Today started with the mist slowly being burnt off the hills of the White Peak by a surprisingly powerful sun for 8.30am. Starting back on the track bed of the Tissington Trail was a nice way of easing myself into the journey, as I wanted to conserve my strength and the railway gradients are wonderful. I get a bit pensive a few miles up the track at Parsley Hay as it was here that my maternal grandfather, a steam locomotive driver, was killed by slipping from the footplate. It was all before I was born, but it’s a serious place, nevertheless. The trail peters out a bit further on, as the
Dowlow Quarry still has track laid through to Buxton and so the rail bed becomes railway.
To conserve time, I decided to go onto the A515 which I could see was fairly quiet, rather than remaining on NCN68. For cycle touring, I have a complex relationship with the Sustrans Ntional Cycle Network. It’s a wonderful asset, making Britain a more cycle-friendly place, but on a tour it has its pros and cons. The pros are obvious: the routes are either car-free completely, or very quiet small roads. The cons are more diverse — first, the NCN route from A to B isn’t normally the most direct one; after all, this isn’t what they’re trying to do. But in some cases it favours traffic free to the point where it goes all over the houses (witness Route 4′s stretch from Compton Greenfield to the Severn Bridge). This is also the case for gradient in hilly areas, where the NCN may take the route over high ground, rather than round it. Again, this can be bad news with a heavily loaded bike. Lastly, NCN make no guarantees about the quality of the surface, and in many cases this can be akin to a mountain bike track and bad news for a road bike. I once remember being ‘committed’ to traversing a stretch of NCN in Carmarthenshire which went over about four miles of sharp rubble. (More on this issue later).
The A515 was fine at that time and I was in Buxton for coffee at 10am. I had then deliberately planned the route to take me down (well, up and down) memory lane, to ‘do’ Long Hill which runs from Buxton to Whaley Bridge, which has a wonderful 5 mile descent with wonderful views of the Goyt Valley. Of course, first of all you have to do the pull up to the summit, but Buxton’s altitude is significantly higher than Whaley, so I was really “cashing-in” yesterday’s rather tiring haul from The Trent to the southern Peak District. The run was exhilarating and is the kind of reason why I love cycle touring. Just before leaving the moorland, I heard the cry of a Lapwing in the distance. The snag with Long Hill is after that the most direct route I needed to take was the A6. I’ve cycled along that stretch many times, so I sacrificed tranquillity for a level route and a reasonably direct one. By 12.30pm, I was cycling the streets of South Manchester, where I once lived.
I was able to briefly meet up with my daughter (another cyclist) outside her university building, then lunch at the wonderful Eighth Day Cooperative – one of the best veggie cafés in Britain.
My route now led north and the traffic-volume verses topography dilemma raised itself again. The Pennines are scored by narrow valleys, down which run – typically – a trunk road with lorries, a railway line and a canal. In some parts there are no quiet lanes traversing the range in a north-south direction, and my route lay north-east of Manchester. The solution to the traffic problem is to take NCN66, which runs along the towpath of the Rochdale Canal between Manchester and Halifax. While it’s legal to cycle on any canal towpath in the UK, I would normally avoid doing this because the towpath surface usually requires a mountain bike because of litter, bumps and big cobbles at locks. But I reasoned that if the Rochdale’s towpath was the NCN66, there would be some enhancement to the surface. After all, normal towpaths don’t usually have NCN designation.
Well, if there was any enhancement, it was on a tight budget! It’s really a track, with all the usual detritus of canal towpaths. Just as well I had fitted those Schwalbe Marathon Pluses – no punctures, but I hate putting my 700c road wheels through that kind of punishment. And my route along the canal was about 20 miles, from Manchester City Centre, through Rochdale to the edge of Todmorden, just inside West Yorkshire. Poor wheels.
Canals are their own testimony to local history and social culture. The stretch from the centre of Manchester passed through a desolate inner-city ring, where everything was either derelict or demolished, but with little sign of reconstruction. The canal at this stretch seems to act as the North East Manchester fly tipping centre. It also seems poorly dredged too. I only saw three boats in that stretch. Then there come the more countrified bits, where local residents exploit their gardens which back onto the canal with home-made decking terraces enabling a waterside leisure experience. There were lots of geese, which hissed at me as I passed. Narrow clearance under bridges meant that I had to take care balancing, especially over cobbles, to avoid going over the canal side. The quality of the track surface was at its worst in North Manchester, at one point being just an unsurfaced footpath through meadow. From Rochdale onwards, it was more consistent and better. By 5pm I was at the canal’s summit north of Littleborough. By 5.30pm, I left the towpath and ascended a steep hill to the little, isolated village where my youth hostel lay.
In this part of Yorkshire, they go in for worrying place names, like Heckmondwike, Mytholmroyd and, in my case, Mankinholes. You’ll be glad to know that, since I arrived, I haven’t seen any blokes around wearing ill-advised underwear.Tweet
Today is a bit of a “nothing to report” day, partly, I suspect because I did today’s run with John last July – so there were few surprises. The route ran from South Leicestershire (just north of the A5 for you motorists out there) through Ashby de la Zouch (great name, plus castle) through Repton in South Derbyshire. Repton advertises itself as the ancient capital of Mercia, but its main claim to fame is its large, rather top-notch public school, which now dominates the northern part of this small town. One of its headmasters, Geoffrey Fisher, went on to become Archbishop of Canterbury (1945-1961). It also gives its name to Hubert Parry’s hymn tune, which is commonly used to accompany the words of ‘Dear Lord and Father of Mankind’, the later verses of a poem by the Quaker, John Greenleaf Whittier. The story of how this came about was the subject of a delightful BBC Radio 4 documentary broadcast last year. The hymn tune was given the name of the school, because the idea of putting the two together was that of George Gilbert Stocks, who was director of music at the school in the 1920s. Parry had died of the Spanish ‘Flu in 1918. Repton and Jerusalem remain Parry’s most famous works.
At some point, when you’re cycling north through England, you have to reckon with the River Trent. I crossed it just north of Repton. There followed a gradual climb up from the Trent valley into the southern peaks, which I found surprisingly tiring. I also had my first mechanical snag, which entailed stopping to tighten a few loose spokes on my old front wheel. It now doesn’t make any irritating clunking noises and I also fancy it’s a bit more efficient – maybe just me. A brief stop in Ashbourne, then I was off on the final leg of the journey, via the Tissington Trail (the old Buxton to Ashbourne LNWR railway line) then a brief detour to Hartington youth hostel where I am staying the night. Miles travelled today: 54. Total so far: 146. Tomorrow is going to be a big ride…Tweet
Finding a cycle route north from the northern tip of the Cotswolds to the southern part of Leicestershire is rather tricky, as there is a band between Coventry and Birmingham which is very built-up. What roads there are tend to be trunk roads, which all cyclists should avoid like the plague if they value their lives. The most obvious routes north for cyclists tend to avoid the East and West Midlands entirely, and either go up through Shropshire (which I normally do) or go east of Rugby and Leicester. However, my route demands that I go right through the middle. I started by going east of Stratford to pick up the Fosse at Wellesbourne.
The Fosse at this point takes the form of the B4455. Most motorists regard B roads as “small” roads, but from the cyclist’s point of view, they’re a mixed bag. This one turned out to be dicey, because although traffic isn’t heavy, most that there is is enjoying the Romans’ propensity to make straight roads, so tends to be going fairly fast for a rather narrow road. Although the Fosse is straight, it has to negotiate any hill in its path, so visibility over humps is as bad as if there were bends in it. But many motorists seem to disregard this, oblivious to the possibility that, having cleared a small summit, they could suddenly find themselves bearing down on a cyclist on a laden bike with a 50MPH speed difference between the two road users. On more than one occasion I was passed at about 40MPH by a vehicle weighing several tons, with a clearance of less than a foot. Car, lorry and van drivers regard this as a successful clearance, but what they’re not aware of is that the non-fatality of the encounter was due, in part, to evasive action by the cyclist, who has had to instinctively adjust his or her balance to avoid being sucked into the passing vehicle’s slipstream, which in the case of a long vehicle is considerable. This sort of experience is bad for one’s psychology, which explains the permanently aggressive nature of some cyclists towards anyone behind the wheel of a motorised vehicle. Basically, too many encounters like this have just messed up their brains. For this reason, I was glad to get off the Fosse and make my way by lanes through the delightfully-named Offchurch, north of Leamington’s suburbs, through the rather drab Kenilworth (terrible town architecture, but with an amazing castle) to my special set of rare country lanes which would take me between Birmingham and Coventry without a street lamp in sight.
Unfortunately for the residents of the tiny villages on this charming network of lanes, being in the one part of the Midlands which has escaped urbanisation means that they are now part of a precious band which makes up the only route left, not only for solitary cyclists, but also HS2 – the planned fast train route from London to the North-West. As I passed through villages such as Burton Green, I kept seeing protest signs by each driveway. The reason is that the railway’s route is set to carve the charming little village in two. Although its environmental impact will not be as severe as a trunk road or motorway, the community will never have the same sense of unity or tranquillity again, which is very sad.
The landscape gets more undulating the further north you cycle, so by the time I reached the border with Leicestershire, I had become used to a more strenuous mode of cycling, with gentle hill-climbs and the rewards of descents following. I arrived earlier than planned (2.30pm) at the home of my hosts, John and Marion Plant. They are due to return from holiday tonight, so it was arranged that the key would be located for me in the dog-kennel. Now John is particularly adept at taking the mick out out of your intrepid author, so I was wondering whether I would find, instead of the key, a note saying “Welcome to your home for the night. ps. we aren’t back for a fortnight.” However, John was good to his word and the availability of wifi for the first time in the journey means I will hazard posting a few photos.
Again, an easy ride today. Tomorrow is also fairly light, but the the hard stuff bites on Thursday, together with some northern hills.Tweet
First, some basic thoughts about my approach to such bike rides. Some of these remarks are more for the benefit of non-cycletourers, but they also touch on matters of debate amongst cyclists. On a long distance bike ride, weight is everything. This includes the weight of the rider, plus that of the bike and, lastly, the weight of the luggage and accessories. It’s only the last factor which can be adjusted easily. But, unless one has a “support vehicle” driving the same route – which I don’t count as cycle touring – even with just the bare minimum of additional clothing, washing stuff etc. one is forced to carry the equivalent weight of a small suitcase in the panniers. This is because you also need more tools than needed for a day-ride plus a decent bike lock plus one or two spares (I take inner tubes and spokes). The end result is that you are going to be carrying this lot for several hundred miles, and that includes up every hill you climb.
The extra weight means you have to make some decisions about speed and effort, especially when going up hills. My thought on this is that if I was worried about speed, I wouldn’t be going on a tour in the first place: I’d be on a lightweight sleek bike, doing circular trips around Bristol. So I keep the speed down, keep the gearing low and avoid muscle and joint strain at all costs. This is about distance, not time. Nevertheless, having booked accommodation ahead in advance, I have to keep the speed up enough to reach my destination by a reasonable time, so pacing through the day is an important factor. After about 5 hours’ cycling, muscles inevitably begin to tire and lose their power, so if the latter part of a day’s journey is hilly, that has to be borne in mind in how the day’s cycling is paced. There have been times when I have got off the bike and been barely able to stand up because my muscles are exhausted. I try to avoid that where possible.
Sleep, after a full day’s cycling comes easily. Food is important. When I was a youngster, I’d carry glucose tablets with me. I would never do that now, as they simply cause a spike in insulin which makes energy transfer very short term – useful if you’re racing, but not if you’re touring. I used to end up wondering why I kept bouncing from one attack of sugar starvation to the next. Ugh. Slow burning carbohydrates are the best. Bananas are a good thing to have, as they metabolise reasonably quickly, but have a good bit of starch in them for fuelling the long haul. Fluid intake is important too. With a constant breeze and a warm body, you are unaware of how high your rate of perspiration is on this kind of cycling. So I drink before I get thirsty, not when I am, otherwise a late afternoon headache will be my reward.
As for today’s route, it was a 46 mile run from Gloucester to Stratford upon Avon. I had considered cycling from the doorstep, but this would have added 20 miles to it, and I wanted a gentle start. The route craftily dodged any climbs onto the Cotswold escarpment, so having left Gloucester station at around 10am, I was at my lunch break in Broadway by 12.15pm with about 30 miles on the clock – over half-way. The hostelry in question was the Broadway Hotel in the high street, which served a truly excellent haddock, peas and chips.
Anyone who has done any serious cycling knows that beer has a strange effect on the legs, one’s principal source of propulsion. After moderate imbibation, the legs feel absolutely fine until any significant call for power is made on them; at which point, they prove very stubborn and ineffective. So if there is any after-lunch hill-climbing to be done or a significant need for pace on the afternoon stretch, beer drinking at lunchtime on a bike trip is out of the question. In my case, I had no hills ahead of me and only about 14 miles of pedalling still needing to be done, so a calculated risk was taken to have what proved to be an excellent pint of Wickwar Coopers with my lunch.
The landscape of the run was classic Heart of England stuff, with Cotswold stone and thatch predominating as far as Broadway, then a move to whitewashed timber-framed building (hey nonnie, nonnie, no…) The oilseed rape fields have come into bloom, and over lunch I encountered an enterprising wasp who I think probably managed to over-winter courtesy of some thatch and regular food served by the pub. Birdsong involved a lot of buzzards, blackbirds and chiff-chaffs. I nearly ran over an Easter bunny who darted in front of my front wheel but then amazingly managed to brake abruptly, reverse course and dart back into the hedge – all in about half a second.
I arrived at Stratford at 2.20pm, which was heaving with bank holiday day-trippers. The hostel is about 3 miles on the other side. Architecturally, it reminds me of a theological college – a large, white-painted Victorian house, with an annex which is now a rather nice bar/restaurant. So evening meal is provided for. Unfortunately, I was greeted by a sign saying the wifi was down, and the 3G signal turns out to be almost nonexistent. So when I’ll get a chance to post this, at the moment I’m not sure. But what I do know is that I’m going to get in a late afternoon doze…Tweet
Readers of my Facebook page, with its episodes of valve of the week (TM) and selections of Ice-Cream van bells will have joined a growing body of people who have come to the conclusion that I need to Get Out More. In which case, they will be pleased to know that in the coming week, this is exactly what I propose to do. The means will be one of my all-too-occasional long-distance bike journeys. Time was, that I had to blog about these trips on return from the journey, but in these days of 3G mobile phones and iPads, it is now possible for me to do a day-by-day blog. Quite why I like blogging them, I’m not sure, but these trips tend to stand out in my memory years later, so it’s pleasing to be able to record the experience.
To add a certain level of excitement to anyone who ends up following the episodes, I will not reveal my journey plans in advance, although I will give some basic information: the trip will run from tomorrow (Monday) until the evening of Friday, when I will need to have arrived at my final destination. If for some reason this doesn’t happen, that will be something of A Problem, as I have booked train tickets back for me and my bike from the nearest train station. This adds a certain level of anxiety to offset the risk of any sense of being too laid-back.
For this blog, I will simply give some background to these journeys and my two-wheeled companion on the trip. I have been doing these journeys, on and off, since I was about twenty, when I first fell in love with the idea of travelling long journeys under my own steam on a bike. The first couple of these were on a horrific halfords el-cheapo steel framed bike, which I’d bought for about £5 second-hand at a local second-hand shop. The frame was much too small for me and the panniers were cheap, old and nasty. I also insisted on carrying an overweight tent with me, as a backup, in case youth hostels were full. In this manner, I cycled several times from Manchester to Swansea, usually following roughly the route of the A49, using back-roads where possible. It must have been cripplingly painful, looking back, but at that age, you tend to put up with the results of your own follies and lack of foresight, learning the lessons of life as you go along.
My companion on this journey is my beloved tourer, bought in 1987. The frame was made by British Eagle, which in those days were making some rather high-end frames. It cost me £600, which today would be the equivalent of about £2000. The frame is made of steel-alloy, Reynolds 531ST double-butted tubing. Over the years, however – and especially about three years ago – it has been subject to major refits and upgrades. It currently has a Shimano 105 transmission, but I have eschewed the whole groupset. I have retained the old gear lever position on the downtube, and therefore use traditional brake leavers on the handlebars. The front wheel is the original – Mavic rims on a Maillard hub. The saddle is an old-school Brookes B17 Narrow, which long ago either molded itself to my bottom, or vice versa. It makes for a relaxing, comfortable ride. The geometry of the frame is interesting: it was marketed as a “Touristique” tourer, but the angles are somewhat tighter than, say, a Dawes Galaxy. Normally, I run it without carrier, but with mudguards, and the nearest modern equivalent would be a frame designed for Audax riding.
I have spend the past few days, popping into bike shops to do a bit of maintenance before setting off. I’ve forked out about £70 on new tyres, going to town on some Schwalbe Marathon Pluses. Everything I’ve heard from them suggest that they are highly puncture resistent, which is what you want when you are on a long ride over some occasionally rough surfaces and don’t particularly want to waste time with punctures. Time will prove whether this was a good investment.
Tomorrow’s distance is set to be about 44 miles. I’m starting with a train journey, largely to keep Day 1′s distance within reasonable limits. I haven’t done any significant extra training for this, so experience suggests starting easy and working upwards would be a wise move. When I get to the end of the first day, if time and connectivity allow, I’ll tell the day’s story. The weather for the coming week isn’t particularly promising, with some rain forecast for most areas. I’ve usually been amazingly lucky on my long rides (except those I’ve done in midwinter) but resilience is part of the game, so if it’s wind and rain, so be it.Tweet
Anyone who is worried about the world ending today, here is some reassurance using basic mathematics…
Today, like every day, will never end, but will last for ever.
Given that there are an infinite number of points of longitude along the surface of the globe, and that each of these points experiences the 24 hours of today at a slightly different moment, that means that the total amount of time the world will experience today will be each point’s experience of today’s time summed up. That is: 24 x infinity. Therefore every day is infinitely long, so we should all be OK today.Tweet
In the light of the recent failure of the General Synod to pass the Draft Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) measure at its sessions of November 2012, despite overwhelming support for this legislation by this and other diocesan synods of the Church of England, Bristol Diocesan Synod:
1. Reaffirms our strong conviction that it is God’s will that women be ordained as bishops in the Church of England.
2. Has no confidence in the General Synod’s ability to transact the clear will of the majority of the Church with the urgency required to further the mission and witness of the Church.
3. Calls on the House of Bishops to explore, as a matter of great urgency, every possible avenue to effect the will of the Church on this issue.
This motion is not aimed at the removal of this current Synod (which mine is) but does go part of the way along that route by making the points that:
- As one of the 42 out of 44 diocesan synods which affirmed the move to ordain women as bishops, its steer was effectively ignored by the action of the November synod
- It does not believe that this present synod is capable of passing a form of women bishops legislation which assigns the same authority to operate to women bishops as is held by men
However, if other diocesan synods pass similar motions, where does that leave us? Essentially, the message given to Synod is, ‘we don’t think you lot are capable of passing satisfactory legislation and we’re upset about this.’ But, it doesn’t take any further action which would amend this situation. Essentially, this will not do anything other than register a protest.
The stronger, original version of the motion goes further – by expressing a total lack of confidence in the Synod to act as the present General Synod of the Church of England, it’s essentially saying it needs to go, and go as soon as possible. So why is this necessary? I think it’s so, for the following reasons:
- Those who voted against the motion in the House of Laity have indicated that the main reason is that the present proposals give inadequate provision for traditionalist parishes. The only form of legislation that they are more likely to pass would have to give greater provision for independence of authority to traditionalist parishes to choose an alternative (male) bishop.
- This amended form of the current draft legislation will never get the support of the key proponents of women bishops, since it would lead to a situation of male bishops and female ‘bishops’, within the CofE. The female ‘bishops’ would find that their authority could be overturned by individual parishes, simply because they were women.
- Therefore, the Synod would find that any strengthening of the provision for traditionalists would lead to a collapse in support by the proponents of women bishops. Yet I fear that such strengthening of provision is exactly what is being contemplated by the Archbishops Council and the House of Bishop for the July 2013 Synod.
In short, this Synod is broken as regards women bishops legislation.
Some are looking to 2015 and a new synod with the hope that this will pass a ‘single-clause measure’. This amounts to ordaining women bishops with no ‘alternative provision’ for traditionalist parishes. It’s a high-stakes gamble, since my guess is that this, in turn, will not get a 2/3rds majority across the houses, because, in the last resort, Anglicans are mostly ‘nice’ and don’t want to pass something which would force anyone to leave. It would be entirely possible in future hustings for the House of Laity for a candidate to stand up and say something like the following:
I fully support the ordination of women to the episcopate and long for the day when that will be possible. I will support any form of legislation which will allow this, whilst giving fair provision to those whose consciences cannot accept women bishops.
The result will be a person who, if elected, will vote against a single-clause measure. Plenty others, who aren’t this clear about their intentions, will wobble in the last resort. The result would be a process which will take just as long as the present one has (nearly twelve years) and will result in exactly the kind of legislation which was rejected this month.
The real way forward is to cut out the time-wasting and get a Synod which accepts what was before us this month. That is the quickest route forward, but for it to happen will require another Synod. The quicker this happens, the better. Hence, the need for stronger motions than this one.Tweet
Since last Tuesday’s vote in the General Synod, I have been dropping heavy hints that this is the best way of getting the matter straightened-out for the Church of England. Most of what follows is self-explanatory, but the basic approach would be to get sufficient numbers of Diocesan Synods to pass this or similar votes of No Confidence in the current General Synod, in order to get a dissolution and an early election. As it is presently constituted, the only form of legislation the current Synod would pass would be so compromising of future women bishops’ authority that it would not command the support of those who are in favour. What follows is my rough draft of a Motion which might be put before Diocesan Synods. It would need checking through with a specialist in Church Law (a Diocesan Registrar or similar), before being put up for a vote…
In the light of the recent failure of the General Synod to pass the Draft Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) measure at its sittings of November 2012, despite overwhelming support for this legislation by this and other diocesan synods of the Church of England, this Diocesan Synod:
- Has no confidence in the General Synod to govern the Church by Measure, as it is currently constituted;
- Calls on the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to ask Her Majesty to dissolve this General Synod at the earliest opportunity, in order that new elections may be held without unreasonable delay.
The present makeup of the General Synod makes it unable to pass any form of legislation enabling the consecration of women which would not, at the same time, so compromise their future authority as bishops to a degree that it would not command the necessary support in either the General Synod itself, or in the wider Church of England.
The only option for any way out of the impasse is, therefore, either to wait for new elections due to be held in 2015, or to
petition for an early dissolution of the Synod on the grounds of no confidence. Although the existing General Synod legislation does not make it clear whether such a situation and process was ever envisaged, the precedent of the process operating in Parliament, and hence within the British constitution, make such a course of action constitutional, as Her Majesty is Sovereign over both bodies.
There is also a possibility that such a motion, if passed by Parliament, might also be constitutional – however, it would be better for the Church if dioceses to urge for the action in the first place, rather than Parliament itself.
Were this General Synod be so dissolved, early elections would follow and the existing legislation – which is likely to be the most generous compromise on offer to traditionalist churches and people within the Church of England – could then be put before a new Synod without much delay.
(Note: comments are OFF on this post. If you want to give feedback, I suggest that you do so via Facebook or Twitter.)Tweet
Michael Sadgrove, Dean of Durham, has written a wonderful letter to his diocesan bishop, Justin Welby, on the announcement of his appointment as the next Archbishop of Canterbury.
When Donald Coggan was installed as archbishop, his secretary mis-typed ‘enthronement as ‘enthornment’. That gave him food for thought. The role was daunting enough then. How much more complex and demanding it is today. Who knows what the next few years will bring for our world, for our church and for you personally. To be a bishop or an archbishop feels to me like a kind of crucifixion. Yet Jesus wore his crown of thorns not only with dignity but also with hope for the joy that was set before him. I pray that joy and hope will be yours at the spring equinox when you come to be seated on the throne of Augustine.
So take the cup that is given you in Canterbury, and as you wonder how on earth you find yourself there, smile a little at God’s strange work, be thankful, and discover in the doing of his work that all shall be well.
A few weeks ago, BBC Radio 4′s In Our Time did an excellent review of The Ontological Argument for the existence of God. It is available on iPlayer here and is well worth a listen.
On a sillier note, some of the Ontological Argument’s weaknesses, as flagged up in the programme, are dealt with by reference to good beer by Jeff Cook in an article on Scot McKnight’s blog here. Enjoy!Tweet