Monday, 18 February 2013

A Trip to the Seaside

My Weston-and-Back Medal

Spent a pleasant Saturday morning in a riverside cafe at Evesham, running the control for the Beacon RCC's  annual Sunrise and Snowdrop  Audax endurance cycle rides, about 110 km.

The morning started with freezing fog, but later developed in to a lovely, early spring day, the best conditions we've had for this event for some years, and I sat there, wolfing a bacon sarnie, along with unlimited free coffee, feeling very old and very envious of all these fit guys,(and girls) who could cope with 110 km at this time of the year.

There was, of course, a time when I could, and did, and way back in the 1950's, not long after the cycling world had rejected the Penny-farthing in favour of two wheels the same size, it was generally accepted that the only way to prepare for the racing season was first to 'knock off the rough edges' caused by too much winter booze, by grinding out long, hard, miles in the cold, snow and rain, preferably on a single fixed gear, and possibly with a house-brick in your saddlebag to make it hurt more. (This never really caught on) Consequently, in February 1954, The Beacon  RCC Birmingham to Weston-Super-Mare and back 200 mile Reliability Trial first saw the light of day, or rather, the dark of night, because it started at Saturday midnight from the Gents Urinal at Rubery, an iconic, castellated, iron structure, (later demolished in the name of progress and a flyover) and resplendent in Birmingham Corporation green paint. From here the riders sped through the night, down the A38, (not much traffic then) to Gloucester, Bristol and thence to the pier at Weston Super Mare, arriving about 7.00am  to be checked in, before turning round and hightailing it back to Brum.

Of course, being February, the weather was usually unpleasant, and I can remember getting very wet in 1954, emerging from a soaking sea-mist to be greeted by a tattered poster at the pier entrance informing me that 'Happy Days Are Here Again'.  It had been a fairly uneventful ride down, apart from the wet and cold,and the incident in which the top of my Ever Ready front lamp catapulted itself in to the air somewhere in Gloucester, which resulted in me groping around on the A38 in the pitch-black looking for the bits. Oh, and there was also the guy who passed out in the soup queue, at about 4.00am, in the Black and White Cafe at Patchway. We were all cold and knackered, and as he wasn't in our club, we just stepped over him and moved one place up the queue. I heard later, that his dad threatened to sue the club, but I don't think he did. I got back to the finish just after 2.00pm, 14 hours 6 minutes after I'd set off, and with an hour to spare on my time limit.

 I was doing my National Service the following year, but I was on leave the weekend of the Weston and Back, and rode down to Worcester to 'encourage' my particular mates on the last twenty miles to the finish. It had been a bitterly cold night, and when my friends came through, around mid-day, they looked close to death. The contents of their water bottles had frozen solid, and I shall take to my grave the memory of my mate, Trevor, who seemed to be radiating a ghostly blue translucence, as he stood blinking at me with all the cognitive passion of a giant, frozen prawn. I'm not sure to this day if he ever thawed out properly.

I never rode this event again, figuring it was best to ride down to Weston on the Saturday, get a bed and breakfast, sink a few beers on the Saturday night and turn up at the pier to sign the cards on the Sunday. I was always very astute with my training methods.

At the height of its popularity, the Weston and Back attracted as many as three hundred entrants, but eventually, as training methods changed, and cycling dwindled in popularity, it ceased to be, and now lives on only in the memories of the dwindling band of cheerful eccentrics who laughed and grumbled their way through the winters night.

                                   BIRMINGHAM   TO
                              WESTON SUPER  MARE
                                         AND BACK
                                  IN 15 HOURS  21/2/1954
     This is what it says inside the medal box. My actual time was  
                                                             14 hours 6 minutes


  1. I recall the early quest for a return to fitness - not as early as February, though. "Easter knees" was the penance inflicted for a winter of club dinners and socials!

  2. Two hundred miles is impressive, though you were only a child at the time. I had an aunt who lived in Weston Super Mare - name of Dorothy -did you meet her?

  3. If you look in the photo archives you will find a pic of Jean Clements finishing this ride in the early 60s. I had finished in 11h56min (which I think is the record) having ridden back from Weston to Severn Stoke (remember the all night transport cafe?) with Les Ladbury.I had been home to Moseley and Chris and I were on our way to have tea at Ann and Brian Wilson's in Rubery when we happened to see Jean And Mick Demoulpied finishing.

  4. I remember them well.