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Ghana: a few memory joggers from my back pocket notes as we cycled along

By Steve Gregson

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If you follow the `Essex` meridian line down until meeting `our`Barrancabermeja`s Colombian latitude, it is in Ghana so a good enough reason to choose it for a winter tour, no? After 17 weeks cycle touring in Colombia, Sweden and Austria last year always in our comfort zone, Ghana is certainly out of our comfort zones. Temps between 35 and 40, loose tummy, no proper food, perhaps our ageing too are the downside to very friendly Ghana folk.

The first 6 days have been as hard as we can remember, certainly harder than the Guatamala highlands or the 75 miles a day on the Colombian end-to-end. Here is a flavour of those 6 days.

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Jan 5th, 36C at 12am- the first 10 miles were on a cycle path separated from a dual carriageway with small businesses lining the road. The road then rose at 5 – 11% for a few miles to Aburi where no proper food!

6th. Incessant villages sprawls, ups and downs 5-10% all day, Anni hit on buttock by a wing mirror, but the driver at least stopped to apologise.Scrub, bushes and isolated trees. I had been reading about London-Edinburgh-London and our days seemed to be so similar- ride-eat-ride-eat-sleep a bit-ride.

7th A very dusty hard shoulder with lots of rumble strips. sleeping policemen.Cacti on roadside, hills to north an south. Again, 34 miles took all day, we are so slow.

8th. Rolling road territory but at end of day a long 11% hill to walk up.In addition, we cannot accurately find out about ferry times across Lake Volta and how near we can stay if there is only the one (10.00 am) ferry.

9th. Anni restrained on 2 separate occasions by young men wanting to know `where we are going?` We hear about a place to stay 20km from the ferry but no-one answers the door, so a neighbour telephones someone. We continue but there is no habitation, nowhere to stay just mud huts, no food, a long way back to Mpraeso if we are isolated at the water`s edge. A big car arrives with 4 burly guys who invite us to return to their guest house. No thanks , we continue downhill along a dusty wide road, no traffic ( perhaps we have missed the ferry?) to the ferry just in case there is something but the 10am, the 1230 pm has gone and there is another in an hour at 2pm but there are some wooden open boats waiting for 4 passengers, so in we go with our bicycles. Nowhere half decent to stay on the other side so 15km in searing heat 40C but flat . Plus slash and burn roadsides keep us cosy! I think its the second day eating only biscuits.

10th. 39C at 12am. A flat dusty road , often a sandy piste, washboarding, loose sand / stones and again the slash and burn! Birdlife and bushes make for the interest. However, flat. At the end of the day, Anni sat wearily on the road waerless, fed up and whacked, but at Donkorkrom we find a restful Guest House in a garden and decide we have earned a few days rest. Longest day so far 38miles. 4 days of loose tummy begins!

Traffic much less now!

Cyclists in the rain in UU&ganda

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The second week began after 2 lovely rest days in Donkokrom , walking in the woods, attending church and meeting a 74 year old lively, retired? Irish mission sister. It was then an early start for the 15 miles to the 10am? `engine boat` back across Lake Volta, slipping and sliding on loose sand and even being hit from behind by a motor bike ( 3 people) that fell over, it was also slipping and sliding along like me. A bit like dual slalom! At Hohue it was decision time, whether to carry on northwards on rough roads and places to stay probably 100 km apart. a no brainer really so it was turning east and a nice visit to Wli waterfalls, one of Ghana`s big attractions, consequently folk a bit aggressive and wanting `money` .A German guesthouse owner said we would not make Ho in a day (120km) and recommended a Mountain Pleasure resort but grubby carpets and bathroom were too much for us so at 3pm it was head downhill(ish)through tree lined country- side and even a rain shower and full speed the 36km to Ho where we did arrive before dark and found a nice hotel with delicious steaks. My computer made it 80km. 2 days rest and checked over the bikes. Met USA missionaries and were invited to stay in their guest room, (we give donation), a lovely family with 4 children taught at home, the eldest takes us a walk up to an escarpment isolated hamlet.

By now we are acclimatising but its much more humid than Colombia and the mosquito nets etc take patience putting up. The folk continue to be most welcoming and helpful with food and drink.

Onwards south to Adidome, moving out of the few hilly escarpments. A split innertube ( faulty Indonesian)just as a beatifully dressed young woman came past on a bike with 2 water cannisters , I did manage a photo and nearby was a roadworks depot to change the innertube . Plenty of cycle repair sheds, wheel builders and even a spare spoke to buy.

Mostly flat from now on.

At Sogakope , a `worldclass` hotel with a view over the Volta as it widened before the Atlantic Ocean. Good food. Sitting on veranda early morning a treat.

Dragoman bus passed us, open windows, a really old strong thing. Wonder if those adventurers are sorry for us or jealous?

As we were not going north, we then put in an extra loop eastwards to the coast near Togo and found, at Keta, a Guest House by the beach with photogenic fishing boats/ men. On the way, 7 young men on side of road hand loom weaving bright Kente strips, clickety click. Further on drummers, trance – like dancers at some kind of religious or funeral event. In the lagoon, kingfishers, hornbills, plovers, stilts, weaver birds.

Here in Ghana, am wearing long ankle sox a la Wiggins, not for performance but at average 8mp could do with that. More to reduce skin cancer risk on shins ( 2 friends suffered seriously).

We continue on our `proper holiday along the turquoise Atlantic Ocean, the sand and then the road or something called a road potholes connected with sand of which the most lands on our shins and in the chains. Gosh we have brown legs! Or sand covered!. Cross the Volta Delta on an engine boat, just for us `special` price! Prampram, 6x 60 ft tree trunks hewn out in the shape of the fishing boat hulls on a lorry and on the beach the finishing works going on , quite massive construction. Good for 15 years or so, a snip at £75000.

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Marvellous to see all the young kids able to walk smartly alone to school. Dressed in clean uniforms, satchels and a polite Good Morning to us always.

At one point, on a lonely cul-de-sac along the coast , a Moslem lady in Blackburn Rovers top! As we had just seen them draw with City in the cup 0-0, wev thought of such a sight in Blackburn back home.

Eating improving too, octopus, lobster as well as the ocean`s fish. Safer than chicken. Even a gin/ tonic last evening.

Going to the west of Accra from Shai bird Reserve and run-down chalets, we got caught in torrential rain on the equivalent of the M25 but fortunately we found a welcoming, excellent Forest View Hotel at North Dzorwulu, not far from the Accra airport.

One last observation as we start our second month and are still happy to do so. Most days we are asked our age, but at the last occurrence, a big heavy plant transporter driver, helping with directions shook both our hands 3 times, then embraced Anni, hugged her and then hugged me too. He was a giant (black man). Such unexpected daily happy things are a great delight here in Ghana. Lots of fun as we ride along, cries of `Grandma`,` Grandpa` as they call folks who are past it.

*** March summary so far- after a 3- day stay at Asaasi-Yaa, a friendly seaside resort where we have breakfast overlooking the Atlantic, we decided to find some Rough-Stuff Touring and also to avoid the main east west highway so turning west out of the gate onto a hard sandy byway, this soon became a grass- centred track then a footpath, then just grass next to the beach then on to the beach until an estuary which we waded across, fast flowing so gave 2 panniers to 2 young `porters`. The next day more dirt racks but a nice hotel at the end. Then a 3-day diversion to the interior northwards on quiet roads to Oda and back south again, enjoying the cocoa plantations, short hills and a hotel with colourful garden where we ate our evening meal.

A few days later another beach track from Ellmina, meanwhile 2 castles to visit and in between a discussion with 3 `suits` with ties in a Security Firm`s big 4 Wheel drive who sat there engine running and wound up the windows when we asked them politely to turn it off . Arrogance in abundance.

Another walk on the beach to Besua after a very steep headland track. The African Rainbow was a professionally run hotel, very friendly staff. Later a visit to a castle bought by a Surrey farmer. A day to rest up then off again only to be halted by threats of extortion/ protection money on another track that left us further back than when we started! All part of the adventure! Still, in March so far there have been some lovely days on beaches by some of the Beach Resorts where we have stayed, eating only fresh fish ( and chips or rice)from the nearby Atlantic.

As a bonus, we have mostly managed to avoid the busy east west highway and are just half a day from the Ivory Coast border.

Weather still hot, no complaints there . Now and again a shower but no wet clothes, always somewhere to shelter . One puncture a week to give us a moan!

Hi again, what an experience at the frontier to the Ivory Coast , a long straight road that became full of folk selling palm kernels, other fruit and veg plus all manner of goods on both sides of the road,exports/ imports from the Ivory Coast, trolleys moving in all directions and us trying to make progress forwards. Tall herb/ medicine sellers from Niger and Benin. Eventually we came to some closed gates and in the distance, a lagoon, perhaps 2km to the other side. The police, then Customs then Emigration let us pass but we were nervous in case of not being let back in but in the end an officer took us the to the edge of the Quay and we managed a photo. We bought a a mango and avocado for lunch.

That was it, our tour nominally ended ,we turned our wheels for home. Just a couple of hundred miles to Accra airport . 3 Days followed with us rolling along in a big gear, hindwind for the first time, then a bus ride and breaking a lifelong taboo when we rode the last kms to our guest house in pitch darkness.

Yes, Ghana, West Africa and `The White Man`s Grave` had certainly grown on us. The welcome of the people and the hot weather the real plusses.

See you soon, we have evaded the cannibals pot so far!

The final ride t o stay near airport, collect a box and find an extra one went trouble – free. At the overnight flight check-in, the girls were so impressed with what was in the 2 boxes and consequentlyy our riding in Ghana that they upgraded us! A just reward, maybe. It was certainly not for my sartorial elegance, a many times hand washed shirt and black toe-tector boots ( for the wildlife snakes)


The Pennine Cycleway 2013

PCW No 4: the first was a private trip in 2004, when I realised what a fantastic route this is. Three CTC tours up the route followed, in 2007, 2011 and the latest, completed a week ago in 2013.

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It’s a truly tough ride, and most definitely Sustran’s most challenging route: forget the Lon Las Cymru – kid’s stuff! C2C – hard but short in comparison. It’s got huge variety and there’s beautiful scenery of all kinds, whatever your taste.

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It takes a few goes at a route before you really get under its skin, and after four goes, I’m beginning to really feel I know this route. Familiarity certainly doesn’t breed contempt however. You just gain more confidence in knowing where the big climbs come.

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The route hasn’t changed except for the odd little Sustrans addition (so you can be sure it’s yet another off-road section). Do we like the off-road sections? Well, not really, it has to be said. We endure them, knowing that the route wouldn’t really be the Pennine Cycleway without them. This year we were pretty good and didn’t avoid much.

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Day 1 (a half day) starts in Derby and follows lanes to Ashbourne (tea stop), where you join the Tissington Trail, a lovely old railway track route. Thankfully the trail was dry-ish so the bikes didn’t get too covered in surface mud, which turns to concrete if it’s not washed off. More climbing once Parsley Hay is reached as one takes to the road again for a few miles to Youlgrave.

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Day 2 started with a diversion. The Monsal Trail is now fully open and so we decided to use it to get to Buxton. A good decision! It’s well surfaced and goes through some great tunnels. Pity it rained all the time.

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Buxton provides coffee and the traditional photo in front of the Opera house.

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A big climb out of the town is followed by the roughest section of trail on the whole route. Fortunately it’s short.

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We avoided a few gratuitous lumps by sticking to the main road for a section between Whaley Bridge and New Mills, where we enjoyed a good lunch at the Llamedos Café. A massive climb follows lunch – I’d forgotten about that one! – and then suburban roads all the way to Glossop and the Longdendale Trail. It’s an integral part of the route, being relatively long, but today it was damp and mucky. More bike cleaning this evening, I think. Thank goodness for the ice cream van half way along.

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It’s a tough day, this, and not over quite yet. We still had a section of ascending main road to ride (avoiding some off-road trail through moorland). This was the A628 Manchester to Barnsley road. The weather hadn’t been good today, so traffic was quite light and the left turn soon comes. Then its a few fun miles before the mega-descent down to Holmfirth and our most comfy night of the tour.

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There’s no doubting that the toughest section comes on the morning of day 3. After a huge climb out of Holmfirth, straight after a good hotel breakfast, it’s downhill to Meltham, up again and down again to Slaithwaite where the steepest climb of the whole route awaits. It’s long too. A descent brings the first off road section of the day, past Scammondon Water, a reservoir high in the hills immediately adjacent to the M62. The noise adds to the atmosphere but you quickly long for peace and quiet again. There’s no choice but to push your steed up a nasty 100 yard climb up to the road which, after a few miles will take you vertically down to…. coffee at Sowerby Bridge. Yes, that’s just the first section of the day. Next comes a pleasant ride along the Rochdale Canal to Hebden Bridge, which has become an arty-farty mecca, but not unpleasant for all that.

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Getting out of Hebden Bridge involves an awsome grovel up a quarter mile of cobbled steps. How lucky were we that they weren’t damp today, which makes them a nightmare with a loaded bike. Once at the top and back on the road, there is relentless ascent up to Heptonstall village (more cobbles) and through it to, at long last, a flat summit.

 A descent quickly follows on to our first proper bit of wild country cycling – Widdop Moor. It’s a classic bit of northern moorland, full of atmosphere and a couple of nasty steep sections, but mainly a gentle grind up to the top and so down into the Colne Valley. At last, the hard work is over for the day and all we have to do is ride along the Liverpool / Leeds Canal to Salterforth and then do a final few miles to Earby, our hostel for the night.

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Phew, the worst is over. Yes, honest! Today (day 4) is a fabulous day taking in the Yorkshire Dales, with stops in Gargrave, Settle and Clapham, all with excellent tea rooms! You can O.D. on tea & cakes today!

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Day 5 is good too, from Ingleton to Dufton. The day does start with a big climb, but it’s typical Cumbrian fell country and you get a great sense of satisfaction when you summit Kingdale and swoop down to Dent along some beautiful lanes. More good stuff follows to Sedburgh, which is a good place for coffee.

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A climb follows but the lane we follow north, high above the M6 and the West Coast Mainline, is a stunner.

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Tebay, followed by Orton arrive, with a choice of lunch stops; it’s either a good pub or a café which is part of a chocolate maker – it really doesn’t get much better. A stunning ride through moorland follows before we arrive in the Vale of Eden and make our way to tea in Appleby-in-Westmoreland. It’s a short ride (mostly uphill!) to Dufton and our night stop.

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Day 6 starts with a lovely ride along lanes to coffee at Melmerby, at which point you can cut off a little corner and get on the main road here to climb to Hartside. This section puts fear into some people but it’s well surfaced, a gentle gradient and not heavily traficked. The descent down to Alston on the other side makes it worthwhile anyway.

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The atmosphere changes here, for some inexplicable reason, as we head north, following the river South Tyne. It’s invariably wet on this section which is a shame, because it’s lovely. First the challenging lane with some very steep sections, and then the joy of a delightful cycle path all the way to Haltwhistle – almost: there’s one nasty climb needed to avoid the stunning Lambley viaduct, which can’t be accessed owing to the route passing through a private garden.

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Haltwhistle offers great tea shops at budget prices. Everyone’s in a good mood here because we’re getting there! One more big day and it’s cracked. We can start relaxing. The downside is that it’s usually raining around here and the midges were out in force as we climbed steeply out of Haltwhistle heading north to follow Hadrian’s Wall eastwards. A short flog took us to Once Brewed for the night.

Day 7 starts with more ascent up through the Wall and after six or seven miles we reach the Wark Forest and the longest section of off-road trail. The fact that it was raining didn’t help and there were definity some in the group who would happily have avoided Wark, but it wasn’t discussed.

It’s soon over and tarmac returns, and some very attractive, remote Northumberland scenery helps the miles go by. Bellingham brings coffee and Elsdon lunch. More lanes and an improvement in the weather and we eventually reached Powburn for a much needed cuppa and quick slice of cake. Once again we opted for the easy main road option (8 miles) instead of the hard man’s option of lots of very minor lanes and tracks. And so finally to Wooler and our celebration dinner.

 It would be lovely to have some photos of this section but sadly… the weather was rubbish and the camera was already damp enough! 

Day 8 is short as we head east for the coast at Berwick. It’s not without its interest, this section, but it’s always an edgy sort of day as people worry about getting to their trains. There’s a very attractive off road section which runs alonside the river Till – attractive that is until you have to push your bike up the hill at the end of the track!

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There’s refreshments available at Norham at the Butcher’s shop, after which it’s a relatively short run into Berwick, although Sustrans takes you round the houses and over the Union Bridge into Scotland for a brief while. All in all, it’s great to get to our final destination and a feeling of contentment at having completed such a great route. When will the 5th trip be, and might we mix things up by doing a N to S run? Sounds good to me!

Click on this link to view a full set of photos of the trip:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/markw48/sets/72157634472524477/show

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The Loaded Touring Bike Website is Reborn

Ron Wheeler created and now runs one of the most successful cycle touring websites, possibly because it’s based on a very simple idea. Here’s part of Ron’s story about The Loaded Touring Bike site:

As a long time bicycle tourer and photographer, I had an early vision of such a site, though little knowledge in how to make it happen.  I had no doubts that it would be big, but surprisingly no one I’d talked to gave it much of a chance.  In the end, I taught myself how to create a webpage and with 7 images I had the first pages created.  To shorten this story; the website took off,  going worldwide in short order by word-of-mouth.  Very quickly hit counts drove the site to the number 1 result for Touring Bikes on Google.com in any language.  Over 10 million hits in just a few years.

Send a message to CycleTouringINF if you succeed in getting your trusty steed added to Ron’s site. The shot below simply isn’t good enough (but I like it anyway). You could even send your loaded bike photos to me too, but include yourself in it – we’re not going into competition. Sort of like the shots you find here, but some background scenery would be an added bonus.

The Bike Friday in the White Peak of Derbyshire


Great Cycling Photos from around the World

First post since mid-November! Many apologies but until a new CTC touring bod gets going, it’s not going to happen. Until then, the very occasional blog will be published, like this link to a great set of photos. Enjoy!

http://cyclinginfo.co.uk/blog/3240/articles/cycling-photos-from-around-the-world/

Rickshaw Driving Practice in China(I should mention that the photo on the right is not one of the ‘great cycling photos’ – it’s just me having a go at pedalling a rickshaw in Beijing with my mum in the passenger seat. She was a very nervous passenger – the smile is one of sheer terror. It wasn’t totally easy to pedal and the brakes were abominable.)


Cycling the Mississippi

Here are some reports of a 500 mile bike ride down the Mississippi River from its source to Dubuque, Iowa. It’s nice folksy tale which you should pass on to anyone who thinks that undertaking something of this magnitude is just for the tougher types among us.

  1. http://www.turnagaintimes.com/current%20issue/2011-09-01/mississippi-bike-trip.html
  2. http://www.turnagaintimes.com/current%20issue/2011-09-15/mississippi-bike-trip.html
  3. http://www.turnagaintimes.com/current%20issue/2011-10-06/mississippi-bike-trip.html
  4. http://www.turnagaintimes.com/current%20issue/2011-10-20/mississippi-bike-trip.html
  5. http://www.turnagaintimes.com/current%20issue/2011-11-03/mississippi-bike-trip.html

If every reader of this blog were to persuade a cycling, but non-touring friend to do a ride along a river, from source to mouth, we might get a lot more people cycletouring. River suggestions: River Test (Whitchurch – Southampton), River Severn (Newtown tRiver Severno Chepstow) , River Trent (Biddulph to Humber Estuary), the River Thames etc – the choices are endless.


Cycle Tours in 2012

Golden Ring of Russia imageOver the course of the next few weeks tour programmes for next year will be released by CTC, not to mention numerous other tour companies. Adventure Cycling already have theirs out; our old friends, the Russian Cycle Touring Club, have just been in touch to advise us of their tours next year.  CTC members receive a 10% discount.


More on Cycle Rallies

Friends Steve and Anni Gregson write:

Mark, some more rally info. I also know that the Germans and Danes have annual rallies but I do not know any web-sites for them. 
 
All over Europe, including the UK with its Birthday Rides, there are excellent weeks of well organised cycle touring organised by experienced club members in many countries. Anni and I took part this summer in 2 rallies and have enjoyed others in the past.
 
The 67th AIT international rally ( held in the Ardennes ) began on 16 July for 7 days, opening with a ride around the host town followed by snacks and wine plus a parade of old bicycles.  Daily rides at 4 distances between 43 and 125km were held in parallel with off-road rides.  One day there was a hog roast picnic for everyone. On our return each day, there was a large TV showing the Tour de France, beer and tasty 3-course dinner with wine followed by music, dancing and more beer including the special beers for which Belgium is justly famous. The full programme can be viewed on http://www.cyclo.marche.be/  In other words a very sociable week enjoyed by over 1300 cyclists from 14 countries. Although there was some rain, how lucky we were in that it generally stopped 5 minutes after our return to the H.Q.
 
The Swedish rally was held in the Central Southern area and followed a similar format. It was not quite as sociable but the very quiet routes certainly made up for the lack of lively evenings. Organised walks around Boras’s town sculptures, visits to old textile mills and free tickets to a first division team’s European match filled our evenings. See more on http://www.ctv2011.se/   A highlight was the first day when 2 hours passed without meeting a vehicle on Sweden`s quiet ways.
 
If anyone fancies a rally in 2012, here are some ideas:
 
The 68th AIT International cycle -rally in 2012 ; 1-8 July, Gijon, northern Spain. Details www.gijoncicloturismo2012.es . Accessible by LD Lines, Portsmouth-Le Havre or Newhaven- Dieppe then St Nazaire-Gijon. In 2013 it will be at Yverdon-les-Bains, on Lake Neuchatel, Switzerland,
 
The Swedish Rally in 2012; 29 July – 4 August, 2012 is in Varberg, south of Gothenburg on the coast and quite accessible from UK. www.cykelframjandet.se/ varberg  and www.varberg.se . The Swedish rallies are on very quiet roads/ bridleways but as a rally , are less sociable than the AIT. You make your own entertainment in general.
 
 There are 3 and 4 day mid-week rallies in Holland from May to September. Details can be found on www.fietsengeniet.nl.  Distances approx. 30,40,60 and 100km daily.  Inexpensive. Camping and other accommodation possibilities. Info in Dutch but should not be hard to work out . We did a few evening rides when working there. All well organised, informal and jolly. Nice and flat.
 
Anyone needing more info can contact us via the CTC Information Desk
 
Steve and Anni GregsonSemaine Federale

 


Berlin Wall Cycle Tour

Berlin Wall imageIf I was a plagiarist, I certainly wouldn’t be admitting to it, but one has to get ideas from somewhere, and where better than Adventure Cycling’s Bike Bits which is similar in nature to Cycle Clips.  In a recent issue there’s a piece about a good new hostel in Berlin called the 3 Little Pigs, conveniently located near the heart of the city, just a couple of blocks from the Potsdamer Platz. This is where you can start your 160km ride of the Mauerweg or Berlin Wall Cycle Tour. It is by no means all urban either, in case you were thinking that this is a bit of a wacky suggestion for a touring blog!

Winter has all but set in, but the mild weather is still with us so what better time to take yourself off for a week to a new and (by all accounts) fantastic destination, not just to mooch around the museums and tourist sites but to do a spot of cycling too. Google ‘Berlin Wall Cycle Tour’ for everything you need to know. On the first google page alone, there are links to a Bikely route, a Bikeline guide, accompanied tours by bike and a whole lot more.


Free Camping in France!

That word ‘free’ usually succeeds in grabbing the attention. Precious little is free these days but plonking your tent down where it’s not going to upset anyone, and enjoying a peaceful night at no cost,Wild Camping is one of life’s great pleasures. Cicerone’s guide, Lightweight Camping, has been blogged here before, but here are a few succinct words from the author, together with some useful links at the bottom.   http://www.freewheelingfrance.com/cycle-camping/wild-camping-in-france.html


Getting to your European Destination by Train

Night TrainIf you haven’t considered the train as a means of getting to the start of your next cycle tour abroad, perhaps you should. City Nightline do it very well and it’s a joy to see all those mentions of cycle carriage being permitted. Check out their website: http://www.citynightline.de/citynightline/view/en/index.shtml


Willie J Machin’s End to End

Willie Machin This is just a bit of fun, but you never know, it may turn into something useful. And if it doesn’t just be entertained. Check out the individual sections of video. Willie J Machin, the star of the show, is up to video 8 and he’s arriving in Edinburgh. The previous seven videos – I have to admit I’ve not watched them – are to do with the process of getting organised for the ride. From Edinburgh I have no doubt he’ll be heading for John o’Groats – and that’s just to get to the start!!!  http://www.youtube.com/user/WillieJMachin#p/u/15/4vl4NaVJHa8

Good luck, Willie. Up the CTC!


Top Tips for Travelling in Africa

 Beach at Dar es SalaamQuite one of the best blogs around at the moment is Peter Gostelow’s ‘Big Africa Cycle’. He’s just blogged a long list of do’s and don’t’s which are definitely worth a look, even if you’re not planning on a trip there in the immediate future. They’re a bit of an eye opener, that’s for sure. I find it hard to believe but it’s 44 years since I was last in Dar. I do wish I could have all that time back. I arrived by ship, not by bike, so it doesn’t count really.


“Down the Road” website and Solar Rechargers

Gadget imageA friend pointed me towards this website which is all about cycle touring and contains a lot of good stuff, including equipment reviews. Being on the verge of a whole new way of life myself, which will hopefully involve lots more cycletouring, I’m particularly interested in bits of kit which recharge other bits of kit, eg mobile phones, mp3 players etc., and Tim Travis (owner of the site) provides some useful information on his experiences.

 Couple that to an earlier blog on the subject, not to mention an update, generously provided by the author himself and you’ll find you’re  just beginning to get your head around what’s out there and how it works.  Here’s yet more stuff to take a look at.


Cycling The Coast of Britain

 A friend wrote recently saying, “I’ve just finished the most brilliant book about cycle touring “One Man and his Bike” by Mike Carter.  He perfectly captures the essence and joy of cycling.” Available from Amazon for the sum of £7.09, the author describes it as a 5,000 mile, life-changing journey round the coast of Britain. You can also check out his reports to the Guardian.

CTC gets a lot of enquiries about this ride, so if you’re contemplating doing it, as well as finding out about Mike Carter’s experiences, you can check out CTC’s route sheet UK2, which offers an account of the ride; a Google search for ’round the coast of Britain cycle’ should bring up a further cluster of options including:

There are plenty more. Of course there’s a mass of information and advice on the CTC Forum if you search for ‘Round the Coast of Britain’. And if you want a proper book, you can read Josie Dew’s ‘Slow Coast Home’. Phew, after that lot, you may decide you want to do something completely different!


Cycle Tours in the US of A

Whether it’s a tour organised for you or one you organise yourself, the States is definitely a place to tour before you die and there’s no time like the present to plan it.

Adventure Cycling tours imageAdventure Cycling has just announced their 2012 tours.  From three month ‘trans-am’ trips to week-long family tours, there’s something here for everyone, so it’s definitely worth a look. If the dates of the tour are a significant factor (and they usually are), then click on the ‘Compare All Tours’ tab so you don’t have to click on each tour individually to find out the dates.

It’s only another five or six weeks before CTC’s own programme of Tours is announced and hopefully it isn’t going to land me in too much trouble if I tell you in advance that there are a couple of big tours heading over the Pond next year. Remember, there’s no CTC Holidays & Tours brochure this year, so you’ll need to look at the website for full information < http://www.cyclingholidays.org/tours/index.php >. You can also look out for brief descriptions of all next year’s tours in the December / January issue of Cycle, where there will be three pages given over to these.

Cass Gilbert ~ girlIf it’s simple inspiration you’re after, there’s plenty of it around and you can do no better than take a peek at Cass Gilbert’s superlative photo blog. Here’s a link to his current trip through Colorado. When you get to the bottom of the blog, you’ll find links to loads of other destinations. I would urge you to check out the Utah page and see the photos of the White Rim Trail, something that’s very definitely on my hit list sometime quite soon. More on Utah in a later blog. One cheeky question Cass: what’s the secret to somehow always managing to get some pretty girl to come on your trips?


Wise Cycling Wisdom and Advice from a Hobbit (perhaps)

Germany imageMark, I just wanted to update you on how MyBikeGuide is progressing after you were kind enough to mention us in your blog some 6 months ago. The key principles of the site remain to identify

  1. Flat (ish) self-guided European touring routes which ensure that the whole family (or those with weaker knees) can holiday together
  2. Routes which are close to railway stations, again to ensure that non-riding participants can stay in touch
  3. All the information needed to source services directly from the supplier (the most cost effective method), hence plenty of links to bike hire shops, local tourist information sites (with their hotel/campsite links), good maps and travel guides
  4. Enough information on food and drink (with translation) to ensure that after a day’s riding, an excellent meal can be obtained which will make a fine end to a great day’s riding
  5.  How to get to and from the ride location (including information on the use of the CTC giant plastic bag)

The site continues to expand and now covers a selection of suggested rides spanning the breadth of western Europe. We have even identified and ridden a nice little circular route that takes in Cambridge and Ipswich with access at Stansed, aimed at visitors coming into the UK.

As the nights close in we will be developing more routes covering the River Elbe in Germany , a route across Switzerland, a tour in Portugal and a lovely ride on the Murg plateau in Puglia, southern Italy and possibly a tour of Eastern Hungary ending in the world heritage wine town of Tokaj.

Good riding

Bilbo


Winter Reading Material #01

Python on bicycleEvery so often something to do with cycle touring is featured in Cycle Clips, CTC’s weekly email newsletter and this week it’s a great online magazine called Bicycle Traveler magazine. Good on ya, Cycle Clips!

And if you’re looking for even more good reading this winter, look no further than the following links to the amazing adventures of Willie Weir. There’s enough here to keep the most avid reader happy for months. What a stunning cyclist! Here are the links: one and two

Willie Weir


Women cannot ride bicycles in Afghanistan

Afghanistan imageI suppose you’d describe this blog as going beyond cycle touring. Interesting nevertheless, not to mention awesome! http://www.adventure-journal.com/2011/09/in-panjshir-tour-a-woman-and-her-bike-are-changing-the-world/

Photo courtesy of http://hameed.me/wordpress/

 


An Ultimate Cotswold Tour

Cotswold village imageEverything in the UK is small in comparison to those vast countries where epic journeys are made. Nevertheless, the old adage that the best things come in small packages applies very much to the UK, particularly when it comes to its landscape. A crowded little island we might be, but there’s still much that is unspoiled and utterly beautiful.

The recent – current even – patch of unbelievably clement autumn weather coincided with a Pennine Cycleway tour reunion which was held in the Cotswold Hills, these being close to where our volunteer reunion co-ordinator lives. The Cotswolds, for the geographically uncertain, is a small area of high country situated between Oxford, Gloucester and Worcester, to name three towns that many will be familiar with. Whilst disappointing as hills – it’s more of a plateau, hence my term ‘high country’ – there are, nevertheless, hills to be reckoned with in a cycling sense, so the area is not without its challenges. The climbs come about from having to ascend to the Cotswold plateau from the surrounding countryside and are also created because of the deep river valleys which dissect the region. These valleys are attractively wooded, but what makes the Cotswolds so special are the villages, built almost exclusively from the local stone. As a well-known picturesque area, it does heave with visitors at weekends, the worst place perhaps being Bourton-on-the-Water, but as cyclists we can simply stop briefly to enjoy tea and cake and be on our way before the average tourist has found somewhere to park!

Information for visitors to the Cotswolds is abundant – just Google for it. If you would like to tour it on a bike, here is the ‘ultimate Cotswold Tour’. Starting and finishing in Winchcombe the route makes for Charlbury in a clockwise direction, via the Slaughters, Bourton, Stow, Enstone and Dean. After spending the night there, it returns to Winchcombe by a more southerly route via Burford, Northleach and Andoversford. Approx 140kms and surprisingly few big hills. An added bonus is that you can pick up several British Cycle Quest checkpoints on your way round. CTC members can view the route and download the information from http://www.ctc-maps.org.uk/. A map of the route can be seen below, together with links to the very satisfactory accommodation we used. Finally, to view some photographs from the weekend, follow this link: http://www.flickr.com/photos/markw48/sets/72157627746086051/show/  (With the usual thanks to my two best models, Carol and Karen!)

 

 

Ultimate Cotswold Tour Map

Cotswolds3

http://www.bandbatoaklands.co.uk/  http://www.bellhotel-charlbury.com/


Now that summer’s over….

It’s time to review your touring year, carry out repairs to your kit and perhaps even do some thinking about next year ~ it’s never too early.

I discovered this http://www.woollypigs.com/2009/09/what-i-have-learned/ which is basically a list of really useful stuff to take with you when cycle touring with a tent. I’d agree with just about every one of those items.

Woollypigs is a good site and having taken a closer look around it, I’m impressed with both the style and the content. As always, I had a quick look at the ‘links’ page and found one or two out of date – inevitable I suppose – but also found this ~ http://www.bicycletouring101.com/ ~ which I’d not seen before. Plenty of stuff here, but very American and a bit cheesy in parts.

Middleburn CranksI liked Woollypigs’ article about washing a sleeping bag – one of those end-of-season chores that one is reluctant to do because sleeping bags don’t actually like being cleaned. It’s really all down to whether you can stand another year of sleeping in your bag knowing how many times it got really sweaty over this summer (and the last and the one before!). I decided it needed to be done. Cotswold Outdoor provided the Nikwax special down sleeping bag cleaner and all I needed was the time to tackle this really quite serious job. If it all went terribly wrong, then my beautifully warm, extremely lightweight and small-packing Vaude Polar 200 (I think) bag would be ruined. My experiences were similar to Woollypigs‘ in most aspects, however I chose my moment to wash the bag,believing I could air dry it if the weather was OK. So when the Indian summer arrived last week, I got straight down to business. After two days in the sun, there was no doubt that it was drying, but it was doing so extraordinarily slowly and, oh crikey, it was starting to smell very much like something evil was growing inside it. Anyway, I kept on working on the lumps of down which were gradually spreading out but there was no way my bag was going to dry naturally unless I thought of a cunning plan – which I did. I had no time to seek out a launderette tumble dryer so decided to use my car’s automatic drying facilities – only available in warm / hot weather. I was going away and my car would be left standing outside the Middleburn Cycle Components  factory in sunny Hampshire for two days after being outside CTC’s offices in Guildford for one. Checking the bag after the Guildford day, I felt optimistic. It had been as hot as I’d hoped in the car and the bag was beginning to feel like a sleeping bag again, instead of some damp, manky bit of synthetic fabric with lumps in it. What’s more, the smell was beginning to go. To cut to the chase, two days later, on returning from a most wonderful tour of the Cotswolds, the bag was 99% dry, nicely puffed up and completely non-smelly. A few more days lying around in a warmish house and it would be ready to put away for the winter. Job done! And all for under a fiver – the cost of the soap – and I’ve still got enough left to wash another bag. I dread to think how many 20ps it would have taken in a tumble dryer.

Remember, if nothing else, make a list of the jobs that need doing! You know you won’t regret it when next spring arrives.


Eurovelo Routes

Eurovelo Cycle Routes Sept 2011ECF (the European Cyclists’ Federation), in a recent newsletter, are jubilant that a further 10,000 kilometres of cycle track were added to the network yesterday when the European parliament officially inaugurated two new cycle routes. These are the Iron Curtain Trail (EV13) which is over 9000 kilometres and crosses 20 countries (see here for a past blog entry about this route) and the Rhine Route (EV15) which, not unsurprisingly, follows aforenamed river through the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland.  Don’t expect EV routes to be fully signposted, but do expect some bits to be.

Further news on the EV front is an announcement from the Hungarian government that they’re going to undertake a major upgrade on their stretch of the Danube Cycle Path (Eurovelo Route 6). Here’s an interesting blog about it ~ http://cyclingsolution.blogspot.com/2011/09/major-upgrade-for-budapest-vienna-trail.html ~ and an interesting story about the Hungarian government who are thinking about spending a shedload of cash upgrading the cycle route on their side of the river Danube, from the Austrian border to Budapest. A further useful website about Eurovelo routes generally is http://cyclingeurope.org/

As a relatively soft introduction to long distance touring, these routes have to be hard to beat.


U.S. ~ Cycle Touring : the Best Bits

Take a look at Esther and Warren’s round-the-world blog: http://estherwarren.wordpress.com/  aka The Sportswool Diaries. Their plan is just to cycle the best bits. Nice idea and hope they achieve it. Are they going to take a train through the bad bits? Warren comments:

The USA in particular gets rather overlooked when it comes to touring. Wisconsin – where we are on The Great Lakes Route is wonderful – it would make an excellent introduction to touring here – already the Autumn colours are starting to show – amazing!

USA Cycling Photo


The New Edition of Cycle Magazine

Cycle Mag Cover OctNov11The October / November issue of Cycle will have just / or is just about to hit your doormat. At National Office we always look forward to its arrival. It is, after all, the one means of communication we have with ALL (full) members of the club. We know that a lot of people read it from cover to cover but, nevertheless, it’s still easy enough to miss things.

As usual there’s lots to read and, as usual, it’s intended that there’s something in it to interest everyone, whatever their particular specialization, although I note that there’s nothing of particular interest for utility riders or campaigners in this issue.

I was pleased that I clicked on the advert on page 30 for the Bike Ride Shop (http://www.bikerideshop.co.uk/), an organisation I’d not heard of before. Focusing on cycle touring and Sustrans routes, how could one not like this site and I was pleased to find they had a blog (http://bikerideblog.blog.com/) where I found a good link (http://www.steephill.tv/). I’m sure there’s more to be found. Now to persuade them to link me into them….Bike Ride Shop


UK to Venice

We met Fran in ArnhemFran at the campsite in Arnhem. She’s pedalling down from the UK to Venice to visit an art exhibition, the Biennale, which I’m sure I should have heard of – I’m not a complete pagan – but I haven’t. Take a look at her blog to read about her trip. Go Fran – enjoy!
http://biennalebicycleandbeyond.wordpress.com


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