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Saturday, July 16, 2016

Easy Abbey Exploration (12 July 2014)

This again was planned as a short ride. We decided to explore Easby Abbey just outside Richmond. I rode the trike out and did an extended ride to the east back. The road out to the Abbey was quite an easy ride and the Abbey was worth a visit. However, riding east, you quickly reach the A1 and its heavy traffic volumes. I had to ride up a stretch of it or return the way I had come. I decided to ride up to the next road. However, the heat and fumes from the traffic made it uncomfortable riding. I was pleased to get back onto country roads with less traffic and clearer air.

Exploring Richmond (9 July 2014)

This wasn't really a challenging ride but I went out on the mountain bike to explore Richmond. Marilyn had walked a lot of this when I did my ride through Hawes. Since I had the morning to fill in, I decided to go and see what she had told me about. I went out the back gate from the Natural Retreats lodge site down some very rough bridal paths. I headed down to the river bank and walked along the path beside the river. I was clearly told that this wasn't a bridal path by a man walking his dog but there were no signs saying not to cycle. It was an enjoyable walk across open fields. The second part of the river path to station bridge was obviously less used and was less cared for. The castle dominated the view of Richmond from the river.
I rode up the hill from the river and then rode around the castle going down to riverside drive and back up to the castle gate. You can't avoid the hills around Richmond but it was still a pleasant ride. Richmond is a small market town with a number of interesting shops and places to explore. The castle seems almost nonexistent from the town with only the keep being visible. The castle is quite large and well worth investigating.

Richmond to Hawes Loop (7 July 2014)

The primary goal of this ride was to explore part of the route for the first stage of the Tour de France. I had been out to the Grinton Moor climb on the day of the race (5 July) so this was a chance to complete the top loop. I had ridden to the top of the Grinton Moor climb on the trike on the day of the tour stage passing through Marske and over three tough climbs that had relied on leg strength. So for this ride, I headed out to pick the stage route up at Aysgarth picking up the top loop of the stage there. I crossed the return leg of the route as I went through Leyburn but crossed through Wensley and West Wilton on the ay to Aysgarth. This proved an easier ride than the back route that I had taken to Grinton on the day of the race but still involved a significant amount of climbing although there was still a significant climb over the ridge to Leyburn. It wasn't like the barren moor land at the top of the Grinton climb. In Leyburn, I talked to a man who was interested in the trike and he was quite surprised at what I was trying to do.

It began to rain as I rolled out of Leyburn but had stopped just beyond West Wilton. The road through to Hawes was through rolling countryside making for pleasant riding. I reached Hawes with an average speed of 18 km/hr. I completed a loop through Hawes around its cobbled streets but I found it difficult to find a place where I could buy a hot chocolate and sit and eat my lunch. I headed up Buttertubs stopping on the lower reaches of the climb for lunch looking back over the valley and Hawes. I pushed on up the climb stopping again at the top of the steepest part to take in the scenery and look back over the climb. There was very little spinning on this climb as I relied on pure leg strength. However, that wasn't the top of the climb so I continued across the barren moor land until just before the step drop. Here I stopped and took photos before plunging down the drop reaching a maximum speed of 72 km/hr. The stability of the trike may the rapid decent enjoyable. From there the road ran through a valley to Reeth where I found an ice cream shop and enjoyed the rest before heading to Grinton where I left the Tour de France route to head back to Richmond. My average speed on reaching Richmond was 17.7 km/hr but the climb up to the lodge site proved a real struggle after 94 km so the final average was 17.1 km/hr.

Apart from the stunning landscapes through most of this area, the most notable feature was the grey stone buildings. Farms and small villages are all built from grey stone but they still manage to draw your attention. Over Buttertubs, there were quire a number of cyclists but most of the way it was cars that proved the greatest obstacle. At my lunch stop on the lower slops of Buttertubs, I talked with a German couple who were walking some of the public footpaths.

There are lots of interesting places to explore although I didn't visit any on the ride but we did a couple of days later. We found a candle factory shop in Wensley, visited the Aysgarth falls, and in Hawes, we visited a rope factory and the Wensleydale Creamery but some of their cheeses. A meal at the Wensleydale Heifer in West Wilton was really worthwhile. Reeth is well worth a visit with the local pubs serving excellent meals and of course the ice cream shop.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Have I stopped cycling?

Just for the record, I haven't stopped cycling or thinking about how best to write about my cycle journeys. In fact there is a backlog of journeys that I should blog about although they are less frequent than before. Since the last blog, I have ridden part of the grand union canal from Birmingham to the junction with the Oxford canal, and completed a ride from Shrewsbury into Birmingham. There have been a couple of long rides in Yorkshire around the first stage of the 2014 Tour de France route and the inevitable exploratory rides around Birmingham. Some catch up blogs are required but we hope to introduce a new blogging system that will make it easier to locate the location of rides.

I would love to do some rides in Europe or evan across the US but that requires funding and time. We cannot promise to keep you informed but we will try.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Daily Commute (12 August 2014)

I have been ignoring writing a blog on my commute to and from work but recently, I have been thinking about the places that I pass and the communities that I go through. It doesn't quite represent the diversity and inequality in the UK but it does show some of the history.

Shenley Fields

Our home is a semi-detached dwelling in the Bournville Village Trust Estate. Our side of the road tends to be those in the middle income bracket with a number of retired couples or couples close to retirement. The houses were built in the 1950s and most are well maintained.

Our street is a double carriageway with an access road on both sides so I head up the hill along the access road to the pedestrian crossing. This is close to local shops, a church, and a doctor's surgery. Going through between the shops and the church, I pass a small park to get to the road parallel to our own. The trust has built some new apartments on part of the park opposite, These are to some extent out of character with the area although across the park is some single story homes and near the bottom of the hill is another modern complex. Going down the hill to the modern complex are more semi-detached houses. The consistency of the Bournville Village Trust Estate is obvious in this area.

Researching the Bournville Village Trust Estate, I discovered that there is another area just off my ride route that the trust allowed a builder the freedom to develop. It contains tower blocks that are completely out of character from the rest of the estate. The new flats on the edge of the park and at the bottom of the hill are a modern low rise design. Those at the bottom of the hill include solar water heating. This is possibly an indication that the trust does move with the times as it extends its housing estate.

Manor Farm Park

I leave the houses to ride through Manor Farm Park. This used to be part of the farm that surrounded George Cadbury's manor (Northfield Manor) which was extensively damaged by a fire two weeks ago (August 2014). I can't see the manor from my ride route but I do pass an old barn by the entrance to the park. The reports are that George Cadbury used to invite children from the city out to the barn to learn about the country and to play in the fields. Unfortunately the barn is poor condition but the council and Birmingham Conservation Trust have indicated that they plan to restore it and are currently seeking community support.

A council works depot is also at this entrance to the farm park and I often have to dodge their lawn mowing machines and vehicles to get out onto Bristol Road. At this point, I leave the Shenley part of the Bornville Trust Estate and complete a short burst down Bristol Road past another newer housing complex that is still within the Shenley boundaries. This complex is a mix of flats and modern terraced homes. The modern nature of the development makes it more attractive than other terraced housing that I pass on my commute ride. It also seems more open and less cramped than traditional terrace housing builds and some of the other modern housing complexes that we see around the country. Could this be the influence of the Bournville Village Trust?


I turn right off Bristol Road along Griffins Brook Lane that passes close to the Bournville School and through to Bournville Lane. This area is Central Bournville and is still part of the Bournville Trust Estate. The houses are predominately of semidetached design although going up Bournville Lane, I pass another newer development of semidetached homes. It isn't until I get onto Mary Vale Road and the edge of the Bournville Village conservation area that I really notice the difference in the housing. Along the northern side of Mary Vale Road, within the Bournville Village, the houses are larger semi-detached houses interrupted at the Linden Road intersection by alms houses. On the southern side before Linden Road are smaller almost terraced house style semi-detached houses and after Linden Road, terraced houses with their consistent similarity. These terraced houses are one room wide, two rooms deep, and two stories high. Some have had attic renovations to turn them into three story houses. It took me a while to realise that this was the case as many of these terraced houses are well maintained. However, this distinction between the houses in Bournville Village and those just outside is very marked when you have them in close proximity as occurs here on Mary Vale Road. The Cadburys set a standard for their workers' houses and didn't just construct dwellings that were affordable, a trait that continues with the Bournville Village Trust.

The alms houses are traditionally were where the poor lived. Many that we have seen or visited in the past look like big halls or not very attractive buildings. Those on the corner of Mary Vale Road and Linden Road are easily ignored as not belonging to the English alms house tradition. They have clearly been modernised since their original building and there is a grassed quadrangle in the middle. They look more like academic accommodation at Oxford although single story than alms houses. Researching the history, these alms houses were built for pensioners from the Cadbury factory. This clearly sets them apart from many of the alms houses that were designed for the poor and were of very low quality. This again highlights the Cadbury concern for the welfare of their workers.


Passing a Cadbury factory parking lot and crossing the railway line and canal, I leave the boundaries of the Bournville Trust Estate and head down through the Stirchley shops to the River Rea and the Route 5 National Cycle Way. The houses and the shops in this area are predominately of the terraced variety. A friend has opened a bakery and cookery school just off my route in Pershore Road. The area, like so many small suburban shopping areas, is in need of rejuvenation so you get a mix of new shops and near derelict buildings. The shops along this stretch of Pershore Road so seem to have a steady flow of clientele as there are always cars outside restricting the traffic flow.

There is an area where a supermarket is to be built. The Stirchley community has resisted its construction but the supermarket chain has negotiated to refurbish an old swimming baths as a community centre in exchange for the permit to knock down houses and shops for its supermarket complex. In the mean time the land they intend to use lies waste and houses have metal shutters to deter squatters. But I wonder whether large supermarkets and shopping complexes are a solution for struggling communities.

Road crossings

The crossing of Pershore Road in the Stirchley shopping area is the third busy road that I have had to cross. Bristol Road tends to have waves of vehicles but I am travelling with the traffic and the dual carriageway means there is a central island that allows me to negotiate each carriageway in turn. Lindon Road is a much narrower road and it is a straight crossroads. Cars in general at that crossing tend to give me the opportunity to cross and there is a reasonable number of vehicles making the same crossing as me. Pershore Road involves a left and then an almost immediate right turn. There is a pedestrian crossing that I could use but I find it easier to remain on the road than to negotiate narrow footpaths. Fortunately, there are frequent gaps in the traffic caused by the narrowness of Pershore Road and the vehicles that park along it. The problem is often the traffic coming the other way. They come round a corner slightly further on and often I have no idea how much is coming nor at what speed. Fortunately many drivers politely signal to me that they will give me space to make a safe right turn. I appreciate it as I don't like being in the centre between rows of traffic heading in opposite directions. Few cars make the same right turn as the area toward the River Rea only has exists back onto Pershore Road so vehicles turning in here are either going to the homes or to the few businesses in this area. A large part of this area is the wasteland intended for the supermarket.

National Cycleway

I call the River Rea route the National Cycleway but in reality, it is a shared cycle and pedestrian way. Frequently, there are people out walking their dogs, runners, pedestrians and cycle commuters. However, I seem to relax once I get onto this route. There is no longer the risk of cars going past that don't give me sufficient room and there are lights on all the road crossings. It is also a place where ducks are other wildlife become visible or can be heard especially in the spring mornings. The second part of this route especially is good for morning birdsong being surrounded by trees and blackberry bushes. I often seem to be rushing through or the sound of the wind or river seems to drown out the bird song. Because there were mills at frequent intervals along this river, there remains weirs which increase the sound of the water flow especially after rain has fallen. After really heavy rains, part of the path often has a flow of water across it. So far, I have never ridden along this path when the River Rea is in flood but I have seen the evidence of the flood waters on the vegetation and path. Now as we near the end of summer, people are out picking the blackberries.

Just past Dogpool Lane, there is another stretch of road past terraced houses. Cars are not supposed to turn right into this road but a reasonable number do. Being a very narrow road, they add to the risk of negotiating what really should be a quite stretch of road. Getting back to the side of the River Rea by the Pebble Mill Playing Fields, there is a stretch which every year comes out in daffodils. One of my work colleagues tells me that ducks and swans nest along this stretch and that he has seen a kingfisher here. I haven't seen evidence of either.

Cannon Hill Park

The next stretch through Cannon Hill Park requires a bit more care. It isn't simply that there are more users of the park out walking their dogs or exercising. Every holidays, an amusement park is setup opposite a children's play area and the military fitness group use the park in the evenings. The park is also very popular over the summer period so care has to be taken to get through safely. Squirrels can also present interesting obstacles as they dart across the path. I avoid taking the path near the ponds so stay well clear of the ducks and swans. I have seen a heron in one of the ponds. The heron is easy to miss as it stands so still in the water. Of these obstacles, it is the military fitness groups that I find most frustrating. They tend to use the park as though there are no other users sometimes blocking the path or crossing without paying attention to other users. In the mornings, there are often park staff out tending the flower beds. The plants are completely replaced a number of times during the year.

Leaving the park, I pass close to the Edgbaston Cricket grounds. Although we have been in Birmingham for five years, we still haven't been to an event at the cricket grounds. The lights dominate the surrounding suburbs and on event days, they close of the neighbouring roads and use a park further on for parking.

Social Engineering

I regard the area just beyond the Edgbaston Cricket grounds as a low income area. The houses are predominantly terraced and on rubbish days, the street can be lined with rubbish bags, some of which the contents have spilled across the road. Crossing the ring road, I enter Highgate. Although there are some more modern dwellings here, what dominates the skyline is a tower block that is being prepared for demolition. These were designed as a replacement for the back-to-backs to improve the accommodation of the “have-nots”. However, the tower blocks were a social failure and are now being pulled down in favour of low rise terraced blocks.

The back-to-backs or what remains of them are close to the centre of Birmingham. They are a sequence of terraced houses around an internal court yard. Each house was one room deep and three stories high. On the back of one house was another house. There was no running water or toilet facilities in the houses. These remained in use up until the 1960s when the people were moved out into the tower blocks. The tower blocks had better facilities but had none of the social dynamics of the back-to-back courtyard. The attempt to improve the living standards of the low income turned into a social disaster. Highgate isn't the only location around the city were these tower blocks exist. However, it is the highgate towers that are being demolished.

It seems clear that planners need to think about more than simply placing people in accommodation. How do you create a community in an area? It isn't simply tower blocks that cause social problems. Even in more affluent areas, the sense of community doesn't exist. It is simply that more affluent people are possibly more mobile and can form their own community support networks across the city or country.

Business Area

My ride through Highgate only goes a short distance before I turn through a business district. Here my concern is always the delivery vehicles that stop in the road and that I need to negotiate my way around. There are a number of buildings in this area that are no longer used and are in various states of disrepair. As well, there are a number of empty lots. Some have been turned into parking lots. One such lot gets used each year just before Christmas for the huts for the German Market.

This area isn't particularly attractive but I wonder what would happen if city planners considered how to utilise these areas for community development. In New Zealand, zoning practices usually designate area according to some intended usage. I suspect the same practice occurs here but is such zoning restricting usage and causing some areas to be neglected. I agree that some industries need to be separated from residential areas but what do you do when industries or businesses move out of an area leaving it neglected.

At the end of my journey through this business district is close the the junction of the Grand Union and Digbeth Branch Canal. I used to use the canal path to get round the construction area near Millennium Point. The Digbeth Branch Canal passes under the railway and has a number of locks. Now that the roads have been reopened, I go up and round the Millennium Point and Birmingham City University (BCU buildings).

East City Redevelopment

The east city area has and is under redevelopment with Birmingham City University (BCU) establishing its main campus on the site. My understanding is that BCU is the second largest university in Birmingham. On the south side of the buildings, they have made a park. It does make it more attractive and interesting. The area that is being redeveloped has been waste land for all the time that we have been in Birmingham. The area is bounded by Jenners Road, the Digbeth Branch Canal, and the railway that goes from New Street Station to the airport. Part of the area to the south of Millennium Point is designated for the HS2 (high speed 2) railway station. I wonder whether this is really an appropriate place as it is a reasonable distance from the city centre and the main activities in the area is education with BCU and Aston University occupying the land to the north. To the site is separated from the ring road to the east by the Digbeth Branch Canal. The canal also goes around the southern side of the site with the Grand Union Canal branching off. There are businesses along the side of the Grand Union Canal but I wouldn't see these as the draw cards for travellers on the HS2 system. To the west is the line into New Street Station and the Moor Street Station. I wonder about the traffic flow around this area since it became difficult to get to Aston University while they were doing a lot of the work on the East City site.

Arriving at Aston University

I arrive at Aston University by Woodcock Street and Aston Street. The eastern side of Woodcock Street are businesses and city council offices. However, the Aston University site is a mixture of buildings. The first is the Doug Ellis Woodcock Sports Centre and then the Aston Conference Centre and Business School.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Birmingham to Redditch and back

Having documented the Birmingham canals ride, it is time to report on my final ride for the year. With a crisp clear day on Sunday, 27 December, I decided it was a good opportunity to get out on the trike. There had been a frost overnight so I was expecting some ice on the roads.

My target was to travel down the National Cycle Network route 5 to at least Redditch. If I made good time, I might push on to Stratford-upon-Avon. This is a route that I completed on my Avanti Montari at the beginning of 2011. It is my first cycling blog entry. At that stage we were living in Kings Norton so the start and finish location is different. Unfortunately, the iPhone died on this journey so the route map is what I could create using MapMyRide. It isn't accurate through some portions as it doesn't see all the paths that are available.

Leaving home, I headed down past Leyhill Park. These down hills are exhilarating all though a bit chilly in the crisp air. I wound my way through the suburbs to find route 5 in Rubery. I had planned to join it on Tessall Lane but heading in the wrong direction at Egg Hill Lane, I finally reached route 5 at the junction of New Inns Lane and Rubery Lane. Some sections of this had heavy frost on the ground but none of this part of the ride was very slippery. The houses vary significantly through this area. Our house was built in the 1950s. Opposite Ley Hill Park is a new subdivision but those closer to Northfield are early 1900s while around Rubery, the houses vary in age, style, and quality.

Route 5 heads down Waseley Road to head along the south of the Waseley Hills. Holywell Lane and Redhill Lane are like heading out into the country and to some extent it is. Water was running across the road and there were signs of ice but most of this was turning to slush so there was no problem with grip. This changed as I climbed up Manor Lane to Birmingham Road. The frost surface meant that I had to choose my path carefully to retain grip. After stopping by a mile marker, I did discover that the park break was partially on reducing my free rolling speed. Testing that the break still worked along Birmingham Road had the back wheel locking up on the frost so care was needed when breaking. This wasn't a problem because of the limited traffic.

Route 5 heads into Catshill along Woodrow Lane avoiding the A38. After weaving through Catshill, the route takes a path under the M42 to the outskirts of Bromsgrove. Again, it takes a detour to avoid the main roads into the centre of Bromsgrove. However, the run through Broomsgrove is fairly straight although there is a bridge over the A38 to navigate. Each of these towns are close together but it feels more like a country ride interrupted by small towns. Navigating through central Bromsgrove is frustrating especially with the town bypass to cross. At least this time,I roughly knew where I was going. In the attempt to keep you off what might be busy roads, there is a climb out of the centre of Bromsgrove before you take to suburban streets to leave by the Bromsgrove Railway Station.

Leaving Bromsgrove, I came across my first ford close to the Worcester and Birmingham Canal. It was possibly more surface water across the road. I stopped on the bridge over the canal. The next few hill climbs were quite icy and on one I had to back up to find a path with some grip. At least on three wheels, you slide sideways rather than fall off. The patches of the road that still had signs of white frost tended to provide better grip than those that appeared clear. Some roads where quite wet with signs of having been iced. Careful navigation was required.

I stopped in Redditch for lunch before heading out to the junction with route 55. This was further east than I intended to go and I didn't want to go through Kings Norton which is where route 55 goes. My aim was to head back through Elvechurch and Brant Green. The road that route 55 goes up is quite a narrow track and is fairly constant climbing, Before getting to the M42, I turned left at Storrage Lane which was signposted for Alvechurch. There was more of a climb that I expected on this lane but at one point I had a view back over Rowney Green. At Redditch Road, I turned north toward Alvechurch. In Alvechurch, Tanyard Lane was sign posted for Brant Green so I turned left and this took me up the Coopers Hill climb and over the M42. From Brant Green, I followed the B4120 to Longbridge and Bristol Road South (A38).

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Exploring Birmingham Canals

Looking at the blog, I see that I didn't blog on any rides this year. I had been off the bike through the early part of the year after the removal of a melanoma on my right calf and a hernia operation. However, in August, I did manage a ride round some of Birmingham canals with an old school friend back. We rode from my home into Selly Oak where we joint onto the Worcester and Birmingham Canal and rode into the city. At the National Indoor Arena, we turned right along the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal. We followed this out to the M6 where we turned left along the Tame Valley Canal toward Wednesbury and a lunch stop at a small café in Holloway Bank, Wednesbury. At the junction with the Walsall Canal, we turned left back toward Birmingham City. I was aware of the number of canals that traverse Birmingham but I wasn't expecting that we would follow so many on this circular route. After the Walsall Canal, we joint the Birmingham Mainline Canal back into the city. This journey was intended as an exploration of the Birmingham canal network. I was familiar with the Worcester and Birmingham Canal, the part of the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal out to Aston University, and the Birmingham Mainline Canal from Bromford Road into the city.

The Worcester and Birmingham Canal has an aqueduct near the Queen Elizabeth II Hospital that was built during my time at the University of Birmingham. There are few access ramps between Selly Oak and the city but it is a fairly popular commute route. With a railway line on the other side of the canal path away from the canal and the university on the other side of the canal, there a limited views across the city. However, it is a pleasant ride with trees lining the southern side of the canal. In the central city, there is the Mail Box, Gas Street Basin, the National Sea Life Centre, and the National Indoor Arena. This is a very popular area and at almost any time is quite busy.

The Birmingham and Fazeley Canal goes across the northern side of the city through what is predominately an industrial area. This canal has a lot of locks as it heads down to the junction by Aston University and there are some newer buildings that have been built out over the lock ponds and canal. The cobbled ramps can be hard on bike and rider but it is an interesting place to explore. Reaching the M6 interchange or spaghetti junction and you begin to realise how this area has one layer built upon another. Road ramps cross and curve over the canal junction to the extent that it is difficult to determine exactly how many layers are there.

The initial part of the Tame Valley Canal is under the M6 but once clear of the M6, the canal strikes a line through primarily a residential area of the city. Some locks through this section raise the canal as we head west. Sandwell Valley Park and the Junction of the M5 and M6 bring a break from being surrounded by the city and the canal begins to be on a raised path around this part. However, this part of the canal also shows signs of limited use but we did have a heron flying ahead of us for a short way.

Beyond Sandwell Valley Park, the canal is still raised as we head into Wednesbury. Here we get a view of a private windmill up on a hill the other side of Wednesbury town centre. Attempts the following day to find it showed just how difficult it was to locate on the road but that it was clearly visible from the canal.

We decided it was tine for a lunch stop and went in search of a café. This proved relatively easy to find being less that a 100 yards from the canal. The food was good and we took time to chat for a while before heading back out to the canal. I find that I learn more about places that I visit on the bike than I do when visiting them in a car. However, travelling the canal paths at times you are enclosed and the rest of the world is shut out. Without leaving the canal path, we would have had trouble finding a café.

A short stretch remained of the Tame Valley Canal before we came to the Walsall Canal. The Walsall Canal seemed enclosed between industrial premises. This continues down the Birmingham Main Line Canal until it splits. The upper stretch rising through locks to a stretch under the M5. We followed the Main Line Canal to just after the M5 where we took a ramp up to explore the junctions under the M5. At this point, there is an old canal that crosses the Main Line Canal under the M5. It joins the upper branch of the canal under the curve of the M5. The M5 at this point is on a fly over. There are some interesting supports especially over the mainline canal but little of the old structures have been touched by the more recent engineering.

Further along the Main Line Canal, we again head up one of the ramps to the upper canal and back track to take a closer look at an old pumping station now the Galton Valley Canal Heritage Centre. Unfortunately, it was closed but both the upper and lower canals show signs of their past heritage. The upper canal also has an aqueduct to a branch that goes into an industrial area. There are also a number of heritage bridges and a short tunnel along this stretch.

The remainder of the canal into the city centre has some side branches. One of these I explored on a previous ride but by now we had ridden far enough and it was time to head for home. These rides always throw up things of interest especially when exploring historic waterways such as Birmingham canals.