Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Our Neighbours, The Stones.

Menhirs actually, you surely didn't think I meant Messrs. Jagger, Richards, Watts and Wyman did you ? Mind you, that sounds like a firm of London solicitors doesn't it ? If they'd stuck in at their studies they would all be senior partners now or even Queen's Councillors or Judges, instead of strolling players. Maybe that wee brush with the Law in the Sixties kind of scunnered them for the Legal Trade ? (Scunner, Scottish verb meaning to cause abject disgust. It sounds right too. )

Back to Menhirs, which are large stones, mostly undressed and mostly undecorated, which have been deliberately set in a vertical position in pre-historical times. Why ? Don't ask me ! There are lots of reasons given but the consensus of current opinion is that they were used to mark seasons of the year. This was important to civilisations who were beginning to plant crops rather than existing as hunter gatherers. I have always been drawn to these sort of things, I don't know why, but they've always fascinated me. What kind of thinking was going on while these things were being erected ? When you consider that some of them were transported hundreds of kilometres before being put into place you realise that these were prodigious feats of engineering. I'd better not mention Stonehenge in Wiltshire as Madame  still goes grumpy at the very mention of it ! We were taking a short holiday on the south coast of England and were driving past the site of  Stonehenge. It was a bloody miserable day ! Early March, wet, cold and windy. So as we approached the site by car we could see absolutely nothing. We drove into the car park, which was free then, but had to pay an admission fee to actually enter the site. Well, it was admittedly pretty underwhelming !  " Whit ! we've just paid a good two pounds sterling to see this ! It's not even finished ! I've seen more interesting building sites in Glasgow, I'm away back to the car !"

OK, what's this got to do with bicycles ? Right, patience, I'm getting to it !
Like most people when the cycling addiction takes hold, I was pretty quick in scouting out a series of runs that I could use for various training regimes or just for pleasure. I lived in the south side of Glasgow and what I was looking for was a route that would get me out of city traffic as quickly as possible and into The Renfrewshire Lanes. Since the Sixties, Glasgow has been ripped apart and stretches of Motorway thrown over the city in a seemingly random fashion. Which meant that I was lucky, because the old A8 road from Glasgow to Greenock was at that time relatively quiet, as most traffic now used the new stretch of Motorway. From our house to Renfrew was about 10km and after that the cycling was then, late Eighties, fairly quiet. So from here I built up a series of runs based on a roughly circular route from Renfrew going through Inchinnan, Bishopton,passing The Monkey House, through Kilmacolm, Bridge of Weir, Houston , back through Inchinnan past the Old India Tyre Factory back through Renfrew, along the old A8 , turn at Glasgow Rangers Football Club's ground at Ibrox and then home. A total distance of about 50km. A good route, because mostly I would be going out into the prevailing westerly wind and have it on my back during the return. Wind direction is an important consideration when you're working out a training route, that is, one you're going to be using a lot during the year. This basic route could be easily increased in 25km stages by adding in, for example, an extra loop taking in climbs up the River Gryffe as far as the reservoirs above Port Glasgow, or even really stretching it out by turning at the reservoirs and taking a lovely wee back road into Largs and home via a good leg stretching climb up the Haylie Brae. I've got a lot of memories of these runs,mostly fond ones !

Now to France! For a number of years we'd been spending a lot of time in our holiday home in Pays de Retz in western France. Real France, south of the Loire!  Here, we're only 10 km from the sea, so working out a 50km regular run which doesn't involve a long slog home into the prevailing westerly wind looked a bit tricky. In our small town, population 5,000, we have two thriving cycle clubs. Rust'in Retz is a Mountain bike club which organises a really impressive night time run every Easter with a big turn out, well into the hundreds ! Check out their web site ! The other club is for Road Racing and is a branch of the Union Cycliste Nantes Atlantique. Now, for a small town these clubs are impressive for someone from UK where for years, cycling like this was in serious decline. They share a purpose built club house/garage/workshop in the centre of town and the Sunday turn outs are what we used to see in the Fifties in UK. The emphasis in France is a bit different from the UK, If you join a Racing club, that's what you'll do..Race !! If you want to do touring you join a different club, if you want to do Mountain Biking you join yet another club. Rust'in Retz puzzled me at first because it's as flat as a pancake for miles around here, but more on that another day !!
I was invited along to a Sunday run by a couple of members of the UCNA and they showed me a super 50km run  which takes you from the town south to the sea then north to the banks of the Loire then home. This has become my regular training run. This was actually my first experience of riding with a real Racing club. Although I had done plenty of pretty brisk Audax Rides the emphasis there is on long distance, and a lot of my other cycling in the UK was with the CTC which is biased towards touring. And of course, the Veteran Cycle Club which is biased towards Tea Rooms ! Back in the Club house,while sharing a bottle of wine, I was asked what I thought of the part of France that we'd just covered. It seemed to cause a fair bit of amusement when I told them that all I'd seen for the last hour and a half , was a Frenchman's derriere ! However, it is a lovely route, and I just don't get tired of it .
But even a nice run like this needs some wee extra loops, just for a change.This was when I found out that the area is littered with ancient standing stones, many of them being well signposted. So using the basic 50km circular run I started adding on loops to take me to see the Menhirs. This is great !! I can take a slow steady potter out to stop and look at a few Menhirs or I can take a much longer run and just pass the site sand use them a way points. Without going more than 10km as the crow flies from our house,I can have a ride in excess of 150km by taking in a good few, not all !, of the local Stones.
Of course, this has led to another subject for study. Thanks to our local library and the internet I've found out loads of fascinating stuff about many of the local Menhirs

"So there you are" says Madame, " Well done, there's another thing you can bore people to death with !"
You just can't win sometimes can you ?

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