2017 May 9th - Aberteifi Rambling
The ‘Summer Season’ of handcycling is now under way and this time our travels took us to Cardigan or Aberteifi, to use the proper Welsh name. Our particular destination was the Welsh Wildlife Visitor Centre overlooking the Teifi Marshes. Although this borders onto the south-eastern edge of the town, it is necessary to take the road to Cilgerran to find the entrance. The ‘drive’ to the visitor centre is the trackbed of the former branch railway to Cardigan. The visitor centre is built high up on a rock outcrop and has excellent views across the marshes from its upper floors.
Our aim was to meet up with a small group of our old university chums with whom we keep in sporadic contact. This we did at the Centre and then were able to make good use of the café which offers a good range of food and drink. Once refreshed we felt it appropriate to venture forth and take some exercise. We had made sure that the handcycle was parked by the second floor exit as this seemed the best starting point. Being built up a hillside the Visitor Centre has entrances from the hill at every floor although some climbing is necessary to reach them from the outside.
The path sloped down to the car park at quite an angle, perhaps 1 in 6, so it was brakes firmly held and pusher now very much a puller resisting the tug of gravity. Once down to the car park level serenity returned and we began to make out way along the footpath laid out along the rest of the former railway track. Being a level, tarmac surface progress was easy with much chatting amongst the group. The local birds did their best to drown us out with a variety of songs, but mostly from invisible choristers. The path has several hides built out into the marshes, some directly on the railway embankment and some accessible along board walks. All have been adapted for easy access for the less than able birdwatcher. A good range of water-birds were to be seen including a statuesque heron who was initially assumed to be a plastic replica until it moved to catch a fish. Ducks were probably in the visible majority, but the board of ‘spotted’ birds suggested that they were by no means so in sheer numbers. There are reputed to be water buffalo as well, being used to keep down the woody shrubs, but they were nowhere to be seen.
At the end of the marshes the railway track disappears under a road bridge and ceases to be the ‘Red’ route around the reserve. It does continue but as part of a Sustrans cycle route of unknown quality. Our party were minded to continue on the Red route and follow it back to the car park. Thus we turned off left into the reeds on a high board walk. This was quite a change of scene and mood as the board walk was barely wider than the handcycle. It was clearly a scary route as the anxious face of a young walker coming the other way expressed as she sidled past the machine on the remaining ledge high above the murky marsh water.
A few more twists and bends brought the route ashore to an old lane. This looked quite challenging as it climbed steeply and was well criss-crossed by tree roots. A bit of serious pushing was called for not to mention a sharp eye for the best route through the roots. The low clearance of the stand made its presence felt with plenty of clangs where it had close encounters with roots or small boulders. A set of shallow steps at the top of the lane brought forth a degree of group divergence. Part of the group were for an ‘assisted’ crank up them and part were in favour of a dismantling and walking. As the rider was in the latter camp that plan prevailed. At the ‘top’ the machine was reassembled and the group set off along the left-hand fork in the trail.
This became narrow and ‘deep’ so that the machine’s rear wheels were high up in the long grass and weeds while the front was in the narrow defile. Not much space for having or doing a ‘wobbly’. The brisk progress was brought to a sudden halt as the path came to a stop above a steep drop, while a set of steps on the right climbed steeply up to a hide. Checking the map we found that we had taken the wrong branch of the route. That was something of an embarrassment given that nearly half the group had been undergraduate Geographers. Spurred on by this mistake the machine was quickly turned around and propelled by many hands back to the fork. Here we noticed there was actually a nice clear signpost indicating that the Red route was the right hand path and the hide was the left.
A quick time check revealed that the time for relieving one of the party’s dog sitter was fast approaching. Clearly we had been chatting too long over lunch and were now running out of afternoon. A majority decision to turn back to the former railway path was adopted and we set off once more. In the case of the long steps, it was realised that there was a weedy bank to the right of the woodwork. That offered a quick descent provided the machine and rider had strong nerves and a good pusher. And so it was. The stand and its castors scraped and squealed while the rider was concentrating too hard on steering to add to the cacophony. However, the steps were not that long and the tree rooted lane was, by comparison rather tame.
Back on the board walk winding through the weeds and climbing up to the hight of the railway embankment a party of ‘real’ walkers was encountered. The boots, the drip dry trousers, the knapsacks, the hats and all the proper gear were in evidence. They strode towards us in a single line as one body. We stopped and moved as close to the edge as we dared leaving them perhaps 10cm on which to pass. They strode on and passed us without breaking step simply uttering a greeting and then disappearing into the reeds from whence we had come.
By comparison the smooth railway embankment trail was pretty tame, but the sun was shining, the birds were still trilling and it was good to be out. Progress back to the car park was, of necessity swift. Our farewells were made and the Dog People and friends disappeared from our lives until the next time. But, for us, it was not all over. Bottom gear was engaged, deep breaths were taken and the hill back to the second floor door was attacked. Once breasted and the doorway achieved, the machine was split and parked. We then ascended to the café and treated ourselves to a late Afternoon Tea. We knew we were worth it!
2017 April 16th - Lawton Woods
It is hard to believe that Easter is over and the Spring Bank Holiday is upon us. This winter has not been one of long walks as we had a central heating failure and discovered that the insurance we had been sold did not include our heating system. That was eventually sorted out and we looked forward to better things in the Spring. Weatherwise, our part of the world has had a quite long dry period meaning our pond is now rather low. The upside is that the often muddy paths are in quite reasonable condition and a walk with the hand cycle is possible without getting a coating of mud.
Having a sister in tow, we set off for Lawton Bluebell Woods which is not too far from the town of Kidsgrove. There are various access points and we chose one that is in a housing estate cul de sac. Sadly, the Local Authority now seems to have a policy of replacing stiles with kissing gates. From one point of view, this does at least improve access for those unable to climb over a stile, but for those of us who walk with wheels, both technologies are a pain.
However, we are never willingly defeated by obstacles placed in footpaths and with a touch of the ‘Charles Atlas’ the wheelchair was lifted over. The front wheel unit, being smaller, can be wheeled through most kissing gates. Once into the wood, and with the kit joined up and ready to run, we were able to set off. As luck would have it we had chosen an excellent day with sunshine and a day probably midway through the bluebells’ display. The result was a sea of blue and the unmistakable perfume of massed bluebells.
The paths in the wood meander a little giving the traveller a constantly changing perspective of sun and shadow and of the dips and bumps all with their coating of brilliant blue. To accompany this there was a pleasant background of birdsong though often drowned out by the sound of heavy vehicles on the main road not too far away.
Having passed though the first section of the wood we descended a steep bank and joined the former coach drive to Lawton Hall. At this point the road descends to a dam behind which is a quite large lake. Crossing the dam one is given long vistas up the lake on one side and a well wooded vista of the original steep and twisting valley on the other. Added to this is the sound of water rushing over the stonework of the sluice and plunging into the stream.
A short sharp steep push provided access to the second bluebell area again crossed by many paths. Some, blocked by fallen trees defeated us, but good progress was made. The Batec machine had not been used here before so we wondered how it would cope with tree roots and the other rough elements of this sort of environment. In practice it was very satisfactory, although clanks and bangs from the stand reminded us how little ground clearance there is.
We finally turned around and made our way back to the car using different paths to our outward route. We were saddened to see that so many folk who use the wood seem to believe in the Dog Poo Fairy and hung their bag on trees and fences for the Fairy to remove.
Back at the kissing gate the split machine was heaved over and stowed into our car. A nice little outing to open the 2017 season of walks.
2016 October 16th -Ten People, Two Hancycles and Two 'Proper' Bikes
Ten of us were staying in a large house in Tenby in October — friends from long ago getting together for a few days of relaxation and chat. As it turned out we were lucky with the weather — blue skies and sunshine every day. We wanted to explore in a leisurely kind of way. For some of us this was familiar ground, for others it was newer territory, or that half remembered from childhood holidays.
For the handcycles and the handcyclists the days involved some testing out in different kinds of ways. One handcyclist had never done this kind of thing before. A complete handcycling novice. Tenby is something of an 'up and down' place with some uneven roads and pavements, so not the easiest territory for starting out on. The other handcyclist had a new machine so there was a different kind of testing out.
First day was for enjoying town, beach and sea scapes. The esplanade provides easy handcycling but dramatic views down to the sand and water below. The steep downward lanes needed care and brakes at the ready. Towards the harbour the multi-coloured, multi-storied Georgian houses in varied pastel shades command attention. Walkers in our group descended further and closer to the harbour. Handcyclists stayed higher to avoid further climbing to get back up. Instead a little circling around, on the almost level, gave views to the converted old lifeboat station and out to sea beyond.
As well as currently being largely a holiday resort Tenby has a significant historical past. On our tour of the town we were soon aware of the ancient, grey stone town walls. Tenby was a Norman town and the walls were to protect against the Welsh. They were first built in the thirteenth century, rebuilt somewhat in the fifteenth, but then 'knocked about' during the civil war. Most of the town gates are gone, but the five arches are the still imposing remains of the West Gate. As you walk around the narrow streets, close to the many still substantial sections of wall, you get a strong sense of the medieval past of the town.
Our second day was spent away from town. Just a few miles south of Tenby is a lovely headland in miniature — Lydstep Point. To get there you need to do battle with a bumpy, almost rocky bit of narrow road, but it is worth it. The two cyclists in our party cycled from Tenby independently. A picnic lunch fortified us for our little later expedition. Walkers found convenient, but not soft bits of rock for sitting on. Handcyclists could sit where they were in greater comfort.
The path circles the small promontory allowing a different journey out and back. The outward route is lightly wooded, hiding the seaward views, and providing lumpy roots as handcycling obstacles — not the easiest kind of path for a novice handcyclist. Soon the woodland scrub is left behind and wide views open up. You can get as close to the cliff edges as you wish...or dare! Across the water, but quite close is the craggy outline of Ynys Byr (Caldy Island). The long, extending coastal view is down towards the Gower. One of the geographers is the party points out a distant island — 'Isn't that Lundy?' Some of us are initially not convinced, but soon realise that he is correct even if it almost feels that we must be looking around corners.
We are on short, grassy territory now, but still with plenty of lumps and bumps, slopes and sudden dips. The handcyclists are to some extent self propelling, but pushers are definitely required, both to maintain motion and to ensure a sense of security. The novice handcyclist has the experienced pusher, but other volunteers are ready to help. All of us, walkers and handcyclists alike are enjoying being out in this beautiful landscape. With the close views of imposing cliffs and the rocks and changing sea below I feel that I am experiencing the essence of what the coast path is all about within this small part of it.
Our final day is also a coast path experience, but of quite a different character. Most of us drive over the few miles to nearby Saundersfoot. (There is also a separate walking party who do it the more challenging way.) Saundersfoot, also has a history of interest.
The coast path here is a surfaced trackway. This is a leftover from the town's earlier history as a coal exporting port, as is the good sized harbour itself. Many are surprised to learn of the existence of the south Pembrokeshire coalfield. It was nowhere near as extensive as that in the south Wales valleys, but it was significant from medieval times onwards, and especially in the nineteenth century. The trackway, turned coastal path, came from a narrow gauge line, originally with horse drawn wagons, that brought coal from the pits to Saundersfoot harbour.
So, handcycling here was a different, smoother experience than it had been at Lydstep. There were though three short tunnels to be negotiated, and, as usually seems to the case, there was an increase in bumpiness within the tunnels. The beach area, almost immediately in front of the track is hugely lumpy and bumpy. Dark, spiky rocks are poking up all over the place, seemingly at random. But a more careful look soon shows that this is not the case. There is a pattern here — a large semicircle of rocks where the back semicircle reaches up higher. Once you have noticed it you cannot see why you missed it earlier. This is an anticline or upthrust of rock, but with higher levels of rock weathered away by the action of the sea.
The route is not a long one and within less than a mile we have reached the hamlet of Wiseman's Bridge. We order some sandwiches from the pub there and sit out at the tables, enjoying the views of beach, sea and coast until it is time to return the way we have come.
But all good things have to come to an end. The ten members of the group are agreed that this has been a very good time: blue skies and sunshine have helped, but also the beautiful Pembrokeshire landscape, good chat and reconnecting, good food in the evenings, either at Tenby restaurants or back at our temporary home
The handcyclists are especially satisfied with their experience, although in different ways. The novice handcyclist has met the challenge of this new experience with enjoyment and positive aplomb. She has been able to join in all the outings and get further than would have been possible by walking. The new handcycle has been tried and tested. The greater maneuverability of the shorter wheel base has been appreciated as has the much easier joining up of handcycle front end and wheel chair rear. There has been a little problem with the right hand crank coming off unexpectedly, but that will soon be remedied by the technical fixer back in the garage workshop.
2016 July 30th -Ospreys, or perhaps not...
Sunday afternoon and the sun is not quite shining but there is a lightness in the sky. The clouds are scurrying away to the south east as if chased by the Hounds of Hell and the roads are full of tourists. Many are motor cyclists on group rides to or from the resorts of Cardigan Bay while many are, like us, drifting along on a day out. The drift, however, is not aimless as the destination is the Dyfi Osprey Project, a part of the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust.
Having parked, unloaded and assembled the handcycle to many curious glances, we went in and paid our voluntary donation. At £3 per head it seemed far too small given the work that is being done here. As with all the Wildlife Trusts the ‘staff’ here are keen volunteers brimming with enthusiasm and information. The ‘base station’ has screens from the cameras that are trained on the Osprey nests as well as showing archive footage of the birds and their chicks. Ospreys began nesting on the Dyfi in 2007 after a nesting platform had been constructed. A second platform has subsequently been added as well as a couple of posts for cameras. The birds have regularly bred and have raised a small number of chicks every year. The latter have mostly thrived and flown away to Africa at the end of August along with the adults, some 3,000 miles each way (www.dyfiospreyproject.com).
We set off along the board walk through the marsh. To start, the latter does not look hugely marshy as there are trees growing and some grass, but the give away is the number of reeds. This is peat bog so the apparently firm bits are probably very soft indeed. There are also occasional open pools with typical pool plants and lots of insect life. There are a small number of water buffalo keeping all the trees in check and maintaining the marsh as marsh with their munching. We were warned that they were fierce and should not be approached, but on our visit they were wearing their fabled cloaks of invisibility.
The board walk is wide and provides excellent adhesion, being level and well textured as one would expect of rough cut wooden boards. However, on closer inspection it appeared that the knots, texture, worm holes and so forth were not quite what they appear to be. They are actually Millboard (www.millboard.co.uk) which is a recycled plastic board that resists the growth of algae and moss which would make real boards become slippery. The walkway is edged by another recycled plastic board in black which looks rather less convincing. However, the local population of common lizards needed no convincing that it is the very best place to bask. It is warm to the touch and absorbs heat quickly when the sun shines so our progress was nearly measured in lizards per linear metre.
After winding its way through the reeds the board walk comes in sight of the bird observatory. This is a wooden laminate building in the sort of design beloved of architects, but perhaps rather less appealing in appearance to ordinary mortals. Inside though, it is a different story. There is space for seating of groups for lectures, then three wide flights of stairs take the enthusiast up to the viewing level. The latter is a large room with seating, tables with information, a huge viewing window, telescopes focussed on the nests and a lovely view across the Dyfi estuary. Most importantly, it is staffed by more enthusiastic volunteers who seem happy to answer the most simple and most obtuse questions that the visitor can throw at them.
Even more surprising, tucked away in a corner, is a platform lift that can carry up to six adults or an equivalent weight of less able visitors and their mobility equipment. The ride feels a little odd as the floor goes up but the wall stays put, so leaning against the wall during the ride is a less than sensible idea. For the curious, the answer to the question of how on earth did the Wildlife Trust manage to afford the building and the lift lies in a small blue plaque. The European Union regional development fund provided the bulk of the funding along with the Heritage Lottery Fund.
So what of the birds? This year’s parents and the surviving chick were all out flying during our visit so we missed them. They were probably out fishing as the estuary provides a useful larder and a good variety of dishes. The young bird will need to master the task if catching its own food as very soon the migration south will have to begin. The best time to see nesting birds and young chicks is really May, June and early July so we were a bit late.
Not at all disappointed with not seeing the birds ‘live’ we were lifted back to ground level and cranked slowly back to the base station, counting lizards. A chat at the reception desk established that all the basking animals would be lizards, and not newts. Despite the physical similarity of young newts and young lizards, the young newts do not bask it seems.
The Wildlife Trust also runs a small café‘shack’ offering an excellent range of afternoon tea opportunities. Ice cream seemed the most appropriate so we sat in the sun and licked like a couple of kids. All that remained was to make a quick trip to the loo, to load the wheels and then slide back into the traffic.
(c) 2016 Cycling Otherwise.
2016 July 4th - Lôn Las Ogwen
Summer is now officially here, we are on holiday and Wales is looking green and moist. Happily, some of the days have been sunny too and so the North Wales Rail trails beckon. The route of the day is Lôn Las Ogwen which runs from Llyn Ogwen up in the hills down to Porth Penrhyn on the eastern edge of Bangor. For spectacular down hill slopes and extensive views it is probably best to start at the Llyn Ogwen end, but today is planned as a more sedate pre-lunch outing beginning at Porth Penrhyn.
The port area has been taken over by Dickies Boatyard and so now has a bustling look that was missing before. However, it is still possible to find a space to park outside the boatyard near to the start of the trail. This we did and, having set up our tandem, started up the trail. Being a rail trail the gradient is fairly reasonable, though relentless. Indeed after the first mile it steepen up just when you were hoping for some respite. We were pleased to see that all the barriers that we had encountered in earlier years have been swept away and there appears to be more traffic of walkers and cyclists.
The scenic possibilities for this part of the trail are limited as it climbs up a narrow valley that is well wooded. Thus one is enclosed by a green tunnel for much of the way so sun screen is hardly a requirement. Passing under the red sandstone viaduct that carries the main North Wales railway line one gets a chance to see the elegance embedded by these early engineers in their infrastructure. A while later the route is thrown off the right by the need to cross the A55. What a difference in architecture. The route makes use of an under-bridge for a local main road and all is plain brutal poured concrete devoid of any ornamentation.
Back on the rail trail route the next surprise is to come into the open and cross a curving viaduct. There are glimpses of views, but the trees and tall and well covered with leaves. The route soon meets another main road that had once been a very scary crossing. Happily the missing bridge has been replaced with a smart new one funded by Brussels. Once across and back into the trees again the climb continues. Having passed under a very high road bridge, there is clear evidence that the deep railway cutting has been filled in. At that point the trail cants steeply upwards out of sight. Given that our research suggested that there were no prospects of refreshment or toilets in the nearby village of Tregarth we turned tail.
As might be imagined, the trip back to the car was a doddle with gravity doing all the work. Overall it was a worthwhile little outing generating a lot of aerobic exercise in a surprisingly short distance. The route is being developed beyond Tregarth on the old railway, but for the time being that is an on road section. Possibly we will return another time to explore the new bits to enjoy the views higher up the mountains.
2015 August 22nd - A Salty Ride
This is not a ride along the coast where we might be splashed by salty spray. Instead it is a ride in the Cheshire countryside, but with industrial influences. That industry is the salt industry, which has had a long history in Cheshire. The various 'wiches' (Northwich, Nantwich, Middlewich) are named because of the association with salt, dating back to at least Roman times.
Our tandem trike ride started on the edge of Winsford, just off a dual carriageway, and across from a Morrison's supermarket. From a small parking area, the best kind of modern kissing gate (opening up for access with a Radar key) allowed us to get through easily onto the Weaver Way with the trike. The Weaver Way is a long distance path of around 40 miles from Audlem to Frodsham with cycling access in some parts. We would only be going a few miles on the route.
Our first section was nicely surfaced, curving around grassy banks. Then we were going more steeply down hill and care was needed, especially as there was a degree of camber that can be challenging to manage on a trike. Now we were in sight of the river Weaver, still and dark below us.
At this stage the river has been canalised, so is wide and straight, without natural curves This is a partly industrial landscape, but still with an austere attraction. Across the river are huge piles, or cliffs and small mountains of salt. Beyond is the mine head gear. This is a salt mine that is still delivering rock salt, which will be used for spreading on roads.
On our side of the river we continue to pedal along a peaceful, green, waterside path. At close intervals fishermen are sitting and trying their luck in the waters. We enjoy and appreciate the contrasting parts of this overall scene. Onwards we reach a bridge, though not a traditional stonework bridge. This is a riveted iron bridge. It is a bridge with a mechanical purpose — one that can be opened up to allow river traffic to pass through.
Here we are leaving the river valley. We cross the bridge, turn onto a somewhat rutted, gently rising roadway that quickly takes us up to a main road. So, we are back into the traffic, though fortunately there is not too much of it on a summer Sunday.
Soon we are turning right to gain access to the second section of our route, which is rather different in character, but still with a salt connection. Now we are on a cycle trail, the Whitegate Way, adapted from an old railway line. The line would once have transported salt from the mine, and connected up to the main line.
A gentle incline means that we are soon up on a railway embankment. Immediately, on either side it is well wooded. The embankments drop off steeply, and the lower depths are rather dark and gloomy even on a summers day. There are pools down there of unknown depth.
But the gloominess does not last. The trail itself is generously wide and smoothly surfaced. We can speed along, comparatively speaking. Surroundings change and the views become more open — over typical Cheshire farmland. It is easy, comfortable, pleasurable cycling.
Then we see cars ahead, but it is just a parking area. We come to a building that belongs here. It is the old station building that we find is converted into a summer café. There is the prospect of drink and cake, so we investigate, order and find ourselves a seat. As we drink and eat we are accosted. “Are you the owners of the tandem trike? Don't leave until I've taken a photo.” Gary, the 'manager' of this Community Centre is interested and enthusiastic. It turns out that there are plans to acquire a trike or two for hire purposes. This sounds an excellent plan to us as there are not enough alternative cycles available for cycle hire around the country.
(Photo: courtesy of Whitegate Community Cafe (C) 2015 Gary Cliffe)
We could have cycled a bit further along the Whitegate Way, but fortified by our cake we felt it was an appropriate point to turn around and retrace our route.
2015 August 2nd - Dream Machine?
Here we are in the middle of the summer cycling season, but not too much is happening in our part of the world, not least due to the weather and a back injury.
There had been a growing feeling that the hills seemed to be getting steeper and that the 'old man at the back' seemed to be puffing too much. So it was agreed that power assisted handcycles would be investigated. Trying to be methodical, a short list was drawn up and comprised the Team Hybrid Cougar, the Striker Lipo, the Batec Hybrid and the Speedy Duo. Getting the details to complete a table of components, weights, features and motor manufacturers was surprisingly difficult. The thing that stood out on the list most strongly was the weight of the handcycle attachment. They weighed in between 18 and 25kg compared to about half that for non motorised machines. We got as far as a demonstration with one of the suppliers, but went no further as an attempt to lift a machine for coupling led to the back injury.
Thus began a long period of enforced 'idleness' and a diet of pills and potions. On the up side, more thought was put into the new machine project. Feeling delicate of spine, some form of suspension for the wheelchair was felt to be essential. Additionally, the wheelchair itself would need to be as light and as small as possible. Experience with our current machine, that has 26” wheels, has led us to feel that small and light is important, even if we do now have a wheelchair crane for our vehicle. By coincidence a review of Loopwheels [http://www.loopwheels.com] revealed a new technology in which the suspension springing is built into the wheel rather than the axle. These are now available in 24” and will fit most rims, bike or wheelchair. So, that makes the first component of the Dream Machine list.
Brake efficiency is an important issue in terms of the enjoyment of a ride and feeling that one is in control. Few wheel chairs have brakes, although brake hubs and levers on the pusher handles are becoming more common now. We have that technology on our existing handcycle set up, but the hubs are connected to a lever on the handcycle cranks. This gives three wheel brakes, but somehow the rear drum brakes seem much worse than the rim brakes rigged up by the 'Old Man' for the first handcycle. These wheelchair hub brakes seem to be built down to a price and seem not intended for serious braking effort.
Our research revealed that Sturmey Archer (remember them?), now owned by the Chinese, still produce drum brakes for bikes. These are, apparently, widely used in the cycling community and very effective. Even better, the X-SD range include a quick release stub axle version which would be prefect for a wheelchair. We now had the second definite hardware decision for the Dream Machine. Enquiries to Loopwheels confirmed that the hub and the Loopwheel suspension are compatible.
Getting serious brakes on the wheelchair sounds good, but the question is how to get the necessary brake lever pull from the hand crank to the brake without being as strong as a gorilla. Long cable runs have plenty of stretch as our experience has shown, so we wondered about hydraulic brakes. These are now becoming common in cycling circles. Not knowing anything about the technology, we asked around and were referred to Tarty Bikes in Preston [http://www.tartybikes.co.uk/]. Adam and his team are amazingly full of ideas and came up with a hybrid proposal. Hydraulic brakes to the break point of the handcycle, then cable on the wheelchair. The two parts to clip together much like the wire based system on our current machine. So a little more clarity for our Dream Machine. Do look at the Tarty Bikes website videos. Some of the things the young folks can do with a bicycle are incredible.
The commercial power assisted handcycles are heavy because they use large motor units in the wheels and have big powerful batteries in order to give the user a good long range. However, we thought carefully about our usage and realised that we do not do long distances with the hand cycle. Five or six miles on foot and bridle paths are the usual fare, so perhaps the commercial machines are not the way to go. Perhaps we need a small light motor and small light batteries that would give us a limited range. Happily, as subscribers to A to B magazine [http://www.atob.org.uk/], we had read quite a lot about electric bikes. We knew that the conversion kit for the Brompton folding bike [http://www.nanoelectricbikes.co.uk/home] was small and light with batteries at about 1kg and the hub at just 2kg. If a conventional hand cycle attachment is 9-10kg, then this technology would give a powered handcycle of around 12kg. Much more manageable! However, Nano Electric Bikes only sell front wheel conversions for the Brompton folder. That means that the motor hub has no stub for fitting a gear casette which would be needed for a handcycle.
Fortunately, the folk at Nano knew who to ask, and directed us to an engineer specialising in bike conversions. He explained that what we were proposing was feasible as he was working on just such a system. All that was required was to ensure that the handcycle dropouts were 135mm to allow sufficient room for the hub. Thus we had yet another item on the Dream Machine component list.
Where next? The first step is to get the back into shape and then we can seek out the remaining components, the wheelchair frame and the handcycle attachment frame. Perhaps we might even be able to get a bike frame builder to make us something light. Watch this space!
2015 June 10th - Limestone Country
We drove from Ingleton to Hawes for the start of our holiday in the Yorkshire Dales. We were immediately reminded of our visit to the Burren in Ireland the previous summer, and were very conscious that we were in Limestone country. The grey cliffs poking up here and there, and areas of bare rock were reminiscent, in a milder way, of that still starker Irish landscape and its austere beauty.
In the second part of our holiday we were based near Grassington. If we had been able to strike straight across Malham moor to Malham village, we would have quickly been at the centre of Dales limestone. However, in hilly country roads don't quite work in that way. We had to take a much more roundabout route. But no need to grumble because it was a very pleasant drive with good views, close and far.
We parked the van in the National Park car park, got the handcycle set up, and set off gently uphill on a quiet road. Quite soon we were able to turn of the road onto a well constructed and fairly broad path. The path provides imposing and ever closer views of the great limestone cliffs of Malham Cove.A degree of handcycling effort is required on the uphill sections, but nothing too demanding. The only impediment to progress was a group of cows and calves sat exactly the other side of a gate that needed to be opened. Another walker helpfully shooed them out of the way, and they moved obediently and without fuss.
For the final, more uneven section of the approach, I abandoned the handcycle and walked carefully. Now, I had to look upwards to see the full height of the cliffs above. On the ground around flowed the small attractive stream, which emerges from the cliff and is the remnant of the huge torrent which would once have poured over the cliff edge. After some time just looking at the impressive and marvellous scene around us we turned our backs, reluctantly, and retraced our way for the easier return to the car park.
We set off from there with the van again. We bore to the left from Malham village, heading on a very narrow road climbing steeply in places for Malham Tarn. Our book of routes (All Terrain Push Chair Walks - Yorkshire Dales) indicated that an accessible circuit of the tarn is possible. But the drive up there was itself pretty fantastic. Fortunately we didn't meet any other vehicles at those parts of the road that were too awkward. The wide views downwards towards Settle and the Ribble valley were wonderful. Here and there, to the sides there were sights of Limestone pavement. I tend to think that the pavement is to a degree misnamed. It is often on a plateau, so there can be a degree of flatness, but it is most frequently highly irregular in character with convoluted surface and deep fissures or grikes. It is not a pavement along which I would wish to walk!
We parked at Water Sinks near where water from the lake disappears underground. We set off with the handcycle on a broad moorland path with views of the lake to the side and limestone cliffs ahead. We circled the lake though at a distance from the shore and then followed the path on a gently uphill tangent. On the other side of a fence (to keep the sheep out) the landscape becomes a pleasantly wooded one around the back of the substantial Victorian Tarn House, now a Field Centre. The onward path would have taken us to a board walk along the margin of the lake. However, we turned around at this point as we wanted to visit Gordale Scar, a different limestone formation.
Sometime in the past, such that our memory of it was rather dim, we had made a previous visit to Malham Cove. We had definitely not visited Gordale Scar so wanted to make sure that we took this opportunity. It is approached along another narrow road, but just a mile or so from Malham village. By this time in the late afternoon there was little traffic and we were able to find convenient roadside parking. The Scar is a fairly short distance (a bit over half a mile) from the road along a good, well surfaced path by the side of Gordale Beck, so easy handcycling territory. The high cliffs of the Scar (around 400ft) can be seen from a distance, but you need to be much closer to fully appreciate the imposing nature of this formation. It is the beginning of a short gorge, so there are cliffs on either side, and these are partly overhanging. There is a small waterfall to one side, and proceeding further along you can see a second waterfall higher up. To get onwards you would need to be climbing up. There is, apparently a path of sorts, but you would need to be fully able bodied, and I think a bit brave to try this. But even without climbing up this is an imposing, indeed awesome place. Once again an ice age torrent has been responsible for hollowing out this remarkable natural structure. We were very pleased that we had made the time to visit.
2015 June 8th - Of Meadows and Missed Opportunities
The village of Mucker (pronounced 'Mooker' locally) in the west Yorkshire valley of Swaledale is a magnet for walkers and cyclists. The spring adds another group to the list; the botanists. The reason for this interest is that in Swaledale, and many other parts of the Dales, farming practices are such that few of the meadows have been 'improved'. That means the original flora remain and provide vivid displays of flowers in the spring, provided that sheep and cattle are kept out. We suspect that the old practice was to send the livestock up to the higher pastures in the spring to allow the meadows to grow up ready to provide for hay making later. Certainly, a feature of the Dales landscape is the solid stone built barn in almost all the meadows, built to be handy for the hay.
Having never seen the Dales display of meadow flowers, we made our way to Mucker and sought a place to park. Unfortunately, the village parking spaces were all taken, so we continued up the valley to Usha Gap camping. This is nice little site next to the road, but with virtually no facilities that we could see. It turned out that we were completely wrong about that (see http://www.ushagap.co.uk/Home.aspx) and it sounds a very well equipped camp site. We cheekily asked if they would sell us a place to park so that we could go and see the flowers. The answer was "Yes" to parking but "No" to payment, which was a very nice gesture.
Once the wheels were unloaded and the pusher equipped with a high viz. vest, we set off down the road back to Mucker. In the village the route to the meadows is poorly signed and limited to the normal minute footpath signs. We headed up the hill after the pub, passing behind the church and then spotted the meadows.
Our expectation for accessibility were low, but the first gate was fine and led to a paved path through the meadow. So rather than abandon the wheels we pressed on to the first barn. At this point the expected disappointment arrived. The wall by the barn was pierced by the path, but a path designed for bean poles not handcycles. What a shame as the field on the other side of the wall was at the same level and the path again was paved with stone slabs. How easy it would have been to have a wider gap and a wider gate and make more of the path wheelchair accessible.
The flowers were not quite as spectacular as we had expected, but the general sea of yellow that one could see from afar was much more complex when viewed close to. Crossing the next field was easy given the slabs mentioned earlier, but a ripple in the landscape meant that the next gate as at the top of a flight of steps. Naturally, there was no handrail, but it was easy to see that, by a small diversion to the path, the steps could have been avoided. The gap in the wall and its matching gate? Designed for skinny types of course.
The next field again had slab paving and offered more surprises. While looking out for orchids, we spotted a young deer emerge from the trees and stroll down to the meadow, slipping through a sheep creep. It was well into the meadow before it spotted a group of walkers coming the other way and quietly slipped back the way that it had come. The orchids were, however, much more elusive and were never spotted. The path went through the next wall in the expected way with a tiny gap and a sprung gate. Yet another accessible possibility with just a little bit of work.
The final field was fairly similar to the others, but there were differences in the densities of the species, apart from buttercup which remained visually dominant. This field too was exited by the usual tiny slit with matching gate. However, the access possibilities ceased at that point as the path tumbled down some steps to the river bank. Indeed it looked a perilous river bank that must have been damaged by flooding and extensively repaired. So at that point we found a suitable place to sit, gathered our breath and enjoyed the view, serenaded by a cheeky Cuckoo somewhere in the woods.
This was a pleasant walk and the flowers were lovely, but what a shame that the opportunity to make the path accessible has been missed. However, being realistic, such an endeavour would need funding and labour. That farming the Dales is not very profitable is obvious from the number of farms that have diversified into tourist related businesses, like Usha Gap. One should perhaps also ask if half a mile of accessible path, whose main draw is spring flowers, would be worth the investment. The answer is probably no and that any money which could be found from the public purse might be better spent elsewhere.
2015 June 6th - Wonderful Waterfalls
The calendar says it is summer, so the handcycling team are on the road again. Our destination on this occasion is the Yorkshire Dales that we visited briefly last autumn. Armed with the Harvey ‘Yorkshire Dales’ map for an overview and the trusty Ordnance Survey for detail, the trip has turned into ‘hunt the waterfalls’.
The start of the programme is at Keld, high up at the end of Swaledale. This is an interesting little village where the former stables of the vicarage have been turned into a visitor centre and it is clear that the locals are working together to raise the village’s profile. It is here that one can get a copy of their leaflet, ‘Keld Waterfall Walks’.
Parking is provided in the ‘yard’ of a farm, just off the village centre. The farmer also does camping and the first of the falls is to be found at the end of the camping field. However, to get there is down a steep track but with a reasonable surface. All the way one can hear the sound of falling water, not to mention the wide range of birdlife that seems to thrive here.
Fall number one is called Hogarth’s Leap and just who Hogarth was is not clear. He was probably a Norse god, as the waterfall is far wider than any mere mortal could leap. The fall is a staircase waterfall with three or four steps. Although each step is not that high, the noise of falling water fills that air. One can only look at the fall from afar, as the access does not go beyond the end of the camping field.
Fall number two is at the opposite, eastern end of the camping field. It goes under the name of Wain Wath Force and is another loud performer. In this case the fall is a single large drop with a big plunge pool below it. It is not quite possible to handcycle to the edge of the waterfall and, to see it, one must follow a rather poor quality footpath. However it is worth the effort if one can cope with the path.
From there it is a serious push and crank back to the car park, then on to Cotter Force, fall number three. This is much less strenuous being in a different valley, Wensleydale, and having a specially adapted accessible access path that is almost level. From the roadside parking the route meanders beside the River Cotter to a turnaround with a seat that provides an excellent view of the falls. JMW Turner came here in 1816 and sketched the falls from the right hand side. That position is quite difficult to reach now due to fallen trees and other debris. The signage suggests that dippers and kingfishers are to be seen here, but we spotted neither.
After a gentle coast back to the camper, the next logical step is to head for the Green Dragon at Hardraw. Turner was here too in 1816 and sketched the fall, Hardraw Force. Access is through the arch, beside the pub, that leads to the car park. Since the fall is in the grounds of the pub, there is an access charge, but it is worth it for two reasons. Firstly, the fall is most spectacular, being a bit like Malham Cove but with a waterfall. Secondly, the owners have put a lot of effort into the paths, and that means that it is possible to crank right up to the fall. The right hand path is probably the better but the left hand one, accessible across a small bridge, would work too.
Further travelling is necessary to see number five, Linton Falls. These are on the River Wharfe near the popular village of Grassington. Access is possible from the Grassington National Park Centre car park. The path goes down the hillside to the river, confined between stone wall of the type so common in the area. The width of the path is somewhat restricted near the bottom of the slope and might be difficult for the wider machine. However, it is possible to get quite near the falls by car and then crank from the other, south, side. The falls themselves are on a fault line and so present a much more confused and jagged waterscape than the previous falls. However, there is no shortage of noise and, on this occasion, no shortage of Dippers bobbing in the shallows.
2015 April 15th - Pre-Spring in the Cotswold Water Park
The first adventure on new ground in 2015 has been a visit to the Cotswold Water Park. We booked a few days in a holiday house with the intention of meeting up with friends. Sadly, they went down with one of the winter lurgies and we ended up on our own.
The house was pleasant and overlooked the River Thames, but at that point it was simply a diminutive ditch rather than a proper river. Nevertheless, the Thames Path went right past the door, albeit on the other side of the ditch. Interestingly, an early version of the footpath and cycle trail leaflet for the Cotswold Water Park that we found in the cottage folder had the Thames Path marked as 'Accessible' except for just one barrier. Emboldened by such intelligence, we set up the wheels and set off for Ashton Keynes which was reputed to be 1.6 miles away.
The path was, initially, on a rough road used by people accessing some of the lakes. Given that it had rained a great deal in the recent past, all the potholes were full of water. They were large and some looked deep enough to swallow a handcycle withour trace. Fortunately the footpath turned off on a footbridge and became almost narrower than the handcycle, but at least it remained flat. There were some good view across the expanses of water formed by the extraction of sand and gravel in the past.
The ditch, or rather the River, began to get somewhat wider and deeper, but one had the feeling that it was somehow at a higher level than the water in the old gravel pits. It became clear that it had been modified from a rambling stream into a leat with the path on the side looking like a canal tow path. Easy cranking and quite attractive as the route seemed well wooded. It was then that we came across the first undocumented barrier, an accessible kissing gate. That it could be unlocked with a Radar key was good news, but that it was at the top of a slope meant that it was not easy to get through, particularly as this design of kissing gate is self closing.
We then continued on our merry way until we saw a stout concrete bridge across the leat and the outline of a kissing gate. No problem, we thought and got out the Radar key. Wrong! This was a disused access to gravel workings that had kissing gates on both sides of the road, but nobody had noticed that they wer installing inaccessible ones. Happily, a little dismantling and lugging later, we were on the other side of the problem. Next we came to an overflow where the real river exits and the mill lead and footpath proceed. Of course there was a nice wooden bridge over the spill channel, with just a few steps at each end.
The path then soon arrived at a spring loaded gate where the route joined the B4696. Happily, the gate was nice and wide, but it too was at the top of a sharp slope and preferred to be shut rather than open. The road, was only two lanes, but presumably is a relief road for the M4 or some such. The traffic was fast, mostly heavy goods vehicles and there was no pavement or controlled crossing. We dashed across in a lull and dived into the next section where we knew that the documented barrier was to be found.
We came up to the waterworks and wondered if the steep hump in the path caused by the outfall pipe could be our barrier. However, since we could see a gate just a little further along it seemed unlikely. The gate was a 'pussy cat', being lightly sprung, on the level and wide enough for the hand cycle. Another sixty yards brought us to the 'One Barrier'. It was a stone squeeze stile with a wooden stile imposed upon it. For some reason it was on the high bank of the leat just before the latter plunged into the former mill. For some reason the path failed to take the wide gentle slope that proceeded diagonally down the embankment to join the path. As it was the 'One Barrier' we were expecting to dismantle and so we did. Carting the bits over the double stile was possible if difficult, but soon achieved. Once everything was reassembled we were able to head on into the village and look for a café and a coffee. Was there one? Of course not! So, about turn and make our way back the way we came...
2014 October 15th - Summer in the Burren
The last major area that we visited on our Summer jaunt to Ireland was the Burren. This is the area on the middle west of Ireland where the limestone beds that underlie much of Ireland come to the surface and dominate the landscape.
Those of you who know about the geology of 'Karst' scenery will appreciate that limestone pavements with their clints (slabs) and grykes (fissures) are not ideal handcycling surfaces. However, the Burren sounded such an interesting area with bizarre plant combinations that we felt it was a 'must see' location. In the Irish situation, the age old farming habits have done much to shape the landscape. Apparently, in the winter the goats and cattle would be kept on the higher limestone areas because the lower areas suffered from winter flooding. This meant that in the spring the vegetation would be quite short on the Karst area and so the livestock would be moved down to the lower areas where new vegetation was coming through as the floods receded. The short vegetation on the Karst areas meant that all sorts of plants were able to spring up, flower and seed before the animals came back to graze. So the area is rich in orchids, many of which are normally found in Mediterranean areas. At the same time it is also rich in mountain and sub-arctic plans like Mountain Avens.
We were keen to appreciate the area on three wheels, so took advice from the National Park Office. We were advised to go to Killinaboy and then turn north east. This we did and eventually we found the roadside parking area with information board that had been mentioned. Being a Sunday, and with the sun shining, so had lots of other people, which meant the chance of parking a camper was a bit thin. However, thinking creatively we did find some where and were able to unload the wheels.
We began with the information board, and then went into the field behind it on a 'flower' walk. This was not accessible due to squeeze stiles, but it was worth the effort of walking. Within thirty feet we had seen six different orchids, and a lot of other flowers we could not identify (Ooops forgot the flowers book!). Having had our fill of orchids, we then took up the suggested Green Road up into the Burren. This was basically a farm track which, whilst somewhat rough, was fine for cranking. The gradient was benign and rolling and the views were first class. The target was the lake at Poulnalour, and perhaps the dolmen (stone tomb) beyond.
As we climbed we were passed, to our surprise, by a number of cars. Green Lanes are meant to be for farm vehicles only. However, there was room for us and them, so we continued gaining height. We were then surprised again by the sudden arrival of a party of people though a squeeze stile on our left. The handcycle attracted the attention of some of them and we got into conversation. It was, apparently, possible to obtain refreshments at the farm further up the lane. Since we had been debating whether to give up and return, it being a warm afternoon, we were easily persuaded to join them. We progressed further up the lane and came across a most unusual farm house, quite unlike anything we had seen in Ireland. The walkers were correct and refreshments were available and the farmer, was happy to explain that he had indeed built the house himself. There was much chat and laughter amongst the people stopped at the farm, so it was difficult to drag ourselves away to continue the walk. The fact that farm represented a high point and the lake was downhill, prompted us to cop out and amble back down to the camper in a leisurely way. On the way we speculated whether, given the farmer's non-Irish accent, whether he had been a 'back to nature' pioneer from mainland Europe in the 1970s or 1980s. The house style was certainly more continental than English and, apparently, Ireland has had a lot of immigrants from the European Union.
Perhaps we will come back again in the future as we never did get to see the dolmen or the lake.
2014 September 30th - Summer Sand & Mountains
A later part of our Irish jaunt in the summer included the Dingle Peninsula. Whilst we obviously spent some time in Dingle town, we were based at Gallarus to the north. Just a short crank from the site is the Gallarus oratory, which is a tiny stone chapel. This was a most interesting building because it is made entirely of flat stones which are cantilevered in at the roof level and thus the building has no timber in its roof at all. Apparently, all the stones slope outwards slightly and thus the rain runs off leaving the interior dry. In appearance it looks to be a Neolithic building, but it is clearly a Christian building and research suggests that it was actually built between the 9th and 12th Century.
One of more interesting outings from the campsite was north east from Dingle towards Brandon Bay. The map showed this to have a huge expanse of sandy beach which sounded ideal for some cranking. To get there one has to drive through Dingle and then up a road towards mount Ballysitteragh. We were surprised to see that this has large notices saying that big vehicles could not get through, but noticed that all sorts of vans and delivery vehicles were heading both up and down. So, we headed up and stopped in the car park at the top of Conor Pass to enjoy the view. A few words with the operator of the ice cream van, a Cockney, elicited that the problem with the road was that it was undercut into a cliff edge, giving limited clearance. Having noticed lots of vans the size of our camper disappear towards the apparent danger, we decided to follow suit but with some nervousness. The Cockney ice cream man was accurate in his explanation and there was indeed a rock outcrop, but provided tall vehicles remained near the edge it was possible to get through. The only issue was whether other motorists would be considerate enough to let us take up the whole road. In the event, we came through unscathed and continued on down to the coast.
We parked at Killcummin, unloaded the wheels, and headed down onto the sand. The beach was golden, the sun was shining, the waves were white, but where were all the people? Not a soul was to be seen, at least without the binoculars, so enjoyed it in solitude. Happily the sand was, for the most part hard, and it was possible to crank easily. The only question was how far should we go? Eventually, we came across a stream bisecting the beach and used it as an excuse to turn around and head back to the camper.
Since the sun was still shining, we decided to use the rest of the afternoon to look at Brandan Point. This was a somewhat interesting road being little wider than the van for most of the way. However, we arrived at the car park at the end of the point and stopped to look at the astounding views across Brandon Bay. We volunteered to take the photo of a young New Zealand couple on their European Honeymoon who came, took photos and zomed away. They were shortly followed by another young couple, whose photo we took who then zoomed away. Before we got collared to take any more photos for other people's albums, we took a few for ourselves. Eventually the stream of lightening visitors faded and thoughts of dinner arrived. It seemed too nice to head back to the camp site, so we just cooked and ate where we were. The cheers for campervans!
2014 September 14th - Summer is Almost Gone
I think I am deluding myself. It is the middle of September. At the beginning of our morning cycle ride it felt rather cool and a little bit autumnal. But yesterday was beautifully warm and summery.
This September has been fine and sunny, so in spite of the darkening evenings it hasn’t felt as though summer is quite past. It feels easy to look back, remember and relive an enjoyable summer. Our main summer travels were not quite abroad, though some of the time we felt we were somewhere different. We have been intending for quite a while to get ourselves across the Irish Sea, but for one reason or another we didn’t manage it. Well, this year we have. We spent the early part of the summer campervanning around the south west corner of Ireland, with handcycle hoisted on the back end.
Best to get to where we wanted to be as quickly as possible. This was aided by the almost empty motorways as we drove westward from Dunleary (Dún Laoghaire). Our first few days were spent just on the edge of Kilarney. This was both a disappointment and a pleasure. The first evening we were there we had difficulty in parking because of height barriers on the car parks. Then we found ourselves embroiled in serious traffic jams. We couldn’t quite believe it. We were in small town, in rural Ireland but we were stuck, stationary, not moving! After an hour and quite a bit, and having to go in the opposite direction to the one we wanted, we managed eventually to extricate ourselves.
The next day was a great deal better. It was still busy, and there were lots of cars around, but they were safely corralled and captive in the large parking areas. We were visiting Killarney National Park derived from the large Muckross Estate, centred on one of the three Killarney lakes, and with mountains all around. Killarney is close to the MacGillycuddy Reeks, the highest mountain range in Ireland.
Our handcycling exploration did not involve careful advance planning, but worked out amazingly well. This was a limestone landscape of water, mountains and trees. Unusually this was a Yew forest though, of course, there were other kinds of trees as well. Sadly, as back home, there were quite a few trees torn up, roots in the air, as a consequence of the winter gales.
But the paths through the trees and around the Muckross lake were broad and quite well surfaced, so were reasonable handcycling territory. However, although I was cycling around the rim of a lake, there were still quite a lot of ‘ups and downs’, and a fair amount of cycling effort required. It didn’t seem sensible, but as the journey progressed began to feel as though there were more downs than ups. That was fine for now, but would not be so good for the return journey and we had come quite a way. A lakeside café a little way ahead had been mentioned by people we had met. We decided to head for that - for sustenance and a rest and, as we found, wonderful views across the lake. The other wonderful discovery we made was that there was a boatman with boat who would ferry us back across the lake, and take the handcycle as well!
Now our boatman was obviously a retired gentleman, with a very calm attitude to life. He had just disembarked a family who had ridden with him from Muckross and then dashed off to sample the tea and cakes. So he watched with amusement as the handcycle was dismantled and then he stowed it with care in the bows of his boat. He equipped us with the mandatory life jackets then had us sit down in the afternoon sun to chat. He was most interested in the handcycle and not seen one in the flesh before. He also had some amusing tales of the antics of the jaunting car drivers, which possibly implied that there was not a lot of love lost between them and other service providers. Once the hungry family had returned, been settled in the boat and had their curiosity satisfied about the mechanical contraption piled in the bows, we set off.
Our boatman provided us with a lovely mixture of erudite explanation of the geological and geographic features visible on our trip, some of the legends associated with the area and the gossip associated with the visit of Queen Victoria to the area. All too soon we arrived back at the jetty near to Muckross house and had to disembark. Finally we had a gentle crank back along the jaunting car route, with frequent dives onto the grass verge to let them thunder past.
The next day, we returned to the area and sought out Muckross Abbey. This was founded in 1448 as a Franciscan Friary and had a somewhat turbulent history. The most recent marauders were, apparently, Oliver Cromwell's forces who did a lot of damage. Today the site is surprisingly complete in comparison with similar sites in England. It almost looks as if what it would need to be restored is the rebuilding of its roof. One of its claims to fame is the yew tree growing in the centre of the cloisters which dominates the centre of the buildings. We parked the wheels and ambled around on foot noting that the building may be derelict, but that it is certainly well used for burials right up to the present day.
Finally, it was back to Beech Grove Caravan & Camping Park for our last night. A pleasant site with lots of fir trees and not a beech tree in sight.
2014 June 1st - Visiting Blog by Mary Olley - Travel by Tandem
I used to go walking regularly with my husband, Pete. We met in the student walking club and spent many happy Sundays exploring the Peak District together. Our horizons expanded to the Lake District fells, as well as tackling the Pennine Way and Wainwright’s Coast to Coast Walk. When the children arrived, we coaxed them along our local footpaths (sometimes more successfully than other times!).
As my legs gradually rebelled against taking me any great distance due to MS, I could still get outdoors and sit by a lake shore or be driven to a view next to a road. However, I always felt that I was skirting the edges of the countryside and couldn’t immerse myself in it as I used to.
Then, whilst on holiday in France one year, my husband, Pete, hired a tandem for us. I thought he was a little mad! (Nothing new there!) Although I found it slightly terrifying at first – I couldn’t see where we were going and had no control either! – I gradually came to appreciate that I was cruising around on two wheels, like everyone else travelling to the beach. I didn’t stand out being pushed in a wheelchair and I was enjoying doing something that everyone around me was enjoying too. In due course, we took a deep breath and bought our own tandem.
It has been a marvellous decision! We have been exploring our local Pennine bridleways, bouncing along over rough, stony terrain, and I have been feeling the wind in my hair and eyes again. I can’t help grinning as I see the stone walls, the fields of sheep and steep hillsides all around me.
It doesn’t matter that we are only cycling short distances. We have as long as we want and can stop as often as we want (after all, the stops are always the best part!) There is plenty to enjoy, whatever the distance.
I am now back in the countryside again, not just peering at it from the edge. I even enjoy smelling the pungent farmyard odours and trying to avoid sitting on sheep droppings when we have a rest stop. We are away from tarmacked roads and instead have to negotiate cattle grids and mud-filled puddles. It’s fantastic!
Also, Pete and I have found something new to do together. We are not comparing how things used to be but are thinking of where we can cycle together next.
2014 May 20th - A Week at St Davids
A spring week in Pembrokeshire has been a long time regular holiday for us. This year our destination has been St Davids – the smallest of cities, set at a little distance back from the coast on the peninsular of that name. It is a small, peaceful, secluded place. City in name, but not in character. We rented a small house for the week, itself secluded, being only just off the two main roads and market square, but in its own enclosed space – the stable yard. St Davids is a place in and of history.
Our arrival day was grey and overcast. The especially remarkable feature was the wind. It was the kind of day when literally you could feel that you might be blown off your feet. As someone who is not very strongly set on her feet at the best of times, that kind of feeling was especially strong when I ventured outside. It didn’t auger very well for a week in which we were hoping to revisit and explore a landscape of cliffs and beaches.
But we were in luck. The weather improved gradually and steadily. The wind diminished day by day. It didn’t rain. The sun came out. By the latter part of the week it was definitely summer. Apart from the first day, which was blighted by the wind and threatening rain, it was a week of enjoyable outings.
Traeth Mawr or Whitesands Bay
We arrive mid afternoon, feeling that we must get out and about – we are on holiday after all! The tide is a good way in, though still one and a half hours to high tide. We look down on the beach from the car park immediately above. The shallow wavelets running up the beach are white and almost foaming. Beyond, the larger, darker waves with their white, breaking tops are crashing noisily.
How much beach is left? At first, from above, I think maybe not enough for handcycling. When we get down the concrete ramp and onto the beach there feels to be more room. The sand is sufficiently firm – in parts anyway. Just now this is not a beach for fast handcycling. There is the wind, and a degree of softness in the sand. A helping push is needed to make good progress. But it feels good to be on the beach, and close to the white water.
Having handcycled and walked the length of the beach, the decision is made to venture onto the coast path. Sand is still here, but it is just a thin, top layer thing. The ground below the path determines its character. It provides an irregular surface. Ridges widen and then dwindle. There are gaps, drop offs and mini cliffs and bumps and furrows. It is a typical coast path, posing no problems for the able-bodied walker. For a handcyclists it is just a bit more difficult. We work hard together to achieve advancement – me cranking, Pete pushing.
Enjoyable upward progress is made, but just now it feels a little hard won. I decide that, on this occasion, two sticks would work better. The handcycle is abandoned. Walking requires care and concentration, and resistance to the buffeting wind, but I enjoy the greater freedom to look right around and take in the whole scene. The views from just a little higher up are marvellous. The sea below is patched with different shades of blue and steely grey, interspersed with the white of the wave tops, and out at sea are the rocky Bishops Isles. We find a sheltered spot that the flowers, in greater variety, seem to appreciate, as well as us.
The weather is improving. The wind is quieting, at least to a degree. We head to the southern side of the St Davids peninsular, and the village of Solva (or Solfach). Solva has a beautiful and interesting harbour. It is a ria, or drowned valley, and has a lovely curve to it so that you cannot see the seaward entrance from the inner, village end.
We walk and handcycle along the quayside, viewing the myriad of small boats anchored there. It is a peaceful scene. It is all now about enjoyment and leisure. It is hard to believe that in past times this was an important working harbour. Back in the 18th century it accommodated ships of up to 300 tons.
The quayside walk is fairly smooth, but also quite short. We know that it is possible to achieve a different perspective on the harbour scene. We turn from the harbour side up a well graded surfaced lane. Then a narrow, sharp rather awkward turn is just about manageable in the handcycle – with a good bit of rear propulsion. Now we are on an unsurfaced, somewhat bumpy wooded lane, but it has widened out usefully from the narrow entrance. Together the two lanes, of different character have gained us a fair zig-zag of height.
Now we are suddenly back onto a real road – with cars and a short row of cottages. There is a striking view straight down to the harbour below. We can get a little further. We are besides a large white painted house with impressive attached conservatory, which must have a wonderful view. We almost feel as though we are trespassing – but not so – this really is a public path. Then, immediately beyond the house the path narrows and soon we enter a green tunnel of overhanging bushes. The splendid view is obscured. It is time to reverse our steps and return to the quayside, having viewed the harbour from two very different vantage points.
A Cathedral Walk
We take a morning walk straight from our stable yard house. Just around the corner we are onto the High Street (so called) and then just down hill a little to a town square in miniature. Beyond this the hill becomes steeper. Pete holds on to the back of the handcycle, but this is not for pushing!
We pass under a small archway with attached tower, and now we are almost above the cathedral. Steps lead downwards and we stop for the view downwards to the cathedral, and beyond to the ruined 13th century bishops palace. Both are grand and impressive buildings, despite the ruined state of the latter. The roof is missing, but the walls are largely in position.
We do not try to negotiate the steps! We continue down the hill, past the trees with active and noisy rookery. At the bottom we just sneak a quick view into the cathedral – we have been here before. We resist the temptation to stop for elevenses at the rebuilt cloisters. We cross the pedestrian bridge over the little river Alain, with ford for cars at its side. Then we are beside the Bishops Palace and can get a good view inwards through the gateway. Even this brief viewing gives a sense of the grandeur that the building would once have had.
Beyond, and gently uphill, in the opposite direction to the cathedral we pass various large houses that belong to official holders of church positions. Beyond these the roadsides become more wooded; then after re-crossing the river we turn up a grassy path. There are patches of amazingly vibrant bluebells. Soon there are bright red campions, yellow buttercups and white cow parsley – so beautiful splashes of contrasting colour.
This is a beautiful path that has an ancient feel about it. It is a ‘hollow’ embedded path with stone built banks at each side, but these are green and overgrown with patches of flower colour here and there. Parts of it are quite steep and so hard work for us, but it is a good path without too many ruts or serious lumps and bumps. It takes us around the further side of St Davids, bringing us back to one of the more main roads, and to an easy wheel back to Stable Yard.
Abereiddi and Above
The car park at Abereiddi, a small coastal hamlet was damaged by the winter storms and is significantly reduced in size. Fortunately, at this time of year there is still sufficient space for all who want it. We get the handcycle organised and set off on our way.
First we pass a short ‘terrace’ of slate built but ruined cottages. These are the remains of homes for slate quarry workers. We push uphill on a good, well graded path. This takes us to the abandoned quarry, now the ‘Blue Lagoon’, the connection to the sea having been opened up and the quarry workings flooded. The quarry walls are steep and stark, sharply chiselled, and very dark. Below is the ‘lagoon’ that is of an amazing blueness. It is a different and impressive view.
We turn back a little way and the path soon becomes much steeper. I get off the handcycle and climb up carefully with my two sticks. Pete pushes the empty, lighter handcycle up the compacted slate path. Reasonably soon we reach a smoother, grassy section, but it is still quite steep. I keep walking and Pete continues pushing.
Then the topography becomes much more rounded. We feel we are up at the top, and there are coast views in both directions. This is a marvellous contrast to the quarry area we have left behind. We can see backwards to the unmistakable and characteristic little peaks of Carn Llidi and Penberry. Around us swallows are swooping low, and up higher up skylarks are singing. The weather has changed from its previous wind and greyness to make us feel that summer has arrived. Good fortune indeed!
2014 May 3rd - Almost on on our doorstep
Spring is here. The trees are becoming clothed in green again. They look bright and fresh as only happens at this time of year. The flowers in the hedgerows (some of them anyway) are coming out. We spied a few bluebells here and there. The feeling comes that you would like to see a proper display and find a real bluebell wood before it is too late, and everything has died off.
Cheshire is not the best part of the country for good woods. Then, searching back in my memory, I remembered that we had, in times past, found a good display of bluebells just a little way off one of the local canals.
We thought back a bit more. Studied our local OS map. Then we set off in the red van with handcycle on board. Unless you live in Cheshire these direction comments won't mean a huge amount. But we drove beyond the large village of Rode Heath, to the smaller village of Church Lawton. On its edge, up a shortish narrow approach, we arrived at the old church of All Saints. Conveniently, there was a small car park with enough spare space for our van.
On the right was a small opening, rather shaded and dark, almost mysterious. The angle and hedges around meant that you couldn’t see beyond, or where the path led. No sign of any bluebells at this point! We carefully manoeuvred the handcycle through the narrow entrance. Fortunately we were soon able to see that the path was quite a good one and wide enough for my handcycle. The grave yard was on one side and a hedge on the other. Further beyond the path widened out to become a lane. The wooded ground dropped off on one side, and now we saw the first bluebells. We could see water in the small valley below, and a large house that we realised was Lawton Hall.
Our route became a downhill track. Then we reached the small dam that held back the pool, hardly a lake, that we had just glimpsed. There were men working here. It was a bit noisy and the peace was disturbed. But Pete happened to glance to our left. There was a drop down to the stream that had been dammed to make the small fishing lake. To our surprise we saw a heron poised, still, right below us, apparently intent on fish catching and not disturbed by the noise. We watched for a few minutes then moved on across the top of the dam.
The track was gently uphill. We didn’t know where it might be taking us. Two ladies passed us and struck off on a narrower path on the right. They seemed to know where they were going – so we followed them – a little more up hill. Almost immediately, over the brow, we were in among the bluebells! It was a wonderful and beautiful display. We were definitely, and properly, in the wood too, with lots of tall mature trees, but quite well spaced. The path was good, and there were no barriers anywhere! We circled around – there was quite a maze of paths. We couldn’t have gone a great distance, but to be able to handcycle around in this marvellous wood felt fantastic to me, and beyond my expectations when we had set out.
But we had to reverse our route, back to the car park and our van. We crossed over the dam again. Then we realised that there was a path going off on the opposite side of the track, now on our right. It was up quite a steep bank, which was why we hadn’t appreciated its existence earlier. We decided to take the opportunity to explore a little more. We were surprised again. Almost immediately we were right among bluebells once more and in a different section of wood. In some ways this was a little more dramatic. We were above a steep drop to the stream that emerged from the dam. The path here was more challenging – narrower with the drop on one side, and plenty of awkward tree roots. But we could manage to get by and again revelled in the bluebells, the trees, and now the quite dramatic topography.
This had been a wonderful afternoon, a super discovery, and I haven’t said that the sun was shinning too! We will be back. It will be different without the bluebells, and handcycling might well be more difficult when it is wet and muddy, but the wood will be good to enjoy in different seasons.
2014 April 14th - Reservoir Cycling (and some handcycle hire possibilities)
We have made a recent trip to the Elan Valley in Powys, Mid Wales. We drove from the little town of Rhaeadr, along the B4518 up to the Elan Valley Visitor Centre. This is positioned just below the dam of the Caban Coch Reservoir. There is plenty of parking, café, information centre, and a exhibition about the building of the dams. There are four reservoirs in the Elan and Claerwen valleys that provide the water supply to Birmingham.
After a good lunch at the café we set off in the car again to climb up to the top of the dam where there are ample parking opportunities. Up here, there is a good reservoir side route for handcycling or walking. This is a wonderful peaceful, away from it all trail. There are extensive, ever changing views of water below, trees around and hills beyond. The sides of the valleys are wooded, but not thickly enough to obscure the open views.
The work to construct the reservoirs, beginning in 1893 and completed in 1904 meant that railways were required for carrying building materials and spoil. These now help to provide useful well graded cycling routes in the area.
Ours was a gentle afternoon outing, but it is possible to cycle a long way if you wish, though this could well be rather more strenuous. The Elan Valley Trail leaflet identifies a 17 mile circular route, but with some steep climbs. Definitely not for today! We have very much enjoyed our more leisurely exploration.
Back at the Visitor Centre we have some further investigation to make. This is a place where the cycle hire provision includes a handcycle. Handcycle hire in beautiful places is unfortunately not some thing that is readily available. Powys Count Council is to be greatly applauded for supporting this provision.
The handcycle that is available for hire is the Top End Excelerator one piece model. The helpful rangers at the centre gave me a little try out. I think this would be a very easy to ride handcycle for somebody who had no prior handcycling experience. The seating is easily adjustable to fit and one of the rangers would sort this out if you hired. The cycle has 7 gears, which are easily and smoothly adjusted. There is also what is often called a Mountain Drive that allows access to a set of lower gears. Thus overall this cycle is very low geared which provides for easy hill climbing if necessary. Braking is by reverse cranking. I had never done this before, but it felt easy to manage
The easiest route to try out would be to cycle back towards Rhaeadr along the beautiful Elan river. This is a proper non traffic cycle route with a tarmacked surface that makes for easy cycling. It is a reasonably level route, but it should be remembered that the ride from the Visitor Centre towards Rhaeadr will be a bit down hill so the return would be harder work!
However, this is a FANTASTIC place to try out handcycling, and get a real sense of what can be possible. Information is available at elanvalley.org.uk. Handcycle hire is £5 per hour or £20 for the day. This is excellent value for an introduction to handcycling in the most beautiful surroundings.
There is another hiring opportunity, for the same handcycle model at Drover Cycles, outside Hay on Wye (drovercycles.co.uk). They have a short riverside tryout route nearby. For a more extensive trial they would be prepared to provide the handcycle at a canal side trail outside Brecon.
Of course, the ideal set up would be for handcycle hire to be available in many more places. A variety of ordinary bikes are available for hire in all sorts of places, and certainly most holiday destinations. Hand bikes are comparatively much more expensive. It would be a great boost to their use if they could be hired more readily and there was more publicity information available. Currently we only know only two other bike hire outlets where handcycles are available. These are at Parsley Hay on the High Peak Trail in the Peak Distict, and the inclusive bikes at New forest Cycle Hire (newforestcyclehire.co.uk). Again the Excelerator model is available at this New Forest venue and there is also a child’s model. Hire costs are £16 per day.
If anybody knows of any other countryside handcycle hire opportunities please let us know.
2014 April 9th - Stile Free at Winchcombe
This time we went to Winchcombe on the edge of the Cotswolds. It is a nice little town that feels normal and 'lived in' rather than being a 'twee tourist experience'. We parked in the long term car park as this is the best place to go, given the narrowness of the streets and the volume of traffic. The town has won the Walkers Welcome accolade so we anticipated that it might be a good destination for the not-quite able-bodied visitor. We started at the Tourist Information Centre where we received a warm welcome. The lady was most helpful and appreciated that so many potentially good walks are blocked to many people by stiles and other barriers. We collected a variety of information including the town map, which has a self guided, two mile stroll on the rear which is labelled as being 'stile free'. This sounded exactly what we needed.
Once our boots were on and the Easyrider set up, we cranked off down Cowl Lane to the High Street. We should have crossed the road at that point, but instead turned right. We then found that the pavement was two steps higher than the road for some 50 or so yards but, fortunately, there was a lowered section by St Peter's Church. We crossed and turned back down Abbey Terrace until we reached Vineyard street. That dives to the bottom of the River Isbourne valley allowing the pusher to demonstrate sprinting skills keeping up with the Easyrider. Going up the other side is a gentle push with parked cars and traffic being the biggest hazard. However, once at the top one can turn off past a nice gatehouse into the grounds of Sudley Castle. The drive is well graded back down to a bridge over the Isbourne permitting another demonstration of sprinting skills. Inevitably, a push up follows as the momentum is not quite enough to crank to the top.
Following the road round past the car park and entrance to the castle, there are some views of its upper floors and wooded views in other directions. The path then turns off from the castle exit road and follows an estate 'road' heading back towards Winchcombe. The instructions require one to turn right by the hedge and drop down to the kissing gate. This is a newish galvanised steel kissing gate, but of the traditional rather than the accessible kind, so it was a case of dismantling the Easyrider and lifting it over. The ramp down to the lane had a number of shallow steps whose sole purpose appeared to be erosion control.
Crossing the road, the route passed into a narrow passage teminated by a kissing gate. This was a tiny wooden affair, so it was time to break down the machine and go into Popeye mode again. Reassembled, we then prceeded across a nice field with views of the town and the River Isbourne to our left. At the next hedge there was obviously a tiny stream, over which there was a wooden bridge with handrails. Of course, the bridge deck was a serious step up from the field and, at the end, included a short flight of steps up to a kissing gate. Now, the Cotswold Sheep is a very fine intelligent animal, but the level of security installed to stop her from leaving the field could be just a tad on the extreme side. So, into pieces and strong man mode once more.
The next section of the walk was nice with the River Isbourne close at hand. Whilst not a large stream it apparently has fish, as a passer by claimed to be trying to catch one for his lunch. Not having the tools with which to join him we pressed on in search of a café. However, another little rill crossed the path and made its way down to the river. Usefully there was a nice wide bridge to save getting wet feet. Being a traditional Cotwold Accessible Bridge, there was a high step up to it and a double step down off it. Why? Don't ask. It's the Cotswold Way!
The rest of the path across the field ran very close to the river and it was clear that the latter was often determined to change the size of local residents gardens.
Gambions both small and large were visible in abundance. At the far side of the field the path exits onto the road (B4632). However, not without extracting the Cotswold Exercise Tythe. The kissing gate is wooden and particularly small. Happily there is adequate space on the other side for re-assembly before making one's way up Hailes Street.
This is a nice gentle gradient that takes one back past the TIC and into the zone of cafés and restaurants. Of course, the narrow pavement does pose a moral dilemma. Abandoning the wheels there while lunch was taken provides a bit of an obstruction to other pedestrians. Happily we found a slightly wider bit, where a sign said “park no bicycles here”. Not being a bicycle we thought that would do just nicely. And yes, we can attest that the route is stile free, but 'accessible' is, perhaps, over egging it. Could it become accessible? Yes, very easily if the will (and cash) to do so was there.
Pete (The pusher)
2014 February 16th - Kissing Gates, Quarries and Panoramas
At last a beautiful sunny day. Must take advantage of this. We decide to handcycle rather than cycle, and find a route that we havn't taken for a while. We need something different to blow away these very wet winter cobwebs!
So what about heading in the Macclesfield direction? Somehow these environs have been off our handcycling agenda for a while. The handcycle is loaded into the van – not too early as we have hot chocolate elevenses first, but not too late, and the sun is still shinning. We pick up some sandwiches for lunch on the way. The approach road to our destination Tegg's Nose Country Park is steeper and narrower than I remember, but we are going reasonably high – at least in Cheshire terms.
The car park is full of cars. Everybody is taking advantage of the good weather, but fortunately there is a disabled bay available. We quickly eat our sandwiches and get ourselves sorted to start off. Already, from the car park there are expansive views into the beginning of the Peak District. The shapely peak of Shutlingslowe stands out.
Very briefly we walk and handcycle alongside the road and then turn off on a broad, solidly based bridleway route. After about 30 yards we reach what must be a reasonably recently installed, new style green painted metal kissing gate (if one can still call it that).
We get out our Radar key to unlock the normally 'internally swinging' gate. The radar key should allow us to open the gate outwards so providing a much larger opening and free passage through for the handcycle. All very well designed, but unfortunately it doesn't work! The lock is rusted up. Pete dashes back to the van where we have a can of oil ready for this kind of eventuality. We are in action again.
The views are now opening up in a another direction and on a very different vista. We are looking downwards onto the flat Cheshire plain. A path turns off on the left, but with steep stone steps. That is obviously not our way. Our left turn is a little further on. It is quite steep and a bit rocky. You definitely need a strong pusher, but is well graded. With a couple of stops to gather breath and energy we are at the flatter top of Tegg's Nose at a height of 1246 feet (360 metres).
Here there are old quarry workings. Quarrying started, with hand tools, in the 16th century and was continued until 1955, though then with rather more sophisticated machinery. Evidence of the quarrying is there in the form of preserved machinery, exposed quarried rock faces and a dramatic deep pit.
I don't take my handcycle too close to the edge! There are also a couple of good viewpoints, now downwards to two small reservoirs (Tegg's Nose reservoir and Bottom reservoir) and across to Macclesfield Forest. The views are wide and extensive so there is a sense of openness, freedom and grandeur even.
We stop and enjoy these for a little while. Then we follow the trail as it circles around. Fortunately, in spite of all the recent wet weather the solid stone base means that there is not too much mud. Soon the track is going down hill again. there are two more new style kissing gates to negotiate and again our can of oil comes in useful. The first one is fairly easily negotiated, the second one less so. This was at the beginning of another quite steep uphill section. We found that the self closing nature of the gate meant that it was difficult to both keep the gate open and get enough impetus to get the handcycle uphill through the gate. One's assistant needed to be doing two things at once!
Once through this we were back to the final stretch to the car park, again with the marvelous views down to the Cheshire plain. We had a glimpse of the Jodrell Bank telescope, although there seemed to be some obscuring smoke from somewhere. Altogether though the views all around had been splendid. The circumnavigation of the hill top had not taken us that long. The distance is quite short, probably around a mile and a half, but is quite a demanding one for wheelchair users. The great attraction of the route is that although short, it is dramatic in the views provided, and the sense of being in, or on the edge of, the hills. For us it definitely did blow the winter cobwebs away.
2014 January 15th - Two Estuary Rides
The middle of January feels a rather dismal time of the year – the mornings stay dark for too long, and the light still fades soon after four o'clock. Spirits are raised by looking back on the wonderful summer of 2013. This felt like the best cycling summer we had had for ages. It is also now time to think forward to spring and the coming summer – time to start planning new explorations.
I haven't written anything about the summer gone. My excuse is that it provided such excellent cycling conditions that there was not much time left over to write about it. We enjoyed lots of tandem triking from home base. The warm weather made for pleasant cycling, and when it felt a bit on the hot side the air movement when on the trike felt refreshing. We did something which we haven't done for many years, which was to go for evening rides, stopping for a meal at a pub along the way.
Our main holiday was a trip with our camper van down to the west country, a part of the country well known to us. We took the handcycle hoisted on the back of the van, and towed the tandem trike.
A ride that we have done a number of times before is on the Tarka Trail cycle path along the Taw and Torridge estuaries. This is a splendid route – one of my favourites. We started from Braunton where we had stayed the night. From the camp site there was just a little bit of road cycling before we could get onto the cycle path. It was a lovely morning to be cycling close to the water. The tide was in and the water was a shining, reflective blue.
As well as the scenery the other nice thing about this ride is that there are places to stop for refreshment without diverting from the trail. Our first stop was at the Old Bus Station at Barnstaple, now converted into a pleasant cafe, but retaining its sense of what it used to be. Beyond the cafe we soon approach the old town road bridge across the Taw. A little bit of careful route negotiation is needed, but it is fairly easy to get onto the next stretch of the path without too much tangling with traffic.
Now we are across on the other side of the river with splendid vies across to our earlier route and down along the seaward stretches of the estuary. There is a sense of the flat estuary side lands and the movement of the tide that you could never get from the road.
Our next rest point was at Fremington Quay. This is now a lovely peaceful spot . It feels hard to believe that, as late as the early to mid twentieth century, this was the busiest port, in terms of tonnage, between Bristol and Lands End. Now the cafe does a good trade in the summer. We had a good lunch here, sitting outside in the sunshine. We had to wait a little while for it to be served, but that was no pain in these pleasant surroundings.
The final few miles of the path took us to the seaside village of Instow at the seaward end of the Torridge estuary. The tide was now well out so we had wide sandy views and across to the port and boat building town of Appledore. We had surprising difficulty in finding a source of the kind of ice cream we wanted, but we did manage it in the end. We sat and enjoyed the seaside experience before setting back on the equally enjoyable return ride.
Two days later we rode the other part of this estuary trail, that is along the higher reaches of the Torridge estuary. This time we parked the camper van at Instow, and triked up to Torrington Station. There was a degree of 'up' involved – it was harder cycling because we were gaining height. It meant, of course, that the return ride to Instow was easier and, I felt, more pleasant as the river and estuary was opening up around us. This second ride meant that over the two days we had cycled the major part of the Tarka Trail. This estuary ride is one of the best in the country, and in lovely summer weather it is a beautifully scenic experience.
A second estuary ride of the holiday was from Exemouth on the Exe estuary. This was new to us, and a very nice surprise on a warm, sunny late Sunday afternoon. In the past we have cycled from Exeter, on the other side of the Exe river, but we were not sure how much of a trail existed from Exemouth. We found that it was more than we had thought.
It turned out to be a lovely ride. We weren't alone in being lured out by the beautiful weather. The numbers of cyclists were almost at Dutch levels. Some of it was purpose built cycle trail, but joined up by sections of quiet back road. All of it was well signposted, though there were so many other cyclists that you couldn't have got lost.
We had expected a ride of just a few miles, but at the end found that we had done 15.7. At he turn around point it was evident that it would soon be possible to extend the ride. A bridge for cyclists is being built across a tributary of the Exe. This will provide easier access to the village of Topsham and beyond towards Exeter. Crossing the Exe at Countess of Wear gives access to the cycle path along the Exeter canal. From the end of this trail at Turf Inn minor roads would allow access to the passenger ferry at Starcross – and so back to Exmouth. Some day we will investigate this circular route.
Estuary rides are a delight because they provide reasonably easy cycling and wide, open watery views.
2012 March 23rd - Not Cambridge
Today, March 23rd, we should have been visiting friends in Cambridge. We were looking forward to an enjoyable get-together and a chance to catch up with news and events. We hoped also to do some pleasant walking/handcycling together, probably along the banks of the Cam. Cambridge is a good place for enjoyable handcycling.
Frustratingly the bad weather has intervened. Forecasts of a serious ‘snow event’ over the Northern Midlands meant that travel was certainly going to be unpleasant, and at worst a bit risky. Also, it seemed unlikely there would be the right kind of conditions for getting out and about once we had got to Cambridge. At home it is not too pleasant either. Clearly it is going to be a largely indoors weekend. It feels like time to think back over past outings in better spring time weather!
As indicated previously one of our favourite parts of the country is the coastal national park in Pembrokeshire. Glandwr is a favourite cottage at which we have stayed three times with other family members. It is very close to the water, as the Welsh name indicates, being within yards, of the beautiful Nevern estuary. The house is off a single track lane that then opens directly onto the beach. When the tide is out this is a convenient place for turning the car. It also provides the starting point for a most enjoyable handcycling route or walk.
We can turn left for a short distance, which soon takes us along typical coastal path scenery. Firsly, I need to negotiate my way along the stony foreshore with low, rounded rocks humping out of the sand, and associated green fringed seaweedy pools. A little further along we get up to the road that runs in front of quite large and grand houses that seem a little out of context just here. The houses once belonged to merchants and sea captains. Soon the road climbs very gently and becomes an accessible path. Now we are above low cliffs and then a small sandy cove. At low tide the river Nevern curves in closely under these cliffs. An old, disused lifeboat station sits just above the cove. It was badly placed because the estuary sand bar extends quite far over and made launching difficult at certain states of the tide.
Although I don't usually associate them with the seaside the most prominent birds here are swallows which sweep and soar endlessly, seemingly appreciating this space above the sea. There are other birds more closely associated with the shore on the beach below. Piercing cries alert us to the presence of Oyster Catchers scrabbling in the seaweed among the rocks. Their black and white plumage, orange beaks and pink legs draw our visual attention.
As well as this close entertainment we have marvellous longer views. Up the estuary Carn Ingli, that imposing outlier of the Preseli hills stands out and, across this estuary in miniature, there is the broad expanse of Newport Sands with sand-dunes behind.
Further along the path becomes a cliff side route. I can walk a little way and if I want to go on (which I definitely do) I have to abandon the handcycle. There is a tricky (for me) but very short stretch of steep rocky path. It has been worn quite smooth by the passage of many feet. There is a very big step and nothing to hold on to. In the narrow space it is impossible for anybody else to help. Keeping secure and keeping my balance is difficult. I almost feel that I am a climber. I have to be very careful about where I place my feet.
Once I have overcome this challenge the cliff path becomes easier. Slowly, and with care, I can walk here. Our target is to achieve the grassy spot that allows us to look straight down the steep cliff face to the kind of rocky cove that typifies the coastal path. In the spring we expect to find patches of the lovely sky blue, star-like squill flowers. These flowers are quite small, but a mass of them has a strong presence. There are sea pinks or thrift flowers here, often in varying degrees of pinkness and dotted around are white sea campions. If we are lucky we might see some yellow kidney vetch with rather clumpy flowers, almost like small pom-poms, probably positioned part way down the cliff. This is a good spot for a rest, a place to sit and enjoy the views around, the flowers, and the sense of the coast path.
Then we turn back towards a rather different route in the opposite direction. After retracing our way, past the lane up to Glandwr cottage, we reach the Parrog, an old port area dating from the 1700s. We pass in front of some old cottages, directly fronting onto the harbourside wall. These are very different in character from the sea captain houses. Beyond these is a narrow causeway path, with a camping field on one side and water or muddy sand on the other, depending on the state of the tide. There is just about space for my handcycle along the top. In the spring sea pinks seem to grow out of almost every nook and cranny in the supporting old stone walls.
Beyond there are more cottages and houses. On the left hand side is a carpark and some associated old buildings facing onto the quayside. There are a couple of ruined lime kilns, a smart, renovated stone building now the local Boat Club, but previously a harbour warehouse. One of the cottages here was apparently once the local mortuary. As with so many of the Pembrokeshire coastal villages you get a sense of the port that used to be.
Moving beyond this area we reach a broad, easy and predominantly flat path directly along side the higher reaches of the estuary. I am free to handcycle fast and leave my companions behind if I wish. At high tide the water will be glimmering through the bordering trees. At low tide there is grey mud on either side of the narrow channel of the river. In spring, new leaves on the trees can almost turn the track into a green tunnel
We soon reach the white painted iron bridge over the now narrowed estuary. At the right state of the tide there is likely to be a statuesque heron standing tall over a muddy pool. When potential prey is seen the neck is stretched forward and then, as appropriate, there is a sudden jabbing down. The heron seems almost more like an automaton than a foraging bird.
Across the bridge, the estuary side path is a great deal narrower and uneven. But it is still reasonably flat, and with care, I can continue to handcycle. It is probably a good precaution to put some gloves on, even in Summer. The backs of hands are exposed when you handcycle and stings, from overhanging nettles are an unwelcome irritation.
A mile or so on the path turns to the right and we cross the local golf course. Then, we are soon down on the beach at Newport Sands. Sandy beaches are, by their nature, flat, wide and open and have a wonderfully spacious feel. Pembrokeshire beaches, with views of sea, dramatic cliffs and green headlands provide exhilarating handcycling. At Newport beach there is now a very attractive view back across the estuary to the cottages and larger houses alongside which we had previously been walking. We are now able to see beyond to the previously hidden, distinctively shaped Dinas Head beyond Fishguard bay. By the time we get back to Glandwr cottage on the other side of the estuary I feel that I have had a good day's handcycling through some wonderful landscapes.
2012 March 17th - My Kind of Handcycling
This is not quite the usual blog report. It is not an account of a particular outing or event. It is rather more of an overview of handcycling experience. I have written it for the website of Handcycling UK, The handcycling Association of the UK. But overviews give a different kind of perspective so I thought it might be worthwhile to repeat it here.
As with ‘ordinary’ cycling, handcycling is a very flexible kind of activity. As members of Handcycling UK know, people can handcycle in a variety of ways, and for different reasons. Some enjoy the thrill of speeding along as fast as possible, and the excitement of competition. Others want to ‘eat up’ the miles, and face the challenges of climbing the steeper hills. More ‘everyday’ handcycling can be for commuting to work, getting into town, or walking the dog. This little piece is about my experience of handcycling – the kind that I do and what it means to me.
Before developing multiple sclerosis in 1993 I had a fairly active life style. With my husband, Pete, two of our favourite ways of getting away from our working lives were walking in the hills and cycle touring. After my diagnosis and the development of mobility limitations I wanted to find ways of staying as active as I could.
Fortunately, I discovered handcycling fairly early on. I also realised quite quickly that for me handcycling provided better walking replacement, rather than a more traditional cycling experience. The most important use of my handcycle is that it enables me to get into the countryside. My all terrain wheels and the fact that the casters of my ‘clip on’ handcycle are lifted up means that I can get over reasonably rough terrain. Most of my handcycling is done on paths or tracks, not roads
My handcycle has enabled me to keep active, and continue to get out to wonderful places across the country. I mostly handcycle with Pete. I handcycle, Pete walks. Over the more than dozen years that we have been doing this together we have developed partnership strategies that work - most of the time. Sometimes I can speed ahead. At other times I need a supporting push as we both work to get uphill.
As we all know, exercise is good for us, but there is research evidence to suggest that ‘green’ exercise in the great outdoors is especially supportive of positive mood. It helps us to shed everyday worries as we focus on our immediate surroundings and bodily endeavour. We can appreciate being out in beautiful places. It is good for the soul, the spirit, and has a restorative quality.
We have handcycled in many places, but we do have some favourite areas. The Lake district is three hours away from our home base and so readily reachable. It also has the great merit that the National Park has published an excellent resource of routes (currently 42) for those of us with mobility difficulties. This is the ‘Miles Without Stiles’ collection. Our other favourite is the Pembrokeshire coast. We have had cottage holidays during the middle of May at various locations within the National Park over the last 20 years. Again access information is good.
In the Lake District Keswick is one of the centres to which we have frequently returned. The path along Derwentwater to Friar’s crag is accessible to anybody using a wheelchair. With the handcycle we can readily get a good deal further down the lake. We have done it many times, in a variety of weathers. It still feels a wonderful and varied ‘walk’ - through woods, across streams, over grassy meadows, and sometimes almost directly on the stony side of the lake with trees showing a tangle of exposed roots. There are views down the lake to the spiky Jaws of Borrowdale, and across to the rounded switch back of Cat Bells. Backwards, beyond Keswick, is the looming bulk of Skidaw. Everything can look more dramatic in less good weather with dark clouds and shafts of sunlight.
In the other direction behind Keswick, the impressive, initially elevated, railway path crossing back and fore over the rushing river Gretta is another option. Above Keswick there is now an accessible route (though with a steep start) almost up to the summit of Latrigg, a lower subsidiary top below Skidaw. From nearby Braithwaite there is a broad, gradually ascending track to the remains of Force Crag mineral mine, paralleling the Coledale beck in the valley below. This path also gives a wonderful feeling of being up in the mountains.
We cannot climb right up to the tops any more, but continued experience of hills, moors and mountains still feels essential for a good life. But beaches, cliffs and estuaries, especially when quiet and empty, also provide a marvellous sense of grandeur and wildness. As well as tiny coves and narrow drowned valleys there are many wide, extensive beaches on the Pembrokeshire coast. It is exhilarating to handcycle fast along a wide and firm stretch of sand with the sea beyond and cliffs around. Of course the sand is not always firm, and there is often a danger of sinking in if you linger too long, and very soft sand can be a particular challenge – but this is all part of the experience.
As well as beaches, Pembrokeshire is about impressive cliff scenery and the long distance coast path. Much of the path is narrow, uneven and steep in places – not obviously good for handcycling! However, there are places where access is possible and I can ride for a reasonable way. It is tremendous to be on that edgy place, with the great, steep cliffs extending into the distance and their convoluted formations close to. I can look down at the waves crashing into the rocky shore below, watch the sea birds wheeling about and see the spreading drifts of sea pinks, patches of bright red campion and even bluebells here and there. I feel that I can still enjoy and appreciate the essence of what the coast path is all about.
These two areas, the Coast Path and the Lakes, are fantastic for their scenic qualities, but also for the extent of access information for people with disabilities. There are, though, many other beautiful parts of the UK. For example, we have used my handcycle to get half way up Snowdon – on the Miners’ track from Pen-y-Pass, have wonderful purple views over the heathery North Yorkshire Moors, and along riverside paths in the limestone valleys of the Peak District.
Over recent years we have used our campervan, with handcycle hung off the back, to explore around the sea lochs on the west coast of Scotland, and some of the islands. The Outer Hebrides / Western Isles have the most marvellous huge, deserted beaches with white sands and turquoise sea - when the sun shines.
Access information is rather harder to come by than it would be for able bodied walkers – but there are ways and means. Route finding is definitely more of a challenge, but finding a good one gives feelings of accomplishment and celebration. For me, using my handcycle is the best way to reach these beautiful places, and the requirement of putting in physical effort contributes to the satisfaction.
2012 February 8th - Kite Encounter at Bwlch Nant yr Arian
We are visiting Aberystwyth again. The weather has not been good for getting out and about, but this afternoon is fine, if very windy. We decide to avoid the coast and head inland. We choose one of our favourite places – the forestry centre at Nant yr Arion, about 8 miles from Aberystwyth, up towards Pumlumon Pass.
We follow the trail from the Visitor Centre down to the small pine fringed lake below us. The path zig-zags to lose height, but these are well graded bends. With careful use of the brakes I can manage these in the handcycle. The whole route is not a long one, probably less than a mile, but it is more than I can cope with on foot. It is much more enjoyable for me to handcycle around, rather than struggle with sticks and walking.
It is a beautiful spot. It feels secluded, and ‘in the woods’, although it is not actually far from the main road. The other attraction is that we will be sure to see Red Kites twisting and turning together above the lake and flying, with control, through the trees. They are attracted in large numbers because food is put out for them every day at a set time.
The Red Kite is a good sized bird of prey. It is over six feet in wing span, but is slimly built and with a characteristic V fanned tail. It is a beautiful bird with red- brown upper colouring and some paler parts beneath. It is an agile, elegant and graceful flyer. It is quite a spectacle to see thirty to forty birds making precisely controlled turns, dives and ascents as they swoop around above the lake.
The trail, after its z bend descent, flattens out and follows the side of the lake. When the food has been put out this is a good place to view the display. Today, feeding took place a little while ago. There are still quite a few Kites around, but not in the numbers where you marvel at their skill in avoiding each other as they fly fast. There are not very many people either – it is a cold mid week day, and that is to our preference. We can enjoy watching the birds in peace.
We continue our circuit of the lake. The path turns at right angles to give views back up the lake. Then we get into and through the trees, which for a while are closer around. Now the path begins to twist and turn, and gain height. I need to crank harder, and then, as the surface becomes looser and grip is lost, wait for a push. We have moved away from the lake, and soon the landscape opens up. We are facing in a different direction. There is another small lake below us, and we can see across and beyond to the higher hills of the Pumlumon range.
The route continues behind the back side of the first lake. It is an up and down and twisty ride in among fairly recently planted pine trees and other small saplings – a little mixed woodland in development. In some parts more forceful handcycling is required, but there are also parts where, with care, I can do my own (more limited) swooping down. Soon we come within sight of the top end of the lake, immediately below the visitor centre. Now we have a clear view of some of the Red Kites giving us a further display of their aerial acrobatics.
For us, it is now time to make the ascent back up to the visitor centre. The upward path is again well engineered as it contours back and forth to regain the height previously lost. We reach the entrance to the attractive centre, which is an appropriately wood clad building. We order some tea at the self service counter, and then find a table that allows us to look out through the trees, and downwards to the lake.
There are some further opportunities for bird observation. We are lucky to see a Great Spotted Woodpecker on one of the trees with the red on the back of its head standing out. Then there is some less obtrusive movement on one of the tree trunks. A little tree creeper is climbing around and upwards. Later, a stray Kite passes quite close to the window giving a quick opportunity to observe its beautiful colouring. As always, our short handcycle ride has provided a positive and uplifting experience.
2012 January 24th - Winter Triking
It is definitely winter now. There has been snow on the ground for the last four days. It snowed steadily on Friday morning. It was a day that we were due to cycle out for a group ride. It had to be cancelled. Before that there have been many days when it rained solidly all day – sufficiently wet that it was no point in even thinking about a cycle ride.
Of course, it hasn’t been like that quite all the time. There have been fine, sunny, blue-sky days in among the wet ones, all the more appreciated because of the grey wetness that has gone before. We are lucky living in rural Cheshire. We can get out onto quiet roads pretty well straight from our house. Pete and I ride together on our yellow Longstaff conversion tandem trike. If time is short, or weather looks a little uncertain a short ride of six or seven miles can help to ‘blow the cobwebs away’.
A favourite longer ride is to the neighbouring small town of Holmes Chapel. This is a ride mostly on back lanes. Of course there are cars, but usually not too many, though care is obviously needed on the winding roads. The return route is 14 miles – or more, depending on how circuitous we make the outing, and how easy (or not) we want the ride to be. Often it is a morning into afternoon ride so we build in a stop for lunch.
At this time of year the countryside is definitely in its winter guise. The colours are brown and dark, with a bit of yellow, but not much green. This year, especially, the fields appear sodden, and there are many (temporary) pools of water. On this ride, as on others, we also pass some real permanent ponds. Apparently, Cheshire has more ponds than most parts of lowland Britain. At least some are of ancient origin, resulting from ice age kettle holes. Around Sandbach there are other larger stretches of water that derive, more recently, from subsidence depressions from salt extraction.
Bare, skeletal trees stand out strongly, positioned here and there in the fields, mostly singly, but sometimes in small groups, though hardly ever extending into woods. It seems that Cheshire is one of the country’s least wooded counties. But there are hedges everywhere around as we cycle past. Mostly hawthorn. Now, they display a tightly interwoven mesh of spiky, brown branchlets. Unfortunately, at this time of year, they can provide a menace to cyclists. The beautiful integrity of the hedge is often destroyed by the bashing and slashing of mechanised hedge cutting. The spiky cuttings are left all over the road. If we come behind they are impossible to avoid, and the puncture risk is very high!
We cannot reach Holmes Chapel without some main road cycling, but fortunately it is a fairly short stretch. We are soon in the centre with the old Church standing prominently in what was once probably a town square, but where now traffic predominates. However, it is still a pleasant small town environment and in a quiet street, just behind the Church is the Cobbles Tea Room that is our destination for lunch. It is quite a busy cafe, but never so much that we fail to find a free table. They serve good soup, and after a rest we are fortified for our return ride.
2013 January12th - Summer Retrospective
I am at home, looking out on a veiled, misty landscape. On such grey days it is good to look back on summers past, and savour outings taken on brighter, sunnier days. A few years ago we spent a July week in Snowdonia. As usual we had my handcycle with us. I wrote accounts of a couple of our outings, and it is cheering to look back on these on such a gloomy day.
Half Way Up
We were on the last day of our visit to North Wales. On previous days cloud had been down low, but now it had cleared. We decided that we would head into the hills. We made for Llanberis wondering whether we should take the train to the top. But then we saw the queues! We soon decided that the delays and the crowds would not provide us with the kind of mountain experience that we wanted.
I persuaded Pete that we should make instead for the Pen-y-Pass car park. I had remembered reading in a book of cycle routes that it is possible to cycle up the lower part of the Miner's track to Llyn Llydaw. This is because it is classed as a bridle path. If people cycle this way maybe I could handcycle!
Careful inspection of the map suggested to us that it was worth trying what had initially seemed a somewhat preposterous proposal. Pen-y-Pass is already quite high at 356 metres. We found that the spot height for Llyn Llydaw is 436 metres so the increase in height is not so great. Since the distance is around one and a half miles we realised that the gradient of the climb should be manageable.
The track turned out to be broad and initially quite well surfaced. The gradient was indeed quite reasonable and I was able to handcycle under my own power. The path did get rockier as we progressed. We decided that we could usefully dispense with the castor wheels which are part of the wheelchair set up. We abandoned them at the side of the path. It was hardly likely that anybody would think that they were worth stealing!
As we climbed higher, the views got better. Backwards these were across to the Glyders. In front we could see the conical peak of Yr Wyddfa itself. It was fantastic to feel so very much among the mountains, and have such splendid views all around. We came over the lip of the slope to achieve our objective - the shores of Llyn Llydaw. We hadn't got to the top of Snowdon, but for us getting part way up seemed just as much of an achievement. We congratulated ourselves on an unexpected success.
On an earlier afternoon we had found ourselves on the lower slopes below Carnedd Moel Siabod. I was propelling my modified wheelchair along a Forestry Commission trail. The ascent was only a moderate one, but it still felt like quite hard work and I needed an assisting push from my husband, Pete, who was walking behind. But the views were opening up, and we were enjoying the feel of being among the mountains.
We were looking out for a smaller path on the right hand side which would take us back down into the valley. We found it easily, but it was narrower, rougher and steeper than I had hoped for. It was just a typical mountain path, but it soon became clear that path and chair weren't going to work together very easily. We persevered and made some lumpy, bumpy progress. We kept hoping that the path would smooth out - but it didn't. I was feeling seriously jostled around by the rocky terrain, and the chair was taking some punishment too. I was beginning to wonder whether it was sensible to continue, or whether we should take the unwelcome option of pushing the chair back up the way we had come.
Pete managed to persuade me that the best choice was to carry on - at least that was downhill. Fortunately I can walk a little, and I had both of my sticks with me. So, we decided that I would walk - very slowly and carefully. I can't walk quickly anyway, but this would have to be even more slowly than is usual for me. Pete gave me time to get a good way ahead, and then he steered the empty chair down from behind, with brakes at the ready.
We completed the descent in stages. In between the stages we took rests at the side of the path. It all still felt a bit risky to me. Would we get to the bottom without mishap? Pete as usual was confident. As we sat and relaxed I could dismiss my worries and instead take pleasure in where we were. Immediately around us was rather scrubby woodland, but beyond that we had impressive views over to Snowdon and surrounding peaks. We could just sit and enjoy and take our ease in these beautiful surroundings.
We did get to the bottom successfully. Then we were on the rather flatter, easier lane along the valley floor that returned us to our van. We reflected back on an enjoyable afternoon. We had tested out a new route, had a little bit of excitement, and appreciated being out in the mountains.
2012 December3rd - Riding Hurricanes to the Big Apple
Guest Blog by Simon Lord
The MS Society of America hold their annual cycle ride around Manhattan Island, New York on a 30 mile route on closed roads. With entry through the British MS Society and a minimum sponsorship required, I decided that this ride could be possible.
Some incredible coincidences emerged when researching the logistics of getting to New York and back without the problem of jet lag and keeping my bike in a safe condition. A brochure arrived through the door informing us that the QM2 arrived in Manhattan on the very morning of the ride.
I needed to take Kim my wife with me to help me through the travelling and through the ride. To help with the fund raising and cover part of the travel expenses, I did some arm twisting and had a fantastic response from friends and family who donated an incredible amount of money.
We arrived on time in Manhattan and got through the complexity of American customs. After a short delay we found the vehicle we had booked that took us up to the start area of the event at Manhattan Pier 94. Unfortunately we were delayed half mile from the start as the Police had closed the roads for the charity ride and traffic had come to a stand still. The only way of trying to make the 7.30am start was to get on my bike and cut across several blocks up to Pier 94 area.
About to start
I missed the start by minutes but managed to join the mass of riders just a few hundred yards away. I joined the 5,000 other entries for an incredible ride around the whole perimeter of Manhattan on such a beautiful day.
At around 14 miles my legs were becoming tired but, with some energy drink and food, I managed to reach the rest area at 20 miles. After 15 minutes of rest I continued with the ride and met up with Kim who was filming the event.
Resting by the River Hudson
After a short chat I continued the remaining nine and a half miles back to the finish at Pier 94. Kim was there to film my conclusion of the ride.
The Wall of Hope
The only problem I had was a very painful neck and shoulder, but I felt that I could have ridden a greater distance. To have had the opportunity to take part in such a worth while cause and to prove that, with determination, challenges like this can be made to happen, was a privilege.
Why is the title called Riding Hurricane to the Big Apple? Well we have never been involved in a Hurricane but on the way out from the UK, and returning from America, we experiences the remains of Hurricanes Raphael and Sandy. They both gave the ship and us a very rough time indeed. If we don't get another Hurricane that will be fine with us!
Time to go home!
And what's next? Hopefully I can get more involved with organisations promoting cycling for people with disabilities and promoting inclusive cycles.
2012 November24th - To the Woods: A Country Park Hancycle
It is sunny autumnal Sunday – so a good day to enjoy the woods and the leaves before the latter are down on the ground. Country parks can make good handcycling territory. We are fortunate to have a well wooded one not too far away.
The route around the woods is not a long one, but it is interesting and varied. Having parked our car outside the small visitor centre (closed) and loos (fortunately open), we are immediately into the woods. The leaves are thick on the ground, but there is a wide and solid path underneath. To our left a small stream rushes down. A couple of dogs, apparently oblivious to the cold temperatures are splashing about in the pool formed below a small fall of water.
The path begins to climb up, still reasonably gently, but a helping push on the handcycle from Pete is appreciated. We now have tall, mature beach trees all around us. They are resplendent in their rich bronze autumn colours. The trees are sufficiently dense that there are only patchy glimpses of sky through the tracery of the uppermost branches.
We turn right onto a narrower path that is rather steeper – a stronger push from behind is definitely required. The path gains some height through one zig-zag, and then across a wooden bridge we are on the banks of a moderate sized pool. We do the circuit – so less effort for both of us for a while. At the far end is a small stone boat house. We round the corner to iron railings and gate, which takes us into a small meadow area. Sometimes there are cows here, but not today. Instead there are a couple of fishermen with little green tents for sheltering under when necessary.
Beyond the little lake we are back into the woods. We cross diagonally. There are some marker posts, but it is harder to distinguish the path under the yellow-gold layers of leaves. The surface is softer here, but today not as soft or muddy as it can be. On our left the ground falls away gently, but then quite steeply to the stream that is now just visible again. Part of the path is labelled as the Himalayan route. I think that this is going a bit far, but for a small area the topography is interesting and even dramatic.
At the end of the diagonal the path slopes down quite steeply. It is brakes on! There are even a couple of (small) steps at the bottom. With Pete holding and steadying the handcycle from the rear, these can be managed. Just across the stone bridge over the stream we stop and park the handcycle. It is worth going just a little further, but at the end point there is no easy handcycle turn around. It is the end point for us, but the path goes further. It crosses the stream again and then there is a long set of steep steps framed by beech trees on either side – a staircase of gold. We enjoy the view before returning.
The way back is along the bottom of the valley with the stream mostly on our right, but with the path criss-crossing a couple of times back and fore over wooden bridges – they are just wide enough for the handcycle. The drop from the path into the water is an abrupt walled one. Initially there are protective railings – but then not. Care is needed. The stream itself drops over a couple of artificial weirs, but the stream bed with large boulders is a natural one. It is a mossy place. There are small trees that are thickly covered by a tufted green layer. There is a general air of dampness.
Now, of course, it is all down hill, and we are soon back at the point where we turned right to the fish pool, and then to our car outside the visitor centre. It has been a good morning to savour what autumn is all about.
2012 November8th - Around Town
The town I am cycling around is Aberystwyth, a Welsh university town on the coast of Ceredigion. It is where I grew up, and where my sister still lives. Towns vary in whether they provide good in town handcycling. Aber is good. We are especially lucky in that my sister’s house is on the outskirts with flat, non traffic access – couldn’t be better.
We set off. I am handcycling, Pete is walking. To begin with our way is along a pedestrian, tree lined avenue. On one side there is a view to Pen Dinas, a hill with an Iron Age hill fort on top. Part way up the hill on the other is the quite grand, imposing building which is the National library of Wales.
After around half a mile we are close to the railway station, and pretty well in the middle of town. Now it is much busier and I need to have my wits about me to avoid pedestrians!
Handcycling around Aber can be either a short – or much longer ride – depending on whether it is primarily a trip into town, or whether there is a wish to also enjoy the full extent of the promenade and harbour. Today is mainly around town. Pete is going to the bank while I have the aim of visiting the bookshop, up one of the main streets – Great Darkgate Street. This is something of a hill so quite hard work when I’m handcycling on my own. I feel pleased when I manage it successfully. I leave the handcycle on the pavement and proceed into the bookshop for some enjoyable browsing.
When Pete joins me we move on. We progress down Pier Street, which, of course, takes us to the pier and the promenade. We could turn left, which would take us almost immediately to the imposing old university buildings, in gothic revivalist style. Today we turn right, so just along a very short stretch of the prom, before we turn back into town. We do various bits of shopping as we go, and then make our way back to base.
Effectively, in this sort of ‘about town’ outing I am using my handcycle as many people with mobility problems would use an electric scooter or buggy. Personally, I much prefer the handcycle. I enjoy being active and getting exercise rather than just riding. For me there is a much stronger sense of personal control and independence.
18th October 2012 - Peak Trail Triking
Another beautiful sunny Saturday morning dawned. We decided, with little discussion, to head for the Peak District again. This time it was with the tandem trike trailer towed behind our camper van. This would allow us to stay away for a night. Our objective, if the weather held, was to ride two of the peak trails.
We parked at Minninglow, on the High Peak Trail that is well placed for going east or west and not over popular. Before lunch we headed east towards Middleton Top. If we were going to cycle again in the afternoon we decided that five miles was enough. We turned back for the camper van. On the way back, the sunny scene was replaced by towering clouds that eventually turned to rain. Thus we ended up with a more extended lunch break than expected. Eventually the rain stopped and the clouds began to break up. We mounted up again and cycled the opposite way to Parsley Hay where we knew we could get a hot drink to warm us up.
It was a colder, wetter and much muddier ride than we had expected. The trail was full of potholes filled to the brim with water and impossible to avoid. We were seriously mud splattered and wished that we had worn our waterproof overshoes. However, it was still a really good ride with dramatic cloud scenes. The weather was ever changing - a little sunshine but peeking from behind dark clouds. This all added to the long and wide open views of the Peak District Hills. Then we had a beautiful and complete rainbow to accompany us for the last stages of the ride to Parsley Hay. Suitably refreshed by the expected hot beverage, we cycled back to our van.
We spent the night at Grin Low caravan park just outside Buxton which is situated in the bottom of a former quarry. It was almost 6 o’clock by the time we arrived, so when we had got ourselves settled in, it was time to get cooking and have something to eat.
The next day dawned very cold but was better in terms of weather - more sunshine, very little rain, but less dramatic in that there were no dark and towering clouds. Today were were exploring the Monsal Trail, but from the other end to that which we had started on a few weeks previously. We parked in the small car park at Wydale which is the western limit of the trail. The start was down a narrow, wooded valley with the rushing river to the left.
The link to the old railway was a steep gravel incline. At the top, the scene changed again. Now there were tunnels and viaducts and views down into deep valleys just below but also high natural cliffs as well as the towering cutting sides that had been artificially created. Surroundings felt more close and pressing as against the long views of yesterday, but you were still unmistakably in the Peak District.
We reached Hassop station after an eight mile ride. The Monsal Trail, as on our previous visit, was very busy, much more so than the High Peak Trail had been the previous day. We were at the station in time for an early lunch, but already there was a reasonable queue. Cycling back was equally dramatic, though rather harder work as the route slowly rises from Hassop to Rusher Cutting Tunnel close to where we had started.
We loaded the trailer and set off homewards having enjoyed our scenically contrasting rides.
2012 October 9th - On the Border
We have just made a short visit in our campervan to the border town of Ludlow. This is a town full of interest and history with its medieval origins still being clearly evident. It is a place I could handcycle around without problems – I just had to be caeful about wandering pedestrians. The market in the main square, close to the town Assembly Rooms, was busy. Food is a big preoccupation in Ludlow and many stalls were selling local food produce – we had to indulge in a few purchases.
Later we explored further in the surroundings of Ludlow, and further back in history. At Knighton we found the Offa’s Dyke Centre. The Dyke dates to the eighth century, built to defend the Anglo Saxon kingdom of Mercia against the Welsh. But could we get closer to the Dyke itself? We were quickly given directions to a section not far outside the town that was classed as accessible.
We soon arrived at the convenient layby, which had been described by the lady at the Centre. A farm gate that opened took us down a track through a field of sheep. We turned a few corners around field boundaries, with some ups and downs, over moderately rough ground, but still negotiable with the handcycle. We passed through 3 or 4 more farm gates. Amazingly they could all be OPENED. The official footpath, with stiles, zig-zagged past us. This route really was accessible for me and handcycle.
We reached the bank and ditch of the dyke itself. Still, after 1300 years it has a strong, continuing presence in the landscape. We continued alongside with a little uphill work being required. The reward was the being at the dyke, and having a fantastic view of the immediate hills around, and further towards the Welsh hills in the distance. We hadn't come far, but without the handcycle it would have been impossible for me to reach this marvellous empty place, with its sense of the past and its present beauty.
2012 October 1st - Into the Tunnel
This Saturday was forecast to be a nice sunny day, but the one after would be wet and windy. We had to make the most of the sunshine! We decided on the Peak District. It is within reasonably easy travelling distance of our home base in Cheshire and the rail trails there are a reasonably regular destination for us. We wanted to investigate what had happened on the Monsal Trail. We knew that some of the tunnels had been opened up, but we hadn’t visited for quite a while.
We got off reasonably efficiently. Since it was a sunny Saturday the car parks might be very busy. They were. We got one of the last spaces at the Hassop Station Bookshop car park. It was a bit early, but we decided to lunch first. Entering the station building we found that it had changed since our last visit. Not so many books, but the whole place has been opened up. There is much more space for eating, though we still had to queue. Fortunately the food was as good as it used to be.
Then we got the handcycle organised and ourselves onto the trail. As a rail trail the gradients are quite gently. You do have to work a bit on a handcycle – but not too much.
The trail was busy with cyclists, and a few walkers. There were many families out enjoying the sunshine. Kids were on small bikes, trailer bikes, sitting in trailers, or on seats in front of or behind the adult rider. There were also the fast moving lycra clad riders who come up quickly behind you. As Pete would say – did say – NO BELL cyclists.
It is late summer or early autumn so there are not so many flowers around. Rose Bay Willow Herb is still impressive, but there is not much purple about, and even the white, whispy seeds have almost gone. There were some good clumps of yellow and white ox-eye daisies, but again very much past their best. Along the embankments there were often view obscuring trees, but with views opening up to green hills and valleys, and dry stone walls snaking across. In the damper cuttings various ferns, mosses and spiky lichens clung to the cliff like walls.
So, into the tunnel. It is lit with low level lighting, but you are warned to have your own lights too. It is a broad, quite high tunnel as befits what had been a main line (Derby to Manchester). This is the Headstone tunnel. It is over 400 yards long and as it curves slightly you cannot see the end from the beginning. But it is well surfaced and there are no drips! It seemed quite suddenly that we were out again. The tunnel opens directly onto a viaduct, so there are drops on either side, and grand views down to the valley below. Quite a dramatic point, and people were gathered to look over the (well protected) edges.
This had to be our turn around point – not a long ride but quite a good handcycling one. We will be back before too long with the tandem trike so that we can investigate the now extended Monsal Trail – It is a 17 mile return to the edge of Buxton.