Almost at Arras by Paul Coan
Following last year's successful sortie into Northern France, the car was booked Dover - Calais for Easter 2005. Following news that the entrance to Calais was blocked up to the final Thursday by "French strike action" we were expecting to cancel, but fortunately the Port of Calais was opened and even with one berth out of use owing to earlier damage we managed to sail on an earlier boat. As Roger was unable to join in the fun this year, my brother Nigel stepped in with regulars Mike and Mo.
I had booked the cheapest hotel in Arras in the town centre and additionally checked car parking and bike storage (more of that later). Our intention was to mix some cycling and car assisted visits to some of the WWI grave sites and memorials, and the internet had provided much of the necessary information.
About halfway to Arras we stopped again at Flechill, a village unchanged for decades and typical of many rural places in France. It was a cafe-cum-assembly room which serviced local produce. Madame was happy to buy the raw materials when we arrived for breakfast.
In Arras we mixed it with local traffic to find our hotel, thanks to Mike's map reading once again. However, there were to be no bicycles left inside the hotel in spite of ample space, so rather than try to find another hotel we left to try our hotel in St. Pol from last year. Unfortunately Madame was not open yet for this year's season, but would have been happy to accept had we notified her. She kindly phoned other B&Bs in town and eventually found a hotel in Hesdin some 15 miles away, a pleasant small town where we chatted to an English family visiting their second home.
The following morning a trip to Montreuil approximately 20 miles was planned. Nigel was suffering early on from a blend of just a few miles that year and a fully suspended mountain bike boasting moped tyres and weighing about half the weight of my car. The benefit was fairly flat (not for Nigel) roads and a great scarcity of traffic. Unfortunately there was a monster climb to the town centre where we found a small restaurant for sustenance. The return journey was on a somewhat busier road and Nigel gave up the struggle, some nasty climbs, to allow me to bash back to the hotel and return to collect him in the car.
Following an excellent meal in the hotel the previous evening, we decided that Saturday's evening meal would be in a place recommended by our English contacts. It was a pleasant small restaurant with friendly efficient staff who treat customers like old friends, quite unlike many English equivalents. As France shuts shop in most towns around 8 pm it was an early night, but not before Mike had spotted a boot fair in Boubers on Sunday. Mike and Mo planned to cycle there, while I would drive there with my bike on the car to ride around for a few hours while Nigel would wander around the boot fair with Mike and Mo on arrival.
Approaching Boubers the roads were very quiet and on arrival it appeared that the fair was on Monday. We knew the route that Mike and Mo intended to use and fortunately we intercepted them and explained the error. To save the day we agreed to all return to the hotel and after changing, drive to visit the Cupola, a WWII V2 rocket site situated near St Onier and now a museum. This was an excellent choice, as along with the exhibits of the V2 and V1 rockets, it shows aspects of the suffering of the French under Nazi occupation both locally and which the history books never seem to fully describe.The visit lasts for about two-and-a-half hours and with earphones one can hear an English transcript describing the main exhibits.
Monday morning saw us load up the car and check out of our hotel for a second attempt at the Boot Fair. Mike and Mo found a few items, Nigel saw no clocks or watches of any interest and I saw a few bikes in good condition but had no need of any. Our return route to Calais was once again via St Pol where we stopped to plunder the local supermarket for various cheeses and French cider, which seems to be unobtainable in England. We managed an earlier return sailing and were home late afternoon.
To summarise, maybe not as much cycling as anticipated but no rain and an excellent change of scenery for a few days.
Cotswolds Without Stow-on-the-Wold by Gordon Winrow
I remember the Cotswolds as being flattish, having visited houses on which my brother was carrying out architectural work in the distant past! But it's not - apart from the southern end, around the Cotswolds Water Park, south of Cirencester.
During the Easter weekend, David Hoben (chief tour guide and marathon runner), planned a route from Croydon to end up in the Royal Agricultural College Cirencester. David drove independently, I joined Marian, whilst El Presidente, Keith Wawman, and Marilyn Butler train assisted to Swindon, all meeting up at Lechlade-on-Thames. We were late arriving, having been "stuck" in the slow lane on the M4. A lorry had overturned between junctions 10 and 11, shedding its contents of syrup across two lanes. I was surprised to find the Thames quite wide this far west.
We had lunch in the pub at Halfpenny Bridge, and David had organised an afternoon circular run, covering the local area, visiting St. Mary's Church at the delightful market town of Fairford. The church, rebuilt in the 15th century, has a unique set of medieval stained glass windows. We then rode on to Bibury for tea, visiting the famous Arlington Row (medieval wool workers' cottages) by the River Coln, where Keith did a "Fred" and met some CTC cyclists he knew, who were touring by car this time!
We all then made our way to book in at the Agricultural College. Joining us for the weekend were Nauth and his friend John, who were booked into a B&B in the town. We made our way on foot to meet them for dinner, and in a particularly dark and quiet road Nauth jumped out from behind a shed, and frightened the lives out of the two M's!
Next morning, after a very hearty breakfast, we set off (with Nauth) to Winchcombe where after lunch David took us to a local railway museum. For rail enthusiasts this is a must! The whole back garden of the museum contained working signals, railway carriages, old railway company name plaques and memorabilia (for example, the sign outside the gents' toilet read "gentlemen, please adjust your dress before leaving"!
After our easy ride on Friday afternoon, today's was a very lumpy ride. We were, however, spoilt with the sunshine and were shocked at the drop in temperature on the following morning, when after breakfast we headed towards Northleach. This delightful little Cotswolds town is tucked away from the busy A40 and at a crosroads on the Roman Fosse Way. The architecture consists of half-timbered buildings and market houses, dating from the 15/16th century. Elevenses was in CTC tea rooms. After ten minutes or so we were joined by cyclists from all over the area, especially Cheltenham and once again Keith knew half of them. Incidentally, they also knew him!
On to another of David's star attractions, the World of Mechanical Music museum, where a fellow Lancastrian gave us an amusing musical tour of self-playing instruments, including a Steinway piano (playing the last composition of Gershwin's pieces), demonstrations of restored barrel organs and pianos, musical boxes and polyphons, automata, antique clocks, etc, etc. Later, up in the hills, we passed the full Cotswolds' hunt - which was interesting as the Act had just been passed to abolish their activities!
We descended from the tranquillity of the hills into the busy tourist attraction of Bourton-on-the-Water. Again, Keith came to the rescue in providing an "off-Broadway" cafe for lunch, so we were able to get a snack quite easily after all. We then went to the Roman Villa near Chedworth for tea, but were only offered a tea dispenser, so went on our merry way to Bibury. The scene was reminiscent of the village hall at Brockham, where nice ladies served our pots of teas and proffered vast quantities of homemade cakes and sponges.
Bank Holiday Monday was a half-day run, this time south of Cirencester to the Cotswolds Water Park - a circular tour covering many splendid old villages and lanes, nestling between the lakes. The lakes in many cases had been created by being dug out of gravel pits. However, a lot of imagination has gone into creating the "Water Park." This is a haven for bird life, water sports and us cyclists, who took advantage of the cafe by the water's edge for the last elevenses of the weekend.
Again, thanks to David for such an enjoyable and varied weekend.
A Food Technologist Reminisces by Neville Chanin
As I pedalled the quiet Somerset lanes mid-April in Dustman Dave's Double Doddle Audax ride, well organised by Dave Saunders for Wellington Wheelers, many memories returned from my working days.
Our initial control at Ilminster reminded me of my first Job with Horlicks Limited at Slough. Each day a road tanker of milk concentrate left the Horlicks creamery in Ilminster for its journey up the A4 (pre-M-ways) to Slough. Milk powder in those days (1950 - 1960s) was either spray dried or roller dried, the latter method being replaced by the former.
However, the Express creamery at Evercreech possessed a pair of rollers on which milk was dried prior to the powder being removed by finely adjusted scraper blades. Aplin and Barrett operated a creamery at Chard which produced large volumes of butter and powder and I visited these two creameries during my time with Walls Ice Cream.
Seeing Honiton signed on our route took my mind back to many visits to this concentrate supplying creamery, usually timed to precede the March Hare 200. Another control at Bason Bridge where Unigate's creamery supplied milk concentrate to Walls at Acton - I went to Bason Bridge regularly.
Somerset and Devon possessed creameries belonging to Wilts United Dairies and also Cow & Gate (who offered me a job at their Torrington creamery) who later combined to form Unigate. Early on the circuit I passed the site of Unigate's Wellington creamery - only the chimney remains. Wellington supplied milk concentrate during the final year of its life.
When the government introduced "quotas" to reduce the quantity of milk farmers produced Britain was acquiring butter and powder "mountains" from over production - creameries in the Southwest and Wales closed - but an Audax like Dave's Double Doddle certainly revives the memories.
Visit to an Up-Market Railway Station by Jean Stevens
We had come down this short stretch of road to the station so we knew what to expect going up it. Only one-and-a-half miles but a steady steep ride/walk from Kirkby Stephen, where we had spent the Rough Stuff Fellowship Annual Weekend.
We'd had a very hard ride from Kendal on Good Friday, only 23 miles, but the first 11 miles were very steep, and there were no refreshment stops for a rest! After lunch at Tebay the terrain was a lot easier, half of it uphill but bearable, a steady main road climb.
On our safe arrival (at last!) at Kirkby Stephen we had an "O" Group and decided a different return route had to be found. I noticed that on the magnificent scenic Settle-Carlisle line there was a station which was only five miles from Penrith which is on the main line to London through Oxenholme, from which station we had booked to return to London. A visit to the excellent Information Centre in Kirkby Stephen confirmed that we could indeed take our bikes on this train which departed from Kirkby Stephen at 12.30 - plenty of time to ride/walk up to the station which we found was a traditional northern cottage-style stone building.
We checked with the lady in the office next to the waiting room that we had to cross the line by the bridge - and was there a buffet? Obviously there wasn't but we were becoming impressed with the up-market look of the station, the waiting room seemed warm and inviting, easy chairs and books and magazines. The lady was very welcoming and offered to make us a cup of tea. So we leisurely took the bags off and carried bikes and luggage over to the other platform, and re-loaded ready for the train's arrival in about one-and-a-half hours. Back to the waiting room and our welcome cup of tea - and was there a toilet? Yes! A super-duper disabled toilet. Ready now, after tea drunk, magazines read, plus a comfy stop, we thanked the lady (who with her husband was the station master, living in "the cottage" - very attractive). We had noticed the station was decorated with bunting. We asked why - apparently over the Easter weekend Prince Charles had visited the area and the railway line and among his duties he had opened the refurbished station. So we said "thank-you" to him for the super toilet!
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