Tag Archives: Tunnel

Adventures close to home

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  1. Introduction
  2. 19th of April 2018: The Devil’s Highway + Video
  3. 26th of April 2018: Bracknell’s “mystery” tunnel + Video
  4. Pictures of these rides.

 Introduction

I haven’t posted about anything other than my cycling pilgrimages for a while and I must confess I got a bit bored of writing only about them, but if you’re looking forward to seeing more of them, don’t worry, they will continue.

Of the 29 days I spent cycling from Canterbury to Rome in 2016 I’m still working on the 7th day and of the 12 days I cycled from the town of Sertãozinho to the Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida in Brazil in 2017 I am still working on the 3rd day, so I am fully aware I’ve got a lot of work to do.

This week, however, I wanted to share something different with you.

… Something simple…
… Something every one can do, regardless of age and physical fitness…
… something “homie”…

Few weeks ago, my friend Richard, who is the father of one of my son’s school colleagues, met me at their school and we started talking about my time in Brazil last year and my cycling in general. He said he had been wanting to take up cycling again, something he had always enjoyed, but with the burdens of modern life sometimes gets neglected. Does this sound familiar?

So, we’ve been riding together once a week for a few weeks now and I truly enjoy his company.

There are many things that motivate people to start cycling. For some is the feeling of freedom, being on your bike, not depending of any external engine or fuel other than strength of your legs and enjoying the wind in your face and so on.

For others is the (desire or need of) physical exercise or some time to relax. No one can deny the benefits of cycling for the well being of a person, physical and mental.

One other thing, however, that motivates people, me in particular, is the ability a bicycle has to reach practically any place a person on foot would and to do that faster than walking, hence cover more ground.

You can travel by bike for days, cover great distances and explore fantastic places along the way. With the appropriate bike you can take that very uneven and narrow path full of gravel, stones and sand of MTB trails or ride among the pine trees of a forest, get muddy, go up or down hill and find nature at it’s best, untouched and clean, keeping it as such.

But who said such places cannot be found all around you? Have you explored every inch of a radius of 20 miles / 30 Km around you?

I’ve been cycling regularly in Bracknell, the town I live, since 2012 (and “unregularly” well before that). Bracknell is not a big town, but is not a village either. The Bracknell Forest area covers a region of 109.4 km², so there is plenty to explore. I’ve moved to Bracknell in 1995 and although I’ve spent a few years away, working on jobs abroad, my time in Bracknell is getting close to 16 years now, altogether.

Richard has lived in Bracknell for 23 years, so together we have almost 40 years of Bracknell Forest experiences. One would expect we would know every corner of this place by now. Yet, every time we go out we find something new, some place neither one of us has ever been before.

I am willing to bet, this isn’t unique to us. I bet wherever you (the person reading this post), live you will also find places nearby you’ve never been before. It’s been said that the place we least know is the place we live in. Some of us will have probably explored more while on holidays than in the places we live in.

May I suggest you add a little bit of spice in your everyday life, get on your bike and go looking for places nearby you’ve never been to? That street you’ve never been to before, just a few blocks away, might have houses with an interesting design or architecture or gardens full of flowers that are visible from the road. Maybe there is a little river, stream or creek nearby with clean water and perhaps even fishes or toads in it. Or perhaps the local forests or parks have wild life you’ve never expected, or a lake or tracks that lead to wonderland. You’ll never know how deep the rabbit hole goes if you don’t take the initiative and peek inside.

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19th of April 2018: The Devil’s Highway

When I get out on my bike I normally leave home with a general idea of the direction I want to go. I try to cover the 4 cardinal directions (North, East, South and West) on a rotatory basis. On this ride I wanted to go south. My initial idea was to ride to Crowthorne and then perhaps go in the direction of Finchasmtead, but as we started our ride, Richard told me he had never heard of the Devil’s Highway.

Devil’s Highway, huh? Did that spark your attention? Well, it should! The richest feature of a web page is the ability to link to other pages, so I will not go into much detail, since I’ll be leaving the links for you to jump to the information, if interested.

According to the writer Gregory Norminton, “The name is rooted in superstition: for in the Dark Ages, it must have seemed that only the devil could build anything so straight and strong.”

The Devil’s Highway is actually the remnants of an old Roman road connecting Londinium (London) to Pontes (Staines) and then Calleva Atrebatum (Silchester).

G0141300So, in this ride Richard got to know a bit of the history of the Devil’s Highway, but to my surprise we also found a place in Sandhurst I had never been before. I was trying to reach the gate to the Wildmoor Heath Boardwalk, as this was another place Richard didn’t know about. I had been there only once before and got a bit lost trying to find the gate. In the process of getting lost we rode through the Snaptrails park, “an attractive 3.5 hectare Green Flag awarded park located to the west of Owlsmoor in Sandhurst“, according the the official Bracknell Forest County page and I must agree. We would have never found this park if we weren’t lost and on bikes.

We managed to find the Wildmoor Heath Boardwalk as well, just took a little longer and on our way back home we rewarded ourselves a pint at “The Prince”, a local pub in Crowthorne .

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26th of April 2016: Bracknell’s “Mystery” Tunnel

The Facebook post that triggered my curiosity
The Facebook post that triggered my curiosity

I am a member of a local Facebook group called “We Love Bracknell
“. Bracknell residents post all sorts of things in this group and on the 23rd of April someone posted a picture of a “tunnel” or an underpass that apparently not a lot of people knew existed, including myself. To me that is too tempting of a challenge and I made myself a mental note that on my next ride, which was 3 days later, I would try to find this tunnel.

According to some comments left by the poster, he seemed to think this tunnel was build as a way to enable local farmers to move livestock (cattle, horses, etc) from one side of the A329M motorway to the other. Whether that is true or not it is hard to say, but it does certainly make sense for an otherwise forgotten structure that links no place to nothing.

I looked in Google Maps and the images suggested it was possible to reach the tunnel from the fields behind the Coppid Beech Hotel. That wasn’t easy and I don’t recommend to anyone attempting to find this structure from this side. There are point of very narrow tracks covered by thorny branches from both sides, which can easily rip your skin off if you are not careful and made it impossible for us to continue on our bikes. We had to abandon the bikes and tried to find it on foot. We managed to get to just approx. 100m from the tunnel’s entrance on top of the A329M’s railway bridge, but when we looked further in that direction we both thought the path would lead to the Jennett’s Park round-about as the tunnel’s entrance wasn’t visible due to vegetation covering it.

Not knowing we were so close, we gave up and tried to reach the tunnel through the small roads and lanes behind HP’s headquarters (Moor Ln). We’ve spoken to a number of people along the way and their response about the existence of this tunnel was 50/50. A couple we spoke to confirmed the tunnel existed, but that the access to it was very difficult, as we found out. Another gentleman working at a car repair shop also confirmed the tunnel, yet his mate working besides him had never heard of it. Further down the road we hit a locked gate. I asked another gentleman that was nearby and he said he had lived for 30 years in that location and had never heard of such tunnel.

Well, I knew it existed because of the picture in Facebook and the challenge started to become even more tempting under such conditions. It feels like a gold race.

IMG_20180426_173730Due to the locked gate, we gave up trying to reach the tunnel from that side and took the railway overpass behind the Dell building towards Jennett’s Park. There is a gate to Peacock Meadows at the point were Peacock Lane becomes narrower (at the last round about to Jennett’s Park) and that gate leads to the field at the end of which you’ll find the tunnel, near the power distribution tower. You can only see the tunnel when you get close to the tower as it is covered in vegetation on this side as well.

At the end of the day the tunnel wasn’t so exciting after all, but as Mr Spock of Star Trek once said “After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing after all as wanting. It is not logical, but is often true“. The search for the tunnel was in itself the reward. Not surprisingly, before looking for the tunnel the tunnel we rode around Bracknell just to increase the mileage of our ride and we decided to take a shared pedestrian / bicycle path from Harvest Ride called Quelm Lane, which I had ridden on a few times before, but Richard didn’t. What I didn’t know was that along this path there is a park called Braybrooke Recreation Ground with a calming lake. The park’s football field is visible from the path at one point, but the lake isn’t. When Richard asked what else was in that park we decided to investigate and it was well worth it.

After finding the tunnel we decided to head home through Jennett’s Park, but there was one last thing to show Richard. The Copse in the middle of the Peacock Meadows field in Jennett’s Park. I had been there many times before, but at different moments of the year. I was surprised by the sheer beauty of the carpet of bluebells in this small forest of the field. Not only visually appealing, but a wonderful smell as well… Truly a feast for the senses.

We both rode back home we an immense sense of satisfaction

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Pictures of these rides.

Click on any picture for full detail

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Devon Coast to Coast, Day 1 of 3: From Ilfracombe to Okehampton

 

This is the 1st post of 3 about the Devon Coast to Coast bike ride that I did during Easter 2016 with two good friends: Fernando and Eduardo. For the most part I stayed on the National Cycle Route 27, but in these 3 days I can say I experienced what I can closely call, the best and the worst of British Weather. Although I would understand if people say that was nowhere near as bad as the weather can get here in the UK, the 2nd day of the ride was bad enough for me, but let me focus on the 1st day.

If you don’t like reading, please watch this bike Vlog where I give a good verbal account of these 3 days of bike riding:

On this day, Friday the 25th of March, I rode from Ilfracombe on the north coast of Devon to the town of Okehampton. According to the data collected by my Garmin 810, I rode 86.43 Km or just under 54 miles in 6 h and 16 min, but the total time elapsed from start to finish was 9 h and 22 min. We had to make long stops this day due to problems on Fernando’s bike.

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Ilfracombe Harbour

We left the Royal Britannia hotel in Ilfracombe just after 7:00 am, had breakfast at a nice, family run, café near the hotel, the  Adeles café, and then went to get all the bikes out of the car, which we left parked at the Ilfracombe Harbour (at £10 per day).

With all the bikes out of the car, the next stop was the Ilfracombe Promenade where the video starts.

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View from the Ilfracombe Promenade with the Landmark Seaview Theater to the left.

Now, before you go watch the video, let me make a few remarks, so you don’t get too disappointed at the start and give up on it:

  1. I usually use time-lapse photography to compress the time and the GoPro is usually mounted on the handlebar. This time, however, I had forgotten the camera handlebar mount at home and was forced to use the mount on my helmet, which for time-lapse is not ideal. There is a lot of head movement, especially in urban areas as I had to be aware of my surroundings. There is a limit for how much image stabilization can reduce the shakiness. It does get better on rural areas.
  2. In a few places the camera seemed to have moved out of position and recorded mostly the sky 🙁 Sorry for that!
  3. On the last 3 minutes of the video, as night fell (and added to the fact the time-lapse video was taken from my moving head) made the video unwatchable, but I decided to keep it anyway as a complete record of the day. Up to you if you have the eyes to watch it.

This video is a different approach from previous ones, not only because of the problems above, but because I decided not to worry about the length of the video (it’s 33 min long). I know most people watch only 3 to 5 min of video in YouTube and then give up, but I am assuming that if you are watching it is because you probably intend to ride this route also, so the more detail, the better.

Right at the start prepared to be challenged by some steep hills as you cross the town to get to the start of the route 27 cycle path. The path is very nice though, with some beautiful views of the valley below and the water reservoirs. You’ll cycle about 7 Km on cycle paths and then take right on Georgeham Road. From that point you’ll cycle on minor narrow roads (sometimes barely wide enough for a car) practically all the way to Braunton. Along the way, you’ll see some nice sea views on the distance.

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Sheeps and Sea

We had to stop in Braunton because Fernando’s bike developed a rather serious disc brake issue, practically resulting in the loss of all brakes. Luckily the Southfork bike shop in Braunton was opened for business, despite being a bank holiday in the UK, and the entire hydraulic disc brake set was replaced.

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View of Barnstaple from Long Bridge

It took about 1.5 h for them to complete the work which gave us enough time for some very tasty fish and chips at Squires, which I totally recommend. After the brake fault and the repair, we re-joined route 27 towards Barnstaple, one of the region’s biggest towns and the place we would come back to by train on Sunday. The ride alongside the river Taw is great and the path is smooth. Once you get to cross to the other side over the “Long Bridge”, you’ll continue to ride alongside the River Taw for several kilometres still.

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Bideford Station, Tarka Trail.

The next town / village along the way is Instow, were you’ll pass by a 130 years old railway signal box on your way to Bideford. I found that after the old Bideford Station the Tarka Trail is really beautiful, with lots of old railway bridges over the river Torridge, such as the one where you can see the old Beam Aqueduct, which used to carry the Rolle Canal over the river Torrington, but is now a road bridge, and the Landcross tunnel,  which I think is the longest tunnel along route 27 (in the video above I recorded these in normal video, not as time-lapse).

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Landcross Tunnel

You’ll then follow the cycle path to the old Victorian railway station of Torrington which has now become the Puffing Billy Trading Co. Restaurant, really worth a rest stop (even though I didn’t).

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Puffing Billy Trading Co. Restaurant

The stretch that follows after Torrington is really beautiful and I would recommend that, even if you don’t want to watch the entire 33 minutes video above, jump to about 21 min into the video and take a look at the surroundings. The cycle path follows the curvy path of little rivers and creeks with some simple, but interesting surprises along the way. If it was nice during spring time, I suppose in summer must be even nicer.

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She looks so sad… Watch the video to find out why.

After that comes a long stretch of unpaved, but nicely compacted, of the Tarka trail through patches of forest. The ascent is small (perhaps 5 to 8%), but is very long. At times it gives the impression you will never stop going uphill. If you are fit and not carrying a lot of load on your bike, it will not be a challenge at all, but after 60 Km and with some 15 Kg on the bike it may not be as easy as it sounds. Looking at my Garmin stats I still managed to maintain an average speed of about 15 Km/h, peaking 22-25 Km/h at times, so it wasn’t so bad. There are some interesting sculptures along the way, which appeared to may have been created by school kids.

After that portion of the Tarka Trail ends you are back on the road, the A386 and traffic can be intense. If you’re riding with children I would advise extreme caution or find alternative routes as in some patches of the A386 there is barely any space for a bike and no hard shoulders (in some places you have a stone wall right beside the road on an incline).

As I was using Google Maps to guide me and wanted to follow the path of route 27, just before Hatherleigh the app guided me away from the A386 through some back roads of Hatherleigh. I did ask for directions, but decided to stick to Google Maps instead (it is not always advantageous to do so, listen to my Bike Vlog).

Google Maps guided me through some minor single lane farm roads and that was likely the reason why I did 4 Km more than my riding partners that day, as they stuck to the A386. All the time Google Maps was telling me I was on route 27, though, and I saw the many sign posts confirming that, so I believe I kept true to route 27’s intended path.

If it was summer time I would have arrived in Okehampton still in daylight, but as it was early spring the sun went down at around 6:30 pm and it became quite a dark night that day as stormy weather was being predicted to the next day (the arrival of storm Katie over the next 2 days).

So for about 40 min I had to use my headlight and, as mentioned before, the video became just a mess of shaky moving lights.

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Okehampton Youth Hostel

As you arrive in Okehampton, in case you decide to stay in the Youth Hostel as well and having done more than 80 Km, be prepared for a long ascent as the Youth Hostel is located in the old train station in the highest part of town. So you’ll have about 2 Km uphill to go, with inclines that can reach about 10% at places. Not ashamed to say I pushed my bike on the last Km or so and that is why the video was so long at that final part. I got the Youth Hostel at around 7:30 pm in the evening and after doing the check-in, safely storing my bike in their bike shed, having a little rest and a shower I had missed dinner time, but I wasn’t hungry anyway.

To finish the account of my 1st day I’d like to thank the staff at the Okehampton Youth Hostel who went out of their way to help us and stayed until late so that when my riding partners arrived just before 10:00 pm that evening they could store their bikes too.

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Flickr Photo Album of that day.

EyeCycled the Bath Two Tunnels Greenway Circuit

This is a follow-up post of my previous report about my bike ride from Bracknell to Bath on the National Cycle Route 4.

At the entrance to the Devonshire tunnel
At the entrance to the Devonshire tunnel
Devonshire Tunnel
Devonshire Tunnel

As I mentioned before the reason I cycled to Bath was to experience the Bath Two Tunnels Greenway Circular Route. After two days of brilliant weather and sunshine the day of this ride was pouring down with rain. Unfortunately weather is something we still cannot control and unlike people who might be doing this for living, this is my hobby and as such I don´t have the luxury of choosing to ride and record only in good weather.

Despite the bad weather it was worth it.

Just a few notes before we proceed to the video:

  • The route I took didn´t follow exactly the Sustrans route (PDF), but is very close. In urban areas the Sustrans signage is very poor and I got a bit lost a few times. Google Maps helped a lot as well as passers-by to which I am very grateful (if you can recognize yourself in the video drop me a note).
  • Visit Bath as a page dedicated to the Two Tunnels Greenway Path full of interesting pictures
  • If you are planning to do this with small children note there are portions of this route on busy urban roads
  • The Combe Down tunnel is said to be the longest cycling / walking tunnel only in the UK and possibly in Europe. It´s just over 1 mile long (or 1672 metres to be precise). It has some quite interesting light / music displays inside.
  • The Devonshire Tunnels is smaller at 409 m
  • On the cycle paths the surface is paved and smooth.
  • If you are not local and are staying at the YHA Bath, like I did, the closest point to the route appears to be the The Holburne Museum, which is where I started from and went back to.

Note to self 1: Next time I go out to cycle under heavy rain, need to remember to wipe the water of the camera lens more often.

Note to self 2: Find a better solution to protect my phone during rides under heavy rain. The phone pouch got completely wet inside.

Back to the hostel, soaking wet.
Back to the hostel, soaking wet.

Planning my next cycling to be around this area as well, taking the route from Bath to Bristol which is only 13 miles long, completely paved over an old railway track and full of things to see.

Keep tuned!