By Dave Minter
I would like, ah, if I may, ...to take you on a strange journey (apologies to the Rocky Horror Show narrator).
There is a world where the latest bicycle 'kit' (stuff to the English) is not drooled upon, where bicycle fashions are gently scorned, indeed where the ancient and outmoded is revered. This place is the domain of the Veteran-Cycle Club (V-CC) and its hub is the week-long V-CC Camp, held in 2001 South of Carlisle near the Scottish border. Susan and I spent a long weekend amongst this gentle breed of cyclist at the invitation of John Pinkerton, the doyen of bicycle historians.
The V-CC camp is not for mega-milers aiming on increasing their lifetime distance, nor poseurs bent on gathering plaudits for either their VO2 max or their tans. The elite of this international group are the inquisitive scavengers and industrious restorers bent on reviving and riding unique examples of ancient cycle engineering (apparently riding them is unusual in most other countries, particularly America). A replica Ordinary or high bicycle (Penny-farthing to the uncouth) is virtually irrelevant to these esoteric types. A previously unknown and unrestored 1886 56" Humber with spoon brake and spade grips is a suitable quarry for these people. By the way, I have been informed that 'vintage' refers to old things of 'quality' where as 'veteran' is the correct terminology for any old thing.
I nearly qualified on the veteran bicycle stakes by taking my 1965 pale blue
Moulton M5 Duomatic Stowaway. Susan, on the other hand, missed the mark
completely with her nearly new Brompton T5. We were therefore both riding bikes about 50-100 years too young for the majority of this crowd. This small impoliteness was overlooked by our new friends with a graceful welcome into their ranks. In reality, the bikes brought to the camp by members ranged widely in age (Susan's was not the only Brompton there), but the vast majority of machines were classic, historic types.
We arrived at the Lime House School (a boarding school for over 100 years,
inmates known at 'Slimies' to the local kids) campsite just South of Dalston
in Cumbria (Lake District) around midday Saturday to imbibe some tea and homemade cake with the indefatigable organisers. The rest of the day was spend chatting to other arrivals with the male member of the household (mostly) checking out the interesting machines they had brought with them. They ranged from a fixed-wheel left-hand drive tricycle, through high bicycles to relatively modern 'curly' Hetchins road bikes with a fair smattering of workmanlike 'black' bikes of various ages and styles.
The pack given to each of the 'happy campers' included details of the rides occurring during the week, maps, brochures of interesting things in the area, some local history (of course), a couple of specially printed water bottles and a random name badge. The idea was find the person who belonged to the badge until you found your own, a fairly common icebreaker but this activity became my mission in life. My particular badge was 'Hilary Stone', a bloke whose name I recognised from historical and mechanical articles in British bike mags like Cycling Plus.
I think the Drizabone (it was a little cool and/or misty) and broad brimmed hat marked me as an Aussie before opening my mouth, but the locals seem impressed that we had travelled so far for the camp. Tamworth is so very far from Cumbria! I wandered around happily for the next couple of hours gently hassling people until, on the fifth swap, I ended up with John Pinkerton's badge. This slowed things down a little as I knew (as it seemed, did everybody else) that John had got some bad results from his latest round of chemo and wouldn't be coming up until Tuesday. We, of course, were leaving Monday to put our noses back on the grindstone. However, that night both Susan and I were united with our proper badges.
After a lazy Sunday morning, we started out on the 20 odd mile ride to Hutton-in-the-Forest under overcast skies at 10am. Susan and I rode together most of the time, but my pride wouldn't let me walk up hills. Some hills were a bit tough on my 2 speed Moulton though. The fact that Susan was stuck with carrying our jackets and suchlike (she had the Brompton bag on her bike, while I was riding unencumbered) had nothing to do with it :-). None of the hills we found in Cumbria are that big but they are on the steep side (it must be that scenic thing again ;-). The countryside was pretty enough and our riding companions were certainly fun to chat to. Some of them seemed quite happy to see young members joining the club. You can guess that 'young' might be a relative term in this context.
Morning tea at a roadside lay-by allowed some mutual admiration of machines.
Having "elevens's" (cake and other refreshments at the obvious time) at the
stately home in Hutton-in-the-Forest meant Susan and I could expand our horticultural and art knowledge (by hundreds of percent, in my case) by chatting with some interesting and knowledgeable club members. Lunch at a local pub followed at 1.30pm with a relaxed ride back after sampling an ale or two. Susan was a little disappointed at the local lack of chocolate. Flatout speed was pretty low on the agenda the whole weekend.
Varying amounts of English standard weather (rain and drizzle) occupied the
evening so everybody talked into the night indoors. A rather nice lady
loaned me the latest copy of the Moultoneer magazine and invited us to the
September weekend 'do' at Sir [actually Dr - Ed] Alex Moulton's manor house in
Bradford-on-Avon. It sounds like good fun, so it looks like I'll be joining another club in the future. Susan's Brompton will have to be stored at the gatehouse while we're there though. I have a sneaking suspicion, judging by some articles, that some Moulton Club types think AM was born with a halo. I mean obviously he is a decent engineer and all, but some people might just take it a little far. We'll see if the rather sad paintwork of my original Moulton will draw adverse comment.
The next morning looked merely overcast so off we went on the 23 miler to
Wetheral. The walk over the huge railway viaduct to the lunchtime pub had a
great view. More happy chatting with assorted riders resulted, both on the way there and back. This time Susan and I had the minor hassle of making sure we would finish in time to catch our train back home. Susan improved enough to ride up the couple of hills she had walked up the day before (it must have been the time pressure ;-). We enjoyed the ride through the pretty countryside but nothing stands out more than watching some of the trike riders (3 of them tended to ride together) go hurtling round the corners on a 1-in-8 downgrade. They were hanging out like sailboat crew!
A quick pack of the bags (Susan had her Brompton touring bag on her bike, I got by with a Crumpler messenger bag slung over a shoulder) and we wandered off to the railway station to wait (and wait) for the local train to Carlisle. Later, while waiting for the long-distance Virgin train home, I examined the pretty railway murals in Carlisle station while Susan found the old baths nearby.
The only low point of the trip occurred at Crewe Station on the way home
where I lost my hat (Oh no!), never to be found again. Bugger, I'm going to
have to get another one now or suffer a cold and wet head through Winter.
By the way, the email title comes courtesy of a song in the ancient Goodies
episode about the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), incidentally custodians of
the Ashes. How many times in a row do the Aussies have to win the Ashes before they get to actually take the cup? At least the English managed to win 1 game this time :-)
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Last updated: 22 February 2002