.
How was I feeling today? Very low spirits this morning, feeling very sorry for myself. Picked up a bit after noon. Then I attempted to send an email in a time-limited session on the hostel computer and my spirits took another knock; a meaner-spirited set-up I could scarcely imagine.
Tomorrow, I will stop in Pitlochry, short of Perth, as I hear there is a cycle shop there (for a new odometer).

Be warned: my hapless experience on the hostel computer this evening was an attempt to send an email containing a short philosophical essay to which I plan to subject you all in due course.

2000 miles for Help for Heroes – Day 23 – 17 May

17th May 2010

Monday

Odometer – 1287 miles.

I reached Tain at 6:30pm after 9 ½ hours, of which ½ hour was spent trying to fix the odometer and ½ hour eating a baked spud in Helmsdale; otherwise cycling.
The dear old lady who runs the B&B sent me packing into town before everything closed so I managed to get a supper at the Royal Hotel – sea bass, very nice.

[Ed: verbatim quote] It’s been a very hard, exhausting, day. There were huge gradients until mile 55 when it flattened out somewhat. There’s been a wretched headwind all day and it’s been sapping my strength and my morale… but I’ve made it anyway. It’s really lowered my spirits – I’ve been feeling very low… but I’ve recovered now, after a good meal.
Seldom have I felt so pleased to find a bed for the night and a good meal. It’s been an exhausting day, in every sense, but I’m still on schedule and I really must avoid gradients in future [Ed: how’re you going to do that?].
My average speed was down to 7mph which rose later in the day as the gradient flattened. I’ll be OK tomorrow.