Saturday, 22 August 2015

10 signs you're a bit too obsessed with Strava

Everyone loves some good stats, don't they? Or are you exhibiting signs your Strava  habit is getting out of hand?
  1. You buy a smartphone specially to be able to use it.
  2. You stop stock still faster than you can say 'musical statues' when your mate says 'I'm just going to put my jacket on', lest Strava misconstrue your stopping as slowing down.
  3. You nearly decide not to get the ferry across Windermere half way through a ride because you don't know what Strava will make of it. **
  4. You drop your phone at the end of a ride and then are depressed for the rest of the evening, not because you've broken your phone but because you've lost your Strava time for the ride. *
  5. You get grumpy because your neighbours are all faster than you (and you've checked this).
  6. You stand around for 10 minutes before a ride just to make sure your satellites are in alignment.
  7. You forget to stand around for 10 minutes before a ride just to make sure your satellites are in alignment and then sob when you find the recording hasn't kicked in until the top of the big hill at the start of the ride.
  8. You are elated when you get loads of Personal Records on a ride. Even though you've only cycled that route once before and it was a Force 8 gale.
  9. You run over old people, small children and won't stop for red lights because you're determined to move up from 10th to 9th place for people in your age bracket this year on a segment through the middle of town.***
  10. You obsess about all of this even though you're riding a shopping bike with a pannier rack, slowly...
*Might have happened to me.
** Might have happened to a friend. Honest.
*** Really? No. Of course not.

Ok, what other signs have I missed?

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Walney 2 Wear: Coast to coasting again

Cycling round Kendal I kept on seeing little blue cycle signs. Well, there are quite a lot of them. But quite a few of them I noticed said W2W. So I Googled it. 150 miles from Walney (Island, Barrow) to the Wear (Sunderland), or Walney to Whitby. Hm, the start and end points of Walney and Sunderland didn't sound the stuff of dreams. But as has been shown, I'm a bit easily seduced by little blue signs. And I was too lazy to go to Whitby cos it was 30 miles further, hillier and harder to get back from. Then I happened to have 3 days holiday going spare unexpectedly in August. Was meant to be playing at a festival in Southampton, it didn't happen, you know how it is (no, I don't think I do either). 3 days and what to do? Hm. Cycle across England for no particular reason, again? Why not. Battling round Anglesey into what seemed like a constant headwind a few days earlier trying to keep up with Cath on her carbon fibre road bike (clearly cheating) this seemed less of A Good Idea. Nonetheless, after a quick trip to Halfords to buy lightweight bike lock #3 (because the laws of physics mean that a bike lock and it's keys cannot exist in the same dimension for more than a week) and in the face of a very unsettled looking weather forecast, I got a lift with George on a Wednesday morning most of the way to Arnside then caught the train to Barrow.

Day 1: Walney to Kendal

45 miles, 3093ft ascent
Ah, Barrow. It does have some very handsome Victorian buildings, you know. And a lot of roundabouts. I was only 2 minutes from the station before I was making rude gestures at a driver who didn't let me change lanes (not entirely fair, I didn't entirely know where I was going, except round a roundabout somewhere). I managed to find my way to the end of the road on Walney Island (a cul de sac in the place known for being at the end of the UK's longest cul de sac) and the start of the route.
The start of the route at Walney
I declined to dip my wheel in the sea as the tide was out so it would have added a couple of extra miles to my journey... There was a sign stuck to a lamp post which seemed to suggest this was the start anyway. So I started Strava up (very important!) and set off back the way I'd just come across Walney and Barrow... Having successfully (i.e. I didn't get knocked off my bike) negotiated Barrow I headed out up Abbey Road until an unexpected right hand turn took me to the delights of Furness Abbey.
Furness Abbey
It would have been even more delightful if they hadn't been chipping the road. In fact, pretty much the entire of the South Lakes region the roads were covered in slippery chippings. I offer this in mitigation for my Strava times... I then proceeded to get lost, end up back on Abbey Road and do an unintentional lap of Dalton. Having escaped Dalton (though it has its charms) I proceeded through Lindal-in-Furness which would give some Cotswold villages a run for their money in village green niceness. I went around some back roads I thought I recognised (in the region of the current residence of the Drs. Carlisle) and then ended up in Ulverston. These chaps looked pleased to see me (honestly, if it's not bagpipes it's bikes, poor guys).
Another fine mess...
. From there, to Haverthwaite on some single track (bad enough on a hybrid bike, was glad I wasn't on a tourer), tracks and then over the Col du Bigland Hall. Remind me never to go that way again... It was Cartmel Show and so even more chaotic than usual in Cartmel. So I went the wrong way, missed out Alithwaite and cruised through Grange. On the home straight! The section from Grange to Witherslack is always pleasant (read: not very hilly or busy). I treated myself to cheesy chips at the Dalton Arms, then a half at the Strickland Arms then arrived at my accommodation for the night at 4ish. Any resemblance to our house is purely because it is.
5* accommodation
. Yes we do need a new front door.

Day 2: Kendal to Barnard Castle

60.8 miles, 5,471ft ascent
The bad weather forecast for Wednesday (day 1) appeared on the Thursday morning. I packed and repacked (mostly to put more stuff in plastic bags) and when I ran out of creative faffing methods set off in the drizzle up The Old Sedbergh Road. This deserves capitals as is is a git of a road. It's not actually on the W2W but the most direct way of regaining the route from my house. The route would probably be very pleasant from Kendal (it kind of was) but it was doing that heavy drizzle thing that the Lakes specialises in. I stopped under the motorway bridge at the Lune Gorge near junction 36 of the M6 and had a sulk. By Orton it had started to dry up and cycling over by Sunbiggin Tarn to Kirkby Stephen was verging dangerously on being pleasant. There were also some really good long descents past Crosby Garret and into Kirkby Stephen where I stopped for lunch. here a From Kirkby Stephen the route starts to climb, slowly, towards the road to the Tan Hill. There are a couple of steep climbs before the ascent starts proper but most of it is just a bit of a drag. This wasn't a high point (in any sense). A lot of pushing the bike happened. Finally, there is a decent climb up and you end up with great views over the Eden valley.
Out of Eden
This was followed by some really pleasant riding across the moors to finally (after a few more bits of sneaky pushing on the steep bits) end up at the legendary Tan Hill Inn.
At the Tan Hill Inn
At this point I got a bit 20th century, forgot what selfies were and got some random bloke to take a picture of me and my bike in front of the pub. It's all very well the Tan Hill Inn but it is in essence 1) mostly car park outside 2) riddled with midgies 2) and Scousers (I'm half Scouse, it's ok!) 3) they don't have nice crisps. The beer was good though! From the Tan Hill Inn I wobbled along a rough track (front suspension would have been nice) down to Bowes, climbing out of which I was punished for more sneaky walking uphill by whacking my shin with a pedal. About 5pm I entered Barnard Castle in glorious sunshine and dodged round the roadworks to find my B&B (Homelands on Galgate - it was very nice with lovely cyclist friendly owners). Also go to the Old Well pub - it's (well) good.

Day 3: Barnard Castle to Sunderland

55.2 miles, 3,161 ft ascent
I set off still in beautiful sunshine on Friday morning on some roads that seemed to have escaped from Norhumberland - dead straight and roller coaster up and downs. I was particularly enjoying one when the little blue signposts sent me down into Hamsterly Forest for some shade and some more spine-jarring tracks. The road climbs back out of Hamsterly (you could stay on a B road and avoid the descent and ascent I reckon) towards Bishop Auckland. In fact, I went the wrong way again and ended up in a pretty village at the bottom of a big hill. Out of which, the ladies at the bus stop gleefully informed me, the only way out was back up the same hill... I wasn't supposed to go through Bishop Auckland but I couldn't resist some pointless cycling round roundabouts 3 times, so I went through it. It somehow reminded me of school summer holidays: hot tarmac, suburbs and boredom. From Barnard Castle you end up on cinder-path cycle ways for 9 miles or so through the odd villages of varying degrees of oddness and some chemical works type place
Heavy industry
. Finally, after a lot of jiggly off road stuff you end up in Durham. I went round a few roundabouts a few times just for good measure, and got lost a bit. You follow the river out of Durham and get some really nice views of the cathedral and castle:
. Just after taking this picture the pleasant riverside path was blocked by a temporary wire fence and a diversion was signposted up a near vertical mud bank, through a lot of greenery for about 1/3 of a mile then back down another muddy bank (with some steps, yay) to the river. I was glad I was travelling quite light... After passing Old Durham I found myself on the edge of a council estate and retail park and the little blue signs might have been nicked. I hoped for the best and headed past Tescos, and whooped when a little blue sign appeared to send me through an industrial estate and under the A1. There then followed road/arbitrary cycle path/road/arbitrary cycle path through to Hetton le Hole where the route goes through an old colliery (I think) converted to a country park, then up through some huge wind turbines on another particularly spine-jarring track and you are afforded your first view of the sea.
Wind turbines above Sunderland
From there, oh look some more random cycle tracks (by this stage I was saying out loud "oh where the hell now? for god's sake!") but eventually you end up in Sunderland. To be fair the network of cycle routes in the North East was very impressive. I crossed over one of those impressive Tyne and Wear type bridges (well, a Wear bridge in this case) and down the side of the Wear towards the sea.
The Wear
This is where the W2W wins out over the way of the Roses as there is a sculpture trail, some flash new buildings and lots of little signs saying "W2W & C2C this way!" to keep you going over the last mile or so. You cycle past the marina, round the end of the quay and to the seafront at Roker where there are various sculptures, a bike hire place (as if you'd want to see a bike again!) and the nice lady in the cafe asked unprompted where I'd cycled from when I'd bought a cup of tea then stamped my map with a special Roker stamp. I said this was a good thing as it would remind me not to do the route again...
The end!
Back I cycled to Sunderland, did a few valedictory laps of the centre in search of the train station then jumped on a train back to Carlisle along what must be one of the most scenic train lines in Britain up the Tyne valley through Corbridge, Hexham and Haltwhistle.

Would I recommend the ride? Well of course. But take a bike with some thick tyres, pack light and hope for reasonable weather!

There is more info on the Walney to Wear/Whitby route available here:

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Setting Google as your default search provider in IE9

A complete change of topic from my previous postings, but as I've just worked this out, I thought it might be useful for other people.  (I'm not sure why I bothered, as I mostly use Firefox anyway!).  This seems to affect people who aren't in the USA.

In IE9, go to Internet Options > General tab > Search section, > Settings.

Then, if Google isn't listed under search providers, (as it wasn't for me), click on "Find more search providers..."

This is where things got frustrating for me, because when I searched for Google in the 'Internet Explorer Gallery', Google UK would only come up as an accelerator, not a search provider.

In the top right hand corner of the screen, there is a location dropdown. For me it said UK & Ireland (English). Click on this and then change to United States (English).

Then click on 'Get add ons' (the screen will have changed) and search for search providers again, and Google will appear - this is the .com version.

You can now set this as your default search provider, though IE still had a couple of sneaky attempts at changing itself back to Bing.


Monday, 22 November 2010

The Way of the Roses

I’d dreamed about cycling from Lancaster to York for years whilst living in Lancaster, to somehow join the dots of all the places I knew well in between. However, I’d never been sure a) whether I’d make it that far and b) how to go about it. Certainly cycling along the way I’d drive, along the A65 and A59 seemed pretty unappealing and all too likely to end with me ending up squished. Fast forward a few years, and I read that a new Coast to Coast cycle route, “the Way of the Roses” had been launched with the aim of linking Lancashire and Yorkshire by a route crossing the country from Morecambe to Bridlington.

Now, this seemed like a bit of synchronicity, as George and several KMC & MMMC chums had lately linked Lancashire and Yorkshire underground. Little was I to know that I’d manage to link Cumbria before them too! More prosaically, since George had just got a new job and our planned trip to Font went out of the window, I suddenly found myself with rather a lot of holiday going spare.

There was only one problem as far as I could see. I hadn’t done much cycling recently, further than a couple of commutes and a handful of mountain bike rides, and with the nights drawing in and the Lakes flooding season approaching, gaining fitness by cycling didn’t seem that appealing.

Still, I was intrigued by the idea, and found myself Googling around for places to stay and advice on the route (which, since the trail was barely a month old was hard to come by). Then I found myself buying the map and booking three days off work in the middle of October.

At this point, I got quite worried. I wasn’t bike fit. I couldn’t find my bike pump. Where was I going to stay on the first night? How was I going to get back from Bridlington? Would I freeze or drown in a puddle? It suddenly occurred to me that I must have some natural predisposition to do silly things around the Autumnal Equinox (i.e. the OMM).

So I did the natural thing, and buried my head in the sand, with the occasional lunchtime reverie looking at maps online, and more than one 5am wide-awake-eyes-wide-in-panic session. And so the days passed.
Suddenly, it was the night before I was due to set off. First on the agenda was to pick up my bike from the bike shop, where it had been deposited after George had attempted to replace the bottom bracket, only to find it was welded tightly with rust. Feeling much lighter in the pocket, I then ran around buying bits and pieces that I’d lost moving house earlier in the year. The evening was spent putting things in plastic bags, and feeling a mild sense of panic.

I had sneakily got George to drop me off at Arnside station on his way to work so that I could get the train to Morecambe but having said our fond farewells, I looked up and saw the train smoothly pulling away from the little station. Arse. It became apparent that most of our clocks were a good five minutes behind Northern Rail’s. And the next train wasn’t for an hour. So all of a sudden, I was off, cycling through the frosty air along the quiet lanes of the most southerly part of Cumbria and into Lancashire.

The start of the route at Morecambe, with the Midland Hotel in the background
A mere 10 miles later and I had reached the start, on Morecambe prom. It was a beautiful Morecambe, and the sun shone on the bay and the hills around the Duddon estuary on the other side of the bay looked close enough to touch. What a start to the day! I had envisaged taking a picture of my bike by Eric Morecambe’s statue, but embarrassingly failed to find it, and didn’t want to waste any more time, so after a few quick shots of my bike in front of the signpost marking the start/end of the route, I set off on the Way of the Roses proper.

The route wound it’s way along the Lune, along familiar paths I had cycled on many times whilst living in Lancaster. By the time I got to the Crook o’Lune, I already felt I deserved (and needed!) a stop, so bought a much needed cup of coffee and some flapjack, which I sat and ate in the sun, gloating that my colleagues would be drinking their 10 o’clock brews in the office. I then spoilt things by getting lost cycling out of the car park, and trying to convince a well meaning lady who wanted to give me directions that I really shouldn’t be heading along the cycle track. Instead I had a rather steep (and seemingly somewhat unnecessary) pull up through Halton Park to contend with.

Coming out of the tunnels at Clapham
I’d like to say the next few miles through North Lancashire and into the Forest of Bowland rolled by, but they didn’t; I had to walk up an embarrassing amount of hills, and the miles didn’t seem to be ticking down at any rate at all. However, by lunchtime I had made it to Clapham. A cheese toastie and a pot of tea seemed just the thing at the time, but I did regret them somewhat when I had to push my heavily laden bike up through the tunnels out of Clapham.

A short section of off road – and even a very brief bit of single track – to Austwick left me feeling very grateful that I was riding a hybrid-cum-shopping-bike and not a proper road bike. Then I climbed up to above Foredale Quarry and Helwith Bridge, and actually felt like I was making progress when I freewheeled down into Settle. However, the biggest hurdle was yet to come: the climb out of Settle and up High Side.

The big problem was, I’d actually done this climb the week before, on my mountain bike, with a cracking hangover at the end of a day’s biking, into a headwind. When I say ‘done’, ‘struggled to push the bike up the bleeding hill’ would be a more fitting description. This time the pushing up the hill actually seemed no worse, despite the weight of the bike, and at least I got an amazing freewheel all the way down to Airton on the other side.

The next few miles, however, passed in something approaching misery. I was pretty knackered, and it was starting to get dark. Finally, I made it to the B&B (Bridge End Farm), where I was plied with tea and cake, then had a much needed shower, followed by tea in the pub, a brief chat with the other residents (a retired couple from Arnside who were very keen cyclists and put me to shame with their tales of double coast-to-coast trips), then bed.

Near the top of Greenhow Hill, day 2
After a terrible night’s sleep (no fault of the B&B, but of my legs aching horribly in the night – how could I have forgotten to bring ibruprofen?), I set off bright and early next morning in intermittent showers. I started climbing out of the valley far too early in the day for my liking – a very steep hill out of Appletreewick took me up on to the moors, and then over Greenhow Hill. Suddenly, the Vale of York appeared before me, with the White Horse at Kilburn just visible, and I felt that I might actually do this – or at least get to York!

However, I still had a long way to go. I made my way through the chaotic streets of Pately Bridge (where the whole town seemed to be being dug up), and then struggled up to Brimham Rocks, at least safe in the knowledge that all the hills were nearly out of the way. I eventually found my way through the stunning grounds of Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal (somewhat scared by the eerie and very loud cries of the rutting stags!). A shin-thwacking walk through the narrow streets of Ripon was at least improved by finally getting some lunch and a cup of tea. I then only got slightly lost trying to get out of the town.

Once out of Ripon, the rest of the ride to York passed in a state of high boredom and longing for the mince pie I had neglected to buy from Greggs. The monotony of the flatness, which I had been longing for when slogging up steep hills, was broken by Boroughbridge (especially the Devil’s Arrows, where I considered a bit of bouldering), the pay bridge at Aldwark and RAF Linton on Ouse. After a stop just outside York to fix my bike lights, I wobbled into Huntington and arrived at my parent’s, to find them surprised and relieved that I’d made it.

Of course, having effectively made it home, day 3 was always going to seem like an addendum, and I had earlier had doubts about whether I’d be able to stir myself to leave a nice warm bed to cycle away from York. However, I surprised myself by getting up and out before half past 8, and soon found myself passing through Stamford Bridge and then winding through flat fields and countless villages with duckponds and ‘beware toads’ signs to Pocklington.
From there, I turned on to a single track road, passing a luxury golf course on one side of the road and a Buddhist retreat on the other, and started the climb up to the Wolds. This however, seemed luxury compared with the previous two days – a long but scarcely noticeable climb was followed by a fast swooping descent and then a climb out of a village into a wonderful winding valley, filled with highland cattle. I kept on expecting a big climb, but except for a steep few metres right at the top, it never came. Instead, I popped out on top of the Wolds at Huggate. I squinted into the haze, trying to see the sea.

The Wolds
I charged down empty roads to cross the busy Bridlington road, and then across that into what I’d always thought of as the Wolds – vast open fields, and acres of nothing but sky. At this point the wind picked up and it started to rain. Great. Onwards, through more duck pond villages, through Driffield, the self-styled ‘Capital of the Wolds’, and onwards in briefly hot sun (a sure sign I must be approaching the sea side, I thought!). Once again, I got lost leaving Nafferton. The whole area is an odd mixture of quaint villages and rather end of the world feeling flatland hamlets, and I started to feel I might be bewitched into riding round these roads that wind around and then suddenly strike out arrow-straight across the countryside for ever more.

Somehow, I found my way to Burton Agnes, sprinted across the A614, then started the final climb of the trip, up to the Roman Road along the ridge, catching my first views of the North sea. I had looked forward to cycling along this road (not least because I thought it would offer a mixture of flat cycling with good views and a bit of history thrown in). However, the verges were full of fly-tipped rubbish, and the whole road had a distinctly odd feeling. This intensified as I neared Bridlington.

This, I realised, was a bit of a problem with the whole trip. Bridlington has a nice little old town, but as you descend to the sea, I realised it didn’t compare terribly well even with Morecambe on the looks scale. I found my way to the prom, and then down to the shore for the obligatory dipping the bike wheel in the sea (which I’d not actually had time to do in Morecambe!). I then pootled a little further along the prom until I found the end/start post of the route. I had done it. 180 miles (plus a bit extra for getting lost). For each of the three days I had cycled further than I ever had done in a day before. I had arrived at the other side of the country. However, there’s nothing like a East coast seaside town on a grey day out of season at dusk to put the dampners (often quite literally) on any form of excitement. I took pictures of my bike underneath the sign. I’d like to say that the retired couples strolling up and down the prom looked at me in awe, but they didn’t, as the had no idea what I’d done, would have thought it was just a bit peculiar anyway, and, moreover, weren’t at all interested.

The End
I pushed my bike down to a tea shack on the prom, where I tried to console myself by ordering a huge waffle, strawberry and cream confection, but the woman behind the counter dourly told me they’d shut the grills off and so I couldn’t have anything hot (it was 4pm). I eventually found a chip stall in one of the arcades where my brother and I had played on the one armed bandits and tuppeny shove machines as kids, then sat and ate my semi-cooked chips, drank my tea and then went to find a train back to York.

More photos of the route

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Running it out...

This time of year always makes me feel like I'm climbing, and can see the top of the pitch, and decide just to keep going for it and hope I don't fall off. In climbing, this doesn't always work out that well, as has been demonstrated this year - in life, at least it just usually means I end up with a stinking cold by the week before Christmas.

I'm looking forward to a break at Christmas so much! Nearly 2 weeks off work - hurrah!

Wednesday, 2 September 2009


Following on from my woeful weekend climbing performance, bad (ok, atrocious) weather forced us to the wall again last night. Although we got there late, and half the wall was flooded, I was looking forward to climbing. However, once again, by the second route I led (a F5) I was a gibbering wreck, and volunteered just to belay George for the rest of the night.

Fortunately, he was having none of it, and persuaded me to try falling off instead. I unwillingly made my way to the bottom of the easiest route in the middle of the main wall and, after some inevitable prevarication, set off. I got to just below the fourth clip - and managed to let go. Result! Up to the next, level with the bolt this time (though I was still clipping from quite low down).

Pause. Pause Pause.

Let go!

That was ok! I felt steadily more confident even though I was getting higher up the wall, and although the intent was to keep falling off, I was able to focus more on the moves and waste less energy feeling generally sick.

I tried a couple more routes, and although I didn't have a 100% success rate by any means, but things were much better. By the end of the night, I even tried a very overhanging F6b - and got over half way! Well, as they say, you can't get hurt if you're in the air (can you?).

(Not) Turning the Tide

Well, when I last posted, I thought things were getting better with my climbing and I was starting to get my head back together. However, a trip to Northumberland this weekend set me straight on that!

It was a great weekend with much better weather than was on offer in the Lakes - we headed to Kyloe-in-the-Woods on Saturday, and Bowden Doors on Sunday, both of which turned out to be great venues. Northumberland has always had somewhat mythical status in my mind as the hardest climbing in Britain, a whole County full of sandy sandbags. I was pleasantly surprised, though - the grades in the newest Rockfax guide felt reasonable and the rock was lovely - grit-esque friction but with flutings, lacy sandstone edges, pockets and much more solid than I had expected.

However, when it came to leading, despite finding an easy, well protected, very pleasant VDiff (Russett Groove), once again, I sucked. Big time. I did the ever so slightly trickier start, and then realised that I didn't have enough small-medium sized wires. And set off into full panic mode. I downclimbed and lowered off, and then sat at the bottom mentally and literally beating myself up. How could I possibly be so useless? It didn't help that at the back of my mind I knew I could almost certainly easily and safely solo the route, if I could just not panic needlessly.

I finally did pull myself together, the ropes back through, retie and then lead the route with less flapping, but once again felt I had let myself down.

Monday was spent joining the Bank Holiday masses at Lindisfarne - also something of a disappointment, though that should not have come as a surprise, given it was probably one of the busiest days of the year on the island. The romantic notion I had of a castle on a tiny island in the middle of sand and sea was shattered when I realised that the castle was on the headland of a substantial island, complete with village with tea rooms and souvenirs and crab stick vans. We elected to leave quickly before we got cut off by the tide and had to stay there for another four hours...

We headed home on a circuitous route through Alston, stopping at the excellent Hartshead Cafe, then an impromptu gear shopping trip to Keswick, and finally a waterslide of a ride back over Dunmail Raise. Back in Kendal, everything was starting to flood and once again we thought we might be cut off by the tide that was starting to run around the car park.