Ride report: Dog and having the balls

Which roads are dangerous? This ride report shows it is not always the ones you expect.

It was New Years Day 2018 and I was desperate to get a new tiles ride on the board as soon as possible, given that December had more-or-less been a wash-out. Unfortunately I need to be back home by about 10am, so a proper decent length ride featuring new squares was going to be an impossibility. I concoted a plan to ride just 28 miles on the western border of my current square in the M3 corridor south-west of Basingstoke. Here’s the ride. We are now sufficiently far away from London (about a 60 mile ride from Trafalgar Square) that things are reasonably rural and it can be quite difficult to get in a square. The ride features three separate “nubbins” (deviations off the main route which you have to double-back on) because there was no option to do anything else.

I hadn’t expected much drama from the first nubbin – a tarmac-ed road – albeit to a dead-end and full of potholes. It wasn’t even a private road acting as a bridleway or footpath, it was genuine public road and is on the route of the Wayfarer’s Walk to boot. So it should be ok to not be “from round these parts”. I was wrong. With my Garmin showing I had reached the new square, I turned in the road outside Breach Farm (just south of Dummer). I heard a woman’s angry shout and then a black dog came rocketing out of the farm’s open driveway. He was as angry as the woman’s shout. Clipped in with only one pedal and at a standing start, the dog had no bother getting alongside my front wheel.  Although he was in a terrible state – barking and snarling like crazy – he decided not to go under the wheel and I was able to pick up speed. Thankfully the dog also decided not to bite – the worst I suffered was when he pounced his front paws against my SealSkin-coated ankles.

I was almost back at the entrance of the nubbin when he finally gave up. I have no idea whether the angry shout of the unseen woman was at me or her dog. It’s the first time I have had a very close encounter with a properly angry and uncontained dog on UK roads. Got the heart racing!

Later on in the ride, I had another square to visit. The night before the ride, I couldn’t decide whether to do it. At first glance it looks like an easy A303Square

With a road running right through it, this should be an easy square?

one – there is a road running right through the middle of it. But this is the A303 (CBRD description). Most UK people will know this road as a major road that goes right past Stonehenge. And the tile is where the A303 is at its most major – in fact in the extreme right of the picture you can see the road turn dark grey – this is Strava Route Planner colouring for a motorway – the road is just about to merge into the M3. It has two carriageways, slip roads, central reservations, the lot. A bigger and faster road than most American Interstates and many of the motorways of Europe. I would not normally ride roads like this. I’m even scared of riding on roads like because I know from driving on it that vehicle speeds are routinely well in excess of 70mph, even in the inside lane. But, but, it’s the only road I can verify as public in the tile, and this tile will soon be the western edge of my square, so another part of me really wants to go there. And I will be there at about 8.30am on New Year’s Day… how busy can it be?

Whilst vacillating back-and-forth whether it is worth riding down this road just to get a tile, I read about this crash just two days before and found this thread from YACF exhorting me not to ride on this road. (YACF contains some hardcore audaxers who generally won’t be told where to ride). I am opposed to the imposition of laws such as mandatory helmets or hi-viz, or banning cycling from particular roads. This does not mean I forgo a helmet myself, or that I will ride any road that I am legally entitled to. What to do, what to do.

In the end I come to a compromise with myself. I will ride the road but not tell my wife, so she can’t tell me how bloody silly I am.

And, to be honest, the ride is fantastic. I spend five minutes riding two miles of silky smooth tarmac. In that time four cars pass me and they all pretty much move entirely into the outside lane – though they are going fast, I don’t feel buffeted or close passed.

So I guess you just can’t tell which road is going to be dangerous.. an empty dead-end or a near-motorway. Have fun riding every tile!

P.s. this ride took my max square to 52×52


Ride report: Tottenham

With the roads relatively quiet in between Christmas and New Year, I spotted another chance to extend my commute a bit further and nab some uncovered squares that were embarrassingly close to where I work.  My goal was to traverse from south-west to north London and then drop more-or-less straight south from Winchmore Hill through Edmonton, Tottenham, Seven Sisters before rejoining the A10 and head into the City on familiar roads. This would essentially complete north London – everything east of the Walthamstow Reservoirs is east London.

This traverse is never satisfying. The roads and railways radiate from central London to search an extent that mathematicians have even defined a special metric space called the “British Railway metric” where the distance between any two points is not the usual notion of distance, but the distance as long as you go via London (see https://www.dpmms.cam.ac.uk/~twk/Top.pdf ). As a cyclist you have to cross all these roads (A40, A404, Al, A5, A41) and the lights are always phased against you…

The motorist has an exceptional weapon is his armory against this problem – it is called the North Circular (A406) and circles rode from Chiswick to Edmonton. It is almost exactly the right route – but you have to have have balls of steel and nerves of granite to cycle far on this road. Funnily enough days after I did the ride, the short section of the North Circular I did ride was in the newspapers as having the most prolific cash cow of a speed camera anyway in London (£1.5m raised in 6 months). I can personally attest the reason why this speed camera is raising so much money is that so many drivers are speeding past it.

As it was Ipedaled through the extremely thick fog through Acton, Willesden, Kilburn and across Hampstead Heath. Then it was my first ride down The Bishops Avenue , London home to the Sultan of Brunei and the President of Kazakhstan amongst others. The fog was sufficiently thick and the houses are sufficiently far back from the road that I could barely see them so Kensington Palace Gardens remains my recommendation if you want a bit of “billionaire property porn” on your bike road.

Winchmore Hill doesn’t quite hit these dizzy heights but is still pretty nice. Back inside the North Circular for the final run in, surroundings are considerably more prosaic. Within half-a-mile of entering Tottenham I had not once but twice had minicab drivers drive towards on the wrong side of the road. Maybe its just a convention on that bit of the A10 that I’m not used to…

New squares: 12

Current square size: 39×39

Strava: http://www.strava.com/activities/815461953


Ride report: Wormsley, finally

This ride began in a manner I’ve long avoided: in the car driving to the start of a ride.

It would certainly be massively easier than what I currently do to drive to the edge of my current max square, ride around for a bit picking up new squares and then drive home again. The squares-per-ride-ridden would certainly be higher too! However this feels a little bit too close to cheating (not that there are any rules) for me for the time being. Maybe when I get to 50×50 I will switch to this mode as the uncovered squares will be just too far from home to reach in the time available but for now I intend to stick to circular rides from home or train-out-cycle-home rides.

But today I made an exception. With the family arriving for a Boxing Day booze up but me still gutted at having mysteriously lost three squares, needs must.

I parked up in Lewknor (near the Old Leathern Bottle, a reasonable pub just off the M40). After a couple of warm up miles along the B road into Watlington it was a left turn up the well-named Hill Road for the climb back up the Chilterns Ridge. This climb, to Christmas Common, is one of the best up. It is a good roof surface without much traffic and at 1.2 miles at 6% is never sickening steep but tough enough to reward an effort. My time today of 6.58 compares favourably with my first ever climb up the Chilterns 4 years ago (10.41 on the same segment) but rather badly with the KoM of 4.35 ( Strava segment ).

After Christmas Common I drop down the other side of the ridge a little into Northend and slow down looking for the next junction. My target is the unvisited square to the north that blocked my max square on its north side. The entire square is enclosed by the Wormsley Estate – home of the Getty family. Until recently I was convinced there was no public access to this square and I was expecting to have to buy a ticket to the cricket matches held there next Summer in order to get access. However idiotically I had only looked on the Oxfordshire definitive map. Wormsley is big enough to be in two counties. When it finally dawned on me to try the Buckinghamshire map, sure enough there was a bridleway right through the estate!img_0215

The bridleway is not signed at all off the road and only sign-posted by white arrows painted on trees when you enter it properly. But a solid green coloured metal  plaque near the entrance (pictured) makes clear the right of way does exist. To get into the square I had just shy of half a mile on this track. On the road bike it was mostly rideable initially and would be absolutely fine on an MTB. The last few hundred yards were down a steep muddy path. The bike was on my shoulder but it counts for the square. Going back up was a bit of a nightmare, but I was elated. The sun was just coming up, the surroundings were stunningly beautiful, there was nothing to be heard but birdsong and I HAD FINALLY DONE THE WORMSLEY SQUARE! It really didn’t matter that after the Christmas Common climb and this walk, my average speed for the ride so far read 7mph.


Looking across the estate to the Stokenchurch BT Tower on the horizon. The white paint on face indicates the right of way.

Back out on the road and having scrapped enough mud away that my brakes and gears mostly worked again, it was time to get a move (family boozing starts at Christmas). South-west down the ridge was great – the south-east will never compete with the Lakes or the Dales but the Chilterns at this time on a clear day are super. I am always rubbish on flat-but-fast sections relative to the average and this 3 mile segment to Nettlebed was no exception. I’m ok on the hills so maybe everyone else just rides in a group.

A quick “nubbin” recovers one of the deleted squares and a swing round through Highmoor Cross picks up the other. Then it is down the ridge at Nuffield – a headwind so nowhere near my previous top speed of 45mph down here – and through RAF Benson.

In the Oxfordshire plain I thread through Brightwell Upperton, Brightwell Baldwin and Cuxham to pick some more squares out to the north west of my max before swinging back south east to Lewknor. In this section I was relentlessly earmwormed by Dolly Parton and Kenny Rodgers’s duet of Islands in the Stream the way. No idea why.

Current max square size: 38×38

New squares: 9 (inc 2 “undeleted”)

Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/812604866


Ride report: Borehamwood

Yesterday I suffered a terrible shock when I did my weekly VeloViewer update. My “Max Square” had reduced in size from 40 to 34!! Analysing my activities tab it seems as though I have lost three squares – two in the Chilterns and one a few miles south of Godalming. This latter square was deep inside my 40, so losing it necessarily reduced my square size a lot. I’m not sure why the square was no longer counted, but according to the tracks I’d probably hadn’t been there anyway – I skirted round the corner of it. Ben from Veloviewer tells me that the VeloViewer side had not changed; possibly the tracks coming out of Strava have been tweaked/smoothed/coarsened a little bit.

Rather than sitting at home bemoaning the fact that I am now further away from the all-mighty Belgians, I had to get up and do something about it.

I calculated to do my Borehamwood squares – the empty sector between north London and the M25 and get to work on time, I would need to leave home at 5am.

Not a minute after 5.30 I finally dragged myself out the front door. The first decision was whether to take the west or east route round Heathrow – through the middle and across the runways is not an option for even the most determined tiler. I chose west as this takes me through Harmondsworth – the town scheduled for destruction if Heathrow’s third runway really ever does go ahead. I personally don’t find the town particularly distinctive and would probably side with those residents who’ve known for decades of the Heathrow threat and are happy to accept the above-market valuation when the Compulsory Purchase Order finally comes. Others point to the town’s Grade I listed barn as a sign of distinctive-ness. This will be preserved no matter what – maybe in twenty years time you will see it alongside as you hurtle down the finally-built runway.

After Hayes and Yeading, I reach the Harrows, which I generally don’t like because it seems to take ages get through them all (South Harrow, West Harrow, Harrow on the Hill, Harrow, Harrow and Wealdstone, Harrow Weald and eventually North Harrow) especially as it all uphill in this direction until you eventually get to the top of the dying embers of the Chilterns ridge. Over the M1 at Brockley Hill and finally a new square at 26 miles. Sod’s law having had clear moonlit skies at home, the fog is quite thick here and as I’m forced into the little ring for a short sharp kick up Barnet Lane the traffic flashes past hard and tight. This time of year “professional” drivers (PHV, taxis, delivery vans) form a higher proportion of the traffic than usual and it really shows. “Professional” in the sense of football’s “professional” foul :/.

Going through Borehamwood, I catch sight of the famous Elstree Studios . Currently it is home to glamourous programmes such as Strictly Come Dancing and Celebrity Big Brother, but I have to say the buildings themselves have a bit 1960s-civil-services about them. My square rides have also seen me pass  the Pinewood Studios (Iver Heath), Warner Brothers Studios (Leavensden),  Longcross Studios (Virginia Water) and the Ealing Studios (Ealing)… when I am going to see a celebrity dammit…


Crossing the A1 on the “busiest travel day of the year” – was alright at 6.30am!

The next five miles is basically swirling around in the dark around Hadley – new squares coming thick and fast but not too many sights of interest. In terms of names Barnet is almost as bad as Harrow (Barnet Gate, New Barnet, East Barnet, Barnet, Freirn Barnet) but I am struck by how widespread the nice areas of Barnet are – if you have a million pounds to spare, there are lots of nice houses around here. Kind of the opposite of Harrow which has a nice bit (the Hill) but a surprising amount of not so nice bits.

For most people Cockfosters, being on the end of the Tube line, is pretty much the end of the earth, but for me it marks the beginning of the end of the ride – I’ve been here before and there are no new squares between here and the office. In contrast to out in the sticks, as I get more central it is clear the traffic is very light and it is smooth sailing through Finchley, Archway and Holloway.  The Archway bridge (Hornsley Lane Bridge) looks great in the sun (we’re in London now, so the fog has gone).

I finally grind into the City at 8.55am, 25 minutes late, which is basically 5 minutes early having started 30 minutes late 😉

Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/809241285

New squares: 26

Current square size: 36×36 ( :-(, but a slight recovery from the shock of 34 yesterday )