Cycles that Change Cities.

Pedal me
One of the recent growth areas in cycle sales has been that of cargo cycles.  Always popular in countries like Holland and Denmark, they are now becoming a more familiar site on the streets of many cities worldwide.  In some cases this has been driven by the authorities taking measures to reduce pollution and improve air quality.  Other examples have resulted from a desire to take advantage of improved infrastructure for cycling, and the economic benefit arising from speedier deliveries in a congested city centre.

The picture above shows a ‘Pedal Me’ bike – a pedal powered goods and passenger delivery service that operates in central London.  The picture below demonstrates how their cargo bikes can be used as a taxis. It is included because it amuses me.

Pedal me 2

International courier company, Santis Global, may use planes, trains and automobiles; but on the streets of London a cargo bike can avoid the slow moving traffic to make speedier collections and deliveries.

Santi 1

Santi 2

The traditional tricycle format used by this Zedify Logistics cargo trike allows a taller box to be fitted to allow bulkier items to be carried.



The Pedivan cargo tricycle above gives some idea of the capacity of this type of box.

Canalside Mum

Private ownership of cargo cycles is relatively common place in some European countries and is becoming more so in the UK.  Not only useful for shopping, it is not unusual to see them being used for the school run.  For those who only need the occasional use of a cargo cycle, hire schemes are now available in some UK cities.  This is also offers the chance to try one before deciding whether to purchase.

Yellow Christiania

An alternative to the commercial and private ownership models has been developed in Budapest. The organisation Cargonomia have launched a not-for-profit cargo cycle rental scheme that allows anyone to, depending on availability, hire a cargo cycle or trailer. They are available at a number of sites throughout the city.  Each user is asked to donate a rental payment that matches what the use of the bike has been worth to them.


The Dutch company Cargoroo have a commercial version of this scheme operating in some Dutch cities using Urban Arrow e-bikes.  They have been awarded a grant from the European Union to launch a similar scheme in Manchester during 2019. Let’s hope the Brexit uncertainty doesn’t scupper these plans.


The growing use of cargo cycles is perhaps reflected by this poster I recently came across in Croydon. It is produced by Ikea as part of its ‘People and Planet’ campaign.

Ikea 1

I was aware that in some countries they have various types of cargo cycles that can be borrowed or hired by customers.  It would have been ideal for me as I could take a tram to Ikea, cycle my purchases home, return the bike and hop back on a tram.

Ikea 2

I tweeted Ikea enquiring about the availability of cargo cycle hire at their UK stores. Their reply was initially that Ikea do not do cycle hire. Once I had forwarded the pictures above to them, this was modified to thy do not offer cycle hire at UK stores.

Ikea 3
I should really have left it at that, but instead asked them why they were displaying the poster if they couldn’t offer the service.  The reply was that they produce generic posters for use throughout Europe with text in all the relevant languages.  I assume the one I saw was for use in all those other English-speaking European countries.

Ikea 4

To be fair to Ikea, if I must, they have made a commitment that all their home delivery vehicles will be zero emission by the mid 2020s.  They have also stated that they may make a cargo cycle available at their new UK store at Greenwich .

Early Cargo Cycles

Milk Churn Bike

Cargo cycles have existed almost since the bicycle was invented. It hard to imagine that the early rider on a penny farthing didn’t strap on a pack of sandwiches and something to protect them from the rain.  The formation of the Cycling Tourist Club way back in 1878 emphasises this. Journeys of several days would have required carrying some luggage, and possibly a tent.  As bicycles and tricycles became more available, so they would be used to carry tools or materials required by a tradesperson.

Parcels Post

Various designs with anything from two to six wheels were developed. Early adopters of the cargo cycle were postal services. The cargo cycle above is from before 1886 and would have been painted a striking post office red – a colour scheme that has lasted right up until the vans used today.

Mail Van

Other trades were quick to spot the potential and the tricycle design rapidly became the norm due to the stability that they offered. Some were built with special trades or a particular purposes in mind.

Coffin Bike

I first came across the picture above at the Design Museum where it formed part of a display on cycle design and showed how versatile the basic tricycle platform was and is.  In the same exhibition was this Boxer Rocket trike. I’m including it for no other reason than I liked the modernism meets steampunk styling.


This video is of a version of the Rocket shown at the London Bike Show in 2016

Boxer Vid

These bikes were built in Dorset but, sadly, Boxer are no longer trading. For where the market is, they were probably six or seven years too early when they entered it.

Bread and Milk

The cargo tricycle came in several forms. The most common was the single rear wheel with the load in front like the one above. I’m guessing that this is a circa 1910 Alldays Carrier Tricycle by Alldays & Onions of Birmingham.

Alldays Onions

At the time they cost £30.00 each. According to the UK Office for National Statistics, prices in 2019 are 11,581.48% higher than average prices in 1910.  So, the equivalent price today is £3,504.44.


In comparison, a basic delivery trike such as this Babboe transporter can be bought today from about £1600. The price increases depending on the load capacity of the bike, the type of box fitted and whether or not it has electric assist. Start fitting insulated, aerodynamic carbon fibre boxes, and that £3500 1910 equivalent figure can easily be reached and passed.


After the 1st World War, the Post Office deliveries and ice-cream vending became the two most common uses for the cargo tricycle in the UK.

Post Trike

This is the earliest picture if an ice cream trike I could find and is credited with being from the early 1920s.

Early Ice cream

The more familiar ice cream trike from 1930s was the Walls Ice Cream “Stop Me & Buy One”. This late example below has been restored and is in the Science Museum collection in London.

Walls Ice Cream

The museum’s attribution for this Walls Ice Cream trike reveals that in the Second World War it, and others like it, were: “Fitted with radios, compasses and metronomes… [and] used to train fighter direction officers at a base in Pembrokeshire”.  I guess cyclists were more readily available than pilots and planes.

One of my favourite commercial trikes from the interwar period is the Fish and Chip one that was a familiar site on the streets of Halifax in the 1930s. I certainly would not have wanted to ride it up a hill with tub of hot fat in front of me. I was unable to find a photo of it so grateful thanks to the person who did this sketch for me.


Today many of the surviving trikes are now used as advertising vehicles and can be seen parked outside even top brand stores.


The tricycle design was equally, if not more, popular across Europe both before and after the second world war as these pictures show.

Tandem tricycle

Dutch Cargo Trike


This particular cargo trike (below) is in the museum at the Campagnolo HQ in Vicenza. It is said that it was used by Tullio Campagnolo himself to make deliveries.

Campagnolo Trike

Next time you use a quick release wheel locking mechanism on your bike, remember Tullio for it is he you have to thank for it.

Campagnolo Tullio

A variation of the three-wheel arrangement was the bike and sidecar.  For me, the best way to illustrate this is with a toy from my childhood.


The sidecar seems to have been more of a British trend with trailers more common in Europe.  KP Cyclery of Denmark produce this beautifully designed modern-day equivalent. It is engineered with bearings to allow the bike to tilt without lifting the wheel of the sidecar.

K P Cyclery

The Modern Era

French Racers

One of the bikes that helped transition the cargo trikes from those like the early 20th Century French delivery bikes above to the modern version of today, was the Cykelfabrikken Transporter Trike, now known as the Christiania bike.


Its roots are in the car-free hippie commune of Christiania in Copenhagen, where, in 1978, Lars Engstrom and three friends set up a blacksmiths’ workshop. Amongst other things they produced bicycle trailers and Pedersen style bikes.  Engstrom’s partner wanted a bicycle so, in 1984, he set about building one as a birthday present for her. What she received was the very first Christiania crate, or cargo, trike.

The story goes that when people saw how practical this was, especially for transporting children, three orders were placed on that birthday day.


In 1989 Engstrom and the business moved to the island of Bornholm. The picture of him above was taken at the original Bornholm factory shortly after that.

Different boxes can be fitted to the Christiania as illustrated below This shows just a couple of the variants, stashed in the workshop of London Green Cycles, ready to fitted either to new bike frames or as replacements.

LGC Wshop

I must admit I often find the workshops and yards of bicycle shops far more interesting than the actual retail area. If you’re in the South East and interested in cargo cycles have a look at London Green Cycles web site. They quite often have good value second hand ones available as well.

LGC Yard

When health and safety become involved you know that a vehicle is an accepted part of the workplace. I saw the Christiania below tucked away at the side of a stall at Borough Market.  It has a label on the box advising riders about maintaining correct tyre pressures and repairing punctures.

Christiania Borough Mkt

At the same time as the Christiania was being developed other manufacturers were following a similar design route and developing variants for specific purposes.  About 1990, the local authority I was employed by purchased a cargo tricycle that was designed to carry a wheelchair. This was available to the public on a loan basis. It was fine on the several miles of smooth sea-front promenade. On some of the hillier rides it could become energy sapping to pilot.  Oh for the e-bikes and lighter construction materials now in use.

There were, and are, lighter arrangements where the back half of a bike could be connected to a wheelchair, but these tended to be less successful unless each half of the combination was specifically designed to work with the other

In the 1980s Siegfried Schramm of Hildesheim, near Hanover, was developing such a design as this drawing from his 1988 US patent application illustrates.

Schramm 1

His later European patent applications reveal that he envisaged a number of interchangeable front ends that could be connected to the rear section; including a pram (baby carriage) and a passenger carrying seat.

Schramm 2

After about 5 years of development the Tri-Set cargo carrier went into production in 1994. At the time it was reported that some Tri-Sets had been sold and were being used to carry parts around a car factory.  I’m using these pictures from the time it was launched as I didn’t find even one other when I searched on the internet.

Tri Set

Successors to the Tri-Set come and go and rarely make an impact. Currently a similar product is available from Veleon of Berlin.


In the period we’ve been considering, other than Northern European countries, pictures of work and cargo cycles seemed to come from India, Africa or the Far East.  There were however, even in the land of the automobile, advocates in support of the use of cargo cycles to help reduce pollution and congestion.   George Bliss, of the New York Center for Appropriate Transport, designed the ‘Dump Truck’ below for that purpose.

Big Blue

At the time he was known for designing and building pedicabs and cargo, or freight, cycles. He was reputed to be a demon welder and frame builder and for many years operated a pedicab rental business.

George Bliss

Those more familiar with either cycling protest movements or the films of Ted White, may recognise George Bliss as the person who first coined the term ‘Critical Mass’ in the film Return of the Scorcher. It can be viewed on Youtube using the link below.

Scorcher Video.png

A group of cyclists who had been on a protest ride gathered for a screening of the film.  They heard the term used and realised that it applied perfectly to what they were doing.

The National German Cycling Club decided to feature cargo carrying as the main theme of its stand at the 1994 Cologne bike show.  I mention this not so much to illustrate that this was being promulgate widely as a solution to some issues related to city centre congestion and pollution, but as an excuse to include the picture below.

German Club

After the World War Two, in the UK the carriage of goods by cycle was mainly made using delivery bikes such as those below.  I shall leave it to another blog before I discuss two-wheel cargo bikes, multi wheel delivery cycles, and electric and post electric auxiliary power assistance devices.

Delivery Bikes

Contemporary Design

So, to round off on cargo trikes.  Electric assist has, it appears, boosted the popularity of this and all types of cargo cycle, and made their use more feasible. The physical capacity of the rider has become less of an issue as have hills and load weights.

The majority of the cargo trikes I see around are designs similar to the Christiania. There are however a number available that look far more modern using contemporary designs and materials. The carQon (sic) e-bike below illustrates this, and has won a design award.


The TRIPL urban delivery vehicle below has developed the cargo trike and e-assist to the point where there are no pedals and it has become just an electric vehicle.


120 years after Ferdinand Porsche’s P1 first design – the battery-electric powered Egger-Lohner vehicle, which could be converted to four-wheel drive by adding two additional electric motors – and 117 years after Lohner-Porsche Mixte Hybrid; a self-charging petrol/battery hybrid, Volkswagen are producing contemporary equivalents. They have announced electric powered light delivery vehicles and, particularly for ‘last mile solutions, the VW Cargo e-Bike.


Yes Ferdinand Porsche really did design a battery powered electric car that was produced in the 19th Century.

VW Tweet

The VW Cargo e-Bike will be available with optional load containers as well as the load carrying platform.  As increasing numbers of cities create low or zero emission zones and, in some cases ban most vehicles, so the demand for alternatives has grown. Presumably it has reached a point where Volkswagen can see potential for a commercial return from entering this market.

VW e bike

Last year my local supermarket decided to experiment with deliveries by cargo bike. Funny how some things go full circle.


Lars Engstrom, Siegfried Schramm, George Bliss and Ferdinand Porsche in one article – I didn’t see that coming when I started writing.

A couple of notes

I had someone read this text and they asked what is the difference between ‘cargo cycle’ and ‘cargo bicycle’? A cargo cycle is a pedal powered load carrying vehicle with any number of wheels. A cargo trike or tricycle is the same but with three wheels; and, as you might expect, a cargo bike or bicycle has two wheels.

I try to acknowledge the photographer and source of all pictures wherever possible. There are increasing numbers of, especially older, pictures being posted on the internet without any attribution. If I have an unattributed picture in this blog that you can give further information on, then I would be happy to make the necessary revisions.


And finally

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Teachers – Beware what Passions you Stir or Interests Unleash


Why The Ridgeway

As I set out to write this piece, I expected it to be about some forthcoming trips and how I research them before I make the journey.  I was going to share some of that process with you, including what I had found about one of England’s oldest pathways – the Ridgeway.

Instead, I became diverted and distracted by why my proposed trip would include the Ridgeway. It is a journey that started more than 50 years ago near the Dorsetshire Ridgeway, with a story based around the South Downs Ridgeway.

south downs

Rosemary Sutcliff

In my first year at secondary school, in what I believe is now called year seven, we were given the book ‘Warrior Scarlet’, by Rosemary Sutcliff, to read.

Set in the Bronze Age, it tells the story of a boy with a crippled arm who trains to become a warrior and dreams of wearing the warriors’ scarlet kilt.  He fails the final wolf-killing test to become a warrior, and is sent to herd sheep. Yes, there is redemption, and eventually he kills the same wolf and does become a warrior. Despite our homework being only to read the first chapter, on that evening I read the whole book from cover to cover.  I thought it an easy read and perhaps more like something I would have read the term before at primary school. I really liked the illustrations by Charles Keeping. Sadly, they do not appear in the modern paperback version with the red cover.

warrior scarlet editions

Our English teacher (she refused to recognise the school given title of ‘mistress’) that year was young, liberated and free thinking. If she had been in France, she would no doubt have been on the streets of Paris, for this was the late 1960s.  Two days later there was a bewildered silence in class when we were asked what we thought the first chapter said about the roles of women, different ethnic groups, and disabled people, in bronze-age society.


These were subjects that one did not hear talked about much, if at all, in the West Country of England at that time.  That evening when I asked at home what they meant, the look of horror with which the question was met, was clear indication that these were things not to be discussed.

The next lesson we were asked how these issues were reflected in contemporary society – this to a lad living in a house without radio or television, and who had only been beyond the county boundary a dozen or so times. This type of sociological analysis continued through to the very last page of the book which ends with the hero entering into a mixed-race relationship.

bronze age hoard

Graham Greene

It was preparation for the next book that we were, controversially, given to read; the rather grittier ‘Brighton Rock’ by Graham Greene.  Set in the same geographic area, but 3000 years later. We were continuing with the representations of society and conflict in literature.  The rest of the year group had to wait to the third year (year 9) before they studied Brighton Rock – not because of the violence, implied rape or gang warfare; but the use of a four-letter euphemism for ‘breasts’.

Our teacher openly told us that the excuse given to the parent who complained, was that she had come from a new university and had modern ideas. Also, that she had been instructed to spend the rest of the year introducing us to Shakespeare because, it was how we should have been looking at those themes, and it was ‘safe ground to tread’. Shakespeare safe!? The school, by the way, prided itself on being ‘progressive’.

brighton rock

William Shakespeare

The socialism our teacher brought to class was so much more empowering, caring, and humane than the harsh and repressive views being promulgated by some politicians and clergy at that time. In terms of opening eyes and provoking inquiry, this was an education far more useful than learning to recite Sonnet 20 – although the interpretation given to that by said teacher was also an education.

shekespeare sonnet 20

Back to Warrior Scarlet. What grabbed my attention was the setting on and about: “… the green Ridgeway that ran from the world’s edge to the world’s edge along the High Chalk…”.  I quickly built up a mental picture of the landscape described, particularly in the early chapters. Whilst this was actually set in the South Downs, in my mind, it became conflated with the ancient pathway that is now the Ridgeway National Trail.

ridgeway finger post

The following year we had a different English teacher who had no problem with the title mistress or, if the rumours were true, being one. She was, however, proudly and fervently Welsh. Wherever possible she would introduce a Welsh element into her teaching of English literature – freely annexing the Welsh Marches and contiguous lands, or any author who may conceivable have had a Welsh connection.

Sadly, by the time I left the school four years later, she had, in the following order: become pregnant, given birth, married, been widowed, and returned to Meirionnydd.

Hedd Wyn

She was responsible for introducing us to the war poets, as part of a World War 1 teaching project jointly delivered by the English, History and Geography departments. She read to us poetry by Hedd Wyn, the bardic name of Ellis Humphrey Evans, who was killed at Passchendaele. I do her a disservice, she recited it from memory, in Welsh; or what the RE master, also Welsh, referred to as the ‘pagan tongue’.  This video is a recitation of it in the Welsh language in which it was composed.

hedd wyn video

hedd wyn rhyfel

She also narrated the story told by her Grandfather, a bard himself, of being at the 1917 National Eisteddfod with David Lloyd George, the Prime Minister, for the chairing ceremony – the highest honour to be afforded a Welsh poet. To total silence it was announced that the winner, Hedd Wyn, “… lay in a quiet grave.”

Ellis Humphrey Evans came from the village of Trawsfynydd in North Wales and worked as a shepherd on his family’s hill farm. A while ago I stayed at Llan Ffestiniog, 5 miles away, and was struck by just how rugged the countryside was and how hard it must have been to work that land.


These picture of Soldiers and horses at Trawsfynydd railway station in 1915 show the land as it was when he would have known it.

trawsfynydd railway station

His home of Yr Ysgwrn has been restored and Is open most of the year. It has a new website but may not connect until the premises re-open in February. It can be seen in this video though.

yr ysgwrn

Next came the works of Wilfred Owen and Edward Thomas – both English but with names that suggested a certain Welshness. Owen was born just across the border in Oswestry whilst Thomas despite being born in London came from a predominantly Welsh family.

Wilfred Owen

The school had relocated to new buildings on a new site. Each classroom had a loudspeaker in it that could be broadcast to from a microphone in the school office.  At 11.02 on Armistice Day that year we used it to read ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ By Wilfred Owen, to the entire school.

anthem for doomed youth

Edward Thomas

The brief anthology of works by Thomas that we had as a study aid, predominantly contained poetry and prose writing about the countryside. This included extracts from ‘The Icknield Way’, his record of walking that route which incorporates The Ridgeway.  It was these that drew my attention rather than the poems I should have been concentrating on.

in memoriam

ridgeway mongwell

Of the poetry in the book my favourite was ‘Aspen’. It had a structure that was hymn-like and easy to read. For me it painted pictures as vivid as any photograph. Come to that, it still does.

aspen edward thomas

I never got to grips with his poem ‘Roads’; that is not until recent times when I discovered this video.

edward thomas roads

path towards ivinghoe beacon

The first part of Edward Thomas’ ‘The Icknield Way’ is a summary of the history of the various theories for the routes of the historic pathways across England. It includes suggestions for how the name Icknield may have come into use.  I’m not sure how useful some of this is; but it does serve to demonstrate the difference between the world of learning in previous centuries and the academic rigour of today. Alas, I fear the internet may be reversing that progress.

the icknield way

Written only a little over a hundred years ago, it is a diary of his walk along the length of the Icknield Way. I gain a sense from it, that the landscape and trails crossed by Edward Thomas had more in common with the time of King Alfred than with the land as it is today. This sense is strengthened by the simplicity of the line drawings with which the book is illustrated.

beacon hill ivinghoe

grand junction canal nr tring

I’ve recently re-read the book as part of my trip planning and will comment on it further when I blog about that.

If you have 25 minutes to spare, River Spirit Films have put on -line a video called ‘The Icknield Way: a journey’. It is described as: “A century after the poet and writer Edward Thomas published his book on the Icknield Way, this short, quirky documentary traces the route of the ancient trackway and drover’s road, setting out to encounter some of the people who live and work along it, and who are still inspired by it. Features the excavation of a Neolithic henge monument, and a haunting, original soundtrack.”

the icknield way video

The Ridgeway

the ridgeway hackpen wiltshire

Ten years after discovering the writings Edward Thomas. I was rattling around the West Country in a Landrover visiting farmers as part of my job with a quango. Two of these were in Wiltshire and had the Ridgeway passing through their holdings.

Whilst driving along a farm track one would proudly tell me about the Stone and Bronze Age barrows on his land, and all about the fact that we were driving on the Ridgeway.  He would proudly point out the signs that showed that this was now a national trail.   The other was more sceptical.

the ridgeway near ogbourne st george

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One last thing.  Local bike, book, and out door shops are declining in numbers and I would urge you to use them where you can – the use them or lose them scenario certainly applies, and most offer a range of additional benefits.  To assist those who wish to purchase on-line, there are links from the books featured on this blog to the relevant pages on Amazon. You should be aware that if you purchase having followed one of those links, I will receive a tiny commission from Amazon.

track to the ridgeway liddington

Clean Air, Running Water and Electricity, make Happy Fish

Buckfast Uppermill

Farewell King Coal ?

Why did we not Party? I bet Sir David Attenborough at least smiled and raised a cup of tea, or possibly something stronger, to his lips.  The 21st April 2018 was the first day since the 1880s, in the UK, that no coal was used for electricity generation. In fact, since the Holborn Viaduct coal-fired generator, or Edison Electric Light Station as it was known, opened in 1882. Within 2018 there have been several coal-free days.

Edison Electric Light Station

Ah, now I remember, we didn’t party because the air we were breathing was still polluted. Even here in the UK many lives were being shortened as a result.

Some reports claimed it was the first day no coal was burned in the UK. This was rather sloppy as no doubt some was burned in a few private homes and by enterprises such as heritage railways.

Bodmin Steam Railway

It has always been my intention to occasionally cover issues other than cycling and walking on this site. My other interests that have already made appearances are sustainable food production, rare breeds of livestock and green energy production.

If you read my blog, “Wow – I was 25 Years Ahead of my Time”, you will know my interest in alternatives to carbon-based power generation goes back a long way.  I still have my first reference book on the subject ‘Energy Primer – Solar, Water, Wind and BioFuels’ – which I bought in 1974.

Energy Primer

The use of coal for power generation is declining in the UK,  in line with the government’s plans to phase it out completely by 2025. This is part of a programme to cut carbon emissions.  A reduction in electricity use has also contributed toward this being achievable. The rest of the shortfall is to be made up by power generated from; wind and solar, biodigesters and biomass, tidal and hydro, and imports.

Drax power station

The UK Government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy provide official statistics that show the proportion of electricity generated from each fuel source.

Electricity Mix
While gas may be better than coal it still gives off CO2 and other pollutants and, like imported electricity, is subject to the volatility of the international supply market.  Biomass, despite industry claims to the contrary, is certainly not carbon neutral.  The government’s preferred solution is to introduce further nuclear generation capacity.

A different approach is to harness tide power either by creating tidal lagoons, or by placing turbines on the ocean floor to harness tidal flows.  Located off the North coast of Scotland, power generation from the world’s first commercial-scale tidal flow plant commenced earlier this year.

Looking to the Past can Provide a Map to the Future

The demand for electricity is not a constant. The graph above shows that traditionally the winter peaks in demand have been catered for by increasing the amount of power generated from coal.

Frozen hedge

In the coldest darkest nights of winter, the air can be very still. Wind turbines don’t turn and it is deadtime for solar panels. This is also a time when the energy demand for domestic heating increases.  If carbon emissions are to be reduced at these times, then another source of green energy is required.

Fortunately, this is also the time of year when the water flow in some of our rivers, canals and inland navigations are at their highest.  If the energy in these waterflows is captured, then it can be used to help meet that increased energy demand with electricity generated from this renewable resource.

Developments in materials and technology mean that turbines to generate hydro-electric power no longer need to be at the foot of a high mountain or massive dam creating a huge head of water.  Much smaller flows can be utilised and exploited. What is even better, is that many potential sites are easily identifiable. Throughout the country there are watercourses that were once lined with mills to grind grain, make paper or lace, process and weave cotton, or power a range of other industrial processes.

Dawlish waterwheel

These mills had the weirs, leats and ponds necessary to manage the water and maintain a supply sufficient to power the machinery within it.  These are usually suitable for at least micro hydropower installation, if not a small hydropower.  To give an idea of what this means: the company Renewables First gives these definitions “…‘small hydropower’ actually means less than 1 MW power output, while ‘micro hydropower’ is less than 100 kW. Typically a small hydro system could power 1,000 ‘average’ homes, and a micro hydro system could power 100 homes, which by most peoples’ standards is actually quite big!” Now there are even smaller schemes referred to as ‘pica hydropower’.

Weir Grand Union

Aside from the mills, the major rivers and navigations in this country are littered with weirs that during the course of a year have massive amounts of water pouring over them. If these were to all have hydropower schemes incorporated, then a significant part of the energy currently generated from gas could be replaced with this green option.

According to the British Hydropower Association, which represents the industry, recent resource studies have indicated that there is a practical potential for a further 2GW of capacity in the UK. If my calculations are right, this is equivalent to six nuclear power stations the size of Hinkley C. Hydro installations also have a lifespan three times that of a nuclear power plant.

Simple Question – Does it Work?

Lest you think this is all pie-in-the-sky stuff, small and micro-hydro generation schemes are being installed across the country. Sometimes these are the initiative of a land or property owner, whether an individual, an organisation or a company.  Others are community-based projects

De Lank Montage

During the course of a walking trip on Bodmin Moor, I spent time exploring the area around the De Lank granite quarry and the course of the old tramway, and also the De Lank river and gorge.

I came across a building which I knew had been a hydro plant to provide compressed air for the quarry. I was delighted to find that it had been resurrected and was now generating electricity. This short video tells the story.

De Lank Video

Twice the Tonic in Buckfast 

Buckfast Abbey

On the way back from Cornwall I stopped off at Buckfast Abbey in South Devon, and was able to admire the waterwheel at the abbey’s Upper Mill site.  This was originally a woollen mill and, in the mid 20th Century, was used as an electro-plating works. The abbey acquired the run-down site in the 1990s and renovations included the installation of a new waterwheel.

Buckfast waterwheel

In recent years the plant has been modernised and now generates electricity whenever there is sufficient water supply.  As these pictures show, it is also a popular spot for visitors to pause for a moment.

Buckfast water supply

At the lower end of the Buckfast Abbey site, on the River Dart itself, there is a relatively new hydroelectric plant that was installed as part of the redevelopment of an historic industrial site.  I am grateful to Renewables First, a company with which I have no links, for allowing me to use some of the following photographs.

Buckfast Archimedes screw

The plant was shoehorned into a space between old and new buildings which cannot have been an easy task.  If you stop at the Abbey Inn, a quarter of a mile along the road, and perhaps have a meal on their terrace overlooking the Dart, you will see the river running by unaffected by having shed some of its energy to create electrical power.  At full output it is capable of generating sufficient power to run 160 average households.

Every New Waterside Development Needs One

The weir in the pictures below is on the river Roch in Rochdale, and originally constructed to provide water to power a mill. The photographs are from late 1960s, 1984 and 2010. A multi-modal transport hub has now been built on the site and is part powered by a hydropower scheme that can supply up to 21kW of electricity, which is equivalent to that used by about 40 average houses.

Rochdale collage

The design by Renewables First incorporates the weir infrastructure left from the original mill. An Archimedes screw was installed next to it and is rotated by the water passing through it.  This rotational energy is transferred through a gearbox in the powerhouse to drive the generator that produces the electricity.

Rochdale hydropower scheme

Preserving the Past whilst Securing the Future

As I mentioned earlier, there are many old water-driven mills in this country that are now redundant. Some of these are listed buildings, or in historically or environmentally sensitive settings.

Mapledurham Mill  is the last operational mill on the River Thames and produces high-quality stone-ground flour. It has a long history.  The following illustration and accompanying text is from: “The book of the Thames: from its rise to its fall” by Mr and Mrs S. C. Hall, first published in 1859.

Mapledurham antique print


A little further, and we arrive at an assemblage of choice picturesque objects, such as are not often met with even singly, and are very rarely encountered grouped together into one rich picture as we here find them. At one view we have Maple-Durham ferry, lock, and weir — the mossy old mill embosomed in rich foliage, from which again rises the grey church tower, behind which, though almost hidden by lofty trees, we see the turreted outline of Maple-Durham House, forming altogether a painter’s paradise. *

The river here becomes broad and studded with numerous islets, between which extends a series of weirs, over which the water tumbles and foams, adding life and variety to the general calmness of the scene.

* It was built in 1581 by Sir Michael Blount, then Lieutenant of the Tower of London. In the church are many interesting memorials of the Blount family. Maple-Durham is a corruption of Mapulder-ham, literally meaning, the residence or manor among the maple-trees. Mapulder was the Saxon and early English name for a maple-tree, Apulder for an apple-tree, &c.

The Mapledurham Estate owns much of the village and parish including the Mapledurham Watermill.

Kenneth Grahame, author of Wind in the Willows, lived in Pangbourne, a couple of miles upstream from Mapledurham, and it is believed that Mapledurham House and Mill provided the inspiration for the Wind in the Willows’ ‘Toad Hall’, as well as featuring in E. H. Shepard’s illustrations for the book.

Mapledurham Mill group

The pictures above show that the mill has changed little in the last 160 years since it appeared in the book by Mr and Mrs Hall.  In 1970 it gained fame when a picture of it was used on the eponymously named Black Sabbath album cover.

Black Sabbath

There was (for the geeks) a 90-year-old vertical shaft Francis turbine that had originally provided electricity for Mapledurham House. This was to be replaced with a modern Archimedes Screw type turbine.

The Renewables First case study states “The project involved dismantling the existing turbine building and removing the old turbine. It also involved draining the mill pond of its water to enable structural work to be undertaken beneath the mill. A temporary bridge was also constructed to enable access onto the mill island for machinery and equipment. Planning stipulations required that the turbine building be reconstructed in a manner consistent with the existing mill building.”

Specialists builders were employed to rebuild the turbine building in the style of the original including “…the curved and gnarly roof line”.  Comparing the picture of the finished project below, with the one with the horses in above, surely shows just how successful this project was in terms of respecting the environment into which it was installed.

mapledurhammill now

And it’s Good for the Fish too.

There have been objections to these small hydropower schemes particularly from some of the anglers.  This despite all the evidence to the contrary.  There are strict rules regarding fish screening and maintaining migratory routes.  The Environment Agency require, in many cases, the incorporation of fish and eel bypasses to maintain or enhance the biodiversity of the river or other watercourse.  In most cases the fish pass will be a secondary route to be used by any fish that have missed a main route and therefore may become stuck in what would otherwise be a cul-de-sac for them.

Many weirs were built before or during the industrial revolution. Scant regard was given for the impact on the environment. As industry grew, many rivers and canals became heavily polluted to the point that all life within them became extinct.

Arkwrigjhts Mill.jpg

As rivers have become cleaner and re-stocked, those physical obstacles have had more impact on some species than others. Careful choice of the right kind of fish bypass can benefit a wider range of species and, therefore, the biodiversity within that environment; as well as helping to boost fish stocks.

The right design can also result in less energy needing to be expended by the fish, than would be required to overcome some traditional weirs.  Longer fish bypasses can incorporate a resting pool, or pools, to assist weaker individuals.

Alaskan fish Pass

“The picture (above) is looking down into the fish pass. (at Buckfast) The fish will ascend up the middle of the shute. The fish pass is designed to be as efficient as possible at creating white water. The fins down each side create lots of re-circulation of the water, creating an up-current up the middle part of the fish pass enabling easy passage for fish.”  From case study by Renewables First.

Buckfast Abbey Discharge

Water passing through a hydro plant or a fish bypass will be disturbed and aerated. At times when the oxygen levels are depleted, this provides immense benefit in terms of the sustainability of that environment.

Clean river

Stories regularly appear in the media claiming that there have been state-sponsored cyber-attacks on UK organisations and establishments.  Rather like solar panels on the rooves of individual homes, these smaller widely distributed power generation schemes add to the security of supply.  One piece of rogue software in a major powerstation can result in its shutdown and the loss of the entire output.  To attack 500 or a thousand individual plants, with individual control systems not necessarily permanently connected to a network, is an entirely different proposition. They will mostly each have their own operator who can isolate the plant from any central control network, and manually press a reset button to restart production should they have to.

Like all small power generations schemes, if the use of hydropower is to prosper and grow, then government and regulators have to ensure that there is an equitable feed-in tariff in place.  If the UK is to have security in its energy supply, then more of these sustainable, ‘green’ sources of electricity are required. The feed-in tariff should give a fair return to those who invest in meeting that need.

Wheel Martin

Boats, Bikes and Doggy Ice Cream

3000 Years of History in one Surrey Ride


0 Header

Back in September I set out to write about my ride, along the Wey Navigation, back to London from the Richmond Championship Dog Show near Guildford.  My first attempt developed into a piece about showing animals.  The second attempt barely saw us past Guildford.

For this third attempt I have put the pictures into the blog first so that I should stay on track.  Unless credited otherwise, the pictures were taken by me whilst riding along the towpath.

0A Stoke Mill

At the end of my blog ‘Going all the Wey on a Sunny September Evening’, we had just reached Stoke Mill – now home to the Surrey Advertiser. This is quite apt as from 1653 it was used to produce paper. At one time there were seven or eight papermills along the river.

Leaving Stoke Mill the navigation is on the left, separated from the towpath by a line of pollarded willow trees These have various styles of log built supports propping them up, but would be a nightmare to anyone trying to bring a horse drawn barge along this way.

1 Willow Tree

To the right is the Riverside Park. This is about 70 acre of wetland nature reserve crossed by booardwalks to facilitate access and birdwatching.  Sadly as it was late afternoon I didn’t have time to visit.

Although still within earshot of the A3, as you can see in this two minute video, once Bowers Lock is crossed there is a real sense of being in the country.



This leads onto the section where the towpath skirts the parkland that surrounds Sutton Place from which is  separated by a traditional metal rail fence.



Sutton place is a Tudor manor House originaly built about 1525, but with all the usual changes and additions these properties have been subject to over the centuries. These act as a record of the changes in architectural styles and design trends over time. Historically, it is simply one of the most important properties of its type in the country and Grade 1 listed.   The house was visited by both Henvy VIII and Queen Elizabeth.

Currently it is owned by a Russian businessman who is supposedly the richest person living in the UK.  Personally, provided he has, and is using, the bottomless money pit needed to maintain properties like this, then I’ve no problem with that.  What it does mean , however, is that I can’t just ride up to the front door and ask to take photographs.

3A Sutton Place

An illustration from circa 1700 show gardens  and a tree lined avenue The grounds were further landscaped at various times from the Eighteenth Century through to the second half of the Twentieth Century. The design of the formal gardens were influenced by Gertrude Jekyll. The park and gardens have their own Grade 2* listing.  The listing document gives a detailed description of the grounds and, should you be interested, can be found here.

3C Sutton Place3

3B Sutton Place2

The builder of Sutton place was Sir Richard Weston (d.1541) who was granted the Manor of Sutton by Henry VIII in 1521. It was his great grandson, another Sir Richard Weston (1591–1652), who was responsible for the creation of the River Wey Navigation

As a young man Sir Richard Weston had lived in Flanders. Travelling the Netherlands and Belgium, he had seen how sections of canal could join parts of rivers to form navigable waterways.  Most importantly he had seen locks working and realised, with locks to allow for changes in height and weirs to control water levels, he could create a navigable waterway from Guildford to the River Thames.

3D Dick WestonLooking at the parts of the river Wey not included in the navigation, it’s easy to see how useless it must have been for carrying goods prior to this.

In 1635 Sir Richard was appointed one of the Royal Commissioners to oversee the work. After exile on the Continent, made necessary by the English Civil War, in 1651 he gained the necessary act of parliament and construction started.

The new route was completed in only two years. Sir Richard, however, died in 1652 not seeing the opening in 1653.

3 Blue bend

Sir Richard had, during his enforced stay overseas, studied farming methods and on his return set about improving production particularly from grassland. The evidence suggests that he would have used the revised River Wey to promote grass growth through controlled flooding of the land.

2 Pastoral

Passing Sutton Place there is a mix of wooded areas and water meadows rich in wildlife. I was fortunate to see a couple of kingfishers.

4 Swan

5 Church

The Church of St Mary the Virgin, Send, could be seen through the trees creating a picture that has probably changed very little since the canal was built. The church was already more than 400 years old when that happened.

Approaching Worsfold Gates (below) a different kind of tower can be seen in the distance – a lift shaft for a tower block being built in Woking. It didn’t stop the cattle enjoying the evening sun though.

6 Cattle

7 Worsfold Gates

A couple of miles further on and there was plenty of water coming over the spillway at Papercourt Lock. For the next half a mile the towpath was just a track in a field until the road at Newark Bridge was reached.

8 Field Path

9 Newark Weir

Looking back towards Guildford from Newark road bridge reveals this set of sluices complete with an attractive tiled ‘roof’.  The fitting of electric motors and associated control gear has not detracted from the charm.  I appreciate the purpose of the string of plastic strips is to deter birds from roosting; but there was something about this micro scene that made me think Tibet and prayer flags.

Across the road was the site of Newark Mill.  Built in the early Nineteenth Century,  it was one of the most spectacular mills in the county, if not the country.  There are records of a mill on this site going back to 1677 and probably developed to exploit the twin benefits provided by the development of the navigation; a managed water supply and ease of access to the London markets.  It was destroyed by fire in December 1966.  A contemporary report records that it was burnt to the ground in just one hour.

10 Newark Mill

The fact that there were once 22 mills along the length of the Wey is further evidence not only of this trade, but also the flow rates of the water passing along it. This last mill at Newark exploited that to the full as it had three waterwheels which drove up to eight pairs of stones.  No wonder it was such a grand five storey building.

11 Newark Abbey

Looking in opposite direction, the remains of Newark Priory can be seen through gaps in the trees.  It was built for an order of Augustinian Canons in the second half of the Twelfth Century.  Like most of the monastic buildings of the time, it was destroyed in 1539 during the dissolution of the monasteries ordered by Henry VIII.

It was built on a slightly raised piece of land with water channels created around it to provide for the drinking, cooking and sanitary needs of the incumbents.  Near the weir there is an eel trap which had probably been constructed by the canons.  I don’t know if they were also partial to a drop of beer, or even if the order allowed it, but the hedges alongside the priory site were full of hops.

12 Hops

13 Boats in Trees

Moving along I came across the scene above with everything seeming so tranquil and still.

About a mile from Newark Mill are Walsham gates and weir.  This is one of seven sites along the Wey Navigation on which the Environment Agency is spending a total of £8 million.  This will upgrade the weirs to maintain navigability, and enhance the flood management capability to help protect towns like Guildford.  As part of the work they are also creating features to assist fish and eels in bypassing these obstructions and so maintain or enhance the biodiversity of the Wey.

14 Walsham Wier

The works at Walsham Gates meant that the tow path was closed. The diversionary route of about a mile crossed local meadows and a golf course before re-joining the towpath.

This diversion involved riding up the drive of the rather spectacular looking Ockham Mill which was built in the early 1860s.

The listing document describes it as: “…  built in a neo-Norman style. Red and brown brick with yellow brick dressings, glazed brick decorations to mill, brown brick to Millstream House. Slate roof under ridge cresting on mill, plain tiled roof over house. Mill:- 4 storeys with decorative bands over each floor, – dentilled billet band to first floor, floral plaques over second floor and corbelled, dentilled eaves. Gable end to lane: lozenge shaped panels to gable flanking gabled and weatherboarded hoist tower at gable apex extending down to second floor and resting on corbelled braces.

Couldn’t have put it better myself.

15 Ockham Mill

The discovery in 2013 of the Ockham Hoard, a collection of bronze-age items confirms that the area has been occupied for at least 3000 years.  A record from 1296 refers to two water mills at Ockham.

Those of a more philosophical bent will be familiar with Occam’s Razor first proposed by the Mediaeval philosopher William of Ockham.

16 The Anchor

Once the towpath is regained it only a short distance to Pyrford Lock and The Anchor pub.  No surprises in there being a pub where canals and roads cross, especially if there is a lock or a wharf where barges may have stopped for a while. My only reason for mentioning this pub is the sign below which was besides the main entrance.  My thought, as soon as I saw it was: “I’d rather have raspberry ripple ice cream”.

17 Ice Cream

This is also a good point to leave the canal, if cycling, to visit the RHS Gardens at Wisley.

18 Potch

From here onwards the Navigation threads its way between West Byfleet and Byfleet, whilst the River Wey keeps to its original route around the East side of Byfleet.  There is one short last wildish section before the sound of the M25 begins to impact and more waterside properties appear.

19 Parvis Wharf

Parvis Wharf is currently used as a boat yard but has had various uses since being built probably in the mid Eighteenth Century to serve six local mills.  It is the last of the rural wharves to remain intact.  The fields and hayrick in the picture below evidence how rural the original location was; and are now covered by the M25.

The building in the picture above (the left-hand building in picture below) was originally built as a store about 200 years ago but is now known as the Grist Mill.  This comes from the inter war years when the upper storey was added and used by Surrey Grist Mills Ltd to produce animal feed. Before that it had been used as site to build ERA cars which were then raced at Brooklands which is only a couple of miles away.

19 Parvis Wharf 2

There are records of aeroplanes being shipped from the wharf which, during World War II, gained the reputation of being somewhere lonely troops could find ladies who would entertain them.

As I left Parvis Wharf I cycled past the heron below, no more than metre behind it.  When I dismounted and walked towards it to take this picture, it turned its head, managed a haughty slight lift of its supercilium, and returned to watching the water.

20 Heron

21 Bstoke Canal

Soon the Basingstoke Canal (above) branches off opposite the M25 overbridge. The pillars supporting the motorway have become canvases for urban art or, depending on your perspective, graffiti.

22 Overbridge

From here to New Haw lock there are moorings all along the far bank whilst the towpath is flanked by a road.

23 Moorings

Past New Haw the more rural feel returns for a short distance and the old flour mill at Coxes Lock is reached. Noted for its huge millpond, it dates from around 1776 and was built by the ironmaster Alexander Raby.  Initially it was operating as an iron mill producing hoops for use by coopers.

From 1829 it was milling corn and part was a silk mill, although the latter was soon abandoned. Corn milling continued until 1983.

24A Coxes Lock
This picture is from a postcard produced by the Avis Publishing Co. of Birmingham and dates from about 1905.

The mill was developed over time. In the 1890s a water turbine was installed that was capable of developing 40hp.  Later a steam engine was introduced and replaced water power. In more modern times steam was replaced by electric motors.

24 Coxes Lock
The Navigation was used to deliver grain until 1969 when the grain terminals at London Docks and Tilbury were closed.

The mill had long had its own railway sidings and, judging by their capacity, the bulk of the traffic for many year would have been by rail. The state of these grain hopper wagons suggest the loss of this traffic to lorries was imminent.

24B Coxes Rail

A few minutes pedalling took me to Town Lock and the bridge at Weybridge

25 Weybridge

  The navigation skirts the town but passes some exceedingly well manicured gardens

26 Garden

27 Garden 2

There are a number of weirs, sluices and water courses to be passed or crossed before arriving at the Thames Lock which is where the Wey Navigation joins the River Thames.

28 Bridge

29 Thames Lock

At the Thames lock there is a shed with a small display in it about the history of the River Wey Navigation.

Having stopped to take photographs along the way, and it being well into the evening, I made my way to the Thames path and rode it to Walton-on-Thames where I took to the roads for a faster journey back to Hampton Court station where I was able to take the train for the rest of my journey.

Somewhen I will go back and ride the last part of the navigation from the North Downs Way to Godalming – just to finish the job as it were.

If you have enjoyed this blog, please click the follow button at the top right of the page. Please also click on the like button. – Peter


End Piece

This Blog is Read Around the World

teign estury.png

O.K.  I’m new to the world of blogging and still have a lot to learn.  I’m learning as I go which has the drawback that mistakes and failures are made in public.

It’s nearly three months since I started blogging and time to review progress.  I’ve not yet aquired the number of followers I would like (or is that vanity speaking).  My target for the next three months has to be to improve that.  So if you know anybody who may enjoy my jottings, ask them to visit and click on the follow button on the right hand side of the page.

What I thought may interest you, is where viewers of this blog come from – and that is the purpose of this short post.  Below is a screengrab from the WordPress hosting site. It shows that so far the site has been visited by viewers in 21 different countries.


As it is thick damp mist outside – a picture fom a warm day in May 2011.  Other users of the South West Coastal Path – taken near Dodman Point in Cornwall.

Dodman horse.jpg


Riding on Water – the bike that thinks its a boat


I came across Dhruv Boruah and his Shuttlebike Kit equipped bamboo bike, whilst I was walking along the Regents Canal last Saturday afternoon.  The Shuttlebike Kit is produced by SBK Engineering based in Italy, and I just had to stop and watch him assemble, launch and ride (sail?) it along the canal. He was gathering plastic waste which was brought back to the bank for proper disposal.

One of the reasons he does this is to raise awareness about the amount of plastic in the environment and the impact it is having. When you reach the end of this blog, and hopefully decided to ‘follow’ me (if you’re not doing so already), I would encourage you to click on the link to a short video of a presentation on the subject by Dhruv Boruah. There is also a link to his ‘The Thames Project’ website.

The Shuttlebike Kit for your bike can be carried to the launch point in a backpack.

Rocking up

A steel frame to mount the sponsons, or floats, is bolted to the frame of the bike.

Frame on

A wheel driven air pump is used to inflate the floats which are then attached to the frame.  Fishing nets are hung from the bike rack to hold the plastic items collected from the water.


The propulsion mechanism is a pneumatic drive unit fitted to the front wheel, and powered by the same wheel driven pump as is used to inflate the floats. Turning the front wheel of the bike turns the angle of the propeller creating the necessary thrust to steer the Shuttlebike on the water.


A final check of the equipment and a life jacket for the ‘rider’, and the aquabike is ready to launch.

Ready to goLaunch

As it entered the water, the Shuttlebike was immediately being blown away from the towpath by the breeze. Fortunately, the mooring rope had been kept hold of and it was quickly retrieved. Then it was litter picking time.

On the water 1On the water 2

Unfortunately, I couldn’t wait to see him return with his ‘catch’. My memory of taking a boat along this section of canal, is of having to go in the water to clear the prop.  These days it appears to have less junk in it, but still has waste and rubbish floating around and impacting the wildlife in particular.  Of even more concern should be the quantity of plastic particles which can’t be seen, but are polluting that ecosystem.


This video,” Why Plastic Pollution is More Than the Last Straw” is a presentation given by Dhruv Boruah earlier this year


The Thames Project Website

If you are tempted to purchase a Shuttlebike Kit, do think about the safety aspects as well and take advice as necessary. The Canal and River Trust have a Water Safety page on their website.  If you look at some of the places Dhruv Boruah has taken his Shuttlebike, remember that he has been an ocean going yachtsman and, for example, when he was on the Hudson River had marine VHF radio. For most people, taking a Shuttlebike onto open water should not even be a consideration.

On most of the UK waterways, vessels have to be licenced.  A good starting point for advice on this is The Canal and River Trust Customer Support Team.

If you wish to explore the canal network, one of these maps may help you to decide where to go next.

To find out more about the Shuttlebike Kit

shuttlebike 2

If you have found this blog post interesting, please click on the ‘Follow’ button and follow me. If you don’t wish to do that, perhaps you would be good enough to click on ‘Like’.

Many thanks,  Peter.

Day and Night



Autumn – The Time to Prepare for a Wonderful Winter.


The clocks have gone back, All Hallowstide is past, the Dorset Horn sheep are having their autumn-born lambs and Remembrance Sunday is almost upon us.  I no longer work on the land, but that sense of the need to prepare for Winter remains.

I can happily spend an hour preparing walking boots for winter. These are mine – with broken lace fixing and split stitching the middle pair are really past it – but old friends I turn to for the comfort of the familiar.


Boots don’t really need too much care and routinely I tend to use what is to hand. This might be ordinary brown shoe polish, or rubbing some of the saddle treatment, that I use on a leather bicycle saddle, into the stitch lines of the boot. In the Autumn I tend to use Nikwax Fabric & Leather Proofer as it does its job without softening the leather too much, which would lead to the boot losing its form. It can be sponged on and worked into the stitching. I also concentrate on the lace fixings as these can oxidise and become brittle.

Being a creature of habit, I tend to wear the same style of outer shell coat all the time when I’m walking. The newer ones are fine, but some of the older patched ones, which I wear if I think a coat is likely to become scuffed up, have become far less water repellent.  These I wash, and then use ‘Tech Wash’ to add water repellant quallities. This is also a good time to make sure any patches are still sound.


Aging joints mean that I, and some of those around me, use walking poles especially if our route involves significant climbs and descents. Somehow we seem to have collected more poles than we have hands to hold them. This time of year I disassemble them to check they’re clean and dry and working properly.  They then get moved indoors so that no condensation forms within them as this would lead to the insides of the tubes oxidising.  As the adjusters in most walking pole us friction to maintain a height setting, don’t be tempted to lubricate them as this will lose the friction.


In summer we tend to have rubber feet to slide over the tips of the poles when walking on a hard surface. This is to prevent excessive wear or, if being honest, to avoid the annoying tap tap tap sound.  One or two will probably have been lost over the summer so it is a good time to obtain replacements.  Leki have a maintenance guide here: Leki_Care_and_Maintenance.pdf

My bicycles have also had a once over to.  The chains have all been cleaned, checked for wear, and re-lubed with a wet lube – don’t forget to remove the excess. I tend to use dry lube in summer and wet in winter.  I have a good stock of the latter, but as it is used-up I’m purchasing ‘green’ alternatives.


I check all the bearings on each bike. Bearings do wear or become loose. If nothing is done then dust and grit can get in and bring about their early demise.  Knowing how long it has been since they were fitted, or last received attention, is vital in deciding what action to take. If I find a bearing that is loose and I’ve no reason to suspect excessive wear, then I just pinch it up to remove the slack.

On the other hand, my off- road  bike recently had a bit of play in the hub of a wheel that was built well over four years ago, and had been used to travel several thousand miles.  In that case I popped the wheel into Blue Door Bicycles at Crystal Palace for a quick hub service.  In fact the existing bearings were retained but I have the peace of mind of knowing that the hub is back pretty much to as-new condition.

A check over of all the cables on the bikes identified a front mech cable that was beginning to break and fray at the point it was secured to the mechanism itself.  It may have served another few months but I replaced it anyway.  The rest of the cables and the operating levers were all checked. The modern cables don’t really require lubricating but I treat them with a lube containg either silicon or teflon.  This is about protecting the cable from moisture as much as anything else..


One bike needed new brake pads front and rear.  As it is running wheels with carbide impregnated rims, I ordered some pads from my local bike shop to replace the ones I was taking from my stash.  As they seem to have a shine on them, I replace the back pads and use them for a few days until they work well, before changing the fronts. I learnt years ago that some of the large chain cycles shops will still try and sell standard pads to use on a carbide rim. Local independent cycle shops who want to keep you as a customer are invaluable when you want proper help.

The off road tyres had a few cuts and nicks and were getting worn so I decided to replace them with some Shwalbe Rocket Rons. Not necessarily my first choice but available at a very good discount if bought as a pair.


The off-road bike has some basic suspension forks fitted.  The rubber gaitors started coming off the fitting after about 4 years. I found that a spray with silicon spring and autumn stopped that. It doesn’t appear to have had any detrimental effect.  I suggest that you first check for safety and service advice on the manufacturer’s website for the forks you use,  before considering the same.

The touring bike has a Brooks leather saddle. This has saddle cream rubbed into it, including the underneath which can get all sorts of crud splashed-up on to it.  A tin of Brooks own brand saddle cream came with the saddle and that is what I use.


I can get a bit fixated on lights. This time of year I stock up on batteries and check that rechargeable lights or batteries are indeed holding a charge.  When using rechargeable lights or battery packs, I will also have a small traditional battery light to use should the journey last longer than the charge in the battery.  The light are all inter changeable between bikes.

I recently fabricated (for fabricated read bodged) a new rear lighting setup for my touring bike. It now sports a large reflector and two Cateye LD610 lights (1 old style, 1 new)

Blights 1

Below are some of the front lights I use.  The Cateye on top illuminates the way ahead whilst the two underneath are focused on the kerb, gutter, ditch; one immediately in front of the bike and one further ahead. Most of the time I just use the light on top but put the others on if cycling in unlit country lanes; or if riding through the night in which case I use the lights in sequence to avoid changing battery packs.

F Lights

The picture below was taken whilst riding the C2C about 1992 and shows that my desire for plenty of rear lighting is nothing new. Those Ever Readys had been adapted so that the output from a dynamo could be plugged into them. They had voltage regulators and halogen bulbs fitted. Later in the trip we rode out of York early one morning in thick mist with HGVs rushing by.  I was stuck at the back hoping the lights would be seen, and that no vehicles strayed into the bike lane. Everyone was pleased to stay in single file close to the kerb that morning. This was a newish bike at the time; one of the most comfortable to ride I have ever had – eventually it was stolen despite being secured with two D-locks.  I see I had forgotten to swap out the road mudguards before setting off.

B Light 2

The helmet I wear has an integrated rear light and a Lezyne white light on the top.

I quite often make linear rides that use a train to return from the end point. I hate seeing cyclists putting muddy bikes on trains and then sitting on seats still wearing mud splattered clothing.  I carry a Superlite Windshell from Polaris Bikewear with me. It weighs next to nothing, requires almost zero space, and can go over whatever filthy kit I’m wearing.  I also usually have something warm and slightly baggy I can slip over my bottom half.  The small extra effort to carry these around is worth it for the warmth and ease of getting home.

My summer and winter gloves are from the Polaris ‘Really Bright Stuff’ range.  From the same range I have some fluorescent arm warmers, which I tend to wear riding around town at night, to be seen when I’m indicating my intention to turn right, more than for warmth. With gloves I’m not really bothered about padding, but more interested in the protection they give to the palms of the hand if I come off the bike.  If you break a shoulder blade or wrist it is often still possible to ride after a fashion. Flay the skin of the palms of your hands and you can’t hold or touch anything, Oh yeah, you had better hope that there is someone at home to help with your personal care as well!


I’ve also dug out my overshoes for winter use.  These are for warmth on really chilly days as much as for keeping the feet dry. With them I found a skull cap, again from Polaris, which not only stops the the headaches from a frozen skull, but comes well down over the ears as well. I find it fits well under a helmet – but if you don’t wear a helmet it has fluorescent stitching to help your head stand out over the top of any cars that may be obstructing the view of other road users.  It is my must have piece of winter kit.

First aid

We have various first-aid kits which, depending what we are doing, get taken out with us. Whilst doing the winter prep I also check whether these require restocking, and that nothing in them is too out of date.

My membership of Cycling UK gets renewed about now so part of the Autumn routine is to make sure that happens. I have never needed the third-party insurance or legal advice service that comes with membership – but I wouldn’t want to be without it.




As a teenager I loved Autumn. Harvest was over, autumn sown crops were in the ground, and it was time to tidy up for winter.  Most years this involved spending three or four weeks laying hedges, checking fences and digging out ditches to ensure they were all clear for the winter run off.

This year as we approach the 100th anniversary of the ending of ‘The Great War’, I was reminded of this.  Each year ‘Old Bert’, as he was known to all, would come back to the farm for a few weeks to help with these tasks.  He was a veteran of that conflict.  Together he and I would set out in the morning to clear and cut and peg and hammer and dig.

He never spoke much of that war; well, not about the actual fighting.  The scars that it had left him with couldn’t be hidden.  Over breaks for a cup of tea or lunch, he would speak bitterly of the politicians of the time; angrily about the generals that sent boys to war and into skirmishes or battles they were not prepared for; and sadly of all who died.  The way he spoke, at times you could imagine that for him the ordinary soldiers of both sides were a joint army that lost a war, to an army comprising all the generals and politicians of both sides.

Having been bombed out of his home in the Second World War, Bert lived a quiet life with his wife in a prefab home built immediately after that war to address the housing need. His friends, he told me, had all joined up on the same day as he had. They had joined the same company in the county regiment, trained together, and gone to war together. He lived a quiet life because he had had no friends left, nor sought any more, since April 1918.

When he talked of the war, he would tell me, “it was hell”. He would turn away to try and mask the pain on his face. The few times he mentioned his friends he never did that, nor did he wipe the tears away – perhaps that would have been to deny them.

On Sunday we will attend the service of remembrance at the local memorial as we do each year. I never knew Bert’s friends, any more than I knew my great uncles who came back from Australia to fight – but we will remember them; and him.


Bikes, Trikes; and going Full Fat for Frozen Fitness.

Cycle Show

During a visit to the recent Cycle Show at the NEC, at one stand I was taken back to the days of the eighties and nineties when bicycle design and evolution was being driven by world class innovators and designers.  Bicycles from the past were examined again by designers who were looking back at other eras, for solutions that could be adapted to provide an answer to contemporary design hurdles. At the same time, riders were keen to explore new machines and styles of riding.


This loft-find Arthur Waller ‘Kingsland’ bike, currently awaiting conservation work at Blue Door Bicycles, has twin tapering tubes. replacing the seat tube. to facilitate a shorter wheelbase design for hill climbing. Designed at the end of the 1940’s, it typifies the kind of details that were providing inspiration.

This new wave of interest developed a subsidiary culture, epitomised by the launch of the Jim McGurn edited Bike Culture Quarterly and, later in the nineties, Recumbent UK.

Perhaps the best-known bikes from that era are Graham Obree’s ‘Old Faithful’, famously incorporating washing machine parts, with which he won the 1 hour record; and the Mike Burrows designed Lotus superbikes with which Chris Boardman won an Olympic gold medal and later also took the hour record.  When the hour record bikes from Merckx in 1972 to Boardman in 1996 are looked at, this evolution in design, materials and riding position can clearly be seen. I’ve omitted the bikes used by Miguel Indurain and Tony Rominger.


The story of Graham Obree and his bikes can be found in the film, ‘The Flying Scotsman’, based on the book with which it shares a title.  It really is the story of a slightly eccentric inventor working in his shed. Boardman’s contrasting story, as a rider and director of British Cycling, can be found in his autobiography. He continues to be an innovator with the newly opened Boardman Performance Centre at the cutting edge of developing rider performance.


In 1994 the sport’s ruling body, the UCI, outlawed the ski-tuck position used by Obree and praying mantis position used by Moser. This led to riders using the superman position with the arms out in front – illustrated on the cover of Obree’s book above.  In 1997 they changed the rules so that bikes once again had to be similar to that used by Merckx.  This brought an end to developments like the monoblade front “fork”, examples of which had been produced by Burrows for both the Obree and Boardman bikes as well as his own ‘Ratcatcher’ recumbent. Innovation was now firmly back in the realms of smaller independent companies or designers, and keen amateurs.

In the UK, Cresswell Engineering were producing the Rapide, a long wheelbase recumbent bike with underseat steering taken over by Pashley, the Kingsburys sold about 500 Kingcycles, whilst others were supplying a range of short and long wheelbase recumbents with above and below the seat steering.


These bikes were taken to extremes of design and performance under the auspices of the British Human Power Club, who produced a booklet on how to build a recumbent for very few pounds. A similar book can still be purchased today from their website.

HPV Book

This was a challenge taken on by many amateurs, some adapting proprietary bikes such as this Moulton based machine photographed around 1993.

Moulton recumbent

Artisan frame builders were re-engineering designs from the past – like the Suttons building new Pedersen based on original designs, in their midlands engineering works.  When Dr Alex Moulton brought out the space frame design, which to my eyes had at least an echo of the Pedersen; oh, did I want a Moulton Speed S with its polished metal frame.


My favourite recumbent bike to ride from that the era was the Kingcycle. As someone who never came to terms with under-seat steering, my brain could cope with the handlebars in a semi traditional position. Although I never owned one of my own, I did get to ride one from time to time. As somebody with a large frontal area, I loved the aerodynamic efficiency that came from riding in a recumbent position.  When the front fairing and rear box were fitted, the air resistance was reduced even further.  It may have been purely psychological, but riding a Kingcycle fully fitted out like this gave a sense of having more presence on the road.


Unfortunately, I have lost my photo albums and negatives from this period, so some of these pictures are from the scrap pile which did survive.  The following picture is of four Kingcycles, with contrasting levels of fairing. From about 1992, they show what good use could be made of a carpark when supermarkets were closed all day on a Sunday.

racing kcycle

I spent one memorable evening during that period sitting, with about 40 other people, in a room listening to, first, Alex Moulton, and then Mike Burrows, talk about bike design. It was a convivial evening that went well beyond the allotted time. The question time at the end really was a case of two great engineers and bicycle designers, of different generations, openly sharing with, and inspiring, potential designers, riders and politicians of the next.

Various cargo and multi-use bike platforms were available particularly from European manufacturers. It is in recent years, however, that these have become more popular in the UK. Delivery services using cargo bikes are available in major cities now, and can be booked by app rather like an uber cab.  I regularly see a Tern ebike, similar to the one in this picture but with child seats bolted to the deck, being used to take two young children to nursery.


The use this Surly was being put to, as seen at this year’s Cycle Show, appealed a little more.


Back to the last century. With new materials and equipment becoming available, a whole new range of design concept became realisable. Some designers were exploring recumbents with a tricycle concept.

John Bradshaw (one of the founders of Cyclefest) and his Team Martin even appeared on the BBC flagship science programme, ‘Tomorrows World’. Their trike, the Avant, had a single front wheel with hub centred steering. Uniquely (Flevobike fans might disagree) it had a pivot mid-way along it so that the front part, carrying the rider, could bank side to side separately to the load carrying area behind.  This allowed the rider to aid the steering by leaning into corners like a traditional bike.

My pictures of this recumbent trike are gone, but I do at least have the memory of one evening, whilst staying with John, riding the Avant around in the road outside his house. At the risk of being indiscrete, his garage was like my idea of a mancave, before mancaves were known as that.  A Morgan car – Canadian spec, vintage Arial motorcycles, a 19th Century ordinary (penny farthing), a Kingcycle and a Pedersen; are just some of the items I recall. A rather special mancave me thinks.


Some other recumbent trike builders experimented with a traditional trike layout but with rear-wheel steering; perhaps the most advanced being the Sidewinder with its differential and twin disk brakes. This layout never really worked and the ‘tadpole’ shape with two front and one rear wheel became the norm.

In the more traditional trike world some designers were also experimenting with this format for touring trikes. From memory Derek Shackles was producing a model with an Ackermann type steering geometry.


Whilst other designs such as the AnthroTech or Rubicon were available, the main designs I saw around the UK at that time were the Greenspeed imported from Australia, the Mike Burrows  ‘Windcheetah’, and the Peter Ross/Crystal Engineering ‘Trice’.  The picture below is a Windcheetah being piloted by someone who follows this blog.


The Windcheetah and the Rubicon had the rear wheel fixed on one side only and joystick style steering and controls. Predominantly these were built for speed with fully enclosed versions of the Windcheetah being seen on the racetrack.  Another had a small jet engine attached to it!

The Greenspeed and Trice were designed to be more utilitarian and designed to be fitted with rear racks. The Trice could even be supplied with a rear box as an accessory item. To be fair Greenspeed went on to produce the faster ‘Aerospeed’. Over the last couple of decades, in some cases driven by the growth in paracycling competition, design and performance of the recumbent trike has developed rapidly.

So, what was it at the Cycle Show that brought these memories back? It was the ICE or Inspired Cycle Engineering stand.  A brilliant range of recumbent trikes but with some tiny part of the DNA of Peter Ross’ Trice still visible.


Besides building the Trice in the UK, deals were negotiated for it to produced under licence in the USA and China. Ross was also working on designs for a multi person pedal propelled vehicle.


With Peter wanting to retire, in 1998 Inspired Cycle Engineering, or ICE, was established By Neil Selwood and Chris Parker and bought the rights to the Peter Ross designs which they then produced.

Leap forward 20 years and WOW.  Forget Britain being the centre of excellence for Formula 1 or the country that gave the Landrover to the world.  The human powered equivalent of both of these can be found in Cornwall and the trikes produced by ICE.  If you watched any of the cycling from the recent Invictus Games in Australia, you will have seen not only inspiring racing and sportsmanship, but ICE trikes being raced “full gas”.

Many machines designed for performance are ugly, whilst other become objects of pure beauty. Quite definitely in this latter category is the ICE VTX Black.  And don’t be thinking that it’s all fur coat no performance.  It was the winner of the Multi-Track class at the World HPV Championships which, this year, were held in Kent. That makes it the fastest trike in the world this year.


ICE also make trikes for touring or general poodling about. For that you may want to look at their Adventure range. The bike in their range I was drawn to (and subsequently been on their website to spec and cost), was the Full Fat.

When I sat on the Full Fat it was so comfortable, forget riding it – I want one to replace my favourite chair. It also brought a smile to my face; it made me grin.  Oh yeah, it also holds an amazing record.  Five years ago, Maria Leijerstam rode an early Full Fat from the edge of the Antarctic continent to the South Pole in 10 days, becoming the first person ever to make that journey entirely by pedal power. That makes it the first, only, and fastest bike to be used in achieving that feat – a sort of triple record in one.

Pole Book Full Fat

If you hadn’t already guessed it, the Full Fat is high up on my bicycling bucket list.  Perhaps a trip to Cornwall and a test ride is on the cards.  How would I get one home do I hear you ask? ICE trikes fold up niftier than your average golf trolley.


Before you go, it would be appreciated if you ‘liked’ this page. It would be brilliant if you shared it on your social media. You could become a shining star in my digital firmament by choosing to ‘Follow’ me. Many thanks, Peter.

Bikes and Beer – or how to have a night out for a fiver.

Last Wednesday evening I attended a lecturette on Adventure Cycling by Barry Godin. It was hosted by Cadence Performance Centre at Crystal Palace. All it cost was £5.00 and there was a free beer and sweets thrown in as well.


Barry Godin is not only a keen bikepacking adventurer, but an enthusiastic advocate for the sport. He spends a lot of his spare time cycling many of the remoter parts of the UK, as well as trips to foreign parts.  We were treated to an entertaining evening that explained what bike packing is, and what sort of kit you need to bikepack,  Adventure cycling is what we used to call cycle camping, but using modern bikes that are better equipped and adapted for more rugged terrains.


At the end of this blog I’ll put some links to Barry’s social media and video sites.  The latter are well worth a visit for, as we discovered during the evening, he is a keen film maker. Perhaps you would be good enough to follow this blog though before leaving.

It was as much the nature of the evening and what it wasn’t, as much as the content and delivery style, that made it enjoyable.

It was presented by an athlete; a former extreme mountain biker. He was not however, some imperious athlete whose maleness was so alpha that even the most dominant of silverbacks would quail in his presence. It was not a celebration of exotica – it included video of trips to Morocco and the Alps; but rides across Devon, Wiltshire and Scotland were talked of with the same enthusiasm.

During the evening we were shown the kit that Barry takes on his trips and a demonstration of how it all fits on his bike. This included how he can pack enough food to be self-supporting for two or three weeks. It wasn’t an exhibition of possessions – whilst for some items he may have suggested purchasing the best you could afford; for others he talked about things that people had made for themselves, or purchased from ebay. At least when it came to his underwear bag he coyly refrained from displaying the contents.  He had prepared and distributed booklets which not only gave his kit list, but the reason for including each item.

Barry Bike

The subject of wild camping was discussed and especially the limitations on where you can legally camp in England and Wales.  The impression I gained from Barry was that he’d not had a problem in this regard, but that he did choose where he camped with a degree of sensitivity.

If you want some help with this try visiting the wild camping page of There are other websites that are aimed at the novice wild camper that giver further advice.  My first trip was with an experienced wild camper who, before we set off, reduced my kit by a drastic amount. Lesson 1 learnt. (I still tend to walk or ride with too much, so perhaps it wasn’t lesson learnt).

I don’t think the words passed his lips, but what he demonstrated was that adventure cycling is accessible to all whatever the budget or level of cycling ability. What I liked was some of the philosophy behind the trips that he makes.

He introduced the concept of mini adventures. For him, the inspiration for these can perhaps be seeing a feature on a map, or an interesting picture of a place.

These are rides that can be made whenever one has two or three days available. This was illustrated with details of a trip made on the Kennet and Avon canal in Southern England. In this case he had camped actually on the side of the canal itself. Like myself, Barry is enthusiastic about the cycling possibilities offered by the UKs canal network.

Enfield island

In the past I have had various flirtations with the world of inland waterways.  Knowing that the water beneath the hull probably won’t come above your waist, and that dry land is only a few centimetres away, means that any excitement scores very low on the frisson scale of thrillingness.  Cycling the canals can be like that too. Yesterday I cycled 20 miles of the Lee navigation and, according to my satnav, gained less than 30 metres in height.

This does not mean that the canal network is without interest or not worth riding. You won’t get climbs (especially if you hitch a lift through any tunnels that a canal passes through), cliff-edge rides or technical descents. What you will get are well maintained traffic-free tracks across the length and breadth of the UK.


When the first railways were built they often followed the route of a canal so that they could compete for its trade.  As a result, many of the canals are easily accessed by rail at various points along their route, making linear rides far more practicable.  They give great access to the countryside although, on a sunny Sunday some canal paths become pretty congested with walkers, runners, people fishing, dogs, and parts of canal boat removed to facilitate repairs.


If there is a canalside café with a lot of bikes locked up outside, it usually means that the cake is worth stopping for.

Barry shared with us how he prepares for his mini adventures. This includes studying maps to find routes and places of interest, and then downloading the routes to his phone and bicycle satnav. The various aps that he uses can be found from his social media pages.  Attention to detail like this maximises the time riding and enjoying the environment through which he is passing. Listening to him, it is clear that maximising the time for film making is also important.  Just a warning – if you start watching his videos, an evening can quickly disappear.

I am so grateful that I went to a school where the geography master was a former RAF navigator with an obsessive interest in maps. He was a champion of Ordnance Survey and expected us to not only be able to identify the features on a map, but to understand the implications of those features. Lesson one was being given a map and told to identify which footpath you would probably want to wear wellington boots whilst walking it.  He was also a keen amateur meteorologist, but his predictions were best treated with scepticism.  50 years on, I still look at a map and try and visualise what the terrain may look like.  Google earth and satnavs are no substitute – in extremis in the middle of nowhere, a map doesn’t have a battery to go flat.

If you want to get to grips with maps, last week Ordnance survey published this book which may help you to hone your skills.

Map Book

For many of us, our working life includes accruing CPD points to show that we are keeping our knowledge and expertise up to date.  A few years ago I decided I should apply the same to some other aspects of life. This may have been influenced by being employed as a health and safety advisor, but included the purchase and study of a couple of Cicerone guides – Map and Compass; and, Mountain Weather.


Even just writing about this gives me a yearning for the intellectual challenge – when the weather gets really wintery then I think a couple of days in the hills with map and compass are called for.

As promised, some social media links for Barry Godin:



Yesterday I left the River Lee at Stratford as the setting sun was lighting-up the Lee Valley Velopark.