Archive for July, 2012

26 Jul 2012

The Olympics and their Legacy

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Forget the hype, forget the cost (for the moment), forget the farces about security, traffic lanes and flags. Let’s embrace the Olympics and make sure theirs is a legacy worth having. And let’s ensure they don’t just benefit the corporates and the capital – fully deserving as their immediate vicinity of East London is.

The biggest sporting show on earth may have been tainted with commercialism and corruption long ago, but it won’t be back here in our lifetimes, so, whatever our reservations, let’s be positive and use its success to ensure the legacy benefits everyone, from whatever age, cultural, economic or geographical background.

Modern Britain is a country of contrasts and nowhere is this more evident than in the vistas from the Olympic Park, taking in both the conspicuous (and many would consider repugnant) wealth of the City, as well as some of the most deprived boroughs in the country.

The last week has reminded us of some other, equally shocking, contrasts. The marvellous performances of Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and Mark Cavendish, hopefully augmented by Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton and co in the coming weeks, reinforced Britain’s status as the current number one nation for cyclists of all disciplines. But in comparison to some of our neighbours, notably the Dutch and Scandinavian countries, our provision and infrastructure for cyclists (and pedestrians) is risible and ensures that those who walk, run and cycle through our cities and countryside face unacceptable  dangers.

We may have some of the fittest cyclists, tennis players and athletes in the world, but as a nation, we are the most unfit and inactive in Europe, as well as having the highest level of obesity. And, if that isn’t bad enough, London now suffers the worst air pollution of any city in Western Europe and last week statistics revealed that the number of serious road casualties in the UK had risen for the first time in 17 years.

Could these factors be, in any way, related?  You bet they are. You don’t have to be a statistical genius to work out that busy, dangerous roads – made even more deadly in the last two years by the removal of speed cameras and ending of “the war against the motorist”, whatever that was – do nothing to encourage parents to allow their children to walk and/or cycle to school, or elderly, disabled or vulnerable people to venture outside at all. Earlier this year, a survey by Sustrans  revealed that 56 per cent of the population considered urban roads unsafe to cycle along and 70 per cent wanted residential speed limits reduced to 20 mph. Factor in the withdrawal of public transport (and the relentless rise in fares, where it does still exist) and you have all the ingredients for a society that has become increasingly car-dependent, with catastrophic consequences for our health and safety, to say nothing of the impact on the quarter of the population who simply cannot afford access to a car.

And this is where it is vital that we utilise the legacy of the Olympics. We need to get out more, but we also need to be able to get out more and feel safe when we are out. Forget new swanky, high-tech gyms and the latest fitness/diet fads. For the majority of our population, the best way to get fit, stay fit, save money and help the environment at the same time, is to walk and/or cycle more.

Sometimes negatives breed positives – think the Addison Lee case where the idiocy of its CEO galvinised thousands of cyclists to highlight how powerful the cycle lobby has become  It’s great to see Living Streets, for example, using the expected transport chaos as a fantastic opportunity to encourage more people to get walking, with their Get Walking During the Games challenges and the Times continue its Cities Safe for Cycling Campaign  following the tragic accident to one of its journalists in London

So, for the next couple of weeks, let’s put aside the many negatives about the London games and enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the Olympics at close range. Let’s support our amazing athletes and ensure that the lasting legacy of these games helps re-build a society where, once again, it is the norm to travel, safely and enjoyably, to work or school, to the shops, to social events, on foot or on yer bike.

 

 

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17 Jul 2012

Wet, Wet, Wet…….

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Craighouse, Jura

Until last Friday (the 13th as it happened) the wettest cycle I had ever completed was an eight mile ordeal from Jura’s Feolin ferry to Craighouse, the island’s only settlement. I had been promised that the undulating route enjoyed stupendous views and the steep climbs might be rewarded with a sight of some of Jura’s many red deer. In the event,  the only view I had was of water cascading down my glasses and the visibility was so bad it was only the smell from the eponymous distillery that alerted me to my eventual arrival at the island’s hotel next door.

But Friday 13th July 2012 easily surpassed the worst that Jura had thrown at me. And this time, I wasn’t cycling in the West of Scotland, Wales, the Lake District or any of Britain’s other notable wet spots. My 20 miles return ride was from Barton under Needwood to Lichfield, in the Midlands: until this jet stream summer, generally regarded as one of the drier areas of the country.

Determined to attend a local Sustran’s Volunteer Rangers’ meeting and equally intent on cycling there, I set out, complete with spare gloves and socks wrapped carefully in my panniers. The outward journey wasn’t too bad: although soaked by deceptively soft rain – “wet drizzle” as my granny used to call it – I was pleasantly surprised by the water repellence of my cheapskate Lidl jacket and after a coffee, tea cake and pleasant hour  in the Chapter’s Coffee Shop, set off with renewed vigour, for the return journey.

Now, the wet drizzle had developed into stair rods – another West of Scotland expression used to describe prevailing weather conditions – and by the time  I had crossed Trent Valley railway bridge, Netherstowe Lane had acquired enough water to attract some opportunist ducks, who were amusing themselves watching the trains flash by on the adjacent West Coast Main Line.

Around 75 minutes later – the usual journey time doubled by frequent stops to empty my shoes – I stood dripping for a few moments in the garage before removing my sodden layers. The LEDs were illuminating the dark interior and, although the calendar said lunchtime in mid July, in reality it seemed like late afternoon in November.

But, with that peculiar lack of logic that affects cyclists, I felt happy and pleased with life: happy that I had made it without mishap and I could now justify soaking in a hot bath in the early afternoon, before indulging in some well-earned comfort cakes and coffee. And, while I regularly return from a cycle seething about the idiocy of many drivers, today my faith had been restored in human decency, thanks to the two road workers on the A38 who offered me a cup of tea and the British Gas van driver who tailed me patiently along Dogshead Lane to avoid engulfing me with a tsunami of dirty surface water.

And after all, if this wet summer is a portent of our climate-changed summers of the future, then we may as well get used to it.

What I’ve learned about cycling in a deluged summer:

There is no such thing as a truly waterproof jacket and my expensive Gore-Tex jacket performed worse than my cheapy model (see above), despite assiduous proofing

The fewer layers you can wear, the better, particularly on your legs as your skin always dries out quicker

I do need to invest in some overshoes after having to dry out my shoes for the last 72 hours (and trainers are the worst possible option in the wet)

Spending on expensive Ortlieb panniers has paid off as they have easily resisted all this jet-stream summer has thrown at them

Wet gloves are worse than none at all: the only exception being my woolly fingerless ones bought en route in Arran during my Scottish Island Circuit

You do get wetter in a wet summer, than in the winter: just like walkers get wetter from longer grass in the summer, if you’re riding in country lanes and the hedgerows are of rainforest proportions, then your left arm will get much wetter than your right!

 

Postscipt: my ride through Jura was part of a Scottish Island Circuit that also included Arran and Islay.  Although it rained on most days, it was a great way to see these three breathtaking islands, and when the clouds cleared, there were views like this:

 

 

 

 

Lamlash Bay, Arran

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Knockangle Point, Islay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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16 Jul 2012

Cycle the Trossachs National Park

No Comments Biking, Tours

Greener and leaner – think pedal power, and no petrol costs – doesn’t have to be meaner. Cycling may be the car-free, guilt-free way of exploring the spectacular Trossachs National Park, one of Scotland’s most beautiful regions – but it also gives you the chance to sample, en route, the best cakes and coffee to balance the calories expended.

Riverside Museum, Glasgow

Book well in advance, reserve a bike space at the same time with ScotRail  and a single from the Midlands or South-east England to Glasgow can cost as little as £11.50. The process is user-friendly, far more transparent than the average budget airline – and it disproves some negative preconceptions about public transport and bikes in Britain.

Glasgow, known for its museums, shopping, architecture and café culture, is also a surprisingly cycle-friendly start to the route. Check out Glasgow Cycle Map  and use it to tap into the city’s dual legacy of disused railways and canal paths. These comprise a traffic-free route that takes you to Loch Lomond in barely 90 minutes from the Squinty Bridge.

Loch Katrine

Heading west, away from the loch and its coach parties, the gradients steepen through Drymen, towards Aberfoyle, and the beauty of the Lochs and Glens (Sustrans Route 7) becomes obvious as you enter the magical, wooded Trossachs. Cyclists keen to enjoy the braes without the weight of heavily-laden panniers can take advantage of luggage-transporting services.

Cycle touring equals flexibility, allowing a detour to the captivating Loch Katrine. The birthplace of Rob Roy, it also supplies Glasgow’s water – and the system of aqueducts running 34 miles to the city is understandably regarded as a wonder of Victorian engineering. Interestingly, it also freed Glasgow, long notorious for bad housing and poor health, from the scourge of cholera long before any other major British city. In summer, it is possible to combine an 18km circuit of the loch with a steamship tour on the Clyde-built steamship, SS Sir Walter Scott.

Glen Ogle Viaduct

The route then shadows the southern shore of the Highland-esque Loch Venachar to Callander, before heading north to Strathyre. There, the Inn at Strathyre provides a warm welcome, hearty food and regular, impromptu entertainment in the bar – which, for those who want to keep in touch with the wider world, has Wi-fi access. The cosy B&B has a range of double, twin and family rooms and will happily provide packed lunches.

From here the trail follows the old Callander to Oban railway, where your steady ascent may well be monitored by an unimpressed red squirrel. About 10 miles on, the path crosses along another 19th-century engineering marvel, the 60m-high Glen Ogle viaduct, now the exclusive preserve of walkers and cyclists.

From Killin, eastwards along Loch Tay, it’s only a short stretch to Aberfeldy where The Watermill  easily wins the prize for best re-fuelling stop en route. Voted Scottish Independent Bookshop of the Year 2006, it has a café that takes its coffee very seriously. Here, you can relax in peace with a book, a newspaper and a tempting selection of cakes.

Falls of Dochart, Killin

It’s an easy ride along the pretty Tay Valley to Pitlochry, home of the Festival Theatre and just a 90-minute train journey from Glasgow, where you began. The comfortable and friendly Glasgow Guest House is ideally located between the Burrell Collection and Mackintosh’s House for an Art Lover in the city’s Southside. Cycle to both and enjoy a few hours, or more, among some of Glasgow’s best cafes and bars. Alternatively, try out the off-road routes at nearby Pollok Park, or leave your bike at the guest house, take the train into town and take in the art, architecture, culture and wit (not forgetting the shops) of the Second City of the Empire.

Four days, 150 miles, roughly equal expenditure and consumption of calories for £350: it is possible to cut your carbon, stay relatively solvent but still indulge.

Destination Pitlochry

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