Hymns, arias and farcical football in the land of my father

(actual date of posting – 2 December)

Match fourteen – vs Swansea City (away)

Lost 4-5 (yes, really)

492.9 miles

Total mileage 3,252.2

I was particularly looking forward to this trip.  Heading west meant new territory; the experience of cycling over the (old) Severn Bridge; and the chance to cycle through South Wales where my father was born and grew up.  I was also looking forward to staying in Bristol with a friend I haven’t seen much of lately.

When I’d got the bike out of the garage to set off for the previous match (home to Manchester City) I’d found the front tyre was flat.  The same happened as I got the bike out for Swansea, which was a bit irritating: it had been fine when I’d given the bike it’s pre-ride clean and oil the day before.  From then on the front tyre caused me no problems on the whole trip.  The back one on the other hand…

The late start wasn’t a great issue.  I had a relatively short day planned (at under 70 miles) and the weather forecast had promised an easterly wind to push me along.  And so it proved as I raced through 49 miles in under three hours before stopping for lunch just past Reading.  The first 37 miles had followed the same route to and through Windsor as on the way to Burnley.  The routes diverged at Twyford – I went straight on when previously I’d turned right towards Henley and the post Henley hill.  From then on it was new territory.

I had a nice leisurely lunch.  I probably should have resisted the cheesecake, as it sat heavy in the afternoon – but thankfully I only had 15 miles to do to the Carpenters at Burghclere, near Newbury.  I’ll stick to Victoria sponge in future.

I made good time again the following morning, though I couldn’t quite match the 16 mph average of the first day.  Lunch was the obligatory couple of pints of coke to wash down a sandwich and chips (I’m not sure why pubs always seem to serve chips with sandwiches, but I wasn’t going to complain).  I learnt from the previous day and resisted desert, before rolling through the final 20 miles to Bristol and my friend Martin’s house.  The route had taken me off road onto the Bristol to Bath Railway Path.  My previous experience of such off-road routes has been, shall we say, mixed, but this one was great.  It was properly tarmacked and took me past old railway platforms and through old tunnels.  It was a great way to enter Bristol.

Beer, stew, wine and whisky sustained us through an afternoon and evening of catching up and discussing the ins and outs of guinea pig husbandry (Martin had just adopted one called Marshall from a friend of his).  Martin’s an expert on Latin America, so it was something of a relief for me – and particularly for Marshall – that guinea pig wasn’t on the menu.

Friday was my longest mileage day of the outward journey.  As if feeding and watering me the previous evening and giving me a bed to sleep in wasn’t enough, Martin therefore got up early to ensure I could get away in good time with a cooked breakfast inside of me.

The start of my ride added to my collection of grounds-I-have-ridden-past-but-won’t-be-going-to-this-season as I went past Bristol City’s Ashton Gate.  It has been extensively redeveloped and was unrecognisable from my few trips there.  After that, the ride took me along the side of the Avon – under Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Clifton Suspension Bridge (I’m still trying to prove I’m related) – and then up the edge of the Bristol Channel.  Martin had warned me that it would be hard going in the wind and so it proved.  I realised after a bit that another reason for the struggle was that my back tyre had a slow puncture and had gone slightly soft.  A quick roadside inner tube change made a big difference, although frustratingly I didn’t pinpoint the cause of the puncture.

It was, therefore, slow going to the Severn Bridge.  I’d been worried about crossing the Bridge.  The cycle lane is right at the edge of the bridge, with the motorway slightly raised to your right and a single railing between you and a big drop on the left.  In the event, however, I loved riding across and enjoyed a great view across the expanse of the Bristol Channel down to the new Severn crossing.

My father is from Newport in South Wales.  My childhood memories of Wales are very much urban and industrial – my grandparents’ flat in Newport and visiting the docks and seeing the transporter bridge.  But my first views of Wales on this trip – once I was away from the main roads immediately after the crossing – were of beautiful rural countryside.  And, in complete contravention of stereotypical views, there was no sign of any rain.  (There were lots of sheep, mind you.)

My route then did take me into more industrial areas – past the Llanwern steelworks, where my grandfather had worked – and into Newport, going right past the aforementioned transporter bridge.  There are only two transporter bridges in the UK and I’ve ridden past both of them during this challenge.

I stopped for lunch in Cardiff – a Burger King with a great view of the castle – before continuing the journey across South Wales.  The contrasts between rurality and industrialisation continued and made this one of the most interesting rides so far.  As I got nearer to Swansea, fatigue started to set in and the riding became hard work.  Then I realised that part of the reason for the increased effort was that, once again, my back tyre had gone soft.  I made another tube change in the fading light, but again couldn’t identify the cause.

I made it to the guest house, which was right on the main road along Swansea Bay, shortly after dark.  After a nice Italian meal and the normal phone calls home I called it a night.

I woke up to a stunning sunny Saturday morning.  The view of the bay from my window was breathtaking and after breakfast I headed out for a walk along the beach and into the town centre.  My planned riding for the day was 3 miles each way to and from the Liberty Stadium, but it was such a nice day that I took a detour and rode a few miles round the bay to The Mumbles before heading for the ground.

I had my usual charity meet and greet at the ground, and Swansea let us and the bike onto the pitch for some photos.  They then kindly stored my bike in a storeroom just off the players tunnel.

Then there was the small matter of the match.  I can hardly bring myself to write about it.  Palace scored first, but Swansea equalised in the first half and then took a 3-1 lead in the second half.  Unsurprisingly, at this stage, their fans were in great voice as they belted out ‘Land of Our Fathers’, which always causes mixed emotions for me when I hear it sung by opposition fans rather than when supporting the Wales rugby team.

But one thing Palace have shown this season is the ability to claw back a two goal deficit away from home; and for the third time this season that’s just what they did.  Unlike the previous two occasions, we didn’t have to wait until injury time for the next goal.  Christian Benteke put Palace 4-3 up from close range.  Cue pandemonium amongst the Palace fans and a mass exit of Swansea fans.

But this is Palace.  And, more specifically, this is the 2016 vintage Palace.  Swansea equalised on the stroke of 90 minutes and scored again in injury time to win 5-4.

I wandered, shell shocked, past jubilant and barely credulous Swans’ fans back to the reception to get my bike. The man on the door asked if he could help (in a ‘I think you’re going the wrong way, mate’ kind of way).  I said I’d come to get my bike and he said ‘Oh, you’re the bike guy’ and let me through.  As I went to go through the double doors into the tunnel area I was stopped again.  Again I said I was here for my bike and again the response was ‘Oh, you’re the bike guy’.  He called across to his colleague to ask him to get my bike from the cupboard: his colleague replied ‘oh, is that the bike guy?’

Sunday was still dry, but the sun was now hidden in an overcast sky.  The weather change I’d hoped for – a 180 degree change in wind direction – did not materialise, so I faced a headwind.  It was a good morning’s ride and I did 58 miles before stopping for lunch in Newport.  Lunch took longer than I’d planned.  The pub was packed.  When I’d been told that it would be a 15-20 minute wait for a table, I figured that wasn’t too long and better than having to get back on the bike and find somewhere else.  Unfortunately, the 15-20 minute wait was more like 35-40 minutes and then I had a further wait before getting served.  But the food arrived quickly and while I’d rank the lasagne pretty low in the list of lasagnes I have had, it did fuel me well for the second leg of the day’s ride.

The cycle lane I had taken across the Severn Bridge allowed bikes in both directions, so I had assumed it was the only lane.  However, it turned out there was one on the other side of the bridge too (also with just a railing between cyclist and a big fall) and so I had a view the other way up the Channel on the return.  My route also took me a different way through the outskirts of Bristol and back to Martin’s.  About six miles from Martin’s I began to get the familiar feeling of pedalling through mush.  My rear tyre had gone soft yet again.  I decided enough was enough, and changed the tyre as well as the tube before finally making it too Martin’s a bit later than I’d hoped.

Martin once again did me proud.  There was more stew (vegetarian this time – Marshall was safe) more beer and more wine, before we headed out to a pub.  The pub provided more beer, live music, and a strange Spanish woman.  And we finished the evening back at Martin’s with more wine and whisky.

I’d thought Monday would provide a relatively easy day’s riding.  I was mistaken.  Even though it was only 72 miles, those miles were hard going.  I am going to maintain that that was because of the amount of climbing involved and the continued presence of headwinds and nothing to do with the amount we’d drunk the night before.  But after the overcast day on Sunday, the skies had cleared today and I was rewarded for my efforts with some quite stunning views, in particular of the North Wessex Downs.

Tuesday was the date of the annual Crystal Palace Supporters Children’s Charity Christmas Party for disabled children.  Janet has been one of the organisers of the party for coming on for 20 years; and I too have played a small part in recent years.  I wanted, therefore, to get an early start and make good time in the hope of getting to Selhurst Park in time to help with the setting up.

It was a beautiful but very cold morning when I set off – with my Garmin showing the temperature at -6C.  My winter clothes (it’s all about good gloves, overshoes, and lots of layers) stood up to the test admirably and I made good time.  I covered the 73 miles to Selhurst Park in one stint and made it by about 1.45pm: in time for the traditional fish and chip lunch to help pack the sacks of presents for the children.

The party was a great success.  Over the years, the level of support and attendance from players and management has waxed and waned.  We were worried that the current circumstances might have led to a poor turnout.  Quite the opposite.  Manager, assistant manager and pretty much all the first team squad were there, plus a couple of the Palace Ladies’ players.  The charity’s patron, Bill Nighy, was also in attendance.  From a personal point of view it was good to chat to a few of the players I had met after the Middlesbrough and Sunderland games and gratifying that they remembered me and what I was doing.

After the party, there was just the small matter of tidying up, helping Janet get our kids into the car, and then cycling the seven and a half miles home.

Finally, some pics…

Clifton Suspension Bridge in the morning20161125_085307

A quick breather before crossing the Severn Bridge

20161125_102149

Not a bad location for a Burger King20161125_124246

Sunset under the M4, near Swansea20161125_160825

View from my guestroom window, with me in the reflection20161126_081836

Swansea Bay on a sunny Saturday morning

You can tell this is pre-match, I’m smilingpitchside

My dad’s home town (or city, as it now is).  Random fact: the Welsh name translates as Newcastle20161127_122950

Newport Transporter Bridge20161127_130553

Clifton Suspension Bridge by night20161127_231132

Monday’s ride was hard, but worth it for the views

CPSCC Christmas Party – the team and the team (photos by the wonderful Hy Money)cspcc-party-teampalace-squad-at-party

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