Thursday, 29 May 2014

Final preparations

It's been miserable weather this week, so my plans to get the allotment tidied up and grass cut have proved hopelessly optimistic. It was more or less dry this morning. So I drove up there with a large tray of tomato, courgette  and bean plants, which I shoved into gaps where the slugs had destroyed earlier plantings. Our friend David stopped by - he has kindly offered to water the plants if St Ives gets any dry weather!! I cut the grass too.  I picked the first almost ripe strawberries. That was my exercise for today. The allotment will have to take its chance.

I think we're all packed now. And the house is clean.

I phoned my former colleague Rosemary (she has retired as well), who cycled all the way to Compostela 17 years ago. She will be lighting some candles and saying a few Hail Marys for me. Rosemary is walking to Compostela in stages with her daughter. This summer's walk will be near Perigueux in France.

I phoned several family members, including Nick and Christine, who will be travelling on the Edinburgh Trams tomorrow (opening day).

Brendan has been spending some time poring over maps and making notes of which towns and villages he will have to drive through. His big challenge is to get to our destinations without me to navigate. We're only doing 60 miles a day average, so he can take his time.

Finally, a blessing from our friend Yvonne in Oxford. "May the Goddess Isis, Star of the Sea, guard and guide you on your journey. May there be helping hands and friendly hearts every step of the way." Appropriate in two ways - we'll be crossing the sea to get to France, and Compostela means 'Field of Stars'.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Compostela stamps

No cycle training over the weekend as we have been in Glasgow for the wedding of Brendan's niece Lindsay. But on the way back we called in at my dad's house in Newcastleton. Talking about the pilgrimage, my dad mentioned that he had some postage stamps relating to Santiago de Compostela. So here are some pictures.



Monday, 19 May 2014

Back in St Ives - more preparations

On Friday, after the Brighton trip, we caught the train back to St Ives via St Pancras, Kings Cross and Huntingdon.

Today's little tasks included reassembling the disintegrated pannier bag (fortunately I had some spare screws that fitted OK) and buying a new footpump for the airbed (the old footpump's nozzle was too loose for the new airbed.

We had another go at erecting the tent. This happened in George and Dee's garden. The aim was to see if Brendan could put the tent up single handed. He could.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Day 2 - Deptford to Brighton via Newhaven (77 miles)

Today's journey was almost identical to yesterday's in mileage, but was much. much hillier. Mapometer calculates that I climbed 4026 feet! Fortunately the climb up to the crest of the north Downs at Titsey Hill (863 feet above sea level) was gradual. The other 3200 feet must have been made up of lots of shorter hills, which, as the day progressed, seemed to become more arduous.

The biggest problem today was the disintegration of my pannier bag. There is a plastic strip that hooks over the metal carrying rack. It is screwed through the canvas. Well, the screws got jolted loose by the rough surface of National Cycle Routes 1 and 22. Fortunately I found a small hardware store (the lady said they were about to shut down - and I could see why - the whole place was a muddle). I bought some string (not much help, in fact) and one of those stretchy things with hooks at either end. A bit later I passed a Halford's ( East Grinstead) and bought two more. The rest of the journey saw me with the pannier strapped on top of the luggage rack.

Lesson 1 - Rosemary Hill was right - you need some decent bits of string and wire for unseen emergencies!

Met some friendly people. The shop lady. Then an elderly gentleman (well, older than me) who gave me directions when I wandered off the cycle route in New Addington. He apologised for not having his cycle maps on him! Then the two ladies in the post office/village store at Limpsfield who sold me some lunch and stamped my Pilgrim Record. Outside the shop two passers by chatted about iPads and mobile phones.

Lesson 2 - National Cycle Route signs are a bit hit or miss. Got very confused at Catford, New Addington and some other places. Easier really with OS maps.

At Lewes,  I asked directions of a young women with two children. Her little boy was looking for treasure - apparently indicated by blue crosses painted on manhole covers!

At Newhaven, I went to the ferry terminal, where a rather bemused member of staff stamped my Pilgrim Record. I'll be back in two weeks time when the journey starts in earnest. Spoke to another cyclist en route from Guildford to Paris, who was crossing on the night boat.

A hilly section out of Newhaven, but after about 4 miles, the track came down to sea level, so the final stretch into Brighton was dead easy. A mug of tea and a shower was very welcome.

Stayed with friend Richard, who used to live near St Ives, but moved to brighton in November. Beautiful top floor flat in a rather grand Victorian terrace.

Quite relieved that I managed two very long days on the trot, with not bad side effects except some slightly sore quads.

Lesson 3 - in view of the pannier problems, I've  thought out a better way of packing - with two panniers insetad. One for things like food and maps I need for that day's journey, the other for emergency stuff and things I might hope not to need until I reach my day's destination.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Day 1 - St Ives to Deptford

Today was Day 1 of the pilgrimage, half of a 2-day trial run to the south coast at Newhaven, where we intend to cross the Channel when the journey starts for real.

I set off from St Ives at 8am. A cool, sunny morning with a very gentle wind from the north west. Route - Fenstanton, Bourne, Haslingfield, Newton, Fowlmere, Barley, then a series of single track country roads through the Hills on ten Hertfordshire/Essex border. One short cut I tried turned out to be a river bed! Lunch was at St Andrew's Church in Much Hadham.

In one village, a man was pinning up a 'vote green' poster.

From Stansted Abbots, my route followed the towpath of the Lea Navigation. No traffic, but some very bumpy sections.

Onto familiar territory at Hackney Wick, Victoria Park and down the Limehouse Cut to Canary Wharf. Signs for National Cycle Route 1 were hard to follow, so I cycled along West Ferry Road to Greenwich a Tunnel.
Jenny, the office administrator at St Alfege Church kindly stamped my Pilgrim Record. I sat in the church for a while listening to the organ being played.
Cecil's flat is about a mile from Greenwich. 6 floors up with a panoramic view towards the Shard, the London Eye and the river.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Saint James

Back in 2003 I bought a small figurine of Santiago (St James) which has stood on the mantelpiece ever since. This photo of the Santiago also includes a couple of pebbles from Scotland which I hope to place on the cairn at the Cruz de Ferro, the highest point on the journey.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Why cycle to Compostela?

I first visited Santiago de Compostela in 2003. Until then I don't think I had even heard of this pilgrimage destination. But as we drove towards Compostela, we got our first glimpse of pilgrims, trudging along the side of the main road. We visited the shrine of St James in the cathedral, then stayed in the cathedral for the mass. They called out the names of pilgrims who had arrived that day, which was very moving.

The idea of completing my own pilgrimage to Compostela grew over time. I discovered that it could be done by bicycle, and started planning to see if it would be possible for me. I found a number of useful websites, but most interesting of all was Frank Burns's blog Serendipities of Life, and especially his Celtic route to Compostela. I joined the Santiago Bicicleta group on Yahoo.

Another good source of information, and inspiration, for me was my colleague Rosemary, who cycle form Cambridgeshire to Compostela with her daughter a few years ago. Rosemary gave me a list of equipment she took, her itinerary (with daily distances) and we talked a lot about the journey.

Initially, I imagined the Brendan and I would both cycle the whole way, but being realistic about the state of Brendan's knees (too much kneeling  for prayer as a youngster?) we decided that I would cycle, and Brendan would be my back-up crew in the car. Brendan decided to walk the final 120km from Sarria to Compostela - assuming, of course, that my knees, and stamina will hold up. If we only make it part of the way, then we'll continue another time.

I reckoned I could do the 2000km in 3 weeks, aiming to cover 100km a day. My recent training runs have been building up to that distance from the 50-60km that up to now has been my normal daily total. Training has taken me round many parts of Cambridgeshire and adjacent counties which I did not know and the longest runs have been to Kimbolton, Saffron Walden, Fotheringhay Castle and Potton.

Some of you may know that when I was 17, my brother David and I cycled from our home in the south of Scotland to Cromer, where our family was having a caravan holiday.  That journey passed through Kings Lynn, so one of my training runs involved me cycling to Waterbeach, catching the train to Kings Lynn, and cycling back from there through the Fens. In this way, I have linked my 2014 pilgrimage into that journey from Scotland 45 years ago.

So why make this pilgrimage? It's partly a physical challenge taken at a point where I was forced into retirement earlier than I had planned. Therefore I now had the time for it ( not having to consider annual leave). I suppose it's partly a 'rite of passge' too - about entering a new stage in life where paid work no longer dominates what I do.

Perhaps it was a 'sign' that last Sunday at our church the address was given by one of our young members, Dean Reynolds. Dean has twice walked the pilgrim route to Compostela, starting one time from St Jean Pied de Port and the other time from Leon - on foot. You can read Dean's address here.

I'm not expecting to find the answer to either my problems or the world's problems en route. But I'll take Deans word's to heart: ' there was so much space, times of quiet, times to reflect, no escape from yourself or those around you, forced to confront your body hungry and weary and your mind full of ideas and fantasy'.