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Where does the time go?… Where was I?

Where was I?… Oh yes the bank holiday weekend.
For a change the bank holiday weekend had actually fallen on my days off ; which I think was the first time this year! Friday-Monday off work meant that I would be able to do something cool with friends.
Mid-week prior I had managed to hit one of my swimming targets, which was 2 miles (3.2km) in the pool and I was really pleased about that because I had to dig deep, and fight off cramp for the last 20 lengths or so, to achieve it. I followed this up with another hour and a half in the pool with Dave on the Saturday morning; and Dave, being Dave, forces the pace and makes me work much harder than I really want to!
Sunday morning I had arranged to meet some old workmates, Paul, Nelson and Stenno, at the McDonalds at Branston around 08.00am; before heading off to Cannock Chase for a friendly burn around The Chase Trails on the mountain bikes. I’ve spent a fair bit of time at Cannock this year but the trails are so good now that I don’t really tire of them. We’ve also been shown a few “local” additions by our mate Mark Bishton (Captain Slow) which adds a bit of distance and variety to the rides.
So with a quick Latte for me and a bit of breakfast for the guys we headed off towards Rugeley and the trails.
I like riding with these guys, it’s nice to catch up and there’s always a bit of banter along the way. They all have young families too and don’t get to ride as often as I do, which is a shame, but because of that they are always enthusiastic and the ride is always enjoyable. And someone usually falls off (usually me!) just to add to the merriment 🙂
A quick change in the car park and one last smoke for Nelson, which I’m sure he regretted later, and we hit the trails with bravado!

Paul (looking fresh), Nelson (clearly regretting that last cigarette) and Stenno (looking…well?…Knackered!)


Paul and Stenno are pretty recent converts to mountain biking; Paul used to ride BMX a lot and it shows in his ability on the trail, he’s a good rider and also very fit, and keeps up with me with no problems. Although keeping up with me isn’t all that difficult really! 😀 Stenno is usually knackered by about half way round and it gives us all an excuse for a rest, not that we need one of course but it’s nice to have someone to chuckle at.
Nelson proved to be a pretty gnarly rider too and had no fears about tackling the new black-graded rock gardens on The Monkey Trail. (Except for that last smoke in the car park which did seem to slow him down a bit and made Paul and me laugh).
We had the usual break at the Lower Cliff viewpoint for a few snacks before flying off down that section with big smiles because… well… it’s ace really!
By the time we got back to the cars we had just enough time to enjoy a drink from the cafe before I had to get on the road and point the car east towards Norfolk, and another appointment with friends; eating barbeque food and drinking beer. A compulsory bank holiday tradition here in the UK.
I took the scenic route from Cannock down the A5 to avoid the M6 motorway, and picked up the A14 near Rugby for the cross-country traverse to Newmarket and then A11 towards Thetford, Norfolk. The drive was largely unremarkable and passed me by in my usual daydreaming state until I passed through a village called Willey which made me giggle like a naughty schoolboy all the way my destination! (For the benefit of our international readers ‘”Willey” is a slang term we often use in England in place of “Penis”) I can’t help it, I’m a bloke and therefore I am genetically rendered as childish; and a big road sign with Willey on it makes me laugh.
The directions I had been given were pretty accurate but I had a bit of trouble at the last hurdle pinpointing Davids house. A quick phone call to my friend Stumpy sorted it out, because he was about 2 minutes from arriving there too so I waited for him. The area was pretty posh and I was surprised to directed down a track, over a bridge and into a large field to park the car. It turned out that David lived in a mansion house with the worlds biggest garden! (That’s not strictly true, obviously; I’m sure The Queen has bigger house/garden somewhere!). We crossed another bridge over a wide stream and I commented to David on how nice it must be to have a river running through your back garden “Oh that’s not a river” he replied “That’s the stream; the river is at bottom of the field”. How silly of me!
The lawn was laid out with several gazebo’s plenty of furniture and an inflatable Gladiators-style bouncy thing complete with pugal sticks ready for drunken battling later in the evening! Wicked. I had loads of fun beating kids up with it all day! I don’t really like fighting grown-ups, although I don’t mind having a bash at old people.

The Gladiator Inflatable, cool.

Kitty & Stumpy enjoying the BBQ.

David is a great lover of Thailand and a regular visitor (I actually met him there earlier in the year, along with my son Danny, when we called in at Stumpy and Kitty’s wedding as part of our travels around South East Asia). Every year he organises this BBQ for all of his friends in the expanding Thai community around Thetford.
The food was suitably Asian; and the curry that David had cooked up was about as authentic as it could get, I really enjoyed that!
The party started about 2.00pm and went on until around midnight by which time most people, me included, had had quite enough to eat and drink. It was a really great afternoon and hopefully I’ll get invited next year too! (Hint-Hint).
My accommodation for the night was in Davids summerhouse and is just about the poshest camping I’ve ever done.
About 08.00am the following morning David knocked me up to see if I wanted any breakfast. “How on earth did you get out of bed at this hour?” I asked him “You were almost carried to bed last night”.
“Was I?” came the reply. “I can’t really remember to be honest”.
We sat around chatting for a while and I offered to help with the tidying up; fortunately David was having none of it, so I thanked him for inviting me down bid him farewell. My next stop was The High Lodge Forest Centre a few short miles up the road. I had decided to ride the mountain bike trails there whilst I was in the area and it would no doubt help to clear my fuzzy head.

The High Lodge Visitor Centre, Thetford Forest.

 It’s a very beautiful place with mixed tree’s ranging from ancient woodland to coniferous forest. The visitor centre was very nice, typical of most Forestry Commission centres, with a good cafe and a Go-Ape facility. The £7.00 entry fee to the park seemed a bit steep, but not bad if you’ve got a car full I suppose.
It was pretty quiet when I arrived there which surprised me; I expected it to rammed out with people considering it was a holiday weekend. I called into the shop, bought a trail map, and had a chat with the ranger. He said it would take me about an hour an a half to ride the black trail. This also surprised me because at just under 11 miles I thought it would be a lot quicker than that. And so it turned out to be, I was back at the centre in 45 minutes. The trails are much flatter than I’m used to riding and I found it pretty easy going. There was one section in some ancient woodland that was more challenging and virtually all of the trail was nice singletrack; so if you are ever in the area it’s definitely worth a visit but perhaps not somewhere I would travel to specifically. Incidentally by the time I arrived back at the visitor centre a lot more people had arrived and it looked much more like an August bank holiday!

Back home on the Tuesday I had to make the final payment for my entry in to The Yak-Attack, £1295 ouch! It also means that I am definitely going now come what may. I’m still wondering what I have let myself in for!
Seven weeks in Nepal will be another great life experience and especially in the company of my great friends Dave and Wilco. I’m counting the days down 🙂

Two days at work followed with me still recovering from the excesses of the barbeque. Why is it as you get older that hangovers seem to go on for days rather than hours? There must a scientific explanation for it I’m sure, still won’t make them any easier to bare. I’m just glad I don’t go out partying every weekend anymore like we used to. Oh the good old days… 😀
Thursday morning saw me back at the pool, time was tight so I thrashed away for a mere 100 lengths. I followed this with a few pressing chores and then loaded the bike into the car once more for another blast around The Chase Trails. I was due on nights at work that evening and I had hoped to have enough time to do two steady laps. Life got in the way as usual and I was left with enough time to do only the one circuit. Therefore In my infinite wisdom I decided to really attack it and see how quickly I could get around. My mate Mitchell had lapped it in 1hr 45mins a few months previously and I hoped to get somewhere near to this mark. I unloaded my bike in the car park and realised immediately that I had left my helmet at home. Not good. I had a feeling that the on-site bike shop rented helmets out, so I inquired within and parted with the princely sum of £3.00 for my trouble. Cheaper than the air ambulance I thought to myself. “We like to have the helmets back by 4.30pm” said the guy in the shop. “Bloody hell, I’ll have to get my finger out” I thought to myself again. “What time do you close?” I asked. “5.00pm” came the reply “But if you’re not back you can drop it over the fence at the side”.
“Oh I definitely be back for 5.00pm but half past four might be a bit of a struggle”. It gave me just the impetus I needed and I set off at a hard pace.
At 4.35 pm I rolled back up to the shop and handed over the helmet. “Blimey, have you been all the way round?” asked the guy. 1hr and 34minutes! And I reckon there’s at least another 10 minutes to be knocked off that on the right day. I was really knackered but I felt really pleased with myself for pushing hard all the way round, it’s amazing what you can achieve with a little target to go at. Back at the car I opened the tailgate and sat down to get changed and was instantly struck by cramp; I squealed like a girl and hopped around on one leg, clutching the other and rubbing it vigorously. This amused pretty much anyone within earshot and I turned the air blue with my dirty potty-mouth! It ached for three days after. Still worth it though., I was smiling all the way to work and most of the evening. I also took great delight in informing Mitchell of my magnificent triumph over his best, and clearly pathetic, time of 1hr 45mins. L-L-L-Loser!!! Clearly I’m a very modest person and not one to gloat. (It won’t last long though, Mitchell is very fit and will thrash my time at the first opportunity and then I’ll have to endure the same juvenile treatment).

And on that bombshell… I think this is quite enough for one day. I’ll be back with part three shortly. I told you I’d had a busy month.
Next up includes a particularly successful fishing trip with my mate Pip, to which most of you will probably fall asleep whilst reading, so I’ll keep that very brief and a good old thrash around the trails at Llandegla in North Wales; plus a little bit of news on an event we are doing in the Peak District this weekend along with my forthcoming jaunt around another part of South East Asia!

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About The Author

Neil Cottam

Neil is the founder of Chase The Rainbow. He has spent a lifetime exploring the outdoors, from a childhood climbing trees and scrambling his bike around old pit heads to hiking in the Himalaya and backpacking around Europe and Asia.

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