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.


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.


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


Dr Bike – Free Bike Checks in Newbury on 28 October

two people fixing bikes

Are your brakes making funny noises? Are your gears a bit clunky and don’t change when you want to? Do you wish you could mend a puncture? Then bring your bike to Newbury Town Hall between 9.30am and 2.30pm on Saturday 28 October and we’ll check it over, make adjustments and teach you how to maintain your bike.

While most of us recognise the need to keep our cars maintained in order to keep them running efficiently and pass their MOTs, we are often not so good about keeping on top of our bike maintenance. We are always spotting people out on bikes that have a variety of maintenance issues from minor niggles to more serious problems that could be putting their safety at risk.

Thankfully, bikes (with a few notable exceptions) are fairly simple machines and the most common maintenance tasks can easily be carried out with a minimum of tools. Our Cytech accredited cycle mechanics will be available to show you how to check your bikes for faults, make adjustments where required and advise on any repairs that needs to be carried out.

Remember that all Spokes members get 10% off parts at several local bike shops, so if you do need any repairs, then you can be sure of getting good value for money while supporting a local business.


A4 Cycle Route (Phase 1) Consultation

West Berkshire Council is in the process of developing plans for a new cycle route along the A4 from Newbury all the way to the district boundary in Calcot. This will form part of the new National Cycle Network Route 422, which will link Newbury and Thatcham to Reading, Wokingham, Bracknell and Ascot. The scheme has received funding through the Thames Valley Berkshire Local Enterprise Partnership and will be one of the biggest cycling schemes in the county since NCN Route 4.

Given the length of the scheme, it will be rolled out in phases. The Council has just gone out to consultation on phase one. This will see improvements on London Road and Benham Hill, from the junction with Faraday Road right up to the Wye Vale Garden Centre roundabout.

The scheme will create safe space for cyclists on the road and will include the following changes:

  • cycle lanes on both sides of road where width allows
  • making better use of available road space by removing hatching and right turn lanes where it is appropriate to do so
  • removing traffic islands to get rid of ‘pinch points’ for cyclists
  • installing advanced stop lines at signalised junctions
  • new dropped kerbs to help cyclists get on and off the route

There will also be improvements to off-carriageway facilities. This recognises the fact that not all cyclists have the confidence to mix with traffic and there are areas where accessibility is currently restricted for those in wheelchairs, mobility scooters and with pushchairs.

The following improvements are proposed:

  • widening and resurfacing sections of pavement, and converting them to shared paths
  • giving cyclists priority across the entrance to the B&Q / Dunelm Mill retail park
  • removing unnecessary road signs, and relocating street furniture
  • creating wider pedestrian islands to improve crossing points for all users

It is also proposed to introduce new double yellow lines, in areas where there is a problem with cars parking and blocking footways. There will be separate consultations to follow for these restrictions as they require Traffic Regulation Orders.

You can send your comments or objections to this proposal to the Highways Project Team, no later than 22 October 2017.