Saturday 12 December 2020

End of a very limited year

With Christmas approaching, we usually have a festive slant to our December gathering, but for obvious reasons I do not need to mention, we had to scale it down.  Three leaders were available and arrived at Kingsway, but only one rider joined us.  We did not go inside, because we can't, and it was a bit cold for sitting outside this month.  So, we just headed out for a short but sociable meander.

Only a few photos, so I will make them big!

I forgot to do a start up picture, but here we are as we left the Greenway; I showed the ladies the sharing allotment community green thing, which I had come across a few months earlier.  The idea is that local people can plant and harvest this small area, not looking its best in December!

We head out down Sandy Lane to Saighton and Bruera, before heading back towards Hargrave.

My friend had shared on Facebook a festive nativity / advent trail for Hargarve and Huxley.  So we rode through to Hargrave, studying each farm house and establishment for any decorations.  We did spot this one, day 7.

After further searching I called in to my friend, who was trotting around her paddock behind the house.  They had the presentation for today, but will not be up until later (was going to be a projection in the window, so not visible in the day anyway).  Never mind, it was a nice distraction.

We carried on through to Mickle Trafford, and Meadow Lea cafe where I had booked us an outside table, in a marquee.  

Farewell to 2020, here's hoping 2021 will improve through the year and see us back out in normal numbers.  There is a vaccine around the corner, but also possibly more restrictions as we pass through the festive season.

Safe and happy riding everyone!

Saturday 5 December 2020

Virtual riding

Many years ago, my husband bought me a set of rollers (a thing you balance your bike on in order to ride indoors).  Despite being a very thoughtful present, I knew I would never use it, so back it went.  I prefer to be out, whatever the weather, to see where I am going and where I have been, take photos and interact with my environment.  But I know people like to do short bursts of exercise, it is useful for strength and training, and certainly indoor cycling came into it's own during lockdown.

Guest blog post: Helen

Like my husband, I enjoy outdoor exercise, so it’s never occurred to us get something like an exercise bike or treadmill; when the weather’s too grotty for cycling, we tend to head for the hills on foot.  However, back in March 2020, when it became obvious that COVID19 was going to lead to lockdowns which could last a long time, we decided to get a ‘smart’ exercise bike that could work with digital cycling platforms like Zwift, so that if we had to self-isolate or were otherwise confined to the flat for a long time, we could still keep fit.


That was the plan, and it seemed like a good one.  Naturally, we weren’t the only people to have thought of it by a long shot!  The model of indoor bike we were after was out of stock in March, and April, and May….   and eventually arrived at our flat in August.  Fortunately, the weather was great for outdoor cycling last spring & summer, so we didn’t really miss it, and in the end our new bike, known to its friends as ‘Whizzy’, arrived just in time for the nights to start drawing in.  It’s been a real boon since then, especially recently when the weather’s been cold and the roads icy.


So what is Zwift?


Basically, it’s a computer game that’s controlled by your exercise bike.  The harder you pedal, the faster an image of you, known as your avatar, makes progress along the course.  Game-style graphics show your avatar pedalling along courses which vary from realistic views of real cities and countryside, to fantastical vistas inside imaginary volcanoes and through glass-roofed sea tunnels, the latter being set in the imaginary world of Watopia. 


[pic needed: The ‘Volcano Flats’ course in Watopia.]


You’re never alone in Zwift; avatars representing all the other people who are pedalling or running along the same Zwift course at the same time as you also appear on your screen.  This means that the same patch of imaginary road on your screen can show riders and runners who are really located all over the world.  (You can tell where they’re from, as a little flag appears near each rider’s name.)


Zwift offers a wide range of courses, a lot of which are very long, steep, or challenging.  However, once you get the hang of searching courses based on total ascent, it’s easy to find shorter and flatter courses that are more enjoyable if (like me) you’re not a racer, and have all the climbing ability of a jellyfish.  One of my favourites so far is one of the ‘London’ courses which starts on the banks of the Thames and includes parts of the Surrey Hills.  For the purposes of Zwift, the boring bits in between have been replaced by an exciting journey through a couple of re-purposed Tube lines, so it’s a much shorter loop than it would be in reality, and also a lot more scenic. 

 [pic needed - London course, with the Surrey hills bolted directly onto the South Bank]


Welna Bowden leads the inaugural
Fab Ladies Zwift ride

Zwift can be used for solo rides, but it also includes options for group rides.  In December, Welna offered to lead an inaugural Fabulous Ladies group ride on Zwift.  I’d never joined a Zwift group ride before, so had no idea what to expect.  I joined Zwift on the Volcano Flats course at more or less the appointed time (it always takes longer than I expect to get set up!) and tried to follow Welna’s instructions to join the group.  Somewhat alarmingly, Zwift promptly whisked my avatar off the road and across a beach, then up a grassy slope, then straight through a solid rock cliff face…. By this point I was definitely starting to wonder what was going on!  Just when I was about to give up, my avatar was dropped unceremoniously back onto the road behind an avatar with a golden arrow over her head, who turned out to be Welna.


We were expecting a third lady – Sharon – to join us, and she did appear briefly, but then disappeared again.  Zwift is like that.  It takes a bit of getting used to, and the game screen itself is seriously lacking in helpful information for beginners. Fortunately, sites and apps such as Zwift Insider, Zwift Companion, and the Zwift Ladies Only Group on Facebook mean that it is possible to find the information you need to make it work how you want it to, eventually.  (Personally I think that’s a sign of some terrible user interface design, but that’s a whole different rant.  J  Given how many new people have joined Zwift during 2020, the developers are probably focused on just keeping everything running for the hoards of new virtual cyclists and runners right now, so I expect to carry on asking beginners questions on the Ladies Only group for a while yet!  And I am getting the hang of it, bit by bit.).


Overall, I would definitely recommend Zwift to any ladies who are fed up of being stuck indoors, or of riding the same local routes over and over again.  It does require some investment of time and money to get the technology set up to suit your individual requirements, and it definitely has its quirks.  However, when the weather’s bad, or life is just too busy to go out riding for real, there’s a lot to be said for having a machine in your garage or back bedroom that can whisk you off to Southern France or an imaginary volcano without stepping outside your house, and give you a workout in the process.  I’m sure we’ll get better at using it to ride together, though physically apart, if we keep practising, so here’s to the next Fabs group ride.  Let’s all meet at the foot of the volcano…..

Saturday 14 November 2020

Mid lockdown, post covid, solo rides

Another month, another lockdown.  Only this time you cannot ride with a group, only one other person.  And all the cafes have shut, with some doing take out. So, I suggested that we have a 'virtual ride' - anyone riding leaves on the Saturday morning and share photos of the ride on the facebook group.  I was also post Covid; I had started with symptoms end of October, tested positive, and we were 'self isolating' until earlier this week.  However, I had still felt unwell, but today marked the first day i did feel much better.

Typically, after watching autumn sunshine all week from my windows, today was forecast with rain.  Undeterred I set off anyway, just nice to get out.  Damp misty rain as I left Chester via Huntington, slightly heavier but eased as I arrived at Saighton.

Posting on facebook as I went:

Decision time #1, its damp out some misty rain but mild. Bit breezy.
Not out of breath more than usual after having the covids since 28th, coughin' well so maybe this will clear the tubes!

Down to Bruera I think

...but looking at bit black, so will turn left at Bruera, methinks

Mark offering cheese and wine (Spar award winning red!) - a welcome respite in Tattenhall

Sausage buttie from Spar, recommended, and still warm after climb up to Burwardsley (even at my speed)

Sunshine on the dahlias.  Beeston behind the tree

There it be. Who doesn't love Beeston?



Managed a solo Fab Ladies ride around the lanes - not very far but did enjoy it despite the damp 🚴 Even wore my CFL top for the occasion



A lovely damp ride round the lanes for my virtual fab ladies ride this morning. I could see England through the mist! When the sun finally appeared the oak trees were looking gorgeous. Coffee at Cleopatra's on the way home.



Got out for a virtual Fab Ladies ride this morning. Bit damp to start off with, but the rain held off after that, & the scone at Lockgates coffee shop was definitely worth riding there & back for. 🙂

Saturday 10 October 2020

Changing times and The 'New Normal'

October was approaching, we have not had group ladies ride since March when we were heading rapidly to a lockdown, and no-one knew (or would've believed) how long it was going to last (and is still ongoing).  Now, cafes have started to open back up, with increasing safety measures which, although more consistent in the last few weeks, still remain sporadic to different establishments.

We had a zoom leaders meeting in August, and delayed restarting group rides as it was still very uncertain.  By September we agreed that maybe some leaders could have up to six in a group, and with about six leaders happy with this, we set up plans to restart in October.

A week before the rides, however, our Flintshire ladies were faced with new restrictions (alongside Wrexham) and were not allowed now to cross the border - Chester lost half the leaders overnight.  Alex suggested a Flintshire Fab ladies, and we ploughed on with Chester, now with three leaders.

Wednesday, the weather forecast was promising, and of course by now we have wonderful autumn colours.  It has been very wet (I usually start each post with a weather synopsis, so here it comes!).  However, by Friday teatime the weather had gone from 10% rain to 80%.  Some riders dropped out from one group, and by Saturday morning Jane and Hayley had cancelled their ride.  I had three cancellations, but that still left three of us - this is our story.

The Debate

Take out only at the cafe
I met Sue and Karen at Kingsway cafe.  We sat outside and had waitress service, after ordering at the table across the door.  Liz, the new cafe manager, was also sat outside so I was able to have a catch up with her and introduce myself before we left.

Sitting under the covered alcove in front of the cafe window, we talked about the Fab ladies, as both riders today are interested in supporting as leaders; so it was useful to have that dedicated time to share how we used to organise ourselves, the ethos of the ladies (social and leisure, to encourage women to join group riding), and update over recent weeks.  

The Outward Ride

By 10:15, the rain was much less, and we agreed we were here anyway, so let's go for it.  Suitably waterproofed up, we wended our way through Christleton and Waverton, by which time I realised I had not updated the cafe.  We paused in Hargrave, a strategic stop near a bus stop shelter, and phoned the cafe.  Just as I started to speak to Lisa, the heavens decided to open - so we quickly shuffled into the shelter (this is a beauty of small groups).  After a short shower we were off again.

Worth sheltering from this!

Chowley Oaks, another downpour

We sheltered again in the porch of an office building, at Chowley Oaks business park - I wanted to double check my may anyway, and as it started to rain again this was another strategic pause.  Karen recognised the route after this - but she said she usually does it the other way.  I love this about cycling, the same route reversed seems totally different.

The Cafe

We arrived at 12 to the Lakeside Cafe, very pretty small cafe with decking overlooking a small lake.  It is also a campsite, tucked off the main road in a pretty quiet corner.  

(Note to self, the Cock O' Barton pub is 10 minute walk away, so tempted to book in with the camper either soon or next spring).

The Return Journey

There comes a time when all bacon butties are consumed, coffee drunk and facilities utilised and we have to get back out there.  It was not too cold, and the rain was less frequent. We climbed (small incline) to Churton, and took to the back lane.  Similarly to Aldford, after about a mile on the 'B' road we went around the back, admiring and discussing estate houses (belonging to 'the Duke' - of Westminster).  Rejoining the 'B' road, we had seen ominous clouds coming from North Wales and heading our way, so plumped to stay on the 'B' road.

Lovely colours - and sunshine and blue skies!

The Flintshire Fabs

Flintshire Fabulous Ladies Ride - 2 groups of 5 brave ladies in each group.


Cheryl - My group finished off in the new bike shop cafe in Mold ( bike/cafe is Alpha Cycle Worx on the Bromfield industrial estate). Great coffee and lots of socially distanced seating

As it was rather soggy we didn’t stop much and my phone was in a waterproof bag, so not many photos. My group did a 4 mile shorter, less hilly and more moderately paced route than Alex’s group. All the ladies were exceptionally good at socially distancing while riding as well as when we stopped at the top of a couple of inclines.

Alex had planned for us to stop at Hope Post Office where they sell take-out coffee, but my group didn’t want to drink coffee in the rain, so we opted to finish the 24 mile route and have a coffee in the new bike shop Alpha Cycle Worx in Mold. In the end, most of the group went straight home, with only Becky and myself trying out the new cafe. Alex’s group had made an impromptu stop at Honey’s in Hope. Despite the weather, we had lots of laughs and even saw some blue sky, albeit only for about 2 minutes, then it disappeared.


Liz - "Great ride ! Didn’t even notice the rain Thanks for leading and to Alex  for organising"

Sue - "Great ride ....despite the weather. Can you send me details of your waterproof cycling trousers please??"

Becky - "Thanks so much everyone it was a great ride!"



Very wet but not cold ride today for the Flintshire Fabs. One group went to Honeys Cafe in Hope and sat under a patio heater in the dry. The second had coffee at the new bike shop in Mold after the ride. Well done all who ventured out!

Alison - "Great morning / lovely to catch up with you fabulous ladies"

Sharon - "Thanks Alex, really enjoyed the route and the ride"

Thursday 24 September 2020

Escape from Wales

I arranged a meet up with Lowri, Honorable Club secretary for Chester & North Wales group, as she lives in the middle of Denbighshire; we had talked about sharing some miles in a brief interlude within the pandemic when restrictions were still lifted.  I am writing this in Jan 2021, so have the benefit of hindsight!

Lowri drove to Chester and used a park and ride as we have limited parking outside our house.  No invites allowed inside for a coffee before departure, so we set off on a simple route heading towards the Wirral.

We had no specific plans; I had contacted a couple of cafes but we were unsure of weather or what we wanted to do.  A small adventure!

Heading out on route 56, we were nearing Ledsham when the conversation went like this:

"Do you fancy a coffee? We are just at Ledsham garden centre"

(looks at big black cloud) "yes, yes I do!"

We made our way around the one way and so longer route than usual through the garden centre, and as we parked up I spotted a raised seating area under cover; the rain drops were becoming persistent, so I suggested we parked under there.  A very good choice!  

(If you look closely at this photo you will see the waterfall from the gutter off the roof. Torrential is a good description!)

The cloud moved on, we finished our snacks, and headed onward towards the Wirral.

Negotiating back lanes at Willaston another ponderous cloud appeared, we stopped under a tree to put on our waterproofs; but due to extended chatting by the time we set back off the rain had subsided.  

We got off lightly; a mile or so later we both wondered what the white stuff was along the verge - to realise it was hail (and some big stones at that!!!)

Yes, I am in shorts and sandals!

A trip literally down memory lane brought us to Bromborough (I used to work at Raby Hall, when it was Wirral Autistic Society - now Autism Together) and for some shifts I was able to cycle in (from Broughton, so a good ride) using these lanes.

We turned left after the hall, and paused at Raby Mere.  They used to have boats here in the olden days (before my time).

Feeling a little peckish, we continued up quite a busy road before negotiating a housing estate and following a track to come out by Claremont Farm cafe.

We chose to sit outside (under cover, another strategic move) so we could keep one eye on the bikes - and another eye on approaching black clouds from North Wales.

Leaving Claremont via a little used bridge to bring us to the motorway roundabout, we headed on back lanes through Thornton Hough and into Neston, which was very busy.

We headed down to the Burton Marshes, with a ponder by Denhall Lane whether to retreat to the lanes and pick up our route out to head home, or the potential challenge of the marshes (very exposed in case of inclement weather, which was still threatening).  I plumped for the marshes, and it was wonderful!

Looking down the Dee estuary
at some very heavy rain,
or maybe hail. Not coming our way!

Glancing over my left shoulder,
I spied a glorious rainbow.
You know me, I had to get photos!

...and have to include anyone
with me in a shot!

...or both of us!  Socially distanced, 
of course!

I love Burton Point anyway, so with a fab rainbow it is magic!

We finished the journey with no more rain showers or threats thereof, and had a very lovely day out!

35 miles, 3 cafes, 1 rainbow.

Saturday 18 July 2020

Birthday Belle

Everything stopped in March, there was a worldwide pandemic (Coronavirus), we have isolated, social distanced, washed and gelled our hands, wiped down handles and equipment, worked from home and all sorts.  

Cycling in groups also stopped, and although there was a huge increase in cycling (you were allowed to go out to exercise for half an hour or so at first) it was solo riding or with members of your household.

Lockdown restrictions are now however beginning to ease.  Shops opened, with mitigation's (distance, masks and handgel), pubs and restaurants finally reopened at the start of July, and some cafes are also back open.

Against this backdrop, Janet from our sister group the Bicycle Belles, invited me with a couple of others to join her for a little ride today for her birthday.  The weather was not inviting, but despite damp drizzle I donned my waterproof and made my way to the Boat Museum.  

No photos I'm afraid of the tiddley baby moorhens, or fluffy large teenage moorhens, or the heron, who stood steadfastly by the side of the canal, even as I carefully passed him.  What a magical experience!

Socially distanced photo.  Yes I am very grey ('Lockdown hair'!)

Janet arrived with Sonia and Ruth, and after a chat and a photo (sporting their new Belles tops - even more purple than the originals!), we set off back along the canal.  Mr Heron had left now, and we also left the canal to follow route 56, where we basically made for the Burleydam Garden Centre cafe.

The return journey was shared for a few miles, through Childer Thornton, but we split shortly after that, as Sonia and Janet headed up the Wirral, and I returned via Oaks Farm, Ledsham and Capenhurst.

Janet had mentioned there was a scarecrow festival in Capenhurst, so, despite the rain I stopped and took a few pics of the installations.

Of course

Note the little doors in stump!

fishy theme

Litter picker? Is this saying he is a fruitcake?!

Corpse Bride, and what looks like
the baby from Fairy wash up liquid!

Back to the Future I think

I also noted a carved tree stump - with lots of forest animals and the mandatory owl.

Foxy, looking up (and hedgehog poking out)


The artist

I also took a couple of photos to send to Janet of the Pinfold, as she claimed she had not seen it before!

I was wet (damp) but not as bad as I thought.  Nice to get home and have a shower though - and think how I will enjoy my next sunny ride!