Cycling, sculpture and a local hero. Glenkiln, near Dumfries in Scotland

Henry Moore King and Queen Glenkiln

Having written about the Yorkshire Sculpture Park last week I was reminded of one of my best experiences of cycling and sculpture some years ago, BB. (Before Blogging)

It gives me an excuse to share some old thoughts that would never see the light of day without that prompt and to pay tribute to someone who I think is one of cycling’s unsung heroes.

Dumfries CTC Birthday Rides 2006Dumfries in Southwest Scotland can with some justification lay claim to a reputation as one of UK cycling’s tourism best destinations. With a local authority who woke up early to the potential of cycle tourism there are a good network of road routes including numerous National Cycle Network Routes, there is incredible mountain biking with five of Scotland’s flagship Seven Stanes trail centres in the area, it lies on many people’s Land’s End to John O’Groats route (the UK’s End to End). It also claims to be the place where the pedal driven bicycle was invented by Thornhill blacksmith Kirkpatrick Macmillan in about 1839. OK, that last one is disputed by some commentators but that doesn’t discourage the locals from celebrating their man.

There were many people who can claim credit for the rise of the area as a cycling John Taylorvenue but as each element is explored the name of a local volunteer called John Taylor always comes up. He was actually an Englishman who moved to the area to work as a forester but spent much of his life campaigning for cycling. Among other things his work gave Seven Stanes Mabiehim a unique opportunity to scout the forest for riding sites when mountain bikes were barely invented. I remember the Seven Stanes Development Officer saying that when he first got to the Forestry Commission offices in Dumfries he found a set of maps of centres and routes that had been drawn up by John years before, almost all of which could be part of the new centres.

On road he campaigned tirelessly for safety and routes across the whole Dumfries and Galloway area while the Kirkpatrick MacMillan cycle rally was conceived and run by John for many years.

And even though he started to struggle with his health and hearing in later life he would cycle 20 miles from Castle Douglas to Dumfries in all weathers to get the train to Edinburgh for national meetings, especially when he represented cycling during the negotiations of Scotland’s world leading access legislation which opened the countryside to users of all types. Without John there was always the risk that cycling might have been frozen out as it was in England’s Open Access law.

CTC Glenkiln cycle routeAnd so to the Sculpture Trail. When we came to Dumfries in 2006 for the annual CTC festival of cycle touring “The Birthday Rides” there were a great group of volunteers who hosted the event but it was John who had mapped out the hundreds of miles of routes for us. During the planning I was approached by one of the cycling promotion staff from the local authority who said that they has a new route in development that they wanted to open during the event and they had decided to brand it the CTC route “in honour of John”.

The CTC Glenkiln Loop is a 23 mile route up into the hills to the Northwest of Dumfries Dumfries_CTC_Signswhere there is almost a secret valley around the Glenkiln Reservoir. Up in the open moorland local landowner Sir William Keswick placed works in the  by August Rodin, Henry Moore, and Jacob Epstein which were commissioned for their location in the 1960s

Sadly one of the Henry Moores was stolen last year by metal thieves for its value in bronze but when I rode up there in 2006 I discovered that modern art in a natural setting could be a stunning backdrop to a bike ride.

Henry Moore Standing Figure Glenkiln

Henry Moore Two Piece Reclining Figure No.1 Glenkiln

My personal favourite is another Henry Moore. “King and Queen” is in a majestic setting overlooking the valley which is why I put it at the top of this post as my feature image.

John Taylor died in 2009 aged 79. As we stood in the pouring rain at a green funeral site in the hills above Kirkcudbright I couldn’t help but feel that he was at home. The Glenkiln cycle route is but one of his many legacies for cycling. RIP John.

Beryl Burton, Radcliffe and Maconie, Working Class Struggle in 30 minutes – Maxine Peake you are my new star

Do radio shows get any better than this?

Picture Link Silk (tv program) Wiki

I am quietly minding my own business listening to my favourite radio show on Friday. Radcliffe and Maconie on BBC Radio 6 Music has just my sort of music and chat together with some great guests. As I started listening I wasn’t really alert to Friday’s guest Maxine Peake, vaguely aware she’s an actress.

Charmed in 30 minutes by a really genuine character who was great fun. She already had me won over when she chose “Testimony of Patience Kershaw” by the Unthanks,  a amazing song about working class struggle which she felt summed up some of her views. (Performed on my Music to Ride Bikes By Page)

But then twenty minutes in she announced that she is writing a radio play about cycling legend Beryl Burton for BBC Radio 4 which will hopefully come out in September. Maxine enthused about the BB story based on her autobiography Personal Best – the working class woman from Morley who went on to become a world champion in an era of no support and sponsorship.Beryl Burton - Personal Best Cover

It made me pull “Personal Best” out of the bookcase and start reading as a great postscript to “Half man , half bike” last week, two extraordinary champions in a week. Beryl was a fixture of my formative cycling years, I remember my Mum racing against her, probably mid-late 60s. Everyone was just in awe of what she did but she was just so accessible to club cyclists as she rode the national time trialling scene.

Years later I have had the pleasure of riding with Beryl’s daughter and grandchildren at the CTC Birthday rides. We were up in Dumfries and I still recall Dave Bailey from Sheffield being in awe of the Burton aura, but they were just a nice family enjoying their touring.

Can’t wait for the radio play, I hope it comes off.

In praise of cycling in Suffolk

This post celebrates my cycling roots. It was triggered by a request by Dennis Kell, editor of Winged Wheel, the magazine of CTC Suffolk, for 200-300 words to mark the 250th edition of the magazine.

CTC Suffolk- Winged Wheel magazine is 250!

Hi Kevin,

Congratulations on your new position. All in CTC Suffolk wish you well.

Our local group magazine has just reached its 250th  edition (First Published in 1947 and still going strong.) I’m sure you must have seen it in the past and I can send you an anniversary edition if you let me know an address.

As a Suffolk boy, we wondered if you might be able to give a couple of lines to this special edition before you set off for pastures new. Any personal memories of the magazine, the Birthday Rides or cycling in Suffolk generally would be fantastic. I’ve managed to get hold of several former editors going back to 1959 who have added a few comments and we shall have a couple of articles from edition 1.

Sorry for the late notice, but we are hoping to go off to the printers in the middle of February to ensure it gets out on time. 

If you are able to send us something, it will be really appreciated.

Once again, good luck with the new position.

 Best wishes,

Dennis Kell Editor

Suffolk is the eastern most county of England. It’s the low lying bulge in the coastline that sticks out into the North Sea, facing the Netherlands. It shares something of a heritage with our neighbours, our mediaeval economy was built on shipping wool to Flemish weavers and it was Dutch engineers that introduced many of the water management systems that helped control the ingress of the sea and drain the fields around the Norfolk boards to our north. Nothing like the extent of the drainage in the Netherlands itself or the Fen Country in Cambridgeshire, but the influences were enough for some of our architecture to feature Dutch gable ends.

The other thing we share with the neighbours is that Suffolk and Norfolk kept a higher residual level of cycling than most other parts of the UK. Still nothing like real European levels, but still one of the few rural parts of the country where it is not unusual to see an elderly lady on a bicycle cycling in to the town to collect her shopping. My late grandmother used to cycle 15 miles each way to her nursing shift so the culture was well established.

Lots of factors come together to make it possible, not least the relatively flat terrain and low rainfall. But the main factor must surely be the amazing collection of minor roads and the relatively low volumes of traffic in the towns which mean fewer people driven off the roads as cars and speeds got faster. It also seems to tap a residual demand, Kesgrave School in Ipswich, our country town was one of Sustrans early successes with their Safe Routes to Schools programme.

I grew up a Suffolk cyclist because my father was (and is) a keen club cyclist and racer who brought the whole family up inside his club, the Godric Cycling Club. We rode everywhere of course – to school, out with our mates, doing the paper round, but it was the Godric that provided my cycling culture.

When I became CTC Director in 1998 one of my very first speaking invitations was to speak at the CTC Suffolk and Wolsey Road Club Annual Dinner. They treated me a real surprise, digging out a cyclo-cross race programme from Holywells Park in Ipswich with my name on it, probably aged about 13.

In summer 2011 I returned to ride with Suffolk CTC again because they organized the CTC’s annual festival of cycle touring “The Birthday Rides”. (So named because they celebrate the anniversary of CTC’s founding at a similar rally in 1878). We had a brilliant week.

Kevin and dog Murphy on an adapted tricycle

The Dogmobile - Kevin Mayne and Murphy on adapted tricycle

I camped on the main site with Murphy because the others were away and I constructed the dogmobile out of a disability trike from the CTC fleet at Reading. The Suffolk posse were amazing, they compiled hundreds of miles of routes, refreshments, social events and of course amazing weather.

So it was my pleasure to give Dennis some words that sum up how I feel about cycling and Suffolk:

At the end of the CTC Birthday Rides last year I was fortunate enough to be able to say a few words to everyone about how I felt about the event. It was relatively easy to sum it up. “Never have I felt prouder of being from Suffolk”.

Of course I was thanking CTC Suffolk for the event you had put on, but it was far more than that. The beauty of our countryside, the warmth of the welcome, even the relatively considerate behaviour of the drivers made a lasting impression on everyone who came and I have little doubt that it will boost the numbers of returning cyclists for years to come.

The other really important thing about cycling in Suffolk for me is that it where I discovered the sense of community which provides my real motivation. In Ipswich and Bungay my childhood was surrounded by cyclists, my extended family. And we learned to ride together in these lanes, not jammed to the side of the road escaping busy traffic. I was recently at a presentation where a mental health professional was asked why CTC’s programme of rides for those recovering from mental illness was so successful at boosting patients’ wellbeing and stopping them from being readmitted to hospital. He replied “Professionally I can’t define it. But they just ride, then they ride together and they talk, and then they feel better”

 I think he was speaking for all of us.

I am now going to be based in Brussels working for the European Cyclists Federation. The most important part of my new job is to support new and emerging cyclists’ groups and help them get established at the national and regional level. Most of them will be transport campaigning groups who can get awfully serious about the intricate details of cycling infrastructure.  But I know what I will also be telling what I learned in Suffolk. We do this because we want to share the special quality that cycling brings to lives. I will be trying to capture that feeling on my blog www.idonotdespair.com Magazines like Winged Wheel are essential to that sharing too, I wish you every success for the next 250 editions.

Kevin Mayne, CTC Chief Executive 1998-2012.