Safe cycling, safe walking, safe motoring. What’s the answer?

Shared use of roads by cyclists and motorists and of paths by pedestrians, cyclists and (sometimes) motorists is an issue that won’t go away in the UK these days.

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I’ve just read an online news snippet about BBC presenter Jeremy Vine being stopped by the police for cycling at 16mph on a path. His quote is “If cyclists are forced to travel at walking pace, they will return to the roads and mix it with trucks.” Local papers here in North Somerset have had a series of quite emotional letters from outraged pedestrians, who feel they are being pushed off the paths by cyclists; outraged cyclists, who feel that their lives are at risk if they are forced to cycle on roads and would like to be able to cycle on paths without being criticised; and outraged motorists, who cannot bear the fact that they sometimes have to slow down when there is a cyclist on the road.

The problem is that roads in the UK are often quite ancient, having developed from lanes where occasional horsedrawn vehicles made their slow and steady way between farms and settlements. Other than in new town developments where there is space to provide separate lanes for motor vehicles and for cycles, our roads are often narrow to begin with and then further narrowed by being lined with parked cars. All forms of transport are pushed into close and dangerous proximity.

We are all at risk. Far too many cyclists are killed on the roads – even one death is too many – but there are risks for pedestrians when people cycle on the path, much as cyclists would like to believe it is a risk-free activity. I know this to be true because as a small child I stepped out of my garden gate while waiting for my parents to go shopping and was knocked flat by a cyclist who was moving fast and couldn’t stop in time. I ended up in hospital having a head injury stitched, and the cyclist ended up in shock/trauma/guilt.

The best solution is sadly unachieveable in the short term: to have dedicated cycle tracks everywhere there are cyclists.  Much credit needs to go to the many organisations working to get safe cycle routes established, but there are planning issues in establishing route and usually funding issues too,  so they cannot be quickly built. In any case, they usually run between towns, so they rarely address the problem of how we can all safely share roads and paths in our towns.

I believe the short term solution arises from increased awareness, consideration for others and training.

Cyclists need to develop and use the same observation and anticipation skills as advanced mtorists – look to see what is happening around you and what think about what might reasonably be expected to happen next. If you are cycling down a residential path, anyone could step through a gate at any moment. If there are tall fences and hedges either side of a gate, you may not see someone until it is too late. If there is an adult with a pushchair ahead of you, they might have a toddler you haven’t seen, who might run in front of you. A person walking in the same direction as you may have sight or hearing problems, and may not be aware of you, even if you ring a bell at them.  If the route runs beside a beauty spot, people might stop suddenly or step to the side to look at the view, or to take a photograph. If you are approaching a corner, anything could be out of sight on the other side. Pedestrians are unpredictable – they veer across paths to head for a shop, pub, toilet, a chat with an old friend or to take a seat, so when pedstrians are about, you have have to expect the unexpected.

If it is dangerous for a cyclist to use the road and they switch to a path, they need to be aware of all the potential risks. While they are unlikely to kill someone if they hit them at 16 mph (unless the person has a weak heart and dies of the shock, or has brittle bones so sustains life threatening injuries in the fall, or falls badly and suffers a fatal head injury) the pedestrian can suffer nasty injuries. They can also get a fright from having a cyclist whizz past them at speed, and for the elderly or infirm this can make getting out for a walk a trial when it should be a pleasure and a health-giving activity.

To return to Jeremy Vine’s point ( “If cyclists are forced to travel at walking pace, they will return to the roads and mix it with trucks.”) I think that most reasonable people, including most police officers, wouldn’t expect to enforce a 5 mph limit if the cyclist is on an empty path with excellent all-round visiblity and there are plainly no pedestrians anywhere near. However if there are, or might be, pedestrians around they must be given priority on the path, and cyclists must make sure they can move out of the way or stop quickly if needed. Logically, that means going slowly, and a 5 mph speed limit sounds about right.

Road Safety training is generally available. If you aren’t confident about cycling safely, or feel that as a driver you need more training on how to safely  interact with cyclists on the road, make enquiries locally to see what is available for you. You can also get plenty of hints and tips from revisiting the Highway Code.

I walk everyday, drive occasionally and would love to cycle more. I really hope we can all work together to make sure we can use our roads and paths safely and enjoy getting out and about.

 

Good reasons to visit Clevedon

I have written often about the little things that make Clevedon such a nice place to visit:

the pier, the Curzon cinema, the windswept tree and the bandstand, the views, the walking, the nice people, the opportunities to spot places featured as locations in Broadchurch, the places to have a pint …

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but I haven’t talked about how well situated the town is for a visit en route from almost anywhere to the West Country or Wales, and now I really should, because we have just listed our house on Airbnb and we are hoping for bookings! Why have we listed? Well, we have a beautiful house, with rooms that we don’t use unless we have guests, and so which are usually empty. Some lettings income will help to supplement our other earnings (freelance writing, art sales, pension) and offering some Bed and Breakfast facilities may also help visitors to Clevedon, as there are not that many places to stay in the town.

Clevedon is well worth a visit in its own right, partly because the seafront is so unchanged from Victorian times, and partly because geography makes the place – the sunsets and the views across and down the Bristol Channel – just so picturesque. It’s also really handy for a day trip to Bristol, being just 15 minutes by car or 30 minutes by bus to Bristol city centre, and the glories of harbourside and the SS Great Britain, Clifton suspension bridge, the old city with the markets and lanes, and roughly a trillion great places to eat and drink.

If you fancy a road trip of Somerset, include Clevedon in a series of bed and breakfast stops, and take in the Cheddar Gorge, the Mendips, Glastonbury, Wells, Bath, Bradford on Avon, the Somerset Levels, Brean Down and many more places and attractions besides.

We are also perfectly placed if you are travelling to Cornwall from London or the midlands. It’s a long drive to Penzance, but from Clevedon it’s only about 2 and a half hours, so you arrive fresh and happy rather than tense and wrung out. The same thing applies for those travelling across to Tenby and the lovely Pembrokeshire coast in Wales.

There! Regional and personal promotion over. Maybe we’ll get to meet in person one day?

Red squirrels and the Lake District in September

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What a fabulous few days up in the lakes with lovely company and beautiful weather. There were so many photo opportunities, as the low, golden September light and still conditions made all the textures stand out and the colours sumptuous. I’m now sorting masses of material, and will be offering my favourite shots for sale through alecarte.com.

The good weather meant there were still plenty of tourists about, but the crowds of high summer have passed, so it was relatively easy to find parking places and secluded spots. And of course there are lots of opportunities to get right off the beaten track.

A particular high spot for me was seeing red squirrels in the wild around the charming little town of Cockermouth. I have seen them before, but only in wildlife parks. Recent efforts to support these natural British mammals seem to be working, and local people are making sure they have a habitat and can thrive. So lovely to see them running around, feeding up and preparing for the hard winter months! I didn’t even try for a photograph: I didn’t have the right kit with me, and I didn’t want to waste a moment of just enjoying the sight. We were too late to see osprey as they head for Africa once summer is over, and you have to try a bit harder for otters, I think, but maybe next time! We stayed at Rose Cottage guest house, and it was scrupulously clean, very comfortable and the breakfasts were excellent value. We will go again.

There were firsts for visiting some historical places too, and I really enjoyed Beatrix Potter’s house, Hill Top, and William Wordsworth’s childhood home on Main Street in Cockermouth. Hill Top was very busy – well, it’s a small house on a small plot and Miss Potter is eternally popular – so parking is limited, but it was well worth the visit. The atmosphere is exceptionally homely and warm, and the house looks just as it did when she lived there. We were able to park in the hotel car park next door – their tea room is busy with visitors to the village, and the view from their terrace is wonderful.

I don’t need to tell you how varied and exhilarating the opportunities for walking and cycling are. Miles and miles of stunning walks, and plenty of people taking full advantage!

Some of the roads need a confident driver and a suitable vehicle – Wrynose and Hardknott passes anyone? Steep (very), bendy (very) and narrow – single track with plenty of cars with nervous drivers comng in the opposite direction. A white-knuckle ride indeed, and I think we’ll consider hiring a 4×4 next time. And there will definitely be a next time!!

Tyntesfield North Somerset

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Lovely day out yesterday, even though it rained, at Tyntesfield House, near Wraxall, just south of Bristol. You’ll find it – just check a map! Very well worth a visit if you like classic houses and country walks. The picture shows the stone bench at one end of the long avenue of trees. The house itself is a glorious Victorian gothic creation, on the side of valley with fabulour views. The National Trust have been restoring it since 2002, gradually bringing back rooms into use.

The grounds are extensive, with long and short walks to choose from. As always, there’s a cafe, charmingly situation in an old cow barn and there are lots of things to discover in hidden away spots. I bought a couple of second hand books at bargain rates, and they had a very healthy selection of plants and herbs on sale. Usually you spot some wildlife too, and often there are buzzards circling around, but the weather yesterday was a bit damp for them.

The whole site is quite hilly, so if you want to explore properly you need to leave your heels in the car and switch to trainers instead!

 

A Cornish interlude (complete with mermaids)

It amazes me how the origins of stories and legends – such as the existence of mermaids or lands that can only be seen and reached at certain times of the day or year – can become crystal clear through a personal experience.

I wrote in a previous blog about the mysterious way that Wales, when viewed across the Bristol Channel, can either appear close enough to step across to, or can vanish completely. As another example, on our recent visit to Cornwall, I snapped this group of mermaids swimming past th harbour at St Michael’s Mount.

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It really did look like long red hair, streaming through the water, and so a legend is born … the mermaids of St Michael’s Mount!

Here’s a more prosaic picture, looking back across from the harbour to Marazion.

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We’ve been down to Cornwall several times visiting our good friends, who now offer holiday lets in The Cabin at Trenow and we are never anything other than entranced. There is always something breath-taking to see, including gorgeous cottages, fabulous land and seascapes and rare wildlife. Food and drink is in no short supply either, with pubs, cafes and super restaurants like Ben’s Cornish Kitchen (which you can almost see in the photograph) all delivering on quality and character. We ate at Ben’s one evening and had a delicious meal from a tempting menu. Each dish can be accompanied by a glass of a recommended wine, and the matching worked perfectly for me. My main course was a fairly straight forward dover sole, but the starter and dessert were both things I have never tried before: a light and airy gorgonzola mousse to start and a cold curry to finish (cardamom flvoured rice pudding, mango curd, coconut jelly, a little popadum and several other perfect little surprises. You’ll be wise to book, as the tables are well spaced and they only go for one seating per evening, so once everyone who had booked was in, the closed sign went up and we just ate and chatted in perfect surroundings.

Sorry to go on – I was getting carried away with the memories!

In short, if you don’t know Cornwall well, or haven’t been down towards Land’s End or the Lizard for a while, you really should try and get there. It is a fairly long drive right down the length of Devon and Cornwall, but takes just less than three hours from Clevedon – provided you don’t try and travel at peak holiday times (a Friday or Saturday in August, for example). Why not take a few extra days on the way down and back to break the journey with stops at Clevedon, or other lovely Somerset towns on the way?

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What makes your day?

Isn’t life sweet when you’re a simple soul? These are some of the little things that have really pleased me in the last few days.

1. Torrential rain.

Rain

Photographed from our window, it’s a sensory experience: the sound, the way the temperature drops and the change it the light. I love walking in a downpour too, but only if I’m on my way home to a shower and dry clothes!

2. Practically perfect pizza.

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Here it is, almost ready. Just a bit more browning on top and crisping up underneath. Especially pleasing as I made the dough by hand, and it was my most successful yet. Light and fluffy inside, crispy on the crust. Maybe a touch more salt for perfection. The garlic butter and parmesan rolls I made with the left over dough were fab too.

3. Bees!

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Just love them! So single minded, and they never bother you if you don’t bother them. I was pleased with the photo too, as a quick snap, and just a bit blurry as they can’t be persuaded to sit still and pose.

4. A perfect English summer day.

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We were at Myddleton House in Enfield (North London). A great place for people who like plants, kitchen gardens, old walls and stone work and lovely sunny days. I could have pointed the camera almost anywhere and liked the results. And …

5 Grass snakes

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This one was hunting at Myddleton House. We’d just walked past a pond, and I’d said the conditions were great for snake spotting – and there he (she) was! Head down a hole, and plainly engaged in swallowing something. After several minutes he (she) popped his (her) head out, with just the back legs of a frog still moving a little and sticking out between his (her) jaws. But the speed as he (she, but I’m getting bored with this now!) shot away through the plants and into a hollow log had to be seen to be believed. Poor frog, but what a treat to see. We felt just a little bit like David Attenborough as we snapped away.

What’s your top five from the last three or four days?

Gorge-ous walks and photo opportunities

Always nice to get out and about and see something new. Although we have lived in North Somerset for two years now, there are many places that many people will know very well that we are just discovering.

This weekend we went with our lovely family visitors up the Mendips, to Burrington Combe, where we enjoyed a short walk beside the gorge. Much less famous than the nearby Cheddar Gorge, there is a pub and a cycling centre at the bottom of the combe, but then just nature and local people living their normal lives. We parked in a small layby with several others cars and then headed off up the hill.

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Before we knew it we were beside the edge of the gorge with the rocky ribs showing through the thin vegetation clinging to the steep sides. We’d seen the small herds of goats from the car, but didn’t manage to spot any here: they are too canny and too agile to be approached too closely.

I photographed a carline thistle, which looked spikilly regal against the turf. Not a plant I have ever really noticed before, but one that I am glad to have seen.

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Fantastic views of further afield from the hill top, too. I can almost claim that I can see my house from here, as the view extends to Wales in the far distance, with the Bristol Channel and Clevedon and then the flat country which spreads out in front of the Mendips.

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We went on the the lakes at Chew Stoke for a completely different sort of walk – water birds, reeds and trees – before heading back to Clevedon.

The evening was so beautiful that we went off for our third walk of the day, round by the marine lakes and then up the hill. Here’s the view of the Mendips from Clevedon …

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and here’s the last shot I took of the setting sun with some fishermen and walkers obligingly silhouetted against the sky. Love the way the sun looks!

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Some of the featured photographs are available to buy at my RedBubble shop – MagsArt. You can buy them as framed or unframed prints, cards, prints to metal, cushion covers, tote bags … the possibilites are endless!

It’s so easy to walk and maintain fitness levels if you are enjoying what you are doing, and although we must have walked well over 6 miles in total, several of which were up and down hills, we hardly noticed the distance. For ideas on how to start walking your way to health, and have fun while you are doing it, see my Kindle book A beginner’s guide to walking for pleasure. It’s ASIN number is B00L3D7ENY, and it’s available to borrow free if you are a member of Amazon Prime.

Places to go, things to see …

Tredegar backdoor

Tredegar House, Newport … I’d never heard of it, or thought of going, I must be honest, but our good friend Claudia is visiting this weekend, and we all have National Trust membership which we don’t use enough. I was checking the nearby properties that we could drop in and see, and  the decision was made.

It’s a fairly easy drive from Clevedon, up the M5 to the M49 and then the M4, over the Severn Bridge and then on to Newport. Like most people, I love going over bridges. It’s partly the architecture/engineering and partly the views, so any trip that involves a bridge or two is off to a good start.

Tredegar House is just off the M4 and has lots of easy parking. It addition to being easy to get to, I must say that it has something for almost everyone, whether you like looking at formal gardens, feeding the ducks on the lake, picnicking in the park or kicking a ball around – or, of course, looking at stately homes. This one has had several incarnations, including a spell as a school, so it’s interesting to see the layers of history and how the different eras merge and, indeed, emerge. The suite of rooms that constitute the kitchen and household management zone are particularly impressive: separate rooms for pastry preparation, meat preparation, a still room as well as a scullery and the main kitchen.

The cream teas are great too! Well worth a visit. 

Much enjoyment to be had earlier in the weekend too, with an enjoyable visit to Clifton, and a look at the camera obscura in the observatory. My companions didn’t fancy the trip down into the Giant’s Cave, so I’ll save that for next time. Great wildlife watching opportunities in the Avon Gorge, with a pair of kestrels almost persuading me they were peregrines … And a drink on the terrace of the White Lion Bar, behind the Avon Gorge Hotel. Fabulous! There was a wedding party having photos near a fabulous old car, and students in gowns – for graduation photos of course. As always, lots to look at. 

Lots to enjoy in Clevedon too, with a stroll along the shops on Hill Road and across the park to the pier, as well as a very nice pizza at Scoozi’s.

The great thing about getting out and about is that you burn off a few calories and get some exercise almost without noticing it – and certainly without minding it. As I say in my book (A beginner’s guide to walking for pleasure, available now on Kindle ASIN  B00L3D7ENY) find something you like doing – such as walking in interesting places – and it is much easier to switch to a healthier life style than it is if you try to make yourself take exercise that you don’t enjoy.

 

Something not to miss … One Man and His Cow

Just a quick post to say I’m delighted to see that there are lots of dates for the new Theatre Orchard show One Man and His Cow in and around North Somerset and Bristol and, indeed, East Anglia and Yorkshire too. I’m a new fan, but having seen the fantastic The Devil and The Shopkeeper in March, I am hooked. You can see my blog in the archive. All I can say is, check the availability and see them if you can. But please make sure you save a seat for me!

Neil Finn – What a show!

Just back from  seeing Neil perform at the Colston Hall in Bristol (and an overnight stay at the Novotel in the city centre).

Such a fabulous show. People love Neil as well as loving his music, so there is always a great, friendly atmosphere at his concerts. He is such a generous performer, who loves interacting with the audience, and overall it feels as though you are getting together with your mates for the best party ever. It’s probably all the better if you know his work in Split Enz, Crowded House and other collaborations, so you can join in with the sing-along bits, but the man is so brilliant that it would take a very miserable concert-goer not to have a whale of a time.  Fantastic to end the show with a sing along (that’s where knowing the greatest hits helps), so we can all say “I’ve sung with Neil Finn!”.  Catch the tour if you can. That’s all I can say.

While I’ve lived in the area for a while, I have to admit that this was my first visit to the Colston Hall, and I really enjoyed it. It’s easy to get to, has a good selection of bars, and plenty of space in the stylish atrium. There was a free performance for a local musician in the atrium before the main performance too, so the whole experience felt like great value.  Nice to to meet my brother and sister-in-law who had bought tickets independently from us and ended up in the same row, just a handful of seats apart.

I must just mention the Shakespeare Tavern in Prince Street too. We’ve been there a few times now when we’ve been in town and it’s a lovely pub. Good food, great beer and a good central location. Check it out next time you are in town. Handy for Queen’s Square, the Old City and Harbourside, so it fitted in well during our afternoon stroll around, doing a bit of shopping and a bit of sight-seeing. We always come across buildings we’ve never seen before and examples of fantastic architecture. Just fabulous.

We chose to go by bus, to be as green as we could, but I can see why people use cars. The journey there from Clevedon was quite quick on Saturday on the X6, but coming home this morning we had to use the X8, and it is such a long way round, looping through Nailsea about three times before nipping into Clevedon. A hour plus to go ten miles!  Here’s to the time we have a quick bus seven days a week.

I feel that you deserve a picture, but I don’t have one at hand of Bristol, so here’s a view of Hill Road in Clevedon instead! Oh – and thanks to my lovely daughter, Louise, who gave me the tickets for my birthday.

Hill Road