24 January 2012

B2Y7: Norwich to Yarmouth

A final leg that was further than planned. And somewhat damper – with rain all day I sometimes wasn’t sure if I was going through the Broads or underneath them.

I had a quick look round Narch in the morning. The riverside path (above) and the cathedral (below) are well explored by bike, and the city centre overall is full of consistent character and historic charm. And a surprising number of hills.

I whizzed out in the rain to UEA, to meet up for a coffee with Sarah, and a pleasant chat encompassing Larkin, Pevsner, organic porridge oats, and Roger Deakin’s swimming trunks (no relation to N).

It was noon, still chucking it down, and time to make east for Yarmouth along NCN1. It has the usual Sustrans four-sides-of-a-square tortuousness, alongside what might have been a river, or water park, or something, and then through some pleasant, or possibly unpleasant, villages, I couldn’t see because it was grey and drizzly. Sadly, Reedham Ferry – the smallest ferry in the world, or something, when it’s running – wasn’t running, being closed for unannounced repairs.

So I cut straight into Yarmouth, and journey’s end (above) at dusk. Though it had been dusk since two.

On the beach by the pier, with everything closed and rainlashed, I was assailed by the only other person there, a mad woman with two carrier bags and a Dutch accent. She talked for twenty minutes about her eksh-hushband, who ish a schitt, and wanted to know if I was married, where was I staying tonight, and could she use my phone to call her husband in Rotterdam liffing vid hish new voman, de schitt.

Then the rain started again, and so I headed for the station, and home.

It’s been a lot of fun: Welsh mountain passes to Norfolk Broads, gloriously sunny tailwinds to howling gales and all-day downpours, sociable pub regulars, mad people, and a quirky little cross-section of England and Wales at its (mostly) best and (occasionally) not so best.

I've cross-mentioned the Barmouth to Yarmouth trip on my main Real Cycling blog.

Miles today: 45
Miles since Barmouth: 355
Highest point: 585m, Bwlch y Groes
Lowest point: -1m, the Fens
No of pheasants startled: 9, arguably 14
No of Wetherspoons visited: 6, plus 2 without entering to steal the wifi just outside
No of punctures: 0
No of Travelodge nights for under £15: 4

23 January 2012

B2Y6: Spalding to Norwich

A day of glorious sunshine, big skies, richly chilled saturated colours, and a tailwind that scooted me over 75 miles of flat East Anglia backroads with ease.

Elevenses was at Kings Lynn (above). It’s good to have your preconceptions about a place challenged; I’d always thought KL was a weird terminus town, full of staring locals with genetic finger conditions.

Well, as I had my bacon roll and coffee, I got chatting to a local lady in her 60s. When I told her I was from York, she said she was going up there, to the Viking Genealogy department at Jorvik, to research her heritage: ‘Come from Voiken, me. See moi lettle fengers?’ She displayed said digits; both were permanently crooked at the main joint, at 90 degrees. ‘Voiken gene, that is. You got Voiken in you?’

Nice lady, but she was staring at me a bit. Come to think of it, most of Kings Lynn seemed to be doing the same.

The challenging of preconceptions will have to wait another day. I rode out sharpish.

Shame, as KL has some characterful historic quarters, many picturesque streets and buildings (above), and a statue of one its famous sons, a seafarer who explored the coast of Canada, name of Vancouver. Wonder if he discovered anything.

The riding was just delightful all afternoon: intimate and untrafficked back lanes, gentle slopes, modestly picturesque village churches and market-town squares, all with summer’s-morning tranquillity, January posing as April.

On another of Mark’s recommendations I dropped by Castle Acre, with its ruined Norman castle and priory, and this rather splendid arch (above) that all traffic has to squeeze through. Every village should have one.

Staying in Narch tonight. Another twelve-quid, city-centre, bike-in-room Travelodge special. Final leg tomorrow.

Miles today: 75
Miles since Barmouth: 310

22 January 2012

B2Y5: Leicester to Spalding

Another wind-assisted day, from Rutland’s rolling hills to south Lincs’s pancake flatness: Oakham for elevenses, Stamford for lunch, Spalding for dinner.

This bloke outside Oakham (above) was ‘walking’ his dog in the laziest way possible: not just doing it on his bike, but with that conveyor-belt tailwind, meaning he didn’t even have to pedal.

The little-known Rutland Water, a reservoir only created in the late 1970s, is by some measures England’s biggest lake – certainly the largest outside the Lake District. Which means it occupies most of Rutland. There’s a well-used cycle track all the way round it (above).

Stamford, a bit beyond, is a kind of east Midlands Bath, rich in honey-coloured Georgian and other period houses (above). There aren’t quite any postcard-friendly killer-views though, so it’s not as touristy as Bath (but serves as a regular setting for TV period dramas). Stamford has had a lucky escape.

The last few miles to Spalding was all like this (above). Every half an hour or so there’s a set of those black and white chevrons warning you of a tight bend, and road kinks about five degrees.

Dinner came from Spalding Aldi. Is it the only British town whose letters include a supermarket chain? Hmm.

Miles today: 60
Miles since Barmouth: 235

21 January 2012

B2Y4: Stafford to Leicester

East out of Stafford town centre this morning. Luckily there was a nice wide cycle track on the pavement (below).

For today’s ride, Mark came up with several recommendations for things to investigate en route. They were all spot on, a slideshow of charming Middle Englishness: thatchy villages (Abbots Bromley, Newtown Linford), picturesque forest lanes (Charnwood Forest), lovely country parks (Staunton Harold, Bradgate Park), quirky castles (Kirby Muxloe).

And, er, Burton upon Trent (lunch at Wetherspoons).

Staunton Harold (above) is a delightful estate to cycle through, and the crafte shoppe courtyarde has a nice line in wooden sheffield stands. Unless they’re meant for tying up horses.

Bradgate Park (above) bustled with weekend strollers braving the ferocious westerly. There were a few cyclists too, all freewheeling one way and pushing the other.

Again, Travelodge has come up trumps with the £12 advance room deal, including in-room bike parking, and a pub with free wifi next door. I should get a Loyalty Card for that Raleigh.

Miles today: 64
Miles since Barmouth: 175

20 January 2012

B2Y3: Oswestry to Stafford

A day of unmremitting feathery drizzle and cloud, which was just as well, as there's little scenic interest between Oswestry and Stafford.

In fact, the only thing of note above my head all day has been the magnificent vaulted art-nouveau ceiling of Stafford Wetherspoons, an old picture house (above).

The chief points of interest today were toponymic.

I went through Ruyton-XI-Towns, surely the only place in Britain with a capital X in its name (above). I went in to the local shop to see if they sold xylophones or xerox machines or x-ray specs. They didn't. They had some homemade chutneys, though.

However, the village store in the previous village, Knockin, had the inevitable name The Knockin Shop.

Later, I went through Gnosall, which is the only place in England beginning with a silent G. (Wales has Gnoll, in Glamorgan.)

There's a Sustrans path from Gnosall to Stafford (NCN 55) along an old railway line which is gnot very gnice at all: too gnobbly, and full of gniggly puddles.

En route - through some rather handsome Shropshire villages, such as Grinshill - I went across this 'closed' bridge (above). Despite some determined jumping up and down, the bridge did not collapse.

When you see a sign saying 'Road Closed' because of bridge works, experience shows that it's usually only closed to cars - peds and bikes can make their way across. This was the case here, just outside Great Bolas, over the River Tern. Well, one good tern...

Miles today: 50
Miles since Barmouth: 111

19 January 2012

B2Y2: Dolgellau to Oswestry

Two of Wales's biggest passes this morning: Bwlch Oerddrws and Bwlch y Groes, both of which sound like someone being sick, which is appropriate.

I don't know how high Bwlch Oerddrws (above) goes, because the Wikipedia page suddenly switched from English into Welsh when it knew I was reading it.

Bwlch y Groes I do know. It's the highest tarmac road in Wales, at 545m / 1809ft, thanks to someone chalking those very figures at the summit (above two). Wow: 545m, and I didn't get off and push for one of them.

That one was the very last one, when the road levels out. The approach from the south really is a pig (above), a mile and half of at least 1 in 7. The OS map is just a mass of arrowheads, an explosion in a shelf-bracket factory.

From the summit I headed east and downwards, across fantastically remote mountaintop country.

I was sped by a big tailwind along the shore of Lake Vyrnwy and ultimately to Oswestry Travelodge (above), booked back in December through their release of £12 offer rooms.

I'm quite a fan of the in-room bike parking.

Miles today: 50
Miles since Barmouth: 61

18 January 2012

B2Y1: Barmouth to Dolgellau (again)

OK: I'm having another go at Barmouth to Yarmouth. Regular readers will remember my abortive trip in August 2010, when rain stopped play at Shrewsbury.

After four changes of train from York, I rolled into Barmouth at noon today.

The weather wasn't promising: low cloud meant nothing was visible, not even the cloud, and recent storms had blown sand over everything.

The council have given up trying to clear it until March, I was told in the convivial Last Inn, which has its own internal wishing well.

I used to wish for fame and fortune. Now I just wish for a new bike. Worth a 2p punt, I suppose.

Still, I poked around the picturesque back lanes that clamber up the hillside, and didn't get too wet.

Then I rode across the famous Barmouth Bridge, aka Britain's biggest cyclable marimba.

The Mawddach Trail runs east along the estuary to Dolgellau. Last time I did it it was the Mawddach Monsoon and I didn't see a thing.

This time the cloud lifted just enough to enjoy the scenery. It was all rather wonderful.

John Ruskin is quoted in the info panels along the trails as saying there was no better walk "in the world" than Barmouth to Dolgellau, except for Dolgellau to Barmouth.

Which proves either that Ruskin should have got out more, or that the info panel people have bigged his quote up somewhat.

There was this stile just outside Dolgellau. It doesn't look especially helpful to me. Maybe TfL installed it.

Miles today: 11
Miles since Barmouth: 11