October 1st 2011
First post for the new blog, enjoy and excuse the grainy iphone pics
After earning some serious brownie points the previous week by allowing my other half to go out partying all weekend whilst I took care of the boys I was keen to get some riding and bivvying in. If I had the time and the resources I’d be out on the hills every week, but with a young family at home this is more of a quarterly event. Hopping on the bike with a nice light pack means I can get out and ride for as long as I want without the nagging thought of having to get back home the same day. I’ve had a couple of successes with biking and bivvying earlier in the summer but I was keen to get a few more miles under my tyres.
I’d planned on heading East out of Nottingham and through the Vale of Belvoir and beyond. The plan was to bivvy out in some secluded idyllic rural spot and to return back via a different route bright and early the following morning. So go east, sleep, go west, nice and simple…..
I pedalled off at 2.30pm on Saturday with a pack that felt a little too large and heavy for a road bike, but isn’t one of the great pleasures of any outdoor pursuit constantly refining one’s kitlist? I stopped off in the city centre and stocked up on a few pricey energy bars from the fine folks at Freewheel. A few drunken folks in Hockley made leaving the city behind me an even more pleasurable process. Within ten minutes or so I was rolling through Tollerton towards Cotgrave, the unseasonable heat making any climbs a little more challenging than usual.
The drop down into Owthorpe found me on a quiet narrow country lane void of cars and full of late blackberries which I stopped and snaffled for a few minutes, hard to know when to stop eating sometimes.
The next hour was spent drifting from one village to another across the Vale of Belvoir. The area is mostly flat and made up of small and pretty villages that you pass through in a minute or less. The roads were mostly deserted, most folks probably heading for the bigger busier A roads rather than opting for the twisty tarmac of the vale. A plentiful petrol station/cafe gave me the chance to refuel of fruit, cake and somebody’s discarded copy of The Sun, which was crap.
A steep climb took me past the landmark of Belvoir Castle and into lands unknown (aka Leicestershire). The fine weather looked set to continue and I pedalled on passing through Harston, Denton, Harlaxton and Hungerton. Felt tempted to nick a few apples off some of the trees where the branches hung over the road, but they were just out of reach and some old people were giving me funny looks.
At Great Ponton I came across the mighty A1, and decided it wasn’t bike friendly and continued east to Boothby Pagnell, Ingoldsby and Lenton.
I made the mistake of forgetting that the summery weather wouldn’t mean any more daylight than usual and as I rolled into a larger village called Folkingham the sun was nearly set at what felt like a premature time of 7:00pm. I stocked up on some fancy looking pies from the local shop where some friendly locals informed me that the coast was another 30 odd miles away. I felt like I had a lot more miles in my legs but after 10 minutes pedalling in the dwindling light and having a few cars whizzing past I made the decision to quit. Even if you’re lit up like a christmas tree, country lanes aren’t bike friendly in the dark.
I headed north to a village called Walcott and took a footpath off past some woods and across a field and decided that was to be my bed for the night. Pheasants rushing through the woods and owls hooting away made for some spooky sound effects and made me wonder what I was doing out here in the middle of nowhere in the cold dark night by some woods. Things went from bad to worse as the temperature dropped to under 5 degrees. I’d bivvied out in a similar setting the month before and it had been very muggy and close making a sleeping bag unnecessary, plus I’d been flicking through Roland Turnbull’s Book of the Bivvy where sleeping bags seemed to be seldom used. So not bringing my sleeping bag and saving weight had seemed like a great idea back in Nottingham but less so now. I don’t think I slept at all and found myself hunched up and shivering all through the small hours. Not clever and not something I’ll repeat.
At 04:30 I could stand no more, I jogged on the spot to warm up (didn’t work) packed up and trudged off into the dark to return home. The hour or two I had in the dark heading back West were, in spite of the sleeplessness, quite an experience. The conditions felt wintry and the soft glowing lights of the occasional farmhouse were evocative of a December morning. From time to time I rode through what felt warm pockets of air, a strange experience, a bit like passing through thermals.
I got to Belvoir Castle at 08:00, the sky had gone from blue black, to red, pink orange and finally blue. It had a been a stressful and at times unpleasant night but the morning ride was beautiful and I felt a sense of peace and fulfilment as I passed through the quiet sun filled lanes around the castle.
Lots of flashy looking Mountain Bikes stapped to cars were passing me, all heading to what I later learnt to be the Viking Challenge off road race. Looked fun.
Another hour passed and I passed Cotgrave where the locals were up and about to get the Sunday papers. I was physically and mentally drained, the last few miles of a long ride are always hard work.
I passed a neighbour as I turned into the street who told me I was ‘looking very fit’, I didn’t have the energy to say anything and managed a smile.
It’s not for everyone, and when I tell people that if I ever get the chance I’ll hop on my bike and head out as far as I can, sleep and head back the next day I do get some odd looks. It’s rare to have a perfect experience when it comes to these types of pursuit and there can even be some of those “Why do I bother ” moments of exasperation when things don’t go to plan, though there are equally extreme highs where you can answer that question easily. The final high came with a massive sausage sandwich and a cup of tea.
On this trip I learnt that I don’t ever need to pack food when road biking, I don’t need a bike lock and I should never leave my sleeping bag at home.