Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Kentish long-weekend

After a big weekend of riding the previous week, where I managed to pull a muscle in my knee on the Saturday making Sunday's large singlespeed ride rather painful, it seemed to a good idea to leave the bike(s) at home for the last long weekend of the summer. The physio sorted out my knee quickly, but recommended I do some form of exercise other than biking - a thought that hadn't crossed my mind recently. So I went for a run & pulled a muscle in my foot - I promptly gave up running.

Not taking bikes, meant that the four of us could all fit in the same car as we travelled to a quaint 15th century cottage we had rented for the weekend - our base for a friends' wedding. It's quite fun staying in a house that is more than twice as old as the country you're from. Happily, I also had a long weekend for my birthday for the first time in my life - a rather dismal day weather wise, we pretty much spent the day eating well too much. We also managed to fit a visit to Canterbury Cathedral in (I'd been before with Trish a few years ago, so as the weather was pants I didn't really take many photos).  Eventually we settled on a huge roast dinner and if that didn't fill me up - the two birthday cakes certainly helped.
Plenty of exposed beams
Kings Head Cottage - plenty of room for us all.
Across the village green.
One of the older houses in Chartham.

Thankfully, the wedding day had considerably better weather than my birthday.  Laura & Luis got engaged before I started working here in the UK, so it was good to see all the plans that we've heard so much of come to fruition.  The service was all very traditional (dearly beloved, have & to hold etc.) and quite good fun, I still can't sing very well though.  On seeing the wedding car, below, I immediately had to get a few snaps for Uncle Geoff back in Australia - I'm pretty sure Bentleys of such age are his favourite.

With a bit too much time to spare between ceremony & evening wedding party, we went down to the white cliffs at Dover in our gladrags - where we picniced on the beach, mucked around, went to the pub and then wandered a bit on top of the cliffs.

After the speeches was the dancing for the night - a céilidh.  Basically a gaelic folk dance, it reminded me of the (awful) folk-dancing endured at primary school - but it was miles better due to there being a good band, a caller to tell me what to do and no longer being scared of girl-germs.  But I still had little idea what I was doing - but it really didn't matter as plenty others didn't either.  A huge pig-on-a-spit topped the night off nicely; amusingly the happy couple drove off in a tuk-tuk.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


I managed to get my tent packed up before the rain rolled in for what transpired to be a utterly miserable day in the Welsh valleys. Just as well the nice bike ride was on the Saturday and I'd set Sunday aside for a couple of industrial museums close by in Blaenavon. While not nearly as extensive as the fantastic museums at Ironbridge, there was enough to keep me interested to want to wander around in the driving rain for a few hours.

First up were the ironworks, of which there were the hearths of the a couple of blast furnaces, a couple of old casting halls, the remains of lime kilns & charging floor, and the shell of a huge balance tower (a water operated lift for lifting carts of pig iron ten metres or so). The audio explanations dotted sparsely around were excellent in explaining what it was like for those iron workers. The site is of note for the pioneering of basic steel-making which enabled high phosphorus ores to be used.

A little down the road is Big Pit, an old underground coal mine (of which, there were of course many in Wales once upon a time) that is now the National Coal Museum.  It closed over thirty years ago and opened shortly after as a coal museum.  The big attraction is the chance to go down a coal mine.  It's not far, less than a hundred metres down.  As it's still regarded as a mine, our small group donned hard hats, miners' lamps and emergency gas mask before we could enter and gave up any item containing a battery, matches, lighters etc.  The tour was very well done and most informative - nicely it hasn't been sanitised too much for the public, so there's plenty of opportunity to bump one's head or fall over in the dark.  Not quite as much fun as my previous trip underground in to a fully operational pit under the Waikato River back in NZ - but interesting all the same.

So I only managed a few pictures of the cage and winding mechanism - with the weather, they're really quite poor.

Back above ground there are a few things to look at - the restored bath house that the miners used has some good exhibits in.  A good visit & nice to be out of the rain.

MTB Marathon again - Crickhowell - Brecon Beacons

With a not too unpleasant illness from, I think, a dirty Camelbak tube earlier in the week, I was just aiming to finish another 75 km event (this time in the rather hilly Brecon Beacons, South Wales) without coughing up too many pieces of lung.  After the four hour drive I was just in time to put up the tent in the event village and settle in for the night with a good book before a huge thunder storm rolled through.

Excessive amounts of rain in the early morning also slid away over the horizon and the event started with the threat of showers.  This round of the series (there are four, I did the middle two) was supposed to be longer & with more climbing than the previous one I did.  But I expected it to be somewhat easier as I had a new bike, many more gears and, most importantly, it wasn't 30ºC with the sun beating down.

To get out of the village up the valleys there was too much road for my liking, but eventually we got off road and there was a steep, rocky climb - my valiant (or so I'm saying) attempt to get up it was thwarted by too many people in front of me walking.  Eventually the course opened up and all of a sudden twenty kilometres were gone and I was at the first of the legendary feed stations (so much home-baking & other goodies, I probably spent too long at these just eating).  More climbing, this time on gravel, and then the course split and the lesser distances were away and it was blissful solitude on the trails.

The next climb was long, very technical and just kept going.  In the perfect riding weather (mostly sun, a breeze, 20ºC and an occasional bit of drizzle), this was a very pretty climb up a long valley.  Of the 8.5 km, I managed it all apart from a few metres choosing the wrong line through the rocks.  Near the start of the climb a large dam loomed large above us, I was surprised when we kept going past it.  Over 300 metres ascending, there was a wild descent (20+ % in places) on which I found my forks had too much air in them - never mind, I survived.  I also stopped briefly for some photos as it was rather pleasant.

Back in the valley, it flattened out a little going down to another feed station - conveniently at the bottom of what turned out to be the biggest, hardest hill I've been up in ages.  Good training for the RVO hopefully.  The bottom was super steep & rocky, but as we rode through the stone wall (it was gated, my bike is not magic - well, no more magic than bikes are in general) it was the beginning of an interminable granny ring grind on grass.  Good fun slowly hauling others in - the tail wind as we traversed helped.  Time for a couple more photos before traversing into the massive head wind on the other side of the hill - never that much fun having to work downhill.

It was pretty much all downhill from there, so pleased to get back just over five hours (including all the food stops - yum, Welsh cakes).  Once again, it was disappointing that the distance & elevation gain was somewhat less than expected.  But a great day out & a very enjoyable ride in another national park previously unvisited by me.