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26 June: Norton Heath to Witham

posted 29 Jun 2016, 01:38 by South Herts   [ updated 9 Dec 2016, 03:17 ]
My Essex spy (Rod) had warned me the day before about severe flooding in Chelmsford. Thunderstorms on Brexit Day had flooded the whole of the Chelmer Valley between Chelmsford and the sea at Maldon.  On a day when Essex had voted to cut itself off from the EU across the Channel the flood waters had cut one half of Essex off from the other half.  That rather messed up our plans for afternoon tea at Paper Mill Lock, a scenic spot next to the Chelmer navigation, as the teashop was surrounded by murky water. Some rapid re-planning was needed.

Outside cafe
However, the dry forecast on Sunday had brought eighteen of us to meet in Norton Heath, Essex - eight had driven from South Herts and ten were from Havering CTC or were local 40+CC members.  What were the chances of getting away without mishap in this strange waterlogged territory?  It hadn't started too well: Gordon had been left behind in Blackmore trying to fix a flat tyre, while the rest of us were enjoying mugs of tea in the cafe.  He and Alex arrived late and unsure that the cause had been found - always an unnerving feeling for any cyclist and they now faced another 25 miles without refuelling.

I reckoned the route to Witham should be flood free and we started to enjoy the day as we cruised though Willingale, with its twin churches, Good Easter and The Walthams.  The wind was behind us, the sun was coming out, Rod was doing a great job as back marker and there was happy chatting behind me.  But the storm had left some debris on the lanes: Steve had to stop near Terling to fix a flat.  My rear tyre was also feeling soft, but I preferred to keep pumping it so I could get the group to Witham.  It was much easier to fix it while relaxing with a pint in the pub garden.  We hadn’t used this particular Wetherspoons before, but it was excellent and had a pleasant courtyard garden at the back. The ‘Irish’ chilli (whatever that is) was especially good.

The route after lunch meant crossing The Chelmer somewhere between Chelmsford and the sea. There aren’t many bridges and most are on major A roads or tiny lanes like the one at Paper Mill Lock.  But I’d looked at Google Street View and found a wider lane at Hoe Mill, south of Ulting.  This was named The Causeway so was bound to be a good place to cross, or so I thought.  The lack of traffic as we approached Hoe Mill raised my suspicions.  We turned a corner and could see why: the road was completely flooded and we couldn’t see how far it extended around the bend. There was a very narrow footbridge at the side, but it was too narrow for Judy’s 3-wheeler and she had to turn around and find her own route back.  She’d gone when Tim appeared wading through the floods, testing the depth and offering to help carry her Trice across!  The transit van stuck in the field next to the road showed how bad the flooding had been.

Cyclists walking on path above flood
Cyclist holds bike over flood

Once across The Causeway, almost at sea level, we now had to climb to one of the highest points in SE Essex at Danbury.  Despite a few delays we were making good time and the democratic vote was not to stop here for tea at the café, but to press on and take our chances at finding somewhere later. Maybe representative democracy is a better system? 

It was a lovely ride across Danbury Common and down into Sandon.  I spotted some picnic tables set out in St Andrew’s churchyard and signs up about a village fete – could this be our lucky day?  I enquired and was slightly embarrassed to be told the low tables were for a teddy bears’ picnic for the local children.  But that was for later and they could do cups of tea and biscuits for the 17 of us. I was frankly amazed when several of our group eschewed this kind offer, fixated as they were on finding coffee and cake! So off we went as far as Great Baddow. No luck at The Glasshouse, nor at Bringy Pine, both closed on Sundays, so Rod led us straight into Chelmsford for the sure bet of a coffee there – trusty Wetherspoons to the rescue again, plus the local ice-cream van.



I had planned to avoid Chelmsford Park, which had been 2 feet deep in floods on Thursday, but the river looked back to normal so we risked following NCR 1 to Writtle and the cycle route was just above the waterline. The direct route into the wind to Blackmore got us back to Norton Heath just after 5 pm, where Judy had also just arrived having found a dry route back.  It had been a good 50 mile ride with our friends from Essex.

Jon 26/06/2016

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