A Yorkshireman of a certain age who likes most genres of music and most makes of old car. Travel is a joy, not least to escape the British winter. Travel by bicycle is bliss and if I’m not lost in music then I’m lost in a daydream about a hot day, tens of miles to cover and the promise of a great campsite and a beer. I like to think I’m always learning and becoming wiser. On the latter point then evidence is in short supply.
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Pinnell’s a care worn tattooed troubadour from just south of the Ohio River that dissects Cincinnati. He’s accumulated a loyal following in the USA and UK by constant touring. The sound is electric with a groove and includes excursions into honky tonk, various styles of rock and the country sound also inhabited by artists like Reckless Kelly (Cody Braun contributes fiddle here) and Boo Ray.
The songs, he says, in an interview with our own Chris Smith last month, are about relationships and travelling, which inevitably impacts on everyone’s life. From his lyrics you’ll have no doubt he’s lived every moment. With a tight band he delivers ten songs of personal observations with an insouciance that suggests he’s learned to live with the scars he’s collected along the way.
Pinnell’s charms fall into a number of areas; a lilt and groove that grabs you from the get go, the varied propulsions of Chris Alley on drums, the beautiful electric guitar leads of Junior Tutwiler and Jonathan Tyler that light up the songs between choruses, a fine ear for a hook and, lastly, his off the cuff words. Doing My Best tackles the problem of a musician trying to make a living and ploughing on regardless of the realities – “I ain’t doing no good, I’m just doing my best.” Amen to that.
The songs were arranged and developed in a group situation led by producer, Jonathan Tyler. This has added to the quality of the arrangements where there’s a real sensitivity to the feel and mood they’re creating. The heavy southern rock vibes of Cryin’ are underpinned by some swirling organ that gives the track a different sound as some clunky bass and electric guitar licks get your feet moving. Nighttime Eagle is pure honky tonk with a twangy guitar. It’s all about coming home to the family. He’s of an age where long nights and hell raising are becoming a memory.
The single Wanna Do Something is a driving song where a steady Tom Petty rhythm with drummer, Chris Alley, providing the platform as Pinnell provides the melody and tells us he wants a change from the hard life of being on the road. You can feel his frustration at spinning his wheels in the same rut week after week. To showcase his voice Red Roses is a blue eyed soul ballad about a weary relationship that once sparkled; again the lead guitar is a tasteful delight.
Everything about Pinnell suggests, like the ’68 Buick Skylark in his promo video, he’s steady rolling yet classic and channeling a great American heritage. You’ll read about a lot of love for this release. It starts here.
(I just had to add a note about where Pinnell lives. Folk from Kentucky like to play the card that their State is special. Kentucky has the ‘back in the woods’ and dirt poor hilly billy image beloved of many Country artists. Believe me in the east I have seldom seen such deprivation and squalor. However, the further you head west the more homogeneous it becomes with routine urban America. Pinnell hails from a suburb of Cincinnati in all reality. I cycled through the city in 2015 and crossed the mighty Ohio river going south by a bridge that took me into more urban sprawl. I’d crossed from Ohio into Kentucky though. It sticks in my memory because I remember getting to a restaurant at lunchtime and pulling out my iPad to discover Cilla Black had died: another part of my youth had perished.)
So there was I looking for something to write about in a blog when I struck unlucky: I got Coronavirus.
As a man who spends a lot of time avoiding people by riding a bike or hiding in a back bedroom writing about Country music I can count myself unlucky to cop for this. On Friday after about three hours outside power washing the drive (living the dream) I was knackered. I felt truly zonked and I wondered why but put it down to the tasks I’d be doing. Later I slumped to bed with a few snuffles. I’d be all right in the morning I thought.
A restless night saw me wake up to a full blown heavy cold. ‘Quelle surprise’ I thought, who did I know had a cold that I could have caught it off? No one. A bike ride was out of the question (highlighting the severity of my lethargy) and eventually the household sleuth, the present Mrs Ives, suspected foul play and that I should take a lateral flow test. It was positive. Oh no. Next I made an appointment at a York Testing Centre for a PCR test. So what does PCR stand for? Polymerase Chain Reaction (obvs stupid.) It also stands for a git, dressed as if he’s about to walk into the ruptured Chernobyl reactor building, sticking a swab stick into the back of my throat in three places; stopping when I’m convulsing and about to gag on each occasion. Warming to the abuse at hand he then, with undisguised delight, asks which nostril I wanted him to stick the swab up for 10 seconds? Still gasping for air I had thoughts of telling him to stick it up his fundament but then volunteered the nearest nostril to the car window, By way of small consolation I had the car door handle to hold onto as I endured this attack. If there’s an incentive not to get Covid then this regime should be implemented at every nightclub and football ground.
Which brings me to where I thought I got it. The Favourite Youngest Daughter had arranged a brilliant day out with epic hospitality and a top class football match at Leeds United. I was sat next to a stranger at the lunch table and the staff fussed closely over us with food and drinks. I think this was my downfall and don’t mention the football, we were annihilated 0-3. Needless to say companions, Anna, Sophie and Harry have not caught the virus as I write. My father-in-law volunteered my frailty lay in have having depleted reserves due to the cycling. This appeals to my ego that as a finely tuned athlete, in peak condition, I have fallen prey to this misfortune as opposed to being a vulnerable and decrepit old sod. Whichever way then the Delta variant is a highly contagious phenomena and not to be treated with anything other than the utmost respect.
Given my lack of a social whirl meant that I inflicted myself on few people between the date of catching it and having it confirmed. However Steve (he of Vixen 101) and Sharon laid on a marvellous afternoon involving a grand stroll, a visit to the pub and then an early evening tea with lots of care and thought in splendid weather. My unhappy task was to text Steve on the Saturday advising I may be the carrier of the plague. I hope they continue to avoid my gift.
As I write then I am still drained and heady. My sense of taste dropped off this morning. Quite strange to all of a sudden find a cup of tea tastes like someone’s using old cardboard as flavouring. The family has rallied: Mrs Ives brought breakfast in bed, something she’s scheduled to repeat, if it follows a pattern, after Prince William accedes to the throne. The Favourite Eldest Daughter made herself available to facilitate her aunt mastering her iMac to load the Zoom meeting software. Not a task I was up to, Covid or no Covid. After showing such patience and skill I think Katrina could now be hired by Chester Zoo to teach primates to save the nation by obtaining HGV licences.
So I’ve only 6 days to go. I’ve had a couple of official calls, one to check I’m staying put and the other to ask if we need any shopping. I did establish that I will still be positive after 10 days but not infectious. A troubling question is how long do you remain infectious? I think it could be over a month which means our pre-holiday PCR Test for Portugal in October would show me up as being positive and initiate another lock down period as well as excluding me from travelling. Clearly another PCR Test is something to therefore avoid. Anna, as I write, is on hold with Jet2 trying to reschedule the holiday.
I must have a word with myself. When I read that an artist has released an album after coming 9th on the US edition of The Voice I worry about their credentials and authenticity. Where are the lonely nights playing to 14 people in bars between Nashville and Chattanooga or the endless poring through their father’s Randy Travis LPs? However, for Ashland Craft it doesn’t matter: she is the real thing.
Snapped up by a major independent label, they’ve pulled together eleven songs of which she’s co-written nine and put her with producer Jonathan Singleton, maybe better known for his song compositions rather than twiddling the knobs. The project has worked fabulously and this is a terrific album. The success is mainly attributable to her complete command of the songs with a confident, ballsy and effortless delivery. It’s a voice that could deliver rock, soul or blues: it’s a force of nature.
The title track kicks off the album with a southern rock vibe. Guitar solos are way behind the beat whilst a harmonica wails throughout. Her slightly rasping voice extracts all you could hope for out of the tune: a paean to movin’ on and no backward glances. Maybe one downside of making your career out of covers is shown on Make It Past Georgia where the vocalisation is pure Billy Currington on People Are Crazy. Pedal steel and a fiddle take it down with Highway Like Me: a beautiful ballad and tune where young bluesman, Marcus King, plays some delicious and very fluid licks in the background. Mimosas In The Morning has a chorus for the radio where she belts out the observation that ‘this ain’t no whiskey conversation.’ Letcha Fly sails along over a fiddle foundation and a snappy snare rhythm before exiting with a picked banjo. Her vocal is pure Jack Daniels and cream in its taste and texture.
The sound can drift into a country pop rock sound however, that’s not a bad thing because Singleton knocks it out of the park with some fiddles, twang and honky tonk piano to infuse it all with passion. Keeping it rough around the edges creates an undeniable groove that would make her a sensational live act. If you’re looking for a country reference Ashley McBryde is the owner of the template and some of Craft’s swagger is Miranda Lambert when she releases the afterburners. Being female in the US is not a great place to start if you want country radio coverage but she has it all. Fingers crossed as this is my kind of country.
What the hell was I thinking? The first two days of the LEJOG in July, over a similar brutal terrain, in the West Country were memorably difficult by any measure I can think of. So would you schedule a bike ride on similar roads and climbs? It should have been the last thing on my mind, surely? It seems that when the legs recover and the excitement of an adventure lies ahead intelligence takes a back seat. I had put together a ride for two friends who despite advance warning of the severity both still turned up.
Martin Appleyard was certainly my peer on two wheels but set off with a ticking bomb of a problem that eventually came to be a considerable handicap and burden. He needs considerable praise for coping with this problem, albeit he’ll not receive it in this blog as I have a reputation to maintain!
Tony Franco or ‘Franco/Frankie’ as he eventually got called throughout (even by Martin!) had passed his ‘physical’ up in Yorkshire in July when he was assessed for this ride by a saunter around the North Yorks hills. We’d toured in England and France before and knew the routine of my planning, grumpiness and desire to move along. However, whilst surviving this ride up until Bournemouth he had an overall experience that seems about as draining and pleasurable as chemotherapy. It’s only his grit and indomitable personality that overcame the challenges of hills and a bike that weighed about the same as an Aga range cooker. His bike is a top of the range US touring bike by Surly but something lighter was compelling for this jaunt. Given he was the youngest member of the expedition I think it safe to say that on his end of trip feedback form he’ll report that his tender years were noted ie. the elders provided all navigation of the route, food stop decisions, accommodation choices, most cultural exchanges and provision of nutrition. Granted, not all of this came with an equitable and friendly delivery…
Having set the scene for a memorable trip then let us begin, you may need to pull up a chair as this is a longer read than usual!
An easy drive to Abingdon placed me at Chez Appleyard and together we cycled off to Reading to catch a train to Plymouth, the start of our tour. Martin was anxious to win the Prologue and start the proper Tour de Pilgrim’s Progress in Yellow. He set off for Reading Station like a getaway driver escaping the scene of a crime. As I’m hanging on behind him my mind wandered onto the days ahead and whether Martin had failed to realise that some holding back might be in order. However, you can’t under estimate youthful enthusiasm, after all Martin isn’t 60 years old until later in the year. Inevitably our train to Plymouth was delayed; sadly (seriously) someone had died on the train’s earlier journey by stepping onto the railway line. Gulp, not a propitious start.
Plymouth started the abandonment of directional control of our ride to my Garmin Sat Nav device. Although not human it had a mind of its own. We headed north in the city to discover we should have headed south to the seafront. On arrival we discovered our landlady was a cyclist and owner of some interesting books.
She was a participant in the imminent Tour of Britain starting in the city and was leading out the peloton with other fellow women cyclists. This select group got to lead out all the professional cyclists for 500 metres, which is about 480 metres more than I could have accompanied Mark Cavendish on a bike. A stroll around Plymouth was enjoyed with beef stroganoff and then back to our accommodation to read the book.
Next morning Tony Franco arrived at our lodgings. He’d spent the night elsewhere at Bev’s. Bev, his old friend, became an omnipresent figure for us all over the day as we proceeded through the county. It transpired that all things Devon for Tony had her mark upon them. ‘Oh this is Bev’s favourite beach’ and ‘Bev used to live here’ etc. She quickly became an important Devonian (born in Derby) but I would wager that her navigation skills were not taught to young Franco as we trundled along the narrow single lane roads all bordered with high hedges. These lanes went up and down and often involved frustrated motorists stopping when reaching a head to head jam with another car and having to reverse to a passing spot. Our navigation decisions were troublesome and Franco volunteered we should ‘follow the sun’ at one point as a solution. This ensured that his thoughts on the route weren’t sought for the rest of the trip!
By way of consolation after some early arduous and wrong detours I did entertain as, senior elder and guide, stopping for a cup of tea but time pressures were always a problem with a long way to go; we remorselessly headed east. Accidentally we were following the route of Day One of the Tour of Britain and some of the climbs were horrendous. Even for elite athletes the severity of the climbs will have been memorable. A feature of these ascents was the steepness up until the brow of the hill. None of your usual tapering off but a steely 12% gradient until you breasted the summit after intermittent sections at 16%. Oh how we laughed.
Martin, still luxuriating in the glow of his Stage win the day before, started to feel the pace. He was not riding a bike that facilitated riding up these hills slowly. By this I mean he hadn’t got low enough gears and had to ride up the climbs with a lot of expended energy whilst others might go more slowly by spinning and saving their legs. For those of a technical nature he only had a 28 tooth cassette, whereas Franco and myself were sporting 34 teeth on our rear wheels. He knew about this issue before the start line but his bike was not fitted with the other correct components to fit a 34 tooth cassette. A future solution lay in a new bike we agreed. After flirting with the Tour of Britain route we dropped into Salcombe for lunch. Immediately the peloton were seduced by a pasty and a cake; in the hot sunshine we found a spot to rest and munch.
Salcombe was enjoying a busy end to the season with staycation holiday makers. In fact a feature of the whole ride was how busy it was. Staycations may have latterly boosted tourism down here but I imagine a lot of these British visitors will be across the Channel next year. If the chance to get our faces around a West Country delicacy wasn’t enough pleasure then another cyclist’s delight awaited: a ferry. This wasn’t the ordinary ‘roll on and roll off affair’ it was a sort of large rowing boat with an outboard motor on the back. The bikes had to be denuded of their luggage and lifted awkwardly into the craft. Aga boy nearly went overboard during this manoeuvre.
A descent into any of the resorts we visited was precipitous and inevitably the climb out of the resort, this time on the other side of the Kingsbridge Estuary, necessitated a slow grind up over 100 metres of height to get to the cliff tops. Here followed a stop-start trundle along these hill tops dodging camper vans, home delivery vans, cars and an outbreak of bin wagons. We were loosely following cycling’s National Route 28 and we fell to Torcross. Here there was a memorial which featured a US Sherman tank they’d retrieved from the sea some 40 odd years after its submergence. It found its way down there when a D Day training exercise went badly wrong in April 1944. Tragically 749 US soldiers lost their lives. Firstly friendly fire and then attacks by German E-boats, passing through Lyme Bay who had stumbled upon this exercise, accounted for the total. The incident at Slapton Sands is one of the biggest military tragedies of WW2 on British soil.
We were enjoying riding along the spit as it was flat but all good things come to an end and up we went in pursuit of Dartmouth and another ferry. Martin was still going well albeit drooling over my 34 tooth cassette and young Franco was now starting to struggle badly. This didn’t mean he wasn’t gamely spinning onwards but all fight seems to have gone and as soon as the road slanted vaguely upwards the lowest gear was engaged and progress still achieved but slowly. Two ferries in a day is a treat and the Dartmouth ferry was a ‘roll on, roll off’ affair. If the day had been devised to be shorter then I would have wanted to pop into Dartmouth it looked very attractive. In line with the script a long climb followed, albeit less unreasonable than earlier crampon specials. At the top I urged Martin to pedal on the remaining 25 miles to get to Dawlish, our destination for the night. Later Franco appeared at the top. I would lead him home.
In front of us were the busy towns of Paignton and Torquay. It was early evening and the rush hour was frantic with cars bumper to bumper. It wasn’t fun. The route we chose was the most direct as the day was quickly expiring and darkness would arrive at 8pm completely with developing gloom after 7.30pm. On imparting the urgency to Tony concentrate and move as quickly as he could to avoid darkness Franco nonchalantly countered that he had bike lights with him should night descend! With several 25 to 30 mile an hour descents ahead then having a small beam to guide you down a potholed road with distracting car head lights in your face was not safe.
As Martin zoomed off to a shower and a chance to put his feet up I went up every hill as slowly as I could and waited. Along came the boy Franco only to be nagged by me to eat. In fact a mantra I imposed on the peloton throughout the ride was to eat, eat and eat whilst riding. This was not to be a weight losing couple of days. The sugary the better and to eat at least once an hour. This can become difficult as exhaustion starts to rob you of your appetite. Hook by crook we got to Dawlish. It was ten minutes to 8pm (or 7pm if you believed what we overheard the boy Franco tell his wife on the phone later!)
Arriving so late made a mess of my laundry chores as nothing had enough time to dry. Poor Martin nearly got a hernia when he volunteered to put the bikes in the B&B’s basement, I think the Aga nearly made its own way down the narrow staircase as moving it was difficult.
So rightly you’re thinking with a 70 mile day and over 6,600 feet (2,000 metres) of climbing involving nearly 7½ hours of cycling that I was wrong to do this to Tony? I agree I felt like a small mean child pulling the limbs off an insect.
So rather than torture him again we should devise Plan B? Maybe he could only ride half the next day’s distance? (Our destinations were already decided by paid for accommodation.) Train the difference? This part of the coastline is not well served by train lines and so this didn’t work as a fix even for half the distance planned for Day Two or if it did work Frankie wasn’t interested. The route wasn’t particularly amendable as it was already a straight run along the coast but, as it happens, we did omit certain planned plummets into various bays to see twee resorts such as Beer. So it was agreed that he would trundle on albeit with the condition that he would have, at some point, need to allow me to depart and leave him to his own directions (or ‘follow the sun’) as I needed to get to Weymouth to wash and dry some kit. Don’t worry, I had a speech prepared to give to his wife when I broke the news of his brave demise on the Devon coastline by himself. ‘When last seen he had had a smile on his face and a Mars bar in his hand as he took his last bite for sustenance.’
(Dawlish, you may recollect had its rail line’s collapse into the sea some years ago after destructive gales and construction workers are still at work developing sea defences. I did comment to Martin the next morning that it must be a spectacular train ride through the resort as it is on the seashore. He confirmed it was and that I had actually done it the day before. Senior moment indeed!)
After such an arduous day a late meal was procured but neither Martin or Franco made a fist of their main courses. They were too pooped. A stern bollocking was administered by the chief nag/nutritionist (me) but to no avail. To add to Franco’s exclusions, firstly from deciding directions he then added not paying the future restaurant bills for the rest of the ride. He’d tipped the waitress 20%. It’s Devon not Manhattan.
Given that Day Two was a longer day an early start was a must. However, Baby Jesus had designated this day as Sunday and the B&B didn’t serve breakfast until 8.30am. It was worth the wait.
If that was a blow then at least the route was initially flat. We trundled to Starcross where a ferry transferred us across the estuary to Exmouth. As the railway line ran along the coast you had to cross it by a footbridge to reach the ferry landing. Unfortunately for the boy Franco he didn’t have Pickfords on speed dial and transporting the Aga over the bridge would have constituted a workout for lesser mortals.
Exmouth looked quite elegant and gentrified as we cycled out heading east. It seemed well worth exploring on a more leisurely visit as we only skirted the front and never entered the town. The hedgerows groaned under the weight of blackberries. Budleigh Salterton was passed and the Garmin was, surprisingly, finding direct and delightful routes. This included asphalt paths through woods and small settlements with thatched cottages. Devon was beautiful. The first climb of the day came as we headed skywards to reach Sidmouth. This was a long and increasingly vicious climb that invited the assailant to dismount as they did the last 80 metres of 16% gradient before literally parachuting down to the cove where Sidmouth lay. I didn’t get off and push but it crossed my mind as yesterday’s climbing was very much in my aching legs.
The weather was sensational – hot, sunny and dry. In fact we avoided rain on the whole trip and this made progress a lot more pleasurable and easy. September was truly delivering an Indian summer.
Sidmouth was heaving with Sunday sunbathers and looked wonderful. The peloton found a tap to replenish their water supplies and we continued east. The National Route 28 shortly after Sidmouth headed toward the heavens and after 150 metres of grinding up to meet St Peter I thought there must be something less steep and we headed inland to pick up the main road. I was completely wrong.
The A3052 out of Sidmouth was awful due to its gradient and heavy traffic. It really was in the heat of the midday sun and a climb where each pedal stroke might have been your last before getting off. Again the thought of dismounting was discounted by the prospect of getting hit by a Waitrose delivery van and then run over by the long line of tourist cars following it. The road, putting to one side Sidmouth, was fast and smooth and great progress was made after reaching about 160 metres height at the top. Franco was going well and luncheon was planned for Lyme Regis. Martin during the discussion did look skyward and drew in breath through his front teeth making the kind of whistling noise a plumber would make after being asked if he could resuscitate a 25 year old boiler. He advised on a deep descent and an even more grim ascent out of the town. Hunger and a desire to see some of the resorts on our ride over ruled his misgivings and as always Frankie, our masochist extraordinaire, was up for anything.
Martin was right as we swooped into Lyme Regis but at the very bottom was The Pilot Boat. It turned out to be a wonderful stop and we all ate like kings. Martin had sea bream, I had hake and the boy Franco, noting my displeasure at his avoidance of porridge at breakfast, had some fortifying pasta with a ragu sauce.
Replenished we went our separate ways to complete the remaining 25 miles to Weymouth. The run on this busy road, which became the A35 to Bridport was not an easy ride with lots of traffic and several steep descents and ascents. A common scenario was to find yourself pedalling slowly up a hill with a convoy of vehicles stranded behind you. If the immediate vehicle behind you was a truck then I can confirm few lorry manufacturers make their gearing for moving at 4mph on a 10% gradient. Martin and I reached the Bridport turn to Weymouth together. The traffic soon melted away as we proceeded down a less popular route. The road still rose and fell but the coastline looked superb and inviting.
Abbotsbury was chocolate box pretty and after the day’s travails the cycling was hard but pleasurable. I was coming back to Dorset with Anna after this cycling holiday and made a note to revisit. Weymouth arrived and the lodgings were found. I arrived at 6.28pm and Martin shortly afterwards. We were staying at a pub and as I arrived first I bagged the double bed whilst the youngsters were left to fight for who had the bottom bunk. Given the pub didn’t serve breakfast Martin and I went to a local Tesco to buy provisions and look for dinner solutions up the street. A takeaway was the only option.
Meanwhile Tony F arrived at his favourite time (7.50pm) and was told to shower whilst a Chinese and beer would be procured for his consumption. He was still smiling and viewing his remarkable achievement through the same lens that Neil Armstrong must have used when making his first steps on the moon. It was a remarkable effort.
Day Three saw us away by 8.30am and all feeling sore. After 3,700 metres of climbing in two days our legs had every right to complain. Leaving Weymouth was by cycle path and after a couple of errors from the Garmin I was frustrated and not too clear on where we should be headed. As I struggled to the top of a hill a group of chattering Sunday cyclists span past. They didn’t look across and acknowledge me and I thought how rude. Coming to rest at the top of the hill near them I commented loudly to Martin on the absence of courtesy and kindness of Dorset cyclists. Martin attempted to become invisible by melting into a hedge! However one of the party came across to say hello, shamed by my observation. This introduced us to Les.
(Martin in a moment of unsolicited candour did allude to my intolerance in various other matters including motorists I found blocking my way or going too slowly. Apparently I had been overheard shouting at them. Also inconsistencies in my assessment of situations was also brought to my attention. Apparently on one descent he was chided by me for hanging onto his brakes demonstrating a lack of back bone but I had at another time, apparently, been recorded sympathising that his lightweight bike was unstable at the front and caution on descending was prudent. Do you believe any of this? No, quite…)
Les helped us find a direct route east. What a star. I must admit his instructions included the mind numbing advice to ‘turn left at the tea shop’, ‘Over the level crossing’, ‘Past the Black Dog pub and then right at the telephone box’ that type of direction usually loses me after 30 seconds but we hung on to enough of Les’ advice to make great progress. Franco was till in tow but was going slowly. I decided to sit behind him for a few miles, probably not something he would have chosen and debated equitably the appropriate capital punishment for those who had lobbed plastic bottles and food packaging out of their car and van windows which ended up on the verge. Remarkably he still had enough breath to join in the conversation even though I was adding that he should pedal hard at certain sections or not touch his brakes on a descent. Martin sat in behind me but in a vote of confidence to Franco (not) suddenly blurted ‘Sorry, I can’t ride at this speed’ and disappeared up the road.
We had planned to stop in Wool and we enjoyed out daily intake of fried bacon and eggs: a definite boost for morale before we headed into the Isle of Purbeck. This was my first visit to this part of England/Dorset and it was very pleasant. The sun was now out and it was a hot day. A lot of holiday makers were on the road but we cycled through fairly flat heath land with ferns and grass but few other distinguishing features.
On arriving at Swanage I delivered on a promise to buy the peloton an ice cream. We sat just behind the beach and watched a Punch and Judy act fail to find any audience despite the reasonable fee of £2 each. It struck me that the parents of the children he targeted probably had never seen the show and without parental enthusiasm he stood no chance.
From here it was another spiteful hill before a short ferry ride to Sandbanks. Franco had decided to get a train from Bournemouth to home, a good idea for a man who’d probably exceeded any expectation he may have entertained before starting in Plymouth.
Martin and I had a still demanding ride to north Southampton and it was late afternoon when we alighted from the ferry. Martin’s brother was hosting our visit and preparing a meal; being timely was our courteous objective. However after his epic struggle it seemed an appropriate last act of kindness to chaperone Franco to Bournemouth Station where he’d catch a train back to Clapham. So we wended our way along the front during a Red Arrow display above us toward the railway station. Folk were engrossed in the fly pasts and progress was exceptionally slow on the promenade. It had crossed my mind why hadn’t we left the youngster to switch on his Garmin and make his way there, after all he was in good time to get to London.
This slow progress eventually involved me getting to the Station without the peloton who I think were busy taking photos of the Royal Air Force. I hung around for some time for Martin to eventually appear but no Tony? He’d dived in the Station and caught a train. I assume, in retrospect, as I was lent against the station car park wall, he’d put his trotters up and was cruising back to London. In fairness a WhatsApp message followed.
Martin was concerned at our heading north rather than east. I had entrusted our fortunes to the Garmin and after leaving Bournemouth we were heading north through some delightful but indirect country lanes. As always the Garmin routing was mainly about avoiding roads with motor traffic. The evening sun was warm; it was dry and the New Forest was a treat to ride through. In fact a brilliant cycling route.
However, we were tired and the endless cycle paths near and within Southampton were energy and time sapping but eventually the time elapsed and we were nearing our destination. Meanwhile WhatsApp dispensed a cheery message that Frankie was back at home in Tooting feeling very happy with himself. Back on the road we met another roundabout or set of traffic lights. Poor Martin was quite shot and even over shot the turning to brother Andy’s house. We were pleased to arrive at 7.30pm. Martin had bought a surprisingly good bottle of red wine from a Tesco Express and along with some delicious ragu and pasta we relaxed for the night knowing there were still 70 odd miles to go tomorrow before we could hang up our cycling shorts.
Day Four saw a quick bowl of porridge, a heartfelt thanks to Andy for his hospitality and then into the north Southampton traffic.
Much of the early route I recognised from my many visits to B&Q’s offices in North Baddersley when I sold furniture to them. However despite a brief stop for Martin to repair a broken rear rack we were soon into the countryside of the tranquil and scenic Test river. It was idyllic and beautiful and despite having two stumps of pain instead of legs the hills weren’t too monstrous and we made good progress heading due north. A feature of everywhere we rode was prosperity, whether that was the coast with its tourism and second homes or now, more inland, in these smart and manicured villages.
As the morning expired we reached Whitchurch and some brunch was called for. Martin demonstrating fatigue with fried food went for a tuna mayo baguette whilst true to the code of the road I had a sausage and egg one. As we’re eating a commotion was heard from across the street where we’d left our bikes. Some ladies, two brandishing watering cans, were gesticulating and spitting teeth at the destruction of some flower stems by a badly parked bike.
In fact one of the ladies moved the bike. Martin has got ‘previous’ from bringing out fury in local villagers. On his recent trip to Yorkshire there was nearly fisticuffs over his language and cycling. Martin nonchalantly ploughed on through his sandwich enjoying the kerfuffle. I thought we ought to go across and make reparations. So across I strolled to make a donation of a fiver to restore the broken flowers. Initially they resisted the money but when I pointed out it wasn’t mine but Martin’s they saw sense and took the money.
After Whitchurch a miserable climb materialised that brought back to mind the climbing of the earlier day. Martin complained that a Toyota had appeared out of nowhere on this high hedge road to nearly take him out but other than that the traffic was light.
With that hill behind us and considerable height gained it was one final push to get to the very top and then a fast descent into Wantage. A cold drink was bought and the final miles to Abingdon covered where I was to meet Anna to head back to Dorset. On this last run the entertainment wasn’t over though as an Open Reach transit van overtook us. That was fine but less safe was the motorcycle with ‘L’ plates and its loony rider who was riding alongside of the van kicking it! The rider was young and unfazed by the oncoming traffic he faced by riding in their lane! Clearly there was a dispute.
On arriving back at Martin’s house a shower and a quick beer was consumed and then after packing the bike we left to leave the Appleyards in peace (and no doubt to discuss the necessity for Martin to get a new bike.)
I used to joke that my father spent his retirement days, on the Algarve, worrying about where he could get the cheapest tomatoes. This was after a comment he made about a local greengrocer. Clearly the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree as we must discuss Morrisons. The present Mrs Ives and myself procure preferred items from either Sainsbury (decaffeinated coffee beans, energy bars and yoghurt), Tesco (fishcakes, salads and vegetarian sausages), Waitrose (any chicken product, wine and bread), Marks & Spencer (hummus and treats) and then Morrisons (meat pies, potato salad and pittas). We don’t visit each emporium weekly but we’re now programmed to seek out these items on entering the premises. However Morrisons is epic for people watching and crime. Located in the centre of York it attracts the less wealthy and upstanding amongst us all.
I do like the large number of students. Usually it’s a diligent young female attended by a gormless male who’s turn it is to pay for it all. (Obviously the rota on the shared house kitchen wall had detailed them to do the weekly shop.) The Chinese students have baskets groaning with pak choi, cabbage, avocados and anything green and healthy. I’d happily to be invited to dinner at their Hall of Residence. The, presumably British students, prefer sliced white loaves, anything that constitutes a meal if you add water to it and absolutely everything that’s processed.
The other clientele can be random. I well remember a punter putting down a basket full of spirits on the ground near the children’s clothes before loading them into his rucksack and sprinting out of the store, he was a millennial lad. Security is slack or non existent at the store and shrinkage must be terrible. Next was an elderly lady who surreptitiously, she thought, ran her hand over some packaged cherries in the fresh fruit department, she ripped back the packaging and was loitering feeding her face with the fruit. I was surprised at the audacity of it all. Lastly only in Morrisons would the tannoy ask whoever left a tied up dog in the foyer return to it. It was going ballistic barking at anyone who entered or left the foyer. Why would you do this to the animal and the store? Expect more reports from Morrisons…
As a fan of Test match cricket the commentary follows me around during the year. I can be around the house, in the garden, on my bike or in the car. I prefer the focus to being on what’s happening on the pitch but it seems banal banter about what the commentators ate last night, fancy dress and any topic that sets in train all sorts of surreal conversations populate the hours the match is on. Elevated to celebrity status is the scorer. At his finger tips (on his laptop) he can access complete trivia, often requested by the commentators. However, a laugh was emitted by yours truly when a question came up of “what’s the longest shot in cricket’s history? Without missing a beat he said “72 miles!” This happened in Settle, North Yorkshire. Apparently a batsman launched the ball onto a passing train which eventually came to rest in Carlisle, 72 miles away!
I’m thinking of buying a car. Not an easy pursuit those who follow my blog will note. I’ve decided to buy a Mercedes C Class. The new release was meant to appear sometime in the middle of the year but as we speak the dealership seem clueless as to when they’ll have a demonstrator or delivery. Another dispiriting discovery was that my ‘old’ car was not worth what I’d hoped when I checked last year. However, idly, I visited our friend webuyanycar.com to find that it had increased in value by over a grand in the year, not the usual trajectory for second hand cars. On top of this I have had six communication from the website exhorting me to follow through with a sale and they even increased their offer! The general shortage and delays of new cars have boosted all markets. If you were thinking of unloading that motor then now might be the time price wise.
Coming out of the lockdown we‘ve booked our first concert for many months. Blessed, by our visitation, will be The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain at The Lowry in Salford. That’s not until October. Growing in importance, and certainly news coverage, is Leeds Festival. This takes place on the east side of Leeds in the grounds of a grand house. The line up is mainly stuff I wouldn’t walk to the end of the street to hear! More significantly the festival is a rite of passage for older teenagers. We know a few parents waving off their offspring worrying that several nights under canvas, probably approaching a unhygeinic comatose state through alcohol, no sleep and possibly illegal substances will not be a good thing. Our nephews used to attend and my lasting memory was the advice to pitch your tent toward the outer limits. Occupants toward the front or centre of the site were prone to be caught short in the night and directed their unwanted fluids liberally around their accommodation and onto the nearest tent. No wonder these tents are all abandoned as they depart.
During the week I make my way south to Plymouth to cycle along the coast to Southampton. Coming along for the brutal climbing on the Devon and Dorset coast are Martin and Tony. Expect a full report, and lots of bacon sandwiches, on my return.
Anna is booking a number of staycations and the latest adventure took me back to Scotland and to Dumfries & Galloway. I say ‘back to’ as it isn’t more than a few weeks ago that I was trundling a few miles to the east of here wending my way from Gretna to John O’Groats on my LEJOG trip.
She booked a house for four nights just outside Kirkcudbright, or as the natives pronounce it ‘Kirkcoobry’! The house’s location was fabulous on the banks of the River Dee estuary and could sleep six. It was therefore very spacious!
The first observation was that the area made its living from tourism and livestock farming. There was no industry or major settlements. The tourism is very low key with lots of discretely hidden sites for caravans and camper vans. There are attractions but they come in the form of forests, beaches and walks. Dog walkers abounded and if there were children they were all young and enjoying the beaches and simpler pleasures.
I say simpler because the 4G reception was patchy throughout the area and our property didn’t have wi-fi; this was a considerable bind. Everyone uses Google to establish, say, opening times of attractions or the nearest cafe. You’ll be unsurprised that the present Mrs Ives received a severe reprimand for this inconvenience and was told to ensure it never happened again or it would unfortunately have to go on her file.
Famous residents of the area are the Belted Galloway cattle. This chap or chappess has the distinct white band around its middle. Anna made me stop on a dangerous busy road so she could capture the above photograph. In fairness most fields of cattle were not Belted Galloways; you had to stop when you found one. They are not common throughout the area nowadays. Just as you might entertain a small child with a car journey game I found Anna was easy to occupy with the task of reviewing every field full of cattle, of which there were many, for the Belties. (Google tells me that their beef is top quality, something unlikely to endear the animal to my vegetarian wife.)
We visited beaches, other than the one across the road, and they were all fairly empty. Water sports or BBQ’s were often underway. Below is Bayhorse Bay which was shallow for a long way out.
I was allowed to take my bike and clocked up 120 miles over the three days. Up toward Galloway Forest the views and tranquility were sublime. Cycling was popular whether road cycling or mountain bikes. This is a snap I took as I laboured up a track.
Anna was lured out one evening for a route she picked. Sadly, she didn’t work out the amount of climbing she’d elected to do. However, after 270 metres of severe climbing, it seemed to meet Baby Jesus, she was allowed to turn her bike around and quickly descend toward a pub in Kirkcudbright where she was rewarded with a gin and tonic.
It has to be said that the road traffic was light to non-existent on this night and on my other jaunts. The Scots can have a very unattractive road surface in places, this consists of a thick gloopy tar that is very uneven and peppered with large chunks of aggregate. On a later ride I lost the feeling in my hands through the vibrations over such roads. You’ll be unsurprised to learn that being a hero I battled on.
Kirkcudbright was an attractive settlement at the top of the estuary. We had a wander around and used the supermarkets. Most of the area hasn’t started to cater for the idle elite who want artisan bakeries unless this type of Snickers bar and shortbread combo is big in Islington. I must admit a shop with a loaf of sourdough would have been a treat but what you lose in sophistication is gained in peace, quiet and exclusivety.
We drove about and visited the local towns including Gatehouse of Fleet, Wigtown, Newton Stewart and Castle Douglas. We did drive into Dumfries but it was busy and didn’t seem to have a lot of charm; so we drove along the Solway and out toward Dalbeattie. All the towns were ‘working’ small settlements with their own character but little to detain you. Wigtown has a reputation for books and there were several second hand book shops for those attempting to find some old mighty tome.
The weather was always mild and up until the last day it was dry but there again you don’t go to Scotland for the weather. I’d like to go back and head further west to Stranraer next time and then have a look up the west coast.
It’s a year since our Favourite Eldest Daughter got married to Matt in Manchester. The reception was lovely in bright sunshine at the top of a swanky city hotel but the numbers attending were limited due to Government Covid-19 restrictions. We wanted to correct this and say thank you to the wider family and friends who, not least, had been enormously generous with gifts and well wishes at the time.
So a date was put in the diary for 2021 and folk were invited to the House of Ives in Acaster Malbis. We were expecting rain and overcast conditions but the sun often appeared and it was warm despite the odd shower. Shelter could be found in a borrowed marquee but lunch was inside.
Guests came from Wales (Ann Marie & Pat), London (Helen, Laura & (Young) Dave, Georgia & Edward and James), North Yorkshire (Ellie & Chris and Ted), Manchester (Sophie & Harry and Cath & Jeff) and Gloucestershire (Tracey). A couple of speeches were made, with the best by far coming from young Matthew Gray, and after toasts luncheon was taken.
The food came from many places including a special patisserie in Garforth on the outskirts of Leeds called Dumouchel. How this authentic French run bakery ended up in the middle of a housing estate in suburban Leeds is a mystery. Scrumptious pork pies were brought over the Pennines by Cath and Jeff along with home made piccallilli; with this the father of the bride was enormously happy. Anna, Katrina and Sophie pulled it all together.
Some entertainment was devised and Screwfix provided the paint!
The egg and spoon race was a terrific success with 16 ‘runners’ with ages ranging from 75 to 8 years old. The final between Chris Reed (bride’s cousin) and Harry Fuoco (Favourite Youngest Daughter’s partner) ended up in a hilarious wrestling match. After VAR (as it was caught on video) Reed was disqualified!
Another party game was ‘pass the parcel’ with an epic prize that Cath will treasure for ever (we suspect).
A lovely day and thanks to all the helpers who tidied up! And Look who got the bride’s posie!
I know how iconic the bike ride between Cornwall and the Highlands is and wanted to record a few final thoughts:
The climbing is considerable throughout the 1,000 miles. The difficulty doesn’t arise in the ‘hard’ north but rather the ‘soft’ south. The first three days are often busy with traffic, much of it intolerant, and the climbing is, frankly, severe, with lots of over 15%, gradients. Despite my rides to different continents or through the many countries of Europe this ride was tough, day after day. I’m genuinely in awe of inexperienced cyclists who have completed the ride and said they enjoyed it!.
I must add as an important condition of this ‘awe’ then Peter and myself carried our luggage and rode everyday for two weeks. One lithe millennial who I saw arriving on a lightweight carbon road bike at John O’Groats with no luggage missed the point for me.
In talking with riders we met or before we set off there was no consensus on the best route. Our Nick Mitchell Cicerone Guide came with GPX files and was well presented. However, I wouldn’t use it again if I was trying to find the flattest route. Any Lejogger does need to research in detail the route that suits them. There are many route planners on the internet or Apps to peruse.
I also wouldn’t have gone from Inverness to Crask Inn (as unique and lovely as it was). I’d have gone via the A9 to Helmsdale and then straight up. Any cycling from west to east on the top of Scotland invites a headwind.
I would have researched more thoroughly the north of Cornwall and the north of Devon. We went via the brutally hilly south and whilst Exeter provided a fab bike shop to fit a lower gear then neither that town or Plymouth were very interesting.
I made a mess, or my Garmin made a mess, of leaving Clitheroe. I was sent up a kneecap shredding hill to Waddington and then Slaidburn. Check your intended route against the direction your device is sending you. Devices have a mind of their own. I should have checked and my climbing was ridiculous for the day.
I was sceptical about bike packing originally. That is, a road bike with minimum luggage but it does seem the way to go. However you’d still need a compact group set and at least a 34 tooth cassette gear on the back. A steel touring bike is a more leisurely steed but you’re guaranteed to lose an average couple of mph. The route goes through towns with bike shops to sort out any problems. I took a mechanic with me, which I would also recommend!
We washed our laundry but a couple of jerseys, socks and shorts are just about all that’s required daily. The need for more kit comes with the weather. However the reality is that you could end up carry things for much of the journey and not needing it. Maybe a stopover at a relative or friend where you can collect and dispose of items is a good idea.
Fitness & Nutrition
Some ride the route as an endurance exercise. I didn’t. If it’s a sprint then there is a whole different set of thoughts on bike, kit, nutrition and route planning.
For my ride then stuff like having a harden butt is probably more important. A good base of having cycled a lot of miles is important but probably more valuable than cycling lots of miles is the ability to ride consecutive days comfortably. Clearly knowing the bike you’re riding and having steered it up and down a few steep hills is a good idea. The reality is that you’ll get fitter the longer you go on.
For me riding with someone so much fitter and talented than myself made me push myself occasionally too hard. In fact I was feeling so good on the ride into Crewe I got my head down and raced. Idiot! The next day I was a shadow of myself and I was only saved from a pitiful glacial progress by it being a very short day! Pace yourself; stop for that coffee, ice cream and photo opportunity. You’re probably never doing this ride again; see Britain.
Eat all the time. Energy gels, sugary sweets, protein bars and other things you like and can indulge yourself with. You’ll lose weight on this ride. Stuff your face: science says you should be eating every 40 minutes. You’ll burn over 3,000 calories a day on this ride. Make sure you have the energy. Hydration is a no brainer and doesn’t need discussing. The route, unlike many of my others, offers opportunities to stop and buy food usually hourly. You don’t need to carry much to start with.
My selection of Youth Hostels in a Covid epidemic was a poor one. They were neither overly comfortable or cheap. The heat at the one in Glencoe reminded me of being on the beach in Miami! Facilities were closed and food solutions were variable even with hostels that were part of the same group eg. YHA. If it is your preferred solution then I might add that the one at YHA Lands End and SYHA Inverness were fine but the others didn’t match up to a B&B. Budget hotels such as Travelodge or Premier Inn were great value for money and the rooms were clean, spacious enough to take a bike or two and near other food solutions and pubs.
Best Breakfast – The Old PostHouse Moretonhampstead, Devon. Along with the obligatory Full English it came with porridge, soft fruit and cereals. Truly delicious and fabulous cycle aware hosts.
Best Lunch – Katrina & Matt Ives in Reddish – a wonderful Sunday roast with all the trimmings. We ate ourselves stupid!
Best Dinner – Saffron Indian Restaurant at Cradlehall, Inverness. So delicious and high quality that I may cycle back just for the lamb.
Best Accommodation -Crask Inn, Lairg. It was so unique and in the literal middle of nowhere. An interesting selection of guests were in the dining room and the vistas were superlative as we drank our pint outside. The next morning, in a little heat, we set off amongst the heather and stunning views
Best Scenery – The Wye Valley was stunning and new to me, the Trough of Bowland was another feast for the eyes. All the lochs were lovely but inevitably attracted car traffic on their banks.
Lauderdale’s beyond prolific. This clocks in as his 34th album containing 13 tracks. As one of americana’s big names he inhabits the country/rock/pop end of the spectrum but has a number of roots albums in his recent collection. Last year’s When Carolina Comes Home Again was a country release and a homily to the State and it’s music. This album has more mainstream commercial sensibilities but you’ll find some folk, country and even jazz inflections. Lyrically he’s focussed on being positive during the pandemic and mitigating the effect it’s had on peoples’ lives. I think we can all agree that’s a good idea.
With this modus operandii “The Opportunity To Help Somebody Through It” is the first track: it’s a light rock track underpinned by electric guitars whilst Lauderdale exhorts the upside of helping those struggling. It’s an upbeat opening with a memorable chorus and some deft picking. “Sister Horizon” is another easy pop sound with a delightful chorus and an acoustic guitar picking the melody.
“The Brighter Side Of Lonely “ just emphasises what a nice guy he really must be. He seeks to lift a friend out of a slough of despair. Their “making friends with being sad today” and they should “meet on the brighter side of lonely.” The tune matches the optimism and such a clever lyric is a highlight of the album. Pedal steel introduces “Breathe Real Slow” and it sounds like the Rick Rubin era of Johnny Cash. He adopts a gravelly voice and with a profound delivery advises some retrospection in the face of adversity. The chorus is a another great melody on this pure rock track.
“When Searching For Answers” is his jazz moment and wouldn’t be out of place on a Van Morrison album. “Joyful Noise” has backing singers just behind his voice in the mix in this energetic exit to the album. An insistent drum beat and a piano drive this along. The song title says it all as he hopes to have all spirits raised by making music: a delectable activity.
His band wrap around him perfectly and he furnishes them with some great melodies and arrangements to play. He’s one of my favourite artists who never lets the quality of any release drop.
I imagine everyone is taking an interest in the Olympics. You’ve got to feel for the Japanese: they’ve spent all this money and even attendance at the events is prohibited or limited yet they’ll be paying for it all for decades. It seems the IOC and global television companies get the benefits. A mystery is the pleasure we all get from simply accumulating medals irrespective of what the sport is (and being ahead of the French and Germans in the league table.) It’s simply a competitive scrabble irrespective of what they’re competing for.
Many of the events are truly mystery: take taekwondo. As I write we have a chance of another medal. Our athlete who I’ve never heard of despite a lifetime of devotion (by her and her parents) to raising her feet above her head violently whilst standing. The sport is nearly unwatchable as clad in a helmet and wearing a padded mat around your middle you try and kick the opponent in the head or thump them in the stomach. The event also ‘enjoys’ several minute time outs whilst the competitor’s coach seeks to have points deducted off the opponent via a type of VAR scrutiny. The last bout I watched saw the British girl (sorry Katrina, woman) lose in the last second. How the hell do you cope with the disappointment?
Last time Beach Volleyball got ridiculed (apart from the kit!) I think Street Skateboarding is running it close. The sport involves jumping on your skate board and then propelling it whilst spinning so you can slide down a staircase handrail in outside spaces. We used to caution youngsters for doing this in town centres?
I have enjoyed all the cycling whether Tour de France or Olympic. The Olympic schedule has coincided with the mornings and I did sit riveted to the road races and the Otley lad, Tom Pidcock, who won the Mountain Bike Cross Country race. At Le Tour I was so delighted for Mark Cavendish, a real fairy tale slightly tarnished by not getting the 35th Tour stage victory. However, knowing what Eddie Merckx achieved, and how he did it, then maybe a tie is apposite.
Cavendish may have got the green jersey but an unexpected delightful prize dropped through the letterbox from Jude and Peter up in Edinburgh. A fitting medal for the Lands End to John O’Groats bike ride. Thank you.
Ann-Marie, my sister, has been reinforcing the bottom of her garden. It backs onto a stream that sadly becomes a brutal rushing river when there is heavy rain on the local Welsh hills. The result is the washing away of about five feet of an already small garden. I helped with the contractor selection and costings. I rushed down on Tuesday to be on site early for discussions.
In my haste I left without money. Not ideal if you need to fill up your car with diesel when nearly at her home near Conwy for the return trip. I have a payment solution on my Apple Watch and so no problem, that is, if I had chosen to wear it on the trip! So I then recollected I could install it on my iPhone and this I did. This isn’t an ideal emergency solution in case there is a problem.
The problem might be that if I filled up the car with £50 worth of fuel to find the App didn’t work? I had hoped to find a sympathetic cashier I could do a trial run with by buying something cheap that they could refund if the phone didn’t work. I entered the busty petrol station hoping for a young person who would understand the technology and help me establish if it worked. Brilliantly I found a teenager who calmly ran through the trial purchase: it worked! (I felt that I had also won a Gold Medal with this small technological triumph.)
If you haven’t watched Clarkson’s Farm on Amazon Prime then you’re missing a treat. Clarkson’s not everyone’s cup of tea but he nicely gets out of his comfort zone as a farmer. We spend a season with the man, and his workers, managing the arable lands and livestock (sheep). It’s quite instructive about the rudimentary nature of farming and predictably there is considerable slapstick and hilarity. Check it out . Below are the local crops I see on my constitutional.