Flood Avoidance (With Route)(Just For Cyclists)

If you’re itching to get out on your bike for a ride but are struggling for a route given all the rain, this loop between north Reading over to the other side of Woodcote might be worth a try. It’s a 20 mile route with a couple of lumpy bits to keep you exercised.

At the time of writing it avoided any major problems caused by flooded rivers or (still) rising groundwater, but be warned – many of the roads are in an atrocious state, and not just the smaller lanes. A lot of care is needed. But that all said, it’s better to be out than in!

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A Woodcote Cycle Ride (With Route)(Just For Cyclists)

The not-that-great storm yesterday may not have been as destructive as trailed / feared, but nevertheless it wasn’t a day for cycling, around here at least.

Today’s ride was just a short jaunt in South Oxon lanes, chosen mainly because of a very autumnal, strong north westerly wind. Going anti-clockwise and starting out from Caversham, for the most part this offers a classic headwind out / tailwind back trip.

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Autumn Toadstools

Oh yes,it’s autumn

Cycling’s Challenges

You can get closer to a lot of things cycling – to the weather, the lie of the land, the area’s natural history, your fellow road users (for better or for worse) and so on. You also get a bit closer to death than you otherwise might.

Today, on a short-ish ride taking in Caversham, Sonning Common, Checkendon and Woodcote, I rode by this sculpture, as I have many times before. This time though, I’d not long ridden by a dead badger on the road side. That put death in mind, and so this time I stopped to photograph it.

A sculpture of skeletons embracing

Death’s embrace, presumably

Today was cold and the badger’s corpse didn’t smell, but on hotter days you can often smell something rotting long before you see it. That experience always emphasises that ‘the stench of war’ must be stomach-churningly grim – likewise any other site of mass death if it’s not cleared quickly.

What I’ve never decided is whether I would – should – stop if I’m cycling along and can smell something rotting but can’t see it. What if it’s a person? Stranger things have happened. I don’t know how brave I am – if I’ve the stomach for it. So far, I’ve never actually had to make that decision; the source of the smell has been visible. But one day …

Is it a case of would, should or could stop?

The challenges that cycling can create aren’t always the obvious ones. Climbing hills is one thing; investigating the smell of death another.

(Of course, in truth, I’ve no idea what was in the mind of the artist who created this sculpture – to be found near Woodcote / Exlade Street / Checkendon – but let’s assume we’re looking at death’s embrace. The crumbling building makes a perfect accompaniment.)

Riding Upstream

When you’re riding on the road and it occurs to you that you’re going upstream as well as uphill, that might be a clue that it’s raining a touch too hard for comfort. As you’ll have gathered, that’s precisely what happened to me today as I slogged up to Woodcote via a soggy, pot-hole strewn circuitous route through the lanes of South Oxon.

The slightly worrying thought is that the weather for this month last year turned out to be the best of the whole year. If that’s a precedent, and this month’s also going to be the best we get, 2013 is going to be truly grim. Hey ho.

That’s unlikely: the real impact of climate change is unpredictability. Whether that’s in any way better is a moot point.

Protect The Important

South of Reading, local councillors have decided too band to together to protect open spaces from being built on. They’re doing so because they’re being ignored by council officials at a borough level, and central government will do nothing to help.

I saw these snowdrops and aconites at Welford Park yesterday. I saw plenty of snowdrops while out riding today – a circuit taking in a pothole-strewn downhill from Checkendon and a sweat-inducing uphill slog to Woodcote.

If spring bulbs aren’t important to you then you’re possibly dead from the neck up. If open spaces aren’t important to you, then you’re possibly dead from the neck up. Even if these things aren’t important to you, if you can’t see that they’re important for lots of other people, then surely you’ve no right to be in a position to make decisions that will curtail the enjoyment of others.

We do not need more building. If we are to provide future populations with a decent quality of life then we need to protect open spaces. If you say that we need more building to house a growing population, then the only sensible response to that can be that we need to look at curbing the population. Low-quality life isn’t a worthy goal. We know that humans don’t respond well to over-crowding so why perpetuate it?

Welford Park snowdrops and aconites

“Let’s build on this too.”

Councillors south of Reading banding together.
Welford Park.
You could start here for over-crowding research.

A Problem Of Consciousness

Rendered nonchalantly gung-ho by temperatures in the balmy mid-40s (F), today I merrily went for a short-ish spin winding my way up towards Woodcote, having failed to take the strong wind into account.

A headwind for pretty well all the climbing soon makes one realise the stupidity of gung-ho actions.

I could have studied the weather forecast or studied the trees, but I didn’t. It wasn’t windy immediately outside of my front door so no alarm bells rang.

It’s a trivial example, but nevertheless it did make me think about consciousness – the question of how much you can be conscious of; the breadth of things in life you can ‘in tune’ you can be to any meaningful degree, at any moment in time.

I was predisposed to be thinking on those lines after two recent parties – nearly 100 people coming together to mark Charli joining the ranks of us 50-plus-ers.

Many of them were people we don’t see very often; often a year or more can go by with no contact other than, perhaps, an email or two. Years slip by easily. Then you bring a roomful of friends and family together and you’re conscious of that passage of time, of the friendships, of the reasons why these people are people you like to spend time with.

You know there are cancer sufferers there and cancer survivors; people with heart problems and mental health problems and all sorts of joint problems, not to mention money problems and any number of other problems you’re not aware of, but they’ve made the effort to be there despite it all.
And there are people who would have been there but have been called away, by their work to the Middle East and to the Far East and, more prosaically, to different bits of the UK; by other unexpected commitments – not least caring for the sick. Life intervened to ruin their plans, but you’re conscious of them in those circumstances precisely because of their absence.

You know there has to be some chance that you might never see one or more of those people ever again because that’s just the way the world is.

And you know you can’t keep them all in your consciousness but these are the times you feel you ought to be able to. But you can’t, so you just get on with it in the same way as you just get on with riding uphill into a headwind. The tailwind downhill makes you smile.

An over-sized garden chair - great for big thoughts

A big seat for thinking big thunks.