Gardening Competitions!

The yard is blooming, as it should do in late June. In the photo you can see the following in bloom – fuchsias, roses, feverfew, geraniums, honeysuckle. You can’t quite see the sweet peas that are just starting to bloom on the railings. The feverfew, in two different forms, has self seeded widely. There’s one variety with a big yellow centre, and another that’s almost entirely white with a tiny centre. The roses are a bit difficult to see, and are Munstead Wood roses from David Austin down in Albrighton. They are a superb rose, having lots of scent, a gorgeous purpley red colour, and a nice variation of form as they go from a tight bud to, by the end, a fairly open form. The other roses are starting to flower too, notably the Golden Celebration, which does have a particularly good rose scent. The honeysuckle is easy to see and is the bees favourite. This year even more than previously, it is absolutely covered in bees. The rough ground nearby is being built on so they are probably starving for food. The bees vary – but very few honey bees are present, it’s particulary buff tailed and small black bees. For areas with a lot of social housing, you need a social plan for ecology, community gardening areas. Perhaps a flat should come with a plant to look after. The mint won’t be allowed to flower since I need it for my tea: apple, pineapple, eau-de-cologne and peppermint mints. The lemon balm is having a good year, and similarly won’t get to flower until late in the year, if at all since it’s great in tea, along with the lemon verbena that survived the winter (surrounded by water bottles to stop it freezing, worked well).

There is a BD3 gardening competition, which is a great idea. I haven’t noticed many people doing very much with their yards around here, though there are one or two bit of veg and some impressive large shrubs / small trees. Along Leeds Old Road there are a few impressive front gardens to terraces, hanging baskets and blooms looking great. To conclude, a Munstead Wood rose…

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More Moors, Commuting by Bike

the orchard at hidcoteCycling from Menston to Bingley via Burnsall was hot and sticky a couple of Sunday’s ago. I decided to do four moors, so across the moor above Otley – Stainburn Moor – then Blubberhouses Moor (on the Bridleway), then along up to Burnsall, then back down to Bolton Abbey and then over Langbar (Langbar Moor?), then down into Ilkley and then up and over Ilkley Moor. The route reaches around about 1000′ four times and is about 50 miles. It’s gorgeous on a hot day. The woods around Bolton Abbey were looking wonderful, spring green and bluebells, with wild garlic starting to go over. Not many cyclists on that route, though a procession of old tractors was gladdening the back road from Burnsall to Bolton Abbey.

[Later... this has become a standard route - Bingley to Bingley via Burnsall, doing Ilkley Moor twice and Langbar moor once. A quiet route mostly, and very little other than lanes so feels quite safe.]

Yet more cycling on the bike path between Leeds and Bradford. Some drivers ignore all pedestrian crossings, whether there’s someone there or not, which explains the bunches of flowers that occasionally decorate even the light controlled crossings. The green man has ceased to be sacrosanct, many drivers ignore the red light and in spite of the pedestrian deaths it evidently isn’t a police priority. It’s curious but I’m possibly safer on a bike than walking! Pedestrians have to cross side roads at least and there’s fairly little respect and kindliness on the roads, especially during the commute.

An argument against commuting by car is that it does bad things to your attitude to other people, the endless pushing in and cutting up surely get into your bloodstream eventually. It is now Bike Week, not that the numbers on the bike route to Leeds have increased. The cycle superhighway from Bradford to Leeds certainly requires patience… pressing buttons and waiting… Mass cycling culture in the UK? As I cycle past the line of mobile phone using, red light running, one-person in a car enjoying their media with diesel fumes pumping car drivers, it’s evidently a long way off. The Antarctic will melt before we get there. More hopeful is mandatory electric vehicles and the end of humans doing the driving.

The photo is the orchard at Hidcote in Gloucs. BD3′s gardening festival is coming up so even more reason to visit inspiring gardens (even if it is about 100000 x bigger than my yard) It is a wonderful garden even if you only garden in a tiny space. It certainly shows how a ‘garden room’ can be imaginatively planted for beautiful contrasts, symmetries, focal points and a sense of sanctuary. The orchard has a lovely sense of being a big shaggy and wild, though I’m sure it produces a great deal of fruit. It would be great to grow an apple tree in a Bradford yard, but all I have at the moment are strawberries, mostly alpine. Lots of things about to flower – roses, honeysuckle and sweet peas in particular. Perhaps that’ll bring in a few more bees, I’m sure I had more last year. The long winter may have reduced their numbers.

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Bingley to Burnsall and other undulations

Over Ilkley Moor twice this last weekend, due to a desire to cycle from Bingley to Burnsall and a love of hills. A cool day, but cycle shorts none-the-less! Not many people around Bolton Abbey, and not so very many cyclists. And also over Langbar, now a firm favourite, it’s a pleasant bit of hilliness with some great views. The Tour de Yorkshire is next weekend, and goes through Burnsall, so the road closure notices were up. I love the excitement of bike racing, but bike culture is a bit too dominated by going fast – not many people taking it easy, panniers, steel frames, the occasional snooze in a hedge. It probably explains why some people will never get on a bike – if it means racing along scared of being overtaken or buying some carbon framed dream… It’s funny how the nation is divided up between the fatties and the sporty types compressed into leggings with go faster stripes. In neither case is exercise part of everyday life, it’s either something impossible (in BD3 the traffic alone would makes you retreat) or something rather technical, with added protein. They seem to be playing the same game, whereas the touring cyclist has transcended that entire ‘dialectic’, of course.

I’ve been reading the Southern Tier blog from four years (to the day) ago. We were in the vicinity of the Grand Canyon and Zion National Park. Wow! I think that’s one of the inspirations of touring – where might turning the pedals a few times more take you? The Southern Tier started outside an airport building in Florida, but wandered through swamps, across mountain ranges, many a scrubby desert, some with no settlement or water for about a hundred miles, through and across canyons, until it reached the Pacific. Wow. Let’s do it again….

I’ve been doing the Bradford Leeds bike route again. Doesn’t seem to be any greater number of people on the route though, in spite of a day when the temperature reached the 20s! The roads are uncivilised – the car drivers behave pretty badly to each other a fair bit of the time – cutting in, going through red lights, speeding. Curious that in a technological age it is still possible to get away with it, isn’t everything on camera these days? Probably can’t afford the staff to look. Anyway, pleasant bike rides on the whole. The problems are fairly evident – there’s many places where the route could be improved, ambiguous priorities made quite clear, bus users and cyclists separated more clearly. I guess there’s no money.

Reading Jean Giono’s La Chasse au Bonheur (The hunt for happiness). Wonderful evocation of Provence in its complex present and past. The book was written in the 60s when Provence faced ‘redevelopment’ just as anywhere else in the West, Giono is a genial, thoughtful, amusing and highly intelligent paysan. He has a great sense of the beauty of people and landscape, the squat farmhouse blasted by the mistral, with a couple of poplars, sheep, lavender fields beyond the sheep, some scrawny olive trees in the lee of the house, a pig in the yard, walls that are le couleur du temps. Not much has changed since the Romans, perhaps the weather is even less clement… And he’s pretty good on the romance of the open road – that feeling that I’d really like to see around the next turning – oh and let’s just see what’s around the next, and surely we should just see over that range of hills…. Some of Giono’s most famous characters (in the novels) are, basically, gentlemen of the road, tramps.. Perhaps it’s time to do Mont Ventoux, hmm.

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Dales Cycling

Easter was just about warm enough for cycling in the Dales, around Reeth, Tan Hill, Ingleton, Whernside, and the like. Tan Hill was visited on a sunny day (two half pints of beer and a couple of packets of crisps cost £6.85, so probably not the place for a session) as part of a circuit starting from Grinton and taking in Kirkby Stephen, so about 50 miles with plenty of climbing. I’d forgotten just how remote the road between Thwaite and Kirkby Stephen feels – over the watershed – and, of course, Tan Hill feels high up. Indeed, there was snow in patches, slowly melting. A trip to Ingleton via Ribblehead in the dry, which was great and included a visit to Chapel le Dale, with its memorial to the remarkable, for present times, number of deaths building the Settle-Carlisle line. We saw more evidence of the death toll the next day at Cowgill Church, along with the curious tale of the dispute between the then curate (in the mid Nineteenth Century) and Prof Sedgwick of Cambridge University (of geological fame) over the name of the village (the curate wanted to change it slightly and did so, Sedgwick, as the old established family, resisted even unto an act of parliament), The curate seems to have been a bit of a handful. Cowgill church was very useful as a place to shelter from the steady rain on Saturday, after coming down from the little road round the back of Whernside. Then finally a trip around the Stang, from Grinton. I did the tough climb up the Stang without any walking, my knees may be ruined… Lovely quiet lonely roads…

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A Plastic Free Lent

Today, being Ash Wednesday, is a suitable day for thinking about what’s going on in your heart, what conflicts are you engaged in, what hopes do you have, how worthy are any of them…? Since I’ve signed several petitions, especially the one from Surfers Against Sewage in favour of Plastic Free Coastlines (which you should certainly sign if you care about your planet), I’m going to try for a Plastic Free Lent. This is not going to be easy. Most of the veg I eat come wrapped in plastic, my bread is wrapped in a plastic bag, my orange juice is in a plastic bottle. So fairly tricky. I can buy loose veg from the organic shop or even Tesco, bake my own bread and eat oranges rather than orange juice though.

It does have a positive side – I don’t have to stop drinking beer or eating chocolate. Even if it proves rather tougher than I’d like, I’m sure I will learn just how plasticized my life is.

[update] Why do supermarkets provide only plastic bags for their loose fruit and veg? It is possible to not bother with any bag at all, tho’ you can lose your veg over the floor if you aren’t careful and look like a crazy person chasing your veg. It’s pretty much impossible to get milk that isn’t in a plastic bottle, so I’ve compromised there, though I’ve tried moving over to cartons of soya milk (plastic closey thingies though and probably less recycleable than plastic milk bottles). Perhaps I could just give up plastic which is hard to recycle or is single use? Chocolate fortunately mostly comes in paper and foil.

As an aside, I noticed the first Spring flowers in my yard – an iris reticulata is fully out and some tulips are just starting to show colour (it’s a Kaufmannia tulip, very early, ‘early harvest’ I think). A single daffodil is also showing a little yellow. Of course, the sarcoccoca and wallflowers have been in blossom since just after Christmas. On a dull day in Bradford, with everyone on their phones and half the town going through red lights, speeding or dumping mattresses, it’s something to treasure. I’ll post a photo when I’m at home in good light…

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Winter Cycling, Christmas Box

Although it seems very grey at the moment, even on the milder days, there are some wonderful things flowering. This christmas box (sarcoccoca confusa) is flowering in profusion in the yard and has a stunning scent. The flowers are odd little strands. Christmas box is a lovely evergreen, and flowers happily in shade. I get a few dark berries at some point, but as a devotee of green in all its variants the flowers are just icing on the cake. Hope some bee wakes up enough to appreciate them. My indoor pelargoniums are flowering too – I’m a bit crazed with Royal Oak scented pelargoniums at the moment, with cuttings on windowsills, and a desire to sniff them (funny balsam – spicy sort of smell, good I think for asthma). I have a bit of a craze for the pine/nutmeg Fragrans ones too – more windowsill space. The ‘Royal Oak’ ones are a bit like bonsai oak trees which gives them a special appeal – it’s very like having a miniature evergreen oak tree, with additional scent, in your living room. Since oak is the best tree around what more could you want?

There were snowdrops around in the Yorkshire Dales on Sunday – peeping out from beneath hedgerows as shown in the photo below (yes, the camera was damp and there was a drizzle so there’s a funny glow to the snowdrops!). And although the rain was at times fairly steady, it was so mild it was a joy to be out. Just a short ride from Burley in Wharfedale to Burnsall and back along the lanes (including going over the tops behind Ilkley – the Langbar road. The farm shop at Beamsley said that it was one of the quietest Sundays of the year – not many people even at Bolton Abbey.

I’ve not done much cycling since late November, and a fair few miles of that has just been cycling to work, usually when the trains are on strike over getting rid of guards (seems a bad idea to me, the trains are policed little enough as it is). In spite of the dark, the commuting rides in November and Jan have been enjoyable – choosing the milder dry days. There’s something so superbly free about being on a bike compared with being shut into a car, train or bus, all variants of metal boxes on wheels after all. Your own energy powering you along, fresh air (when not near standing traffic and the horrible diesels), and just the hint of a thought that you might not go to work after all but turn left and have a day in the Dales instead… [update] since writing this post, I then cycled to work for 5 days in succession in mid-Feb. Some wonderful sunrises, a bit cold and rainy, but fun. Easier to get to Leeds from Bradford since the prevailing wind and slight downhill are a significant help. The smell of diesel fumes in the evening traffic is a big negative. One day I’ll use a bit of the canal to miss out some of that.

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Big Circle Cycling

six  saintsEast Anglia has some big advantages for cycling – it can be quite speedy given that it’s undulating, it’s relatively dry (compared with, say, Wales) and there are an awful lot of quiet lanes with just the occasional tractor or pensioner on them. There are no cols (the average road in Bradford is a tougher climb than anything I’ve found in East Anglia) and there is a pleasant, if mildly radioactive, coast suitable for a quick swim after a hot day on the bike. It’s also not bad for breweries and in fact I visited two brewery shops (St Peter’s, Adnams), and could have done a third (Elgoods in Wisbech) if it hadn’t been for groundless fears of missing the train home. The saints are, I think, from the rood screen in Castle Acre church, and if you look carefully you can see a spattering of shot across the second saint from the right – one of the things Cromwell did for us. Norfolk and Suffolk are remarkable for their wonderful church woodwork – rood screens being a notable feature of many. One gets the feeling that in spite of religious extremists of the time trying to rip them out, the locals were attached to their saints and tried to keep them going. The resistance of ordinary (religious, in this case) practice to ideological zealots… It’s a virtue.

So doing a circle from Peterborough seemed a good idea.

First day from Peterboro’ to Castle Acre took a long route going via the bike path along the Nene heading east, then around Manea (memorable name) and the Welney Wetland Trust alongside the 100 foot wash (good tea stop), which I’ve seen wonderfully flooded, a sheet of light under a bright winter sun, though just damp today. Ended up sitting in the sun at the West Acre pub – The Stag – justly recommended by the CAMRA guide (three beers were available, I drank a pint from a brewery about 10 miles away).

Then we headed to Sheringham on the bank holiday, a great ride though extremely slow due to continually bumping into bookshops (Castle Acre and Tittleshall were the serious ones) and village fetes. At the end of the day we were a bit heavier than when we started. The ride went through Mileham, Tittleshall, Wood Dalling, and then finally approaching Sheringham via East Beckham (were you go down the ‘village only’ road which ends up taking you through National Trust woods on the south side of Sheringham). It was still warm so I went for a swim – a pleasant cool sea, nigh on flat, reasonably clear, with a notable east to west drift even on a calm day.

Sheringham to Blaxhall was just about our longest day and, due to a desire to avoid Norwich and visit St Peter’s Brewery in South Elmhall, ended up at about 90 miles. But hot and sunny weather is ideal for cycling. The difficulty of cycling around the Broads is that there are not many bridges so some busy roads are likely to be needed. Had lunch sitting on a bench in Acle, where we were assured that the ferry at Reedham was running. This ferry is a picturesque and quiet way of avoiding much busier roads. We did a bit of a circle to find St Peter’s Brewery but what a worthwhile effort that was! It’s a gorgeous location and the beers are wonderful – they do a series of dark beers, all of which we stowed in our panniers for an end of journey celebration when we reached Blaxhall. We ploughed on southwards, shopping in Saxmundham (were I failed to notice the Waitrose and slummed it in the Tesco, darn!) before rolling into the Youth Hostel at Blaxhall as it was getting dusky (7.30pm-ish). A wonderful long bike ride but sleep inducing, especially after a St Peter’s Black IPA.

The next three days were mostly cycling in circles, though large enough to be interesting. The first day it was pouring so, in light rain, we visited the post-industrial wasteland that is the National Trust at Orford Ness. Overcast with light rain brings out the best from post-industrial bleakness, and after all these years in Bradford I’m an expert on post-industrial bleakness believe me. It was a weapon testing area with a gorgeous shingle beach covered in sea samphire, sea kale (I think, it looked cabbagey) and various rare plants. A slate grey sea deepened quickly offshore with a strong current and light rain pittering down. But Over The Horizon radar, atomic bomb component testing plus Sea Samphire is sufficient, without a swim. The next day we wanted to get a view of Felixstowe. An unusual desire, but it meant we could cycle as far south as the peninsula allows, visiting Shingle Street (lots of Shingle) and Bawdsey. There’s a ferry across to Felixstowe, and then one to Harwich, so cyclists catching ferries from Harwich onwards can just go via Bawdsey and cross the estuary, rather than a bike ride through the scenic delights of Ipswich. We then went inland and had a free look around Helmingham Hall gardens, which were open for free due to filming of the Antiques Roadshow there. Wonderful rosemary, wildflower spaces, vegetables over an pergola. The final day of cycling in circles was a trip up the coast, visiting Blythburgh (a beautiful and enormous wool church), Southwold (Admans Brewery visitor centre, but no space on the brewery tours sadly), getting the ferry across to Walberswick (a muscley rower with a large rowing boat, and took bikes so excellent, and a great way of earning a living) so we avoided the horrible A road to Southwold that we’d experienced on the way there, then down to Aldeburgh, very Benjamin Britten. The A12 was crossed but avoided, it’s a menacing roar of fast moving, lorry heavy, traffic. When did roads become an assault on the landscapes they pass through? Adnams brew some interesting beers, although they are not big in Yorkshire. The one we liked most was a variety of belgian style triple. I don’t think you see that much even in the Admans pubs.

Then from Blaxhall to Castle Acre’s wonderful youth hostel, where huge fennel plants were starting to flower and purple sage sprawls over banks. Another fairly big day, perhaps about 70 miles, though very rural and quiet. We got rained on once or twice – notably at Eye where we sheltered under a chunk of medieval masonry by the church. I think I sheltered there a few years ago since it’s a route I  like. We got a bit lost around Attleborough and ended up on some enormous bypass thing, glimpsing a rose growers show garden – open still but it was about 5pm and we still had a good 30+ miles to go (and, at West Acre, The Stag’s basic but acceptable beer garden is very tempting at the end of a long ride). We saw the ditch that is the Devil’s Dyke, no doubt keeping separate the Angles and Mercians and then finally hurtled along, trying to reach the beer garden in sunlight, to West Acre. Just managed it, had a pint of real ale then pottered slowly along the valley to Castle Acre

Finally back to Peterborough, though we found that early on we passed through Setchey, well known for Beers of Europe, an on line off-licence of huge proportions. Makes you realise just how many breweries there are, how many small but wonderful breweries that you never hear about. We crossed the main road into King’s Lynn, which had seized up with cars, but we were heading off along quiet lanes. Although East Anglia is very rural, the traffic on A roads seemed usually severe and often nose to tail. Quiet rural fenland cycling, crossing various drainage relief rivers and on into Wisbech, where Polish seemed more common than English in the town centre. We’d got a train to catch so it was with deep sadness that we passed by Elgood’s Brewery at a fair speed. There’s a lovely flat road alongside the west side of River Nene that’s quiet and great for bikes. Lots of wandering on straight roads alongside waterfilled ditches followed. A fairly empty landscape, burnt looking fields, harvest having occurred, lines of trees in a flat landscape under a lowering sky, rain in the far distance. And then back on the River Nene cycle path into Peterborough.

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The Leeds-Bradford Cycle SuperHighway

poor side road junction design Because the cycling community has been mostly negative about the cycling superhighway I was expecting something pretty awful when I finally did the route from Bradford to Leeds. In the event I didn’t think it so very bad. It’s usable with care but for a hard core roadie it’s not got much to offer and they will, reasonably, stay on the road. Unfortunately car drivers will see the bike route and think, in their unsubtle way, that’s where you should be so it won’t improve tempers.

It’s not a great feat of engineering. The worst feature is that there are many points where the route winds around to cross side roads where it shouldn’t, for both safety and efficiency reasons. Even on my few trips I saw how hazardous this is – three bikes, at the entrance to MacDonalds at Thornbury, using a raised crossing on a side turning and a car turning into the side turning, and BOTH, of course, thought they had right of way. There’s no clear indication of right of way for either. The use of raised crossings of side roads is combined, in the official design specs, with stop lines before the raised crossing for vehicles approaching the raised crossing from the main road. At the entrance to MacDonald’s this hasn’t been done and so it’s dangerously unclear about rights of way at one of the busiest side roads on the route. The picture at the top of this post shows another dangerous crossing where, positively, they have this time added a give way line before the raised crossing, but why does this swerve away from the road at all? It means that cars emerging from the side road will simply assume they have right of way. It’s only a one way bike lane and was going sensibly alongside the main road. There’s no problem of space, no two way bike lane, to complicate matters. The bike lane should, of course, have continued straight on right next to the road. It’s poor design and I’m sure it will generate some injuries and even a slow speed collision can be dangerous. I saw cyclists simply jumping off the cycle path and onto the road for a hundred yards to avoid these hazardous junctions (especially on the numerous swerves that the path takes heading towards Bradford on the long straight to the Thornbury roundabout) but that has another set of problems. And, yes, the path is absurdly narrow at some points, especially where it goes past bus stops. To an extent this is the problem of retro-fitting a dense urban area with a bike route but there’s obviously a desire to not take much space from the motorised carriageways, which in all fairness are pretty heavily used. There are points where the route puts pedestrians in danger from bikes because neither the pavement nor the bike lane is wide enough.

The route dumps you on the road occasionally which means it isn’t really a fully segregated route, so fearful souls may be surprised to find themselves in the traffic (roadies like me will suddenly feel at home!). I did the route between 7am and 8am, so not too busy, but later it might be more of an issue. The surface of the bike route is OK but often not road like – it ain’t all smooth. How did they do that tarmac? Evidently some of it was done in a patchy way without proper rolling. But it cost a lot so where did the money go? I suspect more money was spent on marketing than on making it, one of the diseases of the modern world. There’s street furniture in hazardous places, but that’s common in the UK and we’re ready for it. On a dark night it’ll claim some victims…

At the end of the route you are in the middle of central Leeds with all the lack of provision for bikes that that location currently implies. So at the end there’s a bit of a surprise awaiting you and you are going to have to either walk or get on the road.

There’s the occasional bit of glass, there’s evidently some deliberate smashing of glass on the route since it’s much more glassy than the pavement next to it – but it must be being swept regularly though it is still more littered than the main road. I would recommend a good layer of kevlar or similar within your tyres, or very thick tyres. Having ridden the route, I immediately ordered a gatorskin hardshell (for the front, to match the one at the back). It’d be nice to do the route without feeling very vulnerable to glass and the like. No-one wants their morning commute disrupted by puncture repair / switching tubes over. It’s always raining when that happens…

It’s not a SUPERhighway, it’s just a basic bike route that gives a spatial nod towards doing your commute by bike. In a country that has treated bikes in urban areas very badly, this is a small but welcome improvement. Is it safe though? Well, pretty safe if you go slowly and carefully or if you are a very aware urban cyclist who knows where you’re going. Just don’t hurtle along near the bus stops, badly merged side roads and odd bits of street furniture. In terms of getting you to work without having to be very very awake and pumped up with adrenaline, it succeeds. If you are very very awake and an adrenaline junky (that’s lots of road cyclists) then you’ll stay on the road.

Does anyone actually use it though? On the few occasions I’ve used the superhighway there were few bikes using it. In mitigation you don’t turn around the oil tanker of car focussed transport policy in a year or two and it may well pick up, especially if the worst bits of the design are corrected. Perhaps it does better when the school run is under way, that was outside my usage times.

What does it need to be more usable? All side road junctions should give clear priority to the cycle route, which should not swerve off around raised  chunks of side roads or have Toytown stop lines painted on them. It should without exception be just part of the main carriageway reserved (and often, even mostly, segregated) for bikes. Currently there’s too  much button pressing for pedestrian crossings. In some places space needs to be taken from the motorised carriageway, especially where bus stops make the bike route unacceptably narrow. The bits where the tarmac is uneven need to be redone. Some weird bits of street furniture (telecomms boxes, signposts and many others) need moving out of the bike route.

Cyclists going from Bradford to Leeds have two significant advantages – the prevailing westerlies mean that in the morning, when you are probably still a bit slow and sleepy, you get a tailwind; and it’s mostly downhill too. After Thornton, on the edge of Bradford, it’s predominantly downhill to Leeds. Coming  back down into Bradford on a sunny day can even get within a whisker of being pretty – you can see the moors above Oxenhope in the distance at one point. If the wind is still blowing from the west you may well find yourself going uphill against the wind a bit on the way home. Signposts in Bradford claim a time of well under an hour (45 mins from the Otley Road roundabout) to get to Leeds. That’s optimistic. It’s taken me about 50 mins at least to get to my office, and I would not recommend trying to hurry it – there are plenty of minor hazards (as said, side turnings, street furniture, narrow lanes, pedestrians). They should put the mileage, not a time, since the time will vary according to the legs of the individual. No doubt it’s more encouraging to say ’45 mins to Leeds’, someone might just try it, rather than 10 miles. The funny thing is that if you didn’t use the Superhighway but just biked along the road, you could be there in 30 mins.

The best bit of the route is in Armley where it goes straight along the side of the road, mostly segregated and reasonably wide, with a good surface and you don’t have to join the pedestrians in pushing crossing buttons every few hundred yards.

There’s another point where the word ‘MERCKX’ is visible, but it is quite worn graffiti. Why was this written on a railway bridge in Leeds? Perhaps a drunken moment of enthusiasm, but since Merckx retired in 1978 this was a very retro moment of enthusiasm…. it can’t have survived forty years can it?

I’m a bit sleepy in the mornings so a segregated route, given the density of the traffic (in  more ways than one), suits me more or less. I’ll reserve my adrenaline for use coming down the lanes off Ilkley Moor…

[Later] Ah, if you use the cycle route besides all the usual clobber remember to carry a couple of bungees – the ancient but waterproof pannier I’ve been using just fell off, after the bolts gave up the struggle after one too many jolts… Connected it tightly to the seat post using some of its many straps and that kept it lying on the pannier rack.

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Bernard Charbonneau and Technology

I’ve just finished Charbonneau’s famous (in France, amongst the literate Greens) Le Systeme et le chaos, published back in 1967, revised in 1973, and recently republished. The basic thesis is very like the views of Ellul on technology – that technological change is now self-sustaining and broken free of being significantly determined by the improvement of human lives. It’s a view that would echo the warnings about the military – industrial complex,  that the process of technological change is self-sustaining and largely unrelated to human good.

The interesting difference between Ellul and Charbonneau is that the latter was an agnostic and so did not set his views on technology in any particular connection with theology. From reading Le Chaos one effect of this is that the view is, at heart, that bit bleaker. For anyone familiar with the work of Ellul this may seem a bit unlikely, he has a pretty bleak vision. But this difference is indicated in the title. There are, then, really only two options in our relationship to tech that have any likelihood of being realised – a chaotic breakdown where technology so ignores the need of human for a liveable world that the ecosystem in some way fails (war, pollution) or else technology integrates the human world into its ‘system’ and human freedom disappears in anything but a trivial sense. Charbonneau notes many of the mechanisms that tech uses to prevent out disquiet about technology having any real effect – various sorts of compensation. So the holiday and leisure industry helps to overcome our fears about the loss of wilderness by giving us a ‘sort of wild’ experience, a manicured nature that calms our fears. Charbonneau does hint that it’s conceivable, but unlikely, that the we might prefer our human liberty and our planetary diversity to our current technologically imposed ecological slumber, but even back in the 60s he was clearly not optimistic. What would he say now, now we can ignore the natural world around us in favour of life through a mobile device?

Charbonneau is quite a bit funnier than Ellul, rather more inclined to viewing modern technologically enhanced living through the eyes of a Jacques Tati, with a surreal and satirical eye. In this line, see in particular Charbonneau’s Hommeauto. But which has the truer vision? Both are excellent, both have a subtlety of vision and a detail of analysis that the years have not made stale. Ellul’s theological dimension is wonderful and makes him, in my view essential reading for any spiritually awake person in the 21st Century. Charbonneau? Well, perhaps more readable and funnier. I think we need to read both.

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TransAm Third Anniversary

It’s three years since the last TransAm – crossing the Southern Tier! It was a great ride, starting from the quiet sunny roads of Florida, edging around the Bay of Mexico, before taking on Texas and then mountain range after mountain range, with a quick crossing of the Grand Canyon thrown in before a few moments snowbound in Nevada.

The Northern Tier is a great attraction – the Great Lakes, the big spaces of the prairie, then the Rockies, perhaps even Canada and Vancouver Island. It’d need to be during the northern hemisphere summer and we’d very  likely join various Adventure Cycling Association routes.

Talking of Lakes, we went cycling in the Lake District last weekend. The tide was in at Morecambe Bay so it felt properly coastal. St Patrick’s Chapel was surrounded by Spring flowers, a ruin on a rocky outcrop. I didn’t realise that St Patrick was a Cumbrian according to a major tradition, not Irish by birth. The ancient chapel, St Patrick’s, at the end of the Bay dates back to 1000AD perhaps earlier, and is believed to be at the place where St Patrick landed from Ireland. Although we had to do a bit of biking on the A6, not ideal, it was a great day’s ride from Arnside to the very end of Heysham by the grey bulk of the nuclear power station, with a distant view just of offshore wind turbines (the past and the future ways of generating energy). The circuit around the southern end of Windermere is hilly but has some gorgeous views of the mountains. Spring flowers too, and a pleasant ferry crossing at Bowness. The photo is from the ferry.

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