Two, a Tandem and a Tyre Part Three

Two, a Tandem and a Tyre 05

It was a tearful world to which we awakened next morning, and all around our tent were ridges, puddles and mud.  “The third lumpy campsite in three!” Jack remarked.  By the time breakfast had been disposed of, and all packed up, the rain had ceased and a high wind was blowing the clouds away.

We rolled over the Mendips, exposed limestone downland, in the face of the wind which blew away the lingering traces of dampness from our clothing and set the busy housewives in prim villages a-hanging out their wash.  At Chewton Mendip we settled down for half an hour with cigarettes and a map, but found that frittering time away on holidays is not half as satisfying and enjoyable as when at work.  We joined a narrow lane that clambered uphill for a long way until I was all ‘hot and bothered’.  Jack said that he was sweating too, but I reiterated that Jack never sweats behind me on the tandem, and there was a flare-up behind until we found ourselves free-wheeling down a deepening dale for all the world like a main-road Derbyshire Dale.  The little crags became taller, the road steeper, winding down, down…… our speed increased…… and almost headlong we plunged into Cheddar Gorge.  There, mighty crags rose sheer from the tilted road towards scudding clouds, pinnacles contorted, and shining-grey cliffs, now smooth, now furrowed with age-old cracks and weathered gullies.  Down below was quiet and still, and only the chasing clouds in the narrow strip of sky above gave movement to that picture of silent grandeur, Cheddar Gorge.

Nowhere in Britain has limestone such a sight to show to the open sky, and nowhere in Britain’s limestone nether-worlds are such places of lavish splendour as the Cheddar caves, the greatest of which we “saw and entered not” for two main reasons.  Wookey Hole Cave in the village of Cheddar at the foot of the Gorge is commercialised, and visitors are tied to the expensive apron-strings of a guide.  It is possible to hold an independent exploration, but the cost is prohibitive, and conditions require such things as writing in advance.

The second reason was more important.  Cheese.  That was the first thing that drew our attention on entering the village.  It is advertised lavishly, but nobody ever needs to advertise it.  It advertises itself.  You can get it in paper wrappers, in boxes, in tins, in barrels, or you can seal it yourself in an iron-bound casket, but however you imprison the body, the soul of it will rise triumphantly.  It is sold in little squares and triangles, and it is sold in full-grown cheeses; it is reared up and piled up in every shop window, and in some places it stands by itself unaided.  Restraining a natural impulse to fly, we looked around, but Wooky Hole Cave, picture postcards, and bars of Cheddar rock (probably made in Manchester) seemed to be the only things on view – except, of course, the notorious cheese of Cheddar in various stages of decomposition.  At the far end of the village, where the influence of the Cheese was not so keen, we bought bread and (Cheddar) butter, cakes, strawberries, and Cheddar cream, and ate the whole lot in the quiet seclusion of a little lane beyond sight and sound of Cheddar cheeses.

Two, a Tandem and a Tyre 03

The sun came out.  A little lane of exquisite beauty just below the Mendips took us to Wells, and to the crowning glory of that old Somerset city, the Cathedral.  The magic of stone and stained glass in this work of many years commands the admiration of whomever views it, though again the blatant parade of banners of war and violent suppression aroused my rebellious blood.  I enter the wonderful edifices of old England not with Christian spirit, and leave without the dawn of a prayer on my lips or in my heart.  I enter for the sheer pleasure of magnificent architecture, and my reverence is for the preservation of stone, not the religion or the superstitious ignorance of priests.  I hate them !

We reached King Arthur’s Land.  Glastonbury Tor, rising from the plains and crowned by a single tower, could hardly be likened to “Many tower’d Camelot”, but my willing imagination supplied the deficit, and I built it anew – as it used to be and is now in legend-lore.  But romance became knocked off by the persistence of the hard headwind that spoiled our combined efforts.  A rambling lane, perfectly level, led us through tiny marsh villages that have little changed from Alfred’s days, and at the very village where the much-vaunted barbarian is said to have let the cakes burn we quenched our thirsts with cider shandies, a drink which Jack avows “spoils good cider”.  Sedgemoor, where, in 1684 the last battle was fought on English soil, took us to Taunton, where we ‘bought-in’ for tea.  In a lane off the highway we polished off a two-pound loaf, a bun loaf, a huge slab of cake, a tin of beans, tomatoes and a whole box of little St Ivel cheeses without turning a hair, and had we possessed more food that would have gone the same way.  We were acquiring a holiday appetite.  We promised ourselves supper in Devon, for already we had lost a whole day on our ‘dash’ south and had got into a carefree, come what will, attitude.  A holiday attitude.

From Wellington we got a move on; the wind had dropped, and we did really well along miles of rolling highway, crossing the border of Devon, which, on that beautiful night, really did look like dreamy Devon at last.  At Cullompton we found every shop closed except one, for it was early closing day.  That one was a saddler’s , and as dog biscuits and poultry food figured in the window, I suggested that a few dog biscuits for supper might improve Jack’s voice on the principle that a moderate dog-bark is preferable to the hideous croak he calls singing.  All the inhabitants turned out to hear the bother that followed, until, having used up all his expletives, Jack opined that we get along quick ere closing time in the next village.

We had just started ‘getting along quick’ when the rear tyre expired with a sigh, shattering our hopes of having cured the trouble.  Patching it was a tedious job, for it was now all-over patches, and a new tube was imperative.  Once more we got swinging along at a rare pace, but the time grew later and not a village did we see.  Closing time passed; we increased the speed; dusk fell, and ‘blinding’ with the fury that only a wild fear of going supper-less and without breakfast can produce, until, only ten miles from Exeter, we reached a shuttered-up village with a shuttered-up shop.  At the side door our salvation was assured.  For a further five miles we hunted for a campsite, asking a sweet little Devon lass who answered our knock at a wayside cottage door.  She directed us to a farm along a private drive, and I found her an interesting and interested acquaintance until Jack soullessly dragged me away.  The farm was really a small mansion, and everybody was in bed, so we decided to select a site for ourselves and do the asking on the morrow.  Quickly enough were we acquiring that cool cheek that makes the successful hobo.

Without further ado we pitched and had supper – and just restrained ourselves from eating our whole supplies.  As had become the rule, the site was stony, but even a few large clinkers in the small of the back obstructed our slumber little.





















































Two, a Tandem and a Tyre Part Two

At a farm which hugged close to a beautiful old church I obtained smiling permission to camp in the ‘second field by the river’.  Blundering along a footpath, I found myself by the Severn, wide, deep, oily in the dusk, and somewhat hazy as to directions, I chose the nearest field, which was full of ‘bumps’, and soon had the little tent erected.  The tandem pair came up with eggs and milk and the news that an old man had just dropped dead on the village green.  Such cheerful news was followed by the inevitable arrival of a bevy of small boys who stood around with a look of awe on each face, and whispered to each other of our audacity in camping on “Old Skinflints” field.  Enquiries elicited the information that we were in the wrong field, and that “Skinflint” was dead against camping on his ground; he was the small boys bogey, we learned.

Then along came the towing-path keeper, who verified  the youngsters’ remarks, and gave us an insight into the character of the fearful old monster whose land we dared to occupy.  Apparently he was a power in the land, with fabulous wealth, a tremendous acreage, and a local magistrate to boot; consequently he held the means to crush any villager who dared lift a finger or say a word against him or his – and he never failed to use his power when necessary.  All this might appear very terrifying, but it did not the least trouble the town-bred, proletarian minds of Jack and I.  We said so, and implied that fifty village tyrants would not shift us that night, where-upon the towing-path keeper beamed on us.  He said he had waited years for someone who was not afraid of “Skinflint”, and with embellishments suitable to the occasion, told us what he thought of the tyrant – what he had dared tell no-one before.  So he departed, much relieved.

Jack gave me what he called a quiet lecture, stressing my shortcomings as a leader and when left to my own devices, recounting to our amused friend the numerous scrapes we had got into under my direction.  Over supper a wordy battle ensued till at last words, “Skinflint”, and everything was forgotten in the soundness of slumber. Two, a Tandem and a Tyre 04

Once more I awoke to the pleasant sound of a ‘Primus’ stove, but the early riser was not Jack: Jack lay beside me slumbering lazily, though when our friend handed me Ovaltine and biscuits, he promptly awoke and demanded his share.  Life seemed very fine just then !  We went for a swim in the river which was quite warm, but not too clean and very deep, for at that point it is navigated by quite respectably-sized vessels, and when we returned our energetic friend had breakfast ready.

Just as we finished old “Skinflint” came along.  We saw his white smock in the distance and prepared a hearty reception, but beneath the smock and smock-hat walked an insignificant specimen (though of sour ill-tempered feature), that we were frankly surprised and disappointed.  We had expected a ferocious monster with a whirl-wind of fiery oaths descending upon us, but instead we got what Jack contemptuously called “that” (with emphasis), and a surly request to “clear off”.  He went off to count his sheep, and finding all OK, he disappeared.  So we packed up, went off to pay our dues at the farm, and to admire the beautiful church and a sweet modern miss who smiled (the girl, not the church) …….  Jack was relentless, and dragged me into a welter of lanes.  We followed the map, and for once we reckoned right, by lanes of rare beauty, to the City of Gloucester, and to its old Cathedral, which we explored as best we could whilst a service was being conducted, for it was Sunday morning.  The thing that struck me most at Gloucester Cathedral was the organ, which played with a richness and mellowness of tone that I have never yet heard the like.

Then it started to rain.  Our chum departed for home, and we picked up a Bristol cyclist who took us to a little place along the broad Bristol road for lunch and shelter.  Here he persuaded us to accompany him home, and so, for that day at least, we threw our hopes of ‘fetching’ the South coast to the winds.  All along the thirty-five miles the rain poured down, and a strong headwind drove it under our capes till we were drenched.  On the tandem we could have made light of the wind and short work of the miles, but our companion was slower, and ere Bristol was reached he was ‘all out’ in cycling terms.  Suburbia led us to Clifton Downs, and we rode above the famous Gorge and suspension bridge, and descended on a winding road till the Clifton suspension bridge was far above in slender-threaded grace.  Emerging onto wharves, whose main features were large bonded factories for tobacco – for all the world like cotton mills at home, we climbed heavily until the tumbled city streets lay below, and reached our host’s house.  There was nobody at home, and after changing our soaked footwear, and having a wash, we laid ourselves a sumptuous tea.

Our Bristol cyclist was no mean host, and it was late when he led us down his garden packed with full-bloomed roses to our tandem, introduced us to the vicar who carried on business in the church next door, and who was on fighting terms with him, and took us to a nearby shop which a delightful girl and her “Mama” opened for our benefit.  While “Mama” served Jack, I got along fine with the daughter till Jack began a sermon about the time, and other material urgencies.  The Bristol chap gave us explicit directions for the Wells road, but as soon as we bade adieu to him we went wrong and wandered through miles of uncharted suburban deserts.  At dusk we found ourselves at Keynsham, five miles along the Bath road, and then a corrective byway ran us slap into the wind, and we got another drenching as we slogged along open-downs country.  Darkness came on, and storm clouds gave their worst until a place called Marksbury was reached where we gave in – still forty miles from the Devon border – and sunshine and warm winds……….  We pitched our tent during a momentary lull, in a sheltered field, and discovered one or two uncomfortable things such as the loss of a stove valve which rendered the stove just useless cargo for the rest of the tour, and dampness on parts of the sleeping bags.  We had another stove however, and nothing worried us for long on that eventful holiday.  After the soothing influence of supper we turned in and slept as hardened campers should sleep.







Two, a Tandem and a Tyre Part One

Two, a Tandem and a TyreThis is Charlie’s most amusing story.  The patience Charlie and Jack put into not just the poor tandem, but their holiday, speaks volumes for that sometimes most elusive of emotions, patience.

It is said that whatever one desires, if the desire is followed assiduously, and is not exaggerated, is within reach.  Jack had formulated a great desire.  The energy Jack put into his particular desire was out of all proportion considered in relation to his desire for work.  I am the same.  Whatever Jack and I possess in common is amply made up by the studious energy we collectively display in striving to avoid the enslaving demon, Work.  There we shine as a twin planet of the first magnitude.

Jack and I had been bosom companions.  That was before ‘she’ had come along and made him a half-unwilling captive.  I say half-unwilling with due respect to all personal feelings, for, though we of the “We.R.7” – his companions – had striven might and main to keep him in our bachelor fold, not one of us could blame him when we first saw the cause of his downfall – smiling sweetly, and charmingly attired in rationals – behind his new tandem.

Until then, as I have said, Jack and I had been bosom companions.  We had pottered together; we had toured together; we had even camped together, and together we had made tandem tyres sing on many a highway.  So it happened when Jack’s holidays came round I was hard at work – relatively hard, I mean.  And when the time for my holidays approached, Jack was – relatively – hard at work.  And Jack conceived a great desire – for another holiday.  We were both keen; we would tour on tandem in Devon and Cornwall, camping, bathing, pottering.  It would be a living fantasy of our old “We.R.7” days – a drawn-out resuscitation of Utopia.  We enthused jointly, and declared that life could not continue without a realisation of our dreams.  As time drew nearer to my holidays, Jack’s desire had kindled into a burning conviction that another holiday was his moral right; a sheer necessity.  At work his desire began to show itself: Jack worked harder, displayed an unprecedented longing for it, craved to his employer for more.  Such phenomena was bound to set the ‘boss’ wondering, so at the crucial moment Jack popped the momentous question.  Of course he wasn’t so blatant about it, for Jack is something of a diplomat when the occasion demands.  He knew trade was very slack, and thereby lay his chance……  the matter was somehow squared, and for the intermediate days Jack’s face took on a beam of pleasure.

There was a second hurdle to be jumped, but Jack’s desire was equal to any obstacle.  ‘She’ had to be appeased of course, and though I am not at liberty to divulge (even were I in the position to) how he gained her approval, I can say that a picture postcard a day, a pot of Devon Cream, and a lovely holiday gift figured largely in the ultimate agreement.

During the last few days at home we promised postcards and Devon cream lavishly.  Relatives and friends demanded at least a card each; some could only be satisfied with a pot of cream, and by the time the last request had been registered, our obligations – for a mere ten days tour – had assumed mountainous proportions.  It was jocularly suggested that we take an abode somewhere close at hand, acquire a gross of assorted views of Devon and a large consignment of cream, and with ample cider at hand to work up the correct atmosphere, spend our ten days posting cream and cards.

But joking apart, all the essentials of a wonderful holiday were there.  A tandem, a complete lightweight camping outfit, and two real pals.  On preliminary canters – I as “Captain”. Jack as “crew”, we felt our old form creeping back, and never before had we romped along as we did on nightly excursions on that beautiful little speed-iron.

We left home on the Friday evening of a seemingly endless last day of work, with the prophecy to ‘fetch’ Devon by Sunday morning – for weal or woe.

Two, a Tandem and a Tyre 02 001

Our old form came back to us immediately; with the harmony of dual effort we sped into the open country on glossy main roads of swinging contour.  Often the legal speed-limit for mechanical vehicles was easily broken when a downward trend sent us free-wheeling beyond pedalling range (for we were geared low), and lane-ends, fork roads, and cyclists houses of call of many a year’s familiarity dropped back into the limbo of forgotten yesterdays.  Sunset hid behind the low green hills of Peckforton as we, with restrained wheels, traversed the hill-foot lane to the old, beloved campsite below ‘the Gap’……..  and in less than two and a half hours from leaving home we were cooking supper under the eave of our ‘Itisa’, forty miles distant.  The spell was on.

I awoke to pleasant sounds and sight.  The stoves were both roaring, breakfast was sizzling, and Jack was cutting bread.  I lay stunned for a time at this new, unexplained magnamity on the part of Jack.  Perhaps he was turning over a new leaf.  I hoped so, for here would be the Ideal Companion of my dreams, and a treasure if carefully and properly trained.  I tried to train him a little there and then as I lay snug, but he retaliated with offensive remarks about laziness that was not at all consistent with  the spirit of comradeship and helpfulness that I was striving to foster in him.  In the end I had to leave the warm cosiness of the sleeping bag, and have a wash before I could breakfast in peace.

It was an ideal morning, the seeming herald of days to come, and in great spirits we packed up and continued the trek.  The tangled network of lanes leading towards Whitchurch baffled us; we scorned to use a map in such a familiar district, and we soon got lost, wandering into the private grounds of Cholmondeley Castle on a beastly surfaced road that caused two spoke breakages.  Close to the doors of the Castle, we were engaged in a quiet argument about the sheer lack of road knowledge the other possessed, when along came a gamekeeper, who joined the conversation.  Our presence didn’t rhapsodise him altogether, and he said so quite bluntly as he directed us to the nearest exit.  Somewhat subdued by the unfriendly ways of man, we hied along the main road to Whitchurch, where Jack disappeared into a cycle shop for some spokes, and I made myself at home on the kerb.

An hour later, he awoke me.  He had been having the spokes made, apparently.  We skipped away at a rare pace across Prees Heath, and into lovely Shropshire country, over a red sandstone range of hills to Hodnet and Crudgington; seventeen miles in well under the hour.  We had lunch at an old-world inn at the latter place, and chatted with a motoring party who were returning home from holidays in Devon.  They had left sunshine and warm winds…….. we carried on, dreaming about those warm winds and singing.  That is, I sang.  Jack croaked, although he swore to the opposite.  Wellington’s dirt and industrialism put an end to our duet, and from Wellington two or three dusty hills left us hot and sticky till Madeley and fair Salop – and what Jack calls his singing again.  We glided down into the Severn Valley, where Bridgenorth quaintly climbs a steep hill with an ancient street and bridge.  Rural England, trim and sweet with villages hardly touched by the despoiler, lay along that shining highway.  We climbed to the hilltop border of Worcestershire and looked outward into crinkly country deep in trees; we descended in graceful sweeps to Kidderminster, which lies so near the heart of school-book history and looks so, but the Saturday afternoon crowds a-shopping in the narrow streets turned us away (speaking metaphorically), and we hied towards Worcester.  Near the top of a hill, a mile outside Kidderminster, a whipping sound behind us caused us to dismount just in time to catch the rear tyre blowing off the rim.  Although puzzled, we replaced it light-heartedly enough, and immediately forgot it.  Little did we dream what that accident foreboded, how it was to change our holiday completely, and almost change our Utopia into a fiasco.  Almost……….

The sun was shining and all along the road rural folks hawked strawberries.  I acquainted Jack with my great yearning for a tea of strawberries and cream, but Jack disagreed.  Such delicacies are alright for ladies and invalids, he said, but for elephants, wolves and cyclists on tour they are unhealthy.  Whilst I was heatedly engaged in pointing out the peculiar vitamin richness of this succulent dish there was a sharp explosion abaft and we sank to the rim.  Our hearts sank as well as we reviewed the catastrophe, and the strawberry and cream argument was forgotten.  The rear tyre had blown off and the inner tube was in a sorry case.  We stood looking at it until Jack, in a rare  flash of real brilliance, suggested that we have tea (there being a place at hand), so we repaired thence.  There was another cyclist in, an enthusiast on a ‘sleeping bag’ weekend (camping without a tent), and after due discussion, he decided to join us.

Jack was the mechanic, so he repaired the tube whilst I gave advice.  He disregarded it, as he always does, and in a couple of miles the same thing occurred again.  All along the way to the ‘City of the Faithful’ we had three more bursts, and the road was strewn with bits of inner tube and epithets.  Our companion was the guide in Worcester, which was narrow, crowded and confusing.  We had to view the great cathedral from without, then we sat on the river wall till the sun was low, watching the pleasure boats on the broad bosom of the Severn.  We left the city by the Severn Bridge and joined a secondary road.

The road was all we could desire with common land of golden gorse, woodlands, distant views of the placid river, and far hill-woods – the Malverns.  The evening had settled quietly as a summer evening does, our tyre troubled us no more, and we became at peace with the world and each other.  The slow march of dusk turned our thoughts to camping, then we remembered – the groceries !  Closing time an hour gone, Sunday tomorrow, and we hadn’t an atom of food.  The quiet evening became loud with the alternating voices of Jack and I, and the road fled underwheel in response to the urge on the pedals – the urge to reach a village shop.  The alarm proved false.  Upton-on-Severn was our saving grace and we laid in well and truly, continuing our ride in settled state once more.  Came Tewksbury, battlefield of long ago, with quaint old streets and a Saxon abbey that seemed still wrapped up in its turbulent history – and the Severn gliding placidly by.  We lingered in Tewksbury till twilight’s deeper shades bade us move along, then made a gallant show on the Gloucester road.  The gallant show came to a ludicrous end when the rear tyre flattened out.  The Bogey had returned.  The map came out, and a village by the Severn was settled on as our possible campsite; our friend bravely offered his bike so that I might go and make arrangements in advance.  So I turned along two miles of lanes already summer-dark to the lovely little village of Deerhurst.


The Roman Steps in West Wales

This story is a bit of a tease!  I cannot imagine that the Romans would take the trouble to literally staircase a whole mountain pass with no communities at either end, it would have been fruitless – but then the discussion moves on to whoever did think it right and proper to build what was built.  The other question that lingers on, who else would have taken the trouble to build the steps, no small undertaking ?  It is not as though steps were needed due to the gradient, any more than a thousand other mountain paths in the UK.  I attach Charlie’s picture of the steps because they are so often mentioned but never seen.

When my family, many decades ago, ventured forth to climb these steps, our daughter Fiona, who would have been about seven years old – making the year about 1973 –  we had purchased a brand new pair of walking boots for her.  As soon as we started out she got the hang of everything and promptly set a cracking pace, we didn’t see her again until we arrived at the summit.  The return was much slower, and she later displayed a lack of enthusiasm for wearing the said boots again, although they were worn occasionally.  Burn out or sore feet ?  How things move on.  Here am I nearing the end of 2018, rapidly approaching the age of 80 and wondering how much time I may have left, but proud to tell you that Fiona has just bought a new bicycle and has always been very supportive of Project Charlie and my efforts to keep him remembered.

However, here is Charlie’s take on the Roman Steps, built by…..?

The Roman Steps

For those who wish to visit this Welsh delight, it lies about halfway – due East – between Harlech and the A487 trunk road.  Charlie, so far as I remember only crossed the Roman Steps once, years ago, and I have no other references to the Steps.  The  crossing of these steps is described in Volume One of Charlie’s Journals, inside a story starting on Page 57 titled ‘Three on Tour’.  One thing I can show you is how the close relationship between Charlie and Tom Idle eventually came to an end.  In September 1931 Tom Idle got married to a welsh girl called Blodwen Williams, and Charlie was very gutted at losing his friend, because although information is sketchy, I have come across some jottings on scrap paper about Charlie visiting a long lost friend – no names mentioned – and them taking a short walk and trying to recapture their past happiness.  It could only have been Tom that Charlie had in mind.

Charlie did attend the wedding, which took place Llantysilio a little to the west of Llangollen, but is silent thereafter about the loss of his chum, so I can only presume that Tom settled down in Wales rather than near his parents in Manchester.  It is also possible that Tom was obliged to buy a car to transport his new wife – as indeed I was some 30 years or so later, leading to a reduction or cessation of cycling trips !

Tom Idle Wedding 001

Jenkin Chapel, Saltersford

Today a short history lesson.  The picture shows a small chapel near the hamlet of Saltersford, in Derbyshire, which was built by the local community in the early 1700’s, and to be honest you could do no better than looking it all up on Google and Wikipedia.  There is a lot of history around here, the chapel is built adjacent to the local track which was originally a Roman Road.  In the area is a stone at the roadside commemorating the death of a local pack horse owner:  ‘Here John Turner was cast away in a heavy snowstorm in the night in or about the year 1733′  Lots and lots of history.  Look up flickr as well !  John’s horses despite spending the night in the open all survived under the snow which built up.  Because local labour was used to construct the chapel the familiar church shape is not used, they normally built cottages.

Jenkin Chapel, SaltersfordSaltersford gets its name from local traffic.  John Turner, who was one of the sons of Saltersford Hall before he so sadly died, operated pack horses which routinely conveyed salt from the salt workings in Cheshire, to Derby, and return loads of malt for local brewers. Hence the name of Saltersford.  Charlie, not having the benefit of social media, ponders the purpose of this chapel and learns little with his local inquiries.

A Rare Grouping

It is not on every occasion we see these leading characters posing for posterity.

Left to right:  Mr Charles Chadwick, Mr Tom Idle, and ‘Blackberry Joe’.  Contemplate if you care the ground conditions and their clothing.  Not much protection against the wind chill factor if I may say so !  This picture was taken in the Peckforton Woods on the 17th of January, 1926. The day was as you can see somewhat inclement, but from his runs log I can see that the weather was very much snow, and they ONLY achieved 90 miles. Dressed like that with no toeclips and frequently only one brake, but with fixed gear, these guys were Titans compared to the likes of us !

Photo Album Page 3009Charlie and Jack Sept 1927By way of a contrast 18 months later, on the shores of Ullswater, Charlie and Jack (Jack of the hilarious tour of the southwest on a tandem ‘Two, A Tandem and a Tyre’, Book Two) have been swimming in the Lake, and you should have Charlie’s caption to this picture, which was ‘The Human Form Divine’.  I cannot imagine what Charlie was thinking about at the time !

More Meanderings in the 1920’s

This picture was one of three taken on a Sunday run into South Cheshire, the purpose being to visit Moreton Old Hall, which Charlie tells us is one of England’s Finest Tudor Houses.  Photo taken September 14, 1924.  Charlie records his mileage for that day as 96.  A week later he visited Lymm, 54 miles, summarised in one word ‘Deluge’.

3004The next picture is of the Cat and Fiddle Inn, high up in Derbyshire, above Buxton, second only to the Tan Hill Inn (Yorkshire) in terms of height above sea level.  It is a wintry scene and I imagine looking at the building that living there would be a cold and draughty experience.

Photo Album Page 3008Tom and Charlie in CheedaleThis picture taken in November 4th 1928 shows a very happy Tom Idle and Charlie Chadwick in Cheedale, Derbyshire. their mileage that day was 102.  I did a lot of Club riding in my long past youth, and I have to say that 102 miles in hilly country in November was no small feat.  But these guys did this sort of thing almost every time they went out.  In fact, looking in Charlie’s logbook, the following Sunday they journeyed into North Yorkshire on a tandem (that would be Jack’s tandem) and covered 104 miles.  In that last Sunday of November Charlie records only 78 miles but comments  GALE  and FLEETWOOD DISASTER, whatever tragedy that turned out to be.

More Miscellany !!!

Tom left, Charlie right 003This photo, taken on a run to Peckforton Gap 25th August 1925, is the very best picture of the two chums together, Tom Idle on the other side of the wall, Charlie at this side. We can follow this up with a picture of Tom, no location or date given, on his bike and a further one below of Tom standing in the backyard of an unknown house.  Suffice to say that although Charlie wrote much in his photo albums, it wasn’t enough to help an outsider looking through the many pictures !

Tom Idle in the early days 1001Photo Album Page 3006Just look at those trouser turnups, better than vacuum cleaners !

Easter Tour 1926 – A Miscellany

We are having a different take today on Charlie’s records, because as some of you know, Charlie and his pal Tom Idle were great photographers, probably with a Kodak Brownie, or some other make of popular camera that could be acquired for little outlay !

This page in his photo album, like all the other pages which I intend to cover, shows lots of cyclists but almost no names, so I will do my best to help you, because I have to guess as well.

Album 1923002

This one above claims to be a picture of the We.R.7, although one can only count six, because there is someone having to take the picture, we have no names to put to any face.  However I can be certain that the gent at lower left with the CTC badge is Charlie and I am hazarding a guess that the second in from the right clasping a cigarette could be Blackberry Joe.

We have just the one shot of Blackberry Joe, on the Cold Door Pass, with a pithy comment by Charlie.   Blackberry Joe….  ‘Like an overgrown and somewhat clumsy chorus girl’.  So that’s settled then !

Album 1926009Album 1926010The Photo at the waterfall above, is most certainly Charlie centre stage, and I feel the guy behind him is Blackberry Joe, and the picture is captioned as being taken at Cynwyd Waterfall.   I am also fairly certain the guy next to Charlie at extreme left is Tom Idle.

The picture below was taken near Llwyngwryl, seemingly, and the next picture further below  was taken at Pentre Voelas on the Bettws-Corwen road, taking a drink from the viAlbum 1926008llage tap, often near horse troughs.  Did I just hear ‘What is a horse trough?’

And finally either drinking or washing, who knows, ‘Near Llwyngwryl’

The actual story of this Easter Tour can be found in Book Four of Charlie’s cycling diaries on Page 59.

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The Missing Saturday in 1926

The Narrow Way to Paradise001

 Ambition is the forerunner of trouble.  The We.R.7. CC are ambitious, and therefore, in the wake of the We.R.7, trouble is often churned up.  And not only for the ‘We Are Seven’.  Each one of us cherishes, apart from cycling, some personal ambition, which now and then infects the rest, when trouble with a capital ‘T’ usually turns up.  When Tom gets going with his camera he turns pictures out that are beautiful, and pictures never intended to be beautiful, or to be shown round (by his victim).  I know, for a certain unposed camera study which I own a not unnatural likeness to, has found its way into an exhibition and half the ‘grub shops’ we haunt.  And then there is that Fred fellow, who, had he been gently stifled at birth, would have saved several people from misery.  His one ambition in life seems to be to torture his victim to death by means of repartee and practical jokes, and so subtle is he over it that all but the sufferer takes it as a joke!  They each of them have their ambition in one way or another, and I have mine.  Thereon hangs a story.

It was a particularly hot Easter Sunday when five particularly hot ‘We are Seveners’, after clearing the entire stock of a catering house, found themselves in the Pass of Llanberis.  I was one of the five so as I had read much of the certain wild little lake in the lap of the cliffs of Crib Goch, I said “Wot abaht it?”,  ‘it’ being a scramble up to the lake.  There must have been a superabundance of energy amongst them that afternoon, for they agreed, and we dumped the bikes and, like an attacking army, spread ourselves all over the screes, each taking the ‘easiest’ way.  Now I am concerned with my own little exploit.  My great ambition next to cycling was rock-climbing, (it’s a lesser ambition now), and I decided that rock-climbing it should be.  When I was seventeen and before, I possessed the normal lust for ‘penny dreadfuls’, and always the biggest ‘dreadful’ was that in which the hero hung by his finger nails to a towering precipice, or got wandering in underground passages where death lurked at every step.  The higher the precipice, or the lower the tunnel, the bigger the thrill.  I have previously explained the subterranean side, so now for the other.

Reading about it was not enough, for a cousin of mine who was more daring, and myself, went on climbing expeditions to various quarries, and many were the tight corners we got into.  We holidayed every year together, and it was our boast that we could climb the cliffs at Bray (Ireland) and Douglas Head in the Isle of Man, in their most difficult points.  I was only about eight years old when he saved me from at least a serious injury on Bray Head, and so I always looked on him as the leader.  (Poor fellow, he is married now, I was the best Man).  For a time cycling made me forget climbing, but when I saw the granite giants of Wales my old longing to emulate a fly on the wall returned, so I guessed that here was my chance.

On the unprotected slopes the hot sun beat mercilessly, and it was real toil on either slippery grass or amongst little boulders.  When at length we reached the hollow we found another endless scree leading up to another recess which was Cwm Glas.  A little to the left, however, a stream came cascading down jagged little precipices and monstrous rocks, and, by taking the course of it, I calculated on a more interesting and direct ascent.  The rest preferred the screes, with the exception of Billy.  As luck would have it I had chanced on a good ‘staircase’ climb, though the rocks were not ideal, neither was the shower bath which fell to my lot more than once when I had to recourse to the waterway.  Once I dislodged a boulder that would weigh somewhere near half a ton, and sent it flying down (inadvertently), rebounding and splintering as it crashed from cliff to cliff with a force and noise that was stunning, and bringing in its train a thousand others.  A spectacular sight but dangerous when others are in its way, and a little awkward for the climber when it goes without warning.  By the time I reached Cwm Glas the others had been and turned back with the exception of Fred, who, like me, had the fever on him, and motioned me to come along higher.  But a moment in Cwm Glas!

Picture two little lakes – one with an island in it, the other very tiny; behind them a wild scree sweeping steeply upwards to the base of a huge semicircle of rocks which rose in a jagged line into the blue sky; that is Snowdon’s wild northern arm, Crib Goch (Red Ridge).  Follow the crescent round, see how the crags break into furrows and bulge outwardly, until the end comes in one great bastion of toothed rock, which is called Clogwyn-y-Person, or the cliff of the Parson.  The Parson’s nose is an overhanging abutment that is all splinters and seems ready to fall away from the main mass.  Turn about and look down the screes and across the chasm to the mountains beyond.  The immense cliffs we saw from the Pass are dwarfed; behind them is ranged peak above peak, crag above crag, precipice above precipice.  Even this in our own little Wales makes one catch his breath and realise the smallness of man and the vastness of the world.

I made a move after Fred, but after a lot of slab-climbing found a deep crevice between his route and mine, so I started to climb the rock-face, hoping to reach the summit quickly that way.  What a novice I was, trying to scale cliffs that experts avoid!  The rock was rotten; it lay in a slantwise stratification, and was at first full of holds, none of which were secure; but I had let my enthusiasm run away with me, and climbed on and on blissfully.  The holds became less frequent and more shaky, the rock becoming perpendicular, so that looking down between my feet I could see Llyn Glas like a little pond.  Then an outward bulge put an effective bar to progress, and though I scrutinised the rock I saw no possibility of climbing another foot.  How much harder it is to get down than to climb up!

I tried to descend but found I daren’t move, so I hung on a bit and surveyed the wild cliffs on each side and watched the shadows creep across the solitudes and stared down through a hundred feet of nothingness between me and the lakeside slabs.  But my hands were tiring.  I tried to leave my perch again, lowering my feet towards a ledge, taking the weight on my arms.  Knowing the condition of the rock I might have guessed what would happen.  The knob of rock in my left hand broke, the other slipped, I said aloud “Now I’m done for!”, and slid downwards.  How I kept upright I don’t know, but I grabbed at one ledge then at another, gaining speed, until my foot caught a jutting piece, and before I could go backwards I frantically grabbed at another and stuck.  I stuck a while, too, gathering my wits together, wondering what I should have felt had I gone backwards and cleared a hundred feet at once, and measuring the distance I had slipped, which I estimated at about twelve feet.  Without mishap I covered the rest of the descent to some smooth, shelving slabs, which I tried to cross in a sitting posture, started to slide, and got a sickening sensation before I could scotch myself, and, reaching firm ground, breathed a sigh of relief.  Damages: rubbed skin off my wrist, torn shorts [known as knickers in those days!], and barked shins; I had had a marvellous escape.

The shadows had entirely covered Cwm Glas when I crossed it and wormed my way down the long screes to the boggy hollow, towards those ever so tiny crawling things below – the motors on the road.  Looking back I saw the cliffs I had essayed to climb.  Why, I had been attempting suicide, for above the point I had reached they hung like a great canopy.  From the boggy hollow the ‘crawling things’ resolved themselves into traffic, and at length I joined the party.  We waited a long time for Fred, who, when he reached us waxed enthusiastic over the climb.  He had found a break in the cliffs, and reached the summit of Crib Goch (3,023 ft), telling us of the wonderful views from that point.  And I, seeing a new way up Snowdon, resolved that Cwm Glas had not done with me

The Second Attempt

 As I have explained earlier in ‘This Freedom’, my real reason for making a dash from Devon was to climb Snowdon with my uncle.  Now my uncle is my superior by at least 15 years, and is quite an orthodox person.  He is a motor-cyclist of the easy-going-I-am-out-to-see-the-scenery type, had the orthodox hatred (I won’t say fear) of rain, likes long rambles on a path, and likes climbing mountains – on a path.  I am orthodox too, though I don’t care a damn for the weather, like long rambles mostly off the path, and like mountains, though I don’t care for a path up them.  I claim, (modestly enough) that I possess a bit of the ‘old Adam’.  So when I had been in Cwm Glas at Easter, I figured that that was my way up Snowdon.  The guide books warn people to climb Snowdon by the defined routes only; one going so far as to issue a solemn forecast of trouble for the novice who tries to reach the summit via Cwm Glas and Crib Goch, painting horrible pictures of past accidents and incidents, and telling how strong men cross the ‘Crazy Pinnacles’ on their hands and knees in fear and trembling.  My own particular bit of ‘old Adam’ therefore rose, and if I had possessed any doubt about the wisdom or otherwise of the ascent, it was thereupon banished.  It would be via Crib Goch or none!  Uncle was ignorant of all this, so I had hopes of dragging him up too, and when the two London cyclists asked if they might come along I jumped at it.  So it came about that we were four.

For many people the weather that day would have put the lid on our plans, but not so us, though uncle was not too keen when he saw the ceaseless rain and the heavy mists which cloaked every height around.  We got Mrs Jones to pack us a great load of sandwiches in two (converted) rucksacks, and bought some chocolate and fruit, and thus armed started towards the Pass.  I did not think it was so far.  After a good hour walking we came to Nant Peris at the foot of the Pass, so being hungry we got a pot of tea at a pub and made the first inroads in our rucksacks.  By then it would be about 1pm.  Then another long walk brought us to our starting point just below Pont-y-Cromlech, midway up the Pass of Llanberis.

The rain came down in torrents and an upward glance revealed the plastic mists engulfing all but the lower screes.  The impression I gained at that moment was tremendous, and I think I realised the significance of what we were tackling.  “Reach Snowdon through that!” cried my uncle, “never; do you know the way?”  “Of course”, I said, lying glibly.  By the time we had climbed  200 feet of screes, uncle revolted.  “I’m not going up another inch, its madness”, he said, and urged us to go back with him or let him go, which we did, reluctantly enough.  Afterwards I was glad for he hasn’t got the perspective for this kind of ‘stunt’.  We settled down to a hot, wet scramble over bog and rock and stream until we reached the first hollow which was very lonely and wild.  Below, everything was wrapped in mist, above, very near to us, the curling grey tongues rolled, and from somewhere amid them came a waterfall, the cascading stream of Easter, bounding down in a wide ribbon to this boggy hollow.  That was our way.  We scrambled on, the ascent becoming steeper and more awkward; our capes had long since proved too great an encumbrance and had come off; we were rain-saturated and being drenched again and again by the torrent up which we had to squirm.  We each chose his own way though we kept in sight, for one would often dislodge a boulder and send it crashing down, down into the mist below, and following it by sound, hear it break to fragments amid deafening echoes.  But, bound in his task, each of us were immensely happy because we liked the delicate traverse of some guileless-looking ledge, or the careful use of hands and knees and feet – and head in some treacherous gully ascent.  And when we came to where a second hollow lay shrouded about us, hemmed by cliffs of which we could only see the base, I knew we had won the first round – we had reached Cwm Glas.

Then we made our way to Llyn Glas.  I took my bearings from a point where I had stood last Easter – that is to say that I guessed at my bearings, for the Cwm was gloomy and the mists hung round so that I could only guess where the breach in the cliffs was.  If I only guessed a few yards wrong we should find ourselves climbing some of the most dangerous cliffs on Snowdon.  And well did I know the difficulty of returning – the slip last Easter proved that.  It was with a confidant face but a very doubtful heart that I pointed the direction, and my friends, in the belief that I knew Snowdon, climbed on merrily.

A sense of awe and wonder crept up me, as I stood there, and felt the conflicting emotions of confidence and doubt change to growing fear of the possible conclusion to this hair-brained ‘stunt’, and to get my mind away from these thoughts I became active again and pushed after my comrades.  I am not romancing, but stating plain facts, though they may seem coloured enough to one who lives his life in the streets of our towns; they are really jade in comparison.  Picture Cwm Glas, the wildest hollow in Wales, fill it with a cauldron of grey mist, make yourself hear the buffeting roar of a gale above, see in your mind’s eye, a cascading thread of water here and there coming wildly down a jumble of huge blocks of granite, then add three tiny beings amongst this wilderness of granite, and still you would be far from visualising Cwm Glas as it was that afternoon.

But all the fearfulness left me when I felt the tingling excitement of the climb, and all doubt was cast behind me.  It was hard, exciting, ticklish work on those crags, but still we kept mounting upwards, slowly and certainly until I knew I had guessed right.  We were in the breach, the only way (except for an equipped and expert party) from Cwm Glas to Crib Goch.  Jack and I topped the crags simultaneously, then waited a long time for Bill who came up, cheerful head first, when we had shouted ourselves hoarse.  After that we climbed a kind of pebbly beach which stretched up into the mist for a long way.  Just when I thought we had reached the summit there suddenly loomed in front an array of jagged cliffs.  I got a shock.  Were we to be stopped after all by unclimbable rocks?  If so – well we could never hope to get down to Cwm Glas.  To our surprise we found these pinnacles comparatively easy, but on emerging from shelter we exposed ourselves to the gale which tore across the summit with shrieking velocity, and we had the utmost difficulty in keeping upright.

What a journey we had then, over the ‘Crazy Pinnacles’, a fantastic array of rock-needles, onto the ridge of Crib Goch, where, on each side a precipice shelved away for a full thousand feet into the mist, and where the driving rain cut into our faces, and the wind tried to tear us from our insecure perches. In one place we had to run like blazes across a little exposed opening else the tugging wind would have bowled us over the edge.  But we made progress, and at length were able to leave the ridge, and struck the railway line.  A few yards brought us to the summit of Snowdon, and beating a tattoo on the door of the ramshackle wooden hut, we were admitted, a trio of drenched and shivering, but triumphant ‘mountaineers’.

We quaffed cups and cups of hot tea, finished all our ‘snap’, and solved a crossword puzzle for the innkeepers lad.  The room was so snug and cozy, and the conditions outside so terrible, we hung back for over an hour.  Then putting our capes on, we literally took a header into it.  Snowdon is 3,560 feet above sea level, but there is a huge cairn on its utmost summit, so we must needs bring ourselves another ten feet higher by clambering on it and standing there for a moment, bent to the wind, surveying the sea of mist and rain around us.  That was all we saw, mist and rain.

Then we started our return journey down the railway track, running as fast as we could to get warm.  No trains were running, the conditions being far too dangerous.  We made amazing progress for a time, but when the edge of Cwm Clogwyn was reached the wind came in wild fury and blew Jack clean over.  To escape further buffeting we lay down flat, then made a run for it between gusts, running and throwing ourselves down until Clogwyn station was reached.  After a breather we made another dash as fast as ever we could, for at this point the line runs on the edge of the 1,000 foot Clogwyn precipice.  Though we kept on the right side of the track we could feel the wind tugging at us, and expected another blast at any moment.  We heard it coming with a whistling noise, flattened ourselves out, and clung to Mother Earth.  As it passed it swept the mist away for a moment, and looking down into Cwm Clogwyn we saw the tiny strip of road deep below in the Pass of Llanberis.  Another rush landed us safely in a cutting, and after that we found the shelter of a low ridge and were able to walk down in comparative comfort, leaving the line for the footpath.  We got below the mist, gaining a good view of Llanberis lake (Llyn Padarn) ‘ere the woods were reached.  So we arrived back in Llanberis to a worried landlady and uncle, chilled and thoroughly wet, but bursting to tell our story.

It was a venture, perhaps a mad venture under the wildest conditions.  As a search for view it was a washout, but as a search for excitement it proved an El Dorado, and none of us would have missed it for worlds.  And there was a sequel.  While we were relating our tale to an interested party, Mrs Jones, at the mention of Cwm Glas told us a story of which most will remember, for it was given wide publicity.

Two climbers from London went into Cwm Glas last Autumn (1925), to try to climb Crib Goch.  They were roped up, equipped for the game, and were experienced as cragsmen.  They started from the slabs above Llyn Glas, climbing directly beneath the Pinnacles, but when about 200 feet up one of them found the rock to be in bad condition and his progress was barred.  In trying to descend he slipped, and both fell down to the slabs, one being killed outright and the other breaking a leg and receiving other injuries.  There he lay unable to move for three days and nights, calling at intervals, but not until the fourth day was he heard, and rescued in an almost dying condition.

It struck me that the cliffs I tried to scale last Easter were the same that had caused this tragedy, and the way I had slipped was the same.  Needless to say my pet ascent of Snowdon lost a little of prestige with me!  But climbing is a great game, bringing one near to the beauties of the earth, and taking one to those great rock-bound places where ‘Nature’s heart beats strong amid the hills’.