Category Archives: Dorset

Tour de Manche: the English section

The official route

Just as in France the English Tour de Manche uses a combination of small roads and greenways. From the ferry port at Poole the route takes to a cycle path through Baiter park and then alongside Poole Harbour to Sandbanks.

Poole Harbour

The Sandbanks chain ferry crosses to Studland and then the route goes to Corfe Castle.

Cyclists on the Sandbanks chain ferry

The route is not flat and after Corfe Castle, Creech hill is climbed before a descent to join Cycle Route 2 just east of Wool.

Tour de Manche on Route 2 in Dorset

Flat riding through quiet lanes on Cycle Route 2 brings you to Dorchester and onto Martinstown. There now comes an unavoidable Cat 4 climb over Hardy’s Monument.

Hardy’s Monument

Hardy’s Monument

The lovely Bride valley follows, still following Route 2 to bypass Bridport and start a series of steep climbs to Axminster.

Route 2 near Bridport

The route continues West along the Jurassic coast of Dorset and into Devon.

We found a lovely traffic free route through the city of Exeter emerging at Haldon, well on our way to Moretonhampstead and Dartmoor

Now we were in Devon who could resist a cream tea?

Cream tea

We chose to go across the middle of Dartmoor on the B3212. There are a few steep ramps on the climb onto the moor out of Moretonhampstead but it was very scenic and memorable.

The B3212 across Dartmoor

Beautiful view from Dartmoor down to the coast at Plymouth

On arrival at Plymouth there was time for a small celebration before catching the ferry to Roscoff.

Well deserved.

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Tour de Manche: St Malo to Cherbourg

The official route

We arrived at St Malo on a boat from Dinard. St Malo is a busy ferry port and we enjoyed cycling past the fortifications to the sea front. It was immediately evident that we had left the undulations of Northern Brittany behind us and we were now in flatlands. We detoured off the official route to visit the oyster capital of Cancale which was lined with busy cafes full of people swallowing down oysters.

Voie Verte in the Bay of the Mont St Michel

Ahead we could see the spectacular bay of the Mont St Michel stretching out in front of us. The character of the route changed now and we were to be on off-road gravel cycle-tracks for the majority of the route to Cherbourg.

Early morning mist at the Mont St Michel

Although the idea of cycling on traffic free Voie Vert sounds quite appealing, the reality is actually quite tedious after the first couple of hours. The cycle track follows an old railway line and for hour after hour we had only brief glimpses of any scenery beyond the tree lined route. The route was very flat but cycling on gravel requires a lot of energy,even on slick 28mm tyres, so progress was no quicker than on the hilly paved roads of Northern Brittany.

The endless Voie Vert gravel tracks around Sourdeval on the Contentin Penisular Normandy.

The route tracks up the middle of the peninsular largely following the River Vire and does not go to the coasts.

We had not expected the Voie Verts to be so rough and had only one spare inner tube each so we were delighted on the 7th day in France to came across a bike shop in Vire.

stocking up on spares at Vire

As it turned out we didn’t have any punctures in the 1200km tour. A vote for Continental 4 seasons tyres.

A point of interest to break the tedium of the Voie Vert was a dismantled Viaduct at Souleuvre. It was built in 1891 by Gustav Eiffel as a railway bridge. It has been dismantled leaving 6 pillars to leave a ‘unique work of art’. You can see that this area of Nomandy is short on tourist attractions! Anyway, apparently 10,000 people a year use it for bungee jumping. We didn’t make it 10,002. We did enjoy the steep descent into the valley and the climb out made a change from flat gravel Voie Vert.

The viaduct at Souleuvre

We followed the River Vire towards St Lo and there were some beautiful sections along the River but we also enjoyed a 10km stretch on little lanes with 3 really steep hills between Conde sur Vire and Pont Farcy.

Pont Farcy

We were making great progress up the Contentin Peninsular and the warm sunny weather helped a lot.

Cherbourg 179km

As we approached St Lo, still cycling along the River Vire, we enjoyed several sculptures.

Art along the River Vire

North of St Lo we were very aware that the area saw ferocious action in the Second World war and was close to the Normandy Beaches. We were crossing the marshes on our approach to Carentan and stopped on a bridge dedicated to the 82nd Airborne division of the United States Army. The Battle of Carentan was an engagement which took place between 10 – 15 June 1944 to consolidate the beachheads (Utah beach and Omaha Beach) which had been taken during the Normandy Landings on 6th June 1944. 74 years later there was not much evidence of the carnage from the war.

Dedication on the bridge near Carentan

We continued across the marshes enjoying some excellent single track on our approach to Carentan.

Approaching Carentan across the marshes which had seen fierce fighting in 1944.

Carentan was quiet and peaceful.

After Carentan there was more Voie Vert as we headed west to La Haye du Puits.

Voie Vert near La Haye du Puits

As we got closer to Cherbourg the Voie Vert gave way to paved roads. We enjoyed the downhill run into the city where we easily found the ferry port. We boarded Barfleur in the late afternoon and enjoyed a smooth crossing to Poole.

Barfleur

Sunset in Poole harbour

Tour de Manche: Roscoff to St Malo

The official route

The overnight ferry from Plymouth brought us to Roscoff on the North coast of Brittany.

We had planned the route we were intending to follow in advance. There is a Tour de Manche website which provided some information but generally it wasn’t very helpful. One of the main problems was that we were riding it backwards, in that we had decided to ride the French section of the TDM with the prevailing wind and the route is described on the website from Cherbourg to Roscoff, which is against the wind. The downside of this idea was we would have the wind against us in Southern England.

The route is mostly well signed. However, the signs did tend to peter out just when we needed them most.

Signage on the Tour de Manche

We were riding our normal touring bikes which have sturdy steel frames with 28mm Continental 4 season tyres. We carried the small amount of stuff we needed in panniers.

Our trusty steeds

We were not camping or applying heat to any food and that meant we were travelling light.

Travelling light (on the gravel tracks)

We expected to be riding on good surfaced roads the whole time and had only brought one spare inner-tube each. We expected to pass plenty of bike shops in France if we did need help with any mechs.

As it turned out the route alternated between tarmac and off road sections some of which we would have been more at home on our mountain bikes.

Nice bit of single track!

There were no bike shops! Luckily the Continental 4 seasons did not let us down and we did not have a single puncture despite the rough tracks we were riding on.

The route along the coast of Northern Brittany was very scenic but constantly undulating with some challenging hills. We took time to enjoy the scenery and points of local interest.

Paimpol

Near Cap Frehel

On the fifth day we decided to take the waterbus across the Rance from Dinard to St Malo rather than riding up to Dinan on the Voie Vert where the official route went. We did this because a boat trip was more interesting than a city!

Ticket office for the Water bus from Dinard

On reflection  the first five days of the TDM from Roscoff to St Malo was the best bit for us. The cycling was interesting and the coastal scenery spectacular.

After St Malo we detoured to Concale and then we started the ‘Petit Tour de Manche’ which is much flatter with long sections of Voie Verte – the green roads.

Our introduction to Voie Verte near Le Mont St Michel. Beautiful.

 

An introduction to the Tour de Manche

The official route

The Tour de Manche is a 1200km cycling adventure which links the coasts of Brittany, Normandy and the Jurassic coasts of Dorset and Devon. We live a few metres from the route as it goes through Dorset, so we thought it would be a good plan to ride from home to home over a couple of weeks.

The Tour de Manche passes close to home.

The English section of the Tour de Manche goes from Poole to Plymouth. The route follows quiet roads and lanes.

Arriving at Plymouth for the overnight ferry to Roscoff

West of Weymouth the English section of the Tour de Manche follows a route suitable for more experienced cyclists, with some challenging hills.

The Tour de Manche in France has 2 distinct sections. From Roscoff the route follows the coast to the crossing of the Rance to St Malo and is very scenic but constantly undulating with some steep ramps.

Scenic coastal roads in Brittany

From St Malo to Cherbourg the route is less challenging with long sections of Voie Verts which are gravel tracks along disused railway lines.

Flat straight gravel tracks in Normandy

On the face of it this sounds quite attractive, but it is actually quite slow and tiring pedalling along the rough gravel and, when enclosed in a cutting for long stretches, much less interesting than the hilly, open, scenic roads along the coast of Brittany. The Cherbourg to St Malo section is a stand alone route called Petit Tour de Manche and is more suitable for families – with just the occasional hilly bit to catch the unwary.

The route is signed throughout. We didn’t follow the prescribed route religiously and occasionally went off route to visit places of interest. We carried maps and had the bones of the route on the GPS.

Just off the ferry we were pleased to find the tour de Manche on the sign posts.

We used Brittany Ferries for the channel crossings. We went overnight from Plymouth to Roscoff on the Pont Avent.

Bicycles secured for the overnight crossing from Plymouth to Roscoff

After cycling through Brittany and Normandy we came back from Cherbourg to Poole on Barfleur.

Returning to Poole on Barfleur

There are no lanes in the sea…Swimming Pool Wars

There are no lanes in the sea…fighting for position at the start of a race.

Swimming pool rules are designed to keep all users safe. The Lifeguard’s job is to keep all pool users safe, not to police the lanes so that the ‘best’ swimmers can complete their training session unimpeded.

There seems to be scant regard from most pool users for those of us who wish to follow a training plan and not be impeded by other pool users.

I am fortunate in a having a local swimming pool which is often  underused during the day and sometimes I have the luxury of a lane to myself.

It is not always the case though and it is a constant source of frustration when slower swimmers get in the way. We’ve all met the breast stroke swimmer with dry hair and intact make up oblivious to everyone else in the ‘fast lane’. We’ve all suffered the slow head down crawler who refuses to give way when turning at the ends. The person who is there first and therefore ‘owns’ the lane. The swimmer who always comes at 06:25 every third Thursday and therefore has priority over everyone else. Or even as one young man informed me ‘old women should be in the learner pool’. So far out of line and in this case the lifeguard did intervene as he was becoming aggressive. Multiple swimmers in a lane often lead to lane wars .We all need to be polite, communicate, and treat others as we wish to be treated ourselves. For swimming pool lane harmony all that is required is for everyone to adhere to one golden rule of pool swimming.

Be aware and adapt to what is going on around you.

If all swimmers using lanes adhered to this one simple rule all anger and frustration would be gone.

However – not only am I lucky to have an underused public swimming pool close by I also have that greatest of resource a short walk from my home. There are no lanes in the sea.

There are no lanes in the sea!!

The Four Red Posts Of Dorset.

The Four Red Posts of Dorset

In October 2017 I decided I would try to do another year of RRtY having previously completed a year back in 2014. For the uninitiated this is an Audax challenge: Randonnée-Round-the-Year (RRtY).

It is regarded as one of the tougher challenges on offer from Audax. RRtY requires a ride of a minimum of a 200 km ride in successive calendar months at Randonneur pace. You can start in any month, but miss a month and you have to start all over again.

In a year of milestone family occasions which seemed to coincide with local Audax Calendar events, I have found myself devising a DIY 200 km most months. I have always been intrigued by the red fingerposts in Dorset so I created a 200 km ride to take in the Four Red Posts Of Dorset.

There are four red fingerposts in the county which are a source of much debate, without any consensus becoming apparent. Are they the locations of gibbets? Or are they the position of a hanging? Or maybe they are the place of an overnight stop for convicts on their way to the port before transportation to Australia? Whatever the case, these four are widely dispersed through the county, the best known one being on the main A31 at Anderson which allegedly signified to prison guards to turn here for Botany Bay Farm, where they could rest the prisoners overnight. The others are situated in quiet, less frequented lanes at Hewood, Poyntington and Benville. They all have white lettering on the red fingers.

While researching how to devise a sensible route taking in the four red posts it became apparent that the posts were not situated randomly. The prominent sign near the Botany Bay pub on the A31 is just under 14 miles from the site of the County Gaol in Dorchester. The red post at Benville is also about 14 miles from Dorchester. Hewood is due west of Benville and is just under fourteen miles away from Benville. The post at Poyntington is also 14 miles from Benville to the North East. This supports the theory that the posts were to guide transportation of prisoners.

To me these 14 miles distances did not seem random. 14 miles would be a reasonable distance for a group of shackled prisoners to march – Google reckons it’s a four and a half hour walk. Coming from the west (from who knows where) they would arrive at Hewood, then 14 miles to Benville , 14 miles to Poyntington . The jump to Anderson is 28 miles so I am going to say that there is a red post missing there – maybe somewhere around Sturminster Newton. From Anderson on the A31 it is 56 miles to Portsmouth where the prisoners would board a ship to Australia. 56miles – 4×14 – 4 days march.

It is quite likely that there were other posts that are no longer there. In the 1950’s there were 1285 fingerposts in Dorset with only 717 surviving today.

To me this does not look likely to be a random coincidence. Could it be that these red posts were on set routes for those moving on foot? Did they all mark resting places? If so for whom? Were they solely there to mark the route taken moving prisoners, or did others use them too?

Back to the bike ride: I started from my home in West Dorset at sea level and headed west to Hewood.

The red post at Hewood

In order to make the route into a 200km I then went North to Chard Junction before heading East to the Red Post at Benville.

Unfortunately this sign has suffered some damage probably through vandalism.

The vandalised sign at Benville.

I have a picture from August 2017 when the post wasn’t damaged.

The same sign before it was damaged.

Dorset AONB Partnership have a Fingerpost Project which repairs and safeguards these fingerpost. The County Council no longer have a remit to repair them so hopefully this initiative will restore this sign.

I had never visited the next red post at Poyntington which is North of Sherborne. On my route it was about 25km north and east from Benville. We were pleased to find this post intact and looking lovely.

Poyntington

Our onward journey was to Anderson to the most famous red post near the Botany Bay pub on the A31. I took a meandering 65km route South East to get there and managed to avoid riding on the very busy A31. The red finger post looked as if it had been newly restored and was in pristine condition.

The pristine red post at Anderson.

Now with 134 km completed we just had to head for home in a westerly direction. The route we were riding was mandatory having been submitted in advance to AUDAX DIY SW area organiser. On completion I would submit the GPX file from the ride for verification.

It was a grand day out and If you fancy it the GPX file is here for you to use.

Believe you can and you’re halfway there. Happy New Year.

Happy New Year. I hope you had a fabulous 2017 and wish you all the very best for 2018.
I had a fantastic 2017. All my nearest and dearest are happy and healthy – the rest is a bonus!
In the last 50 years 2017 was the first year when I did not participate in competitive sport. In retrospect the change came when I qualified for the 2016 Ironman 70.3 World Championships and I realised that I didn’t want to do it. Then I eschewed my good for age place at the London Marathon in 2017.  These two events required an active decision whereas subsequently I’ve just not bothered to enter anything. This situation may not last. I think there is a very good chance that I may do a triathlon in 2018.

During the  Ironman UK 70.3 run in June 2016

I have continued to ride in Audax events,  but Audax is non – competitive. I find the Audax challenge a useful motivator. AAARTY is on the 54th month and I will keep that going for as long as possible. I seem to have fallen into another RRTY attempt but have only completed 3 months so far. A 200km in January is an early challenge for 2018.

Steve and I on an Audax 200km – serious stuff.

Running, which was my first love, is increasingly challenging and sometimes when I don’t run for a week or more I think that I may have given up. But then I manage to get out of the door and I find that I still do love running. My performance continues to deteriorate, and I am now really slow compared to just 5 years ago. I will keep running into 2018. I am fortunate in that I do not have any chronic injuries despite having run for over 50 years.

I spend more of my active time cycling than on other stuff. This year I have ridden just short of 11,000km with 156,000 metres of elevation. This is quite a lot of time spent on a bicycle. I am fortunate to live in a lovely part of the world where I can cycle in challenging, scenic, rural countryside all the year round. An increasing amount of my cycling is with my husband, Ian. We enjoy mountain biking together.

Mountain biking in the Forest of Dean

‘De-strawing’ MTB. Joys of dry, mud free riding in the summer.

In June we had a great tour of the West Coast of Scotland and the Outer Hebrides.

Touring in Scotland

Loch Corran

I didn’t really get into open water swimming so much this year as I have in the past. This is something which I will rectify in 2018. I am not keen on cold water but I will just have to man up.

Swimming on the Dorset Coast near Seatown

When we are at home we do 2 Iyengar yoga lessons a week and usually some other strength and conditioning work.

Iyengar yoga

We had some lovely holidays, most notably 3 weeks travelling around California, Arizona and Utah.

Death Valley in California.

Some of the time was with our daughter Jenna and her fiancé Jay. We are back in California in the spring for their wedding.

Alamere Falls at Point Reyes Seashore, California.

So…2018: My Audax targets are to continue with AAARTY and complete the year of RRTY. I have a few Calendar Events in the diary but none further than 200km. I have only completed one 300km Audax event and I didn’t enjoy it very much. Another 300km ride is simmering on the back burner for 2018.

Ian and I have a couple of MTB tours in mind and also perhaps a road tour in France.

The running challenge is simple – just keep running.