A just in time handmade gift

In Monday’s post I mentioned the Christmas gift that almost wasn’t ready in time, and which only managed to be under the tree with some last minute sewing Christmas Eve evening. MOH was bemused my by last minute industriousness, even more so when he realised it was for him. I was keen to get it finished, so he stood a chance of working out what it was, and of course to get it finished and wrapped so it could be opened on Christmas Day.

It was a bit out of the norm you see, but I needn’t have worried as he got what they were for as soon as he opened them, phew.

park here - the handmade gift for moh

They’re mats for the wheels of his bike, for when it’s wet and dark, and so the bike stays in our conservatory overnight. Up until now he’s been parking his bike on some newspaper, which while it serves a purpose and does a job, tends to hang about for a bit and so I thought something more aesthetically pleasing must exist. Then I realised it probably didn’t, but was something I could make.

The trouble was when I had time on my own in the house, usually his bike wasn’t there so what size? In the end I guessed and cut a leg of an old pair of jeans to be approximately 40cm x15cm - I knew I wanted something hardwearing, but I also wanted something softer for the newly varnished conservatory floor, so a leg of some old pyjamas were just the thing, and I had some batting somewhere I’m sure…



But I also knew it’d need to be more than just two pads for MOH to know what it was for. With a flash of inspiration one night I hit on the idea of adding some lettering, but what: bike park, stay dry, clean floor, no mess, not newspaper and so on, but in the end I went with the simple instruction of “Park here.”

The original plan was to embroider both words, in script, and “here” looked to be the easier and more continuous to do, so I started with that using twine. I’d written the design onto the jeans (and you can still see it in both photos) and it wasn’t onerous to do, and there was lots of tracing where the flow of the letters should go with my fingers, I realised I wanted more of the pyjama fabric on show too.



So a new plan was hatched for the “park” which involved using my die cutter to cut out the letters from fabric ironed onto interfacing, which I hoped would stop them fraying (we’ll have to see how that works out), then stitched onto the denim. I toyed with the placement and went with a more jaunty arrangement, as time wasn’t on my side, and I preferred to have them clearly not straight rather than trying to be straight and failing.



I’m rather pleased with how they turned out, with more planning I think I’d have quilted them some more perhaps, and given them a wash to remove the red felt tip lettering, but there’s time for that.

What was more pleasing was that when he opened them, he knew what they were for and sweetly suggested I could make these and sell them, however as they often say on Dragon’s Den, I think this is solving a problem that not many people know they have, so I don’t expect there’s much demand for these. They were fun to make, and to give, and as well as their practical-ness they’ve also demonstrated to MOH that sometimes old fabric can be put to good use, and uses you might not have first thought of!

Park here  - a simple instruction - on MOH's bike mats

How were your handmade gifts received?

Coffee pots, Vouvray and arriving in Tours

It's been a while since I've shared a cycling post and I'm aware that in our Loire Cycle Tour I've left you hanging around at the farm at Chenonceau. Not a bad place to hang around, but there's still plenty more from our trip. So as this week I'm contemplating pushing my bike over the threshold, I thought it would be as good a week as any to resume our trip.

So today we're cycling onto Tours and taking an unscheduled detour to Vouvray. Our detour was entirely swayed by the fact it's a wine we recognised! Our route on this trip wasn't taking us near any of the other recognisable wine towns like Chinon or Saumur, so we decided to make the most of the town that was almost on the route, and stop there.

It was a shorter cycle than some of our 'moving on' cycles, so adding a detour, and one that involved wine, made sense.  And what made even more sense was heeding the packing offer from MOH for our longer journeys. That meant I packed most of the heavy stuff, and actually most of our stuff in his panniers.

We stopped off in the town of Amboise to buy some lunch to store in my basket and promptly found a whole new, bustling part of town we'd not discovered before. Oops - so if you go there, check out the town properly before you leave, unlike us...

We left Amboise along the river and enjoyed a quiet, peaceful and ambient ride with nods to cyclists coming the other way, the ones that overtook us and the ones we overtook too (yes, there were some!)

As we cycled towards one house my eye was caught by something brightly coloured decorating the wall. I couldn't work out what it was as we approached the house, but as soon as I did, I knew I had to stop because you'd never believe me otherwise, just look.

Cycling along the coloured top of the wall caught my eye, and I wondered what it was decorated with
It was only when I was close up that I recognised the colourful additions as coffee pots, each and every one of them
And there was some serious collecting going on as they stretched the whole length of the wall

The whole wall was topped with coffee pots. And mostly they were enamel coffee pots, and made quite a sight. Too many to count, but definitely something to marvel at, and wonder if it was a household that liked coffee, as much as its coffee pots!



There were some hills too, and as usual I was slow up them. I was surprised to be overtaken by a speedy pensioner on one of the hills, until I realised she was on a motorised bike, it was even more of a surprise for MOH when she sped past him too. It actually wasn't the last we'd see of this group of older riders, and they were the only cyclists we met on the whole trip that soured our experience, and not just because they overtook us.

The gents were dressed head to toe in lycra, which is fine, we saw other cyclists who were, but most weren't. It's a leisurely route and unlikely ever to form part of the Tour de France, so it was a bit OTT, as was tagging onto the back of MOH and I as we cycled along, cycling almost on my back wheel. It was quite disconcerting, and in the end we pulled over to let them past so they could cycle how they wanted to without annoying us. 

Of course, as is always the way, then they stopped in the next town and so we were ahead of them again. And sure enough, they had to get past us again. We'd nicknamed them Grandad Pelaton by this stage and once again stopped to put some distance between us and them, and if I'm honest I was glad we were doing that detour to Vouvray, as it meant there'd be no further encounters with them; they weren't unpleasant, just pushy.

we cycled past vineyards too today which kind of made us thirsty

It was clearly our day to encounter cyclists. Out next encounter was as a couple of cyclists stopped to let us past. Well she did, he cycled on, and again this was fine. Only thing was he didn't realise her chain had come off, we did and so stopped to help her and eventually her OH returned to see what was going on. We are experts at chains on step-over bikes now, which was lucky as her OH was convinced, like we were to start with, that the chain cover didn't need to come off to put the chain back on. But it does, as I said we're experts!

We reached the point of our route where we needed to cross the river to detour into Vouvray. We weren't quite prepared for the size, or busyness of the bridge and seriously reconsidered the alternative route when we saw it. It was one of those large metal structures, without a segregated bike lane and with one of those huge roundabouts to get onto it. 

As we'd passed the Grandad Peloton, who'd stopped for a picnic lunch, we decided to continue to Vouvray and hope that wasn't their plan too. So over the bridge we went, and into Vouvray.

Our unscheduled stop in Vouvray where we decided to buy and try some of the wine of the same name

The only thing is, it was pretty much shut. But not all of it, it was a small town and what I'd call functional. We popped into the Grands Vins Du Val De Loire (above) and were treated to a fantastic welcome by the proprietor, who was keen to share his wines with us and of course sell us his wares. We tasted a few, bought a bottle of sparkling Vouvray to have with our lunch, which was promptly replaced with a chilled bottle after we shared our plans.

In the end we didn't have it with lunch, but that's because we cycled up the road and found a bar instead. I mean to have a glass of Vouvray in Vouvray, because we could, was an opportunity not to miss. We had second thoughts about buying another bottle we'd tried and so cycled back and bought a second bottle. That gave me a bit more of a packing challenge though, but I managed to find enough space in MOH's panniers for that second bottle, the chilled originally-for-lunch bottle had already been safely stowed in my wicker basket.





The trickiest part about our detour was finding our way back onto the path. We knew we weren't going back over the big bridge and it looked as if there was a route through the town and along the river again. It started off well, and then we missed a sign and ended up cycling along a pretty main road parallel to the river.  After a few rather large lorries rattled past us and worried for our new purchases, we realised we could drop down the embankment onto a much safer, and more relaxing route.

So we did, and we finally stopped for lunch too. And didn't drink the bottle of wine.

Our next challenge was to find our hotel in Tours, it was a pretty town to arrive in and by far the biggest town we'd been in for a while, so big it's actually a city and that was a bit of a shock, but not unpleasantly so. As usual I had the address of the hotel in my panniers but no actual directions to find it - that happens a lot, with the bikes and without - but this time we got lucky.

Somehow by following our nose (well, mine actually) we'd found ourselves on the same road as our hotel. It was a wide boulevard with two lanes of traffic either side of a tree lined walkway that was almost as wide as the space for traffic and so very French. It was ideal for cycling up and down looking for the hotel, and we couldn't help but wonder why we don't have something similar for cyclists and pedestrians back home. 

The view from our room in Tours

With the bikes parked in the garage around the corner, we arrived in our room to find we had our very own view of the boulevard outside. Actually it was a pretty stylish hotel, with plenty of modern touches alongside the classic French decor you imagine you'll find. This light - which turned out to be really hard to photograph - looked great, in that effortlessly French chic style.

the stunning light fitting in the hotel stairway which sadly my photo doesn't do justice too

And as well as the classic view from our window, the breakfast room provided its own oasis of calm, stealing light from the balcony above with the clever use of glass bricks - that's definitely something I'm storing away in case I ever get to do something similar. I probably won't ever get the chance to, but it was so clever and very effective.

They'd made the most of getting light into the space with these glass blocks forming the balconies above
A small outside space for guests which was an oasis of green in the city

Just imagine how fab it would be to have breakfast out on the terrace surrounded by the lushness of the garden? Sadly it was a little too damp and chilly for that to be a viable option for us, but all wasn't lost as this is the place that introduced me to chestnut spread, which I happily slathered all over my toast and went in search of in the supermarket, so I could bring some home.

Actually that reminds me, it's in the cupboard unopened. How on earth have I let that happen. I'll be right back, I've a jar of chestnut spread to find... and some bread to toast!

Back on the bike in Norfolk

We spent a relaxing weekend in Norfolk, a weekend that was much needed after the hubbub of life lately. As usual we strapped the bikes onto the car in the hope that the wintery weather wouldn't be, well that wintery. And we were in luck. On Saturday we woke to sunshine and forecasts of very little wind, so our tentative plan to cycle to The Fish Shed in Brancaster Staithe, a firm favourite of ours, was on.  

It'd been a while since I'd actually pushed my bike over the threshold, but it was only when we got home later that I realised my last bike ride was actually on 28 August. I'm not quite sure how that happened, or how it's been so long. But I'm hoping it won't be as long until my next bike ride, it's definitely worth making time for a cycle or two. 

So off on our favourite Route 1 we went.  As we were cycling along admiring the berry filled hedgerows I was fully expecting MOH to repeat his prediction of a cold winter, but he didn't. Instead he shared something revolutionary about saddle heights - bear with me. He'd raised his saddle significantly, so that on the down stroke his leg was almost straight, and this he told me, optimised the power he gets from each pedal. 



Well that got me thinking. I know I'm not exactly an elite athlete, and MOH is always amused by the love I have for my wicker basket, but I reckoned that I could do with all the help I could get pedal-wise. So I started to check out the straightness of my leg on the down stroke. And the result was it wasn't very straight at all. I can tell you're impressed I could do this and still stay on the bike, me too. When I paid attention I noticed I did seem quite hunched and so decided I'd try it out.

At the next suitable stopping point I pulled over and had MOH raise my saddle as a test. Well it went up by an inch and immediately it was more comfortable to cycle, let alone any of that extra power malarkey. I was instantly sold on this and decided to celebrate by taking some pictures of the countryside. 



We headed further along the narrow country lane, slowing occasionally so cars from behind could overtake us. There were ups and downs, or rather downs followed by ups, which are my favourite although it's guesswork to gauge when to start pedalling again on the up, but I'm getting the hang of it. The colour of the bracken was particularly spectacular and there was a whole length of yellow leaved bushes. I'd loved to have stopped and taken a photo, but they were on the downhill before an up and I didn't want to lose momentum.

Blazing ferns in the Norfolk countryside

Our next challenge was to find the right road to take us down into Brancaster Staithe to minimise how far we'd cycle along the A149. We got to the point below and realised we'd missed our turning. So while MOH double checked his route, I took some more photos of the countryside and one of my lovely neon top - it's certainly bright!

Norfolk countryside
me in my neon jacket in the norfolk countryside

While cycling with my saddle in a higher position was good, and I think to get my leg straight it could go higher, the only thing I realised when we stopped is that it makes getting on and off slightly more tricky than before. And that's something that I quickly got the hang of, but it might explain the slightly strange look on my face!

So we turned back to find our road. And when we did I was sure we'd cycled this way once before, but the other way, MOH was less sure. But sure enough we soon found ourselves at Barrow Common, a place we'd discovered for the first time earlier in the year. It's a place that to me, seems unlike the typical North Norfolk landscape and more like the New Forest with its shrubland of gorse.

barrow common in north norfolk
shrubland on barrow common in north norfolk

The views down to the coast were spectacular. There were also many paths, and dog walkers, heading into the common. One day we'll explore this area on foot and now that we know how to get here I think it'd be a great place in summer.  I suspect it's a place that not many tourists would know about too. I'll let you know what it's like in the spring/summer when we visit again. So far we've only managed visits in February and November.

A flowering gorse bush on barrow common in north norfolk

The gorse was in flower and it was another chance to park the bike, hop off and take some more shots. The one below is a particular favourite.

A close-up of a gorse bush on barrow common in north norfolk


The good news was that it was all downhill into Brancaster Staithe - yay! At the bottom we found ourselves next to the Jolly Sailor wondering if it was left or right. We opted for right, correctly and were soon buying fish for tea. We left the shop with two fillets of plaice - which I later turned into a lovely Plaice Florentine with the help of a pasta cheese sauce and a bag of spinach, a dressed crab and a few pickled herrings, all of which went into my lovely shopping basket. It was chilly enough that the fish didn't need packing in ice, even though our next stop was the cafe at Burnham Deepdale where we stopped for a rewarding hot chocolate, with all the trimmings, and bit of carrot cake. Yum.

Remembering we still had to cycle back we didn't linger as we were keen to get back before it was dark. This time we headed up Dalegate Lane - a road we hadn't been up (or down) before, and one I hoped would bring us to the turning into Barrow Common. The only thing was my legs were cold, and I knew there were hills ahead. So for the first time in a very long time I found myself doing those quick, little steps on the spot to warm myself up. The ones I used to avoid doing at netball training, but it was definitely the move to warm me up here.

The hills were cycled up without unscheduled stops, which if I'm honest is a first and we arrived back home in the daylight too.  And somehow  I'd clocked up a twenty-five miler, after no rides since the end of August. Thankfully nothing ached (and still hasn't) but I really shouldn't leave it so long next time!