Sunday, 5 July 2015

competitive cycling on the canal towpath

a melodious bell
I was walking with some friends along the canal at Bradford on Avon. So wrapped up were we in talk that we didn't notice the rather striking chap in tattoos and lycra, advancing on his bicycle. "SOME PEOPLE DONT SEEM TO LOOK WHERE THEY'RE GOING" he exclaimed, in what I can only describe as a petulant tone, as he forced his way through the group.

"I didn't hear your bell. USE YOUR BELL YOU NUMPTY!" I called after his receding form.

But answer came there none.

Of course, he didn't have a bell. Apparently it's unmanly to have a bell on your bicycle. Or something.

I'm all for shared use of the towpath, but there is a problem with some cyclists expecting all to jump out of their way, and, as has often been said, treating the towpath like a racetrack.

It's not just a figure of speech, either. Some cyclists are engaged in competitive riding on the towpath.

Strava is an app that records the journeys of its users. This section is the Bath to Bradford on Avon towpath. As you see, the latest high scorer, Martin D, managed an average speed of 32.1 km/h, or 19.95 mph, over this 13.4 km towpath, on June 25. Quite impressive, given the uneven surface and often very narrow path, and blind corners under bridges. Small wonder he's been awarded the title of King of the Mountain (KOM)....

I wrote to Sustrans on 23 April

Dear Sustrans,
I live on a narrowboat moored on the west end of the Kennet and Avon canal, and I am a cyclist. So I appreciate the use of the towpath as a cycle route; indeed, I find it hugely useful, if not essential. I’m also aware, through my own experience and that of my fellow boaters, of selfish and sometimes dangerous behaviour on the part of some cyclists. I’m prompted to write after a friend’s recent and particularly unpleasant encounter with an aggressive fast cyclist.
I’ve learned that Strava provides an app that allows cyclists to time themselves on specific routes, including the section of NCN4 that follows the towpath between Bath and Bradford on Avon, where this incident took place. As you will see from the Strava website, there is a competitive element to this app, with a league table and the titles of KOM and QOM for the leaders.
How does Sustrans feel about the towpath being used for this purpose, given that much of the towpath is narrow and entirely unsuited to fast cycling in an environment that contains pedestrians, children and animals? I understand that selfish cyclists are only a part of a wider social malaise; but for a company like Strava to foster competition among cyclists on a Sustrans route can surely only be a bad thing? 
Yours sincerely,
Dru Marland
I got a reply from Alistair Millington, Sustrans' area manager:

Dear Dru
Thanks for reporting this. We don't support the adoption of traffic-free sections of the National Cycle Network as Strava segments. We can flag this with Strava. I'm not sure whether that leads to its removal or a warning but I'll find out.
Best wishes, Alistair that was a waste of time, apparently. We can look forward to the next aspiring KOM attaining the 20 MPH average speed record, sometime soon.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

a morning badger

I put the kettle on, then steeped over to the open galley hatch. And froze. 

There on the bank opposite was a badger, drinking from the canal. Presently it turned and ascended into the wood, becoming invisible almost immediately in the undergrowth and the half-light of the early morning. 

For some time I heard it slowly truffling its way through the wood, in the general direction of home.

After my bucket of tea, I went up to the wharf, half a mile away. (When the hot weather began, I moved Eve to the shadiest spot I could find, in the shade of some great ashes and oaks. It's made a big difference to the temperature on board, which is now bearable). There are some wild cherry trees up there, and I'd noticed the day before that they had reached a peak of ripeness, some being deep red and some so deep that they looked almost black. One tree's fruit was quite sweet but a little bland; the next tree's fruit looked exactly the same, but was really sour, but with a strong flavour coming in behind the sourness. I thought it would be just the thing for putting in vodka...

The blackbirds were already busy in the tree; once wild cherries are ripe, they're gone in next to no time. They clucked petulantly and occasionally flurried at each other, even though there was plenty for everyone. A thrush darted up, plucked a cherry off on the wing, and returned to a chick, almost as big as itself, and presented it with the fruit.

I filled my Tupperware tub, and watched the martins that had begun wheeling over the housing estate over the water. Then there was a PLOP that is always worth investigating, and, watching the other bank, I saw a water vole swim along, then scramble out and start nibbling noisily at the reeds. Another one joined it. You could easily spot where they were, as the vegetation shook under the onslaught of their nibbles.

I got the camera out, then put my specs up on the top of my head, the better to see through the viewfinder. I turned, and PLOP. 

This time it was my specs.

Nothing else for it; off with shoes and leggings, and into the water. It was a great relief to find that the bottom was gravel, and not the slimy, foul mud that you often find down there. I guess the swash of many propellors had kept it clear. The water was just about waist deep. After ten minutes of probing with my toes, I found the specs and lifted them out.

And so home, to the second shower of the day.

Shame it was such a poor picture of the vole. Sometimes it's better just to enjoy the moment.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

the exhibition in Bath


Last week was the exhibition in Walcot Chapel, Bath, for Gypsy, Roma, Traveller (and Boater) Month, organised by Julian House in Bath. I was v busy painting in the run up to it, and displayed eight paintings, of which the one above, of Jacqui at home on Aster, is the latest.

I sat in on the exhibition for quite a while, and got to meet all sorts of interesting and interested folk. Here's Brian, whose granddaughter once owned Netty, the boat in this picture. She'd asked him to come along and say hello, as she is over in West Wales.

Here's Maggie Smith-Bendell, author of Rabbit Stew And A Penny Or Two, who came for the opening of the exhibition and talked about her life

...and here are Jenks and Helen, whose boat rides on Lady Lena are apparently the most romantic thing you can do. Ever. Helen is the sculptor. Connie and Sam, the organisers of the whole thing, are there on the right.

....and Katie, with her picture....

Kate at the helm

Sunday, 24 May 2015

wild times on the canal

Sitting out on the back hatch while the sun comes up; one of the joys of summer on the canal. If you keep still, you tend to get ignored by kingfishers and whatever else happens to be around, so you see lots. Yesterday morning I heard a clop, and turned, startling a roe deer on the towpath right next to me. It dashed back the way it had come, and dived into the canal, swimming across and scrambling up into the woods, where it did that disappearing trick that roe deer are so good at, only the white rump persisting a little longer, like the Cheshire cat's smile.

Up by the Sainsbury bridge in Bradford on Avon, a flight of steps ascends from the towpath to the road. I was heading up that way, and about to insert the front wheel of my bicycle into the ramp that allows you to get bikes up and down, when I saw a slow worm wriggling its unhurried way down.


I put the bike to one side and took its picture. A woman appeared at the bottom of the steps, pushing a pram with two small children in it. I told her about the slow worm, thinking the children might find it interesting.... they were more than interested; they picked it up and started to squabble over it, playing tug of war as I attempted to intervene without shouting at someone else's children, and the mother made ineffectual remarks; she evidently wasn't concerned about the welfare of the poor slow worm...


...and its tail came off and wriggled furiously. The brats were persuaded to deposit the creature in the grass, and led off crying. 

Hey ho.

Then there was the dog that came galumphing along the towpath, leaping into the water and emerging with a Huge And Very Dead eel. It dumped it by the side of my boat, and trotted away. Well, thank you.


I heaved it into the middle of the canal, and for the ret of the day it drifted to and fro in response to the vagaries of the water flow down the lock and up through the pump.... I began to contemplate means of sinking it or attaching it to a passing boat. But it was finally lost from sight and smell.

I hope.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Bath exhibition of canal art

June is Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month, and Bath-based charity Julian House is organising  some events in the Bath and North East Somerset area; one will be an exhibition of art, craft and photography by members of the gypsy, Roma, traveller and boater communities, at Walcot Chapel Gallery in Bath.

Some of my pictures will be included- I'm busily working on a series of paintings showing people and life on the cut (as we call the canal).

The Grey Hares

There will also be work displayed by Chris and Jinny, the wonderful Skyravenwolf team; also sculpture and photography (I shall add more details as I learn them!)

The exhibition will run from 22-28 June.

Here is the Facebook page for events in B&NES.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Every Mole Is Thunderbird 2 In Its Dreams

It would have been ungrateful to ask for a better morning. The sun was taking its time about clearing up the early mist and the light ground frost, because it had all day ahead of it.

I was out with the camera looking for the hares I'd seen dancing in the field next to the lock, the day before. I mentioned it to a hire boater; he put on that voice that Middle Class Men Of A Certain Type adopt when talking to someone they think is a loony or a member of the working class, and said "Oh! I must keep an eye out for them..." His loss.

No hares, but a dead mole lying on the bridge. I wondered how it had come to an end there; but it was saying nothing. I perched it on the bridge parapet and photographed it. I'd have taken it home to draw it but there were some tiny insects crawling on it, and I wondered if they might be mole ticks or something similar. After my deer tick experience some years ago, I was being cautious. 

I went back later, and the mole was gone.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

holding up a slightly dodgy mirror to nature

Sarah's Lister

My second picture in the new series; Sarah with her shiny Lister, newly-rebuilt and painted red. I was quite pleased with this pic, because it looks like Sarah; the trouble with drawing real people is that you feel a bit of a failure if the picture ends up looking nothing like them. Which happened with the next picture, Craig and Kane. Craig's on the left...

Craig and Kane

Funny business; I dumped the first version, and worked and reworked this one before thinking "Sod it, I'll be here all year at this rate" and just finishing the damn picture. It looks like someone, but it just doesn't look like Craig. 

It's like when I did the pictures for The Bristol Downs; a natural history year. Having taken the job on, I suddenly realised that it wasn't enough to do nice pictures; I had to do accurate ones. 


...which isn't really the case with the current project. But it would be nice if they were. 

Maybe I'll come back to Craig.