Five years of “I do not despair” – revisiting our favourite posts

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On January 1st 2012 I published the first, tentative post on Idonotdespair.com To celebrate my fifth anniversary I have gathered together a small collection of favourite posts. Firstly your top 5 – the posts that have gathered the most visitors,some … Continue reading

Zeeland Cycle Tour day 4 – experiencing the Delta Works

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And so to the final day of our short tour of Zeeland and the chance to ride part of one of the world’s great cycle routes – the North Sea Cycle Route where it snakes across the great sea defences … Continue reading

Denmark’s slice of cycling heaven

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I am very lucky that I have cycled in some amazing places – high mountains, cycling cities, passionate cycling fans, stunning tourism routes. To that mix I can add the places that just have “something”. Maybe the attractions are a … Continue reading

Where might Mayor Ko of Taipei City sit in a league table for “cycling mayors”?

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At a Velo-city Taipei conference full of colourful characters there is little doubt that one of them almost stole the show, mostly by not being there. Elections for city mayors can occasionally throw up some characters who can be described … Continue reading

Reasons to be cheerful 2016 – cycling in North Cyprus

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In the middle of gloomy news and predictions for 2016 two of the media organisations I follow carried very similar stories of a small ray of sunshine in Europe. 2016 might be the end of a 42 year old conflict … Continue reading

Favourite cycling photos of 2015

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To complement the small selection of nice travel and home photos that I published two days ago I now compiled a similar selection of 2015 cycling shots. Many of the travel shots were also taken on bike rides around the … Continue reading

Possibly the most beautiful autumn cycling scenes I can ever remember

Photo by Kevin Mayne

Photo by Kevin MayneYesterday I ride from Epsom in Surrey to Wokingham in Berkshire as part of my cycle tour before the Rugby World Cup final. During the ride I had a section of stunning autumnal beauty which will live long in my memory.

To travel along the side of the old Basingstoke Canal from Byfleet to Deepcut was like spending a day inside a series of paintings, or a perfectly designed Japanese garden. The colours of the trees and the undergrowth mirroring on the still waters of the canal were like a series of tableaux coming round each bend until I was almost experiencing sensory overload. This intensity was maintained for nearly 20 kilometres, giving me a period of absolute delight. With many stops for photos and just to breathe in the images I must have been there nearly two hours.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

Photo by Kevin Mayne Photo by Kevin Mayne

I have written in blog posts from Belgium that I find the big wide shipping canals of Europe somewhat featureless, coming back here reminds me of the intimacy of these small British canals that were built for the narrowboats of the 19th century. Having fallen in to redundancy as trade routes their restoration as cycling and walking corridors is an absolute joy.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

If any of my English readers live near enough to nip down there this weekend for a ride or a walk I say take it now, I guess I have been lucky enough to be there just as the autumn colours reach perfection. Oak, silver birch and horse chestnut all make their contribution but the stars of the show are the golden beeches, in some places the leaves have formed such a dense layer on the water that they have formed a magic carpet of orange that could tempt the unwary to take a walk on the surface.

Photo by Kevin Mayne Photo by Kevin Mayne

The camera alone cannot capture it, the temptation is to portray it as an impressionist painter, perhaps Monet would have done it justice.

Basingstoke canal Woking Photo by Kevin Mayne

However if you do go to visit the Basingstoke Canal as it passes close to Woking you might have to look out for another name. Because as it passes through Woking the canal towpath is called the “Saturn Trail”, which gives me a lovely link to the author H.G. Wells whose quote inspires the title of the this blog.

Back in 2008 I was on the board of a group called Cycling England who were advising the government on their cycling strategy. As part of our work the Board selected the town of Woking to get extra funding to become a so called Cycling Town, beating off over 70 other applicants. One of Woking’s main strategies was to create a cycling network and learning from other successful towns they decided to give each of nine trails a name and a colour. Inspired by the H. G. Wells novel “The War of the Worlds” which was written while Wells was living in Woking they chose planets and moons as the theme. Today the cyclists of Woking can navigate by Mars, Pluto, Ceres and Venus as they move around the town.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

At the heart of this planetary story was Saturn. In 2008 the Basingstoke Canal through Woking was a series of muddy tracks and even grassy fields that were only usable by dog walkers in sturdy boots and the occasional mountain biker, probably breaking the rules to ride in places. Resurfacing, widening and clearing the towpath turned it into the flagship route of the network. When I used to meet the Project Manager Paul he would talk about the whole Cycle Woking project with enthusiasm as one might expect, but I could always detect an extra gleam in his eye when talking about the canal restoration, it is an incredible legacy. (Before and after photos can be seen here)

Which is actually why I chose this route for my ride. When my route planner offered me “Via the Saturn Trail” as an option for the ride I could not resist the chance to catch up with the route and the project and of course to pay homage to H.G. Wells. So I also ended up having lunch with a Martian invader, just of the canal in Woking town centre.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

All is not perfect, the surface is not the perfect smoothness of a Dutch cycle path and the heavy leaf fall made some sections of the route a bit slippery, but because it is shared with walkers that is probably a sensible bit of subtle speed management.

Of the 20 kilometres the trail section through Woking is the best maintained part of the path, to the far Western end near Deepcut I think it must be out of the scope of Woking’s project because it was wet and muddy, testing the capabilities of a small wheeled bike after the rains of the last two days. But as that section offered possibly the very best of the views and was absolutely deserted I can say that it was worth every splash and wobble.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

Which makes it time to say thank you. Thank you H. G. Wells, thank you to our Victorian canal builders and especially to Cycle Woking. And to nature’s timing of course. By their efforts and inspiration I was given the finest of cycling hours in an unexpected corner of South East England.

Uplifting. I do not despair.

Arnhem to Aarschot cycle tour. Netherlands and Flanders – just because it’s flat doesn’t make it easy!

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A few weeks ago I found myself in the Netherlands for the opening of the new Gazelle factory in Dieren.. As this event went into the evening it required an overnight in nearby Arnhem which in turn left me wondering … Continue reading

Tour de France in Belgium 2015 – unforgettable moments

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It is now four days since I cycled to Huy to watch the Tour de France stage finish at the summit of the legendary Muy de Huy. In the way of these things the excitement of the Tour has rolled … Continue reading

Long day. Tour de France viewing at Mur de Huy, and back!

Photo Kevin Mayne Photo Kevin Mayne Photo Kevin MayneThat’s a long hard day under our belts. or rather our wheels.

160 km for me and nearer 200km for Thomas and we got to see an amazing, eventful stage that ended in Huy

There will not be much blogging tonight. It has been a 2 beer ride, and I don’t say that very often with Belgian beer on offer.

Potential book chapter? “Cycling across Belgium with Andrew Sykes and a bike called Reggie.”

Photo by Kevin Mayne

Regular readers will recall my book review for “Along the Med on a bike called Reggie” by cycling traveller and write Andrew Sykes. I am delighted to say that we have had a chance to meet up because Andrew is passing through Belgium on his latest ride as he heads from the south of Spain to the very North Cape of Norway. That’s about 7,000 km by the way, one hell of a trip.

Planning the meet up has been interesting because it has made me watch Andrew’s Twitter feed and daily postings on www.cyclingeurope.org quite closely and by doing so I feel I am watching his next book write itself in front of my eyes, whether it be the never-ending saga of the lost sunglasses or a detailed commentary on French Atlantic Coast cycle routes.

I feel a bit of responsibility here. I have somehow become “Belgian expert” for this part of the route, a big ask for someone with just three years in the country. And I am guilty of encouraging Andrew to divert off his planned EuroVelo routes through the south of the country and further in to the centre nearer to Brussels and Flanders to be our guest in Lasne. If it doesn’t turn out well my EuroVelo colleagues in the ECF office will kill me for spoiling part of their publicity.

Last but not least he is a “proper” author, print and pages and Amazon listings and all that stuff. On the internet we may be a bit ephemeral and a rude remark on Twitter can be laughed off. However I am a bit old school and I like my books to last. Somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind I am worried I might feature forever in print as “the man whose instructions sent me cycling into a canal” instead of some nice words about the Belgian countryside.

Anyway, so far so good. A few hours ago I left Andrew in Leuven plotting a route east towards the Netherlands and Germany following roughly the route I did with my Dad last summer. Prior to that we have had three good days cycling and sightseeing together with the Belgian countryside and indeed the weather doing us proud.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

On Friday Andrew’s arrival over the border from France was a good excuse to take an afternoon off work so I could meet him part way guide him though some of the interesting routes through Wallonia using mostly the Ravel cycle network of canal towpaths and converted railway lines.

I took the train to the old Roman city of Nivelles where I took a ceremonial photo of my bike being dwarfed by the imposing west face of the church of Saint Gertrude.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

I then had a lovely ride down the route I planned for Andrew enjoying the wild flowers, birdsong and warm sunshine on the traffic free routes that took me swiftly south, firstly on the old rail line of Ravel 141 and then the old Brussels Charleroi canal, Ravel 3.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

Our meeting point was La Louviere, crossing point of a number of routes due to its extensive canal network. Not a town I knew at all because it doesn’t feature in any guide books, When I approached the town past the steel works I realised why, because these canals were first and foremost industrial corridors and La Louviere was clearly a solid working town, struggling like much of Wallonia with the decline of historic industries.

The town is trying very hard to spark itself up and I thought I could not have picked a better meeting point in the town square which was full of “animations”. Landmark? There can only be one purple and yellow tree in La Louviere surely.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

That didn’t quite work out because La Louviere has a few satellite suburbs that have their own squares and for a while we were missing each other completely. Eventually a rendezvous was made so we could have a very enjoyable summer afternoon ride back to Lasne. Last time I was here was the 5th of January when it was gloomy and so cold the canal surfaces were partly frozen, today was like another world.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

Yesterday is going to lead another blog post or two because we took a sightseeing diversion up to Waterloo, the most famous tourist attraction of the area.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

I am going to write about it separately because the 200th Anniversary is just a few weeks away and work is flat out in preparation for the events to mark the occasion. The existing Waterloo tourist area was frankly a bit of an international disgrace, run down and unappealing so I haven’t written about it much. However the new visitor centre was opened just a few days ago and it is a transformation, worth a write up in its own right.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

It was also an excuse for an hour or so gentle cycling to and from the battlefield through some of my local favourite routes. I am often very, very scathing about Walloon customer service so a special shout out to the landlady of “Le Gros Velo” the wonderfully named bar-restaurant in Plancenoit who knocked us up a couple of bowls of spaghetti bolognese hours after the lunch service was officially over, supped in the tranquil square with a glass of Leffe.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

And today we sent him on his way with the ride up to Leuven, countryside full of sporty Flemish cyclists out on a Sunday spin on a public holiday weekend. None of them knew they were passing a man on a trip with 3,000 km done and still 4,000 to go, perhaps we should have demanded some respectful salutes.

What else can I say? Well for those potential hosts further up Europe in the Warm Showers network I can tell you the Andrew you get in the books is very much the Andrew of real life. He is a very warm and engaging guest, full of chatty anecdotes and commentaries from his travels and teaching career. In particular I can see how the life of the traveling author suits him because he has an open mind and is curious about the countryside and cultures he is traveling though, much like a journalist as well as a writer. I admire that quality, it must sustain him.  While I have secret hankering to set off on ride across a continent one day I find it almost impossible to imagine months on the road, I am very happy to be a reader of these travellers’ books and I am looking forward to Andrew and his bike Reggie reporting back after they get to the North Cape.

Andrew posts his reports daily on cyclingeurope.org so you can see his perspective on the visit as it unfurled too, with much more clever stuff like videos and commentary.

I will be slightly nervous until they do arrive. Andrew told me he blames broken spokes on his very first trip on the cobbles he hit in Lille early on that journey. I must be getting a bit too accustomed to them because I just forget that many of my favourite routes have several sections of the horrible rattly stuff and my British guests are often distinctly discombobulated by bouncing around on the stones. I may just have passed over a few sections in my three days with Andrew and Reggie.

Photo Kevin Mayne Photo Kevin Mayne

They didn’t seem impressed. Having the bike laden with camping gear and everything you need for three months on the road just make it worse, so even if I didn’t end up as the man who sent the author into a canal I will be mightily relieved if I am not blamed for a wheel collapse, somewhere in northern Norway, three day’s ride from a bike shop.

Bon voyage!

Photo by Kevin Mayne

Tour de Namur Cyclo 2015 – classic route in the beautiful spring countryside of Wallonia. With added Triple Mur. That’s a lot of Mur.

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© sportograf Last Saturday’s ride was the latest in a casual series where a few of us that work in transport cycling and also enjoy some sporty touring get together for a thrash round the Belgian countryside. This time was … Continue reading