24 December 2008

I'm still here...

It’s been a while since I last posted anything here so I thought I’d better stop by and at least say Happy Christmas!

The past few weeks have just flown by and, once again, Christmas kind of crept up on me. Yes, I know it happens on the same date each year but I STILL find myself leaving everything to the last minute. This year I left things later than ever before - I didn’t do any shopping until last Saturday, December 20th. With time fast running out I decided that I really must face the crowds in the shops - my timing was perfect!

I arrived in Derby at just before 8:00AM, parked the car, went and had a sausage and bacon sandwich and a mug of coffee for my breakfast and then hit the shops. Much to my surprise, and relief, everywhere was very quiet and even by the time I headed for home, just before 11:00AM, the main shopping area was still not exactly busy. Things went so well that I had almost all my shopping done in just that one trip, but just to prolong the “excitement” of Christmas shopping a little longer I went back into Derby the next day too. Once again the shops were quiet. Next year I may leave my shopping until Christmas Eve!

Working in the motor trade means that, over the years, I’ve seen many different and unusual modes of transport turn up at the various places I’ve worked. There’s been everything from vintage Rolls Royce’s to Ferrari’s, Harley Davidson’s to three wheelers. The past week or so has added to the strange sights I’ve come across - twice we’ve had a customer phone us asking if we could clear our car park, so that he could land his helicopter in it!

The works helipad!

My own main mode of transport has been somewhat more down to earth. I’ve been able to continue with my cycling even though the cycle paths have been more like ice rinks at times! I’ve had to contend with mile after mile of ice covered paths, eyes that constantly ran due to the cold air and even a fox with a death wish! At the time the fox issue could well have been a little painful but, looking back, it was rather funny.

I was cycling home along an unlit, and very icy, path one evening when a fox casually walked out in front of me. There was no way I could grab at my brakes or I would have certainly hit the deck due to the ice - all I could do was shout out at the fox, now only around six feet in front of me, and hope that it moved! Luckily, for both of us, it did and I went sailing past. All good fun!

Whilst on the subject of cycling, I’ve now passed my target of riding 1,000 miles by the end of the year. I reached 1,000 miles last Wednesday on the way to work and since then I’ve added another 45 miles to my total. I’ve set myself a target of 2,500 miles for next year.

Have a great Christmas and don’t eat or drink too much... that’s my job!

07 December 2008


I was right about RSPB Conwy - we didn’t see too many birds there yesterday. We did see some quality birds though! In the 2½ hours that we spent on the reserve Lynda & I recorded a total of 40 species. The weather, though very cold, was also great for birding. The light was superb, there was little or no wind and as a result the birds we did see tended to show well.

Conwy Castle & RSPB Reserve.

We arrived at Conwy at just before 11:00am and were met by a reserve warden who handed out maps, reserve passes and also informed us that the Firecrest I was so keen to see hadn’t been seen all day. It wasn’t the news I wanted to hear and, with all due respect to said warden, I didn’t take too much notice of it anyway. My feelings towards wardens are, I’m sad to say, a little tainted at times after I found a Great Northern Diver at Cley NWT reserve many years ago. I reported it to the warden on duty only to be told “You must be wrong. We don’t get those here.” - the bird was reported a number of times, by other birders, over the coming days! Birds can, and will, turn up anywhere.

After moving off from the coach, and onto the reserve, the Firecrest took around 10 minutes to locate. At first I was aware of it calling, then I got a very brief view of what I thought was the bird in flight, shortly after that the little beauty was feeding just feet away from us. Firecrests are always colourful little things but yesterday’s bird was possibly the best I’ve ever seen, maybe due to the quality of the light. The only minor complaint I have is that the bird was so full of energy that I had no chance of getting any photos! It just never stopped moving!

Whilst looking for, and watching, the Firecrest we also located a Wren, a number of Dunnock, a couple of Goldcrest, 6 Long-tailed Tit, numerous Blue Tit, 3 Reed Bunting, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, 2 Siskin and also 6 Goldfinch. The Siskin stayed still for a little longer than the Firecrest and so I was able to get my ‘scope and camera trained on them long enough for a few quick photos.


Visits to the hides and a walk around the perimeter path of the reserve gave good views of the two lakes and also the Conwy estuary. Birds of note here included 4 Little Grebe, 2 Little Egret, 10 Shelduck, c60 Teal, 7 Shoveler, 2 female Goldeneye, 4 Red-breasted Merganser, 1 Water Rail and 55 Lapwing. A group of 10 Black-tailed Godwit flew onto the reserve from the estuary and a single Kingfisher was seen perched on the edge of the reed bed. I also managed a count of 60 Snipe on one of the small islands near to one of the hides.

View over Conwy RSPB reserve.

After arriving back at the reserve shop and café at the end of our walk I decided that I had just enough time to try for one more look at the Firecrest before our coach moved on to Llanfairfechan. The Firecrest showed well but I had to move on quicker than I thought - another bird had been located that I wanted to see, Siberian Chiffchaff. Now, I don’t claim to be an expert (far from it!) on the various “splits” of Chiffchaff but I have to say that the bird we saw yesterday certainly did seem to fit well with the “tristis” form. As with all birding - you make your own rules about what, and how, you list such birds. I have this down as “Chiffchaff - probable tristis.

Llanfairfechan was even quieter in terms of the number of species seen, just 28, but again it was the quality of birding that made the long trip worth while. The sheltered bay, and calm sea, made it reasonably easy to pick up Red-throated Diver, Great Northern Diver, Slavonian Grebe and Red-breasted Merganser. Oystercatcher, Redshank, Turnstone and Purple Sandpiper were all seen within just a few yards of the sea wall as the tide came in.


A couple of Common Gull were fighting for bread amongst the Herring and Black-headed Gulls that were being fed on the lake in the park, where Mute Swan and Mallard were also noted. A walk along the sea wall added Redwing, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush and Greenfinch to our list. A little time sat scanning the sea also provided me with a single Black Guillemot as it flew by. Walking back to the coach as the sun set turned up what was, for me, an unexpected bird when we spotted a Dipper feeding in a small river just a few feet from the car park and only around 100yds from the sea. Unexpected it may have been but it was a rather nice way to end the day.

Llanfairfechan view.


Today, even though I really should have stayed home in the warm to try and shake off the remnants of my MAN FLU, I took a drive over to Belper in search of Waxwings. A group of 5 birds have been feeding in a car park in the town for the past couple of days and the possibility of adding this species to my “10-Mile List” was just too tempting.

I stood around in the freezing cold for almost an hour before a couple of Waxwing came to feed. They stayed for around three or four minutes before flying off again. They didn’t return during the following hour so I came home again! Yes, I would have liked to have watched the birds for longer but at least this time I did get to see them.

Whilst stood around waiting for the Waxwings I also noted a further 21 species - not bad for a car park in the middle of town. The most unexpected bird was a male Blackcap that was feeding in the same tree as the Waxwings. No doubt this little warbler was none too happy with the temperature this morning, still below freezing at 10:30am, and was wishing it had chosen to move on to warmer climes at the end of the summer!

Waxwing takes my “10-Mile List” count to 136 species for the year. Will this prove to be the final new species of the year?

05 December 2008

At last, the weekend...

It’s Friday, and I’m more than happy to see the weekend arrive! Apart from the snow and ice that have made my cycling rather dangerous or, even worse, nonexistent I’ve had to battle through the dreaded MAN FLU! It all started on Tuesday afternoon, the day the snow first hit, and has slowly gotten worse - I’m sure that it is only my clean-living, healthy lifestyle that has enabled me to pull through. The extra couple of sausage, bacon, egg and mushroom sandwiches I had at work may have helped too! The half a bottle of whisky I’ve got through, in coffee or hot lemonade at night, was purely medicinal I must add!

Tomorrow, for the first time in almost three months, Lynda and I are on an RSPB coach trip - we’re crossing the border and heading into North Wales. We’ll be visiting Llanfairfechan (no, my keyboard isn’t acting up. That IS a place name!) and also RSPB Conwy. It will be the first time we’ve visited Llanfairfechan so I’m not too sure what we will see there. RSPB Conwy I have visited before, many many years ago, and as I remember it, we didn’t see too much! That said, I am keeping my fingers crossed that the Firecrest that has been reported from Conwy for much of this week will hang around until after I’ve seen it tomorrow!

Whilst getting my camera ready for tomorrow I came across some photos I meant to post in the week - the man flu must have affected my memory, I forgot! They were taken last Sunday afternoon, leaning out of the bedroom window trying to avoid getting too many houses and cars in shot! We may not have the nicest of views at home but every now and again nature sends us a little treat. All the photos are straight off the camera - no enhancing or altering of exposure.

01 December 2008

A welcome return...

After months of waiting, one of my favourite birds made a come back over the weekend. No silly, NOT Britney Spears on X-Factor, a Smew! But, now you mention it... how bad was Britney on X-Factor eh? Okay, she may have looked the part but come on, what’s with the (very poor) lip-synching? Any way, I digress.

Yesterday morning I managed to haul myself out of bed in time to get a couple of hours of birding in before lunch. With time fast running out for me to add extra species to my "10-Mile List" before the end of the year there really was only one place I could head for, Long Eaton Gravel Pits. Bet you thought I was going to say Willington, didn’t you?

Long Eaton Gravel Pits.

Long Eaton Gravel Pits aren’t the birding hot spot they once were - they’ve provided me with such goodies as Black-throated Diver, Corn Bunting, Merlin, Pectoral Sandpiper, Ring-necked Duck, Woodchat Shrike and Bluethroat in the past - but they do still pull in one or two little treats. This weekend it was the aforementioned Smew. Unfortunately it wasn’t an adult male, but when you’re in need of every single year tick a redhead Smew is as good as any. I had chased after Smew numerous times at the start of the year, without success, so this was one bird I was more than pleased to see back in my "zone".

Despite the very cold conditions - well below freezing with the wind chill - I managed to record 32 species during my two-hour visit. As is to be expected at an old gravel pit site the main interest was wildfowl with counts of 162 Wigeon, 5 Teal, 16 Shoveler, 127 Pochard, 29 Tufted Duck and, of course, 1 Smew.

Other counts/notable birds included 29 Great Crested Grebe, 118 Coot, 1 Common Snipe, 3 Common Gull, 58 Black-headed Gull and 10 Fieldfare. There were also plenty of Mallard, but once again I couldn’t bring myself to start and count them! Don’t know what it is about Mallard but I never quite get the urge to set about counting the things!

Whilst out and about yesterday I noticed that on more than one occasion dog walkers failed to return my friendly “Good morning” as we passed. Having been ignored once again, I suddenly thought it might have been my appearance that was the problem...

...well, it was VERY cold!

The redhead Smew takes my "10-Mile List" to 135 species for the year.

30 November 2008

An evening in Neverland...

According to Wikipedia, the free on-line encyclopaedia, NEVERLAND is a place where “people may cease to age; therefore, Neverland is often seen as a metaphor for eternal childhood (and childishness), immortality and escapism”. That’s as may be, but last night it was a place where I was treated to some of the best live music I’ve heard this year!

Neverland, the band, have been around for a good few years now but I’m sure some of the magic of J. M. Barrie’s Neverland has touched them... the music is ageless, the power and enthusiasm of the musicians stronger than ever. Last night’s gig was quite simply brilliant! If there was one minor disappointment for me it was the lighting and the floor of the gig room. The lighting, and dry ice, was way too atmospheric for my little camera to cope with; all the people dancing and bouncing around made the floor move enough to blur any photos I did try and get! In short... it was amazing!

The good photos were bad - the bad ones, terrible!

The set the band played lasted for almost 2 hours (I didn’t time it) and was made up of 23 tracks. It’s hard for me to single out any one track as being “the one” that stood out - I love ALL of their music - but, as ever, Stars and the Blues made a lasting impression. The opening track of the night, Out, was getting it’s first live play and it looks to be on it’s way to becoming a Neverland classic. It’s dark, it’s heavy, it’s mysterious - it’s Neverland at their best!

By the end of the night I was rather thankful of all the cycling that I now do, my legs and lungs stood up rather well to all the dancing, and bouncing, around that I subjected them to. That, or the Neverland magic, touched me - who knows? The full set list was...

OUT - a new track
- another new track
- another new track
- another new track
IF I WERE YOU - another new track

Encores were...


28 November 2008

Catching up a little...


I’m still having trouble finding time for birding but I did manage to get out for a few hours on Tuesday. I spent a couple of hours in the morning walking the streets of Ilkeston in search of Waxwings, but I failed to locate them! Three birds had been reported the afternoon before, in what is becoming a bit of a hot spot for them each winter, but the birds had obviously moved on or found some hidden corner in which to feed. Hopefully, as the winter continues, other Waxwings will turn up inside my 10-Mile Zone.

In the afternoon, in an attempt to rescue something from the day, I headed off to an area that often holds wintering Short-eared Owls. To pass a little time before going for the owls I stopped off at St. Chad’s Water, between Draycott and Long Eaton. This small lake falls nicely within my listing area but, unfortunately, didn’t provide me with any new species. That said, it was still a pleasant visit with some good birds to see. In a little under two hours I recorded 34 species and, more importantly, got some close views of many of them.

St. Chad's Water.

Birds of note included 3 Great Crested Grebe, 6 Tufted Duck, 3 Goosander, 8 Common Gull, 40 Black-headed Gull, 1 Green Woodpecker, 2 Fieldfare, 12 Redwing, 12 Long-tailed Tit, 2 Yellowhammer, 60 Linnet and 1 Bullfinch. A male Mute Swan on the lake also deserves a mention if only because it tried to drag me into the water by grabbing hold of my trouser leg! Such a friendly lot they are in that part of the world.

The owls? They failed to show. I had hoped that the weather we had last weekend would have pushed them down from the Derbyshire moors but birders are still reporting sightings of the owls up there this week. Like the Waxwings, I’m hoping the owls will also reappear over the next few weeks.

Sunset over St. Chad's Water.


My cycling is now back into a routine again after the BHF sponsored ride, and I’ve managed to use the bike on all but two workdays. The first day I missed was due to a rather nasty grinding noise coming from the front fork bearings on the bike. This resulted in me having to strip the front of the bike down and clean out a worrying amount of Sherwood Forest from the bearings. Luckily, no long-term damage has been done and, after re-greasing the bearings, all is now well.

The second non-biking day was as recent as yesterday and was due to me managing to get yet another rear wheel puncture on the bike the previous evening. I’m not sure what I ran over, I was on a section of unlit river path at the time, but it certainly made a mess of things. In a split second I went from having a fully inflated tyre to having a very flat one, and a bike that was covered in green slime! The hole in the inner tube was way too large for the self sealing gel in my tyres to work and the air pressure just blew the stuff all over me and the bike. Remember Ghost Busters? It slimed me!

Today, things are back to normal again. I rode into work on the bike, being extra careful on the very icy paths, rode back from work on the bike and even managed a 5-mile sprint around Pride Park and Alvaston Park during my lunch break. The 16½ miles I did today means I’ve now covered a total of 910 miles since June 13. My target of 1,000 miles by the end of the year is now within sight.


Just over a week ago Lynda and I went to the Oysterband gig in Derby. The Oysterband were as good as ever - they have, after all, been touring for 30 years now - and the support was equal to them. Anyone with a passing interest in the British folk rock scene will be aware of the Oysterband but the support act was new to me. It was Dan Donnelly, originally from Belfast and now living in New York. He played much of his set solo but was joined for a number of tracks by Alan Prosser of the Oysterband.

Dan Donnelly & Alan Prosser - Derby Assembly Rooms.

Tomorrow, we’re back in Derby for yet another gig - this time it’s Neverland. I’ve looked forward to, and enjoyed, some great gigs this year but this one is right up there with the best of them. It may well be the gig of the year for me! Since Neverland reformed back in 2004 I’ve tried to get to as many of their gigs as possible. Each one has been bigger and better than the last and tomorrow at The Royal has all the makings of a brilliant night. The band also has 5 new tracks that will be getting their first public airing. If you can’t get to the gig - and I strongly recommend you do - you can hear some of Neverland’s music on their MySpace site.


Look out, Derby! The Nev’s are back in town!

17 November 2008

Deep water birding...

Apart from the, very enjoyable, few hours that I spent birding at Blashford Lakes back on 22 October my binoculars and ‘scope haven’t seen the light of day for almost two months. On Sunday, I decided that it was high time I got back out in the field so to speak. After much deliberation over where to go, and what to go in search of, I chose the obvious - Willington Gravel Pits! I could easily have headed off to Carsington Water for Scaup, Common Scoter, Great Northern Diver, Ring-billed Gull and Waxwing but that would have taken me out of my 10-Mile Zone, so Willington it was.

As I parked the car and started the walk down the lane the rain started to fall, with it came the birds. It was literally raining thrushes! At first it was just the odd Redwing or two that were landing. The cloud thickened and with it came a small group of Fieldfare, a few more Redwing and then another group of around 30 Fieldfare dropped into trees in the lane. A little later 24 Redwing flew low over the reserve in search of a suitable place to rest. By the time the rain had eased around 100 Fieldfare and 40 Redwing were feeding on berries in the bottom half of the lane. The resident Blackbirds, and a single Song Thrush, tried their very best to protect their food supply but the Scandinavian invasion was just too much for them. The weather may not have been that nice to be out in but it was interesting to see how it effected the birds on what was clearly a good day for passing migrants.

The next hour or so was spent on the viewing platform at the end of the lane. After all the rain we’ve had over the past few weeks the water level was, as I expected, way too high for anything but ducks on or around the two main pits. With very little happening out on the water I set about doing a few counts... 30 Wigeon, 15 Gadwall, 10 Teal, 10 Shoveler, 45 Pochard and a single male Goldeneye! There were also good numbers of Mallard and Tufted Duck, but I didn’t feel as though I needed to sink so low as to count them too - maybe next weekend!

Other birds of note amongst the 43 species recorded during my visit included 4 Great Crested Grebe, 7 Mute Swan, a Common Buzzard, around 100 Lapwing, 2 Snipe, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Green Woodpecker, 2 Willow Tit and 6 Bullfinch. A single Yellowhammer, which was seen in the lane, was my first on the main part of the reserve since 2002 - that's around 60 visits without a sighting of this species.

On the way back home from Willington I stopped off for a short while at Barrow Gravel Pits - more deep water, more ducks. The public pit held 150 Wigeon, 4 Teal, 44 Tufted Duck and a few Mallard. I may have lowered myself to Tufted Duck but I still wasn’t ready to count Mallard! There were also 2 Little Grebe, 2 Great Crested Grebe and 2 Mute Swan. A small group of Lapwing and a single Lesser Black-backed Gull were on the gravel workings along with a Grey Wagtail. A count of 34 Red-legged Partridge was my highest ever for the species at any location - I couldn’t find a single Grey Partridge though, a species I still need for my 10-Mile List.

09 November 2008

Center Parcs, again...

After a well-earned extra hour in bed last Monday, Lynda and I packed our bags and headed off to Center Parcs, Sherwood Forest. The plan was to have a relaxing few days of doing nothing at all. I’d expected to be in no fit state to do much after my BHF cycle ride but, as it turned out, I had very little in the way of side effects other than a bit of stiffness in my knees. Rubbing Aloe Vera heat cream into my knees soon sorted them out, so we were fit to go.

The village square.

We arrived at C.P. at just after 10:00AM and had a steady walk around to check on anything that may have been new since our last visit. Nothing much changes other than a couple of the food outlets have undergone a name change and a new take-away food shop has opened. It felt good to be back in the familiar surroundings of Sherwood Forest again after visiting other parks in recent years. A leisurely stroll gave us a chance to find our villa too - a nice woodland location but a little too far from any water for us to get many waterfowl visiting us to be fed.

Villa 310 - our home for the week.

After brunch, in Café Rouge, we walked up to the wildlife centre and wildlife hide. I guess we must have spent a good couple of hours here just watching the birds come and go at the feeding stations. Most of the common woodland species were noted with the highlights being Sparrowhawk, three Great Spotted Woodpecker, Goldcrest, Nuthatch, Goldfinch and also Siskin. Large numbers of Coal Tit were constantly making visits to the feeders and, as we set off back to the village square, a single Grey Wagtail put in a brief appearance on the Country Club roof. Monday evening was spent in the villa, with the TV and a few drinks.

Tuesday started with breakfast in Café Rouge. We were on holiday so there was no point of even thinking of breakfast in the villa, let someone else do the cooking. Breakfast for me at Center Parcs usually means just one thing, a full English. I now have a new favourite... Eggs Benedict! Lynda had the Eggs Benedict when we arrived on Monday and said how nice it was, after having the same on Tuesday I have to agree. As well as tasting great they would have been better for me than the full cooked breakfast too!

Café Rouge.

The main part of Tuesday was then spent in the swimming dome. We swam, we went down the water rapids, and I went down the water slides. Lynda turned chicken, once again, and refused to go down the slides. On the very rare occasions that she will go on the slides, she screams - such a girl! If Lynda had dared to go down the big slide than I guarantee she would have screamed this time. The slide now has a lot more unlit sections and felt as though it was even faster than it used to be. All good fun!

The swimming dome, at night.

After working up a fair old appetite we chose to eat in Strada, the Italian themed restaurant. Lynda enjoyed a very nice, and rather large, pizza whilst I had a bowl of Risotto that can only be described as gorgeous. The bottle of red wine that we had added the finishing touch to a great meal - even if it was a little strong for 6 o’clock in the evening! I hadn’t realised just how good the wine was until the waitress brought our desserts to the table. When she asked who had ordered the “Panettone Al Forno” she was met with blank looks from Lynda and I. “Bread And Butter Pudding?”, she asked. That I did understand and I managed to confirm that it was, indeed, mine! The walk back to the villa helped to clear our heads, a little.

Wednesday started, once again, in Café Rouge. Again, I had the Eggs Benedict and again it was delicious. Lynda chose the continental way to start the day and opted for a basket of pastries with butter and jams. We then took a stroll around the lake to work off a few calories before heading to the Sports Bar for late morning coffees. It’s hard work being on holiday! The coffees were also a good way of washing down the rather large cookies we enjoyed there too.

A view over the main lake.

Our evening meal on Wednesday was enjoyed out in the rain, stood on the lakeside beach, with hundreds of other people. It was the night Center Parcs had their Guy Fawkes Night fireworks display. Thankfully, the rain wasn’t very heavy so it didn’t spoil the evening. Lynda went for typical bonfire night food and had a hot dog, with two sausages in it. I “made do” with Sweat and Sour Chicken with rice and prawn crackers! All good stuff on a cold, wet November evening.

We skipped breakfast on Thursday, yes you did read that right, and instead had brunch in the Pancake House. It’s not very often that we go to Center Parcs and don’t have pancakes, this time we had two each! I had a breakfast pancake to start with that had eggs, bacon, mushroom and tomato topped with baked beans. Lynda made light work of a ham and pineapple pancake. I followed on by having a traditional pancake for dessert - just the pancake with lemon juice and sugar. Lynda satisfied her sweet tooth with Fruits of the Forrest Crumble, on a pancake of course!

The Pancake House, viewed across the main lake.

After that little lot we didn’t feel like doing anything too energetic so we settled for a walk around the lake and then headed back to the villa. The rest of the afternoon was spent sat in front of the TV and also watching the wildlife that visited our little part of the forest in search of food. The birds were friendly enough and would happily feed close to us.

Two Pheasants come for food.

One of the squirrels was a little too friendly and insisted on helping himself to the food, straight from the bag!

The squirrel helping itself.

To make sure our calorie count didn’t fall too low we topped up our food intake at the Indian restaurant on Thursday evening and once again it was a very nice meal. We started off by sharing poppadoms and pickles before moving on to our main courses. I’m not an expert on Indian food by a long way, but I do know that I like a good Chicken Jalfrezi - it was on the menu so I stuck with what I know! Lynda took the cooler option of a Vegetable Korma. Being the gentleman that I am I did offer Lynda a small taste of my meal; her face said it all, it was way too spicy for her taste! That’ll teach her to pinch my food.

All too soon it was Friday and the last day of our little holiday. After breakfast, once again in Café Rouge, we headed off into the swimming dome for one last time. We swam, we messed about on the water rapids and we went on the water flume. As per normal, Lynda screamed halfway down the water flume and that only made me rock the inflatable rubber raft even more as we sped along. I didn’t quite manage to tip her out of the raft, but it was close!

One of the water slides, at night.

The last three hours of our week at Center Parcs were spent in Aqua Sana, the on site spa complex. Lynda and I have used Aqua Sana a number of times now and we still enjoy it just as much as we did on our first visit. Spending time in the spa pool and the various steam rooms was the perfect end to a great week, even though I did emerge from the spa smelling of all the different aromas that were used!

Don't worry - we'll be back soon!

02 November 2008

BHF bike ride day...

Well, I did it! The weather didn't help but I completed the 36 miles around Sherwood Forest. Looking back, the weather could well have been much worse than it actually was, but it was still pretty grim and, as a result of heavy overnight rain and constant rain today, the forest trails were far from ideal at times.

Lynda and I arrived at the Sherwood Pines complex at just after 9:00AM, by 9:15AM the bike was assembled and I was ready to head off to the registration area. As my route wasn't scheduled to open until 10:00AM I spent a little time fine tuning my brakes that had decided to stick a little - it turned out that I hadn't quite aligned the front wheel correctly in the rush to get it done in the pouring rain! My fault then, not the bike's!

Waiting for the off.

At exactly 10:00AM an air horn sounded and we were off. I'd decided to hang back at the start of the ride and take my time to see just what the trails were like and how my ageing bike (and bones) would cope with the conditions. By the end of lap one I had managed to wind my way past many of the other riders and started to up my pace a little. The first 6-mile lap took me half an hour - I was right on the 12 mph pace that I had wanted. On a dry day in summer, if we ever get one of those, I reckon the trails would be good for a 15 or 16 mph pace on my rigid framed bike.

Countdown to the start.

Rolling up to the start.

Crossing the start line.

The end of lap one.

Laps two and three saw the mud and slime on the trails start to increase and saw me starting to change from clean to grubby, I was still smiling though and enjoying every minute of the ride. It was on lap three that I started to feel like I needed a drink. After looking down at my water bottle I decided it would be better to take advantage of the British Heart Foundation feeding station instead. The idea of drinking from my bottle just did not appeal! It was covered in even more sand and mud than I was! After a quick stop for water I set off again.

Coming to the end of lap two.

Lap 3, and still it rains.

The next lap was one of my best, quite a few people had given in to the conditions and called it a day - not surprising really as many of them were families riding with children - and this meant I could up the pace a little. The only problem with doing that was that even more of the mud and slime got thrown up from my wheels and all over me! My boots and trousers were now caked in very gritty mud; my feet were also getting wet. I didn't know just how wet until I attacked one of the steeper climbs. As I got around half way up the hill I felt the water in my boots move down hill, from my toes to my heels! Yuck!

My penultimate lap will be forever known as "The Lonely Lap". I never saw a single rider for the whole six miles! If the trails hadn't been so muddy I could have really had some fun on the fast downhill sections. As it was, I decided that staying upright was a more prudent idea! If I had pushed a little too hard and bitten the dirt I guarantee it would have been where Lynda was stood with the camera - that I did not need!

Crossing one of the flooded parts of the trail - lap 5.

The final lap, the one that took my mileage from 30 to 36 miles, was a hard one. I made the mistake of stopping for a drink of orange at the feeding station and I never managed to quite get into my rhythm again. It was also the only time that anyone overtook me on the course. This minor little thing didn't sit well with me and, even though this was NOT a race event, by the end of the lap I had managed to get back past the rider and put around a quarter of a mile between us by the end.

Crossing the finish line.

Having finished my ride the only thing left was to pack everything back into the car and head for home, then I saw just how dirty all of my gear was. There was no way I could put the bike in the car as it was. Luckily, we found a hosepipe hidden away down the side of a building and put it to good use. The water was only trickling from the hose but it removed enough of the forest from the bike to allow us to get home without destroying the interior of the car. The rest I dealt with at home with our hose and a much stronger jet of water.

Nice, eh?

Now you can see why I didn't bother with my drink!

Will they ever be the same again?

The 36 miles took me 3 hours and 5 minutes. At the moment I feel fine - no worse than if I'd just done my daily commute to work in fact. Tomorrow, I may feel different. Would I do it again? Right now, the answer has to be yes. I would order a few weeks of cold, frosty weather leading up to the event and for the day itself!

A huge THANK YOU to everyone that was kind enough to sponsor me. I hope I earned your money!

01 November 2008

British Heart Foundation update...

Time for one final update before I start my British Heart Foundation sponsored bike ride tomorrow.

So far, my fund raising has gone well but not quite as well as I'd hoped. At the moment, I have sponsorship totalling £267. I'm some way short of the £350 I would have liked to raise but I'm still very happy with the donations I have. This "credit crunch" thing we're having has made things harder this year and also two or three people that have sponsored me in the past are no longer working at the same place as I do. Once the gift aid (28%) is added to my total then I'll not be too short of my target.

Now, what of my preparations for the ride? Well, I've cut out all the junk food I'd normally eat at work - sausage & bacon sandwiches etc - and I've also been doing my usual daily commute to work and back on the bike. The bike has been given the once over this afternoon; chain cleaned and lubed, gear mechs and levers lubed, lights removed (I hope I'll be finished before dark tomorrow!) and tyres pumped up to just over 60 lb pressure, for a hard but fast ride. Other than that it's just a case of get on my bike tomorrow and go for it! Oh, and I did have just one sausage, bacon, egg, beans and mushroom sandwich at work on Thursday! Energy food!

Checking the chain & gears.

Ready to roll!

On Tuesday evening I fitted a new set of brake blocks to the bike in readiness for the ride too. The old ones were starting to squeal in damp conditions and, worse, were simply not stopping me very well. Riding at night, in the wet, was becoming a little too hair raising for my liking - approach a road junction, pull on the brakes and then carry straight on isn't good! Now, the bike stops almost too well and I have to be careful not to lock the wheels.

The only downside to having good brakes again is that the bike is now sporting four rather bright brake blocks! I had read on a number of web sites that Kool Stop Eagle 2 brakes were some of the best rim blocks available and that the "salmon compound" was great in the wet. Having covered around 35 miles since the brakes were fitted I have to agree they are very good and they don't squeal either - not so sure about the colour though!

Kool Stop brakes are good - the colour, not so good!

After checking the bike over I decided that I might as well load it into the car ready for tomorrow. That was almost a rather big issue in itself! I like to ride my bike when I want to go out on it rather than taking the bike somewhere by car, having a ride, then coming home again in the car. As a result, I'd never actually tried to get this bike into the back of this car! Oh boy, was it a tight fit!

It fits! Just!

Check back tomorrow evening for a re-cap of the day's events - if I've dried out by then that is! The weather forecast is for heavy rain and strong winds all day on Sunday, not the weather I'd ordered! I can see a repeat of the soaking I got on last years BHF walk! Hey ho!


28 October 2008

A week in Hampshire...

Doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun! Lynda and I spent last week (Tuesday to Sunday) visiting her aunt and uncle, down in Hampshire, and we had a great time. The journey down was nice and easy and took us just under 2½ hours. Tuesday afternoon and evening was spent catching up on news both here at home and down in Andover.

On Wednesday, I was able to get out and do some birding for the first time in a number of weeks thanks to the local knowledge of Lynda’s aunt and uncle; they took us to a new, to me, birding site, Blashford Lakes near Ringwood. We spent almost three hours at the reserve and recorded 38 species. Birds seen included Great Crested Grebe, Little Egret, Wigeon, Teal, Pochard, Buzzard, Green Sandpiper, Kingfisher, Great Spotted Woodpecker and a flock of around 40 Siskin. After a very enjoyable morning at Blashford Lakes we drove just around the corner to The Alice Lisle pub for lunch. The morning had been good; a good pub lunch is always more than acceptable!

Blashford Lakes.

Little Egret.

The Alice Lisle Inn.

After lunch we took a drive down to Bournemouth, to see the sea. I can report that the sea was there, as was the beach. For some reason no one was swimming in the sea though - that may have had something to do with the rather cool temperature! The sea was very calm, the sky a rather nice shade of blue but it was far from warm out on the pier. Fingers crossed, it will be a lot warmer when we visit again next spring with the Derby RSPB Group.

Bournemouth beach.

Thursday saw the four of us out and about in the countryside again, this time for a 5½ mile walk with the Andover U3A walking group. We started off at the Deane Gate Inn and completed a circular walk taking in the lanes and footpaths around the villages of Deane and Oakley. The walk took us just under 2½ hours and after changing out of muddy walking boots (some of the tracks were a little waterlogged!) we then enjoyed our second pub lunch in 24hrs! Being off work can be tough at times!

Autumn trees near Oakley.

Oakley church.

Deane Gate Inn.

On Friday I spent the morning reading whilst Lynda, her aunt and uncle went shopping. By the time they returned I had finished my book, which I had only just started reading. This came as a bit of a surprise to Lynda as I’m not the fastest of readers! I can often pick up a book, read for just a few minutes and then put it down again. Seeing me without a book to read prompted Lynda’s uncle to look out a few novels he had finished with - I now have more than a dozen Patricia Cornwell books to read. Cornwell is one of my favourite authors at the moment but I think it’s going to take me a while to get through this little lot!

Most of Saturday was spent visiting another of Lynda’s aunts and uncles, this time in the picturesque village of Wildhern. The morning was spent catching up on what had been happening in the world, over a cup of coffee, before having ploughman's lunch. We were treated to a delicious home grown salad, fresh bread, cheeses, jam and a glass of cider. The food was all organically grown and it tasted all the better for it. I did have to earn my lunch here though... Lynda’s uncle had a pumpkin in the garden that needed bringing inside before the frosts arrived and asked if I could carry it in for him. “Not a problem, I’ll do that”. Once the pumpkin was inside, and eventually balanced on the scales, we found that it weighed in at just over 77 lbs! I needed my lunch after that!

Saturday evening saw us at the theatre - not something you hear me say too often! Don’t worry, I haven’t developed a liking for opera or anything like that, we went to see Gyles Brandreth. The show is best described as “An Evening With Gyles Brandreth”; the author, broadcaster, actor and former MP delivered a non-stop talk that covered such a wide range of subjects it would be hard to list them all here. One thing I will say is that it was a very funny evening. At times, some may have found him to be a little close to the knuckle with his comments and views but he was certainly entertaining.

After an extra hour in bed on Sunday, due to the clocks going back an hour, it was time to start and think about heading for home. After such a relaxing week it was a bit of a wrench to pack the car and face the motorways again. The journey home was made just a little easier by the thought that we only have one week back at work before Lynda and I have another break, this time at Center Parcs! Roll on next week!