More tales of the riverbank

Rides on consecutive days! Just like old times!

It has been a long and lousy day at work, and I get home late, hot and frazzled. I eat every junk calorie I can find, then chuck the 28 in the back of the car and go in search of adventure.

For a change, I head down river, parking the car about 3 miles from home on a quiet lane near Stoke Bardolph - famed for its sewage farm. (Who was it who said they wished they could ride somewhere as nice sounding as where I ride?)

The first section is a dead straight road with the river on my right. With a slight following wind, my progress is almost silent, just the slight thrumming of the tyre on the tarmac. the river is almost smooth, and the sun reflects off each tiny ripple up onto the sandy bank opposite. Swans drift lazily by.

Then I turn off the road onto the tarmac track across the Stoke Bardolph Estate. Black and white cows munch contentedly in the long meadow grass between me and the river. I make good speed, not rushing, but not dallying. The uni is smoother today than it was yesterday. My legs are remembering the moves. (They’ve been remembering all day actually - I fence two nights a week and dance one night a week, but the muscles I used in yesterday’s ride are sore.)

The first obstacle of note: a cattle grid. I used to ride across this without a second thought, until once I slipped and nearly put my foot between the bars - that would have been a broken ankle for sure. I’m more cautious now, but I know the problem is mainly in my head, so I line up good and straight, and ride smoothly across. I remember my tandeming days: hit the cattle grids as fast as possible and you don’t feel them… well I’m not crazy enough to do that on a 700c unicycle!

From here, I have a choice: take the smooth tarmac, for which my 32 mm high pressure tyre is admirably suited, or take the rough and bumpy track. Well, what would you do? Text your votes: 07900… sod it, I’ll go the bumpy way. It was never in doubt.

I overtake a couple of startled walkers, then turn down a cart track, shaded by overhanging trees. Last time I rode down here, it was muddy and slippery, and I needed the Coker. Now, the ground is hard baked, and as long as I’m careful, it’s a fairly easy ride. On a 28, the fun is in choosing your route. Even a small patch of rough ground is a maze. You need concentration rather than momentum and nerve.

Down this section, there are countless winged insects, and I start to wish I’d brought my sunglasses. To be fair, some of the less fortunate insects agree, as they become embedded in my eyeballs.

From here, I have another choice: the bumpy way, or the bumpier way. Of course, the bumpier way wins, and I’m quite proud of myself for making it up the little rough slope with the left turn at the top. It’s the smallest of obstacles, but with long tussocky grass, an uneven incline and a sharp turn, it’s tripped me many times on a more suitable wheel.

Then I find myself scooting merrily along the river bank, following hard baked single track only a few inches wide, with rough grass to each side. Two years ago, this was a challenge on the MUni. Now, it merely requires caution on the road wheel.

And not overconfidence… we know where this is going, don’t we? Bang! UPD, a brief flurry of bad language… a rueful grin… and I do what I haven’t done for months: I push the uni back five metres before the difficult section and make a point of riding it cleanly.

I reach the small bridge. Nothing difficult here except broken and uneven concrete. A moment’s inattention and we have a rider/machine divergence situation again.

The next section’s really fun. It’s more single track, with the river very close on one side, and a hedge on the other, and the grass and undergrowth is so long that it obscures my view of the track. I have to ride by feel, standing on the pedals, holding the handle lightly with my finger tips, and sensing my way forwards with the feedback from the handle, and from the sides of the seat brushing my inner thighs.

All too soon I pop out on a wide area of rough ground, then dive down a short slope to pass under the arch of Gunthorpe Bridge and ultimately to emerge into the pub car park. There is much merriment from the assembled poseurs with their shiny chrome cruiser motorcycles and soft top cars. I ignore them and ride across the mown grass as far as the moorings, carry up the steep slope, then ride past the café (sadly closed) and the locks.

I now face a choice between retracing my steps or carrying on along the river bank. It’s warm, it’s sunny, it’s virtually mid summer, so it’ll be light until late. I ride on until I come to a farmer’s irrigation pump and trip over the metal hose cover, almost dinging my wheel rim as I do so. Then soon I leave the people far behind me and I’m sailing across close grazed grass, cattle to my left, the river to my right, and three horses wading chest deep in the river, to keep cool. I toy briefly with the idea of going for a swim, but I have no towel, and it isn’t that warm!

There are a couple of UPDs on this section. Tussocky grass is a strange surface: easy to ride , right up until the very moment when you fall off!

I stop part way along to recover my breath, and admire the evening sun bringing out the orange and red tints of the sandstone cliffs across the river, and the red sand undercut river bank. Hah! An undercut river bank opposite… so I must be on a slip off slope. My O Level geography comes back to me. What nonsense! I must have ridden along this section of the river a hundred times and not once have I seen a single ox bow lake. I think they made it all up to keep us off the streets.

Half a mile later, I reach a gate that leads onto the road. Here an old chap (“I’m 77 you know!”) tells me how he’s always wanted to build a unicycle. He asks a few technical questions, but conspicuously fails to listen to my answers. I think he just wants to be able to say he had a nice chat with a unicyclist. Well, good luck to him. Nice bloke. I also chat to a proper bicyclist (narrow wheels, dropepd handle bars, remember those days?) who rides with me along the lane as far as The Black Horse at Caythorpe - one of the nicest pubs in the world. But shut for the evening!

The next pub isn’t so nice: The Old Volunteer, populated by young men “in drink”. No one ever shouts comments as you approach them. So, as I reach the mid point of the crowd, I start counting on my fingers. As I get to ten, a youth shouts, “You’ve lost a wheel mate!” I shout, “Ten seconds!” and carry on.

The following section is unglamorous - just a wide country lane with a few posh houses. Well, posher than I can afford! Then it gets really unglamorous - a section of cycle path next to a main road. I keep my arms in and ride smoothly, enjoying the sensation of spinning along, but wishing that the seat had just a bit more padding.

Then I follow a gritty track between hedgerows, the low sun flashing through the spiky top of the hedge like a strobe light. It’s quite offputting. I’m glad when this section’s over, and there’s tarmac and a lower hedge. To my left is a field of corn, the heads plump but not yet ripe. In the middle of the field are metal standpipes with valves. The Stoke Bardolph Estate takes advantage of the proximity of the Stoke Bardolph Sewage Farm to er… provide directly pumped nutrients for the crops. Think about that next time you have a sandwich!

Back over the cattle grid, with less trepidation this time, then a short section of tarmac before I decide to veer across the meadow towards the river. Crossing this meadow used to be a real challenge on the MUni… I now make it easily on the 28… all but the last revolution, when I hit a sudden discontinuity in the ground and UPD. I’m tired now, and another UPD soon follows.

The path takes me along the river bank with the river to my left. I pass a young couple sitting slightly bored on a bench. She is very pretty, but with that slightly dim look that girls who try too hard to look pretty often have. He looks like he’s thinking, “OK, so I’ve got the girl. Now what? Oh Gawd, she wants me to be interested and respect her, and all that.” I fancy I see a look of envy flash across his face as I ride past.

A hundred metres later, I UPD. I turn to pick up the uni and see the couple walking away in a half-hearted embrace, his hand hovering but not quite daring to touch her bum. Oh, young love! In 20 years, they’ll be bored grandparents.

Do I sound cynical?

A quick burst along the tarmac and I’m back at the car, where I practise a bit of idling before packing up and driving home. That’s about two hours’ riding, and about 10 miles (16 km) or so.

Re: More tales of the riverbank

“Mikefule” <> wrote in
> Rides on consecutive days! Just like old times!

Nice write up. Nothing like a Mikefule essay to restore the enthusiasm.
So I shall brave the dreadful heat and go for it.



Thanks for that, Mike. Another piece of pure unicycling writing.

You know, I’m sure you enjoy the write up just as much as the ride itself.

“tussocky grass” - what a superb expression.

And “Tales of the Riverbank”, ahhh- pure TV nostalgia!

Keep 'em coming, Mike!