unique travel experiences

Month: July 2016

Cycling the RideLondon 100

Back in 2013 I took part in the inaugural ‘RideLondon 100’ and absolutely loved it! But what’s it like if you’re not a regular Lycra-clad weekend warrior? Well as two mountain bikers (back in our “yoof”) but with the odd ‘London to Brighton’ bike ride under our belts it was manageable but still a bl**dy long way 🙂

Being "photobombed" on the finish line

Being “photobombed” on the finish line

 It was my friend Dan who first suggested entering and after we successfully got in we decided to ride for the charity ‘Shelter’. Dan insisted on using his heavy (but lovingly modified) 1980s Raleigh road bike and I went with my mid 90’s Kona hardtail mountain bike … with the skinniest slicks I could get on the rims (1.3″ continentals) … and  we both just about got away with it. I remember seeing one guy on a Brompton just 2 miles in as he looked over at me and said “I think I’ve made the wrong choice!”

As far as training went, with one of us being based near Cardiff and the other in Hertfordshire, we never trained together and both did our own thing. For me that was hopping off the train a stop early after work and cycling the 7 miles home on my Brompton. It was hardly the training of champions but was psychologically sufficient for the big day ahead.

 We stayed in a hotel near the start at the Olympic stadium as that meant we could drive down the night before, cycle a short ride to the Expo on the Saturday to pick up our numbers, and not have the “faff” of getting up early and into London on the train for our early start times.

 So what was it like?

 We were given different start times so Dan was ahead of me by about 20 minutes but we’d organised a rendezvous point 3-4 miles down the road … and that worked well apart from almost forgotting to look out for him when I sailed past while talking to someone else.

Baggage handed in and now awaiting my start slot

Baggage handed in and now awaiting my start slot

 There’s actually an initial rolling 2 miles before the 100 miles starts but that’s a nice loosener to get up and out of the start area. Very soon I realised there were some delicious bikes around … and this was definetly the case of “all the gear BUT all the idea too” which made me feel somewhat of an amateur on my mountain bike. However at the other extreme, albeit in a smaller minority, there were people on cheap, heavy old mountain bikes with fat tyres who looked wholly unprepared for what lay ahead.

We actually cycled 102 miles what with they're being a "rolling start"

We actually cycled 102 miles what with they’re being a “rolling start”

 After a few miles in it became quite evident that the effort put into the event was quite remarkable with “every” crossing, junction, obstacle having been carefully cordoned off so the route was completely closed off. No mean feat I’m sure.

Cycling down The Mall in just under 8 hours waving to the crowd felt fantastic. I just wish I could have done a stylish “Peter Sagan” wheelie right down the middle of the road! 🙂

 Top 12 Tips?

  1. Do all/some of the necessary training.
  2. Make sure your saddle stuffer has all the necessary tools for any mechanicals.
  3. Add a few energy bars/gels in there too.
  4. “Safely” slipstream your friends/others while riding along. The best scenario was when we’d find two advanced riders in front riding along chatting, side-by-side, and we’d then take a wheel each so we could have a chat too. With the consent of those in front of course who acknowledged to us that they didn’t mind us tailgating them. Occasionally you’d hear the “whop, whop, whop” noise of the rear disc wheels of a train of team enthusiasts flying past. Attempts to latch on to the last man proved futile, even just for a laugh, as was their sheer speed, and the types of bikes that Dan and I were on.
  5. Stock up on the pasta/carbs a few nights before just as you would if you were taking part in a marathon.
  6. Look out for the cameras on Box Hill and along The Mall finish line.
  7. Check out the tribal paintwork on Box Hill that was painted for the 2012 Olympics
  8. Don’t be put off by Leith Hill or Box Hill. From what I can remember I found ‘Ditchling Beacon’ on the London to Brighton bike ride far worse.
  9. Get yourself a souvenir t-shirt from one of the parks at the finish.
  10. Hang around in the late afternoon to watch all the pro riders come through in the RideLondon Surrey Classic bike race.
  11. Turn on Strava to record your journey and revel in the glory afterwards. Possibly go on 2G to save as much battery as you can though.
  12. Oil that chain and pump up your tyres as much as you can (according to what’s written in PSI on the sidewalls)
Storming up Box Hill over the London 2012 tribal road markings

Storming up Box Hill over the London 2012 tribal road markings

 What did I take?  

  1.  iPhone (I’ve since bought a ‘Quad Lock’ case and attachment for my iPhone which sits nicely on the stem).
  2. Cards/notes in a slim Oyster card holder (rather than taking my whole wallet).
  3. iPhone battery charger but I didn’t actually need it as the phone just about lasted the distance.
  4. Germoline, Vaseline, Imodium and a small canister of suncream for protection and any “rubbage”
  5. Thin yellow windproof jacket for the stops.
  6. Cycling shorts and top (with stuff stuffed in the rear pockets).
  7. Helmet and gloves.
  8. Clipless shoes and cycling socks.
  9. Saddle stuffer containing ‘Kool tool’, inner tube, puncture repair stickers, tyre levers, 5 chewy bars, dextrose tablets.
  10. 2x water bottles.
  11. My bike/helmet number + safety pins.
  12. Sunglasses.

… and on the evening before the ride I took off the Crud Catcher mudguard, gave the bike a dusting down and tucked away any flapping cables etc. to reduce any drag. The “power of incremental gains” as Olympic team coach Dave Brailsford likes to say. NB. I’d already replaced the front Rock Shox with rigid forks to lighten the load and improve performance.

Our first post-finish photo along The Mall

Our first post-finish photo along The Mall

 Would I do it again?

Probably … but on a road bike … but it was great to do it the first time, and this year my girlfriend and 4 other friends are taking part! I wish them all the best and hope to see them safely at the finish in good time where I’ll be helping out throughout the day as a “veloteer”.

Outside Buckingham Palace savouring the moment

Outside Buckingham Palace savouring the moment


See a model village in a model village in a model village!

Who doesn’t like a good model village? But what about standing next to your hotel room in a model village. Or better still seeing a model village in a model village in a model village in a village. If you head to the model village in Bourton-on-the-Water in the Cotswolds that’s exactly what you can do.

Standing next to our dormer window hotel room of the model Dial House Hotel

Standing next to our dormer window hotel room of the model Dial House Hotel

This particular model village doesn’t contain the global wonders of the world, all in one convenient spot. So don’t expect to see Big Ben next to the Sydney Harbour Bridge or a waist high version of Paris’ Eiffel Tower. No instead this model village … is of the actual village that you’re actually in!

We headed to Bourton-on-the-Water as part of a romantic break in The Cotswolds which also included horse riding, duck racing (watching – not riding), cream tea eating, “pottering”, but best of all visiting the model village. In fact it was so good I went twice in the same day!! The model village is a 1/9 replica of Bourton-on-the-Water built in local Cotswolds stone, was opened in 1937 and is the only grade 2 listed model village in the country.

The model River Windrush

The model River Windrush

It’s a very twee thing to visit but equally quite wonderful, and the perfect thing to do on a Summer’s afternoon in the British countryside. There’s even the River Windrush running through the village with this shot above showing off the effort they’ve made to get the bushes to look like trees that would be 9x bigger in real life! So apart from soaking up the painstaking attention to details what fun things can you do when you’re in there?

Take some low shots to re-inact actually being at ground level. Find your hotel and then get your girlfriend to stand next to your room so she looks like a giant. Then try to capture the exact same shot in real life later that afternoon with your friend/boyfriend/girlfriend in the same spot. We stayed at the delightful Dial House Hotel which commands one of the best spaces in the village, is neatly set back off the road with copious grounds behind it. Our room was up in the roof overlooking the river and here’s our model/real shot that we tried to line up as best we could.

The view of the model Dial House Hotel and real Dial House Hotel

The view of the ‘model’ Dial House Hotel and ‘real’ Dial House Hotel


The view of the 'model' Croft Restaurant and 'real' Croft Restaurant

The view of the ‘model’ Croft Restaurant and ‘real’ Croft Restaurant

Get down low on the floor and take pictures your friends might think are ‘real’ shots when they are not. So here’s the Bourton-on-the-Water Post Office in the main High Street. On busy days there are always going to be people in the background so these guys in the background kind of give the game away 🙂

The model or maybe the real Bourton-on-the-Water post office

The model or maybe the real Bourton-on-the-Water post office?

If you want to blow your mind away go to the part of the exhibition next to the exit as that’s where you get to see a model village in a model village in a model village in the village. The smallest of the model villages gets a bit unrecognisable but it makes you think how much smaller they could actually go!

The model village in the model village in the model village in the village

The model village in the model village in the model village in the village

It was the perfect way to while away an hour and more information can be found on their webite at

Watch Prime Minister’s Questions

You’ve seen the Prime Minister on the news standing behind his despatch box, and you might even have already been on a ‘House of Commons’ tour, but did you know you can actually be present when all the the MPs are in session and witness the main event of the week? ‘Prime Minister’s Questions’ (or PMQ for short). This being a weekly event every Wednesday at noon. Well you can, and I did – just last week.

The view down into the House of Commons from the visitors' gallery

The view down into the House of Commons from the visitors’ gallery. Source:

It was during a House of Commons tour I attended as part of an Exeter University alumni event that our guide mentioned PMQ, and that if we wrote to our local MP and asked to specifically attend PMQ we might just receive an invite. So I asked my MP Peter Lilley and was invited.

A few months later in April the invite letter arrived stating that I’d been successful and I could take along Mrs Biggs. But with their being no Mrs Biggs yet I invited a close travel blogger friend who’d been very much interested in the EU referendum outcome just a week before. As luck up would have it this was the first Wednesday after both the EU referendum results and David Cameron’s resignation!

The PMQ letter sent to me by Peter Lilley MP

The PMQ letter sent to me by Peter Lilley MP

On the day itself you arrive at the Cromwell entrance of the Palace of Westminster (just past the Oliver Cromwell statue), show the security guards your invite letter and then walk down to the airport style security just 20 yards along. Once through you are guided to the entrance of the Westminster Hall, which for us at the time was hosting the Ethics of Dust exhibition. At the far end you head left though to Central Lobby and into the small Administration office where you sign a security form to collect your ‘Visitors’ Gallery’ passes. It’s in this atrium that the Speaker’s Procession arrives. Many people were there simply to watch this mini event so make sure you get near the front as they enter from opposite the Westminster Hall entrance before turning right into the Commons’ Corridor. You then follow behind them into the Commons’ Lobby whereupon guides show you up the stairs to a cloakroom where you are patted down once again. No cameras or phones are allowed inside hence the distinct lack of my own photos in this post! Finally you appear in the ‘Visitors’ Gallery’. It holds about 200 people in tiered seating with everybody wedged in quite tight shoulder-to-shoulder. Ask for a copy of the ‘Order Paper’ so you can see that day’s agenda.

The Cromwell Green Entrance just past the Oliver Cromwell Statue.

The Cromwell Green Entrance just past the Oliver Cromwell Statue. Source: Lynn Hall


The steps at the end of Westminster Hall opposite the entrance. Alex Salmond giving a tour

The steps at the end of Westminster Hall opposite the entrance. Alex Salmond giving a tour


Central Lobby with the House of Commons entrance on the right

Central Lobby with the Administration office in the top right hand corner and entrance to the House of Commons where the guards are on the right. You enter from the doors opposite. Source:


The Speaker of the House of Commons, walking through the Commons' Lobby

The Speaker of the House of Commons, walking through the Commons’ Lobby on a separate occasion. Source:

We sat down at 11:45 with the previous session still going strong. At 11:55 we elbowed each other, “Look there’s Gove, and now Cameron! And there’s Corbyn”. You’d imagine there would be a lot of hush in the gallery but behind soundproof glass the stewards were able to talk reasonably loud when showing people where to sit. At 12.00 protocol dictates that an irrelevant question be asked about the Prime Minister’s business for the day, presumably with him giving the same generic reply each week.

You feel a little distant from the action behind this full glass partition but that had to go up when somebody through some purple powder over the previous barrier in the days of Tony Blair back in 2004. While we were there we noticed that the window itself could have done with a bit of a clean! 😉

Looking back up at the visitors gallery.

Looking back up at the Visitors’ Gallery behind the soundproof glass partition. Source:

Surprisingly the debate was far less raucous than I expected, especially considering the timing of our visit straight after Cameron’s resignation. Only once did Cameron “threaten” Corbyn with a 5 second outburst of “Go man Go” that took us all by surprise as it came out of absolutely nowhere. A pre-planned 5 second soundbyte for that evening’s news I wonder 😉

As most of the MPs questions are pre-planned it was delightful to hear a Tory MP ask whether 150 schoolchildren from her constituency would be able to pass on some Christmas cards that they’d designed to the Queen, when arguably 6 days post Brexit there were more important questions to ask! The MPs erupted into laughter but the speaker silenced them all by remarking “I want to hear about these pupils” and with that the MPs calmed down and the MP was allowed to finish her answer and await the Prime Minster’s quite amusing reply.

At 12:30 the session finished and ‘urgent questions and statements’ followed. Surprisingly many MPs left as this point, as did we soon after but not before an hour and 15 minutes of enlightening entertainment to see what it is that all those MPs get up to. So get writing to your local MPs to guarantee an entry rather than take a punt on queuing up on the actual day.

The view down into the House of Commons from the back of the visitors' gallery.

The view down into the House of Commons from the back of the visitors’ gallery. No photos allowed when we were there though! Source:

More questions about PMQ can be found on the official website.



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