West Berkshire Cycle Forum (January 2018)

West Berkshire Council arranged a special meeting of the Cycle Forum to discuss the situation with the Kennet and Avon towpath.  We were delighted to be joined by Mark Evans from the Canal and River Trust and Peter Challis of Sustrans. We highlighted what a valued resource the towpath is and how well-used it is by cyclists, not just for leisure trips, but also to get to places, particularly within Newbury. However, the current condition of the towpath has deteriorated to such an extent in places that it is now hazardous for cyclists.

Mark Evans acknowledged the problems and admitted that the focus until now had largely been on maintaining the canal for boaters. He also recognised that wash from passing boats was causing erosion and that mooring pegs could cause splits in the bank, leading to localised issues. All parties recognised the scale of the problems facing the towpath, which are further complicated by environmental constraints, including the desire to maintain the historic feel of the canal and protect endangered wildlife that lives in the canal banks, such as water voles.

The good news is that the Trust is in the process of restructuring and will be placing a much greater emphasis on promotion of health and well-being in future. As a consequence, there will be a much greater focus on the towpath and its users.

There was some discussion about what standard we would like to achieve for the towpath, including widths and surfacing materials.  The original Sustrans construction was a crushed limestone surface, but it was recognised that this does not hold up well and needs regular maintenance. Alternatives are available, such as resin-bound surfacing, which can last up to 25 years, but this is much more expensive. What quickly became clear is that it will cost millions of pounds to achieve the ideal facility and that some degree of prioritisation will be required.

Key actions from the meeting were:

  • To complete the work on the local audit including the eastern section from Woolhampton to Calcot
  • Identify safety-critical points where there is a particular risk due to holes/bank erosion
  • Identify the top three priority sections where the path surface should be upgraded

Another meeting has been arranged for 20 February in order to maintain momentum.

The minutes for the January meeting of the Cycle Forum (and minutes of previous meetings) can be found on the About Us section of the Spokes website.

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Make Your New Year’s Resolution Count

Spokes Logo

If, like the rest of us, you have put on a few pounds over the festive season, then you may be tempted to make a New Year’s Resolution to lose weight or get fit. Well, we’ve got a better idea: why not do both and give something back to the community by getting on your bike and helping us to get more people to do the same.

Spokes relies on people like you to help with our activities, give us support and provide feedback. Here are 5 ways you can get involved in 2018:

  1. Become a member of Spokes – If you haven’t already done so, then please do sign up.  It costs nothing, we won’t bombard you with emails, you will get great benefits, including discounts at local bike shops, and you’ll get to be part of something amazing! The more supporters we have, the bigger our voice and the more effective we are at lobbying for improvements to local cycling infrastructure. Fill out our on-line membership application form and we will pop your membership card in the post in a few days – it’s as simple as that!
  2. Give us your views – We can only tackle the cycling issues that we are aware of, so if there is something that you feel we should know about, or if you think we could be doing things better then please contact us – we would love to hear from you!
  3. Come to a meeting – We meet on the first Wednesday of the month for a drink and a chat about all matters cycling. Check out our calendar for details of the time and venue. These meetings are informal affairs and all newcomers are most welcome. You can find out more about what we do and what we are working on. Check out the notes from recent meetings to get a flavour of the current hot topics.
  4. Volunteer – We are always on the lookout for people to help us with our activities. For example, we carry out counts of cyclists at various points around West Berkshire three times a year. The information is used by West Berkshire Council to gauge the effectiveness of their cycling policies and investment and the counts are our main source of income. We also have vacancies for social ride leaders, cycle count coordinators and people to help with our projects and events. You don’t need any experience and we can provide training where necessary.
  5. Join the Spokes committee – We know that this sounds like a big, scary commitment, but really it’s not. You don’t need any experience and it won’t take up all your spare time – we promise! Even a couple of hours a month is enough to make a significant contribution. Our committee is elected at our AGM in June each year, but you don’t have to wait until then to express an interest, since we can co-opt new committee members at any time. So if you would like to get involved, then please get in touch. We urgently need to find someone to take over as Secretary as Graham Hunt has recently stood down after 15 years sterling service.
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West Berks Cycle Forum (December 2017)

The main topic of discussion was the Kennet & Avon towpath, particularly the sections west of Newbury and east of Colthrop, which Spokes has flagged as being in need of complete reconstruction in order to make them safe for cyclists. Mark Evans had been invited from the Canal and River Trust, but unfortunately he couldn’t make it due to an emergency call-out. However, Cllr Steve Ardagh-Walter managed to set up a separate meeting with him on 9 January. In the meantime, Spokes members will carry out an audit of the canal towpath to document the issues in more detail. We will be looking to get a commitment to add these sections to their maintenance programme as soon as possible and also to change their maintenance inspections to better take account of the needs of cyclists. We realise that funding may be an issue, so we are already looking at different options.

We were delighted to be told that following the recent public consultation, West Berks Councillors has agreed to progress the first section of National Cycle Network Route 422 in Newbury between Faraday Road and the Wyevale roundabout. This will see on and off-road provision for cyclists with new sections of route as well as improvements to existing sections.

Spokes gave a presentation on cycle wayfinding based on the results of an audit of cycle routes between Newbury town centre and the top end of Faraday Road. This had identified numerous issues, including a lack of consistency between on-street signs, on-line cycling journey planners, and the printed version of the Council’s cycle map. We also found that cycling information was completely missing from the finger-posts and monolith maps in the town centre, with several conflicting or missing signs adding to the confusion. Some of the issues have arisen as a result of individual schemes being introduced over a number of years with no holistic review of signage. Fortunately, many of these issues can be picked up as part of the NCN 422 scheme.

The minutes for the December meeting of the Cycle Forum (and minutes of previous meetings) can be found on the About Us section of the Spokes website.

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In Praise of the Cycling Cafe

As autumn heads towards winter and the weather gets colder and wetter, many of us need an extra little incentive to get them out the door and on the bike. Often that comes in the form of a steaming cup of coffee or mug of hot chocolate and a plate of something tasty, whether it’s cheese on toast or a home-made cake.

Fortunately, we are blessed with some wonderful cafés that seem to be strategically placed to meet the needs of a cold and weary cyclist. We’ve listed a few of our favourites below:

  1. Honesty Café, Lambourn – The first of two Honesty cafés to make our list. The Lambourn shop has really friendly staff, excellent coffee and hot chocolate, and the freshly prepared food is very tasty, with a great range of soups, sandwiches and cakes.
    Location: 17 High StreetLambourn, RG17 8XL
    Opening Hours: 0800 – 1600 Monday to Sunday
    Website:  http://www.coffeeshops.honestygroup.co.uk/honesty-lambourn/

  2. Honesty Café, Inkpen Common – Tucked away beside the Crown and Garter pub, it is a lovely place to relax and sample their range of cakes, biscuits, tarts, pastries and preserves.  You can also buy the breads made at the Honesty Bakery.  They serve breakfasts from 8.30 until 10.30 Monday to Sunday and light lunches from 12pm. Cycle parking is provided in front of the pub.
    Location: Great Common Road, Inkpen Common, RG17 9QR
    Opening Hours: 0800 – 1600 Monday to Sunday
    Website: http://www.coffeeshops.honestygroup.co.uk/honesty-inkpen/

  3. The Tea Cosy, Hurstbourne Tarrant – The only café outside West Berkshire to make our list. This hidden gem is tucked behind the car dealership on the north side of the village. As the name would suggest, tea is served in a pot with a knitted cosy and while their sandwiches and hot food are lovely, it’s the cakes that really stand out. Just the ticket before getting back in the saddle for the long climb to Faccombe. Please note that they are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
    Location: The Dene | Hurstbourne TarrantHurstbourne Tarrant, SP11 0AS
    Opening Hours: 0930 – 1700 Wednesday to Sunday

    Website: https://www.facebook.com/theteacosyhurstbourne/

  4. Saddleback Farm Shop, Brightwalton – Situated just off the Wantage Road, it has an excellent café at the back of the shop serving hot and cold meals and a good selection of home-made cakes. With beautiful views over the North Wessex Downs, this makes a great pit stop for bike rides north of Newbury.
    Location: California Farm, Brightwalton, RG20 7HR
    Opening Hours: 0830 – 1700 Monday to Saturday; 1000 – 1530 Sunday
    Website: http://www.saddlebackfarmshop.co.uk/kitchen/tea-room/

  5. Hampstead Norreys Community Shop & Café – Hidden in a little courtyard next to the church, this provides a warm welcome for weary cyclists. Serving delicious foods for breakfast and lunch, they also offer deli items, locally made cakes, tea and barista coffee. As well as being home-made, lots of the ingredients are home grown too. The only downside is that they close at 12pm on Sundays!
    Location: Church Street, The Manor CourtyardHampstead, Norreys, RG18 0TD
    Opening Hours: 0800 – 1900 Monday to Friday; 0830 – 1600 Saturday; 0900 – 1200 Sunday
    Website: http://www.hncs.co.uk/cafe/

  6. Blackbird Café, Chapel Row – Situated next to the Bladebone Inn, the owners bake daily to stock their cosy little café full of yummy cakes and goodies. Their breakfasts and lunches are good too and are made using local, seasonal ingredients. Just remember that they are closed on Sundays and Mondays.
    Location: Chapel Row, Bucklebury, RG7 6PD
    Opening Hours: 0830 – 1430 Tuesday to Friday;  0900 – 1430 Saturday
    Website: http://www.theblackbirdcafe.co.uk

We realise that this is far from an exhaustive list, so if we’ve missed any cafés that you would like to recommend, then please get in touch on Facebook or Twitter and let us know.

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Campaign to Maintain Kennet & Avon Towpath

Here at Spokes, we’ve become increasingly concerned about the sustained lack of maintenance of the Kennet and Avon Towpath, particularly the rural stretches out towards Marsh Benham and to the east of Colthrop. Despite forming part of National Cycle Network Route 4, the path has been left to degrade to such an extent that we now consider it to be inherently unsafe.

When the path was originally constructed it was 1.5 – 2m wide for most of its length, even in the more rural areas. However, the grass has encroached to such an extent that it is now less than 0.3m wide in places, with a pronounced lip on either side. This makes it virtually unusable by anyone on a bike, since it is very easy for a wheel to catch the lip and unseat the rider. We have spoken to several people who indicated that they or a member of their party had fallen off on these sections.

The path also suffers from poor drainage. Given that it is nothing more than a rut in the grassy bank, it is not surprising that it fills with water whenever it rains. This conceals the true extent of the hazard and leaves a muddy, slippery mess as it dries, which makes it even more difficult to navigate on a bike. What’s more, there are several sections where large notches have been eroded in the bank and cut into the path.  If you are not looking for them, then it would be very easy to ride into one and fall straight into the canal.

This is completely unacceptable. If this was a road, it would not be allowed to fall into such disrepair. Cyclists should expect similar maintenance standards of maintenance to be applied to ensure their safety on these sections of the National Cycle Network, which is popular with leisure cyclists and families.

We are aware that developer contributions have just been made available from the Newbury Racecourse development to improve the section of the towpath between Newbury and Thatcham, which is very welcome and we look forward to these sections being repaired and upgraded.  However, this should not be allowed to distract from maintenance liabilities on the other sections of route.

We appreciate that funding and resources may be tight, but the Canal and River Trust still have a duty of care to the users of their towpath, including cyclists. We have contacted the Waterway Manager for the Kennet & Avon to highlight the problem and to ask that they take urgent action. We have also suggested that they could pool resources with Sustrans and West Berkshire Council. The Council has been very responsive with Cllr Ardagh-Walter inviting the Waterway Manager to the next meeting of the Cycle Forum in December and suggesting that we could undertake a more detailed audit of the route to help the Trust.

If you would like to add your voice to the campaign, we would suggest that you contact the Canal & River Trust directly by emailing: enquiries.kennetavon@canalrivertrust.org.uk

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