Exploring Somerset – A solstice microadventure

‘Do you want any specific days off in June,’ my manager asked as she prepared to write the team rota.
‘If I could have the 21st and 22nd off it’d be brilliant.’
‘No problem.’ She left the shop floor for the quiet of the stock room, leaving me grinning like an idiot at the idea of having the whole solstice off work.

Planning for what to do was a short affair. I had wanted to cycle south from my front door since moving in, following Sustrans cycle route 3 to Glastonbury. After that, I didn’t know or care very much. There were plenty of options. So on the 21st of June, I packed my panniers, pumped my tyres, and pedalled away from home, my skin lathered with sun cream.

My handlebar bag was full of camera and recording gear and my mind breaming with ideas. I had been wanting to film one of my journeys for a while but I didn’t see the point of filming me. There seem nothing extraordinary or worth recording about me, not on film anyway. So for a long time, I did nothing. It was only when attending the Cycle Touring Festival a month earlier that an idea had began to emerge. I had joined the ‘Filming your trip‘ talk and discovered another way to record cycling journeys. Most videos focus on a person, but Geoff Broadway offered another possibility. His film excerpt was about the place he had visited, not about him. It was a simple idea but one that, for some reason, hadn’t occurred to me. I kept thinking about what I could bring to a cycle touring video and this is my answer:

For photos of the trip, visit my Flickr account.

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The Cycle Touring Festival – 2017 edition

Two years I ago I attended the inaugural Cycle Touring Festival. It was an experience of wonder and excitement, a realisation that I was not alone. Someone put it much better than me and said it was like finding your tribe. And they were right.

If you look online, you know there are other cycle tourists around, whether round the world cyclists or week-end and holiday cyclists. But when you step out of your front door and start pedalling, you don’t often catch sight of them. More often than not, you meet fast bikes adorned with a lycra-clad person on top. You share a smile, a nod, both happy to be on the bike. But it is not the same thing, not quite. But there, at the festival, people understand. They don’t think you’re brave, they don’t assume you’re fit, and they don’t ask at what speed you’re going. Instead we talk about the other stories like the pure joy of seeing the world from the saddle, the hard times of dealing with your own mind, or the fun moments with strangers and their warmth. We don’t need to dig out for words we never feel are quite right because the other person understand.

And if you’re new to the scene, it’s not a problem. No question is deemed stupid, and there is an eagerness to share knowledge. We’re a small tribe, any new member is welcomed with an embrace and encouraged to find their own way. Because at the end of the day there is no right or wrong way to go cycle touring. The only prerequisite is to have a bicycle and an open mind. The rest is up to you and how you like to ride and see the world.

If you’ve missed this year’s festival, there is always next year. And in the meantime, find a cycle tourist online and ask questions. We’ll all be happy to give you a hand and assuage your fears.

#30DaysWild – Week 02

Make room for nature!

This is a cry from The Wildlife Trusts, urging us to remember nature and pay attention to it during our everyday life. Nature isn’t something to be enjoyed during our time off and lose sight of when we fall back into our daily routine. It is a home that needs to be nurtured and taken care of constantly. But this, is too easy to forget.

So this month, I, and hundreds of people across the British isles have pledged to be a little more wild. Here is what I chose to do during the second week. Catch up with week 01 here. For daily update, follow me on Instagram or Twitter.

Day 08


I am fascinated by rivers. I love to sit by one, watch the water slowly move and the wildlife make their home or visit its banks. The past few years, I have been lucky to live near rivers and make them part of my commute. So each day, I salute one. But not like a friend because rivers are dangerous. I fear water more than I fear anything else in the outdoors. Instead, I salute them like the ancient Greeks would have a goddess, with respect and a distance that can never be breached. The Avon New Cut (which is my current bit of river) is tidal, and one day, I will take the time to sit all day, watch it rise and fall to the whims of the sea.

Day 09


I was in a rush that day. There had been work all day, and then I needed to pop into the library before heading to a Women and Bicycle meeting. But always when I’m going too fast, nature reminds me that I need to slow down. Like this patch of wild flowers left by Bristol Cathedral. The grass has been cut short apart from one little strip. Bursting with summer colours, I could do nothing but stop. So I did. I sat down next to it for a moment and reminded myself that no life depended on me being exactly on time for my evening schedule.

Day 10

Having been reminded to slow down, I did just that on my commute the following day. I was happily cycling along when I spotted a red dot among the grey of metal posts and green of leaves. I pulled the brakes, got off the bike, and for a moment observed this ladybird. She just hanged there as the breeze moved the twig she was resting on (I can only ever think of ladybird as female for some reason). And for the rest of the day, I kept thinking about this insect. A reminder that once, I, too, had nothing better to do than lie in the grass and let time wash over me. A lesson I vowed not to forget and yet one that I keep having to be reminded about.

Day 11

I didn’t have to go to work that day. So instead I lazed in bed, listening to the radio before eventually making my way in the garden where the bike awaited me for a good clean. I didn’t pay much attention to my surroundings until I finally took the bike for a ride. I didn’t go far, just my local nature reserve. The nesting robins were quiet and I wondered if I would ever hear them again. The coppiced area I had helped create was almost completely closed off by growing vegetation. Teenagers were lying in the grass silent as I passed by. A few dogs ran past, their tongue flying by the side of their mouth. And birds sang in the evening coolness. Everything was as it should be.

Day 12


The plan was simple: grab my bike, grab a friend, go to Abergavenny. So I did. Speed was not an essential. What mattered was to be on the bike, to be outside surrounded by nature, and to be furthered acquainted with my local area. We stopped to greet donkeys, horses, pigs, and alpacas. We watched birds dart in and out of edges, none in the mood to race that day. I saw swallows dancing in the sky and almost cried out of joy. Birds that had accompanied me on my journey in the Iberian Peninsula, providing me with endless shows, had been strangely absent of my landscape this year. I had missed them. We pulled the brakes on top of a climbed and observed the Sugar Loaf and Skirrid Fawr, peaks I am begin to recognise from my walk around Wales. And eventually we arrived in Abergavenny, my local area a little more named, a little more mine.

Day 13


How often do you stop in a park between work and home? If you’ve never done it, you should try it this month. It doesn’t have to be for long but before you get in your car/bus/bike/shoes/etc., try unwinding in a green space. Don’t get hold of your phone, simply watch the world go by and let work wash away from you. I promise you’ll feel better for trying it.

Day 14

The sun has finally arrived this week and so I got the longboard out once more. I love how it slows me down even more than cycling. I glide across the pavement and the landscape pass me by but it’s never a blur. Instead I see the white clover in the grass, the overhanging branch and the details of its bark narrowly avoiding my face, the sprout of grass in a concrete crack. It’s definitely a good way to get to work.

Bonus video

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Chew Magna Lake

December


Chew Magna Lake – 10 miles
I looked at the sign, looked at the trail, and made a step froward. But no, I was on foot and twenty miles was just too much for one afternoon. But I would have my bike again soon and then I would be able to visit the lake.

January, February, March


I bent over the map from Sustrans and followed cycle route three with my finger, all the way to Chew Magna Lake. Only ten miles from home. On my next day off, I would go. But nothing happened.

April


Do you want to cycle to Chew Magna Lake?
Sure
I received the text with a smile on my face. I was finally going to make it to the lake I’d been dreaming about for so long.

On the first proper day of sunshine, we wheeled our bikes outside of Bristol, following the signs from Sustrans. Country roads wound their way between hedges, inclines dropping down to quiet villages where the occasional car would pass by. The trees were still bare but buds had began to appear and as the sun warmed the earth it felt like winter was finally at an end.

We arrived at the lake happy for a ride out of town. We parked the bikes and went to explore the trails around the water on foot. Streams and pools encircled the footpath providing freshness in this unexpected warm day. We followed the bittern trail, stopping at a viewing point to admire the view and listen to nature around us. There were bird calls we couldn’t identify, the gentle swaying of long grass, and in my imagination the fishing lines of fishermen in the small boats we could see.

We eventually walked away, back to the bicycle for a bite to eat. Our lunch over, we lingered by the lake, the sun warming our skin. I could feel it burn my skin but couldn’t find the resolve to cover my skin. After month of long sleeves and coat, this felt too good to pass.

The afternoon was drawing to a close and my friend had to get back to Bristol. So we unlocked the bicycles and rode away, following another route from Sustrans, another entry into the city, another landscape.

Women & Bicycles

The alarm rang and I rolled out of bed still half-asleep. I had a train to catch to Oxford for the Women & Bicycles Festival organised by Broken Spoke Bike Co-op and The Adventure Syndicate. I went through the motion of my morning routine and still dozing hopped on my folding bike to the train station. The train whizzed away and I slowly awoke, wondering what the week-end would bring. I didn’t really know what to expect. I was already cycling and doing things people thought of as crazy, so I thought the week-end wouldn’t bring me too much. But I would meet new people, like-minded people and that was why I had booked a place.

Before I knew it I was in Oxford, following Google Maps to the events venue. I parked my bike and entered.

‘Hi,’ I waved tentatively to the first person in sight. ‘I’m Allysse, one of the workshare.’
The woman who I was talking to went in a frenzy of paper checking and looking around for the volunteer organiser who was not around yet. But just as we were trying to figure out what to do with me, she waltzed in the door, bike in hand.

We briefly introduced ourselves and she went away to tidy her bike. I was left standing there, a still figure in the constant flow of woman trying to get all the last minute details ready for launch. It was awkward being there, knowing no one and having nothing to do. But soon the one person I knew came back and my hands were put to work until there was nothing else I could do. So I went to the lounge for a much needed coffee. There were a few people on sofas and chair. I spotted another lonely figure and went to introduce myself.

And that was it. The conversation had began. Bikes were mentioned but soon we drifted to other topics. We didn’t have to explain to one another why we choose to commute by bike, even when it rained.

As the clock ticked, we made out way to the lower hall where the first panel was taking place. We settled in plastic chairs and I began to feel myself shaking slightly. All around me, I was spotting my cycle heroes, but most of all there were just women everywhere. I was overwhelmed by the sea of unknown faces that all owned a bike of some sort. I have spent a lot of my life in female dominated world but when it comes to bicycle, I have always been the only one. This was not the case here and I didn’t know how to deal with it. I was thankful, I was afraid, I was outraged, I was angry, I was joyful, I was in heaven. But I didn’t have much time to think about it. The first panel was starting. Alex Feechan, Cheryl Reid, Jools Walker, and Sarah Connolly took to the stage for a discussion about making space for women in cycling. They talked about fear, anger, discrimination, sexism, racism, and their own stories of feeling stupid in bike shops, awkward in male cycling clothes, and how they decided to do something about it. And in that moment, I realised how much I had normalised being a lonely woman cyclist and suppressed a craving women cyclists friends near me.

By the end of the panel I was still shaking and wondered if I would be for the entirety of the week-end. That seemed ridiculous but I couldn’t figure out how to stop my limbs from vibrating. I walked back to the lounge for tea and cake and introduced myself to another woman. We began chatting about touring and well, bikes. We were soon called away. The second panel was about to begin. This time Lee Craigie, Kimberley Tew, Laura Moss, and Naomi Mahendran stepped up tell us about how the bicycle had brought them places. This was not about how far you can travel on two unmotorised wheels, but how this vehicle has widened their world socially, educationally, professionally and emotionally. It became evident that for all those women, cycling was a therapy of sorts. No one was able to articulate it simply, but we all understood that when things go wrong, a bike ride is always a piece of solace.

Lunch was consumed to the delight of all taste buds (food really was one of the most amazing part of the festival). Conversations flowed and were only brought to a close by the bike bell reminding us of the time. There were workshops to attend. I joined the Yoga class with Polly Clark. More than yoga exercises, she took the time to listen to what we expected from the class, what aches and pains we experienced and based on this discussion targetted the exercises so we could all benefit from them and know what would help us best.

This was followed by more tea and cake (yes a lot of cake was consumed that week-end) before we all regrouped in the Lower Hall to listen to Rickie Cotter. As we listened and laughed to her journeys of endurance, discovery, pain, and fun, cogs turned into my head bringing forward ideas that had been floating at the back of it for months.

Dinner was served, the bar opened, music was played, and I got chatting with more women. Bicycles were our links but we soon tired of the subject. We were more than racers, tourers, commuters, couriers, cyclists. We were human beings.

Tired and happy I eventually retreated to the quiet home of my host where we spent more time talking, sharing our stories, building friendships.

The following day I didn’t linger long in bed. I had to be back at the venue by 9am to help out in the kitchen. I had selected a work-share ticket which meant I was dedicating some of time to make sure everything would run smoothly. I arrived in the kitchen and following brief introductions, I was put to work. We had two hours to prepare brunch for more than a hundred people. So I cracked eggs, washed dirty trays, checked on bread, peeled a mountain of carrots, and chopped them off in batons. Meanwhile, the other women were enjoying workshops and bike rides. Finally the clock struck eleven and we were ready. I stood behind a huge pot of cabbage, standing on tip toes to drop an allocated portion per plate. Everybody was chatting and smiling, the ladies coming back from rides ready for an intake of food and the warmth of the venue.

The following panel focused on cycling as a family. Having little interest in the subject for myself I retreated to the lounge. A few people were relaxing on the sofa and around the tables. I sat on one of the chairs and relaxed. My gaze unfocused and I lost myself in thoughts. Why do you think we need a Women & Bicycles festival? This was one of the question on the wall of the lounge, a question I had asked myself a lot and hadn’t known the answer to before coming. People were talking of inspiration, of not enough women on the roads, of male dominated culture… but for me, it was about finding your tribe. Much like I had found a tribe when I attended the Cycle Touring Festival and the HearSay Festival, here was another one. I had become less lonely. The faces I had seen online and the occasional women I had passed on the roads now had names and voices. They were real.

The panel finished and a flow of people walked in to refuel and chat before the final hours of the week-end. We were to assist to the launch of the North Coast 500 film, shot back in May 2016 when the Adventure Syndicate rode 518 miles of Scotland’s North Coast 500 route in 36 hours. We followed those riders from preparation to completion, living their fears, sharing their laughs, and cheering them on as they reached the finish line. Faces merged, all female, all on bikes. It was not the story of a superhero, it was a community, a group much like the one in the room that had set out on a ride they weren’t sure they could achieve, but did.

The room slowly dispersed, everyone present riding a wave of elation and happiness. I found myself next to a woman I hadn’t spoken to before. So I introduced myself and soon I was telling her about my dreams of Audax (cycling long-distances within a set time limit) and long-distances. But there was a problem. I don’t have the right bike or kit for it. That had been the one excuse holding me back, the one sentence I had repeated to myself over and over again. But hearing it now seemed ridiculous. So I promised myself to stop moaning and get on my touring bike for an Audax soon. After all, I did start touring on a Brompton in Devon. That was not adequate but that was a lot of fun. The week-end could have ended there but the woman turned out to be Ellie from Bicycle Explorers who had raced several times on the Transcontinental. From Belgium to Turkey (now Greece), you ride to arrive there first. I had first heard of the race a couple of years ago and since I’ve had a strange obsession with it. Without trying, the name kept popping up in my feeds and I kept reading posts and stories of the race. And so with Ellie telling me she only had two weeks preparation the first time she entered the race, I began to think I could possibly ride it to. And just at that moment, one of the festival organisers arrived with a microphone for an interview for an upcoming e-zine. And I, stupidly, still elated from the North Coast 500 film, said, ‘I will sign-up for the Transcontinental.’ And ever since I have basked in a sea of fears and doubt. But I’ve said it now. The cat is out of the bag and I don’t know how to put it back there. 2018 might not happen. I do after all have plans for that year and probably won’t have enough leave from work for everything. But there is 2019 and with calendars on computer I can add a date that far in the future. So I have.