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Club Tour 2015 - Burton upon Trent

posted 12 Jun 2015, 00:40 by South Herts   [ updated 16 Jun 2015, 08:57 ]

South Herts CTC fixed-base long weekend was based in Burton upon Trent: June 6th-9th.
Eight people met at the Burton Central Travelodge on Friday evening and enjoyed a pleasant meal in the local JD Wetherspoon pub whilst discussing the planned rides for the next few days. The weather forecast was for dry but cold weather with some significant wind.
From 2015 Burton upon Trent tour
Click photo to view slideshow
Saturday morning saw us leave Burton via a traffic-free cycle route over a Victorian causeway before heading south east to a cafe stop in the grounds of the Staunton Harold estate, then through some fairly urban countryside to Markfield, before heading into the wind NW to Melbourne, where unfortunately the Visitor centre cafe on the reservoir was closed this season. It was a real fight in the headwind back to base.
Sunday saw slightly less wind and offered a more pleasant ride through the undulating countryside to Uttoxeter before heading north to Alton (near the “Towers”) then south again to a tea stop at a pleasant NT cafe at Sudbury Hall. This ride was much hillier and we all knew the gradients had been quite severe. We used a pleasant off road cycle path from Alton village, which started just under an old castle that looked like it had been lifted from Bavaria and planted in North Staffs. The hills allowed us to see good panoramic views of the local countryside.
Tracey left us on Sunday evening so seven stalwarts headed north on Monday morning to Brailsford where the cafe had a hand written note saying ‘closed today’ so again we were thwarted for sustenance. After cycling north through beautiful quiet lanes we had lunch at Carsington Water visitor centre then took a hilly route, both up and down to a lovely garden centre cafe near Kedleston Hall before getting back to the hotel base.
Tuesday saw us using another traffic free tarmaced cycle route from Burton to head west to Rugeley before climbing up and through Cannock Chase on a track. We then went east to Fradley Junction for lunch where the Coventry and Mersey/Trent canals meet. None of us had realised what a large forest Cannock Chase is until we cycled through it. After lunch Steve H departed and the rest of us went back via the National Memorial Arboretum where we were moved by the scale and splendour of the memorials to the people who gave their lives in service for the country.

A well-signed NCR route 54 took us back to Burton from where we departed by car after a pleasant long weekend with no rain in surprisingly pretty countryside.

Carol & Steve Brazier 09/06/2015

Club Tour 2014 - Around London

posted 12 Jun 2014, 04:00 by South Herts   [ updated 12 Jun 2014, 04:00 ]

A tour of the Green Belt around London.

There’s hardly a car or house to be seen, yet we’re going to be less than 33 miles from the centre of London for the next 5 days.  Feelings of anticipation and slight apprehension have given way to excitement to be on our way.  A warm June breeze pushes us along.  It’s going to be an easy first day, from St Albans to Chelmsford, on our route around the capital.

It may not seem that adventurous.  Our summer tours usually go as far from home territory as we can manage in 2 or 3 days: to The Cotswolds, Suffolk or Norfolk; somewhere rural.  But that was part of the challenge: to find out if it really is a green belt and find a scenic route within a stone’s throw of the M25.  I spent some hours route planning, aided tremendously by Google Maps for route plotting and Streetview for checking junctions, which resulted in detailed route sheets and GPS files that should mean no one could possibly get lost (or could they?).

We threw the tour open to both CTC and Forty Plus CC members and would be going through prime Forty Plus territory.  This made planning so much easier as I relied heavily on advice from Doug Nevell, whose previous London circuits had inspired this trip, and from Derek Hanson for the routes through Kent and Surrey.  It was also easy for riders to join and leave the route near where they lived.

Where to stay?  Fortunately, Travelodge rooms could be had for about £30 a night at Chelmsford, Maidstone, Dorking and Camberley.  This made booking a doddle as people could choose their own rooms online.  Word soon spread and we ended up with 26 people, but latecomers had a worse deal as room availability reduced.  All were CTC members and all but 4 were in The Forty Plus, so I had no worries about novice cyclists.

Our route turned out to be quite varied.  After crossing the river at Tilbury, the flat lands of Essex gave way to the North Downs in Kent and then a roller coaster ride through the Surrey Hills before crossing again at Windsor and back to easy riding along the Grand Union Canal.

We had a wide range of ages and touring experience and divided into a faster group, led by Carol & Steve, and a slower group, led by me, which eased pressure on cafes and allowed the faster ones to follow a longer or hillier route.  However, no one could avoid some long, scenic climbs south of London.  In fact roles were reversed on the toughest day, when the fast group ducked out of being sent on a circuit up Box Hill and ended up with under half the climbing as the slow group who had opted for Leith Hill, the highest point in SE England.

Thanks to Adrian, Bob, Carol, Gordon, Neil and Tony O’ for contributing photos – you can find them here:  Route sheets and .gpx files are available from me for anyone who wants to try this tour themselves.

Here is some feedback from those who took part:

Most interesting bits

‘Taking the ferry across the Thames at Tilbury.’
‘Passing the firing range at Gravesend – hearing the shots then hearing them hit the target (thankfully).’
‘Seeing the very rusty Black Widow Russian submarine in the Medway at Rochester.’
‘Visiting Rochester, with its cathedral, castle and impressive High Street.’
‘Thinking that perhaps the colourless liquid in Bob’s drinks bottle was not water because on two occasions he was witnessed falling sideways off his bike. The first time his fall was cushioned by his delightful wife, the second time his pannier was the saviour.’

Best moments

‘Climbing Leith Hill, this was truly awesome. The place looked extremely ancient, it had a lush canopy of trees and the tree tunnel at the beginning is one of the best I have seen.  Once we reached the top there was a great view across the countryside.’
‘That chap I took a photo of in Southill.  He told me all about the Redhill aerodrome, he explained how all the huts were original builds; he was also very impressed at what we were doing. Lovely guy.’
‘Cycling through Windsor Great Park, although we could not figure out how to open the gates into the deer park, then someone spotted a green button.’
‘Having only one puncture to fix and just a few minor mechanicals.’
‘Enjoying a group meal in Dorking, with wine courtesy of Carol and Steve on their silver wedding.’
‘Tales like “Man Fun” and being ‘adopted’ by Dan & the Tonys.’
‘Eating every two hours, especially pecan pie.’

Not so nice

‘The cycle track from Gravesend was disappointing due to the poor surface.’
‘Mud clogging the back tyre on bridleways.’
‘Having to turn back on the bridleway with a huge fallen tree and stream blocking the way.’
‘The charming (!!!) young lady serving in the cafe at the golf club who graced us with her warm and friendly presence. As we were leaving I witnessed her throwing the dishes in the sink in a very aggressive manner. I tried to be pleasant and she glared at me. We all felt that perhaps this was not the job for her.’
‘Wetherspoons. Most were good, but one ran out of ordinary gravy, vegetarian gravy, rice and assorted vegetables, but apart from that and the exceedingly longwinded attempt at ordering and paying the meal was OK.’
‘Saying good-bye to Bob and Avis.’

Most challenging

‘Keeping up with 85 year old Len on the hills to Dorking’.
‘Climbing Leith Hill – never again!’
‘Buttock clenching along the towpaths.’

Best stops

‘The landlady at the Old Crown in Edenbridge was very good to us.’
‘Super views from The Royal Oak at Staffhurst Wood.’
‘Best cafe was the place we visited in Windsor (The Top Twenty): free top ups, a free meal because they made a minor mistake, extremely quick service, very friendly and basically a pleasure to be in.’
‘Great value pub food at The General Elliot in Uxbridge.’
‘All the Travelodges let me take my bike into my room and Camberley opened up their laundry room too.’

Ideas that worked

‘Having a good back-marker to shepherd the group if it gets split.’
‘Bringing printed town plans showing hotel, shops, pubs and routes in and out.’
‘My overshoes worked well on the wet day. They kept the splashes from the traffic off my feet.’
‘Laminate your route sheets – no problem if it rains.’

Lessons learned

‘Bring a lightweight jacket – it’s easy to overheat in June.’
‘Make sure your lycra is not see-through!’
‘Bring more fig rolls.’
‘Leadership on the road is not supposed to be an exercise in democracy.’
‘Ask everyone to set the date/time on their cameras, so photos can be sorted afterwards.’
‘Everything on tour is fun, take less luggage and don't take towels to a hotel.’

Quotes of the tour

Neil: 'York Minster was hit by Lightning'.  Jenny: 'Yes, that rings a bell'.

Jenny: 'I need to find a bush'.  Liz: 'Jean always knows where the good bushes are'. Jean: 'Yes, I'm a bush expert'.  Soon after this a young lad emerged from the said bush having covered his face in shock at what he had seen.  The friendly dog he was walking didn’t seem to mind though.

Jon Crosby  1-5 June 2014

Club Tour 2013 - Cotswolds

posted 20 Sep 2013, 01:54 by South Herts   [ updated 24 Sep 2013, 02:24 ]

A CTC/Forty Plus trip to the Cotswolds from St Albans, 8 - 11 Sept 2013

For the last couple of years our group tours have been into East Anglia.  This year, for a change, we headed west to the Cotswolds.  We were a mixed group of 11 CTC and Forty Plus members.  Setting out from St Albans on Sunday morning, we also had the company of the regular Sunday South Herts CTC group who were due to turn back after lunch and just make a day of it.  We were planning a four-day tour with three nights away, and trying to do it reasonably economically, so it would be Travelodges and YHA for us.

From Cotswolds 2013
Click photo to view slideshow
There was a mob of 24 of us when we got our first stop on Wendover Woods, with various people leaving and others joining up in a baffling fashion.  Continuing past the RAF base at Halton, we crossed the River Thame, then through the Rothschild estates to Waddesdon and on to the attractive village of Quainton.  The ever friendly George and Dragon had sandwiches ready and waiting.  After a relaxing lunch, the day-trippers headed back, and soon we were off on a loop around the villages towards Bicester.  The afternoon was wearing on so time to seek a quick refreshment in the town.  Bicester turned out to have a pleasant old heart beating once you got past the ring road and fringe of industrial estates.  It wasn’t that far from here to our Travelodge night’s stop, so picking a quieter but longer road it wasn’t long before we sighted the Travelodge – miles from anywhere and on a motorway junction.  Sighted it, yes, through the surrounding hedge, but no sign of a way in from the bridleway we were on.  Maybe the normal way in isn’t supposed to be by pushing your way through the bushes as we did.  The Travelodge was OK standard fare.  An evening walk to the nearby village of Ardley provided an excellent value meal at the Fox and Hounds.

The weather forecast had been a bit iffy, and it was raining heavily at breakfast with no sign of a break.  Oh dear.  We set off, passing Upper Heyford airfield (once the front line in the cold war) with a great view into the valley, nearly visible in the gloom.  Next Woodstock; there’s no problem finding a teashop there as the place is packed with them.  We shed water in an embarrassing way in the polite establishment we chose.  A few miles down the road we paused to visit Churchill’s grave in Bladon, touching in its modesty.  Blenheim Park is quite an obstacle to get round, so a bit of main road, and next we had a complicated network of lanes to navigate; tricky to keep checking the map when it’s raining hard.  We approached our lunch stop in Burford through several picturesque villages and the architecture and landscape was beginning to look like the Cotswolds.

Burford has a handsome broad main street and a sandwich shop here was a nice break.  The weather was picking up: it had stopped raining.  Then continuing down a superb single-track lane following the River Windrush, we passed through a string of delightful villages (Barrington, Windrush, Sherborne).  The original plan had been to continue in this direction to Northleach, but we were behind so it seemed sensible to cut a few miles off and head north to Bourton.  It was starting to be hilly.  Descending into Bourton on the Water, we had a quick break and a look round the village.  Then through Lower and Upper Slaughter and a big long climb into Stow on the Wold.  It’s not called ‘on the wold’ for nothing and is 800’ above sea level.  We settled ourselves into the hostel, pleasantly situated right in the middle of the town.  Refreshments in the local washed down an OK evening meal in the hostel.  I thought a few pints would help me sleep.  Communal sleeping may be a bit of a laugh in your youth, but for the older person, the repose it supplies is fitful, very.

A bleary eyed breakfast though was pretty good and soon we were off descending to the River Evenlode and the charming riverside village of Bledington, then on through Churchill to Chipping Norton.  What a handsome town.  We didn’t see any of the famous celebrity inhabitants; they must have all been in a different pie shop to the one we went into.  Next a long climb to visit the Rollright Stones - an impressive megalithic monument – then looping round through the hills to Hook Norton.  The brewery was belching out (is that the right verb?) a vast cloud of hoppy fumes.  A quick look around the museum and we were into the Pear Tree pub next door.  What a great pub it was and with a real live pear tree by the front door with ripe fruit on it.

After lunch we were heading back east towards Buckingham with not much prospect of a further stop ‘till we got there.  Avoiding main roads we took the lanes that brought us in the end to Stowe park and down into the town down a grand park avenue.  The Travelodge here was within walking distance of the town centre, so after settling in, it was into the town for the evening meal.
The following day we were on the home straight and the general feeling was that we would sooner get back reasonably early.  We were soon back in familiar country passing through the villages to Tring. A quick refreshment stop and we were off back to St Albans.

A very enjoyable trip in good company.  There was one spell of heavy rain and personally I preferred the Travelodge accommodation for getting a decent night’s sleep, pleasant though the hostel was.

Richard 11/09/2013

Exmouth Exodus 2013

posted 24 Aug 2013, 04:54 by South Herts   [ updated 20 Sep 2013, 01:23 ]

17 August 2013

Having done the Dunwich Dynamo, two of our intrepid Wednesday Evening Riders, Graham Figg & Mark Keeley, took part in a follow up night-ride of 110 miles from Bristol to Exmouth.  Here is a brief account of their exploits on the eighth Exmouth Exodus:
Getting there.  We cycled to Malmesbury in Wiltshire on the Friday, about 105-110 miles. Took it easy and didn’t arrive until 8 pm.  It was raining until about 3 pm., but turned out to be a nice, sunny afternoon/evening.  We then rode 30 miles into Bristol on Saturday morning/afternoon, via a pub lunch in Tormarton, the rain still refusing to go away.  Had a look round the SS Great Britain, which got us out of the rain.  After a meal in Pizza Express we went up to Channing’s hotel in Clifton where the event starts.  Here we met sometime Sunday rider Giles Fordham and we decided to ride together.  

Graham. Ready for the mountains?
Over the magic bridge.  Set off about 9pm over the Clifton suspension bridge, then due west, turning south (although Mark had a puncture around here) to hit the Mendips and the first big climb up the gorge of Burrington Combe.  Halfway up here it started raining heavily.  A few miles later, zooming down Cheddar Gorge and nearing the bottom (by which time you can easily top 30 mph before braking for the hairpins), some youths doing handbrake turns in their 10-year-old Vauxhall Corsas added to the excitement.  Then the first feed stop at which Mark noticed his tyre was flat again, at which point the repair team there offered to repair it.  

Cyclist fixing puncture at night
Giles crouches with Graham
 in the middle of the night.
On the level.
 Then it was a good 20 miles across the Somerset levels.  At some point during all this, or possibly after the next feed stop Giles had a puncture, which was repaired with a C02 canister - well the second one after the first sprayed out all over the road. After a long climb we then reached the middle feed station, clearly being last on the road at this point.  We picked up, although not in the biblical sense, a waif and stray semi-lost bloke Tristan here, who rode with us the rest of the way.

The only way is up!  Next, after miles of skirting Taunton, was the climb of Blagdon Hill, steeply out of Pitminster village and then 2 long hairpins, before the endless road into Devon and the last tea stop at Ewins Ash.  

To the sea!  Then the interminable navigation to get to the last climb of Lympstone Common, via an abortive climb where we had to retrace, but hey, sh1t happenzzz!  After this a fast downhill into Exmouth and an artery clogging blow-out in the beach café, which after leaving we discovered I had a puncture to complete the set. 

Getting back.  We got a train to Exeter, where Mark and I stayed with his sister (riding down to Dawlish and back on Monday) and Giles got another train back to Bristol.  We only narrowly caught the train back to Waterloo, crossed London (overtaking a trendy cycling couple I just about heard the words “Wow! Old school streeters” (whatever that means) and I discussed with the considerably-more-attractive-than-her-bike female what we had been doing) and arrived safely back in St. Albans by about 8pm.
So in Summary: loadsa miles (approx. 290), punctures, rain, beers, great company and sense of achievement….

Route Map: GPS - Exmouth Exodus


Saturday Morning Rides

posted 27 Jun 2012, 03:30 by South Herts   [ updated 20 Sep 2013, 01:20 ]

Saturday Morning Rides
As a bit of an experiment, we held two Saturday morning rides on successive Saturdays in Bike Week.  These two rides were very successful and illustrated the potential demand for easy Saturday rides maybe once a month.

Vote now: Just fill in the Contact Us form to let us know what types of ride you are interested in.

Cyclists at a table outside cafe in park
On this particular morning (23 June) we had chosen to meet at the Inn on the Park coffee shop in Verulamium Park and at 10am there were six people waiting to be taken on a wander around the countryside.  One of that number was a returnee from last week (success, even if it is only one person) and one was a regular on our Five Miles to Fabulous rides, trying to get even more fab!  The previous Saturday there had been seven people out with us.

Richard, our leader, took us on a very pleasant route through Gorhambury, the little hamlet of Childwickbury and then we made our way to Sandridge.  From there we skirted Wheathampstead and meandered through to the Ayots, going past George Bernard Shaw’s house and back into Sandridge.   Richard showed us a nice short cut up to Marshalswick and then said his goodbyes.  Graham then took over the reins of leadership and navigated the streets of St Albans to get us back to the start.

As only one chain come off, throughout the ride, and no punctures, our bike maintenance skills were hardly challenged and this made for a very pleasant morning.  The group were all happy and calm cyclists of varying experience; both Graham and Ray had led rides in France (both CTC members) so it wasn’t just newcomers to cycle touring.  Both Graham and Ray were interested in the Wednesday evening rides (I think the interest started as I mentioned the word PUB).

Thoughts: - with a good turnout for both of the Saturday mornings, I am more than happy to try and organise this as a once a month ride, I think Richard may be interested as well. 

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Neil 23/06/2012

Club Tour 2012 to East Anglia

posted 16 Jun 2012, 11:22 by South Herts   [ updated 23 Mar 2015, 02:46 ]

Sunshine, warmth, the wind at our backs.

What a start it was for our four-day tour.  A cycle touring club really should do some touring as a club and coasting down to Buntingford I was thinking it’s a shame we don’t do more of this together.  With unpredictable weather you have to take the rough with the smooth, but more on that subject later.  So, with Jan joining us at elevenses we were up to 10 keen riders for this tour with another three out for the day.  Numbers were limited to 12 anyway to suit Stour Valley YHA’s new block-booking policy.

Café Town in Buntingford was new to me and good value, as were most of the cafés and pubs we used.  Perhaps it’s the recession or maybe just getting far enough away from London that brings the prices down.  In fact the whole holiday was great value as we booked Travelodge rooms well in advance and with two sharing per room they worked out cheaper than the youth hostel.

After lunch at Phillimore Garden Centre in Shepreth, where the three Sunday riders left us, we passed through Barrington, which boasts the longest village green in England, before testing our climbing powers on Chapel Hill.  Then it was time for some tricky off-road, with a tyre’s width track to follow on the Barton-Grantchester cycle route, which brought us out by the Rupert Brook pub.  The cycle route through Grantchester Meadows into Cambridge was a pleasant route into the city and not too crowded, then we picked up NCR 11 across Coe Fen behind Peterhouse College to emerge at the mill pond, where we resisted the temptation to spend the afternoon punting on the Cam.  

Lingering briefly amongst the other tourists on King’s Parade, we were fascinated more by the busker playing inside a rubbish bin (could it be Charlie?) than by King’s College Gatehouse, with its bulbous cupola and pinnacles, or indeed by the gothic architecture of King’s Chapel, with the world’s largest fan-vault ceiling. 

We followed NCR 11 to Jesus Lock, where the Soham Comrades brass band were performing, then through the back streets and out to Impington.  Soon we were in the fens on the aptly named Grunty Fen Road and arrived at Ely Travelodge at 5 pm.  We couldn’t have had a more friendly welcome (the receptionist was a cyclist) and we were positively encouraged to take our bikes into the rooms.  A relaxing evening followed, with a walk into Ely, a meal at The Lamb Hotel (an old coaching inn) and a look at the cathedral and the quayside; we finished off with a drink at the Prince Albert.

A battle with the elements.

Monday dawned with heavy rain and a strong head wind and, despite big breakfasts at the Little Chef, energy levels were sapping as we finally reached Downham Market for a rather late elevenses at Knights Catering, where a friendly welcome awaited us.  This turned into lunch after seeing what was on the menu and on display in the bakery!  

So we cut out going to Swaffham and looped around to Oxborough Hall, where I stopped outside the rear gates for a quick photo.  Not content with this view, some of the more unruly members of our party decided to pedal off down the drive rather than going to the main entrance.   An eagle-eyed National Trust manager spied them and leaped out of her car to lock the gates, much to the amusement of the better behaved members of our group.  We all escaped eventually and made it to Brandon via bits of Thetford Forest as the weather started to improve. 

Windswept trees typical of Breckland scenery lined the horizon as we approached Lakenheath and Mildenhall.  Roads were busy as we hit chucking-out time for the workers and getting over the A11 roundabout to our Travelodge at Barton Mills wasn’t pleasant.  However, reception was welcoming and we soon settled in with our bikes to dry them and ourselves out.  It was a short walk to the Half Moon for an evening meal: busier than normal as the first England football game in Euro 2012 had just finished.

An easy day

It was only 45 miles to Brantham according to Google, although we noticed the recorded mileage on our trips was often 10% more than predicted. With a favourable wind we soon reached Bury St Edmunds, delayed only briefly by giving Jan a lesson on fixing punctures.  This time it was NCR 51 that took us in on a traffic-free route to the centre.  It was a bit cold for exploring the historic abbey, so we soon found ourselves in the Street Level Café, where the ladies were overcome at the sight of our lycra clad legs while we appreciated their Newmarket sausages (as recommended by the Queen no less).

Lush fields and pleasant Suffolk scenery lined our route into Lavenham, where a visit to the ancient Guildhall was a highlight of one of the most extensive medieval Suffolk villages.  We lunched at The Cock opposite the impressive church.

Another short leg brought us Kersey, with a steep climb up Church Hill, an on to tea in Hadleigh.  Here I took the old railway path out of the town and over to Capel St Mary then to the YHA at Brantham.

Caroline gave us another warm welcome and four of us headed off to the village shop to load panniers with enough food for dinner and breakfast.  It was fascinating to watch our experienced chefs Tracey & Neil working so expertly together in the well equipped hostel kitchen – no trace of a swear word between them.   They had soon served up a superb spag-bol followed by apple crumble for everyone and facilitated a great evening in.

Last legs

A bright sunny day and we were off at 8:30 on the longest and last leg of our tour.  This time our route took us a bit further north than usual and Jan was planning on a train from Bures.  Knowing there were few places to cross the Stour after Nayland, we passed a ‘road closed’ sign (we can usually get through on bikes) as we headed for Bures.  Nothing was seen for miles, but then we rounded a corner and found the lane completely blocked by a tarmacing vehicle.  There was no easy option, so we hauled our bikes up the bank and through a narrow gate into a hay meadow to get around the blockage.  Unfortunately, this meadow had no gate at the other end, but point-man Neil found a way through to the next field and a gate to get us back on the lane.  We were soon in Bures and dropping Jan at the station for a fond farewell.

Rather a twisty route followed through some very narrow lanes to Colne Engaine and we found a café in Halstead, then pressed on to Andrewsfield for lunch overlooking the airstrip.  Just as we were enjoying the warmth outside, a pilot started his engine and the draught from the propeller blew over a bike and drove us inside the clubhouse.  

Back in more familiar territory, we made good progress to Ware for tea just before the Esem cafe closed.  Then along the path to Hertford and the Cole Green Way back to Welwyn GC and Hatfield.  An enjoyable round trip of some 250 miles.

Jon - June 2012

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Sunday 10 June: Hatfield – Ely 61.3 miles
Start   Hatfield ASDA at 09:00 
Morning stop  Buntingford – Town Café, High Street. SG9 9AE TL361296 
Lunch stop  Near Shepreth - Phillimore Garden Centre, Cambridge Road. SG8 6EY TL394460 
Tea Stop  Shop snack in Littleport 
Evening meal  Lamb Hotel in Ely 
Overnight  Ely - Travelodge A10/A142 Roundabout. CB6 3NN  
Monday 11 June: Ely - Barton Mills 62.4 miles
Morning stop  Downham Market -Knights Catering, at Railway Station.  PE38 9EL
Tea Stop  Brandon - Centre Café, 41 High St. IP27 0AQ
Evening meal  Half Moon in Mildenhall (0.8 mi) 
Overnight  Barton Mills - Travelodge A11/A1101 Roundabout IP28 6AE
Tuesday 12 June: Barton Mills – Brantham 50.7 miles
Morning stop  Bury St Edmunds – Street Level Café, Abbeygate Street.
Lunch stop  Lavenham – The Cock Pub near the church.
Tea Stop  Hadleigh Café.
Evening meal  Group meal prepared in the hostel by chefs Tracey & Neil.
Overnight  Brantham - YHA Stour Valley CO11 1PT
Wednesday 13 June: Brantham – Hatfield 77.0 miles
Morning stop  Halstead Cafe
Lunch stop  Andrewsfield 
Tea Stop  Ware
Evening meal  Hatfield


posted 23 Nov 2011, 05:53 by South Herts   [ updated 20 Sep 2013, 01:21 ]

Algarve Tour 13-20 October 2011

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We decided we'd like to try and catch some late sun in Portugal, which would help the country overcome its debt mountain, and for the first time ever we risked hiring bicycles to use on our tour. I had found a company called Cycling Rentals who would deliver and collect two 'suspension touring bikes’ to our base hotel in Faro town. The bikes looked suitable from the website pictures and were equipped with proper racks for panniers.

Day 1: Thursday

We flew into Faro on a Thursday lunchtime flight from Gatwick to a wonderful 28ºC of sunshine. A 1.8€ bus ride took us to within walking distance of our hotel just outside of the old-town part of Faro. The bikes had been delivered the previous day so we just needed to turn the handlebars and put our pedals on. Steve changed his saddle, but I thought the saddle on the bike looked OK and ended up not bothering to change it to the Terry one I'd brought with me.
The only snag was that I'd been a bit mean by not paying 12€ to hire an Ortlieb bar bag and mount for my bike. I'd brought a basket and mounting bracket with me, but it would not fit on the oversized handlebar. I was resigned to using zip ties to fix the basket to the top of the rear rack in order to provide a way of carrying the stuff I'd normally put in a bar bag.

Day 2: Friday - day ride to Tavira via Estoi

We had booked two nights at the Hotel Alnacir at the beginning of the holiday and one night at the end.  This would give us a day ride to test the bikes and also allow us to leave some stuff at the hotel in the bike boxes.
The plan was to cycle to Tavira and back via Estoi. In fact, we spent most of the morning visiting bike shops to try to find a cheap bar bag or basket for me. We struck lucky at a shop which had a lightweight basket with a big mount that fitted the large-diameter handlebars. So I have come back to the UK with two baskets now.
We pedalled inland to Estoi up a gentle incline to just miss the Roman ruins as the attendant said there was not enough time to visit properly before lunch. With our cultural itinerary stymied, we instead visited the nearby Pousada hotel in a converted palace and on entry, were seduced by its opulence and surrendered to the siren call of gluttony by having a lunch on a beautiful terrace with a superb view over the gardens.
After lunch, we followed country roads through citrus groves & wild pomegranate trees to the coastal town of Tavira, which deserved more time than we could spend there. It was 5pm when we left and tried to follow an official cycle route called ‘Ecovia de litoral’ which was supposed to follow the coast back to Faro. However, we lost it after only a few km and as dusk was looming we cycled back along the N124 road. Which was not so bad as there was a hard shoulder to ride on most of the way. We covered 80k that day & the bikes with their (lockable) suspension forks were appreciated for cobbled roads in some of the towns.

Day 3: Saturday - Faro to Alte

Panniers packed, we left Faro to travel to Alte via Loule and Querenca. It was very hot again and uphill all the way. Loule was an old town but a bit spoiled on a Saturday by hordes of coach trippers who visit the market there. We carried on upwards on quite steep roads (by European standards) to visit a hilltop village of Querenca. A new road had been built up a slope that looked an intimidating 30%, so we carried on round the hill to find the original road, which was probably only 15% in places. The gears were not as low as on my regular bike but I just managed to stay pedalling.   Up and over more hills and eventually to our hotel described as 'above' the town of Alte - in fact 1km up yet another hill making a 60k total.

Day 4: Sunday  - Alte to Lagos

Cooler today at about 26ºC and strong winds in the middle of the day but largely down hill to sea level again. Followed the N124 (not busy) to Silves then around the lake to Porto de Lagos. Saw a good example of an old tiled advertisement for ‘Schweppes’. Followed a road on map that turned into a track, then managed to get over the motorway to the outskirts of Portimao. We ended up having our picnic outside a block of flats, as we couldn't find anything better. We were caught up in urban traffic and called in at Decathlon before deciding to just use the hard shoulder of the N-road to get to Lagos. There were too many railway lines and estuaries to cross to find a different route.  Later in the week, we worked out a better route for the return journey. 74 km today
Hotel Riomar was well situated in the old town with a balcony above the street. This had its downside when I realised there was a karaoke bar nearby and I heard 'YMCA' many times until 3am!!

Day 5: Monday - Day trip to Monchique and back

Hot again. I'd originally tried to plan a route that would have had an overnight stay in Monchique - a pretty town up in the Sierra de Monchique hills. I'm glad I couldn’t get the route planned as we climbed 460m over 48K and it took us three hours to get up there with no luggage. Very quiet route up with no cafe open until Casais. We bought a lunch today in a locals’ restaurant with an outside terrace overlooking gardens and the town swimming pool. We met an eccentric ex-pat woman gardener from Brighton. The pricing was weird in the restaurant 2.5€ for a half-litre of red wine, but 0.7€ for a butter pat!
We returned by a different route and researched our route for the next day to avoid the urban sprawl on the coast.  Lovely downhill to make it 84k for the day.

Day 6: Tuesday -  Lagos to Silves
24ºC and no wind today. Short day back to Slives was only 40k. Visited Roman ruins en route, then followed a road that we thought looked like a track but was really wide tarmac to join the main road. Bought picnic lunch in the Continente supermarket then checked into our hotel. Picnic on balcony with a view over castle, then a wander round the town. Hotel meal was good value - soup, pork chops or fish, ice cream, espresso and a bottle of wine for 15€ each, on the terrace with castle view.

Day 7: Wednesday  - Silves - Faro
Easy riding to Alcantarilha where we visited a chapel built with human bones. Followed the Ecovia de Litoral from Alcantarilha to Albuferia and along the coast to Val de Lobo and Quinta do Lago. Down on the coast, Albuferia and Vilamoura were rather built up and not very nice. We followed the cycle route along the coast then got lost up a track when the signs disappeared and needed to use loads of MBs of mobile data to find our way to a road. 74k and about 26ºC today. Back at the hotel, we packed the bikes up into their boxes ready for a courier to collect.   We recommend the hire comapny and will try and use them again for touring Spain or Portugal.

Club tour 2011 to Suffolk

posted 11 Jun 2011, 06:55 by South Herts   [ updated 26 Feb 2018, 02:55 ]

YHA Stour Valley trip 7-9 June 2011

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Click here to view larger pictures
I’m not sure now where the idea came from, but a 3-day tour, riding to Suffolk and spending a day there before riding back again, proved to be a popular offer.

Stuart had visited the Stour Valley YHA with Cambridge CTC and the Southend Forty plus CC had also been there, so I looked into using this bunkhouse as a base for a midweek trip in June.  Some cyclists have been put off using Youth Hostels, claiming they are now poor value and dominated by families and couples arriving by car rather than by outdoor enthusiasts arriving under their own steam - why not use a Travelodge - it’s often cheaper.  This may partly be true of the larger hostels, but there are now some 17 YHA bunkhouses spread across England and Wales.  These are what simple hostels used to be like, but without the compulsory ‘chores’. 

Having fixed the destination, it was now time to plan some routes.  How do I get 10 cyclists the 85 miles from places like St Albans to the Suffolk coast in a day?  How much energy would they have left for a ‘rest’ day before cycling home?  So out with the maps, a lot of googling and a look at the websites of some cycle clubs in the area. 

Hertford looked like the best jumping off point as we could fuel up at here before starting and it cut the distance to less than 80 miles. I drew a straight line on a map and plotted all the refreshment halts I could find, then picked places giving a reasonable route out and back without gaps between them being too far.

Day 1: Tuesday

Hertford to Brantham (73.5 miles) via Hatfield Forest (20.5 miles), Andrewsfield (34.5 miles) and Earls Colne (50 miles).

Nine of us (Judy, Richard, Neil, Peter, Tracey, Simon, Phil, Brian, Jon) met at the Six Templars for breakfast at 8:15.  Luckily, for us, Brian was driving to Brantham as he was still building his fitness after breaking an arm skiing two months ago.  Therefore, he kindly agreed to act as sag wagon driver for our overnight luggage.  We got away shortly after 9 am and Tracey led us through the back streets to Ware, where we picked up John and Paul.

In any group this large, people want to travel at different speeds, so my cunning plan was to split the group into two, as this reduces waiting at refreshment halts and cuts down the queue for the showers on arrival.  It also lets cars overtake more easily.  So, Neil led the first group, with John’s GPS providing directions, and I followed with the second group.  John led us all on a peculiar route through his hometown, via some housing estates I’ve never visited, and probably never will again.  We seemed to be keeping together to Much Hadham, while people were making their minds up which group was right for them.  However, after crossing the ford, we saw the leading group take a left turn, before doing a quick U turn and appearing again behind us.  They overtook on the steep hill and disappeared ahead, only to reappear coming towards us in Hatfield Forest.  The cunning plan hadn’t worked too well, as we all arrived at the café together.  It seems the GPS was trying to lead them across a field, rather than via the entrance to the park.  Admittedly, it was a much shorter route, but one that meant lifting bikes over a stile.  What I hadn’t appreciated was that the GPS could only handle up to 50 of the 150 waypoints and it was making the rest up as it went along.

The café in Hatfield Forest was incredibly efficient, as it was used to handling vast numbers at weekends and we had it to ourselves.  We had plenty of time to admire the shell house by the lake.  Already feeling the effects of cycling with panniers, my second group had now swelled in numbers as we followed the lanes into Great Dunmow and through Stebbing to Andrewsfield airstrip.  Again, this was virtually deserted being midweek and we were soon served a good lunch while sunning ourselves.

The next leg was into quite unfamiliar territory as we were well outside our normal Sunday ride range.  The lanes were almost deserted as we ventured further into Essex skirting North of Braintree and we soon reached our last fuelling stop at Colne Valley Golf Club.  I had seen this impressive place listed by the Forty Plus NE Essex section and, sure enough, there were a few of them there having tea.  Amongst them was an 87 year old who looked very tanned and fit.

Now the final leg of the journey to Brantham was the longest of the day and I was keen to press on by a direct lanes route, which unfortunately meant missing some picturesque villages in the Stour valley like Dedham.  I tried to avoid too much main road at the end, by cutting along a track by Lawford Hall, but we were thwarted by a locked gate so we put up with the A137 for a couple of miles to reach the Coop in Brantham, where we stocked up for breakfast with only a mile to go to the hostel.

Caroline, who runs the hostel, greeted the first group and we were sorry she had to repeat all the dos and don’ts to the second group a little later.  The hostel was clean and tidy with a well-equipped kitchen and a well-kept garden too - testimony to the care and attention of the owner.  Best of all it was only a short walk to the Bull for a relaxing evening meal.

Day 2: Wednesday

A leisurely 50 mile tour of southern Suffolk, taking in the world famous beauty spots of Pin Mill, Kersey ford and Flatford Mill.

We decided on a leisurely start for a short (50 mile) circuit and decided to keep as one group.  The lanes were quiet, the sun was out and the breeze kept us cool (why do we bother to go abroad?).  We crossed the Shotley peninsular where the barley looked ready for harvest, although the root crops looked desperate for some water (a drought has just been officially announced here after the driest spring on record).  The Royal Hospital School in Holbrook looked impressive in the sunshine.  It moved here to the Stour estuary from Greenwich in 1933 and retains its unique seafaring heritage, with all pupils having the opportunity to learn how to sail.  We then crossed over the peninsular to Pin Mill on the Orwell estuary, where the tide was out and some huge sailing barges were stranded along the foreshore.  After a quick loop around Alton Water, site of an annual mass swim, we stopped at the Harvest Moon café in Capel St Mary.  We then headed North to Hintlesham and reached the Rose & Crown in Elmsett, where the very jolly barman did his best to exceed our expectations - order a bacon roll and you get two - order chips and you get cheesy chips.  Not exactly healthy eating and we had to extend our stay before were capable of moving again.  Another scenic detour was called for, so we visited Kersey.  Long before Shakespeare’s time this village was prosperous and famed for its Kersey cloth.  It doesn’t seem to have changed much since then, with its 14th century half-timbered Bell Inn, River House by the ford with its impressive Elizabethan door and St Mary’s Church looking down over the wide main street.  Not content with that, we passed through the historic market town of Hadleigh then followed the River Brett and the Stour to Flatford, where we had to sample the teashop after admiring the site of Constable’s Haywain painting at Flatford Mill.  Here Paul had the pleasure of fixing the first puncture after a brief shower of rain - not so pretty a sight.  It was only a few miles back now and plenty of time to get to the local for an evening meal and a walk down to the Stour to admire a Shelduck (or was it an Avocet?).

Day 3 Thursday

Brantham to Hertford (70.5 miles) via Coggeshall (25 miles), Littley Green (39.5 miles) and Old Harlow (59 miles).

We’d had a favourable wind on Tuesday and were now glad, although blowing from a similar direction, that it had died down a bit.  I had plotted what I reckon is the shortest reasonable cycling route back to Hertford, at just over 70 miles.  Fortified by a big breakfast, we followed a lovely route along the Stour valley crossing it between Thorington Street and Boxted, then crossed the Colne at Fordstreet and made a beeline for Coggeshall.  Crossing the busy A120 was tricky, but the route brought us straight into this medieval wool town sited on Roman Stane Street.  There are numerous amazing old buildings, including Paycocke’s, a sixteenth century timber-framed house built by a prosperous wool merchant as a wedding present for his son.  After a welcome break at the garden centre, we carried on through Cressing, White Notley and Great Leighs.  All the time the clouds were building and forming a dramatic sky scene, such that just before reaching our lunch stop at Littley Green the skies opened. 

The Compasses is famous for its Essex huffers - very large baps stuffed with almost anything.  The publican reckons the name is derived from halfers i.e. half a loaf that farm workers took for lunch in the fields.  A group of the Southend Forty Plus were already indulging when we arrived.  After our filling lunch, we were reluctant to leave this wonderful old pub, not least because it was still raining heavily for a short while.  Then the sky cleared and we had a good run through Leaden Roding and the Matchings to Old Harlow, where Café Blue came in very handy.  We then followed the cycle tracks through Harlow, where Judy’s trike suffered its inevitable puncture, before reaching Roydon were the group decided to split up.  The clouds were gathering again, but further north so at least we got home in the dry.

Overall, the trip was most enjoyable and we could do with a few more of these bunkhouses within 70-80 miles, although I wouldn’t mind going there again next year.

Club tour 2011 to Suffolk


Barcelona to Barnet - including a french end-to-end

posted 25 Mar 2011, 08:46 by South Herts   [ updated 20 Sep 2013, 01:22 ]

 Gorges de Galamus

It’s not easy to define an end-to-end in a country that is roughly hexagon shaped.  There are companies and CTC tours offering rides between the Channel and the Mediterranean, but I decided I wanted to do a full end to end, between the most northerly and most southerly points in France. 

A quick inspection of the Michelin road atlas revealed that the most southerly through road was the road over the Col d'Ares, south of Prats-de-Mollo ski resort in the French Pyrenees.  The most northerly point was the Belgian border, near the coast.  I then started planning a route for Jon, my husband, and me to ride.

The time of year was easy to decide.  I do not like hot weather, which ruled out the south of France from May to September.  Before May snow would be blocking the passes in the Massif Central.  So, October was the month. 

We decided to do the route from south to north, as we could then get a ferry back to England, which would give us flexibility if we were delayed or early.  It also allowed us to dump most of the bike packing needed for the flight , though we kept the plastic bike bags as emergency bivvy bags.
 Chateau de Chambord

To get to the southerly end, we decided to fly to Barcelona.  From previous experience the roads into and out of Barcelona airport are a nightmare for cyclists, so we took a suburban train to Ripoll, a Spanish town north of Barcelona, and started our ride there. 

We came back using the Norfolkline ferry from Dunkirk, which was the nearest ferry to the Belgian border.  The web-site of this ferry line gives the impression it is just for motorists as pedestrians and coach parties are not allowed.  However, the ferry accepts cyclists!

The scenery through the Pyrenees, southern France and the Massif Central was magnificent, through spectacular rock formations and gorges.  October seemed the perfect time to visit and once we left the climbs of the Massif Central we expected life to be easy, but progress was a lot harder. 

We were unlucky to be caught in a strong cold northerly head wind and we struggled across open countryside wearing all our clothes.  The landscape was mostly flat and boring, the lanes covered in bumpy dried mud from freshly ploughed fields, but the monotony was relieved by visits to a number of interesting chateaux.
 Foret de Lyons

A summary of our three week route is shown below with brief notes on points of interest and places visited (fuller details available on request).  As far as possible we kept to the many minor roads that cover the French countryside. 

Thanks are due to Tony and Anne, who lent us the notes from their channel to the med trip, as we used their route in reverse for parts.  We stopped in a combination of small cheap hotels and Formula Ones, mostly researched beforehand but only booked on arrival in the town.

We used pages from a Michelin road atlas (1:200,000) to navigate, with additional Googlemaps printouts for complicated bits (large towns and tracks).  The entire trip from Ripoll to home in Barnet took us 3 weeks and was 2052 km (1275 miles), of which the distance from the south of France to the north was 1769 km (1099 miles).
 Flat fields in northern France

A holiday would not be a holiday, without a few problems. 
  • In Chatres the hotels in the centre of town were all full.  (We were told the town attracted a lot of conferences as it was close to Paris.)  We cycled around the busy ring road in the dark checking the many budget (and not so budget) hotels on the periphery, but all were full.  After finding the tenth hotel full, we headed back into the inner suburbs and found two beds – and a superb breakfast – at the youth hostel.
  • Returning to the ferry, we tried to follow the N1 to the port, but the bridge over the river was closed and we were diverted onto what turned out to be the autoroute.  An ambulance crew stopped and lectured us, then kindly carried our bikes down the bank onto a farm road.  Fortunately, we had already crossed the river on the autoroute and managed to find our way to the port, but too late for the planned ferry crossing.  Our consequential late arrival in Dover, led to a dark ride through the Kentish lanes to Canterbury where we had planned to stop the night. 
 North Point
In conclusion, I can recommend this ride as a challenge.  There are more minor roads and small towns than in some of the trans Alpine/Pyrenean routes we have done.  The route was very scenic until we left the Massif Central and at least the ride through the flat lands of northern France took us to an area I would not normally consider for a cycle tour - thereby allowing us to visit a number of châteaux for the first time.

Total distance 2051.91 km (1274.48m)

End to end in France 1768.72 km (1098.58m)

Duration 3 weeks.

 Day Distance
 Route Stop
 1 Sat  47.17 km
 Cycle to Mill Hill Broadway; train to Hackbridge; cycle to Gatwick and check in.  
 Gatwick  Travelodge
 2 Sun  2.90 km  Fly to Barcelona; train to centre and to Ripoll.  Visit cathedral and old town.  Ripoll
 3 Mon  86.18 km  St Joan de les Abadesses monastery  (Benedictine monastery, founded in 885).  Col d’Ares (French border 93 km from start);  Gorges de La Fou, 1500m walking tour; Arles.   Amelie les-Bains
 4 Tue  86.48 km  Col Xatard Bouleternere; Ile sur Tet; spectacular rock formations “Orgues”; "La Clue de la Fou" (beauty spot).  Saint-Paul-de-Fenouillet 
 5 Wed  91.30 km  Gorges de Galamus (very scenic); Col de Redoulde; Col d’homme morte.  Carcassone
 6 Thu  99.46 km  Col de Serieres; Col du Fauredon. 
 Brassac  (rooms in cafe on D622 2 km outside town)
 7 Fri  86.01 km  St Jean-de-jeannes, D172 along Tarn; steep minor road to Cambradet.  Requista
 8 Sat
 66.36 km  Minor roads to  Laissac
 9 Sun
 84.52 km  Crejouls; St Come; Aubrac; St Urcize. 
 10 Mon  93.84 km  Pont de Treboul; col du Prat de Bouc (1392m); Col d’entremont (1210m). 
 11 Tue
 87.94 km  Col de la Chaumoune (1155m); Lac de Bourdouze; Cascade de Vaucoux.
 Clermont Ferrand  (old town and cathedral)
 12 Wed  99.90 km  Under railway viaduct (highest in Europe)  Chateauneuf-les-bains (intended stopping place – hotel open but no food).   Gorges de Chouvigny
 13 Thu  89.65 km  Chouvigny castle, Montmarault; leaving mountainous area.  Le Brethon (famous oak forest planted by Colbert C18 for the navy).  St Bonnet Troncais
 14 Fri
 100.04 km
 Charenton du Cher; le Chamay; Chateauneuf sur Cher; Civray; St Pierre de Jards.  Massay 
 15 Sat  93.52 km  Maison Fort; Selles St Dennis; Montrieux-en-Sologne; Visit Chateau de Chambord (largest chateau in Loire Valley).  Vineuil
 16 Sun  86.71 km  Visit Chateau de Blois. North side of Loire; Brevainville; St Hilaire.  Chateaudun
 17 Mon  73.84 km  Visit Chateau and Old town (signed route); Collommiers.  Chartres (visit cathedral and old town)
 18 Tue  102.24 km  la Chaussee d’Ivry; Boisset les Prevanches.  Evreux 
 19 Wed
 102.78 km  Tosny; Abbaye de Mortemer; through Foret de Lyons (largest beech forest in Europe).  Forges les Eaux
 20 Thu  80.48 km  Ste Beuve en Riviere; cross river Somne.
 21 Fri  97.86 km  Quoeux; Bergureuse; Laires
 Arques/St Omer 
 22 Sat  128.43 km  Bray Dunes to border; L to coast. North point Belgian border apprx. 57 km. Dunkerque; N1 to port but bridge closed and diverted onto autoroute; after crossing river, minor roads to port.  Norfolk line ferry to Dover. Woolage Green.  Canterbury
 23 Sun  118.76 km  Faversham; across Medway bridge; Rochester; Dartford Crossing (free bike transport). Hornchurch; Chigwell Row; Enfield  Barnet
Judy Allfrey

Dunwich Dynamo 2010

posted 22 Feb 2011, 04:39 by South Herts   [ updated 20 Sep 2013, 01:21 ]

The Dunwich Dynamo 24th/25th July 2010 - ridden by Graham Figg...

The DD 2010

As I write this on 30th November 2010, the temperature is struggling to reach a balmy 0 degrees. Therefore, now is a good time to look back at the halcyon days of summer cycling.
The Dunwich Dynamo is the progenitor of a number of all-night cycle-rides, (such as the Exmouth Exodus) which grace the cycling calendar in the UK. Starting in the early 1990’s, a group of hardened cycle couriers decided to end their days’ work in the East End relaxing over a few beers. One year, possibly after some other substances had been consumed, they decided to ride overnight to the Suffolk coast. Thus was born the legendary “Dun Run”. This is my story of the 2010 edition.
So this was it. At Hatfield station, with only a couple of hours to get to London Fields for an all night ride, and after painstakingly checking my machine, there was my one front light source, a supposed high quality dynamo lamp lying limply face down on the front mudguard. I scrambled around in my tools for the right Allen keys to attempt to repair it, curiously watched by taxi drivers and people dressed up for a night out in London, but it was soon clear that the plastic of the body was cracked. There was no time to dwell on this disaster however, because shortly both Peter (Monahan) and Mark (Keeley) arrived, we quickly purchased our tickets and just managed to board the same train. On the 20 minute journey to Finsbury Park I rationalised the situation; I would do a temporary repair by buying sellotape (or is it “sticky-backed plastic”?), if it still broke off I could borrow a back-up light from Mark, by the time it was dark we would be out of London and lights almost superfluous, and hey! A good drama needs a bit of jeopardy.
An hour or so later, after our annual episode of getting lost yet again in the one-way systems of North London, we were enjoying a nerve settling pint in London Fields, (the barmaid in “The Pub on the Park” had assumed all the “carbo-loading” going on was a celebration at the end of a ride!) waiting for the ill-defined start time.  All cycling life was here, lycra clad roadies, recumbent riders who you thought might fall asleep on a long downhill, dayglo-coloured fixies, a lone front brake lever mounted on incredibly narrow handlebars and casual looking but “hard-through-inexperience” normal people with bicycles. I was riding my self-built Orbit Harrier (with tape decoration), Peter on one of his Moultons, and Mark on a Cube road-bike. Then the route sheets were handed out, for which a £1 donation is customary. The route is basically the same, but differs subtly, usually in the last 20 miles, although there are no checkpoints or bureaucracy. Around 9 pm and we were off, under the London Fields railway bridge and wiggling through Hackney to the Lea Bridge Road. Concentration is vital here. There are loads of parked cars, pedestrians, traffic and variously experienced cyclists around you and the possibility of getting lost in the bandit country of Hackney. Shortly however, after what seem miles of gentle climbing, you reach the finger of greenery, Epping Forest, which creeps into North East London. Soon the convoy is cruising through Chingford, populated by bevvied up Essex boys and girls drinking in the streets outside the various pubs. Some even offer up friendly cheers and applause. At the north end of Epping High Street, we turn right for North Weald. At this point it is virtually dark, the ride is thinning out and the event proper begins as far as I’m concerned.
Our next target to aim for is Great Dunmow. Via the village of Moreton, we pick up the B184 and on this reasonable road, turn up the revs. It is still before bedtime for normal people, so several in the know have set up deckchairs and a few crates of beer in their gardens to watch the cavalcade go by. Then suddenly we see some cyclists coming back towards us. We hadn’t really been paying much attention to the navigation, just assuming that the large group we were in had a collective sense of direction. A rucksack wearing hybrid-rider shows me a mobile device. It shows a road going diagonally from corner to corner of the screen and nothing else-not much help. However, this is my 4th Dunwich, and I feel we are on the course. We carry on counting down the signpost distances to Dunmow. Reassuringly, in the distance we see several hundred red LED’s blinking, confirming our judgement.
In Dunmow, it is about midnight, the last customers are making their way home from various pubs. We stop outside the Saracen’s Head hotel-cum-restaurant-pub, consuming some of our rations. It’s obvious now that I don’t have enough food, despite consuming a large amount of pasta before I left home. There aren’t many 24-hour supermarkets in the depths of rural Suffolk. Only Mark seems to have got his refuelling strategy right. It’s also still quite warm and even 2 large water bottles don’t seem enough.  My concerns are leavened by the arrival of a fellow rider, who has brought his pet dog, accommodated in a large box over the front wheel which he assures us allows the animal to sleep. And then we’re off again, through the pretty village of Finchingfield. We cross the bridge and pass the windmill, both immortalised in millions of photographs but now just a route sheet instruction to be ticked off, and head for Wethersfield and Sible Hedingham. This is where we make a bad mistake. Compared to previous years, the fabled feed station has been moved back along the route, from Great Waldingfield to Sible Hedingham, but it’s not directly on the route. Missing what we later discovered was a tiny sign, Peter has to go without the anticipated cup of tea and I a good nosh-up of beans and pasta. Soon however, we’re enjoying the exhilaration of the descent into Sudbury. Judging by previous year’s efforts, we seem to be slightly earlier; it’s about 0130 hrs.There are still people wandering around who seem incredulous at our exploits as we ask them where to find the hill to Great Waldingfield.
The 2010 route
Reaching Great Waldingfield we stop on the village green to eat some more food. For me, all that is left now is cashew nuts, but there is only 50 miles to go. Various determined groups, and types of machines flow past, imaginatively lit-up. The desire and impulse to sleep has to be fought off now; it is still several hours until daylight. I’m finding it quite hard as we start again to keep the power going, but as we skirt round the south of Lavenham, I get into the swing again. Unlike previous years, no jam-jar lanterns have been left to confirm the route. Peter has been hurtling along, seemingly descending into dark avenues of trees where you can’t see what’s ahead and I’ve found it hard to keep up. At one point, we passed a minor accident. A rather bloodied cyclist was sitting in the road with an ambulance in attendance. Neither he nor his machine looked seriously damaged.  In Bildeston we ration the water out. I feel much better once I’ve taken a large drink, and we climb up the road to Needham Market, my machine subtly lighter.
By 0400-0500 hrs you begin to ache for the sun to start coming up. Surprisingly, as it’s now 25th July, about a month after the longest day of the year, this seems to start about 0430; we’ve just crossed the A14 and are on the last quarter of the route sheet. Spirits rise with the sun, and we stop at an enterprising, although rather expensive feed stop in a front garden for a euphemistically named “bacon roll”.  The wildlife is now turning up the volume, and a few local humans can be spotted opening the village newsagents and garages. We pass through Framlingham and its incongruous industrial structures for agricultural processing, and approach the A12. It is at this point, with 7 miles to go that you reach the first sight of the magic word “Dunwich” on a signpost. The final leg across to Dunwich beach via Westleton seems endless. It’s 0700 on Sunday 25th July, almost 24 hours since I was last in bed. Remembering what day it is takes some thought. However, it is light and most of the effort and danger is over. Suddenly, the road becomes beach and we run out of country. While most people have been sleeping, we’ve ridden 116 miles and my tape bodged light repair has held!!
For Dunwich riders, there are a number of options at this point. The rather unofficial organisation behind the ride (it is after all a turn up and go affair) organise a coach, which takes you back to Smithfield Market. There is an excellent beach café at Dunwich, which opens early especially. In 2009 it was raining at the finish and desperate for sleep cyclists littered every possible dry perch, even the floor in the toilets, completely tolerated by customers and staff. After your fry-up blow out, if you haven’t slumped into a bacon rinded and greasy plate, you can sleep on the beach, which is just 2 miles up the coast from the PWR nuclear power station at Sizewell. In 2004 I was met by my wife and son who took me a few miles to where they were camping and I had a good sleep on Sunday morning. In 2007 I cycled another 10 miles to the Youth Hostel at Blaxhall and then home to Hertfordshire on the Monday. In 2009 and 2010, myself, Peter and Mark have ridden to Peter’s brothers in Leiston, eaten him out of cakes and coffee, and then ridden about another 25 miles (via another massive pub meal) to a B&B in Forward Green near Stowmarket. This makes the ride back to Hertfordshire on Monday shorter and easier, and the next village has an excellent pub serving good value meals (yes folks, you have to cycle 4-5 miles for your meal on Sunday evening!!). 

When I have time, I will conflate the trips of 2009 and 2010 back from Dunwich, which are a story in themselves, on the Sunday and Monday into another article.
If you would like to try this event with me in 2011 you can contact me via the webmaster.  Details of the event can be found here.


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