A whole day free to go riding - almost unheard of luxury these days!
The first section of the ride is my old MUni route through the Stoke Bardolph Estate. This is a mixture of tarmac track, then wide muddy cart track, then single track along the river bank. It’s about 4 miles, give or take, to the car park of the Unicorn pub. It used to be my long term goal to ride the whole route “clean” on the MUni. Today, I manage it quite easily on the 28.
In the old days, I’d have stopped at the café, had a drink and a bite, then ridden back. That was a nice 7 - 8 mile circuit. Now, I ride straight past the cafe and along the river bank, through crowds of people, until I reach the magic 500 metres from the car park, and get past the crowds.
The meadow beside the river is full of cattle, and a calf is suckling right next to the track. It looks a little nervous, and skitters away as I approach. Many of the cows are lying down, it’s so hot.
Last week, I reached the road and then turned back. Today, I carry on, riding along lanes and through Hoveringham (cue the “pigs might fly” jokes) and on over the railway crossing to the Coach and Horses pub. It’s tempting to stop here, because I’m very hot, and starting to feel saddle sore, but I push on, my sights set on the tea shop that I have visited over many years as a bicyclist, tandemist, Morris dancer, motorcyclist, unicyclist and driver. It’s a lovely little tea shop, with a tree-shaded garden. Somewhere along the route, I’m overtaken by four Triumph Stags and a Lotus Elan, obviously in convoy.
When I arrive at the tea shop, I see the back field is full to bursting with old sports cars, including the Triumphs and the Lotus. In the tea shop itself, there is a jovial queue of vintage sports car types - ladies with faintly dishevelled hair, and elegantly amusing hats, men with waistcoats and moustaches. I queue for 15 minutes, order a black coffee and a slice of cake - and I’m asked if I can wait 15 minutes as they’re busy. Fifteen minutes for a black coffee? Yes, the machine’s broken. A kettle a jar of instant would be too simple. Only in England!
Disgruntled, I ride on to the Waggon and Horses and console myself with a pint of real ale. Two couples in their late fifties engage me in conversation about the unicycle. The lady starts the conversation with, “I suppose it’s to make it harder to steal?” which is original enough to hook my attention. The blokes have a few genuine questions, and I try to make the opportunity to convey that unicycling is a sport, not just a performance skill. As I get up to leave, the lady asks me to ride down the lane and back so she can photograph me. She patiently waits for a beautiful vintage Alfa Romeo to pass so she can take my picture!
The next leg of the ride is only a mile or two of mainly back lanes. I’m overtaken by a few of the vintage sports cars. I reach the Bromley Arms by the river at Fiskerton in one, and buy a newspaper at the shop next door before ordering a pint. Unwisely, I choose a beer that is 4.6% ABV. That’s reasonably strong when you’re drinking in pints.
The newspaper is disappointing - mainly about some pop concert that’s been on over the weekend, and something to do with a tennis competition down in London. Bored, I finish my beer and leap onto the unicycle - a little unsteadily…
Being a thoroughly sensible sort of chap, I know better than to ride on the road after two pints, so I follow the river bank back upstream, with the river on my left. It’s a while since I’ve been this way, and the track is worse than I remember, rutted, uneven, hard baked, and overgrown. I UPD rather too many times, and know that the beer has affected my concentration.
I stop and sit by the river, taking off my shoes and dangling my feet in the cool water. Shoals of minnows dart about in the shallows. Huge dragonflies and electric blue damselflies hover low over the water. The bigger dragonflies are about 4 inches (10 cm) across, and I can hear their wings rattling as they fly. Many of the damselflies are paired up and mating as they fly low over the water - a good trick if you can do it. Just down stream, a fisherman belches loudly.
One day, I’ll try to understand fishing. But only when I’m very short of things to think about. It seems to consist of sitting on the river bank (fair enough) with hundreds of pounds worth of equipment, impaling and drowning maggots. The tedium seems to be relieved only by the occasional fart or belch, and the inane comments that these prompt from your companion a few paces downstream. My best guess is that it is a good way of getting away from your family for a few hours.
Be that as it may, after a brief rest, I decide to continue, but soon decide that the track is just too much like hard work. To be honest, I’m regretting that second beer. I walk for about half a mile until I get to a tarmac private road, then ride along that back to the main road and keep a steady pace for several miles, resisting the temptation to stop. The saddle is making itself known to me, but the way to deal with saddle pressure is to get used to it.
The long unbroken ride does me good, and when I stop at the gate to the riverbank, I’m feeling a little fresher. I ride back up the riverbank for a mile or two until I get to the café (the one I’d ridden past much earlier) and I stop for coffee and a late light lunch.
From here, it’s simply a case of retracing my route back along the river bank, then along the tarmac track and a short section of road. However, the heat and dehydration has taken its toll, and I find myself UPD-ing far too often - even once on the smooth tarmac, as I take a couple of tight turns past a gate. By the time I get back to the car, I’m pretty much exhausted. I’ve ridden through the hottest part of the day, and covered something like 25 miles, with much of it on difficult surfaces.
Unicycling and beer are both fun - but they don’t mix well.