Archive for November, 2012

20 Nov 2012

Illusory Urban Autumns

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Autumn is my least favourite season; this year, every year. Yes, I know most people rave about the colours, but  as I aways associate them with dying leaves and foliage, I find it impossible to look beyond my default setting that autumn equals the dying season. A day like today doesn’t help, of course: pouring, barely light all day and not much to look at except a fat pigeon trying to source some scraps of food among the sodden leaves littered round the garden.

In many ways I actually prefer the winter, because at least once you reach the New Year, however cold it is, the nights do begin to lighten and there’s always spring to look forward to in the not too distant future.

The ghostly spires of a city autumn

But, before you start ringing the Samaritans on my behalf, there is one aspect of autumn that I have always looked forward to and that is spending some part of the season in the city.Everybody tries to escape the city in summer, with good cause, but autumn is different. Even early autumn, with its characteristic, sharp, bright days, is best enjoyed in the city. And as the days shorten and the light becomes more hazy, urban landscapes take on their own unique, murky beauty.

On a recent stay in London, I was struck by the ghostly allure of St Pancras Station looming out of the cold, raw air. On the same trip, I made sure I spent Sunday browsing the East End’s many markets; the damp day providing an ideal excuse to warm up with some delicious street food and too many cups of intense expresso. There is something about markets in cold weather that makes street shopping more rewarding than in the middle of summer. Maybe I’ve just read too many Victorian novels, but I still thrill to the Dickensian stalls of roasted chestnuts in the narrow, cobbled lanes.

I will even go so far to contend that cities can provide a better outdoor experience in the autumn than can the countryside. I appreciate that may sound totally incongruous, but the diminishing daylight can make it difficult for a full day out in the wilds and mud and killer leaves in rural roads often endanger autumn bike rides. Most of our cities boast attractive parks and it is perfectly possible to devise extensive walks and rides for all ages and levels of ability. You don’t have to look very far to see the amazing variety of wildlife that manages to survive in our urban areas and, of course, you’re never too far away from a welcoming cafe.

So, although I’ll never love the autumn, over the years I’ve learned to live with it and, sometimes, I can just about recognise something of its distinctive beauty: although for me that lies in the eerie outlines of urban spires and rooftops, rather than the dying foliage of  hills and vales.

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12 Nov 2012

Old Bike, New Bike

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My trusty old Marin

A dank, wet November afternoon, virtually dark and it’s not yet three pm: not the ideal time of year for cycling. Today, though, it’s not just the weather that’s keeping me indoors, it’s also the lack of a suitable bike. Although, I’m back on board my Cannondale, its race tyres and lack of lights, make it better suited to a dry, bright autumn day and, sadly, my trusty, faithful Marin hybrid looks as though its days on the road might finally have come to the end of the line.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve had its squeaks and clicks and groans dealt with as quickly and effectively as possible, but now, with replacement and repair values estimated considerably above the cost of a new bike, regrettably, it looks like the time has come to give my Marin a permanent, fully deserved rest.

My faithful workhorse that has carried me and just about everything from vegetables and paint to flower pots and tennis rackets; that has transported me thousands of miles to work, to the shops and along some of the most isolated roads in the country and has never complained, even when it has ended up scraped and spreadeagled at the bottom of a brook because of my lack of concentration, doesn’t owe me anything and has repaid its initial price and servicing costs many times over. Now, it can look forward to a well-earned retirement in its dry garage, with only a few short, undemanding runs round the village to keep it feeling loved and remembered.

But alongside my sadness at saying goodbye to an old and trusty friend, I’m also equally excited about selecting the best choice as its replacement. Although I am as far removed from a techie fiend as can be imagined – changing a tube is a mechanical achievement for me – I always approach the purchase of a new bike with a mixture of naive enthusiasm, obsession and ineptness that drives my friends and cycling buddies to amused distraction.

So, having begun the week diligently completing all forthcoming work to free up a day at the bike shop, all possible down time is being utilised to source and compare suitable replacements.

Should I go for the prosaic option and stay with a hybrid – comfort, cost and versatility – or follow my heart and finally buy the tourer – classic, stylish and romantic – that I’ve long craved?

The jury’s out, the websites are being trawled and it’s just as well Downton, the tennis and Inspector Montalbano have finished as there won’t be much time for telly gazing over the next few days.

All advice and suggestions – particularly from those better versed in the technicalities of bicycles – gratefully received.

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08 Nov 2012

Cafes on Sustrans Route 54: Burton on Trent to Lichfield

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Now it looks as though summer might finally have arrived, what better excuse to get out in the saddle and enjoy the long, sunny days. And, of course, that little bit of extra effort can fully justify a well-deserved stop en route for a refreshing drink and tempting slice of cake.  The 15 mile stretch of Route 54 between Burton on Trent and Lichfield is an ideal ride  at any time of year and the route is well endowed with welcoming cafes, tearooms and pubs. Here are some of our favourites, riding north to south.

 

BARTON:

SKINNY KITTEN, 23 Main Street, Barton under Needwood, http://skinnykittencafe.co.uk 01283 711217

Great little cafe right on the route and almost at the half way point between Burton and Lichfield. Quirky and friendly, with delicious sausage sandwiches and cakes, classy coffee and always interesting soundtracks from the musical owners. Very bike friendly with secure racks round the back. Popular with cyclists, particularly on Sunday mornings. Open every day 9-5 (Sunday 10-4).

There are also two attractive pubs in the village main street; the Middle Bell http://www.themiddlebell.co.uk and the Three Horseshoes http://www.3horseshoesbarton.co.uk  Both serve excellent meals, welcome cyclists and have space in their gardens for bike storage. The Royal Oak, at the junction of The Green and Dogshead Lane is renowned for its beer.

 

ALREWAS:

CRACKPOTZ CERAMIC CAFE, 57 Main Street , Alrewas, http://www.crackpotz.co.uk 01283 792666

An interesting stop, especially if you have the time to hand paint a piece of pottery from their large range of ceramics! Although it can get busy during school holidays, cyclists and non-artists are made very welcome. Tea cakes are particularly tasty. Some space against front wall where bikes can be left relatively safely. Open Tuesday-Saturday 10-5, plus Mondays during February and October half terms.

THE VILLAGE RAINBOW, 136 Main Street, Alrewas, http://www.thevillagerainbow.com 01283 791373

A welcome new addition to the village is this original shop, selling design-led gifts, jewellery and fair trade products. It also contains a small tea room. Untested, as yet, by the local Volunteer Rangers, it’s on our ‘to-do’ list for the summer. Open Monday-Saturday 9.45-5.30 and 10-4 on Sundays.

THE GEORGE and DRAGON, 120 Main Street, Alrewas, http://www.georgeanddragonalrewas.co.uk  01283 791476

This historic building boasts one of the rare CTC Winged Wheel Plaques just above the front door. Landlord Graham welcomes all cyclists and you will be served with a good coffee any day from 11am, as well as the usual range of food and drink.

 

FRADLEY:

KINGFISHER CAFE, Fradley Junction,, Alrewas http://www.kingfisherholidaypark.com 01283 790407

A short detour from the route will bring you to the picturesque Fradley Junction, where the Trent and Mersey and Coventry Canals merge. The Kingfisher Cafe is just past the pub and actively welcomes cyclists, with racks outside the front. Tea cakes are also good here too; there’s WiFi and the cafe encompasses a small shop selling basics. Open 10-5 weekends between November to February (same times everyday March to October).

CANALSIDE CAFE, Fradley Junction, Alrewas 01283 792508

You’re certainly spoilt for choice at Fradley Junction, with another cafe just across the canal. Again, there is plenty of space for cycles around the cafe. Full English breakfasts are rated highly here. Opening hours are 10-3.30 daily.

 

LICHFIELD:

CHAPTERS RESTAURANT AND COFFEE SHOP, 19A The Close, Lichfield http://www.lichfield-cathedral.org/Visiting-Lichfield-Cathedral/chapters-restaurant.html  01543 306100 

And with Route 54 passing right by Lichfield Cathedral, where better to admire this magnificent 12th century Gothic edifice  than from the unique 13th century walled garden of the Chapters Restaurant in the Cathedral Close? There’s plenty of room inside too when the weather is inclement and Chapters always extends a warm welcome to cyclists, including Sustran’s local Volunteer Rangers for their monthly meetings. Open 9-4 (winter) 9-5 (summer) Monday to Saturday and 10-4 Sundays.

 

 

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