Blue Remembered Hills II
Le Tour de Dean 5th / 6th May 2001
Dramatis Personae (the team of punters)
K1, K2, Dave, JR, FR (non-cycling), Evan, Sheila, Brian, Mike
The planning of this event took approximately 5 months, just slightly longer than Operation Overlord. Five different dates were considered with four different venues and about thirty different combinations of cyclists. Finally the bank holiday weekend was selected to allow a Monday ‘recovery day’; unfortunately this was the only weekend in the next two years that Tony was unable to make. A late switch of venue from France was implemented in order patriotically to support the British rural tourist economy currently plagued by ‘foot-in-mouth’. On reflection Coleford was not rural, the economy seemed to be doing quite well out of the locals and many species of live farm animal (you lucky lucky bastards!) were spotted in the local fields. Final detailed planning of the expedition was executed on Friday evening in the Kellys Arms where Dave demonstrated his new darts style, engendered by his current coach Tessa Sanderson. Ian Botham and Babe Ruth as golf coaches, the sacking of Eric Bristow as darts coach in favour of Tessa; who is Dave’s cycling coach? Anyhow, the release of the dart before it is visible generates plenty of power but is rather low on precision. Any mildly successful dart (eg a single 20) is greeted with over-zealous and raucous celebration. These Friday night pre-cycling planning evenings are now more ‘pipe-and-slippers’ than in the early years when an all-day Saturday hangover was the norm.
The Angels with Dirty Faces
The drive down, fortified by Mike’s drive-through breakfast including a drink of beans, was in beautiful warm sunshine until the final destination was sited. Unfortunately the cycling area was blanketed in a thick layer of Welsh Cloud that had drifted over the Wye for the weekend. Despite no evidence of problems in the past, there were a number of doubts and anxieties expressed regarding the author’s ability to book suitable accommodation. It was a great relief to all to find that the Angel was perfectly reasonable; single men were allocated single beds, the double bed was in its own room, there was not a plague of rats or cockroaches, the prices were reasonable and included hot and cold running water. The pricing policy was mildly eccentric with Bed and Breakfast (civilised time) costing 21 notes whereas Floor and Breakfast (too early) cost 27 notes, but maybe the pricing includes a penalty for not cycling. The main early surprise was Coleford’s reputation for rampant hooliganism and mayhem, that required cars to be parked next to the police station where floodlights, 24-hour CCTV and armed guards were installed. The dangerous reputation was confirmed immediately as JR received a volley of abuse from a beer-swilling lout as he reversed quietly from the Angel’s car park. No comments whatsoever were made on the excellent choice of hostelry; K1 takes the general lack of whinging as a compliment on his accommodation-booking skills and does not expect any anxieties to surface next time.
Up, Up and Away
The previous visit to the Forest of Dean confirmed that there is one hell of a lot of ‘uphill’ in this area. Dave well remembers the previous Tour de Dean when his arrival at a mountain-top rest stop triggered an immediate rapid departure of the peloton. In fact very few people are aware of the fact that this Dean area is one of the few sites worldwide exhibiting a rare geographical feature known scientifically as Topographical Asymmetry (TA). In layman’s terms there is more uphill than downhill. The team’s 70 km clockwise tour commenced in Coleford (elevation 202 m aod), included 1027 m of vertical ‘down’ and 2347 m of vertical ‘up’ and finished in Coleford (elevation 202 m aod)! The final climb to Coleford shows on the map as a rather tame 140 m ‘up’ but on the bike registers at over 2 km on the road where the gradient is never less than 1:15; a vertical climb in excess of 300 m! This is not good news for a cyclist’s physical endurance or morale. Students of logic would immediately recognise the solution – do the circular tour in reverse and gain on the ‘down’. Unfortunately TA is not that simple – the reverse tour would again include far more ‘up’ than ‘down’ with a gain over the clockwise tour of just a few metres attributed to Coriolis Forces. A similarly annoying meteorological phenomenon is the Constant Headwind Vortex (CHV) often evidenced in Richmond Park. The training cyclist experiences a constant headwind that cannot be attributed solely to his forward relative velocity; reversing the cycling direction is almost always accompanied by the simultaneous reversal of the rotation of the vortex, maintaining the adverse CHV. Just as there is matter and anti-matter, naturally there are locations where TA gives a downhill advantage; unfortunately most of these advantageous locations are on the ocean floor. The nearest land with an advantageous TA is an area of Afghanistan just North of Kabul; evidently it is not viable to travel there for the weekend and anyhow it is not an area renowned for its real ale and friendly locals.
The morning cycling, with the exception of the excess uphill, was rather uneventful. Brian produced a puncture by over-braking on a descent and screwed up the Ladbrokes odds of 3/1 on (this time soundly based on previous form) for K1 to produce the first puncture. The chances were zero of K1 generating enough heat to produce a puncture as 99% of the braking force was absorbed by cable friction due to the perennial lack of quality maintenance. A number of listed pubs had been converted into second homes or simply disappeared so it was with some relief that lunch was taken at the Yew Tree, which looked shut but on closer inspection was found to be just open. This is the type of rural pub that has been converted into a fancy restaurant (with optional extra beer) by yuppie exiles from the metropolis. The menu is ambitious and also extremely expensive and hence no normal punter eats it; the bar snacks are the sensible alternative. This is where the foot-in-mouth outbreak becomes an important element of the story. There are three methods of disposing of the millions of dead animals; two methods are well documented, the third less so. The first method is the mass funeral pyre, deemed environmentally unfriendly due to the palls of acrid smoke – the so-called ‘pie-in-the-sky’. The second involves burying thousands of animals in a large pit – not popular with the neighbours. The third controversial and clandestine method is the rendering of the croaked animals into a food ‘paste’ that may be used in a multitude of pies and similar products. The Yew Tree’s variety was called a ‘meat loaf’ which included a generous helping of onions. Following this meal, unpleasant and antisocial flatulent behaviour was forecast but, amazingly, did not occur.
During lunch the conversation was surprisingly varied, despite a regular number of references to gear ratios. For example, religion; Evan questioned the sense in paying a police chief inspector to pray in front of his desk that riot control tactics succeed. Radically, he suggested that the taxpayer might prefer the officer to sit at his desk and plan the riot control. It was during this general rabbit that Mike confessed his unhealthy (healthy?) obsession with the artist formerly known as old (ginger) spice. He has a Geri mouse mat and has been following the Geri diet plan ‘No Pies on Me’. Important elements of this diet are never to eat on an empty stomach and certainly never to touch any solids at lunchtime. The rest of the team, multi-disciplinary sportspersons and nutrition experts all, partaking of a naturally healthy balanced diet (liquids and solids), uttered serious words of concern regarding Mike’s solid-free diet during an arduous cycle tour - prophetic words as the reader will soon discover. Due to the rapid weight loss on the Geri Diet, Mike also confessed to having a compensating silicone implant beer-gut and he may well follow up with the unusual ‘face drop’ plastic surgery procedure to produce the Harry Redknapp look.
On a long straight road, having just passed a ft’n’mth pyre/burial mound and being buzzed by the Dean Grand Prix for pizza delivery boys, Mike inexplicably veered off the road and crashed – a classic but rarely witnessed case of ‘Millington Malaise’. Glen Millington, a regular participant on early tours was the originator – symptoms include cycling uncontrollably fast downhill on a road surface comprising wet leaves, grease, gravel and ball-bearings, cycling successfully through less than bike-size gaps between large moving vehicles and the classic unexpected veer off the road. The nutritionists were quick to point out that the solid-free diet was almost certainly to blame for this temporary cycling coma. Mike did not whine or complain about his wounds, demonstrating the immunity to pain exhibited by a regular asphalt eater; in fact his knees are now well matched on the scarring front. Readers will be pleased to hear that Glen has given up cycling in favour of the safer activity of rock climbing; Glen does most of his climbing solo!
Afternoon tea was taken in the ‘Mount Pleasant’, a traditional rural pub in a beautiful rustic setting. Some punters, overindulged in gentrified Surbiton taverns, seemed wary of the apparent roughness of the ‘Pleasant’. However, an advanced guard declared the venue safe – ‘Pleasant’ by name and pleasant by nature. The beer proved memorable, unfortunately its name wasn’t. The Forest of Dean always looked like a small copse, even on the 1:25000 map, and three punters, fatigued by the uphill cycling, bottled the forest tour. This proved to be by far the best cycling of the day with empty smooth roads, reasonable gradients, inspiring scenery and the one genuine opportunity to form a functioning peloton.
It was no surprise that a long day in the saddle, a hot shower, comfy beds in a warm room and televised snooker, would induce virtually instantaneous deep sleep. If only the essence of this combination could be distilled into a pill there would be no such complaint as insomnia and the world would be a happier and sleepier place. EPO for daytime stamina followed by Snooka for a good night’s rest. Unfortunately, the boys in the triple bed were late for the evening rehydration.
Steve Gooch Sings
The evening events commenced at the Kings Head Hotel, a nondescript tavern with ludicrously cheap, but not especially tasty beer and big pop-video screen. This allowed an opportunity to educate Mike on the appearance of Britney Spears of whom Mike admitted only to have heard but not seen. It appears that Mike is a fan devoted specifically to Old Spice and is definitely not a fan of generic girly-pop. The rest of the team, devotees of popular culture all, managed to identify for Mike’s benefit at least five Britnies, including one of African descent. At this stage it is worth noting that the evening session profited from the company of Frank who had been issued with a non-cycling weekend pass. The reasons for the lack of cycling were firmly in the obscure ‘Tony’ mode. The best interpretation of the confused ramblings was that Frank was obliged to return to Cheltenham to perform the daughter’s morning teeth brushing ritual; this must occur at 0805 hours daily. However, Dave was happy with Frank’s non-cycling role, remembering that Frank and Co. were responsible for the aforementioned non-stop rolling peloton at the previous Tour de Dean. Following very tasty scoff, the team started to feel uncomfortable in the Angel as the clientele appeared to be young, trendy and certainly too numerous. A long walk to the Feathers proved profitable, as this hostelry was geared up for old gits and had laid on a ‘Singalong with Steve’ for the gits’ entertainment. Steve, reputed for some reason to be a moonlighting Steve Gooch, the ubiquitous local estate agent, played a varied set for which he obtained generous applause and surprisingly enthusiastic audience participation. Sheila, possibly too young to appreciate Steve’s music (quote – crap), went to bed, an unsubtle euphemism for going to the Angel’s nightclub. Oh yes, darts were played, very badly; even attempts to ‘sing’ the darts in proved unsuccessful. Half hearted attempts to enter the nightclub were thankfully rebuked – too old!
Hark the Herald Angel
The boys in the triple bed managed to watch ‘Match of the Day’ on Sunday morning at 7.30 – they didn’t even know the score of some games. A particular highlight for Dave was witnessing the first goal of Pablo Angel, Villa’s terrific bargain at a meagre 10 million notes. There was something spooky that this was witnessed in the Angel Hotel! Michael Fish’s forecasting skills were brought into question by the Arctic gale encountered on a brief pre-breakfast stroll through Coleford.
Stand by Your Man
Sunday morning’s cycle looked great on the map – a gentle descent from Coleford (202 m) to the Severn Estuary (0 m) through rolling Gloucestershire countryside. On the road there were actually four thigh-burning climbs in the first 15 km through assorted council estates and scrapyards! At this stage Sheila developed head problems and was fortified by performance-enhancing drugs. The internal head problems were attributed variously to a new bike, a stiff frame, bumpy road surfaces..blah, blah.. cheese sandwiches; no mention was made of the late night excess alcohol intake whilst clubbing. One vaguely plausible excuse was the inability to stand up on the pedals on the stiffer climbs and hence the generation of extra pressure in the brain area. This ‘lack of standing’ problem appears to affect only female cyclists, although there is no obvious anatomical or scientific reason why this should be the case. Most young males can (or could pre computer games and lifts in the Mercedes Hitler people carrier) stand up on the pedals whilst simultaneously riding no-hands, allowing them to throw stones at other young males doing the same. Meanwhile young females were probably playing with dolls (or currently texting and rabbiting on their Moby). Evidently pedal-standing is like language, a skill that must be acquired early in life. The team disapproves strongly of the use of any performance-enhancing drugs (although they seem less forthright about the use of performance-damaging substances) and expects Sheila to be adequately coached in upright hill climbing techniques before the next tour.
The Magnificent Severn
Following a welcome morning coffee break a short downhill detour to view the River Severn was suggested. However, a small breakaway group, worried about the danger of the spread of onchocerciasis from Africa, decided that the river was best viewed only from a safe distance. They missed a beautiful panorama, a mysterious but rather wonderful hydraulic structure and the filming of an episode of topless darts. The fear of river blindness may have just been cover for the more common affliction of ‘Sunday Rush’, whose symptoms include the irrational ambition to finish the cycling as soon as possible (maybe just after breakfast) and get home early.
There’ll (not) be a Welcome in the Hillside
Lunch was taken at another excellent rural hostelry (the White Cross?) where the ft’n mth ‘paste’ now appeared in the guise of a cottage pie; top notch nosebag. Following lunch another beautiful ride (2km) was enjoyed through the diminutive forest and the cycle concluded at 3 pm. Why? Nobody really knew, but I suppose the weather was not really conducive to other activities such as the ‘team sleep’ that was implemented so successfully on a recent trip to France. The early finish and the location did remind your author of a famous saying of the prophet Tony “ we’d better get back over the bridge before it’s too late”. He was actually referring to the Severn Bridge and can only have been worried about the sudden sealing of the border along Offa’s Dyke and a fairly depressing permanent exile in Wales.
Blue Remembered Hills?
Congratulations, or is it commiserations reader, you’ve got this far through the rambling drivel and are possibly, or probably not, wondering about the obscure title of the article. Well, Dennis Potter, the late great TV dramatist was a son of ‘Dean’; one of his most memorable TV plays was “Blue Remembered Hills” in which a number of adult actors (notably Colin Welland) played the parts of children charging around in the forest. It just might be that this tour was the unfilmed amateur sequel! ..and all the other cycling trips?