The Thanet Silverlight comes home after 61 years

He (Les Cassell) eventually bought the freehold of 50 Elmdale Road, Bedminster, for which he had his leg pulled by some of his friends for being a “bloated capitalist”.
Hilary Stone, Ease with Elegance, The Story of Thanet Cycles.

Yesterday, on the way over to Portsmouth on the ferry from Saint-Malo, I remembered a coaching inn on the edge of the Hampshire South Downs where Richard (my cycling pal from our village) and I had stayed last year en-route to Paris on our bikes. We’d enjoyed a great welcome and good food there. I did a quick web search on the iPhone and booked the last available room. The George and Falcon at Warnford doesn’t serve food on a Sunday evening but I was assured that Mat, who runs the place, would be able to make a sandwich for my scheduled arrival between 8:30 and 9:00pm.

The pub is 16 miles from the ferry terminal and I was pleasantly surprised to pick up a well-signposted cycle path through Portsmouth. I then climbed a long, steep hill up onto the South Downs. It seemed to me to be the toughest of the whole trip, but that may simply have been tiredness. The ride to Warnford was a bit of race against impending darkness because I managed to take the long way around again, rather than the most direct route. It rained intermittently, but I didn’t get soaked. When I arrived at my destination for the night, the promised sandwich was forthcoming, washed down with a couple of glasses of wine and I slept soundly through to 6:30am. It was raining when I left at 8:30 after a very good breakfast. The rain was to continue on and off all day.

Setting out in the rain from the George and Falcon for the last day of the trip.

The final day’s journey started with a climb onto the South Downs again as I headed for Winchester. My route then took me via Andover, Devizes, Melksham and Bath, before following the Bristol and Bath Cycle Path into Bristol. At one point, I ended up on the A34 dual carriageway north of Winchester and the traffic was horrific. I should have paid more attention to the map and gone through the centre of Winchester, picking up the Andover road without using the A34. I turned off the dual carriage with great relief at the first opportunity.

The day’s ride was pretty wet and windy but I was riding through wonderful countryside, crossing both the South Downs and Salisbury Plain. It got easier after Devizes, with very few hills and greater shelter from the wind. At one point, I passed within 2 miles of home but I was determined to achieve the original goal of taking the Thanet back to where it was made: 50 Elmdale Road, Bristol.

Riding along very familiar roads, I went through Bath onto the cycle path, the first major cycleway in the country created by Sustrans.  As I arrived in Bristol, the heavens really opened and I got my first and only major soaking of the whole trip. Finding Elmdale Road took about another 30 minutes, and when I arrived at my destination I was surprised to find that 50 and 50A, as they are now, had been subject to some serious development at the front and didn’t look at all like the building as it was in 2008. I actually double-checked to make sure I was at the right place, which I was. There were no answers when I rang the doorbells so I just propped the bike up outside and took my photographs.

50 Elmdale Road, Bristol  BS3: the Thanet Silverlight comes home after
more than 61 years, but nobody else is at home.

According to my Garmin Edge 200 GPS, I had covered the 903 miles in 8 days 10 hours and 20 minutes. (Due to some finger trouble in St Emillion, the journey was actually split into two sections, Barcelona to St Emillion and St Emillion to Bristol).

I finally rode the 25 miles home to a very warm welcome from my family. Champagne, roast chicken and asparagus fresh from the garden. What could be better after 928 miles in the saddle?

What next? This looks fun: L’Eroica (and I do have a 1965 Hetchins bike in the garage that needs a good run).

An early arrival at Saint-Malo, by 4 days

Saint-Malo (French pronunciation: [sɛ̃.ma.lo]; Gallo : Saent-Malô; Breton: Sant-Maloù) is a walled port city in Brittany in northwestern France on the English Channel. It is a sub-prefecture of the Ille-et-Vilaine.

I left Pouzages at 7am yesterday morning with the aim of putting in a big day. No big lunches, no relaxing coffee beaks, just head down and see how far I could travel. The temperature was 3C, according to a sign on the side of a commercial building but with the NNE wind still blowing it felt even colder.

At least the day started off brightly and the beginning of the journey, through rolling hills and hedgerow lined fields, was not unlike cycling near home in Wiltshire. The hills were quite hard work. However, most of the time the terrain provided some degree of shelter from the wind, so that was very welcome. (As I write this, I’m sat at lunch on the ferry to Portsmouth and the guy on the next table has just said that the weather forecast for Berkshire tomorrow is a 90% chance of rain and 25 mph winds – from the SW – again, not quite head on, but close enough!)

The countryside looked like Wiltshire, but the cows are different.

The crank continued to squeal in pain, but at least when it was squealing I knew that things were still tightly connected. It was when the squealing stopped and the clunking began that I knew things were falling apart. That happened just once during the day buy by now I was able to tighten everything up petty quickly.

Parts of the ride were once again along long, undulating Roman roads, some sections through forests. Because I was in a bit of a hurry, I was grabbing food at shops along the way. My diet was a disgrace – Danish pastries, croissants, energy drinks, chocolate bars and even Liquorice Allsorts (although I think the French version is called something else).

The ride took me over the Loire. In the past couple of days I had already traversed the Garonne, Dordogne and Charente rivers, as well as a host of minor ones, so if there’s ever a pub quiz question about naming major French rivers from south to north, I could be in the money. If the question’s about north to south, that would be tougher. The Loire crossing was by far the most picturesque with wide sandy beaches lining the banks as I cycled across an attractive suspension bridge at Ingrandes. The sun was shining, the terrain was reasonably flat, yet sheltered somehow from the worst of the wind, and I made good progress.

The area just north of Ingrandes in the Loire valley provided some of the best cycling of the trip.

I had numbered my map sections for France from 2 to 13. Number 1 would have been Spain, but I hadn’t had a Spanish version of the Michelin maps I was using. I don’t think these exist. When folded to fit into the little plastic pocket on my handlebar bag, the depth of the map, as I traveled almost due north, represented about 18 miles, an hour and a half at my average speed of 12 mph. The towns, on average, seemed to be about 12 miles apart, so I was beginning to judge my likely progress for the day on this basis. As I set out yesterday morning, catching today’s ferry seemed a possible but rather challenging target. However, I knew that it would be a good time to cross back into the UK because most people visiting France for the Easter weekend would travel back on Easter Monday. For this reason I had decided to go for the greatest possible distance yesterday, timing the trip to end up in a feasibly large town where I would almost certainly have no problem finding a hotel.

At 135 miles for the day and 8:35 in the evening, that town was St-Aubin-d’Aubigne. I walked casually into a bar and asked for directions to the nearest hotel. In a repeat of the previous evening’s response, my request was greeted with a shrug of the shoulders and open palms. The husband and wife owners of the bar then dug out their equivalent of ‘Yellow Pages’ and made some phone calls. By 9pm they had reserved me a room in what turned out to be a lovely Auberge in the centre of the town of Sens-de-Betagne. I headed out of St-Aubin-d’Aubigne on a major road, part of which was a mile long section of dual carriageway. It was getting dark, still windy, and then the clouds that had gradually become more threatening throughout the afternoon became precipitous and I had to pull over and don the waterproof trousers and overshoes once more.

When I arrived at the Auberge La Tourelle about 45 minutes later, the restaurant was very busy but I received a warm welcome and sat down to a very good dinner at 10pm. A bit late, but I had to wash down the Liquorice Allsorts with something!

4am start this morning, in the dark with the odd rain shower, but arrived in St Malo at 7:40, seven days, almost to the minute, after setting out from Barcelona. I upgraded to a Commodore cabin on the ferry for about £85 and looked forward to an enforced rest after 790 miles in the saddle.

After 790 miles in 7 days and 10 minutes, I arrived in Saint-Malo.

Feeling great – just another 100 or so to go tomorrow but think I could be getting wet!

Still suffering from wind

For months the sky had remained a depthless gray. Sometimes it rained, but mostly it was just dull, a land without shadows. It was like living inside Tupperware.
Bill Bryson, The Lost Continent – Travels in Small-town America.

Nothing to do with the food – there’s been a 10 to 20 mph NNE blowing all day. I’m heading roughly north, tacking from left to right as the roads dictate, so I’m heading right into it a lot of the time and then struggling to make 8 mph on the level. You become very sensitive to your surroundings under these conditions. When sheltered by a hill, a few trees, or buildings, making progress is very much easier. When I made a couple of navigation errors and had to retrace my tracks, all I had to do was steer – the wind did the rest. This morning the wind was compounded by a leaden sky, a cold, penetrating damp, temperatures around 6C, and the occasional shower. The Roman road out of Jonzac was long, straight and undulating. As much as I love my cycling, this was damned hard work. I was reminded of Bill Bryson’s description of typical British weather being like “living insde Tupperware” – but I think he was living in Yorkshire at the time, so what did he expect!

As I cycled through the Cognac region of France, under ‘Tupperware’ skies, it became
clear that the locals like to encourage young drinkers!

Head down and battling, I arrived in Sureges at 1pm, I stopped at a restaurant in the central square where I followed the biggest breakfast I’d had in years with an equally sumptuous lunch. The meal, a great steak and chips followed by cheese and coffee, set me back £10 and the bar owner offered me another free coffee as I was paying the bill. I tightened the cotter pin again, the chain wheel had stopped squeaking but had been clunking for the past 10 miles because it was too loose to squeak. I then bought some batteries for the lights, thinking I might just need them today.

As I came out of the restaurant, the sun came out from behind the clouds and stayed out all afternoon. The riding, a mixture of rolling hills and long flat sections, was much more pleasant but still very hard work.

One annoying habit of some (a minority) of French drivers is to ‘toot’ to warn cyclists of their presence. This is entirely unnecessary of course because if you cycle on roads you expect to be overtaken by cars. Most of the roads were built for them. What you are not expecting is a blast in your left ear from Citroen’s latest electro-acoustic innovation. In the wrong hands it could be lethal.

I set my sights on Pouzages as a target destination for the day. A quick Internet search on the iPhone showed that it had several hotels. When, at 7pm, I arrived in a small village 20 miles south of Pouzages I was out of energy, out of water, and out of food. I ate a big chocolate and nut bar (575 calories, it said on the label) drank a Coke and a coffee and topped up the water bottle. Twenty undulating miles later, with the sun already below the horizon but enough remaining light to see my way, I battled up the steepest hill of the whole trip to reach the “centre ville” of Pouzages. It’s clearly a place designed to keep out invaders. I stopped at the first hotel I found, a bar with rooms really, and checked in. The barman told me that they will be open until 2am but I know that the noise is not going to keep me awake. Tomorrow, there is no rain forecast but the morning temperature is going to be just above freezing and the NNE wind remains. It was a bad decision to leave my knee warmers at home!

Socks and drugs and Pomerol

 “A cold wind was blowing from the north, and it made the trees rustle like living things.”
George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones

Whilst in Toulouse, I added to my sock collection with a rather striking pair of calf-length, German hiking socks. I may not be allowed into all restaurants wearing them but I think they look rather snazzy with the Rapha 3/4 trousers. I had a late start yesterday (Tuesday) because I decided to try the nearest bike shop for a fix for my squeaky crank. I arrived at 9, only to find that the didn’t open until 10. Impatient, I decided to live with the problem and headed out of town. However, having missed breakfast, I stopped at a patisserie for a bun. Another bloke, buying his sandwiches, opened a conversation by commenting on the socks. I’m not entirely sure what he said, but it was friendly enough. I explained the small problem with the bike and he enthusiastically recommended a bike shop to sort it out – Velo Station. I rolled up, had a new cotter pin fitted in a few minutes and set out without the squeak – for 5 more minutes. It is the axle that’s worn, not the pin, but I think it will hold out.

It took the owner of Velo Station in Toulouse  just a few minutes to replace my cotter pin.
Unfortunately, it turned out that it was the axle that was worn, not the pin. Nevertheless, great service, with a smile.

The day was spent traveling about 90 miles along the Canal du Midi. It’s about 5 times the width of our canals and the typical boat is a big white-and-blue cabin cruiser. I saw a lot of them in the moorings near towns but during the whole day saw just 3 boats moving along the canal. At this time of year, it is staggeringly quiet. A handful of other cyclists, a similar number of anglers, and a few dog walkers – that was it. I cycled for miles without seeing another soul – often with vast apple orchards adjacent to the canal. The was some very light rain, but nothing of significance. I’d had no particular destination in mind when I set out – the original target had been Agen, but I knew I would go further. At 7:30pm I found the town of Aiguillon. I walked into the only hotel in town, La Terrasse de L’Etoile, and booked a demi-pension: dinner, B&B. A 3-course dinner with wine and coffee, a very nice room, plus free WiFi and breakfast, set me back £50.

La Terrasse de L’Etoile in Aiguillon: superb value and
very close to the Canal du Midi.

This morning, there was another 30 miles alongside the canal to La Reole, where I stopped for coffee to warm up – I don’t think that the temperature had risen above 7 degrees. The ‘Springwatch’ total for the canal was loads of coypu (which I’d originally thought were beavers – and are known as “little beavers” in some places), two cuckoos, quite a few herons, two green woodpeckers, one cormorant and a host of unidentifiable little brown birds.

North of La Reole are rolling hills and we’re back in wine country. I stopped in Sauverttere-de-Guyenne for a snack lunch and to make a few adjustments to the bike. I ‘d been suffering from some pain in both knees since yesterday morning and, whilst I am generally against drugs in sport, I succumbed to Ibuprofen to ease the pain. If this means a ten year disqualification from professional cycling, so be it. I’ve never done any anyway. On the way out of town I was flagged down by an enthusiastic Frenchman who explained that he owned owned a vintage Humber British bike with a 1926 Sturmey Archer hub on it. He also explained that Sturmey Archer enabled the first multi-geared bikes by introducing their original hub in 1904. Sometimes you find knowledge in the most unexpected places.

I continued cycling north, north-west. The wind was 5 to 10 mph north, north east. Not head-on but near enough to make things a bit challenging.

I tried to divert around Libourne by going through St Emillion then via the Pomerol vine plantations. However, I got lost, losing the best part of an hour in Libourne before getting back on route towards Montendre. Nice town. No hotels. Struggled another 12 miles north to Jonzach. Found a room immediately and ate very well here in the hotel. An English couple in the restaurant told me it’s due to be cold and wet for the next couple of days but 5 days into the trip, I’ve covered over 500 miles, including 110 today, so at least I’m ahead of plan.

A Mexican couple kindly took this photograph of myself and the ‘velo’ on the edge of Saint Emilion.
 It’s one very smart town with cobbled roads and is and surrounded by smart chateaux, including those that produce Pomerol.

Flamingos and beavers

 There is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Water Rat, Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

I’m not sure which is harder to use, a French keyboard or the one on this iPhone. I’m beginning to wish I’d brought an iPad for the blog. Excuse any typos, I’ll sort them out later.

Anyway, two days on and I’m now in the centre of Toulouse, showered, refreshed and enjoying dinner in an Italian restaurant next to my hotel. The Novotel Centre Wilson in Toulouse opened 8 weeks ago and has a very nice carpet (ideal for cleaning the canal path dust off bicycle tyres) and an impressive new marble floor. I attracted a few strange looks as I wheeled my “velo” inside and propped it against the reception desk. Suprisingly, they not only let me have a room but gave me a free upgrade to an executive one – by far the best I’ve stayed in so far.

Yesterday morning I headed north from St Cyprien hugging the coast whenever possible and dodging the trucks on the busier roads when there was no other viable route. The resorts north of St Cyprien were much smarter, St Cyprien itself resembling a run down version of Weymouth. Beyond these were some idyllic French villages – real holiday brochure stuff and very quaint. At one point I was amazed to see flocks of flamingoes on both sides of me as I rode across a causeway just south of Bages. In my ignorance, I’d always assumed that they were tropical birds. There were skylarks everywhere too.

As I turned west towards Carcassonne the ride was very different. The main road was a traffic nightmare so I made strenuous efforts to avoid it, taking minor roads, some of them pretty roughly surfaced, through vineyards. I did Fitou and Corbieres yesterday, and perhaps some others that were not labelled!

I arrived in Carcassonne having travelled another 90 miles. I spotted an Ibis hotel on the way in and checked in without a problem to one of the smallest rooms imaginable – the receptionist apologised in advance. Arriving back after dinner, I met the “Ryanair refugees” as they had dubbed themselves – a bunch of Irish guys with no good way home today because French air traffic controllers were enjoying one of their hobbies again, going in strike.

The problem with the bike’s right hand crank was getting worse. The securing nuts on the cotter pin were at least holding good, but the chain ring continued to wobble and squeak. I had no idea how long this could go on before something significant happened.

This morning, after only a minor unintended diversion, I found the path alongside the Canal du Midi.

The start of my ride along the Canal du Midi in Carcassonne

This would take me to today’s destination, Toulouse, just over 60 miles away. A relatively short run. The whole day’s riding was amazing – I saw no more than another ten cyclists until I reached the outskirts of Toulouse. I did see a nuthatch and a couple of beavers – the beavers being another first ever sighting for me. (They turned out to be coypu – seek later post.)

The only thing marring the day, apart from some drizzly rain for an hour, was the bike’s technical problem mentioned earlier. I considered taking it to a bike shop in Toulouse but the truth was that it’s the 61-year old axle that’s the problem, and no bike shop was going to have one of those in stock. I concluded that my best bet was to fill the space between the cotter pin and the crank with the hardest version of Araldite, or it’s French equivalent. After checking into the Novotel at 4pm I scoured the town centre for the aforementioned adhesive but came unstuck. I’ll have to try again tomorrow, when it’s due to rain.

A Spanish map has limitations when the road signs are in Catalan

I set out at 7:30am on Sunday morning and then had a very frustrating hour and a quarter trying to find my way out of Barcelona. All the carefully typed directions that made perfect sense on Saturday night looked like complete gibberish by Sunday and the Barcelona authorities seem to design road signs to confuse any potential enemy, rather than to provide useful information for the traveller.

After finding my way out of the city there were long, steady climbs to Sant Celoni and some more challenging ones In the hills just south of Girona. But it was not as challenging for me as for the young guy cycling up the the opposite side of the road with a rucksack on his back, a set of window blinds in one hand and a ladder balanced across his handlebars in the other!

The N2 road from Girona northwards was very busy with cars and trucks but has a wide shoulder in most places. Scenery ranged from spectacular wooded gorges to industrial grot and at one point I accidentally ended up on the A2 – where cyclists are not allowed, so had to walk back 800 yards or so along the drainage trench. However, feeling good, I decided to press on into France. I crossed the French border at 6pm, calling Sally while I was at the highest point in the climb over the Pyrenees in the busy town of El Perthus,

After a 5 mile descent, I turned right and headed for the coast, finding a room at the Hotel du Port in St Cyprien at about 7:45. I had covered 140 miles at an average speed of 12 mph and was ready for a bath and dinner.

L’Aquarium restaurant provided the latter – fish soup, turbot and creme caramel, washed down with a glass of rose and a dessert wine. I slept well!

The weather had been good all day, the temperature reaching about 25 C. The only problem with the bike was having to stop a couple it times to tighten a cotter pin on the right hand pedal crank. Somewhere along the way I need to find a fix for that. The search for a tube of blue Locktite starts today, but in not likely to find it cycling along the coast to Narbonne. Maybe when I turn left towards Carcassonne….

A dire warning and a small diversion

“Some serious advice. Stop. Get a bike with some decent gears. It’s a BAD idea!!” A few encouraging words from ‘Gearoldmuar’, November 17th 2011 on the Cyclists Touring Club (CTC) discussion board, in response to reading about my plans.

When you consider that Sturmey Archer (a Birmingham, UK, company) was selling over 2 million of its 3 and 4-speed hubs every year around 1950, and to all corners of the world, I think that Gearoldmuar’s suggestion that the product is not ‘decent’ is more than a little condescending, particularly when you consider that so many of them are still in service today, many of them probably having never been serviced. I wonder how many Shimano cassettes will be giving good service when they´re 60 years old.
All things considered, I think that my August 1949 Sturmey Archer FW 4-speed hub is unlikely to be the weak point of this trip, or my 1950 Williams C1200 chain ring. However, I do take the point that around the Pyrenees can be a tad hilly, so we fitted the hub with a 22 tooth sprocket. For the technically minded, I will now have a bottom gear of about 38 gear-inches. Gearoldmuar went on to recommend at a bottom gear of 27 gear-inches or, better still, 20. 
A really ‘decent’ set of gears: the legendary Sturmey Archer FW hub.  Every one is date stamped.
This one is from 1953, the one on my Thanet Silverlight is from 1949 and when stripped and examined by an expert in these things, he declared that everything still looked like new.
Despite my confidence in the set up, I am conscious that avoiding the worst of climbs is a good idea. So, when a cyclist overtook our car whilst traveling down the C61 from Sant Celoni to Arenys de Mar on the way to Barcelona yesterday, I decided that discretion was the better part of valour and opted to find an alternative route to the descent that was to have been tomorrow’s first big climb. So it is that in 10 hours from now, I’ll be setting out from in front of the cathedral in Barcelona (the original one, started in 1298 and finished in 1448, not the Gaudi “it will be finished soon, honestly” one, the Sagrada Familia, which is actually a basilica, not a cathedral and is still under construction) to head north-east from the city instead of due north. It’s a 30 mile climb to Sant Celoni, but none of the hills is big enough for “” to categorise it numerically. That must be a good thing, mustn’t it?
The starting point: Barcelona’s only cathedral was built between 1298 and 1448.  The scaffolding is just coming down after several years during which all the stone work has been cleaned, so it will be looking its best again very soon, but there’s still a lot of scaffolding to go (March 31st, 2012).
I’ve just enjoyed a fabulous dinner with my brother-in-law James, his wife, Pepi, and their 3 children – Victor, Arthur and Ivan –  in their lovely apartment two blocks away from the cathedral. Home-made paella with a veritable fest of seafood that always tastes so good here, a modicum of fine Spanish red wine and plenty of water to keep up the hydration. I’ve read all about the importance of hydration!
I plan to set out at about 7:30am, and hope that the confusion of directions we’ve prepared to get me out of Barcelona city make more sense in the morning than they do now. I also hope that being 60 tomorrow doesn’t suddenly make me feel much older. I’ll know for sure one way or the other tomorrow.
My first destination is Girona, or maybe a bit beyond if all goes better than expected. The temperature should hit the low 20s Centigrade and there’s no rain forecast. 

On our way

“Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.” Paul Theroux.
I started writing this from the little Internet cubicle of the Ibis Hotel in Chateauroux, a small town between Orleans and Limoges. I was typing very slowly due to the infuriating transposition of keys that gives the French keyboard its unique personality!

Having traveled nearly 600 miles since leaving home yesterday morning, we’re now heading south on the A20 motorway, somewhere around Limoges. Paul’s driving while I tap out this entry on the iPhone.

Chateauroux was a typically pleasant small French town where we found a small, inexpensive bistro and enjoyed a very good dinner. Poached eggs in kidney gravy is not the kind of thing we eat at home and is indicative of the very different palette of the French.

The weather is fantastic – it will reach about 20 deg C today and there’s not a cloud in sight. If I get two weeks of this, the ride will be amazing.

We’re aiming to get at least as far as Perpignan today and may even go over the N2 into Spain then head to the coast to find a seaside hotel for tonight somewhere north of Barcelona. We’ll travel the two hills that I need to tackle during the first two days of the ride – the N2 over the Pyrenees and the C61 from the Spanish coast to Saint Celoni. It will be the first time I get a true sense of the scale of the challenge.

In the meantime I’ve noticed some play in the front wheel of the bike and I’ve developed a cold. So far, so good!

The plan

“A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.” John Steinbeck.
As I mentioned in my first post, my goal is that my 60 year-old legs propel my 61 year-old Thanet Silverlight bicycle to the city where we were both born – Bristol, England. The Thanet frame was made at 50 Elmdale Road, Bedminster, Bristol. The building is now two domestic dwellings, 50 and 50A.  With luck we’ll both arrive on the morning of Saturday 14th April, having set out from Barcelona on 1st April, then I’ll pedal the rest of the way home to South Wraxall, near Bradford-on-Avon, a gentle 25 miles and only one final climb, Bathford Hill, about 2 miles from home. 
My final destination: the birthplace of my Thanet bicycle is now two private dwellings: 50 and 50A.
This shot is from 2008 when it was last sold, hence the estate agents’ sign.

One of the things that makes this trip exciting is its unpredictability. I don’t know if either the bike or I will last the pace. I don’t know what the weather’s going to be like. I don’t know the terrain, apart from what I’ve read. And I don’t yet know where I’m going to stay each night because I don’t know when I’ll be tired. Having said all that, I do have a planned route and some rough timing for the trip. This is it:
Day 1: Barcelona to Girona                    106km
Day 2: Girona to Perpignan                    107km   
Day 3: Perpignan to Carcassone             120km
Day 4: Carcassonne to Toulouse             91km
Day 5: Toulouse to Agen                        106km  (530km stage 1)
Day 6: REST
Day 7: Agen to Libourne                        123km
Day 8: Libourne to St Savinien              126km
Day 9: St Savinien to Les Epesses         130km
Day 10: Les Epesses to Pouancé            110km
Day 11: Pouancé to St Malo                   135km (624km stage 2)
Day 12: REST (FERRY DEPARTS 10:45)
Day 13: Portsmouth to Bristol                90km
Day 14: Bristol to Bath                           30km

TOTAL                                1274km….791 miles

In practice, I expect to cover nearer 800 to 900 miles with diversions, intended and otherwise. And I don’t really expect much to go to plan. If things go better than expected, and both the bike and I are up to it, we may even add on another 100 or so miles at some point to make it a 1000 mile trip. Perhaps going onto Cherbourg, rather than returning home via St Malo. However,  I’d be very happy to just achieve the original objective.
I took the Thanet for a final spin today, just a few miles. Something didn’t feel quite right and, sure enough, when I got back I found that a cotter pin had worked loose again and the crank had some movement in it. I tightened it up and added a lock nut for good measure. At least old bikes are pretty basic and, for the most part, you don’t need sophisticated tools to keep them going.
When I got back from the ride at about 4 o’clock this afternoon I had a surprise tea party, arranged by my wonderful wife, Sally, and attended by my four children – Adam, Heather, and twins Harry and Matilda  (actually two adults and two children) and my lovely granddaughter, Charlotte Rose.
Now I’m just about to print out the checklist, panic about the things I may have forgotten, and load the bike into the car…

One more day to get ready

“As you get older three things happen. The first is your memory goes and I can’t remember the other two…” Norman Wisdom
I’ve only one more full day to prepare before traveling to Spain. That’s because I’m going over to meet my companion for the drive to Barcelona, Paul Whytock, first thing on Thursday morning. Paul’s been a friend for nearly 30 years and we’ve made trips to continental Europe together. We’re going to take the bike through the Channel Tunnel in my 10 year-old Mercedes estate and drive to Barcelona, hoping to arrive on Saturday morning. All being well, we’ll then meet Paul’s wife and daughter at Barcelona airport because they’re coming over to join him for a weekend in the city before they all drive back. I will be setting out on my own on Sunday morning.
I recently read about super lightweight touring in CTC magazine. Igor Kovse rode the 100 Cols Tour, a 4,000km jaunt, with just 3kg of luggage in a compression bag tied to his saddle and saddle post. 
A 2006 Himalayas photo from Igor Kovse’s web site: he’s a big fan of really lightweight touring

The idea of lightweight touring really appeals, but the convenience of a clip-on handlebar bag with a map pocket on top and a clip-on seat post bag won the day. One recommendation of Igor’s that I will follow is to make up some typed directions (when I find time), rather than relying upon map reading whilst pedaling. Unlike Igor, I will be taking maps , or at least sections of maps, as a back up. Also unlike Igor, I won’t be wearing Crocks to save weight.
On the subject of cycling apparel, I’ve done the lycra thing but in the past few months have developed a real taste for Rapha clothes (most of them – see below) and Dromarti Storica classic-look leather cycling shoes. Three-quarter length trousers, colourful knee-length socks, and some touring shorts in case it gets a bit warm, will be the order of the day. I’ve got knee warmers for the early mornings and a cap to wear under my helmet in the beating sun. A classic style for a classic bike – even if it does get strange looks from the boy-racer cycling brigade. One word of advice. Don’t buy the Rapha padded merino wool boxers to wear under your cycling trousers. Not only are they very expensive at £40 a pair (and I was dumb enough to order two pairs) but the designer decided that it would be a good idea to have exposed stitching on the inside of the pants where the pad is fixed into place. The rough edge acts as a very effective file on the inside of your thighs and, at least in my case, rubbed them raw after 20 miles!
I’m a great believer in helmets and, after a nasty fall two years ago when a jogger decided that it must be safe to run across the road because he couldn’t hear anything. He heard me using my nose and forehead as brakes on the tarmac a few seconds later, and then a rather loud crunch as the back of my head contacted the kerb on the other side of the road. Fortunately, my very good friend Richard Stanton, another cycling nut and a doctor, was 50 yards behind and witnessed the whole thing. When I say he’s a doctor, he’s actually a consultant psychiatrist so, after checking my physical injuries, helped me manage my anger when I later regained consciousness. Anyway, we are both convinced that without the helmet, even in a 15 mph collision, I would have been very much worse off. If I was still here at all.
Less than five days to go before the real journey begins. The Mercedes failed its MOT last week on brakes. On a test ride two days ago, one of the brake levers fell off the Thanet, there was a regular squeak from the bottom bracket and a loud clunk for each revolution of the cranks. The clunk turned out to be a loose cottered crank.
This is going to be fun, isn’t it?