Monday, 10 March 2008

#013 1940 - Touring in Wales and Somerset

We trained hard for the 1940 season but of course, by now quite a few club members had been called up. One of these, Tommy Fox, was stationed just this side of Bakewell. Most Sundays we called in there to see him, we had gone over Rowsley Bar and into Stanton woods, had dinner at Alport, then through Lathkill Dale and home, in the dark of course. I have been so ‘knackered’ that I could hardly ride up Cemetery and Cherry Hill in Derby, crawling through Borrowash, Draycott and Breaston then down Wilsthorpe Lane and home.

1940 was really my first full season of bike racing. I won the Handicap cup by one second from my best mate Gordon Rouse. Early in 1940 the Air Ministry formed the Air Training Corps, Gordon Rouse and his brother Eddie (soon to be a Naval Officer in Corvette’s on Atlantic convoys) and I were the first to join. Major Hobson was in charge and we learnt Algebra and Navigation. Gordon was called up - I failed my medical with flat feet.

Club champion Les Thompson, Johnny Slack and Track Champion Eric Barnes and Monty Burton, Vic Mills and Stan Ballard were all sent to the colours. Even so, new people were joining the club and we had a good secretary in Edna Catchpole, her brothers Norman and Frank also joined the club. Whitsuntide 1940 saw me with Fred Hillier on our third tour, this time to Wales. We set off on Saturday morning the weather was perfect, the news was that the Germans had invaded France -. As a precaution should we be invaded, all signposts had been removed, so we memorised the route going through Uttoxeter, Stone, Pipe Gate, Woore, (where we stopped to look at the giant steam engine pumping water for the whole of Staffordshire) Whitchurch, Rhuabon and so past the canal and into Llangollen. As we had left home at 4.30am we arrived at Llangollen quite early, in fact about 10am so we climbed the Horseshoes Pass to Ruthin then past Rhuddlan Castle and so into Rhyll. We were accosted by the Military in Rhyll who thought we were paratroopers. Rhyll beach was all barbed wire and military so we went down the coast to Colwyn Bay and Conway. We then returned to Llangollen got some good digs and in the evening we walked up to the castle - quite a climb. I have never repeated this feat although I now live in Wales. We returned home the next day, being stopped many times to produce our Identity Cards. Arriving home about six o’clock we went to Trent Lock and hired rowing boats for the rest of the evening (double summer time was in operation then).

In August that year I went on tour with Norman Caswell to Somerset, his wife Norma was staying at Upton on Severn, we called there to see her and have a meal. Leaving Norma, we rode through Malvern intending to stay at Malvern Links youth hostel, but they were full, we returned to Malvern but couldn’t find anywhere there either so we had to retrace to Cleeve Hill Y.H. where we were able to stay in the annex. Up early next morning, we did our duties and we were soon on the road through Cheltenham, then to Gloucester where we passed the docks. Some quite big timber ships were unloading at Bryant & Mays match factory – long since gone. And so on to Bristol again by the docks, across the swing bridge and up the hill on the A38 and on to Bridgwater, (this being the only flat bit of that day’s tour). Off the A38 we turned left to Cheddar Gorge, we had been going quite fast up till then, in fact I was taking a packet, so naturally I thought we should stop and have a look at Goffs Caves, which comes just before the climb. What a hope I had, as just before the caves a puka racing man came and passed us on sprints and all stripped down, that was a sign for Norman to jump on his wheel and beat him to the top leaving me trailing in their wake. When I did get to Norman his words were “What was that down there with all those rocks each side” - what a bloody idiot. Anyway I took him down Burrington Coome, up Cheddar gorge, on to Wookey Hole where he had a flat in his front wheel. We went through all the necessary procedures but couldn’t find the puncture. The tyre was blown up and stayed up for the rest of the tour.

We stopped and went round Wells Cathedral, then called at Weston Super Mare. The tide has a 33 feet fall, and is the second highest in the world, enabling quite fair sized ships to go up the Avon and in to Bristol – all we saw, the tide being out, was a beach of mud. We went on to Bream Down and stayed at Hutton YHA. This had only opened that year and the Warden was a lady from Ilkeston, so Norman asked if she knew Jo Doner in the Ilkeston dialect whereupon he was answered in pure Queens English, quite a come down for us. We had a good meal there, and then had a walk to look at Steepholm.

The next morning after breakfast we where given our duties Norman, after his run in with the warden, had to wash the pots for about 40 and he had to dry them as well. My duty was chopping down a large bed of nettles, these had stems like tree trunks, and I had almost finished when Norman appeared and as I cut the last one he shouted “timber”. We left the hostel at about 10 a.m. bound for Warwick Castle, this was a Youth Hostel during the war. Our route was via Street, Glastonbury, where we visited the ruined Cathedral, then on to Bath, Chippenham, on the old Fosse Way to Cirencester, Stow on the Wold, Moreton en le Marsh and so to Warwick.

We arrived at the hostel early (well before 5pm). The warden let us in and made us sandwiches and tea, he then produced a map asking us where we had cycled from, “What time did you start?” he asked, we said 10am. He was amazed at the short time we had taken, mind you after Glastonbury we had been doing ‘a two up’. During this ride we were to witness the “Battle of Britain” which was going on overhead, thank God we weren’t in it. The weather had been perfect, not a cloud in the sky. We had a wonderful meal in the evening then a stroll round Warwick. You always feel proud to be walking round towns when you have arrived under your own steam, I have never encountered this feeling by motorbike or car, getting to any place under you own power has this special feeling. The next morning we awoke to wind and rain, we came home thro’ Coventry and saw the terrible war damage, I was to see much worse in Dresden, but that would be 15 year’s later in the 1955 Peace Race. We arrived home for dinner after a real happy tour. I rode a 30 mile Time Trial the Sunday of our return and managed 1hr18m winning 1st handicap and that eventually gave me the Handicap Cup for season 1940.

No comments: