Junior Engineer

Having had his first dabble with ‘Big Boy Lego’ a fortnight ago we bought him a Creator kit. When I opened the box I wondered if I’d been a bit over ambitious on his behalf, a 9+ kit for someone only almost five. Well, five sessions later he finished it, a solo building effort, albeit with a consulting engineer asking the occasional, ‘Are you sure that goes on that way around? ‘ Well done Junior.

Advertisements

The Hot One…

Looking across the Bowland Fells from Wolfhole Crag

First there was the wet one, then the dry one, followed by the cold one and now I’ve enjoyed a hot one! What am I talking about? My most recent wild-camping micro-adventure of course.

As anyone in the UK knows, this summer has been unprecedented for heat and lack of rainfall and Lancashire has been more extreme (relatively) than many other areas of the country. This made this an excellent time to explore the normally ‘moist’ upland of the Bowland Fells. The fear of moorland fires meant it felt like I had the whole AONB almost to myself as well. This only went to enhance the feeling of wild isolation which is a key facet of such a trip for me.

The route was to take me from Jubilee Tower where I could abandon a car, over the highest peak in Bowland, Ward’s Stone, across to and then along the Hornby Road, which also formed part of my first wild-camping weekend.  From there my route was to run along the Hodder and across Waddy Fell to the farm of good friends of mine as a fitting end point. Having personal open-access across their land made up for the lack of footpaths to sensibly link Slaidburn to West Bradford.

The forecast for the weekend was hot, sunny and dry. Ironically the weight I lost in deciding not to carry any waterproof gear (just my excellent Paramo Showerproof Smock) was at least compensated for by the extra water I needed to carry.

Jubilee Tower Nr. Quernmore

The car park by Jubilee Tower had been locked to discourage people from walking on the moorland, but thankfully there was still space next to the road to abandon the car. Fire risk signs abounded which re-enforced the care I already planned to take when it came to using my stove that evening. The route initially took me to the top of Grit Fell, from which the views stretched to the Yorkshire Dales and the Kent Estuary as well as across Bowland itself. The Southern Lakes were shrouded in haze however.

Grit Fell

Grit Fell

I had the fell to myself as I walked along the ridge which gentle rises up to Ward’s Stone. It was entertaining to read the comments on how wet the ground is between these two fells on a day when all the scrub was so dry as to be crispy.

The path from Grit Fell is difficult: crossing Cabin Flat, it weaves its way across hidden pools of stagnant water, the presence of which is betrayed by a form of red grass. White markers supposedly point out the way, but more often result in leading the walker astray.

I really did count my blessings to have the chance to be here after such a dry spell. Ward’s Stone is a flat topped hill, not unlike Pendle in that respect, and has the unusual distinction of having two trig points on it, one at either end of the summit plateau.

Following a well maintained dry stone wall took me East to the grouse shooters track which had been my inspiration to refresh my acquaintance with wild-camping last year. Having made an early start and managed an excellent pace I wanted to make the most of the day. The beauty of walking alone is that after a hastily arranged conference with myself (over lunch) I decided it would be better to split the distance of my days (initially 10 / 14 miles) more evenly and also take in an extra peak. I find trig points hard to resist so after lunch I abandoned my pack for 30 min and headed up to the top of Wolfhole Crag. It may be a few years before you can just again head where you fancy on this fell-side without waders or a snorkel!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After the rewarding view I dropped down to a stream and collected some water. Then it was up to the Hornby Road. Initially I thought I’d use my original sheltered spot for that night, but rather than head SE to this I instead headed to the NW. I wanted to cover an additional two miles before stopping, and rather than looking for shelter I wanted a spot open to the breeze to help moderate the heat. After a total of 13.5 miles I spotted a small plateau on the side of White Hill, nestled below Great Bull Stones. I was very tempted to walk to the summit to get a site with great views, but the practical desire to be near some washing up water and fatigue led me to stick with the plateau.

Wildcamp plateau

I didn’t really need the tent and slept with the door open all night.  After dinner I alternating a chance to read my novel and drinking in the view until I was too tired to keep my eyes open any more.

View from my overnight camping spot

Day Two was to be as hot and sunny as Day One. My route took me down the Croasdale Valley, because this could take me into Slaidburn without recourse to any road walking.  I would not recommend anyone take this part of my route in anything but extreme dry weather – the ground was badly poached by a group of Belted Galloway Cattle and clearly a very moist (calf deep) route in a normal year. I, however, was blessed to trace the brook down into Slaidburn with dry feet. It was too early for the fine institution which is the Hark to Bounty, but OK to use the boot washing taps to top up with some clean water to see me through the rest of my day.

The rest of the route was not wild, but it did have the satisfaction of allowing me to walk (all but) all the way home. After following the Hodder I headed up and over Waddy Fell. I did this far faster than I expected. It’s not as big as it looks, and after nine months farm work I am more ‘walking fit’ than I’ve been for 20 years. The top of this fell is normally boggy, but at the risk of overplaying the theme, today the moss was so dry it was crispy. This allowed a shortcut to my lunch spot with Pendle as my lunch companion.

Pendle viewed from Waddington Fell.

Pendle viewed from Waddington Fell.

I reflected on an excellent weekend: I’d had the higher Bowland Fells all to myself in glorious sunshine and the kaleidoscope of the colours of nature as the backdrop to my little adventure. Whilst I believe self sufficiency in life makes for a poorer existence, just for a weekend it does my soul no harm but instead makes it sing.

All I had to do then was to look for landmarks on my friends farm and get myself to the edge of their land.  From there the going was easy.  Having estimated I’d be with them by 1500 I beat this by a whole 100 minutes. There’s life in this old chemist yet!

Where next? I am pondering the Lake District and the chance to camp by an elevated tarn.  All suggestions welcome…

Crazy Bars Review

dsc_0086

In my last post I outlined why I wanted to try moving from conventional drop bars to a pair of alt bars on my touring bike.  Two rides in and I’m really pleased.  They have fulfilled their brief which was to:

  • Give me a slightly more upright position to reduce / eliminate neck pain at the end of a long ride.
  • Allow multiple hand positions despite being more upright (std straight bars would not offer this.
  • Offer a good position for putting power into steep climbs using the strength of both arms and legs.

Tick, tick tick. And as a bonus the new stem needed has given an ideal place to mount my GPS, which used to be mounted on top of my bar bag in a very ad hoc and unsatisfactory manner. In the unlikely event of Velo Orange (the makers) reading this there are just two changes I’d make.  I’d add 25 mm in length to the forward facing bars to be able to get a whole hand onto these bars rather than part onto the bar end shifters and I’d cut 25 mm off the end of the raked back bars (though I guess I could do this myself without much bother.

dsc_0066

It took ca. 30 miles to get used to them.  Perhaps the oddest thing is that, for me, my most frequent hand position is not one close to the brakes.   Whilst this was to be expected, it takes some adapting too.  I am used to riding on the hoods with the brakes within reach.  Now for steep descents and in town I move my hands to the raked position, in town this is fine, but its a bit odd to be so ‘non aero’ on steep descents.  A surprise was my favoured position for honking it up hills and that is to have my hands out on the aero position, if I’m spinning I have my hands right to the top of the bars (which is when I think a little extra length of the tilted section would be ideal)  but when I’m up out of the saddle I just more my hands back a little to the level section of the aero bars.  I thought I’d be right out on the wide swept section for this, but it feels really powerful to be in the former position.  Resting my hands on the intersection seems to take the place of when I’d normally hold the flats.  I’ve got flats exactly as before but the intersection just feels better.  I use this position to recover after a long climb before I start applying the power again.  Overall I spend the greatest proportion of my time at the ends of the aero bars.  It feels like a really good position to put in lots of power.  My average speed was up, but whether this was the position or just the excitement of new equipment it is hard to say.

I cannot sign off without giving a mention to the cafe above, where I had lunch.  This is just off the A65 in Hellifield – Hazy Dayz  This was a pivotal part of today’s route and I was delighted to find they offer a free pot of tea to any cyclist the orders food.  Great all day breakfast too.

Hellifield 44 mile route map

Crazy Bars

dsc_0066.jpg

In August I plan to ride a Welsh Coast to Coast. From South to North following the route of the Wales in a Day Sportive. The animated route published on YouTube really sold it to me. The original route is 185 miles over some very hilly terrain so I plan to split it into 40-50 mile sections and add a loop into Builth Wells, the town in which I met the lady of my dreams who is now Mrs W. Along with Junior, she will be my support crew and have their own fun in the daytime whilst Daddy cycles over the hills returning in time for some playground time and dinner in the VW camper.

Originally I liked the challenge of riding this on my high racer recumbent to follow on from my ride on the Pennine Cycleway in 2014. I love my ‘bent for touring because it is so comfortable, but despite all the hype I would have to agree it is harder work up really steep grades because, whist more biomechanically efficient, you cannot get the extra oomph of getting out of the saddle and using also the power of your arms in a good grind.

I am no longer in my 20’s (by a country mile) and my big gripe with my touring bike is neck ache from the use of the dropped bars. So inspired by Matt Hobley I started looking into alterative or ‘alt’ bars. Normally reserved for off road touring and bike packing there are a number of options out there, including but not limited to Jones Bars and Surly Moloko Bars. But my choice has been some Velo Orange Crazy Bars. These are lighter (aluminum, no loop) and also better suited to a traditional bar bag. I get to keep my bar end shifters (a must) but gain some space to mount my GPS in a sensible place for the first time. The aim is the multiple hand positions essential for healthy long distance touring but a more upright posture.

First long test ride is set for tomorrow…

Junior goes solo #proud-daddy

Frame Grab of Nathan's first bike rideHe first rode this bike with help on Thursday evening and by Saturday morning Junior was riding solo / unaided. He’s done so well, it looks like having the Balance Bike really did do what it was supposed to.  Junior had the lightest one on the market, which was not only good for him, but also for me when he lost interest and I had to carry it home! Go for a Strider!   I cannot upload a video onto the blog without upgraded, but you can see the video here.

A Mini Micro Adventure – The Next Generation*

DSC_0002

Being on a sabbatical year has given me a lot of time to think, to develop but also more time to have fun with Junior. After a trial nights’ camping in the back garden in the Spring, we discussed taking it up a notch. Initially I thought we could camp on top of Pendle (and one day I hope we will) but I realized that he was still not old / strong enough to walk to the top without being carried some of the way. And, in saying this I hope I don’t shatter too many illusions, I’m not Superman! I cannot carry full kit for two and 19 kg of flesh and bone too.

As some of you may know during this year I am working two days a week on a local sheep farm. It’s great fun! This farm is on the fell side and reaches 850 feet at its highest point. From this point you get a great view across the valley to Pendle. So with the permission of my wonderful farmer friends we headed up to an empty field on the fell top where the grass was recovering (they work a grazing rotation system) and pitched up for the night. It was a glorious evening, dry and warm out of the wind. This was my chance to introduce Junior to the skills of wild camping. Finding a sheltered site, clearing obstructions (and sheep poo also in this case) and pitching the tent. Assuring him the tent would not blow away (how many kids have the assurance they are in a Hilleburg and safe from everything apart from the apocalypse?)

DSC_0045

It was great to see the excitement on his face that we were going to ‘cook up’ some hot chocolate on our stove as a treat to enjoy as we savoured the view. OK, I enjoyed the view and Junior was more taken with the biscuits which ‘tasted better on top of a hill.’

DSC_0046

He slept well and in the morning the excitement continued as Daddy cooked porridge without even getting out of his sleeping bag and he got to eat his also without getting out of bed. Hopefully some good memories have been laid down and this will warm him to the idea of more such adventures in the future.

*I was tempted to entitle this ‘Fell Trek – The Next Generation’ but imagine the humour might fall cold on all but the most geeky of my readership.

Thunderbird 2 – can we make it go?

thunderbird2

I am delighted to have just introduced Junior to Thunderbirds.  Whilst originally made in the 60’s it was still being shown in my childhood some 10-15 years later.  Showing superlative taste he loved it, which meant I got to relive the experience with him too.  Great father-son bonding time.  Then he wanted to know, can we build it out of Lego, so I shook the internet to see what I can find.  Surprisingly it’s not a kit that’s ever been offered.  Pleasingly though Lego have an ‘Ideas‘ site where people can submit ideas for model kits and then the Lego community can vote whether it is something they think they would buy.  Apparently if an idea gets 10,000 votes it will be seriously considered as a new product.  Well the Thunderbird 2 model has already garnered 3000 votes in just over a month, so only 7000 more are needed.  Thus if each of my followers votes for this, and promoted it to ten of their followers who voted for it we would reach the 10,000.  So please consider the young people of our world and how there lives could be transformed for good by such a model being made available and vote here.  Thanks.