. . . . but where is Middle England? Coton in the Elms is furthest from the sea. Meriden, near Coventry, has been the traditional centre of England for a long time. However, the Ordnance Survey has now calculated the exact geographical centre, defined as the centroid of a flat outline of England. I don't know if, or which, islands are included. Anyhow, the OS say it is in a field at Lindley Hall Farm, in Fenny Drayton, Leicestershire, 10 miles from Meriden, OS Grid Reference: SP 3503 9685, Latitude/Longitude: 52.56840134,-1.48453446. So we were about 15 miles north of the exact middle of England. I claim I was in "Middle England".
It was my great good fortune to be in Ashby de la Zouch and New Swannington, both in Leicestershire, on Thursday, May 23rd and Friday, May 24th. The reason for the visit was to meet the children of New Swannington Primary School and ride our bikes together. Mrs Carr, the class teacher, and I had been trying to find a suitable date and the end of half term was considered to be a Good Idea. So daughter Beth and I booked into the Clockmaker's House B+B in Ashby de la Zouch for the Thursday night. Now Mrs Carr is Bethany and my daughter Beth is Elizabeth. I feared total confusion but I was mistaken; all was clear on the day.
If you have read earlier entries in this blog, you will know Mrs Carr had used Land's End to John o' Groats as an inspired way of pointing out the counties of UK in the teaching of Geography. She had contacted our website and asked if the class could write me letters asking about my recent LEJoG cycle trip. I was delighted to receive 20 beautifully written letters on special notepaper, asking me a variety of questions on training and difficulties and why, etc. Naturally, I had to write individual letters back. I was so overwhelmed by all of this - what a privilege to make contact with young people and to receive real letters, not emails or texts, but written by the human hand, eye and brain. Very rare nowadays, I guess. I conceived the idea of visiting the School, meeting the Class and their very on-the-ball teacher.
On arriving in AdlZ, Beth (daughter) and I unloaded the bikes, changed into biking gear and had a tour of some of the interesting-looking places I had looked up on the web and the OS maps. Ashby and New Swannington are on different OS sheets, of course, so I had to buy two maps to cover the ground. (Why is everywhere on the corner of four OS maps?). First visit - Ashby Castle, in the middle of the town. Looks more like an abbey then a castle to me. Maybe it was both? It was a last stronghold of the Royalists in the Civil War and was "sleighted" (ie partially demolished) by Parliament after the War. . We then cycled to Hick's Lodge Forest Cycle Centre; the routes of which definitely need grit bikes, not the road bikes we were on. I thought it might be worth recommending to the School, if they wanted to do some biking at the weekends. Nearby was a village called Moira. Had to go and take some pictures to send to my Edinburgh friend, Moira! Moira Furnace is a very early iron-making blast furnace on the banks of the Ashby-de-la-Zouch Canal. It was built in 1804, a formative period of the Industrial Revolution. The building is now a museum featuring lime kilns and craft workshops. I learned why pig-iron was so called from the information display. (I'm not telling you why pig-iron, find out for yourself!) From there, we cycled over to Calke Abbey and parklands. We couldn't find the official entrance, so we cycled against the tide of exiting traffic, taking to the grass when necessary. It is a cross between an abbey and a baronial hall, really. Then back to Ashby. I thought Leicestershire would be as flat as a pancake but some of the climbs were real testers!
Beth, Beth and I had dinner in Ashby de la Zouch ( - do you know what a Zouch is, by the way? You will learn later.) and talked about what was to happen the next day. Mrs Carr and the Headmaster had gone to great pains to arrange a very special day. We were to arrive at 0930, to avoid the traffic jams on a narrow country lane and park in the School carpark. Bethany had arranged for the press to be there and for a Bikeability Instructor to come and do a session with all the school. We had a very pleasant evening and the weather was perfect both on Thursday and Friday.
When we arrived the next day, there were cycles and helmets everywhere! The parents had obviously taken up the suggestion with enthusiasm. It was great to see such parental support. We were conducted through the security formalities, which have sadly become necessary at schools, and to the classroom. I chatted with the children, thanked them for their letters and mentioned each one by name. Some had missed out for various reasons and wanted to write as well; all sorted out and these will arrive here in the fullness of time. I'd prepared a short Powerpoint presentation detailing the route and with a few maps and pictures. Amazingly, there in the classroom were the computer and large white screen to do the show. No problem with the technology at all! Hope the show was as good!
Then I was interviewed by a panel of students in front of the whole School Assembly. Bethany had set up some of the pupils to ask me a series of questions about the bike ride and Guinness World Records. It was an excellent way of having their questions answered, instead of me doing a boring blurb. It also set limits to the length of the session, leaving time for the rest of the normal school assembly. I enjoyed it a lot - what a great way of having an ego trip! Hope they enjoyed it, too. Questions - how did I learn to cycle, have I any other challenges, what advice for anyone wanting to attempt a Guinness World Record, do I think exercise is good for you, etc.
And so to the actual cycling. The school playground was big enough to accommodate the oblong of cones set out by the Bikeability Instructor. There were so many cyclists we had to split up into two groups. But first the photocall and a chat to the Press photographer. He took a group photo, with one pupil holding the Guinness Certificate, and me on the bike in the middle. Then the Bikeability session began with cycling round the lap of cones. All ok. Then a bit more advanced - turn into the lap of cones and out of the other side. I had the job of picking who turned in and who didn't. I chose every two or three bikers.
And this was my downfall. I had not given my life-long and severe motion sickness problem a thought. However, after about 15 or 20 minutes of pointing and turning my head through 270 degrees to follow each cyclist, I began to feel ill. Couldn't understand what was happening at first and then the awful truth dawned. Having just about made it to the end of the cycling session, I staggered over to the car, loaded the bike and began to change for lunch with the School. However, it soon became apparent that this was not just a headache but full-blown motion sickness, which is totally disabling. Anyone who suffers from this will appreciate how bad it is.
What a disappointment to have to miss the lunch and instead attempt to drive for two hours home as soon as possible. In fact, I just made it by following Beth to the nearest Premier Inn, a few miles away, where we were fortunate enough to be able to take a room and stay overnight. As usual with these sickness events which plague me, after a few hours sleep, everything slowly returned to normal. I was able to drive home ok on the Saturday. It was very fortunate my daughter was with me to supervise things.
Despite this ignominious ending, I had enjoyed the whole visit and the day so much. Meeting Bethany and the Class was a joy. I'll remember it always.