Day 9 - Bristol to Cheltenham
Tues June 28th 2016
Distance: 46.7 miles
Altitude climbed: 488m
Bike workshops visited: 2
Well this turned out to be an interesting day.... It started off well enough, with a hearty breakfast and a long gradual climb up Gloucester Road to Filton, passing my old house from my gap year back in '97/'98 (where does time go?!). The Airbus site where I spent my gap year is still looking as busy as ever, although it's a real shame the runway has closed - seeing the factory brought back some good memories of often watching a Spitfire practicing aerobatics during lunchtimes. Ah they were the days!
Anyway, enough of my reminiscing... Crossing the junction at Aztec West was a nightmare; it was just as busy as expected but roadworks had closed some of the pedestrian and cycle paths. Before long though I was past that, and the subsequent M5 junction, and soon putting the miles in thanks to the A38 being fairly flat & smooth. And despite being a main road it was fairly quiet too - I assume most drivers were simply using the parallel M5 instead.
My rapid progress wasn't to last long though! I didn't know it yet but the trouble-free nature of my trip so far was about to come to an abrupt end, starting with an innocent sounding 'ping'. At first I thought it was just a stone hitting my wheel but a few minutes later major rubbing noises coming from my back wheel indicated something much worse. I can't have a buckled wheel I thought, I've not hit anything? When I pulled over to check my bike I saw it - a broken spoke. It was just dangling there, hanging from the wheel hub having snapped at the nipple. And without the spoke holding it in shape the wheel had started to deform badly. Oh bugger!
The A38 - an easy road to cycle (image from Google Street View)
I've never had a broken spoke before so I'll admit that I didn't have a clue what to do. But you don't do this trip if you're afraid of encountering the odd problem, and as my bike (a Genesis Tour De Fer) comes with 3 spare spokes attached to the frame, and I had plenty of tools too, then I figured I should be able to fix it somehow. Or at least that's what I thought until my naivety gave way to the realisation that, to get at the rear spokes, I'd need to remove the cassette. And a cassette removal tool is one tool that I don't have.
At this point a cyclist passed by on the other side of the road, shouting over to ask if I'm ok. I replied that I'd got a broken spoke, at which he simply shrugged his shoulders and carried on. Yeah thanks buddy! I wonder whether he'd have stopped for something easier like a puncture, or if he was just feigning concern to feel good about himself? Who knows.
It's then that I was extremely grateful for Google 🙂 A quick search showed a bike shop just a mile away in Thornbury, and a further quick phone call verified that they were open and could help. 5 minutes later then I found myself in Pete's Bikes where the owner quickly and expertly replaced the spoke, letting me be on my way again before too long. Yay. Problem over.
My happiness lasted all of another 20 miles before I heard another ping. Seriously?! This time I recognised the noise straight away as another spoke breaking. WTF?
I limped the next 7 miles to Gloucester and another bike shop - Eastgate Cycles. They removed the wheel and put it into their jig, whereupon a 3rd spoke immediately decided to break - even with no weight on it! The assistants quickly replaced both of the spokes but advised me that it's unlikely my wheel will last and that more spokes will probably go; wheels are finely balanced and spokes can easily get over-stressed when one is replaced by itself. I was told too that the spokes on my bike are cheap poor ones (Pete's Cycles mentioned that earlier as well), and that they'd been done up a little bit too tightly putting them under more stress. However, despite my weight and that of the bike, they shouldn't be breaking yet and advised me that it's probably a warranty issue for a new wheel. Great.
Finally made it to Cheltenham!
When I phoned up the bike shop where I bought my bike from (Edinburgh Bicycle Cooperative in Leeds) and explained the issue the manager agreed, and immediately said to just get the wheel replaced and send him the receipts. I can't argue with that - great customer care! Eastgate Cycles sadly didn't have any suitable wheels in stock, so I gingerly rode on to my B&B in Cheltenham, praying the wheel survived (it did) and planning to sort it all tomorrow.
The good part of the day though was catching up with my friend Deech who works just round the corner from the bike shop in Gloucester and who popped in whilst I was there. We also met up again that evening along with Deech's wife Kerry for dinner - a great end to a frustrating day!
Cheltenham (rest day)
Weds June 29th 2016
Bike workshops visited: 1
A public bike pump in Cheltenham town centre - what a great idea!
So I'm stuck in Cheltenham today whilst I find a bike shop to replace or rebuild my wheel... Luckily having previously lived in Cheltenham for 3 years I know just the place to go. The good news - they can fix it (and make it stronger than before with better spokes). The bad news - they can't fit it into their schedule until tomorrow. Crap! A good opportunity to look around my old home town then and catch up with Deech & Kerry some more.
Cheltenham (rest day)
Thurs June 30th 2016
Yay, the wheel is fixed! Too late to set off today though.... Guess I'll do some more route planning & laundry then!
Day 10 - Cheltenham to Brandon (Coventry)
Fri July 1st 2016
Distance: 56 miles
Altitude climbed: 419m
Finally I'm back on the road! Whilst stuck in Cheltenham I spent hours poring over maps & planning routes, and decided to try to make up some lost time. My only real deadline for finishing this trip is to be home by July 30th for my step-dad's 70th birthday; fortunately there's very little chance of missing that (yet anyway!). Instead my self-imposed deadline is for the week before, Sat 23rd, to be able to make it to a friend's BBQ. That's still looking do-able but I'll need to up my daily average, which is what I did today with my longest mileage yet.
Beautiful Cotswold stone houses
Leaving Cheltenham I managed to avoid going over the steep Cleeve Hill by finding roads that weave around it instead (when I lived in Cheltenham I used to enjoy cycling up it as a challenge - no surprise I didn't fancy doing that today with a further 50 miles or so to ride beyond it!). The Cotswolds are a beautiful part of the world, with very distinctive stone villages all around. I used to love mountain biking around here years ago and my route certainly brought back a few memories and familiar sights.
I had a feeling that my apprehension at cycling over 50 miles today (I've only done more than 50 miles in a day once in my life before) was happily going to be distracted from by some beautiful scenery. It wasn't particularly hilly (thankfully!) but the route took me through Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwick (with a little hill), and Royal Leamington Spa. I've never been to any of these places before, not even when I lived in Cheltenham, but they were very scenic towns which I've now promised myself I'll return to one day for a proper visit.
Outside the home of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford-upon-Avon
There's some amazing shaped vehicles about! This charity one was in Leamington Spa
Stratford-upon-Avon (Shakespeare's birthplace) was especially beautiful. The sunshine and crowds of tourists brought extra life to the area that already looked amazing with its canals, green spaces, and blooming flowers everywhere. I explored a little bit but will definitely come back sometime - and maybe even for a bit of Shakespeare!
The Lord Leycester House, Warwick
My hotel tonight is the biggest I've been to so far on this trip, a large Mercure country house hotel. I've had bad experiences with Mercure's before (tiny rooms & poor service) but needn't have worried today; in fact it was a great hotel. The host who checked me in was incredibly helpful, upgrading my room to make sure I'm in one next to the courtyard where my bike is stored, and helping me with taking my bike through the hotel as well.
The bike tonight is stored in the courtyard of the hotel under a covered walkway near my room. It's great and easy access - perfect to do a little servicing. I've been hearing a bit of clicking from my bike whilst pedalling today but couldn't work out where from - I've now tightened every bolt I can find in the hope the noise disappears. Fingers crossed it's not a sign that anything else is about to break!
Day 11 - Brandon (Coventry) to Long Eaton (Nottingham)
Sat July 2nd 2016
Distance: 46.6 miles
Altitude climbed: 479m
Breakfast this morning was a bit of a mission; it seems the hotel attracts coach parties and, despite getting up early, a few coach loads worth of guests had descended for breakfast just a few minutes before I did. The restaurant had run out of everything so it was a bit of a wait whilst they cooked more food, but at least it was fresh when it arrived. There's nothing worse than buffet breakfasts that have been sat under a heater for hours drying out - yuck!
Anyway as I set off today I realised that the clicking noise on my bike has largely gone, yay. It's there very occasionally still but much less frequently than yesterday, meaning it probably was a loose bolt rather than anything more serious (I hope anyway).
It was another long (by my standards anyway...) day of cycling today but I was relieved to realise I was feeling fresh despite a long day yesterday. My fitness really has improved over the last 2 weeks.
A field near Donnington Park racetrack
The day itself though was largely dull and boring with nothing too memorable. I passed by the Castle Donnington race track where judging by the roar of engines there was some sort of race going on, and looped around the back of East Midlands airport. I waited for a while for a plane to either take off or land, as I thought being right under the aircraft at the end of the runway (the road went right up to the end of the runway) would be a cool experience, but gave up after 20 minutes of no aircraft movements. East Midlands ain't no Heathrow, that's for sure! I then descended the hill down into Long Eaton for my hotel before the forecasted rain started.
My hotel tonight is probably the weirdest one yet. It's a bistro with rooms, with "Funeral Buffet" menu leaflets spread all over the reception desk. The stairs up to the rooms are lit with an eery blue light (briefly causing me to wonder whether I was in a genuine hotel or had mistakenly booked into some seedy establishment), whilst the bathroom was open plan in the bedroom with just a curtain across the shower for privacy. Odd! The toilet had a door across it at least, but then a large window behind it with no blind. There was a huge tree just outside which I'm hoping blocks the view from anyone peering in!!
And the good news for today - Cavendish has won his first ever yellow jersey in the Tour de France. Whoop! Maybe I'll be fit enough to enter the TdF next year? ;-)
Day 12 - Long Eaton (Nottingham) to Austerfield (Doncaster)
Sun July 3rd 2016
Distance: 51.4 miles
Altitude climbed: 338m
So it seems as if there's a bit of tension between the hotel staff! At breakfast several of the tables remained uncleared from dinner last night, and it took several minutes before anyone came to serve me. It turned out the guy who was there is the assistant manager, and he launched into a moan about the manager/owner once again not turning up for the breakfast shift and just generally never doing anything. I nodded politely but decided not to get drawn into their feud.
Cycling by the waterways south of Nottingham
A few years ago I lived in Long Eaton (where the hotel is) briefly for 3 months (it's by pure chance that my route is taking me through all the areas I've lived in previously!), yet I'm surprised that I don't recognise it at all - not even a tiny bit of it. My flat at the time was on a huge housing estate and I generally only went into Nottingham to socialise and shop; I must have avoided coming into Long Eaton at all during those 3 months.
This aircraft is a classroom at a school! Awesome.
At the grand entrance to Clumber Park
Nottingham however I did recognise as I cycled through it. I skirted along the southern edge of the city along the river edge, getting covered on my bare legs and arms with hundreds of little flies. I kept my mouth shut and breathed through my nose to avoid accidentally eating any - I know on a long ride that protein is good for you but I'm not convinced that that extends to flies!
Nottingham seems to have a great infrastructure of cycle routes, weaving in and out of housing estates and around the river. I had to cross a few main roads obviously but managed to avoid cycling on anything major until I was north of the city. It's at times like these that I'm so glad of modern technology with Strava just finding my route for me - I'm not sure I'd have done such a good job at routing had it been just up to me and paper maps.
Out of Nottingham then and I followed the A614 all the way until it meets the A1. The A614 was a major road and it was a little nerve-wracking whenever a car went past, however it was reasonably quiet. There were also several sporadic cycle lanes that seemed to start and abruptly stop again pretty frequently. Those type of cycle lanes that don't last very long really annoy me - it's almost pointless having them. Riding along the A614 was quick and smooth though and I managed to put the miles in quite quickly.
My accommodation for the evening, Home Farm in Austerfield
I crossed over the A1 and started riding along some much quieter country roads, eventually reaching Bawtry and turning right towards Austerfield where my B&B is.
This B&B is another gem! It's a small collection of old farm buildings that the owner is gradually converting into rooms all by himself (he showed me into the last one that he's currently working on). He and his wife are keen hikers and it shows, as the attention to detail of what an outdoorsy person will want (such as a tray for your hiking boots) is amazing. The rooms aren't big but they're very well laid out and appointed, and it feels like a very comfy bed. There is no cooked breakfast here but the room has a fridge stocked with continental breakfast for the morning - and a good pub next door for a full Sunday roast tonight. Mmmm yum!
Day 13 - Austerfield (Doncaster) to Leeds (home!!!)
Mon July 4th 2016
Distance: 47.8 miles
Altitude climbed: 251m
So today is a day that I've been looking forward to for weeks now - it's the day that I finally get to sleep in my own bed again! And as if to help me celebrate, the sun was shining brightly all day. 😎
Passing poppy and wheat fields
The route started out on a small road that goes along the back perimeter of Doncaster airport. I ignored the No Cars sign - the road is rough but is fine for bikes. All of a sudden though it narrowed down to a dirt path right alongside the airport fence causing me to worry as to whether it'll be passable; fortunately it's only temporary and after 10 metres it widened again to properly paved road. I'd missed seeing that path section when checking the aerial view of my route on Google Maps last night! Ooops, I must pay more attention next time.
The route after then was along quiet country roads past farms and wheat fields. It was nice scenery but did get a little monotonous after a while. It's also very flat and I made great progress with a high average speed.
Seeing these yellow bikes all over the place indicates I'm on a road used for the route of the recent Tour De Yorkshire
I intentionally took today's route on a bit of an inverted L shape to skirt around Wakefield and keep my route fairly flat (I grew up in Wakefield but hadn't realised until using Strava how hilly it is!). It also meant that I went past the Fairburn Ings RSPB site, where I'd arranged to meet my dad, step-mum, and step-sister (who lives in Australia and who I've only ever met once before in the last 20 years!) for lunch. Because of my speed I arrived early and so had plenty of time to slather a new coat of suncream on - the sun today was vicious!!
Meeting my dad for lunch brought it home to me how close I was to home and Leeds - and how far I'd come. After Fairburn Ings I only had another 10 miles or so to get home. I started along the canal but intentionally turned off after a few miles as, from my local knowledge, I knew just how bad a surface the towpath is close to Leeds due to the boxing day floods. Some of it is also closed (although I'm not sure which parts), ironically for flood alleviation work.
One of the annoying motorbike barriers placed every few hundred metres by the canal - too narrow to squeeze a bike through, whilst being a heavily laden bike it was tough lifting it over the alternative barrier.
Turning off the towpath meant a very steep climb up to Woodlesford - this was one of those moments where you just put your bike into the lowest gear, grit your teeth, and turn the pedals. It was a knackering hill but over soon enough! Less enjoyable than that though was joining the main A639 road down past Rothwell and to a junction with M1. This was a busy main road with no bike path anywhere - Leeds is meant to be a city of cycling after hosting the Grand Depart of the Tour de France in 2014, yet cycle paths are still sorely lacking in key parts around the city. Come on Leeds City Council, you can do better than this!
As I entered the estate where I live I felt surprisingly neutral; I don't know if I expected to be elated at how far I'd come or what but it just felt normal, like I was returning from any regular short day bike ride around the area. Bizarre! I took some photos as I arrived on the estate, eliciting some funny & suspicious looks from a couple of gentleman sat by the river. We've had a few burglaries on the estate recently so I don't know whether they thought I was a burglar reccie'ing the estate!
And then after a great meal at friend's house in the evening I finally got to collapse into my own bed. Bliss.
Leeds (rest day)
Tues July 5th 2016
Bike workshops visited: 1
So today I get to rest my weary legs 🙂 Yay! I can't lie in too long though as I have to drop my bike off for a service by mid-morning, getting all the brakes & gears looked at and the chain cleaned. The rest of the day then is spent sketching out a rough route for the next couple of weeks & planning each day.
It soon becomes apparent though that I'm going to have to stay in Leeds an extra day (my legs aren't complaining at the extra day's rest!) as otherwise I'll get to Northumberland by the weekend when there isn't any accommodation available anywhere. Delaying my route by an extra day gives me so many more options.
Leeds (rest day)
Weds July 6th 2016
One of today's tasks is to go to the shop I bought my bike from (Edinburgh Bicycle Cooperative in Leeds) and try to get the refund for the wheel repairs. As good as their word, in exchange for the repair receipt, they give me £55 back in cash without question. Great service!
The afternoon then is spent doing more detailed route planning & booking accommodation (this is the not-so-fun side of this whole trip...) before rounding the day off with badminton to stretch the legs and catch up with friends.