Ticket booked!

I have bought my ticket, and will be sailing to Santander on Wednesday 25th August. In preparation I decided to have a quick look at the route and it seems I will have to cycle about 820 miles not 750 as I had previously thought: that will add about a day’s cycling to my trip. I also discovered the ‘terrain’ button on Google maps, which proved useful for dispersing the blissful cloud of ignorance from my mind over how hilly northern Spain is: very hilly. I thought I would be able to avoid the hills, and to a certain extent I will, but it still looks mighty hilly.

So with all this in mind, on Thursday I managed to have a trip out to Bridgnorth, and that plus a bit of cycling around Birmingham meant that I cycled about 70 miles in that day. That’s a pretty good day, but I’m going to have to do that 12 times over consecutive days in Spain and France. The thought of that and the hills irked me a little as I cycled out of Birmingham and into Shropshire, but thankfully the return journeys on these day-trips are usually more optimistic, I think because on the way out the thought that you will have to return lingers in your mind. That said, even on the way back I was worrying a bit: it’s going to be quite hard on the legs pushing on for almost two weeks in a row. I’m also thinking that time seems to be running out for training, and as I’m pretty busy at the moment the opportunities for training are quite scarce. I’m confident that I’ll do it, but it would be nice if it went as smoothly as possible!

I didn’t have much time for sightseeing in Bridgnorth, I didn’t even go on the Cliff Railway which was a bit of a shame.  I did manage to find a nice theatre and have a cup of coffee before I left, and have a bit of a wander around. It’s always nice cycling out around Shropshire way, and on the way back I decided to cycle via Kidderminster just to vary the route a bit. Couldn’t really get the thought of the reality of all those miles across France out of my head though. Thankfully, since the trip I think I have stopped worrying, and if I can get a couple of good training runs in I think I’ll be all set.

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I have been illustrated by the internationally acclaimed Lizz Lunney in support of my ride!

Visit her site www.lizzlizz.com

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Homelessness in Birmingham

Here is an article which talks about 4 asylum seekers in Birmingham. It is well worth reading to get an more personal insight into some of the reasons people end up on the street, and also into how the asylum system works (it’s worth reading about the British Red Cross report as well).


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Free Performance at the mac

There’s a free performance at the mac tomorrow (Sunday), taking place on the hour at 12:00, 13:00, 14:00, 15:00, and 16:00. It’s a dance/drama/music piece that looks at homelessness in Birmingham, so pop along if you can.

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Birmingham-Leominster-Ludlow-Birmingham Trip

100 miles in the sun

Yesterday afternoon I set off on a trip to Leominster at about 2pm. I’m not sure how long it took, I was taking my time to a certain extent and this was due in part to the heat: it was pretty hot. When you’re really trying to get on you seem to feel like you weigh about 50% more than you do. On more than one occasion I checked to see if my brakes were stuck on. I also know that 50 miles a day is my minimum when I get to Spain/France, and to do 50 miles in an afternoon is quite encouraging. It’s relatively flat from Birmingham to Kidderminster and I stopped off in Bewdley for a cup of tea with some friends: it was a super cup of tea. After that I only stopped twice briefly, once to eat a banana and have a bout of sunburn paranoia  (I thought my face was burned and I couldn’t see it), and once to look at St Michael’s College, (where a man took my picture, above) a pretty interesting and unexpected building not far from Tenbury on the A4112 (see Flickr). I stayed in a youth hostel in Leominster and while there I watched Spain vs. Honduras and talked bikes with a cyclist from Scotland which was good, but I didn’t have a great night’s sleep due to a man whose snore sounded like a drain, a trapped bear and a steam locomotive: in the morning he seemed very well rested.

The next day I travelled to Ludlow and spent a while wandering about aimlessly and eating fruit pastilles, looking for something to eat. I had breakfast sitting on the steps of the Ludlow Buttercross, while listening to a man playing a tin whistle. Ludlow has a very old, untouched kind of layout in places, open market squares with tiny alleyways and roads leading off: you access a huge lovely church through a tiny alley next to the man busking with the penny whistle and his dog. It seemed like there had probably been a guy sitting in that spot playing a whistle or something ever since that spot existed.

Now perhaps it was due in part to the good weather, or maybe by saying that I’m doing a disservice to the people around these areas, but everyone seemed to be in a real friendly mood yesterday. As I went into the church I heard one of the ladies who worked there talking about how lovely Alan (the busker) was playing this morning, and saying how she was singing along. Alan was playing ‘Jerusalem’ on his whistle and it was terribly off key. Perhaps the limitations of the tin whistle mean you can’t knock off a really decent version of ‘Jerusalem’, I mean, it was recognisable but a bit odd. Perhaps the lady always sang it out of key anyway. She just said it in such a cheery way. And when I talked to each of the two ladies who worked there the conversation came to the point when you would think it would end, you say as much as is expected that one stranger will to another, but they just kept on going and were terribly interesting and engaging and all. I was also reminded of a tip that the Scottish cyclist gave me the night before: churches are also really good places to cool off when you’re riding in the sun.

From Ludlow I went down the A4117 and over Clee Hill, which is a pretty big hill. It’s 1700ft high at the top but luckily the road doesn’t go all the way up. It was pretty fast on the way down though, and perhaps a bit steeper than the Ludlow side, so I felt quite lucky. I stopped a little way further on at Cleobury Mortimer where again, everyone was very friendly, and I stayed for a couple of cups of tea outside a cafe. It seemed like one of those places where everyone knows each other. Then I bumped into the man who sold me my bike as he had noticed it chained to a tree, so even I knew someone there.

From there I cycled back to Birmingham with a quick stop off at Bewdley Museum, which is a really nice place, especially in the sunshine. I feel pretty tired today but I feel like I’m getting there.

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3 days away

Last week I was away cycling for 3 days, just to see how I would get on with consecutive days on the road: it all went quite well. I set off on Wednesday afternoon at around 4pm, cycled about 40 miles to Long Compton in the Cotswolds, and camped out at Hill Farm Campsite. I didn’t sleep that well, I was sure chickens were pecking around my tent but that could’ve been due to a rooster who was giving me some crazy dreams all morning with his crowing. Was a pretty nice place in all though, and cheap, with lots of nice cats about, two donkeys and the saddest looking horse I ever saw. When I arrived I realised I had forgotten to pack cutlery, and the nice old man who run the place loaned me some of his; I used them to cook an awful ‘onion omelette’ on my camping stove. I  went to a pub to pass the time, read a book and talk to a cheery cat and a grumpy landlady. She gave me a free beer but made me feel awful about it.

The next day went pretty well, I went about 70 miles to Bristol through Cirencester. I was a bit late getting to Bristol, but I set off later than intended in the morning, and was stopped DEAD IN MY TRACKS by Keith Harding’s World of Mechanical Music, where I went on a tour with some Dutch pensioners. There was a reproducing piano which had a recording of Gershwin playing ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ (a bit like this one), and lots of other odd machines: a huge gramophone, monkey organs, cafe jukeboxes, all the good stuff. That all took a bit of time up, and then I also stopped off for a while about halfway in Cirencester, where I saw a one eyed cat. The rest of the day was far flatter and quite quick, I got a little lost when I was coming in to Bristol, but got there in the end. I stayed with friends and a sofa is a big improvement on a tent, especially if you are rocked to sleep with the soothing black country tones of Carlton Palmer and the magical, demented, cocksure warblings of John Fashanu ringing in your ears.

The next day I was a bit concerned about the weather reports of heavy rain, but when I set off (later than intended again) I found it was quite warm, and it just got hotter. I ended up with some comedy sunburn that I am still paying for a bit. I cycled about 40 miles to Gloucester and decided to get the train home from there as I needed to get back.

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Ready to go?

Well, I was supposed to be cycling around Devon until Thursday to get some training in for August, but I watched the weather report and they were suggesting there would be torrential rain all day today and tomorrow. I’m not sure that has it has materialised, at least not in the quantities promised: it certainly hasn’t in Birmingham, maybe it is all still down in Devon.  I may still get there yet. I have packed my bike up and I’m looking forward to some nice rides out: if anyone based in Birmingham fancies it in the near future then let me know!


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