Monday, 18 June 2018

'Green Lanes: Maintenance and Organising Repair Days...

One of the things that I've noticed more and more in the time I've been riding the trails here in the UK is the complete lack of maintenance that happens on these types of roads. It's an interesting conundrum as there seems to be many parts to the decisions made to not upkeep these lanes as well as all the politics that seem to revolve around green laning as a general anyway.

For myself, I've been watching my local lanes slowly become eroded away by the weather until now, one of my favourite lanes is under threat and there is no plan visible to rectify the issue. So, in discussions in the pub and via email, I decided to try to tackle the problem head on and see if I could find a way to re instate the Old Coach Road into a more acceptable state of repair for all user groups.

In 2015, Storm Desmond wrecked the Old Coach Road in three days of epic rain. That single storm left a trench about five foot deep and four foot wide in the middle of the lane. Since then, some enthusiastic volunteers tried to refill the trench manually and the road made passable but nowhere near back to it's original condition. Subsequent heavy rainfall has repeatedly washed out more material.

This can be linked to the fact that the man who used to clear the culverts and drains up there wasn't replaced when he retired, which is the same story for the upland water team too, so since the late 90's and into the early 2000's this road, and all other unsurfaced roads have had almost no maintenance at all.

So, to fix the lane required a series of things, CTRF identified the following list...

1. Expert advice
2. Permissions
3. Funding
4. Drainage repairs/replacements
5. Stone
6. Trench back filled
7. Surface re-established
8. Stone pitching in two places
9. Ongoing maintenance

Looking at each one in turn, the first problem is one of sourcing expert advice, fortunately for CTRF we have a couple of people to call on for this, who have over 30 years of upland path repair knowledge and experience and also coincidence played it's hand as I was now working with two large construction firms, Ashcrofts from Workington and Sir Robert McAlpine on a large building project. Good relations on all sides led to plenty of chats and even some help with the relevant paperwork. Bonus!

Permissions... As the Coach Road is a County Road, it comes under the responsibility of the County Council Highways Department. This is a department that is seriously under pressure as the growing levels of rainfall, the harsh winters and the overall increase in traffic volume is all combining to wreck the surfaced roads in every part of the UK. Couple this with successive governments reducing allocated budgets annually and the mix is not so good for green lanes!

To get to talk to someone in the Highways dept is apparently impossible, according to all the people I spoke too prior to commencing on this project. These included National Park Rangers, National Trust Rangers and various other people 'in the know'. To this day I have no idea why my particular email was answered, I'm just grateful it was as it crossed off the first hurdle in a long list!

The Network Manager turned out to be a typical local Cumbrian lass who had done her job for over twenty years, she was very relaxed and chatty albeit cautious as to why myself and a mate, (Nigel), as 'off road riders' would want to talk to her about repairing an unsurfaced road in the hills outside of Keswick!

We outlined our desire to undertake some hand tools only remedial works clearing drainage gullies on the lane and after a thirty minute conversation, she gave us her permission with the proviso that she had no money to spare to help us and she needed all the paperwork and insurances in place before we could proceed.

After this, there is the Lake District National Park, (LDNPA), Natural England, the National Trust, (NT), the 'Commoners', (the farmers who work the land and rent their farms from the NT), any householders nearby, the Trail Riders Fellowship, the Green Lane Association and anybody else we could get into the pot!

All of this took a few month's to sort out, lots of chats, lots of emails and as the project evolved, lots of paperwork!

We set out a plan  in a paper report and did several days of on the ground survey work, taking photos and recording the damage as well as identifying the drainage culverts and set up. In the plan we included the costings for the materials, contractor and sundries and came up with a figure of nearly £20,000. That was a little daunting as a figure!

Testing our Theories
Our first stage of repairing this lane was to run a 'hand tools only' repair day, which we did in December 2017. There was snow on the ground, the temperatures hovered at zero and below, yet on a beautiful sunny Sunday in winter nearly twenty folk turned up from all over northern England to dig out a drainage gully and clear some culverts.

The LDNPA kindly lent us some mattocks, shovels and spades, the team assembled and we cleared 500 yards of some fairly well choked gully and opened three culverts to restore their flow. A hearty well done goes out to all of those people from all walks of life for their efforts, camaraderie and general happy demeanour!

Despite all this good work, one thing became apparent, the lane is five miles long so five hundred yards in one day leaves a lot to sort and our efforts had shown that the work required either a lot more hands or more realistically, mechanical assistance!

The upside to this day was that we now knew our theories about the 'how' were based on fact and evidence, so the project moved on another step.

Back to the 'permissions' part, We now needed permission to introduce machinery into the mix to make a difference on this road. So we went back to the afore mentioned Network Manager with an update of the works done and a politely worded request. Permission was granted providing we have a suitably qualified and insured person, plus could establish the situation regarding utilities in the areas of work.

The paperwork trail grows like leaves on a tree as this goes forward and the complexity of the job also grows as more questions start to come out of the dark. For example the list of consultees for the utilities search is around 20+ companies, all of which have to be approached, asked and the answer recorded on a document which can be checked and which becomes a legal document should any injury or accident happen.

Now I like machinery, I like machinery that does it's job well, but all machinery in these situations is only as good as the man driving it... So to find that man, we started to ask local firms who could be interested to help. Again the LDNPA came to our help and gave us the name of the contractor they used in the area, he was busy for the next few months and recommended another, he looked at the job and decided that as it was on his doorstep he was happy to get going as soon as we wanted too!

Funding, Drainage and Materials
One of the big issues for repairing this lane is the stone needed to replace the road surface that has been moved by water. There is an awful lot of it at the bottom of a section of the road called Hausewell Brow. It is fanned out across the peatland there waiting to be scooped back up and re used, but it's not enough and we needed bigger stone to lay the drainage base below the surface. Replacing this would also form one of the biggest costs to the project

Talking to local people got us a name, that was the name of the owner of the quarries that sit on the Old Coach Road. We eventually tracked him down eating his lunch in a barn whilst putting a replacement engine into his beautiful Series 1 Landrover. He gave us permission to use the stone from his quarry and best of all, he didn't want anything for it as it was to go back into where it had effectively came from, so even negated the taxes on aggregate! Ian is a character of the highest order, he owns all the quarries around the area and runs his trains around the Threlkeld Mining Museum throughout the summer. One of his team has also tracked the geological history of the Lakeland hills and is another source of fascinating facts and history. So the tapestry of the picture is becoming even more complex and interesting.

Funding started to become the next part of the project now we knew things could go ahead. Discussions were had and possible resources were identified, so we started with the organisations that promote responsible trail use in the UK, these consist of two main ones. the Trail Riders Fellowship, (TRF) and the Green Lane Association, (GLASS). Applications went in and whilst we awaited the replies we looked at other options.
We approached the LDNPA & CCC and were told no, no money available, this was a bit galling given the money being spent upon footpaths and bridleways in Cumbria at the same time, but we swallowed our initial reaction about this and moved on.
Next we approached United Utilities, who had, during one of their presentations for the pipeline installation programme, promised funding to local community projects and had specifically mentioned the Coach Road. After being bounced around for a month from email to email, we have yet to get an answer from them, we continue live in hope!
After this we went out to the users themselves and started a project, with help from the TRF marketing team to try to raise the money from the actual green lane user community. We're currently partway through this so I'll update as and when we get to a total. But a big thank you needs to go out to all those folk who are so passionate about their past time that they have donated money to this project, from all over Europe as well!
Whilst all of this was going on GLASS donated a whopping £5000 to the pot, this paved the way for phase 1 to be completed, so as we now had all our ducks lined up plan, paperwork and permissions wise, off we went and set the contractor the task of opening up the existing drainage gully that runs the full length of the road. He took five days to complete this in May 2018.

So we're currently at the stage of raising the funds for Phase 2, which will see the installation of the replacement damaged culverts, re-opening of the undamaged culverts, re-establishing the surface drainage and finally reinstalling the surface materials.

We're hoping to get this done by the end of Summer 2018, but that is as ever dependant upon the funding, so the link is here below for those that would like to donate to the cause!

Here's an article LINK from one of the guys working on a repair day recently...

Friday, 6 April 2018

An Island to an Island Over 4 Days...

Another little Coast to Coast adventure has taken shape over the last year or so in my head... This time starting from Walney Island in South Cumbria, crossing the Pennines into Northumberland with a plan to loop out onto Holy Island before a return trip via the edge of Scotland. Some wild lands, some beautiful back roads, lots of river crossings and a tidal causeway just to add a bit of difference. A total of 550 miles door to door.

Enlisted into the trip is a good mate Gareth, on his lovely shiny and new KTM 300 TPI, and Lucy will join us for a couple of days if the weather is good. We have panniers packed, bikes serviced and a great sense of expectation and excitement about seeing and riding a lot of new lanes for us both!

The first thing thing to sort is the mammoth drive for Gareth as he is coming to Cumbria from near Portsmouth, so a mere 7+ hour drive on a Thursday night straight after work! And on Monday he has to reverse it all... Now that's commitment to ride!

We set off early Good Friday morning, plenty of roadwork mixed with few green lanes to get us started for the day. It was fresh, to say the least but dry and the day promised to be a beauty.

We got down to Ulverston in time for lunch so we stopped off a great little cafe to on the tip of Roa Island, which lies at the end of a long causeway. It's a nice area in some ways, remote and full of a different breed of people to the mountains in the Lakes. We had a little chat with a lady who took our photo for us, then a good gossip about bikes with a lad in the Bosuns Locker cafe. After some nice hot food, off we set northwards, with some fresh lanes in our sights!

Fuel turned out to be a priority for Gareth, so a quick detour brought us to a garage then we retraced some of our steps from the morning passing over some longer lanes in the southern Lakes. A chance encounter with a man and his wild boar had us laughing for a fair bit, it's not often you see an Aussie walking up the road with his pet wild boar!

Grisedale saw us stop at the Fox for a photo and then it was over to the Coach Road near Keswick to meet up with Lucy.

After a couple of lanes, the bag holding Gareth's tent and sleeping bag fell off and we had ridden a couple of lanes and some minor roads before this was noticed. Gareth needed fuel, so he set off to a nearby petrol station and Lucy & I backtracked, eventually finding the bag still on the Coach Road!

Lucy left us at Penrith to return home, so we rode on, eventually camping in a field overlooking the River Eden. We sat up drinking wine, eating pies and listening to the owls hunting before turning in for a good nights sleep.

7am the next morning dawned a little damp. I managed to spill my pan of water, leaving just enough for a coffee but no breakfast. So we packed up and set off, climbing up onto the Pennines where plenty of fun was to be found! Snow, we rode into a white out, then fresh soft snow on the surfaced roads which meant when we pulled into Alston for fuel, we also needed fuel for our bodies!

Sausage and bacon butties in the doorway under the heater with some hot chocolate, now that's a good way to start a day!

Our next couple of lanes saw us roll into more snow, then first lot turned us around so we back tracked to the surfaced roads and rode gingerly on. At the gateway to the next long lane, we met a gamekeeper who asked us to stick to the track as they were having some issues with lads riding illegally over their moorland.

We stuck to the track as much as we could, but on two occasions we ventured onto the edges which were above the deep soft snow as they were spoil heaps from gully clearance work done earlier in the year, recalling a bit of road law which states you can bypass an obstruction up to 15 yards so long as there is no damage or safety issue for others.

We met a second gamekeeper as we were nearing the end of the largest snow patch and had a good chat about things in general, really nice hard working folk, out in shite conditions because of some folk who think it's open season to ride on all open land...

We carried on our journey, with the snow getting thicker, then temperatures getting colder and us getting more and more soaked!

Gareth started to have problems with his tyre spinning on his rim, the rim lock was getting battered and had come loose, this had damaged his tyre and was in danger of wrecking his rim, so at another petrol station, we decided to beat a retreat back to mine. the forecast was for heavier snow and rain and we still had a whole load of unknown rivers to cross, we were now soaked and Gareth's bike needed some TLC.

Pub, log fire, beer and food was the ending to the day after a two hour tarmac road ride back to Cumbria!

Hey ho, try again in the summer when it's warmer and preferably after a dry spell so the rivers will be low...

Happy trails

Friday, 16 March 2018

The Isle of Man: A first visit to the trails...

Cumbria TRF arranged a visit to the Isle of Man for the group last weekend, two of the lads, both called Ian have been many times in the past and know the lanes well, so we were all in good hands...

I drove down to Lancaster, caught up with a mate for some beers and Thai meal, then mooched around the Heysham area as I don't really know the place at all. I haven't been to the Isle of Man for nearly 30 years, the last time was with horses that needed some R&R. We used to go every year before I was into bikes and the TT was always on at the same time, we used to curse that the roads were closed!

I travelled light onto the ferry with just an old road bike bag with a change of clothes in it. It was a little disconcerting to see how the bikes were tied down with a bit of oily rope, but they were in one piece when we got to the island, so all good!

Once there we checked into the place we were staying at in Douglas and went for some beers!

The place we stayed at was a little quirky, lovely people, nice and chilled out and great breakfast, but don't touch any of the fittings in the bathrooms!

Saturday dawned wet and full of drizzle, a proper dreich day and forecast to stay that way all day... hey ho, everyone got geared up and bikes ready, then we set off to do a loop around the south of the island. Around 85 miles saw us up in the mountains and down at the sea, some great little lanes and some beautiful long lanes.

Lunch was in Peel at a lovely big visitors cafe, where we dripped all over the floor as we ate hot paninis and drank tea to warm up. We especially liked the longer rocky climbs and the fact that in every farm there were old vehicles stacked up in hedges and any nook and cranny. It's apparently really expensive to scrap vehicles over there, so the owners just pile them into the hedges and let the bushes grow over them!

We had our first ride around some sections of the TT course, which is always good fun

The night was spent out in Douglas, a visit to the casino, some restaurants and the odd bar or two, with some of the lads rolling in at 3am like teenagers all over again!

Sunday was a much better weather day, with some lovely views and even blue skies. This improved the riding conditions a lot, which was a good thing as the northern route for the day went up high and into the mountains on the island. Some really great trails, all well sign posted and even maintained. There is a clear management programme set up here, something several counties in England could do with installing!

Lane after lane passed under our wheels, we bumped into a couple of other groups out for the day, had the usual chat and banter and then was off again.

For me, I really enjoyed the place, it was great fun, the riding was superb coupled with the fact that the local people were really genuinely friendly and welcoming. I really enjoyed the Viking history and all the place names that made you feel like you were much further afield. It's a place I'll happily go back to and hopefully next time Lucy will be able to visit too

happy trails...

Thursday, 22 February 2018

The Adventure Spec 'Linesman Jacket', a riders review...

I was lucky enough to meet up with some of the guys from Adventure Spec at a bike meet in Cumbria. It was a weekend run by Danny from Haggs Bank Bunkhouse near Alston and Adventure Spec were running a trail riding weekend. Danny had asked me to lead a group for him and whilst there, Lucy & I got talking to Dave Lomax, one of the partners.

Over a few beers and dinner, we somehow ended up with Dave sending us a couple of bits of kit for us to use on our summer trip through Europe as pioneer riders on the Trans Euro Trail. Dave just asked us for some honest feedback about it. This post is about one piece of that kit, the jacket I used which is the Linesman Jacket.

The jacket is a bit of a revolutionary design concept which Adventure Spec are leading the way on in the motorbike adventure touring scene with a new range of clothing. The guys at AS were the part of the original design team behind the KLIM motorbike clothing range and so have tried and tested their theories and they also have a background in the world of outdoor adventure, things like climbing, running, mountain biking etc.

The kit in the mountain world is all cutting edge fabrics, lightweight design, very technically designed to aid movement rather than limit it and it is always based upon a system of putting or taking off lightweight layers as you need. This is a very big change to the motorcycling world, where thick heavy fabrics are the order of the day, lots of pockets, heavy duty protection and waterproof, for the UK anyway.

The Linesman Jacket is all of the things the mountaineering jackets embody, but for a motorbike. specifically for an adventure motorbike.

So some feedback from me, just as a rider who has now been using this jacket for the last ten months.

At first impressions, I was sceptical of the fabric and the weight of the jacket. It felt heavy when I first took it out of the box and as it was brand new it was a little stiff too.

I looked it over and noticed straight away how well made it was, it felt a quality garment. When I looked at the armour, I found the reason  for the weight. it's a soft foam, but it's an absorption foam, so pretty dense as it's made to take heavy impacts and reduce them before their force reaches your body, there are removable shoulder and elbow pads and a hefty back protector.
Pockets too, plenty of pockets, including two on the back taken from the mountain bike world, but these mean zips and extra bits of fabric, this is a part of the weight and finally there is the fabric for the shoulders and elbows. This is a ballistic type of synthetic fabric which is used in stab proof jackets for the military. AS had to develop a whole new cutting system to get the right bits for the jacket because they couldn't cut it to shape in the normal ways!

When I put the jacket on, it felt good and fitted pretty well for my shape and size and just felt right from the off, the weight seemed to disappear which I still haven't got my head around, but hey ho...

For the TET, the ten or so countries we travelled through were pretty hot, often more than 30' c on a daily basis in the afternoons, I found that if I removed the armour and wore the Linesman as a jacket it was pretty good, but then I had no upper body protection, so in the end opted to just wear it all the time. It has removable arms, which I also tried, but again I didn't really like having my arms exposed and I had no other armour with me, so just went back to wearing the full jacket.

At these temperatures, it was too hot to wear to be honest and a lot of the time as soon as I stopped or got into any longer technical ground. I'd soon be sweating like a pig and getting tired because of it, so I took to taking it off whenever we stopped and completely opening the ventilation zips whilst riding, this made a huge difference, even the pockets have mesh inside to help with this!

I tested the abrasion resistance several times and to this day the jacket only has one mark on it and it has now been tested a lot... Even sliding down a tarmac road twice!

Since I've been back in the UK, the Linesman has become my go to jacket for green laning in Cumbria and multi day trips all over. At first I was a little hesitant when it came to the heavy rain as it's not meant to be a waterproof jacket. It required me to change my mindset a bit and go back to my mountaineering dressing process. After the first ride out in a downpour though I relaxed and just carried on riding, putting a lightweight waterproof jacket over the top when it got really windy and wet.

The jacket wets out on the sleeves and if you don't put on a waterproof can become a little cold in the winter winds and rain, but add that extra waterproof layer and you can just keep on riding.

In the snow this winter we've had, it's been perfect, allowing my sweat the pass through the fabric and get blown away on the winds. This will also have something to do with me pulling out my old climbing base layers and wearing them in multiple layers underneath plus a synthetic gilet which I have found to be the perfect setup for my days out. The mix of all these layers just allows your body to breathe, which helps with your energy efficiency and also keeps you warmer during exercise.

I tend to carry my phone in one of the chest pockets, my wallet in the other and nothing in the hand warmer pockets. I wear a really lightweight necktube, two or three base layers, the gilet and that's it. Then in my great little Kriega r15 rucsac, I carry a lightweight waterproof jacket for if the weather gets really bad.

Going forward I now know that my jacket issues are resolved, the Linesman will be my jacket of choice for our next part of the TET in Scandinavia this summer so next up for me will be to replace my trousers, buy some decent boots and look for a new helmet...

Lucy used the Baltic Insulated Jacket on our trip and has been living in it since we got back, so I'll see if she has time to write up something about that, as again it's another well thought out piece of kit that does it's job well.

Cheers for now...