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Good ideas #2

Julian testing out the local brews. The first of several such tests...

1. National Cycle Network. It was my brother-in-law Julian who mentioned it. He let slip that he'd cycled from Windsor to Bristol to watch his youngest daughter play a game of rugby, then cycled back again. What?? How is that possible; that's hundreds of miles. Actually 112 miles each way, per Google maps. But on what roads? Julian explained that starting around the time of the new Millenium, a national bike network has been put in place. Many of the routes are on disused railway lines or next to canals - as is the case for much of the journey from Windsor to Bristol.

Part of the national bike network in England and Wales, showing the route numbers. It extends into Scotland and Northern Ireland too. And I'm sure it exists in Ireland as well; this map is for the UK only.

As I've wandered around the coastal paths, I've often benefited from the excellent signs for the national bike network.

Part of national cycle route 2, which meanders along much of England's south coast. This picture was taken on a path created out of a disused railway line.

There's something special about being on a cycle path next to an estuary just after dawn with a mixture of walkers (often with dogs), joggers and cyclists. This is taken from the Camel trail, which runs along the River Camel from Padstow to Wadebridge.

Anyway, back to Julian and the rugby match. It was a 9-10 hour ride in each direction, and his daughter's team - the University of Bristol - won the game, which made it even better.

2. Community shops What is a community shop, you might ask? Basically a shop where the turnover is too low to make it profitable to run as a commercial business, but where the people of the community value the service it provides, and so they take it in turns to volunteer to run it (often in combination with one paid manager). A "social enterprise". Julian and I came upon this example in the small Devon village of Crafthole. We were delighted that it was open - it was raining, we'd been walking for some hours, and the combination of a cup of tea and a bite to eat just hit the spot.

This community shop was originally a post office and a commercial shop, but the shop wasn't profitable and so closed some years ago (just leaving the post office). Whereupon the villagers got together and agreed to reconstitute it as a "Community Interest Company" which had one paid staff member (the post office manager) with the rest of the participants being volunteers.

When we visited, it was clear that the shop was the centre of the community's social life. People were coming and going, exchanging local news, buying groceries, doing pieces of business at the post office counter, and so forth. The place was packed. What a contrast to an empty village with no services and no life.

The volunteer who served us that day told us how she had been the first Voluntary Service Overseas (the English version of the Peace Corps) in Afghanistan in the 1960s. She was teaching English.

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