Monday, May 31, 2010

Lady Mac hike

The weather didn't end up clearing by Saturday - in fact, it was downright miserable really. But I didn't mind the snain (snow/rain) too much as I had joined the library the night before & settled down with a good book for most of the day. I rugged up & braved the cold & went for a walk across town to the thrift shop (a very curious collection of mostly junk) - but not quite as bizarre as the market in the Poconos last year). Megan & Alex took off to Calgary pretty early in the day (for a Saturday) to do some shopping at IKEA for the new house. The upside of that is that I don't have to sleep on Thermarests anymore - the downside is that the the bolts weren't included in the package, so I sleep on the mattress surrounded by bed components until the bolts turn up. No riding unfortunately & the hike up Grotto got cancelled as it would have been too snowy & miserable.

Awoke to snow dusting the trees down most of the way in to the valley - none around town, it was too warm. The trees on the lower reaches of the mountains lost their snow over the next few hours & Zara organised for us to hike up to the tearooms on Lady Mac (Mt Lady MacDonald) - which is the other side of Cougar Creek from Grotto. The trail started at the same place last Monday's Montane Traverse ride did - it also climbed just as steeply at the start, but of course just kept going up instead of traversing the side of the hill. It wasn't long before we could look back across the Bow Valley (in between the clouds, of course) - here are the Three Sisters over yonder.
Before long we were starting to see a little snow on the trees (all of it fresh) & then quite a few patches on the ground - not too bad for the end of spring, if you like that kind of thing. Then the cloud rolled in a lot more & it started snowing on us - however it would seem Zara didn't think it was all that cold (actually, it was a very pleasant temperature), behind her is James and Alex & Megan are on the right.Through a break in the clouds we could catch a view of Mt Rundle, the east end of which we hiked up the previous weekend (that bare patch in the trees is the meadow at the Nordic Center - the extremity of the very good Orange Trail).
This is looking a bit further down the valley - Three Sisters (again) on the left & Lawrence Grassi on the right:As we approached the "teahouse" (a misguided project from some years ago that was never finished - who would hike up for over two hours just to get a cup of tea?) the snow got deeper (up to thirty centimetres in places) & the path less obvious. Somewhere along here I saw my first bear prints - thankfully we didn't come across that which left them. We got to the teahouse after two hours and forty minutes & stood around for less than ten minutes as there was a chilly breeze up here - we did get to the clouds below us whizzing by & the occasional vista.The walk down wasn't particularly quick as the snow had all of us (I'm not sure about James) sliding around & down a little. As we got towards the end of the snow, Megan & Alex spied a marmot sitting nice & fat on a rock. The rest of the descent wasn't much faster as a few of us tried to prevent our knees from giving us too much grief - with varying degrees of success. Here is a nice picture of Grotto (the one we didn't climb due to the conditions) bathed in sunlight.
I'm back at the Banff Center tomorrow & hopefully for the rest of the week; I also hope to get a bit of riding in after work mid-week...

Friday, May 28, 2010

Don't go riding with someone who owns a gym - if you want to keep your lungs from exploding.

Work last Sunday was definitely under the categories of "try anything once" & "what the heck, I don't have a permanent job & need the money". I spent the day housekeeping at a local hotel - rather repetitive work & the only highlight was the free lunch (there's no such thing of course) of bacon, eggs, sausages, potatoes, pancakes, loads of salad & dessert. Knocked off a bit late as it was a long weekend & we had thirty-four rooms to clean between the two of us. A quick dash to Safeway later & I had my contribution for the night's barbecue in hand - lots of veges & some little sticks for kebabs.

The barbecue was a couple of blocks away at Zara (from the hike up Eeor the previous day) & James' apartment. Lots of great food (the kebabs had a bit of a kick to them too after someone found the cayenne pepper to add to the marinade) & it was neat to meet friends of Alex & Megan's. James is a dab hand at home-brew - the stout was particularly good & it was nice to have a real ginger beer, even if it was a little on the fizzy side. With quite a few of the people there keen on riding, it wasn't long before tentative plans were made to meet up for a ride on the morrow (a public holiday - Victoria Day). The girls were keen to ride Goat Creek Trail to Banff & back, the guys weren't so keen on a 50 km return trip on quite wide trail.

After a nice sleep in (unfortunately for Alex he had to go to work), the ride was organised for 12.30 pm. I met Neil, James, Tanner (from the barbecue) & Jeremy & we biked through town to the east side of the valley & rode up beside Cougar Creek to get to the start of the Montane Traverse. It was quite chilly riding in the sun to the trail-head with the breeze, but by the time we were in the trees it quickly warmed up. This was in part due to being much more sheltered, but mostly because of two very steep climbs that we hit almost straight away. Neil, being really quite fit (he's the aforementioned gym owner) cruised on up quite easily, & the rest of us ended up walking small to large parts of the end of each climb.

Unfortunately, I forgot my camera so there are no photos from that ride. The ride after the two horrid climbs lived up to its name & traversed along towards Harvie Heights (beside a golf course - for the second time in a month I was pretty much riding along a golf course). This trail was in great condition with lots of roots to negotiate & the odd little downhill to keep it interesting. All of a sudden one would go from a dirt & root trail to the crossing of a stream bed with big chunky rock to try & ride over, usually getting out of the stream bed was a bit difficult. Once the big climbs were over & I started to catch my breath a bit, I was able to almost keep up with Neil & his local knowledge - but at times, he would seemingly just take off. A nice technical steep downhill before we got to Harvie Heights & then started to turn back on trail that flowed very nicely & enable to one to hold on to a bit speed with confidence that a big dropoff or rock wasn't around the corner. Eventually we found the highway & we rode along this for a couple of kiolmetres back to the Irongoat beside Cougar Creek. At the Irongoat we enjoyed sitting on the patio in the sun with a few pitchers & patiently waited for the clouds to move when they were so rude to get in the way. After more pitchers & a good plate of nachos, the girls turned up - they weren't so ambitious in the end & only made it as far down Goat Creek as Megan & I did in February on light touring skis - that is about half way.

It was the Montreal Canadiens last game in their Stanley Cup semifinal series against the Philadelphia Fliers - & as they were the last Canadian team left in the NHL they had some support in these parts. After returning from the ride & showering, I was off out again to see if I could get in to (ice) hockey - couldn't really. The rest of the week I've been back at the Banff Center temp labouring - feels like I've spent a lot of the week pushing a vacuum cleaner around after contractors - not too bad & the iPod helps if it does get a bit too boring. Boring or not, it's some much needed income. I found a huge diesel engine tucked away behind one of the staircases today - apparently enough to provide the entire Banff Center with back-up electricity. It reminded me of the huge Caterpillar engine that was put in MP01 - I bet it is not so yellow now, but just as loud. In fact, quite a few things remind me of NZ Steel - mostly wandering around in hardhat, steel-toed boots, safety glasses, gloves & Hi-Vis.

Tuesday after work, James, Zara, Megan & I went for a little ride up towards the Nordic Center. The others were able to show me how to get up there mostly avoiding the roads & there were some nice little bits of singletrack in places - unfortunately I got my first puncture in over fourteen months (haven't had one since the two I got in Karapoti 2009).

I had found a room to move in to this weekend, but Steve made a slight error with regards to his other flatmate's parents coming to visit, so it turns out I can't move in until July. He was suitably embarrassed, but it shouldn't turn out to be too much of a big deal. Especially now, that Megan & Alex finally have more than one seat in the living area. Another hike planned for Sunday, up Grotto; & if the weather clears by Saturday (it's got quite cold & wet the last day or so - good days for going to work) hopefully a ride then.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

First week over

I've been here a week now & it's gotten a little colder than the first few days. I did manage to get my bike assembled last Sunday & pop over to the Nordic Center. Chatted with Megan for a while & took a look around the event stalls before heading out on the Orange Trail. It was quite a shock to start with, a good climb that was really tight & twisty - it may have been my state of fitness or the jetlag or both, but that was a tough climb & I spent a lot more time in the easy gears. The trail was generally quite tight even when it did flatten out & there were plenty of tree roots to negotiate & keep me on my toes - so to speak. At the furtherest point from the day lodge, the trail went out in to a meadow that I remember approaching from the other side on XC skis a few months ago. Away from the trees the trail opened up a lot & flowed very nicely across the meadow. The view wasn't too bad either.As most of the climbing had been done at the start of the loop, the return was quite fun & the last little climb back to the day lodge was past a skills area that I must return to one day at the start of a ride.
I had a few little chores to complete on Monday & after a bit of waiting I got my Social Insurance Number & opened a bank account. Curiously, the woman at the bank that set up my account for me had once spent a year in NZ - it turns out in Onewhero (a small village really near Pukekohe) - and when I wrote my address down (the house that Megan & Alex were moving to in two days' time) she realised that it was the very place where she first lived when she came to Canmore. Those things & a little shopping completed, I climbed back up the hill & then headed back to hit the orange trail. It must have been the jetlag affecting my riding the day before as I was pleased to make it the whole way around in the middle ring - the next goal is to get around without dabbing. It was either Monday or Tuesday that it got ridiculously warm - up in the high twenties for a time; it must have been Tuesday as Alex & I were going to head out for a ride that evening, but a lot of rain in the evening somewhat discouraged us.

Tuesday & Wednesday were mostly spent looking for jobs, catching up with Neil from Gear Up, hanging out at the new place to let various tradies in to fix a couple of odd things, rehashing my CV & riding around town. Wednesday evening was the big move from up the hill to the centre of town - we managed it all OK in a few car loads & now Megan & Alex reside in what looks like a sparsely furnished place, it's so much better & so close to town (about one minute to walk to the main street). Craig also called in on Wednesday night after a night-bus from Vancouver & picking up the second 650cc Kawasaki that he & Josh are planning on riding from Alaska south all the way to the bottom of the Americas. It was good to see a familiar NZ face & catch up with a lot of his news.

The last two days of the working week were, just for a change, spent working. A temping agency I signed up with had a couple of days work at a construction site in Banff. It was pretty easy work, just tidying up after all the contractors on a new building that is nearing completion at the Banff Center. A bit of lifting & not all that exciting work, but good people to be working with, a good supervisor & some money coming in for a change. I'm working again tomorrow & have four days' work on the same site next week - all that should pay for a month's rent & food. Alex, Megan & I went for a little walk around town Friday night in an attempt to feed the bunnies - which proved largely unsuccessful; there must have been at least forty wild domestic bunnies around on people's lawns, the school grounds & only one was game enough to eat a hand fed carrot.

I decided not to work Saturday as well (two days in a row was enough for me!). A group of seven of us went hiking up Eeor (East end of [Mt] Rundle) which is just behind Canmore - pretty much right next to Ha Ling, which I hiked up with Megan in February. The day dawned wonderfully sunny & I was glad that I opted out of another day working. It wasn't overly warm, but by the time we were walking at 1015 up the hill it started to get a bit warmer (but not quite enough to take my fleece off). As we started to get near the tree line we could see the clouds starting to close in over Spray Lakes & the wind started to get a little chillier. The path through the trees was a steady climb with plenty of rock & roots to clamber over & around. Above the trees it was mostly just a lot of rocks & it started to border on scree. It started to snow a little as we began to make the last ascent to the ridge & summit, but on the top ridge it turned out to be warmer & a lot calmer. The view down to Canmore was pretty good, there was an neat amphitheatre on the Canmore side of the ridge & I was impressed Megan, six months pregnant, made it to the summit (it was about three hours to the top I think) - but then she has been doing a lot of hiking recently, so I wasn't too surprised. As it was such a nice day, there were so many people up there - we must have seen at least twenty others. On the way down we detoured a little to the east so that we could get a good look off the top of a big cliff (I think I heard "it must be 4000 ft" come from Geoff's mouth - it was a long way down, but not quite that far) down to Grassi Lakes & across to Ha Ling. We took it pretty easy on the way down & I was pleased that my legs stood up so well & my knees didn't hurt a bit - but that was probably because I was only carrying my Camelbak. By the time we had got in to the trees properly, the snow had stopped but it never really warmed up a whole lot more. Back to the car after four & three-quarter hours - a good little outing; looking forward to mixing in a few more hikes with the riding.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Made it.

My computer has just kindly reminded me that it is six in the morning. Still I managed eight hours of sleep, so, that is not a bad thing. That I'm about to watch the sunrise over the mountains on the other side of Canmore is a great thing. After another OK nine hours of Air Canada (watched too many TV programs, not quite enough food & a very chatty guy from Oxford going to Seattle for work) we made it in to Calgary. We were rerouted across the north of Iceland (usually fly south), but it was cloudy so we didn't see Boris (Eyjafjallajokull) - looks as though I may have left London just in time. However, the cloud was absent for most of Greenland & the views were spectacular - mountains, glaciers, icebergs & just generally white. Then it clouded over again.

Getting my work visa stapled inside my passport was a breeze & I was through the arrival formalities a little before Megan arrived. Always nice to be greeted at an airport - Megan looking well, with an expectedly larger belly (expecting late-August/early-September). We didn't hang around Calgary, it's hardly the most inspiring city & perhaps even less so when it's not covered in snow. Canmore seems so much more alive with no snow around (in town that is, the peaks either side of the valley are still capped) - there are people everywhere out & about, a lot more cars around & most pleasingly a lot of mountain-bikes around. Megan & I started what will be a days-long process of moving from their one bedroom basement to their new place which has two bedrooms & a huge living area (compared to the current one) & did a little grocery shop. When we arrived home, Alex was back from work & bleeding the brakes on the Kona softtail that he has bought since I was last here - always a good sign when a friend buys a new bike - more riding to be had.

Not much other news, today (Sunday) Alex is back at work, Megan is volunteering again at the women's running event at the Nordic Center & I'll probably whip the bike together sometime soon & go & hit some Canadian singletrack at the Nordic Center! The rest of the week will be filled with things like getting a tax number, bank account, looking for a job, moving house interspersed with more riding.

Farewells again.

I'm back in one of my most common blog updating places - an airport lounge. My nine month stay in the UK is coming to an end as I sit in Terminal 3 waiting to see from which gate AC851 to Calgary leaves - I'm well excited (slept in a bit more that I should have this morning - awoke with a start at 0800 remembering with pleasure a dream about Canadian singletrack). This week has been one of mostly packing & saying goodbyes to various friends & family & unfortunately not too many photos to break up my prose. Tuesday in London started off with a jab in the arm - a booster Hep. A shot that should mean I need never have another one. Finally got to finish off the RAF Museum after that, the Battle of Britain hall was reasonably small but packed with great WWII era aircraft. As well as the Hurricane, Spitfire, Me110 I was most pleased to finally see a Stuka - that fearsome bent wing dive bomber that did so well in the early advances of the Wehrmacht across Europe. The Sunderland flying boat was impressive due to its sheer size. Vittoria was quite excited by the arrival of someone to play with; in amongst all the games & trips to the "hospital" & having my apparently broken leg treated by the smallest doctor I've ever seen, I somehow ended feeding a often-dribbling Amelie - once again, teething looks like no fun at all. After a rather quick goodbye to Vittoria, she was off to bed - trying to explain that it would be some years before she saw me again was a bit difficult as the outer limit of a long time to a two year old is probably the week or so that is often between my visit, if not shorter. Shelley had done wonderfully well whipping up a pavlova topped with kiwifruit & it was not without some sadness that I took my last walk to Rayners Lane & sat on the Metropolitan Line down to Baker St.

Wednesday's outing was up to Great Notley (near Braintree & Stansted) for lunch with first-cousins-once-removed Keith & Carol & Keith's father Alan (my great-uncle). The oldest of his siblings & approaching ninety (but don't tell him that) Alan is doing remarkably well living in his own flat & pretty much looking after himself - there is some hope I might not go doolally (a much used word that day - one I hadn't heard for quite a while). Thursday was mostly more cleaning of my bike in the morning & then I headed off to meet Matt (the primary school friend from twenty years ago that I met a few weeks ago) at the Imperial War Museum. This was, at least, my third visit to the IWM & on entry & I thought I would only be having a quick look around. But upstairs I discovered a new exhibit - this one on that most harrowing of subjects, the Holocaust. We got lost in there for quite some time as there is always a lot to absorb & try to comprehend. It was quite well done, & while sobering not nearly as depressing as the Holocaust Museum in DC. All of a sudden it was 1730 & time to head off to meet Chris after work. This time I had a genuine reason for taking that shortest of tube lines - I actually wanted to go to from Waterloo to Bank. I sat waiting for Chris reading my free Evening Standard on the steps of the Royal Exchange for the last time, taking in the wonderful architecture that is the Bank of England & watching thousands of suits scurry around. Avoiding heading in to the melee that is getting on to the Central Line in the evening rush at Bank, we walked for quite some time west & I was pleased to be able to share some of my knowledge of small London museums that are worth seeing with Chris. We headed out a little west to Chris's neighbourhood, had a pint at his local before I got the tour of his flat (which was pretty short at two rooms) before we walked & tubed to Paddington to meet Annie - a good friend of Chris's that I had met at his sister's wedding in Tuscany almost two years ago. Annie is now living in Melbourne & over in Europe for four weeks. Now that it's the northern summer there are plenty of people coming this way - it is somewhat unfortunate in that respect that I am skiving off to Canada now - there are at least six people coming over that I would have like to have seen. But that's a small price to for what promises to be a great year of riding & skiing. After my last pints of lager for what I imagine a while & a great time catching up with what we've all be up to, I said goodbye to Chris & Annie before heading off to catch the last train back to Sidcup. I was sure it wasn't just the lager messing with me, I couldn't find that train anywhere (it's not like they're a set of car keys - nice Snatch reference) & sure enough it had been cancelled & I had a slightly longer & more circuitous trip home.

Somehow yesterday I managed to squeeze a lot in to my Macpac & bike bag - somehow the pack has ended up heavier than the bike bag, which is a first. A quick visit to get shorn & then it was off to say goodbye to Nora. That was one of the most difficult visits yet as, it would be fair to say, after seven weeks she is a little tired of the mundane hospital & she was really quite angry & it took quite a while to calm her down with many more rounds of Gin Rummy. The powers that be have finally decided that Social Service will pay for her residential care, so hopefully Trish & Jan can find a place they like this weekend & Nora can move to a much nicer environment next week. The final farewells were last night over dinner at a great Asian buffet in Orpington. Jan & I managed to squeeze my four bags in to her Swift her this morning, a much easier trip to Heathrow than my last one (the four hour trek across London in the snow on buses, DLR, tube) on the M25 & I was shortly saying goodbye to Trish & Jan - I'll miss my English family, they've been very good to me. Well Gate 29 is open now, so this is a good spot to stop & make sure I get on the waiting Airbus.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Hastings, Welsh riding & almost the end of my stay in London

I'm up in Ipswich this weekend visiting Louis & Emma (Te Puke & Palmy friends) before I leave (ash cloud permitting) for Canada next weekend. The weather seems to have regressed back to winter, so it's been a nice relaxing weekend hanging out with old friends, eating good food, watching sport (a horrible game, but a good last ball win by the Black Caps), churning through a recent Tess Gerritsen novel, winning at Buzz & so on. All the major things have been crossed off my list of things to do before leaving London, so it's been nice to get away for the weekend & ignore all the smaller things left. Louis & Emma live in a flat in a converted malthouse, & I really like the massive exposed beams & wondering at all the industrial & processing goings on that this place would have once seen - plus being so close to town is pretty good too.

Trish & I did make it to Battle & Hastings last week. I was quite impressed that Trish made it around the large battlefield with her previously broken ankle & leg still on the mend. The small display & video before walking around the field complemented an excellent audio-guide. The battlefield runs up the side of long gentle slope to the abbey at the top. It was quite difficult at times on the rather pleasant spring day on which we were there to imagine fifteen to twenty thousand men slashing, bashing, shooting & charging at each other over the length of 14th October 1066. One part of the commentary that sticks in my mind is when it said that the first phase of the battle was over - that was six hours after the start & the battle then continued for the rest of the day. I can hardly last six waking hours without food, or at the least a drink - I can hardly imagine having to fight all day with such heavy equipment just in the chance that I might stay alive & help my side to a victory. William the Conqueror was persuaded by the Pope to build an abbey on the top of the hill as an act of penance for all the blood spilt - parts of this still stand & the second half of the tour is around the remains, which were quite interesting. Leaving Battle, we headed off to Hastings - which is quite a dreary little seaside town really. The most interesting thing around the seaside were the two short funicular railways that go from sea level to the top of cliffs - one of them is now the steepest in Britain at 78% incline; the tracked submersible tractor unit to launch the Lifeguard's launch was also of note.

The day following, I eventually got around to packing up the bike & associated gear for the bank holiday weekend & set off to Farnborough to meet Andy - with a fair bit of sitting on the M25 in traffic on the way. After a feed at Andy's & loading up Andy's A3 with two bikes & associated gear, food & clothes we were off to Wales for a weekend of riding. The weather forecasted did not look too promising, but the prospect of three days' worth of riding had us both pretty excited. We stayed in Southgate, on the Gower Peninsula (the UK's first area of outstanding natural beauty, apparently) just west of Swansea in south Wales - where Andy's sister, her partner & their daughter live. Andy's parents have a holiday house just around the corner from Katie, Simon & Amber, so this is where we stayed for the weekend. After reasonable traffic (considering the long weekend) we arrived, unpacked & promptly hit the hay.

Saturday dawned overcast, but dry & shortly Simon had turned up on his bike & Katie pushing Amber in the stroller. At thirteen months Amber is just learning to walk & was quite intrigued by a stranger - so she kept staring at me with her large & gorgeous deep brown eyes. Shortly after, we were out riding & Simon was showing us his local trails around the peninsula. We started off with a nice rocky descent before crossing a road & riding through a group of Scouts setting up camp for the weekend. Most of the riding was out in the open with a mixture of ascents & descents & a bit of ridge riding. Nothing too taxing, but my lack of time on the bike started to show on some of the climbs - there was one good steep one, but at least I wasn't off pushing this weekend, even if I was in the granny ring. On a good day you can see Devon from the Gower, but it was a bit overcast, so we could only just see back to the Welsh mainland.Apparently we were in King Arthur territory, so we had to stop for a pint of Double Dragon here:From here it was only another half an hour or so home. While not a particularly demanding ride on the face of it, it must have been pretty trying for me as I was exhausted for the rest of the day & even had a bit of nap before we headed around to Katie & Simon's for dinner - where I was feeling so out of sorts I shockingly lost part of my appetite & couldn't quite finish my meal, weird.

The trail centre at Brechfa is one that Andy had been wanting to ride at for quite some time & Sunday was the day. We started off on the Raven trail that was graded "black/severe" & the signboard feature such glowing descriptions as: "mountain biking to the next level" & "fast, undulating trail that sweeps betweens and flows sinuously in berms and over jumps". I wasn't particularly convinced as the trail had a really steep & hard climb at the start on nicely paved singletrack & then the following descent was a slippery rooty affair which didn't really flow at all. In fact, on this trail it seemed that the price you paid for a lot of climbing was never really repaid by decent descents. A few times I would notice a great singletrack climb to be followed by descending on fireroad - what a waste. Still, at least I wasn't the guy near the end of the trail with his arm in a sling & a broken collar bone. With all that climbing I was pretty tired (in addition to the previous day's ride) & spent a lot of time in the granny ring & with Andy waiting for me. Back to the car for lunch & to load up the car again for a few miles' driving up the valley to the red/difficult graded trail.

The Gorlech trail was about the same length as the Raven trail, but with even more climbing (over 1000m c.f. 725m). Fortunately, this climbing was a lot more manageable & some of the singletrack going up was beautiful winding its way through mossy trees.We got much more value for our climbing efforts out of this trail & parts of it flowed very nicely & all the berms, step-ups, tabletops & other jumps were great fun. Not to mention every so often popping out of the trees with good views over the valleys (& even some sun, which was much better than the sleet forecast).The only work in Welsh I learnt all weekend was 'araf', which means 'slow'. Due to the British Health & Safety cotton wool culture, these two words were plastered all over the narrow roads & at any opportunity along the trails - for no good reason. Here is Andy waiting for me again after another great piece of trail.So my legs managed to survive near on 40 km of riding & about 1800 m of climbing & we didn't even get all that wet - only a little bit from all the puddles at any dip in the trails. Still it was enough water to mean that I had to pay a little more attention to cleaning my bike that night. A night blobbing in front of the telly - we avoided Welsh TV & some how ended up watching an episode of The Pretender (there really was nothing better on) which took me back about a decade or so (the days when you would record on VCR TV programs to watch later - haven't done that for ages).

Bank Holiday Monday dawned brilliantly sunny. After sleeping in a bit & tidying up the house at a leisurely pace, Andy took me for a short stroll across the golf course that neighbours the village to the see the ruins of Pennard Castle. A castle has been here since about 1100 & it's in a great position above some sheer drops, one small problem is that sand blown up on the wind easily builds up against the castle - it was for this reason that the castle was abandoned at the end of the 14th century. The golf course is a real links course - wind-swept, open full of hummocks, hillocks & mounds; however it is a good couple of hundred feet up from the ocean & has commanding views of Three Cliffs Bay below.

Back on the road we headed east towards Port Talbot & its blast furnaces, steelmaking, rolling & finishing plants before we turned up the valley to Afan - one of Wales' most popular trail centres. As it was a public holiday, there were a lot of people out walking & on all sorts of types & quality of bikes. We did the Y Wal trail, & this proved to be the most enjoyable ride of the weekend. Crossing the river at the bottom of the valley we climbed quite easily for a while - old rail paths always have nice gradients. The steepness stepped up a notch, but even in my state I could manage it in the middle ring - maybe a little bit of strength & fitness was returning to my legs after all - & we managed to pass quite a few groups of riders. Some of climb was on singletrack & it was really quite nice. But what was even better, was that these trail builders had remember to save their best work for the downhill - woohoo! These lived up to the signboard's claims this time: "some of the best singletrack descents in the UK... fast, open & flowing". Great fun & in no time at all we were back at the car - three days of good to great riding were over. With the car loaded up again & lunch downed we were back on the M4 fighting the holiday traffic. Countering what is apparently usual, when we crossed the Severn from Wales to England the weather went from good to poor; with a little crawling on the M5 we were soon at Taunton & catching up with John & Anna - Andy had not met the twins, Ester & Lydia, yet. The A303 back to Andy's was pretty chocka, but my run home up the M3 & around the M25 were unbelievably quick.

The rest of the past week has included Tuesday in Portsmouth (taxi-driver for Trish, who was attending a workshop), a bit of painting of the cattery at Ray & Jill's, buying travel insurance, walking a good few miles down the Thames from Kew to Putney & the penultimate visit to Andrew & Shelley's. I'm back round there next week to say goodbye, the only consolation there is the pavalova Shelley has promised to cook - with the Patricks planning on being back in NZ by the time I return to the UK & their wonderful hospitality & friendship, it's a harder goodbye than most.

Forgot to mention that I got to vote in the general & local elections last week. Not really much of note there - strolled across the road in my slippers to the local primary school, resisted the urge to vote for Napoleon Dynamite of the Loony Party & that was about it really.