Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Fantastic Five!

A record number of TCA riders (Below, left to right: Jon; Jerry; Al; Ade; Julie) set out from the Haslemere recreation ground car park this week to tackle another legendary TCA route...

As we sped up Scotland Lane, past the Billy-Bob pad, to rendezvous at the recreational ground for the famous Haslemere ride it was clear that the Billy-Bob pad (our starting point of old) had seen better days: The havoc created by builders could clearly be seen - materials, equipment and vans strewn around, vegetation dug up and ripped out; a sad site indeed. [If we had some photos, we would send them on, Ed.]

On a brighter note, we started the ride with FIVE members, the TCA is growing fast! In fact it should have been six but Scott never arrived before the alloted departure time. Having done our pre-ride checks our brakes at least were soon tested cycling down the boulder strewn track, off the road adjacent to the car park, and onto the route proper. This was safely negotiated by all, including our newest recruit, Jerry.

We then rode back up the steep hill in good spirits, though the field towards Stedlands Farm and National Trust land (Map 1). In the past some of us (mentioning no names) would have chosen the alternative easier route, around the perimeter of this field, but not today - we all took the steeper direct approach, all having to resort to pushing before the summit. Onto Black Down and Jon did the usual stripping of excessive clothing routine, a little pessimistically preempting the early onset of winter in his choice of attire.

Once at Temple of the Winds (right), we stopped to admire the fantastic view of the North Downs; apparently at the highest point in Sussex. The route off the 'Temple' to the south takes in the awsome 'Black Death Alley', a fearsome descent which has to be respected (Map 2). Having reached the bottom without incident we joined the steep, winding road though Quellwood Common, scene of one of the most notorious crashes of modern TCA history, and on towards the Noah's Ark at Lurgashall. The peleton then dramatically split as Jerry (who was leading) decided to show off his local knowledge, taking the road rather than the track off to the left beside the carvan park. The race for the pub was on! Al, Jon and Ju took the more familar Windfallwood Common off-road route, Jerry and Ade the (marginally longer) road route. Waiting for Julie took its toll on Al and Jon's frantic initial pace and the road boys earned a narrow victory. More time-trial training is obviously required for Julie before the routes are reversed on the next Haslemere outing.

The postmortem over pints of Green King 'Abbot Ale' at the Noah's Ark dissipated any hard feeling (left). Everyone commented on what a fine pint it was until Al realised that his pint was particularly flavoursome due to its added ingredients; an encrusted layer of dead flies at the bottom of the glass which had survived the dishwasher. With the landlady suitably chastised we then reviewed the map so that Jon and Al could try and remember the rest of the route. There was also a brief debate amongst the novice riders about the length of the ride and whether the lights would hold out. Queue much incredulity from Al and Jon for the second week in a row - just wait until the winter sets in and we START the ride in the dark! We rode off but quickly came to a halt as we realised Julie had a flat tyre. Adrian manfully came to the rescue and proudly announced that he would repair it in double-quick time. The repair was completed in a reasonable time and, had he not put the wheel back on the wrong way round, such that the disc and brake calipers were on opposite sides of the forks, would have made a fine fist of things... such a fine line between hero and dawk!

Ten minutes later we were on the road up past Shotters farm and Highstead Lane towards our next port of call (Map 3). We negotiated a muddy, and increasingly dark, Verdley Wood where Al, Jon and Julie did their best to lose Adrian and Jerry for a laugh, pulling the classic TCA 'double back behind a hedge manouver'. Had Ade and Jerry shown any consideration for their missing companions this would have worked a treat, but they carried on regardless. Regrouping at the pub (the one with the trout... editor?) [that'll be the Cumberland Arms (below) famed for it Sunday lunches, Ed.], we sampled some Everards (Correct me if I am wrong editor) [Too right - Everards 'Beacon' to be precise! The best thing to come out of Leicestershire since Gary Lineker! Ed.] which Jerry kindly brought us. As usual Adrain and Julie had 'forgotten' to bring any money.

This week's caption competition;

submit your entry in the ‘comments’!

The final stretch of the ride was a mixture of Al and Jon's vague recollections along the lines of "Are you SURE it's this way"; "Errr.. I think so"; "I have never been here before in my life... Oh, yes I have - THIS WAY EVERYONE!". Through Fernhurst (Map 4) and Leazers Wood, the famous incident of the wrong turning was told at Crab/ Kingsley Copse where in bygone days the TCA managed to go round in circles three times. By now it was dark and we were closing in on Haslemere (Map 1). We said our goodbyes to Jerry, as he peeled off towards home, hoping he had not been put off by our collective lack of pace, irresponsible consumption of alcohol, disregard for the effectiveness of our lights, amateur attempts at basic bike maintenance, juvenile practical jokes, shaggy-dog style anecdotes of past rides, or the sight of Ade in his underpants in the car park. Wondering what happened to Scott (who has perhaps already learnt these lessons) we drove back to our respective homesteads past the Billy-Bob house, which looked better in the dark.

Route Maps

Map 1

Map 2

Map 3

Map 4

(Posted by: Jon)

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

A Visit to Gilbert's Gaff

Route: Selbourne #1
Present: Ade, Al, Jon, Julie

For one member this was an emotional reminder of the halcyon days of the TCA when HQ was based at Hartley Mauditt. Regular rides from 'The Lodge' scoured the area for a good route, often ending in disappointment, disaster, disorientation and/or discomfort. Eventually we discovered that to the south there were rich pickings around Selbourne, and after months of honing the trail the Selbourne #1 Route became established as one of the classic rides. This week Al introduced the new-look team to a ride that is etched deeply into the annals of TCA history...

The group met up in the car park behind the Selbourne Arms (left), a favorite watering hole for TCA hikes of yore from The Lodge. This is free and conveniently positioned at the bottom of the Zig Zag path, a landmark cut into the hillside by Selbourne's most famous inhabitant, Gilbert White and his brother. The car park also has a public toilet which, rather bizarrely, automatically locks shut at 7pm; fortunately Ade had done his ablutions before the witching hour or we would have been a man down before a pedal was turned.

This being a special one-off ride we all arrived by car and Al regaled the newer recruits with tall tales of poor navigation, close encounters with wildlife and outrageous 'offs' from the history books as they geared up (above, right). He was also able to tell them a little bit about the local history and his admiration for Gilbert White, the celebrated naturalist and curate, who lived in the village, and for Laurence "I am just going outside and may be some time" Oates (who travelled with Scott on his ill-fated Antarctic expedition) in whose memory a museum is housed at 'The Wakes', White's restored house. Both surely would have approved of the spirit of adventure and respect for the environment fostered by the TCA. Gilbert White's House and gardens and The Oates Museum are well worth a visit, if only to visit the fabulous Tea Parlour which sells exceptionally good cakes based on 18th century recipes.

Tired of his stories the group set off just as the remaining members were deciding whether to shut Al in the self-locking toilets. North, through Selbourne, past Gilbert White's hallowed abode and on up to the approach to Selbourne Common (Map 1). There followed a slightly muddy slog up the hangers on a well-marked bridle path which somehow Ade and Jules came adrift of before the first junction. There followed an series of barked instructions from Al and Jon, at the top of the hill, before Jon spotted the missing party several hundred yards away in an adjacent field. A gap in the barbed-wire fence was found and the group reunited before continuing up the hill. While Al felt confident that he could remember the route from bygone days it was a good job that Jon had the presence of mind to put the correct O/S map in; the criss-crossed bridle paths and footpaths were soon offering distraction. Nevertheless, we picked our way down through the woods and off the hill again to join the Newton Valance road.

After a couple of hundred yards of tarmac we turned off the road and headed up Button's Lane, a track which slowly wends it's way up to Keyham Farm (Map 2). It was around this part of the route when Ade rather proudly proclaimed that this was the first ride on which he had encountered "adverse weather conditions". Jon and Al could hardly contain their amusement since, according to the TCA handbook, a calm, windless evening at 17 C , overcast with moderate drizzle by no means constitutes "adverse conditions"! The drop down from Keyham Farm, past Proirs Dean Vineyard (above, left) is a steep, technical section of the route, rutted by rain water with a number of sharp steps, which has seen numerous offs in the past. However, on this occasion we all made it onto the Hawkley road without incident.

Having reached the road there is a steady climb up to Lowergreen Farm (Map 3) and on to the Hawkley Inn (right). This is one of the TCA's 'all-time favorite' pubs and has been patronised on numerous walk and rides in the area: It sits on the Hanger's Way, another of the long distance paths executed by the TCA's crack Walking Team in the past. 'The Hawkley' always has a fine range of hand-pulled real ales and an extensive menu of reasonably-priced home-cooked food. [It pains me to say it but I cannot remember what type of beverages were selected as Jon got the round in but needless to say it was a cracking pint, Ed.]

The return route from Hawkley retraces the road route back past the turn for Button's Lane before taking a right turn (Map 2). We left the road at Empshott Green and climbed steeply up towards Noar Hill, cycling as far as we could before eventually dismounting to haul our bikes up the steep incline. By the time we got back on our bikes lights were required as the evening was gradually closing around the densely wooded section of the ride. After the initial right turn at the top of the hill we had to be careful not to miss the left turn at the next junction, following the hill up and round before the legendary descent down 'Badger Alley'. The track finally joins the road above Selbourne which drops sharply to the village to complete a satisfying circular route.

Despite the 19.7 mile round trip our early start meant that we had time for another swift pint in the Selbourne Arms while we conducted our debriefing session. Topics included: setting up an account with Wiggle ahead of the winter gear-purchase frenzy; the procurement of 2-way radios; our next victims for recruitment and the venue for next week's ride... watch this space. It was unanimously agreed that Selbourne #1 Route is a rival for any ride and resolved that we should definitely do it again in due course.

Hawkley Inn: The obligatory toast to absent members

Route Maps:

Key: Outward Route / Return Route

Map 1

Map 2

Map 3

(Posted By: Al)

Labels: , , , , , ,

Sunday, August 20, 2006

The 'Snowmans' Tame Mount Ruapehu

Never before had Billy-Bob Bowman donned a pair of skis and deliberately slid down a snow covered mountain but today was the day. Firstly, for some of the TCA readers among you, the venue is well known: Whakapapa ski field straddles the northern slopes of Mount Ruapehu, a still geologically active volcano which last erupted in 1996! The Ski Park sits within the mountainous confines of Tongaro National Park, just 45 min’s drive south of Taupo, NZ. This time however rather than a crater like landscape of caldera’s and cones interspersed with champagne-like mineral lakes, it was covered with a thick blanket of snow, cloud and quite frankly nothing was visible beyond ones nose.

Mt. Ruapehu – as it could have looked! [Courtesy of Skotel Post Cards]

Robert who works with Paul (and also likes his cakes) came down with his wife Lorie and teamed up with the Billy-Bob Snowmens at The Skotel, a rather homesome 1970’s style wooden panel alpine lodge that sits on a rocky promontory just above the classier, yet more expensive, Châteaux. Arriving Sunday morning the weather was poor: rain; snow and wind, but to the party's amazement the lower slopes were still open. The only thing that stood in their way was the two mile snow covered road leading from the lodge up to the slopes where they could all hire their boots and poles. For the first time since their arrival in NZ the Bobster (Paul and Stef’s car) made full use of the 4WD mode and began to slowly pass many a lesser vehicle on route left stranded on the roadside or turning back to the car park for snow chain hire!

On route to the ski fields! Full 4WD mode.

Day 1: Paul and Lorie were the beginners on this outing as both Stef and Robert admitted they had skied before; it soon became clear this was indeed the case. Paul delayed the first foray onto the slopes by requiring the largest pair of Size 13 ski boots the hire company had. Once the staff had found a pair and had dusted off these antiques from the glass cabinet they were off!

Paul, Lorie and Robert just before their ski lesson.

Paul, Stef and Lorie has a lesson on the nursery slopes in the afternoon while Robert posed on the slopes and tackled the higher parts of the lower mountain runs. By the end of the session, even though it was clear she would have rather been texting her boyfriend, the instructor still managed to impart a few basic techniques - notably the infamous snow plough, which became Paul’s stance of choice for the remainder of the trip.

Billy-Bob hones his snow plough technique;
angry mob of snow boarders in background.

Stef was clearly on a higher plain as she was doing some fancy twists and turns within a short space of time. Her lessons at the age of 16 with Franz Clammer had clearly paid off, and thank God as Paul relied on her expert tuition for the rest of the day! No major mishaps except for Paul forgetting the 'snow plough technique' and, more critically the 'brake', ending up in the orange netting at the foot of the nursery slope.

Stef says "NO!" to snow plough and shows off on the higher slopes

Day 2: The weather – snow, rain, hail and 45mph cross winds - meant two things -(1) More layers and (2) more skiing. Following a rather substantial breakfast of bacon, egg and muffin (with extra mushrooms) and three rounds of toast, Paul and Robert were ready for the day. The weather was worse than day one and sadly the beautiful mountain scenery was once again obscured by the blizzard. Paul and Stef were glad they had purchased some cool dude ski goggles as this kept most of the elements out, as did the polyprop thermal top and Billy-Bob patent green long johns. The second day went much the same as the first with Robert and Stef really getting into their groove. Lorie decided to have another beginner lesson with a better instructor while Paul, after only 3 hours skiing the day before, decided he was ready for the next - Intermediate level - lesson. Big mistake!

The writing was on the wall from the off for Paul as he struggled to even get to the start of the icy muster point on the higher intermediate slopes (which went by the rather worrying name of the ‘Rockgarden’). Stef came along too and they were off. Well Stef was off, Paul on the other hand started to panic as his beloved snow plough technique failed to cope with the much sharper gradient and went arse-over-tit and lost both skis. The ski run was much narrower and, alas, Paul soon realised that he needed a much tighter turning circle than a jumbo jet to deal with 'Intermediate Level'. Three tumbles and one slam into an ice ridge later Paul decided to retreat to the beginner slopes and put it down as a good first attempt. The only thing keeping him going was Stef’s encouragement, coupled with her laughter and the rather enticing siren like Irish accent of the ski instructor. After meeting with Robert and Lorie for some mediocre après ski lunch, exchanging tales of their exploits and wondering if the weather could get any worse they all decided to have another bash at the beginner slopes before heading back to the lodge before their cars got snowed under.

Paul's 'man from milk tray' impression for Stef,
just before bedtime.

Day 3: the Billy-Bobs arose early due to the constant banging of children on the wafer-thin wooden panel walls of the adjacent cabin. Their now military-like regime of retrieving their wet ski gear from the drying room, slipping into thermal layer after thermal layer and posing in the room mirrors was sadly wasted. There had been 40cm of heavy snow fall over night and all ski fields were closed for the day. There was only one thing for it, another long breakfast, de-ice the car, snow ball fight and the 3hour journey home via the hot springs in Rotorua.

Brave Stef de-ices the car:
Paul drinks hot tea and throws a snow ball at her.

(Posted by: Paul)

Labels: , ,

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Recruitment Drive

Present: Al, Tee, John, Em

"The more the merrier", eh? So with that in mind Tee and Al arranged to meet their pals, John and Em half way between their respective homes (Hambledon and Fareham) to see if they could drum up some TCA subscriptions. John and Em had taken the route much familar to the Founding Fathers, up Mayles Lane from Funtley to Wickham, arriving a little before the tandem team. In true TCA-fashion we went straight to the first pub we could find, The King's Head, for our first pint (above, right).

Leaving Wickham to the north after our beer we headed up-hill following Mill Lane and Frith Lane before the gentle decent down Newman's Hill towards Mislingford. Turning right at the cross roads we then crossed the main A32 before descending the embankment at Upperford Copse to introduce our new recruits to the old faithful railway line (above, left). This was the first time 'off-road' for the tandem too but it coped pretty well on the hard-packed ground, picking up quite a speed; Al taking the brunt of the overhanging foilage impact!

After some pondering about which bridge marked the turn-off for Soberton and the White Lion we eventually located our exit and stopped for another pint in yet another beer garden (above, right). The weather was a little chillier than it had been of late which kept most folk confined to the inside bars so we felt we had the place to ourslves. We decided to head home after our second beer of the afternoon, opting for the more gentle climb up Hambledon Lane from the west rather than endure the drirect northerly approach using the Chalk Hill climb. Thus we pottered back to Hambledon for a barbeque and a few glasses of wine at Al & Tee's gaff.

After staying the night John and Em headed home in the pouring rain [almost converted?], using the railway line again. However, they explained later that (contrary to Al's advice) they had continued down the line past the usual turn-off at Wickham. Eventually the path reaches a dead-end as it meets the still-used main line between Fareham and Winchester. This then requires a u-turn and retracing of steps for a couple of miles, back to Wickham, before joining Mayles Lane again; a mistake Al and Paul had made to their cost years earlier. According the Al's advice the couple then stopped at our regular bike doctors "Cycle Paths" (nee "Action Bikes") in Fareham for a chat about an upgrade to Em's bike. Needless to say it turned out to be an expensive weekend as they walked out of the shop with a brand new GIANT hybrid!

(Posted by: Al)

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Ade joins the ranks of the REC club

Route: Hambledon #1
Present: Ade, Al, Jon

There was some debate about which night of the week the TCA would be abroad this week, with Julie now regularly committed to rugby training on a Thursday evening and Al being unavailable on Wednesday. While Julie held the moral high ground due to her exemplary attendance record in recent weeks, Al knew that Ade and Jon were both eager to attempt the infamous Kingsmead Railway Embankment Challenge (also follow this link for a full route details of Hambledon #1 Route). And so it was that 'the boys' set out from Hambledon with a single objective in mind.

The weather conditions were perfect and the sustained dry period had dried out the tracks. The cool, overcast conditions made for comfortable riding for the first time in weeks. Since this was Ade's first experience riding from Hambledon all the traditional privileges of a 'first timer' were bestowed on him: We stopped at Al's local Geocache Walk this Way, and allowed Ade first dibs at the first serious downhill of the evening from Shere Copse. We also resurrected the Driftway Race, a dash across the field with the first rider onto Crookhorn lane declared the winner. Ade, given the traditional head-start, set off at a frantic pace - taking the rather unorthodox route across the stubble of the corn field - while Al and Jon tailed him from the track. Ade seemed to run out of steam with only a few hundred yards to go leaving Al to overtake him at the death.

All this excitement called for a pint at our traditional watering hole, The White Lion at Soberton (the loser of the Driftway Race buying the beers as ancient custom and practice dictates). It was with some trepidation that we entered the pub as this was the first time we had patronized 'The Whitey' since Graham the landlord had left for pastures new. However, our fears were allayed as very little seemed to have changed other than the addition of a large church pew positioned outside. There was also a distinct lack of dogs, even Al (who has a pathological fear of hounds)had to admit that he would miss the crazy antics of Spike and Bonzo (Graham's collies) rounding bikes up as they attempted to leave. Still, our usual favorite pint of 'Palmers 200' is safe and they do not yet seem to have installed a shag-pile carpet which would prohibit dirty cycling shoes. While the new barmaid would pass the (admittedly rather less than stringent) 'Billy-Bob test' she seems to need a bit of practice pulling pints, almost short changing us with enormous frothy heads, before being chastised by the new landlord and topping our drinks up.

Full pints at the White Lion, Soberton

The summer has seen the disused railway line turn from sloppy quagmire to hard-packed dirt track so progress was quick. Jon seemed to have particularly good form but blew all credibility as he quipped "...just waiting for you boys to catch up" as Ade and Al reeled him in, before collapsing in a tangled heap of limbs and push bike having hit a soft patch on the track (that will teach him to be so cocky, Ed.). No lasting damage done Jon picked himself up and dusted himself off in readiness for the Railway Embankment Challenge (REC).

Jon's first couple of attempts saw him falter at the tricky second bend in the track, as did Ade on his first try. However, showing outstanding form, Ade reached the top (albeit with the help of some robust encouragement from Al) on only his second attempt. There were jubilant scenes at the top of the bridge as Ade celebrated his accomplishment, Al likening it to obtaining his first ranking stripes in the TCA. Unfortunately Jon was head in hands after a further three goes (the maximum number of attempts allowed in any one session); using the same military analogy Jon was soon christened with the epithet 'Private Parsons', or 'Pikey' (after the Dad's Army character) which is sadly a name that is sure to stick.

Ade indulges himself in some celebratory abuse of Billy-Bob's bike

We continued through the Forest of Bere to the Traveller's Rest at Newtown for a celebratory drink (the loser of the REC buying the drinks as ancient custom and practice dictates) - Green King Abbot for Jon and Ade, Charles Well's Bombadier for Al. After a brief chat with some fellow cyclists on their way back to Rowlands Castle we took a leisurely amble by road in the opposite direction back to Hambledon where we were joined for dinner of chilli-con-carne by Julie.

Well done Ade; one more rung up the ladder towards full TCA membership!

(Posted by: Al)

Labels: , , , , , ,

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Failed Assault on the West Dean Chilli Festival

Present: Al, Tee

With the temperature already in the 20's C when we left at 10.00 we headed off on the tandem for the Annual Chilli Festival at West Dean, north of Chichester. The first part of the route took us up the gradual climb to the Bat & Ball before descending into Clanfield, over the A3 and finally into the country: The farmers were already bailing their straw from the mown wheat fields which had changed the familiar landscape overnight.

The first decent into Chalton saw us hit our highest speed for the day at 42.3 mph but our progress was slowed as we headed east out of the village up the first punishing hill. This seemed to be the reoccuring theme of the day: Although the terrain seems quite benign on a map, the area around the south downs undulates relentlessly. Unfortunately the 'ups' take much longer than the 'downs' and it therefore feels like most of the time is spent slogging up hill!

We followed the network of beautiful country lanes towards Compton as the weather got warmer. Still bearing East we got as far as Bevis's Thumb (SU 787 155) where we reviewed our situation - progress was a little slower than expected and Al had to be back in Hambledon by 3pm to play for a Village XI against a Parent's cricket team to raise money for the local primary school. The time was approaching 11.30 and with regret we turned our Tandem south towards Compton and West Marden in search of a pub lunch.

We finally arrived at Finchdean as the pubs opened for the day and both enjoyed a very reasonable Ham salad at the George (above), washed down with a fine pint of Youngs Best Bitter. On reflection, with temperatures approaching 30C on a very close and sticky day, this was probably a more sensible course of action than spending the afternoon sampling various mouth-scorching delicacies.

Having finished our lunch we took the southern approach back to Chalton (exchanging words of encouragement with another tandem team on their way in the opposite direction), completing a satisfying circular route before returning through Clanfield as before. We got back to base at 14:00 with the odometer reading 26.5 miles, tired and dehydrated but safe in the knowledge that we took the correct decision to abort our chilli mission. Although we failed in our original objective we had another great excursion on the tandem, and the consolation was that at least our tastebuds lived to fight another year!

(Posted by: Al)

Labels: , ,