Hidden delights – Copenhagen Canal tour


This gallery contains 16 photos.

I am spending two weeks in Copenhagen, which is pretty much close to perfection if you believe that cycling is a symbol of quality of life. However today I had a perfect treat, possibly the only way I could experience … Continue reading

Chasing autumn – first stop Sofia, Bulgaria


This gallery contains 3 photos.

I am on a three-city expedition across Eastern Europe this week, spending two days each in Sofia and then the Ukrainian cities of Kiev and Kharkiv. Bulgaria seems to have become quite familiar in the last year as this is … 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.

Here we go! Pedalling off to the Rugby World Cup Final at Twickenham.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

Courtesy of the ticket lottery almost a year ago I am in England for the big match, my first time at Twickenham for many years. One of those bucket list occasions, to attend a world cup final in almost any sport but especially one that I played and then watched most of my life.

Also an opportunity to catch with family and friends who I am connecting via a couple of days of folding bike touring around very wet but gorgeous Autumnal landscapes. “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” indeed.

Photo by Kevin Mayne Photo by Kevin Mayne

Very tempting to bike to the game too, but I will content myself to arriving by train tomorrow so a few beverages can be consumed, got to get into the spirit of the occasion after all.

Now the final dilemma. Who to cheer for? England long gone, the other home nations fallen by the wayside leaving an Antipodean challenge between New Zealand and Australia.

All Black Haka

Logically I can say I am a neutral and I am looking forward to an amazing match, even better if it goes to extra time. Emotionally I can say that English sports fans will always cheer for the underdog, which in this case is probably Australia because New Zealand have been so good.

Of course it is also fun to wind up the Kiwi half of the family and various friends all around the globe, although they tend to have a bit of a sense of humour bypass when it comes to rugby. You can easily substitute the word rugby into one of the quotes of Bill Shankly, the legendary Liverpool football manager, who said of the round ball game “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that”.  (Murray, Stuart – are you reading this?)

But I have conferred with my English colleagues at work, I have had DNA testing done, read the small print and we categorically agree.

It is NOT possible to cheer for Australia. Can’t be done, won’t be done.

Yes we can hope for a nice, tight exciting game. Or we can hope that the All Blacks give the Aussies a right good kicking, that would be just fine. Game on!

El Botroul – glorious Autumn mountain biking in Belgium


This gallery contains 15 photos.

Last Sunday I got up early and rode off into a misty Autumnal sunrise to take part in El Botroul, my club’s big annual mountain bike randonnee. The day was glorious and there was a lovely early autumn feel to … Continue reading

“Rage, rage against the dying of the light”

Belgium Wallonia

Lasne Chapelle St lambert

“Rage, rage against the dying of the light” is a line from the poem “Do not go gentle into that good night” by the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. It was written as a poem for his dying father but both lines are among the most used Thomas quotes.

Thomas is an extraordinary lyrical poet, if you don’t know his work I encourage you to pick up an anthology or try reading or listening to “Under Milk Wood”, his play for voices. At Christmas every child should be read “A Child’s Christmas in Wales”. If you haven’t got a child of the right age borrow a suitable relative as an excuse to read it out loud, great for grandparents!

The line “Rage, rage against the dying of the light” has come to me many times in the past weeks because to me it sums up an urgency to take in the best of the sunlight and autumn colour before winter’s icy grip takes hold.

I think this year that feeling has been amplified several times over and I have been trying to digest why. Foremost I suspect is a legacy of our first Belgian winter which coincided with one of this part of Europe’s worst winter spells in living memory. There is no reason why it should repeat this year but I do find each bright sunny walk and bike ride precious as if I am banking them for the hibernation to come.

lone cyclist Lasne Chapelle St Lambert

On a more positive note we are definitely inspired by our new home of the past year. Living at the top of a hill and being surrounded by tracks and trails that open up wide vistas means that we can see the interplay of the light and the landscape much more than if we lived in town or even in a village. Sunrise and sunset are more part of the day, the sun rises and sets over the land and trees rather than being eclipsed by buildings.

And I am sure my final influence is my blogging. I have gradually found my relationship with the light changing as I have tried to describe my travelling and my cycling life here in Belgium. I am gradually learning the way light changes scenery and enjoying trying to translate that into photography for an audience.

This sequence of photographs was taken on one short November walk that summed up the whole feeling. I was too busy to post them when I took them but they capture the urgency of the battle between winter’s dark and autumn’s light perfectly. I knew the storm was coming and I knew I didn’t have much time to take the dog out for his walk.

The sun was low and bright and lit up the fields and trees almost like a spotlight but it was made all the more striking by the glowering dark clouds that foretold the rain, making a dark contrast behind the foreground features.

Chemin Chapelle St Robert Lasne Autumn 2013

And as if to emphasise the difference the crop of green manure planted by the farmer was flowering bright yellow. This is a quite unusual crop, it is planted in September after the harvest of the main crop corn and sugar beet.  It then grows rapidly to a metre tall yellow flower in just six to ten weeks before it is ploughed back into the ground before the next main crop. It creates an unexpected splash of colour all over the area just as the rest of the plant life is taking on a dowdy winter hue.

Autumn trees Chapelle St lambert

Chapelle St Lambert autumn landscape 2013

In the end I didn’t escape the rain, but I did feel I had captured a precious feeling that I wanted to share.

Full version and audioclip of “Do not go gentle into that good night” here 

Grand halls, parks and sculpture of South Yorkshire in autumn’s glory


This gallery contains 15 photos.

We have just returned from a weekend in South Yorkshire which was looking stunning in autumn sunshine. Not quite Peak District, not quite Yorkshire Dales, the hills and valleys west of Barnsley around Penistone are just as stunningly beautiful for … Continue reading

A quick return visit to Vienna. Cycling promotion at the FahrRadhaus and Radlager


Public bikes

Nice to be back in Vienna for a rapid visit after enjoying it so much in June. A bit rainy but in between showers lovely pre-autumnal temperatures which encouraged me out onto the city bikes. I was reminded by one of my hosts that I had been very rude about these bikes when I first used them last year. On one of the rides I did manage to pick up one of the original purple monsters with its huge over-gearing which made my dodgy knees ache but once I got the hang of it I learned that Vienna City Bikes are like a bag of sweets – pick them by the colour.  (Always take a yellow one).

Two places I didn’t get to see in June were the FahrRadhaus and the new location for the Radlager, a great retro cycle shop and café that I wrote about early in my blogging days, way back in May 2012.

City cycling office in Vienna

Radhaus is the City of Vienna’s official bike promotion centre which it has used as the base for Bike Year 2013 (Radjahre 2013). It as sign of the city’s commitment that this isn’t an unwanted cellar somewhere the wilderness, it is a nice piece of imperial architecture right next to the City Hall, the Rathaus (great wordplay in German Rad = bike, pronounced raat, the same sound as Rathaus, city or town hall )

I didn’t get a chance to come here during Velo-city so it was nice that my meetings for the two days I was in the city were in the Radhaus. It is a nice atmosphere, it doesn’t feel civil service, it feels like a promotional centre that gets cycling and cyclists. There are good displays of a wide range of city bikes and absolutely tons of printed matter, books, pamphlets, maps, guides, in fact almost anything you could want to take up cycling.

Fahrradhaus Wien
Vienna cycling office

Vienna cargo bike platformsThere are also mobile outposts of the Radhaus promoting cycling which seem to be transported by the biggest cargo bike platforms I have ever seen.

On my evening in the city I joined some of the cycling activists for dinner and then we rode city bikes around the city to the cycling quiz night.

Radlager WienSadly I arrived too late to take on the local talent but I looked around our venue and realised I was in a  nerds paradise, retro bike stuff and restored bikes all over the place amongst the beer and coffee. “Look like the Radlager” I said to my hosts, referring to one of the coolest bike cafés and bike shops I have ever been to in Vienna. (See previous post here)

“This is the Radlager” they said.


I hadn’t noticed the names and logos around the shop so I hadn’t realised that the café had moved to a new much more central location. Maybe I was confused by the fact that more Moultons than I can possibly recall seeing in a small shop had moved in among the Colnagos.Moulton cycles

I like it and it is now much more accessible to visitors so I do encourage any bike nerds going to Vienna to pay a visit to the Radlager as well as the Radhaus.

However I miss that gallery – it really was a great display.

I’ll treat myself to using that photo again. Enjoy.

Bikelager Wien

Promise you won’t tell anyone?

BerkshireI wanted to publish a small gallery of favourite photos from the Berkshire village where I have lived for the last ten years as a farewell and a memento.

I had never heard of Finchampstead when I got a job in Guildford but friends encouraged us to consider Wokingham as a place to live because of its environment and its schools. Quite by chance my wife found a house and a school place for our son out in Finchampstead. It was formerly a tiny village with origins as a hamlet in the Royal Windsor hunting forests. But in the 20th century it grew rapidly as housing was carved out of the woods but there is a real legacy of woodland with its country parks and National Trust woodland, not to mention the remaining Crown estates which provide the magnificent mountain biking at Swinley Forest, just a few miles away.

As well as all the great things that go with family life I found one really unexpected thing in Finchampstead. Don’t tell anyone but I actually started enjoying walking. The environment has a lot to do with it but of course the most important stimulant was my furry sidekick. So just a few seasonal favourites from the last five years of walks , culminating with the leading actor himself in the autumn’s leaves, our last walk before we packed the car.

Finchampstead, Wokingham BerkshireBerkshire AutumnBerkshire, Wokingham

California Country Park, FinchampsteadCalifornia Country Park WokinghamBerkshire, EnglandDog California Country Park Finchampstead Wokingham Berkshire