I have another mini-tour planned. I wonder what constitutes a mini-tour; I guess it’s anything less than a full stage-race with panniers. Over a week, full tour? Or is it over a fortnight? Less than a week is definitely mini though, so on that premise I’m not going full tour bongo any time soon.
The plan is a loose following of the Lon Las Cymru. I won’t go right out to Anglesey because they eat their young and it’s kind of primeval, but I will roll down from my starting point in Llandudno, over Snowdonia and down towards Barmouth. From there, it’ll be through Machynlleth and along the Elan Valley, stopping at several places without so much as a vowel between them, Cwmystwyth and Ysbyty leading the charge. Swyddffynnon has a solitary vowel, a gorgon sharing an o in the absence of an eye.
It’s going to be hilly. The Elan Valley has an odd pull; I keep seeing pictures of it taken by the ultranutters whilst they sleep in the outdoors, sheltering beneath the udders of a craven heifer from a swirling storm, for around 13 minutes before pressing on, on, on into the darkness, both of the night and of the soul.
I have a queue of mini-tours in my head. I want to do the ridgeway, then back on the kennet and avon canal. I’d like to do some sort of Jurassic Coast ridings, but have always been put off by a probably misplaced fear of middle England. I’d like to do the Devon sustrans coast-to-coast, it’s supposed to be almost all traffic free. I then have a queue of longer tours I fantasise about. These might require camping though, which I am diametrically, ethically, politically and morally opposed to. Chief among these is any kind of epic tour in France, crossing mountains and taking in everything the country has to offer. Maybe one day.
There are some salutary lessons to be taken away from the complex art of route planning. Primarily, by all means plan a 90 miler away from all conurbations and anything larger than an abandoned medieval hamlet, but don’t be surprised if you then find yourself wondering where all the shops are and panicking about what you’re going to eat.
Leicestershire is both prettier and lumpier than I anticipated. I think I ended up riding across the Wolds, a stretch of woldiness up above Loughborough. It is quaint and gently rolling. I found the remote village of Quorn, which is a pilgrimage of sorts to a vegetarian like me. I started slowly on account of some pangs of anxiety, my knee was hurting at the end of the previous day’s riding. It was fine. Once I got up around the 50 mile mark I pressed on and made up time. It’s interesting how distance changes when you embark on a long day in the saddle, or multiple long days. Once you crack the 50 mile ride there’s a ray of optimism, only 40 miles to go… It’s peculiar. You have to forget about distance and just tap along, looking at things and getting lost in the flow of the activity, the gentle pulse of the mind, ambling along in unison with the bike. It’s surprisingly easy to do long days, although I’m not sure how long a ride has to be these days to qualify as ‘long’. No sooner had I uploaded my three day epic than one of my chums spuffed out a 280km day ride just for the express purpose of shitting and giggling. These people (the Baineses, the Silvertons, all of Bristol Audax Club who thought it would be fun to ride home from Rome before tea – you know who you are) shall from this day forth be known collectively as the ‘ultranutters’.
This is the first mini-tour I’ve done on my own, so it gave plenty of time for thinking, but unfortunately yielded no profound insights. I made some observations; inane things like how counties or areas become defined by their county towns in the imagination at least, For instance, I thought Leicestershire would be a bit of a shitty midlands sprawl because that’s what I think Leicester is (even if it isn’t), but it couldn’t be further from the truth, it’s a beautiful county. Once you get out of the towns and cities, weaving a stitched line along the OS map, it’s quite startling how English everything becomes. The rural landscape, imaginative, physical, demographic and imaginative, is very much middle England, punctuated by the flag of St George, villages in thrall to a vision of the past that is at once bucolic, refreshing, but clearly at odds with the more modern subjectivity of the city dweller. The gap is more of a yawning chasm, there is nothing within the villages of Quorn or Cerney or Wymeswold or Barnetby that links even remotely (no pun in intended) to the metropolis. When you ride through it, it’s not hard to see and feel the disconnect between the city and the countryside in terms of modern identity.
The closest I came too civilisation (which now sounds like a contradiction in terms) was the outskirts of Nuneaton. It was also the only place I saw a shop, and the only place I didn’t really want to stop and leave the bike, so i pressed on. I did ride up Gun Hill though, and wondered if it was the same Gun Hill which Harold Worthern and Vic Clark used to ride up in the early 1940s.
Stratford is nice, insofar as they have kept the bits that were important and linked in some way to old Shakey. I was expecting amazing medieval hostelries, but found only Greene King pubs. Mercifully, there is a micropub there, which is one of the best drinking establishments I have ever been to. It’s called the ‘Stratford Ale House’ and occupies an old health food store. Seems apt.
By about 9pm I was absolutely cream-crackered. It took two and a half pints over three hours to wipe me out completely. Hardcore.
It sounds slightly dubious. Like sandbagging, or teabagging (no hyperlink on this occasion). Maybe a combination of the both, sandyteabagging. With a saddle. Others call it ‘credit card touring’, on account of the lightness of the tour, i.e not going full touring bongo, front and back panniers, dynamo hub, SPD sandals and other CTC erotica. Either way, and whatever hankie you’ve got in your top pocket, I’m going on a short saddlebag tour. These are convenient and can be woven into a busy life, allowing a short glimpse of the outdoors without the kind of legal compromises that can ensue with the unexpected announcement of a forthcoming world cycling tour.
Previously I’ve done Devon/Cornwall. It was very hilly and very beautiful. We (me, Graham and Steve) missed a fatal helicopter crash by inches. It was very hilly. We went to a pub and were lucky to escape alive. The road out of Lynton was the most beautiful ride I think I’ve ever done. A pint of Exmoor Ale on Exmoor never tasted so good. Day two was enlivened by the three of us catching up with a clubmate who had been dropped in a road race. It was strange. Day one was way too hard. It was all absurdly hilly and incredibly beautiful.
This year I’m opting for a straight ride back, an A to B, from Withernsea (the Saint Tropez of the Holderness peninsula, said no-one ever) to Bristol, over three days. It’s big miles, but it hopefully should be relatively benign until I reach the Cotswolds.
The bike is ready to go.
I’m using a Carradice Nelson on the back and a Carradice Barley bar bag on the front. It’s a nice set-up, and one I haven’t used before. In the past I’ve always opted for the super C, which is a total whopper of a bag, and nothing on the front. I like the option of having ready-to-grab things up front. It also means you can opt for the slightly smaller bag at the back. Accommodation is then provided by the good folks at Air B+B (a high-end shed in someone’s garden near Newark) and Premier Inn.
I’ll try and keep people posted. Probably best for the three long-suffering readers of this blog to check out my instagram feed for live pictures of unending tarmac and the lincolnshire badlands. So excited.