Sunday, December 30, 2007

Mince Pie Buster

After spending the best part of the Christmas break sitting indoors eating pastry-based products John and Al thought a calorie-burning ride might be in order. The boys however didn't want too much of a shock to their systems so opted for a circuit of the comparatively gentle regular route from Al's place.

John arrived at around 2.30pm and looked like a boy with his new Christmas present as he unloaded his shiny new yet-to-be-used bike. It was strange kitting up in what remained of the watery winter sunlight, John seemed confused and realised that while he had packed his lamps, and taken the precaution of charging his lights, had rather bizarrely packed his battery charger rather than the battery. Al's spare lights were hastily taped to John's bike and without too much delay we were heading up Cam's hill.

Turning off the road onto the bridle path it soon became apparent that John's bike would not retain that just-off-the-show-room-floor look for very long. While we had chosen a mild, calm afternoon for our ride recent weather had been unsettled and left the ground pretty waterlogged. It also became immediately apparent that the seasonal festive diet had taken it's toll on our form - we struggled to maintain any kind of respectable pace and limbs began complaining much earlier than usual.

Jon's not-so-shiny new bike

In any event we reached our regular stop, the White Lion, Soberton ready for a stop. The pub was surprisingly busy as Al fought his way to the bar to order a pint of Pink Elephant from the Hampshire Brewery for himself and a Nuptu'ale from the Oakleaf Brewery for John. We enjoyed our beer outside with the band of ostracised smokers.

A toast to absent friends
White Lion, Soberton

Beers downed it was time to turn as usual for the disused railway line. This typically provides a speedy 20 minute burn but the boggy conditions put pay to this and we struggled on towards Kingsmead. By the time we reached the familiar railway embankment we were in no mood for a challenge (although we did put in a half-hearted attempt at the climb before wheeling our bikes up the muddy incline). Lights were engaged as we headed for the climb through the Forest of Bere.

We had originally planned on a 'one pinter' but the exertion (and the welcoming Christmas lights) made the Traveler's Rest too tempting to resist. We both plumped for a pint of Charles Wells Bombardier in the newly refurbished public bar before the short ride back to Hambledon. Once at home we were reunited with our women-folk and enjoyed Ecclefechan tarts with double cream and and a wee dram of Ardbeg for an early toast to a happy New Year.

Route Map (click to enlarge):

(Posted by: Al)

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Christmas Ride 2007

Chichester was chosen as the venue for this year's ride - Jon, in his capacity as host, presented riders with generous slices of Yule log with their tea on arrival . There was some debate as to the festive route - Jon had two alternatives in mind and argued that we should tackle a longer, semi-off-road route with one or two stops, while Matt and Al preferred a less challenging, pub-strewn excursion. Eventually a trip up and over the Trundle with a liberal sprinkling of drinking holes was settled as Al, John, Matt, Ad and finally Jerry (resplendent with shiny new full-susser) kitted up in the drive. Spirits were high for this highly-anticipated annual event; Ad in particular was beside himself with excitement!

We set off through the city centre and, with lane selection not a skill usually required by the TCA, soon realised that the drivers of Chichester were not yet ready to extend good tidings of great joy to the riders seemingly weaving randomly through their streets. Back on more familiar territory we eventually headed north out of the city on the cycle path familiar to participants of the Chichester Challenge. Jon led the way, taking his guiding duties seriously on this auspicious occasion, and safely found the Earl of March before too long.

A festive toast at the Earl of March
(left to right: Matt, Al, Jon, Ad, John, Jerry)

Hearty toasts were drunk to the TCA and to absent friends, celebrating another year in the saddle. The pints of London Pride however were soon drunk; time to put back on thermal layers and waterproofs, and head out into the night once more. We were bound for the Trundle, the only really challenging part of the ride we had in mind. The pace was more sedate than usual as the friends caught up with each other's news but soon all were assembled at the top ready for the descent by road to Singleton. Ad and Al led the way on this exhilarating drop - clocking 44.8mph before reaching the Partridge Inn.

While the other riders were sure that the TCA had never visited this establishment before Al realised that this was where he and Billy-Bob had broken their epic south-downs over-night hike (to eat what felt like their own body weight in Sunday dinner) in the pre-blog days. We trooped into the bar to the bemusement of the diners and pitched our spot near the obligatory Christmas tree.

Another toast to absent friends,
Partridge Inn, Singleton

With beers once more consumed we set off by road to Charlton and the Fox Goes Free, a more regular TCA stop. By now, with two pints inside them on an empty stomach and pulses raised by the descent to singleton, Ad and Al were engaged in a jousting match, finally culminating in a race to the pub which in true seasonal fashion was declared a draw. The Fox's garden was resplendent with an enormous Christmas tree beneath which bike were parked (below).

...see you for a ride in 2008

We left the pub dreading the next section of the ride - the long, steep ascent (albeit by road) back up towards the Goodwood racing circuit at the top of the downs. Eventually we reached the top of our climb and realised we had some dissent in the ranks - some favoured a trip back down the trundle - a departure from our planned descent by road to TCA favourite, the Royal Oak - while the majority of the party felt it unwise to tackle this the wrong side of three pints. Jerry (who was only the wrong side of two pints and keen to give his new bike a good thrashing) and Ad (who was still delirious with excitement) threw caution to the wind and headed cross-country for Chalk Pit Lane (indicated by the dotted line on the route map).

The four road-based riders sped towards the Royal Oak and were strangely satisfied to see the lights of the other two in the break-away party on the hill far above them. John, Jon, Matt and Al reached the pub (below) first but were rather put-out by the lack of festive ambiance (not even a Christmas tree!). The beer however was rather good and they soon forgot about this minor detail.

Merry Christmas without the decs. at the Royal Oak

Departing the Royal Oak we were taken by surprise as we rode directly towards a magnificent firework display, which the party assumed was something to do with the nearby Rolls Royce factory. This was the icing on the cake of a magnificent ride and spirits were high for the short trip back to Jon's place, Ad insisting that we really should think about singing a carol or two.

Jon had a real treat in store at home - he had cooked Fricasse of Turkey (and all the trimmings!) served on a bed of noodles for the occasion. He had also laid on winter ale as an accompaniment and mince pies with brandy butter for pudding - terrific!

Have yourself a Merry TCA Christmas with
Jon's Festive Turkey Fricasse

With all the food gone Jerry headed for home as Al cracked open the after-dinner whiskey (laid on by a Founding Father as dictated by ancient custom and practice). Thanks as ever to Jon, who allowed everyone to stay overnight, for his excellent hospitality. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to one and all!

Route Map (click to enlarge):
Elevation Profile:

(Posted By: Al)

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Return to the Black Dog

Not perturbed by the previous evening's experience (and 'phoning in advance to make sure we would not be disappointed) Maalie and Worzel once again set out to the Black Dog Inn for dinner. A more direct route was planned - approaching directly up the steep hill through Irleth from Askam - it should only take us half-an-hour or so before we were sat in the cosy pub eating our long-awaited dinner.

Admittedly we had to walk up the steepest section of the hill but were soon remounted on the meandering road on the ridge high above Askam. After another day of rain and high winds the weather was being kind to us; the rain had stopped and the wind subsided leaving a mild, overcast evening for our excursion. With some relief we saw the lights of the familiar pub as we rounded the last corner before our final short descent.

Toast to absent friends
Black Dog Inn, Dalton-in-Furness

On our arrival Maalie got the beers in inside while Worzel checked in with home outside, and by the time he'd got off the phone Maalie had been shown to table for two and was already salivating over the menu (either that or the roudy group of some eight middle-aged women on the main table enjoying a Christmas 'do'). Eventually Maalie ordered King Prawns to start and a steak for main course; Worzel went for moules marinier and the stuffed pork loin.

Decisions, decisions...
(click to enlarge)

Having finished a second pint, and completed their meal with an expresso-laced crème caramel, it was time to kit-up and head back to Maalie Court for a nightcap. With Maalie complaining that he preferred not to commence a ride with a hill the pair sluggishly started the return from the Black Dog's car park; the familiar uncomfortable feeling of leaving a cosy pub into the cold night was compounded by the feast we'd just consumed.

We made short work of the trip home and enjoyed a Red Can each as a nightcap. The TCA can finally report that Cumbrian hospitality is alive and well in December.

(Posted by: Al)

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Monday, December 03, 2007

Black Dog Blues

Maalie eagerly anticipated his first proper night ride when Worzel arrived at Maalie Court with bike on roof rack. It was already dark and as soon as the unpacking was complete, Maalies's handlebar was adorned with extra headlamps (below) brought up from TCA Headquarters especially for the event.

Set lights to 'stun' captain

The route was to be the tried and trusted TCA Cumbria trail, up the steep hill through Ireleth and up Moor Road to the village of Marton (the route is essentially as described here). It had been miserable and rainy all day but by now the clouds had rolled away revealing a star-lit night with Orion rising on his side on the Eastern horizon, behind the wind farm (refer to previous link).

Although the primary objective was the Black Dog at Dalton, Maalie's suggestion of stopping off for a quickie at the New Inn, Marton (an isolated pub he had discovered on a previous ride) was not spurned by Worzel. Although the pub lights were blazing, the door appeared locked and we were already re-mounting our bikes to be on our way when the door was suddenly pulled open from the inside with much creaking by the publican who declared "you have to push hard". Maalie suggested that a note to this effect might be attached to the door in order not to deter other customers.

Toast to absent friends
New Inn, Marton

We were the only customers and Worzel was soon engaged in an intense conversation with the barmaid about rearing babies (below). Maalie enquired about the prospects for New Year's Eve. Suddenly the TCA Director ordered "Drink Up" and announced that we should be on our way. The evening air seemed a lot colder after the warmth of the pub and we pushed on eagerly and salivating towards the Black Dog where we expected to have dinner. Our spirits deflated like a punctured tyre as we turned the corner to find the pub shrouded in darkness. Not a sign of life. Dead as a doornail. Ho hum. Oh well, said Worzel,there's always the Chinese takeaway in Askam. It was now after 8.00pm and the thought of a special fried rice suddenly sounded very attractive to Maalie. We descended rapidly through Ireleth into Askam and proceeded along the main street. But the only lights shining were the newly erected Christmas lights on the houses. The Chinese Takeaway looked as black as the Black Dog. Hmmmph!

As a last resort, Maalie had in his kitchen the remains of a casserole of road-killed pheasant. This, supplemented by his entire potato supply (all two of them), went down well, followed by chunks of cheese and toast, and butterscotch Angel Delight. All washed down with a rather nice bottle of Cotes du Rhone Villages.

We must remember that Monday night in December is not a good time to expect social facilities in Cumbria.

(Posted by: Maalie)

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