The Ravenous Rambler on the Tour de France

Tour de France

Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

No, not me – my cycling is not up to it but the tour did go right past our Gîte.  They closed the road from 11.00am so we camped out at the gate with a cup of coffee and a book to read. At first, all was quiet on this otherwise  busy road. Then the entourage started coming through. First Gendarmerie with their blues and twos going. Then convoys of advertising support floats with music, megaphones and displays. As they go past they throw freebies out – we collected a whole pile of hats, key rings, bags, packs of cards, washing powder, more key rings, paper megaphones and so on. Then more police and support vehicles. These convoys went on for about an hour, then it all went quiet once more. One car stopped opposite us and six men got out to have an impromptu picnic. We could tell that the race was a while away. More police and support vehicles went past. The picnic people packed up and gave us the rest of their food – some excellent cutlery and glasses – and their rubbish!
More police and announcing ‘three minutes…’ more motorcyclists and police… helicopters went over, still they didn’t come… then another helicopter and this was it. Suddenly the two leaders came through surrounded by support vehicles. Thirty seconds goes by and then the pack flash through, I steady my camera and fire away until I get the annoying message – ‘busy’ I had taken too many for the buffer to hold..and then they were gone in a stream of more support vehicles.
We collected up all the extra bags and hats from the bushes and retired inside to watch the rest on TV. The two leaders kept out in front all the way to Narbonne to be overtaken by the pack a few kilometres from the end. Then, with 100 metres to go things hotted up on the home run and it was very satisfying to see our Mark Cavendish win the stage in a last ditch sprint.


Hambleden shop Review

St Mary’s Church, Hambleden

Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

Out on one of my bike rides, the Ravenous Rambler stopped at the Hambleden shop for tea. The village is one of those quintessential English villages. A dog sleeps in the middle of the road, there is a an old well by the tree in the centre of the village square and there are delightful old brick and flint cottages all at odd angles around the village. There is a little bridge over a stream from where you get a good view of the allotments that are a blaze of colour with flowers and vegetables growing together. The church and pub complete the scene. The place is a much used film location; 101 dalmations, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Midsomer Murders to name a few.
Just down the road is the River Thames and Hambleden Lock. Jerome K Jerome wrote “…the rather uninteresting river residence of my newsagent – a quiet unassuming old gentleman, who may be met with about these regions, during the summer months, sculling himself along in easy vigorous style, or chatting genially to some old lock-keeper, as he passes through”. He was writing about the owner of the large newsagent chain of WH Smith. The estate was owned by Henry Smith’s family since the 1870s but sold recently. The most notable resident was Lord Cardigan who was born in the manor house and led the famous Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimea.
There are seats just outside the shop and its a great place to take some time out and sit to have some tea or an ice-cream. They serve the tea in a china pot with milk in a jug on a silver tray. It was wonderful tea and I had some locally made carrot cake that was superb. The best thing about this shop is the locally sourced products. There is a good selection of meat and vegetables as well as all the usual provender of a local shop. There is a constant stream of locals, some with children stopping by for a chat and an ice-cream. Several builders and other tradesmen stopped by for some refreshment as well. You can sit and people watch all day. A delightful child was eating her ice-cream and asking her mummy questions like – “ Mummy, how are houses built?” and “Mummy, how are people made?” The latter question she cleverly avoided.
Hambleden is the centre of some of the best walks and cycle rides in the Chilterns so I do commend it as a refreshment place.
5 stars.

London to Brighton Cycle Ride

London to Brighton Cycle Ride

Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

The Ravenous Rambler is feeling tired and stiff. On Sunday 15th June he cycled all the way from London to Brighton for Heart Foundation.

It was an early start to get to Clapham for 6am. There were crowds of people there. People queuing for the loo, last minute mechanical problems and general mayhem like soldiers preparing for battle. I stood with about three hundred other people under the starting funnel and we collected our map and got our ID card stamped. Then into another funnel for the actual start. People standing around nervously ready to go over the top. Light banter and looking at each other’s kit and wondering how fit they were. Then we were off and as we started it was difficult to get a clear piece of road. Then there were traffic lights that everyone wanted to ignore except for the policemen and road wardens shouting “Stop”. It was a bit start and stop at the beginning through London and then out to Croydon but then the road opened up, the field cleared a bit and we were off across beautiful countryside. This was England at its best; a blue sky, small roads curving their way over the North downs and then winding their way to the South Downs and the heights of Ditchling beacon.

Some of the villages had put on festivals with brass bands playing and everyone was out to see the thousands of cyclists coming through. These villages were ancient. Thatched roofs, old churches, commuter land near Gatwick Airport. At one stop the jets came overhead with undercarriage down on late finals. Had I really cycled to Gatwick Airport! At each refreshment stop cyclists were strewn all over the place, there were stalls selling cakes and sandwiches. Water for free, tea and coffee and cold drinks. You could talk to anyone – we were all in it together. We minded each others bikes and we shared stories. There were many tales of injuries. We were the lucky few who had survived. Then I caught site of the South Downs and my heart fell. It looked huge. A large green grassy ridge that we had to cross to get to Brighton. It must have had the same effect on invaders many years ago. As we approached, everyone slowed down, they were reserving their energy for the big push. Now there was no talking, this was serious, we were confronting the enemy once more…
I wanted to cycle up but the big problem was going to be negotiating the crowds. People had a tendency to stop in the middle of the road. Earlier in the day, I had been forced to walk up a hill just because of fellow cyclists stopping like this in front of me. It made it impossible to ride unless you were skillful in avoiding the stoppers.
My tactic was to call out to everyone around me – “keep going’, “don’t stop now”, “coming round’, I called out all the time to warn the people in front and those behind what was happening. I tried to be as polite as possible, it was strange because I was the only one doing this but once I had started I carried on. It got me up the hill. It only really got a struggle at the top at the last bit but otherwise I made it with little effort.
After a stop on top, the drop off the beacon was a delight – up to forty miles an hour on my speedo, not that I dared look at it very much. Coming in to Brighton was tricky – there were so many traffic lights and the crowd bounced up but it was the best place to finish along the Brighton frontage and there were so many people! The Brighton front has to be best race finish in the world. The road runs parallel to the sea along a wide boulevard. There were flags and barriers up to keep the crowds at bay. And were there crowds, the whole place was a carnival. Thousands of supporters (and Mrs Rambler) all looking out for their charges. I felt a slight fraudster – had I really done this – did I belong here. Well, yes I did, I had cycled all the way from London to Brighton, I hadn’t walked up Ditchling Beacon and I was proud of my achievement. Many thanks to all my sponsors.