Last week I attended a Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council organised event called “Healthy Living in the 21st Century – Garden City Visioning Workshop”. The background to this is that Welwyn Garden City will be celebrating its centenary in 2020 and Welwyn Hatfield Council is developing a Local Plan which is expected to give the green light to a number of large new residential developments in the borough. The basic idea of the workshop was to address the question as to whether these new developments could be compatible with Garden City principles.
Since joining the Green Party in November I have been going along to local meetings and when there was a call for candidates to stand in the local council elections I volunteered. The aim was to get a Green Party candidate on the ballot for all wards of Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council and I agreed to stand in my own ward, Hatfield West, where I have lived for over 20 years. Hatfield also has a Town Council and three seats were up for election in West Ward so I offered to put myself forward for that as well.
Two hundred and thirty years ago Vincenzo Lunardi took off from London in a hydrogen balloon and drifted north towards Hertfordshire, accompanied by a dog, a cat and a caged pigeon. He made a stop in Welham Green where he set the airsick cat free, then took off again before finally bringing the balloon to rest at Standon Green End. The road junction in Welham Green near where Lunardi made his first stop is named Balloon Corner to commemorate the landing.
I couldn’t resist using that as a title. HAD in this case is refers to Hertfordshire Action on Disability and the fun (as is often the case with me) involved cycling. For many years HAD has offered support, advice and vital services to disabled and older people in Hertfordshire. Unfortunately, due to the “financial crisis”, their funding has been drastically cut and in order to maintain services they will have to make up the shortfall. As part of this funding drive they decided to organise a charity bike ride and got in touch with me a few months back to ask if I would help out (they found me through the Hertfordshire Local Access Forum where I am a member representing the interests of cyclists). The idea was for riders to start wherever they liked but with a common destination at Woollams Playing Fields (home of the Old Albanian Rugby Football Club) on Harpenden Road, just north of St Albans. The date was set for Sunday June 23rd and the event organiser, Paul Bishop, was looking for me to help run a ride starting at Gosling Sports Park in Welwyn Garden City.
About a hundred metres down my road is the entrance to Oxleys Wood, also known locally as Badger Wood (though I have never seen any evidence of badgers). Just inside the wood there is a marshy pond which currently features an amazing display of Hottonia palustris (Water Violet, Featherfoil). In the foreground and somewhat out of focus is Iris pseudacorus (yellow flag), and though not an aquatic plant I couldn’t resist including a photo of Rosa Canina (dog rose) growing a few feet from the water’s edge.
At the CycleHerts meeting on Thursday we discussed (amongst other things) ideas relating to the forthcoming county council elections due to be held on May 2nd. One proposal was to send a questionnaire to all Hertfordshire candidates, designed to get an idea of their stance on important issues of relevance to cyclists in the county. We would collate any responses and put up a summary on our website to help voters make an informed choice (and to help remind winning candidates of their answers). Another suggestion was to use the Hertfordshire County Council petitions system to call for a default 20mph speed limit in residential areas but it was understood that this would have to be taken on by an individual, so I decided to at least do a bit of research.
Outside Emily’s Tea Shop
It is over four years since I got involved with the Welwyn Hatfield Cycling Forum and during that time we have been organising local rides and events with varying success. Last year we decided to try doing a regular social ride on the second Saturday of every month. We will still be running occasional rides for families with young kids but these regular social rides are aimed primarily at adults. A few months ago I volunteered to organise and lead the February ride and I had been having difficulty deciding on a route/destination. Just by chance my parents told me about a walk they did which included a stop at Emily’s Tea Shop in Whitwell, where there was also apparently a small bike workshop. I did some research and found that it is recommended by Central London CTC on their guide to cyclist-friendly Pubs and Cafes in Hertfordshire.
Hertfordshire County Council recently published its Draft Active Travel Strategy for consultation. This is an amalgamation of the previous Walking and Cycling Strategies and discusses the benefits of Active Travel, primarily bettering public health, reducing congestion and improving air quality in Hertfordshire.
As a member of the Hertfordshire Local Access Forum I was invited to the official opening of a new permissive bridleway at Cross Farm near Harpenden. Being the cycling representative on the forum I naturally planned to ride there and I invited fellow members of the Welwyn Hatfield Cycling Forum to join me. There was a slight complication in that the event was not expected to finish until 18:30 and our monthly WHCF meeting at Campus West in Welwyn Garden City was due to start at 19:00, giving us only half an hour to cycle a distance of about eight miles. A couple of people said they wanted to attend so we decided to delay the start of the meeting by half an our to allow time to get there.
A Muddy Lane
Ignoring my cold I set off in the rain on Wednesday afternoon and was one of the first people to arrive. I was greeted by Will and Jan Dickinson of Cross Farm who had the idea for a bridleway a couple of years ago. It was a “missing link” situation where people were crossing their land anyway so they thought it made sense to provide an official route, and the Local Access Forum were happy to provide them with encouragement and support. By 17:30 a fair few people had arrived including one other WHCF member, plastered from head to toe in mud after riding through floods and across Nomansland Common. Most people had arrived by car, including a number of LAF members, a Rights of Way officer and County Councillor Teresa Heritage. A tractor and trailer had been organised to take people up Cross Lane to the north end of the new bridleway, just west of the St Pancras to Bedford mainline. Jan and her daughter went ahead on horseback and we followed on our bikes.
Cutting the Ribbon
After a short speech Councillor Heritage cut a ribbon and there was a photo opportunity before we set off to walk/cycle/ride the new route. I am glad I made the effort because we were the only two cyclists present and it was important that all user groups were represented. The surface would probably have been fine were it not for the recent heavy rain. My friend had a full-on mountain bike and didn’t seem to have any trouble but the rear tyre on my hybrid was spinning a bit in the mud. The route crosses Mud Lane and carries on down the west side of the railway as far as Ayres End Lane, a total distance of about half a mile. At that point you can cross the bridge and continue down an existing maintenance track on the east side of the railway towards Heartwood Forest. The tractor arrived to ferry people back to the farm for refreshments but we got there first after cycling back along the bridleway. I could have stayed longer chatting to people but we had a meeting to get to so we set off and rode back past The Wicked Lady to join the Ayot Greenway which took us all the way to Campus West, arriving only a couple of minutes late.
Last week my friend Dave told me about an event he was performing at in Ware called Music and Motors. I went last year on my trusty old Moto Guzzi 850 T3 and had a nice day out so I thought I might as well go again. When I took the Guzzi for a spin recently I noticed that it was a bit oilier than usual so I checked the level and it was almost down to the minimum. A knowledgeable friend suggested it may be coming from the crank case breather tube, which would indicate a crank case pressurisation issue. On Friday afternoon I topped up the oil and re-routed the breather tube slightly, inserting the end into a small plastic mineral water bottle and securing it with wire. On Saturday a friend came round on his Yamaha YBR 125 and we rode over to Ware together. On arriving in Tudor Square there was only one other bike present, an immaculately turned out Norton which emphasised the somewhat ratty condition of my Guzzi when I pulled up next to it. A few people asked why I had a bottle sticking out behind the left foot peg and I explained that it was to monitor oil loss from the breather tube. When I took a close look I couldn’t see anything in the bottle so it must be coming from somewhere else but finding the source may prove tricky due to general oiliness – I might have to steam clean it first.
Camero with owner in ponytail and event organiser in sunglasses.
Not long after I arrived a bloke wearing goggles and what appeared to be a leather cap showed up on a 1930s Levis, bringing the number of bikes up to four – twice as many as last year. Other vehicles included a Frogeye Sprite, a big Cadillac (possibly a Coup de Ville), a full size electric car (a Nissan Leaf I think) and a rather nice looking Camaro. Unfortunately it started to rain and since my electrics are marginal at the best of times I decided to leave while I still could. It was a shame I didn’t get to see Dave play and I got a bit damp on the way home but it was worth going and hopefully the weather will be better next year, by which time I may have found the oil leak.
They say owners tend to look like their pets.