Four months in… and gently does it

Joseph, the new addition to the Northern Walker posse, has had one or two outdoors-lite experiences since he joined us in March. And in keeping with what has gone before in this blog, I already have one or two observations on kit.

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Boots, baby and the ErgoBaby 360

Incorporating a little human into our albeit gentle forays into the Peak District and beyond has not been without incident – normally associated with what’s appearing out of Joe’s rear end. But Joe’s mum, Sophie, and I are living and learning and every day’s a school day.

Early adventuring saw us hiking in the gentle hills and dales near home. Joe was carried in an inherited ErgoBaby 360 carrier mounted on the front. This has proven to be an excellent carrier and Joe loves it, more often than not sleeping for two hours or more while mum and dad wander and natter. The disadvantage of this well-made baby lugger is that it runs warm, particularly for me. It’s also a little on the small side for anyone over six foot. Weather protection necessitates the purchase of additional rain covers and other accessories… or the resourceful addition of muslin cloths and clothes pegs to fend off the sun’s rays.

While airing a rather sweaty Joe after a more challenging bimble around Hathersage, Sophie decided to look for a cooler alternative and we shelled out on a recommended Beco Gemini Cool. This seemingly well-designed carrier will appeal to the lightweight backpackers out there with its use of hi-tech and lightweight materials allied to a strong and secure harness that, on first inspection, transfers weight well to the hips.

However, in practice, we couldn’t get on with this carrier. Joe never felt that secure and the harness proved to be too much of a faff. I’m sure this model works well for some parents, just not us when dealing with the realities of a wriggling child. Fortunately, we bought it from a vendor that allowed a trial period, a recommended safeguard covering purchases for fickle babies and their parents.

The advantages of carrying baby upfront are numerous. You can interact with your precious cargo and baby feels secure and calm, cosseted with a kind of in-utero security. However, there are limitations if you want to tackle more technical ground as you can’t see where you’re putting your feet. While many of these carriers can either be worn front or back (some side-on even), I feel the suggested method of fitting the Ergobaby in reverse is cumbersome and not overly secure. Again, if your little one is docile then I’m sure this works well but Joe is far too active to complete this deft move safely.

Enter a dedicated, rucksack carrier, then. After much research, I opted for an Osprey Poco AG. Expensive, heavy, but very well engineered. Rucksack-type carriers are recommended for babies six months and older but Joe is ahead of the game in terms of his physical development. This may seem a blinkered, new parent boast, but at 18lb 8oz ‘Big Joe’ already has great head control and can sit up. I hope to take this carrier for a test drive this week and will report back… let’s hope he likes it (!)

Glamping

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Yurt life in Swaledale

Last month, I decided to take the new family away for a few days. While this fortuitously coincided with mum’s birthday, I felt we needed to celebrate making it this far as new parents (while only causing minor consternation for the health visitor).

My initial, perhaps optimistic, intention was to go camping. Everyone loves camping, don’t they? …and the boy would love it too! However, the new, somewhat risk-averse voice in my head that has started nagging since Joe arrived saw me find an easier alternative. I find this personal common sense revolution a little unnerving to be honest. I hope as I become more experienced with this baby lark, the slightly more adventurous self will return.

The safer alternative was to go glamping in a yurt in Yorkshire – Swaledale Yurts to be precise. I’d reconnoitered this destination before, both on bike and foot, and had been looking for an opportunity to visit. Suffice to say I can highly recommend it. The pleasant owners can cater for your every need if required while the remoteness of the location will allow you to disconnect for a while – always a good thing.

joe-yurt
Joe failing to nap in his temporary home

As for Joe, I think he found his temporary home perhaps a little overwhelming. Although we tried to maintain his normal routine, I think our trip coincided with a major developmental spurt. This has subsequently been confirmed as the last few weeks have been characterised by variable moods and (very) disturbed sleep.

We managed a few gentle hikes in Swaledale, and it was really gratifying to see Joe experience new sights, smells and sounds when not feeding or having a minor huff.

All in all, the trip was mostly successful and it gave us confidence. And given we are heading to Norway in August, it’s confidence we’ll need.

 

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A new addition to the Northern Walker crew

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Joe Cool – smiling, or is it wind? Or worse?

Radio silence again I’m afraid, but this time with better reason. We have a new member of the Northern Walker clan: Joseph was born on 6th of March and weighed in at a hefty 9lb 2oz (he gets it from his dad, evidently… along with his winning smile).

I’m delighted to say mum and baby are doing well, and dad is becoming accustomed to his new role of botty cleaner and burpee initiator (no, not the leg- crunching exercises favoured by fellow-Joe, Mr Wicks).

I’ll admit I’ve been soul searching as to whether baby Joe was going to appear on these pages. However, Joe’s mum Sophie and I are very keen to keep on adventuring and include the wee man whether on foot or two wheels so we thought it might be helpful, and no doubt amusing, to share how we get on.

On that note, Joe has already been on a couple of gentle bimbles in the Derbyshire hills and he seems to enjoy it (well, he slept most of the time so that’s a win!). It’s a good start. In a couple of weeks I plan to leave him in the middle of Kinder Scout with a bag of beef jerky and a compass to see how he gets on (Attention sanctimonious, Daily Mail-devouring web trolls… This is, of course, a joke).

We do want to get responsibly adventurous, though. Mum and dad are planning some overseas tours so watch this space. Let’s just hope he likes the bike trailer when he gets a little older… and the kid’s seat on the back of the Surly ECR for some (very tame) singletrack!

The damned n+1

I realise I’ve been quiet on here (again!) Rest assured, I didn’t decide to pedal off the side of the earth but life has taken yet another turn – a much happier one this time – and I’ve been distracted.

More news on this in the New Year.

That said, I haven’t been in hibernation. Just before said life-changing news broke, I acquired a mutant-friendly Surly Disc Trucker frame from those fine folks at Keep Pedalling. I’d planned some kind of roughish-stuff light tourer using this steel, something folk now like to call a ‘gravel bike’, or an ‘adventure bike’. I don’t buy this marketing garbage of course… it’s a touring bike, without mudguards.

trucker-1

I’m being a little disingenuous here, though. While modernist marketing may have me reaching for the sick bucket, post-modernist grumbling from those bearded tree- worriers at Surly does resonate. I’d wanted a Long Haul Trucker for a while just to remind myself how good a purpose-built, modern touring frame can be. So I decided to buy one, but eschewed the cantilevers in favour of some fancy rotor-rubbers.

The frame had been sitting in my spare room for nearly six months. A couple of weeks ago I reached that now-or-never stage of a build project when the small, mischievous voice inside my head says ‘sod it’ and I shake the Internet for bike components and burn the plastic.

The resulting new addition to the fleet has a name of course – Yorkie (boom boom!) – and I’m very happy with the result. I’ll post some more (betterer) pics when the weather improves in grizzly Glossopdale, but I include a build list for all you bike nerds out there (come on in, the water’s lovely).

Suffice to say, this bike is far more nimble than my heavyweight Ogre and is a joy to ride. The raked fork soaks up the bumps with aplomb while the overall compliance of the steel makes for a very comfy ride indeed. Things are far more taught than my rather splendid Bob Jackson, though, which is handy given my heft and the fact that I will be carrying bags on this bike at some point… no doubt in search of ‘multi-day adventures’ or ‘bikepacking’ if that’s what the cool kids are currently up to.

trucker-2Build list:

Frame: Surly Disc Trucker 64cm
Wheels: Shimano Deore Hubs, 36-hole, laced onto KinLin XD-230 rims (Built by Spa Cycles)
Tyres: Schwalbe G One 38mm
Bars: Salsa CowChipper 46cm
Levers: Sram Force CX1
Brakes: TRP HY-RD
Stem: Salsa Pro Moto riser (to be changed)
Headset: FSA Orbit
Chainset: Sram Rival 1 (42T)
Rear cassette: Sram 11-42T
Rear mech: Sram Rival 1 (long cage, obvs!)
Chain: Sram 11 spd
Seat post: Deda Rsx 02
Saddle: Specialized Toupe Sport (a bit of a test)
Extras: Problem Solvers downtube shifter boss cover, Bontrager bottle cages, Easton cork bar tape, Velo Vitality Metro Porteur Steel front rack, black (to be fitted)

 

For sale – An original Surly Troll 22” XL frame in Agent Orange. SOLD

troll-frame

THIS FRAME IS NOW SOLD FOLKS…

So I have eventually acquiesced and am selling my much-loved Surly Troll frame and thought I would offer it on here first before resorting to the ‘Bay.

Regular readers will know we’ve had one or two adventures together over the years, including trips to Iceland and Morroco.

Despite the adventuring, the frame is in good condition as you can see in the pics.. It sports a very mild patina from those rides and many others, and the decals are obviously on their way out as is the Surly way. It also includes the cups from an FSA Orbit headset ready to take new bearings. Obviously, you could tap these out if you wanted to fit something else. The BB shell is faced too and ready to accept the bottom bracket of your choice. I’ve fitted a new black Surly seat post clamp. This colour frame looks great with black finishing kit hence the swap from the original silver. The fork steerer is uncut.

The Surly Troll really needs no introduction – it’s the do everything well bike. It makes a very good all-roads tourer, a rigid bikepacking rig, a single-speed MTB, a Rohloff based trailer puller, a fully-fendered commuter… I could go on. It has braze- ons for pretty much everything.

IMPORTANT NOTE: This is the ORIGINAL Surly Troll frame. It only has two sets of bottle cage mounts, NO Anything Cage mounts on the fork, but CAN be used with a suspension fork unlike the new model. Please check the specs on the original frame if you are in doubt. This frame will also suit the taller rider, although it was always a wee bit too small for me.

I am happy to pack the frame if the purchaser arranges carriage. Otherwise, I can deliver in Greater Manchester and the Peak District (within reason!) If you’re interested, please mail me using the Kontactr link.

 

The Peddars Way – finding a bit of rough in Norfolk

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I expected the Peddars Way to be easy. A tame, pancake-flat route of benign cinder paths and quiet lanes. I mean, this is Norfolk afterall: Pretty villages, endless fields of arable crops, rock-and-slot-machine coastal resorts. I’m pleased to say my preconceptions were wrong.

That said, this isn’t the Highland Trail or the Pennine Bridleway. Folk seeking those kind of gritted-teeth thrills should look north. However, the gun-barrel straight Peddars – a former Roman road  – does have one or two tricks up its sleeve. These include a sense of remoteness along with unexpectedly challenging terrain and trail conditions that somehow creep up and tap you on the shoulder when the thighs start to burn.

The Way is part of the National Trail network. It is primarily a walking path and the official bike route diverts off the trail in places where the designated bridleway runs out. I’d never heard of it and the suggestion to put tyre to trail came from my girlfriend, Sophie, who has plenty of experience pedalling the flatlands.

We started at Thetford Station. I’d brought the trusty Ogre which seemed a little over gunned for what lay ahead (doesn’t it always?) while Sophie, who doesn’t suffer my Surly disposition, was on her perfectly proportioned Sonder Camino Ti. This, she insists upon reminding me, is a ‘multi-day adventure bike’ (‘It’s not a touring bike!’). Marketing semantics to one side, it was good to see it on a multi-day adventure at last albeit for what we both felt would be a very straightforward two-day bimble.

peddars-way-2We followed the signs for the Peddars Way through Thetford and promptly lost them. They are there, just keep your wits about you as their tucked away locations appear more geared for more sedate pedestrians rather than cyclists. We eventually joined the trail near Thorpe Woodlands and hit the dirt. Roundham and Hockham Heath soon passed under our wheels and we got into the groove of the journey, stopping frequently for pictures and exploratory Blackberry foraging – still a wee bit too early perhaps.

The trail is well way marked and easy to follow with little need for additional navigation. A word of caution should extend to supplies though. It is perhaps not surprising that some of the numerous signs also pointed to convenience stores and pubs off route as the trail does plot a rather lonely course through this largely well populated county. If you were to stay on the route as we did you’d go hungry. Fortunately, Sophie is a great believer in carrying plenty of snacks (more so than I, thank goodness) and we were well fuelled as we pushed on.

For a number of reasons we booked an Air B&B a few miles off the route for our overnight stop. This proved to be an excellent choice and I can highly recommend Holly House Annexe in Tittleshall. To reach it, I made rather a mess of the navigation off the route near Sporle taking us along some very restricted muddy byways and we arrived late. Our hosts couldn’t have been more accommodating though and even offered to store the bikes in their utility room. After a quick shower we enjoyed some proper pub grub at the Fox and Hounds, a short bike ride away in Weasenham St Peter. A great boozer and not a gastropub pretension in sight. Amen.

We pushed off into warm sunshine the following morning pedalling along glorious quiet lanes while chatting away. With yesterday’s navigational nonsense behind us, we soon found the trail at just after Massingham Common and were Hunstanton-bound again.

Here the trail was now so straight you could calibrate a compass by it. The surface became challenging though. Tussocky grass and mild inclines made for draining progress while deep, muddy ruts and undulations along the multi tracked bed (no doubt the product of scrambling bikes using the route) further hampered out progress. Here, Sophie started to struggle on her tyres which lacked a sufficiently aggressive tread. I had the advantage of fatter boots and the larger wheels so the Ogre just about ploughed onwards.

After the climbs came some fairly rapid descents and I sped off jumping like some BMX bandit reliving a misspent youth. Benefitting from more common sense that I, the sandy sections again caused Sophie to exercise caution as her tyres were found wanting on the loose stuff. Her hands were raw too from the trail buzz which underlined the stony progress in places – cinder paths this ‘aint.

We pressed on, the trail providing a green vein amid intensively tended fields and occasional pockets of heathland. After reaching the affluent homes of Ringstead it was simply a case of dropping into Hunstanton on the road. A note of caution here, avoid the A149 if you can as it is seemingly full of blinkered motorists craning their necks for the sea.

We had both been fantasising about fish and chips for the last hour. As we hungrily sought a suitable fryer we bumped into a Lancastrian gent who wanted to talk bikes – he was particularly taken with my muddy Ogre propped against my leg. It became clear rather quickly that is was not going to be a speedy exchange but I struggled to find a natural break in the chat in order to weed my way out. A gentle, surreptitious foot tap on my front wheel from Sophie underlined the need to make my excuses.

Eventually, our friend relented but gave us a good tip for a lunchtime fish supper – Supafry. It was perhaps too plentiful yet rather fine.

We still had a ways to go. In order to make a connecting service back to Cambridge, we needed to get to Kings Lynn. I suggested we follow NCN Route One and this proved to be a decent choice, albeit the first few miles crossing some fairly lumpy country. The inclines had a wee bit more piquancy after the hefty lunch but the miles rumbled under our wheels at good pace. We stopped at Sandringham for a quick resupply and the route soon delivered us via a series of snickets, jitties and ginnels to the railway station.

Some thoughts on the bikes

peddars-way-finalThe Ogre, heavy and ugly as ever, was a capable ride for this route. The Halo Twin Rails handled everything thrown at them reinforcing their position as my favourite all-roads tyre (thanks again to Tim at Life in the Cycle Lane for the introduction). Everything worked as it should, the Rohloff drivetrain reassuringly silent despite the chain being clogged with mud.

Sophie’s Camino was also a fine choice for this route although her tyres – Schwalbe G One’s – were found wanting in the mud and sand. Her Alpkit seat pack was a wee bit troublesome too given the Velcro straps did not fit around her seat tube, curious as the bike is supplied by the company. I think this is more a reflection of the size of her frame (tiny). There is very little clearance between the bag and rear tyre suggesting that some kind of rack or support is the only truly safe way to proceed with a bike of these proportions.

In a nutshell

Peddars Way. 46 miles, 750m of ascent. Take plenty of food – Be prepared for more challenging cycling in the northern sections – Don’t be put off wildcamping or bivvying as the potential spots are numerous – We took two days at a leisurely pace but a reasonably fit cyclist should complete this route in 6-7 hours – Bear in mind you need to pedal to or from your chosen public transport point at Hunstanton, in our case adding 18 miles.

French reflections

Since returning from France, life has been a little busy to say the least. Consequently, this post has had a number of false starts. Let’s see if I can actually nail it today.

My much-anticipated trip to the French Alps was a bit of anticlimax in terms of distance covered and passes climbed. Readers may remember I had planned to ride the Route des Grande Alpes and beyond, with a favourable wind.

On reflection, an unfavourable wind would have been preferable to the 35 deg C heat and humidity I encountered on the first few days. The conditions put me behind schedule quickly and plans had to change. As is the norm, however, changed plans brought their own reward.

I go on these trips to escape common routine and tyranny of the clock so perhaps it was naïve to set myself such a challenging objective. I’m grateful for some long-range WhatsApp counsel from someone rather special who supplied a much-needed metaphorical slap round the face. Consequently, I dropped the schedule and started to enjoy my time in the mountains.

So, here are one or two thoughts if you are planning a trip to this lovely region…

Can I ride the Cols?

Yes you can! Before I went to France, I was concerned about my fitness and ability to grind up the Cols. I was also worried that I wouldn’t enjoy it, particularly on a touring bike. This was true to a point, but more to do with the heat wave in the region rather than the difficulties posed by the climbs

Admittedly, riding your bike uphill for 20-plus kilometres will require you to train on hills ideally. The hills around my Glossop home were a more than adequate treadmill.

With a few notable and famous exceptions, the cols are not that steep… they are just long. It’s a case of getting into a rhythm and enjoying the scenery. Take breaks, drink plenty and remember to eat.

If anything, the challenge is more a mental one; silencing a complaining mind just as important as telling the legs to shut up. I used to sing to myself, which prompted all sorts of strange looks from my fellow velos.

Just a word on descents – be careful. Know how your bike handles with load and make sure the brakes are in tiptop condition. Common sense perhaps, but worth mentioning. Cautionary notes to one side, plummeting down these narrow Alpine roads is, perhaps, some of the greatest fun you can have on your own!

road

Traffic

trafficA rule exists in France that motorist must leave a 1.5m passing distance when overtaking cyclists (1m in urban areas). I’d love to be able to tell you that French motorists dutifully abide by this ruling but in my experience it is simply not true. While I would say the standard for driving in France is higher than the UK insofar as respecting cyclists as a fellow road user, I lost count of the examples of truly atrocious and dangerous overtaking on display. This problem is more apparent on the narrow mountain roads – although one can’t discount the impact of inexperienced or just ignorant holiday drivers.

One perhaps unfortunate bi-product of the 1.5m rule is that some drivers will abide by it even if traffic is coming in the other direction. This, frankly, beggars belief. As in the UK, keep your wits about you.

Le camping

The campsites I used in France ranged from the rather basic to the rather luxurious. You’ll encounter facilities similar to home although hot water appears to be rationed – while toilet roll is non-existent at times. Make sure you carry some. Prices tend to be the equivalent of the UK too or marginally more expensive. Even if a randonneur rate is not advertised, owners generally will apply a reduction pour le velo.

camping

water-fountain

Water

Water is generally easy to find as most town and villages will have a potable supply from a fountain in the main square.

While restaurant owners will happily fill your bidons, they will generally direct you to this ‘tres fraiche’ source.

Failing that, tap water is fine unless otherwise marked.

Food

This proved to be my greatest frustration and greatest delight in France. Given I only had a lightweight cook kit for brews, I was reliant on cafes and restaurants most of the time. This was frustrating at breakfast as all that was generally on offer was croissants. Now I like a good pastry as much as the next person, but this breakfast paled after a while. These ubiquitous treats are hardly packed with slow release carbs either so I usually found myself hungry by mid morning irrespective of how many I polished off at breakfast (read: many).

dinnerLunch and dinner could be a joy, though. Prix fixe menus were as good as I’d read and the portions large. Dinner too was an opportunity to fill my boots, all washed down with the ubiquitous un pichet de rosé. My food was generally simple in these establishments, but cooked very well indeed. Dinner, in particular, became a treat after a long day I the saddle. That, of course, assuming the restaurant was open or, indeed, still existed. Which brings me to another frustration…

Opening hours

I’d read about this before leaving for France and had mentally prepared for the entire country being closed on Sunday. In fact, Monday proved to be more troublesome rather than the traditional day of rest.

Adding to the frustration was the seemingly whimsical way in which shop owners and restaurateurs suddenly had a change of heart and decide to close for the evening. Consequently, don’t rely on published opening hours while Google may seem more of a work of fiction than normal.

In the main, I found alternatives and improvised although one evening I had to get down on one knee and almost beg my host to make me a pizza (they were officially closed!). My advice would be to stomach the extra weight and carry food. Refuelling is too important no to.

Flies

Arrgh! My biggest bugbear (pardon the pun) of France, particularly the Alpes Maritimes. Flies are everywhere… clouds of them on your food, around your nose, in your eyes, around your mouth. It makes me shiver just thinking about a couple of occasions when I couldn’t escape the blighters. In one moment’s frustration and weakness I hollered ‘Give me the f@cking Scottish midge any day!!!’ Probably a little disingenuous, but you get an impression of how annoying and persistent they became.

The weather

Just a brief note on this. The heat wave at the start of my trip was stifling and not conducive to cycling up hills. This was followed by typical mountain weather – changeable. There’s a great deal to be said for starting early when conditions can be chilly yet settled and finishing your day’s miles ahead of the afternoon storms which can be sharp and, as I discovered, laden with tent threatening hail. Pack for all conditions, then.

Trip posts:

A postcard form Peille…and eating humble pie

Col du Turini… here come the pain

Croissants in the square and time for a rethink

A day of rest

Col bagging in Barcelonette

Col de Vars

Retracing my tyre tacks
Gorge du Cians before (not) Nice