Pleshey Pedal

Nick Cotton’s Cycle Tours around North London: no 7.

I had planned a completely different day’s cycling from the ride we actually enjoyed. However, events, dear boy, events…

After a frustrating morning in which son Graham stayed in bed far longer than he said he would and Janet spent quite a while taking some provisions to my aged aunt (at least she went on the Brompton), we ended up eating lunch at home and then strapping the bikes to the back of the car.

It made sense not to start in Thaxted, as that is at the northern extremity of the route and we live well to the south of it, so we parked at Pleshey and, once the machines were off the carrier and it was safely in the car, off we went.

The heavy clouds which had been so ominous when we left home had lifted and again we were treated so some glorious cycling weather. However, we hadn’t been going for more than 5 or 10 minutes when I decided that my cup of tea at lunch was making its presence felt, and a convenient gap appeared in the hedge. Five minutes later, with all three of us relieved, we set off again and Graham said encouragingly “You did lock the car, didn’t you?” “I bloody hope so” I replied, but that terrible feeling of unease had gripped me. I couldn’t remember locking the car…

We headed north-east towards Ringtail Green (do they have hen harriers there? I doubt it very much) and then crossed the A130 and headed north towards Felsted. It was very easy going as we approached the Chelmer, involving a high gear and a speed in excess of 25mph as we sped past the redundant Hartford End brewery, where Ridleys was brewed until Greene Bloody King took the brewery over and closed it down.

Just as I was changing down through the gears, I heard a faint ringing from behind. Jan had stopped and was gesticulating over her shoulder. “Rucksack!” I heard her say and instantly understood. She had left it back at the piddle stop. I looked at my computer: we had covered just over 3 1/2 miles.

“OK, you two wait here, I’ll go for it”. I was hopeful that it would still be there because there had been virtually no traffic on the road and indeed there it was, on the verge right next to the bush against which we had leant the bikes. This was just as well as it contained Jan’s purse and several important plastic items. Having gone so far, I couldn’t resist returning to the car just in case… and I had locked it!

I caught up with the other two again, that little interruption having cost us about half-an-hour. We headed through Felsted and on towards Stebbing. What was marked on the map as a pleasant valley was in fact filled with dreadful modern housing and there were far too many 4* 4s struggling past up on the narrow lane. At a bend I stopped. “If we take a right turn here, we can use a bridleway to avoid some of this traffic. That will take us where we want to go and we can cross the A120 straight on to the Stebbing road.” The other two agreed, so off we set. We decided that the bridle track was just a bit too rough, especially for Jan’s spanking new Shimano rims with their skinny tyres, so we wheeled the bikes.

It dawned on me, quite some time after we had committed ourselves to this route, that the A120’s traffic was very much noisier than I expected and … it was out of sight! My fears were confirmed when we found our way blocked by a fence and beyond it a cutting containing a dual carriageway whose existence was not even hinted at by the map we were using. We followed the bridleway along its new route parallel to the road and there was the bridge that we wanted to take, up a very steep bank.

I didn’t know how difficult it was to wheel a bike up a 1 in 1, but it is hard. Once I got to the top I leant my steed against the crash barrier and went back down the slope to help Jan. It was an easy matter to lift her Dawes Discovery 701 over my head, Critical Mass style, and just stomp up the hill with it. It’s a lovely light bike.

At this point there was some voluble swearing from Graham. He had somehow entangled his older brother’s bike with an aggressive-looking thistle and, whilst attempting to disentangle it, had caught the rear reflector on the crash barrier and half-torn it out of the mudguard. An araldite job when we get home…

Stebbing was the next port of call, and we arrived there just in time to hear the church clock striking… 10. I looked at my watch: 4.35. In spite of the eccentric time-keeping, Stebbing is a lovely village. There is an enormous tudor house on the right and further buildings of antiquity along the High Street, as well as a couple of pubs (both shut) and of course the church. We reached Bran End and took the right turn towards Lindsell. I was conscious that Jan was flagging a little, and I offered her the option of cutting the ride short, which she took. It was a shame to miss out on Thaxted, but it will be there for quite a bit longer yet.

After Lindsell, we headed towards Little Cambridge and suddenly my bike developed an alarming noise, which I took to be something fouling the spokes. However, when I freewheeled, the noise stopped, so that narrowed it down a bit. It turned out to be the gear cable fouling the chain, indicating that I must have pushed on the pedals so hard that the wheel had slipped in its drop-out. It was actually quite tricky to fix, because the chain seemed to want to be either too loose or too tight. Eventually we achieved a happy medium and the noise had gone, so I settled foor that, making a mental note that this was likely to happen with the Shimano Nexus 8-speed hub because of the angle of the gear cable’s approach.

We took the B184 for a few hundred yards and then turned off towards Duton Hill. I would sooner use the slightly longer minor road than the B road, which used to be called the A130 and on a Sunday is fairly busy with fast cars. Little Easton came and went, and so did a number of ancient vehicles coming from some show or other, pumping the no-longer-familiar smell of leaded petrol into the atmosphere.

On reaching the B184 again, we reached the Cricketers Pub, which was open…

Forty-five fortifying minutes later we were back on our bikes and heading along Dunmow High Street. We took a right towards High Roding and then the minor road towards Philpott End. This was a great rarity: an Essex road with grass growing down the middle. Such things are commonplace in Wales and the West Country, where rain is more frequent, but not here in the semi-arid deserts of East Anglia.

A brief spell back on the B road, a Roman road so inviting for the cagers with their Porsches and Audis, and then we were back on the bendy and narrow, past Chimballs and on to High Easter. From there, it was only a mile or two back to the car.

Total miles covered by me: 35.8 (abot 29 for the other two).

Oxford Ice-cream ride

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When that sorry bunch which pass as an excuse for a rail service cock things up, they really cock things up…

I left Southend at 7.17, arrived on time at Liverpool Street, cycled to Paddington and was there before 9, only to find that every single train listed on the departures board had beeen cancelled. This was, apparently, due to a points faiure somewhere outside Paddington.

I’ll gloss over the rest of the morning (maintenance work and a dead train at Swindon were amongst the talking points for the incomprehensible announcers) but I finally arrived at Oxford at 11.45, having alerted Bikenrrrd of my delay, a full hour after the ride was due to have left to find them all waiting for me. Bikenrrrd, Crumbling Nick, Chris S, Mega10 and Comet (not riding, but visiting friends and nursing her broken rib).

We set off almost immediately, and of course the rain began to fall, but not enough to trouble the goretex. The first task was to climb Cumnor Hill: not vicious, but certainly persistent. “Here we go again” I thought, and I had visions of this fine group of people having a bit of a thumb-twiddiling day waiting for me at every top as I dragged my corpulent self up the various hills which rural Oxfordshire had in store for us. As it happened, I didn’t need to worry too much as Cumnor Hill was about the only climb of any note before the lunch stop. I can keep up a reasonable pace on the flat, and the weight:surface area ratio is definitely in my favour on the descents, and we reached the Fox and Hounds in Uffington after only 90 minutes’ riding, a distance of either 32 km or 20 miles, depending on whether you believed my computer or Bikenrrrd’s.

There was a small but pleasant surprise in store for us as two bicycles of unknown vintage were parked outside the pub. By the time we had organised ourselves, the owners had appeared: one of the machines was a pre-war fixie Joe Cook, the other a Dayton with 3 speed Sturmey Archer, and it had been in its present owner’s possession for sufficiently long that he could remember being chased by a doodlebug while riding it! These chaps were members of the Vintage Cycling Club, and they recommended the Sunday Lunch.

So can I! Roast topside with 4 veg followed by apple crumble and custard, all washed down with hand-pulled Marston’s Pedigree. Total cost £10.35. Discussion over lunch was about saddles and sit-bones.

Eating such a large quantity is one thing, but doing so in the full knowledge that after leaving the pub you have a 1 in 8 to climb must be regarded as something else all together. However, we all made it to the top, and once again I was impressed with the hub gear on my Ridgeback. I was last, of course, but who cares? I managed it and from this point on the ride was a series of swooping descents giving enough momentum for us to get a good way up the climbs again. My top speed was only 29.5mph all day but Mega10, on his fixie, came hurtling past me, his legs going like a faster version of the pistons on the steam train I had watched idly at Didcot that morning while waiting for my connection to Oxford.

We were treated to the sight of a red kite over East Hanney. I love watching these magnificent birds. It’s easy to see where they get their name. Nothing which puts so little apparent effort into flight should ever be allowed to stay in the air but they do, quite majestically. Combine that with the striking colours and you have probably Britain’s finest bird (we’ll gloss over the small point that the Chiltern red kites are all, apparently, of Spanish descent!)

We continued to make good progress and in spite of one or two doubtful moments when a little navigational discussion took place, we kept to the route and it was a shame that Nick had to make a break five or so miles from the end as he was booked onto a specific train. He missed his ice cream as a result of my late arrival earlier in the morning: I owe you one, Nick.

A small but memorable moment occurred on the home straight as my Cateye cycle computer registered its one thousandth mile.

We eventually rolled up to George & Danvers’ Ice Cream parlour around 5.30 p.m. and found a most convenient stainless steel structure outside the adjacent church to which we could lock our bicycles. For me, three large scoops (Oxford Blue, Raspberry and Vanilla) alongside a large café latté were just about right and I was preparing to head off towards the station when Comet, dear girl, mentioned casually that she had overeard someone saying that the trains to London were all up the proverbial, and would I like a lift to Pinner station?

Of course, I jumped at the chance and after Mega10 had shoehorned our bikes in the back of the Land Rover Discovery, we were on our way, another triumphant day courtesy of the Association of Champion Fellows.

Quad Bike Fun

A few minutes ago, I was overtaken by a gentleman on a quad bike.

It was a narrow residential road with parked cars on one side. Normally, it has little or no moving traffic on it.

I heard the engine of the vehicle as it approached, but had no intention of moving over because there was virtually no room. Then:-

“Move over why don’t you?”

David Beckham (at least, that was what it said on his shirt) then forced his way through before turning into a driveway. I pointed out to Mr Beckham that he had been in contravention of S. 139 of the Highway Code to which the former England captain replied

“B*ll*cks f*ck*ng Santa have a f*cking shave.”

Is it any wonder we got knocked out in the quarter finals?

Friday Night Ride to the Coast

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I have to confess that after the Southend CM earlier in the evening, in which I was quite cold for a while, I had doubts about going on the Night Ride. However, it was one of those situations in which I just know I would have kicked myself afterwards so I readied myself and, with my lovely wife cheerfully telling me “You know you’re mad, don’t you?”, I headed for the late night BP shop and then the train.

Before I lfet the forecast had been good, but a damp ride seemed to be in prospect as between Liverpool Street and Hyde Park Corner the rain fell. However, I had started so I was going to bloody well finish even if it killed me…

One by one other riders began to turn up and eventually we were ready. Someone had a “clipless moment” before we had even begun, but then we were off. The rain had stopped and the moon, now a couple of days past full, was trying to put in an appearance.

It has been at least 20 years since I rode from London to Brighton, and after a while I began to remember some of the landmarks, even in the dark. Clapham Common, Balham (“Gateway to the South”), Mitcham, Morden and then a rather solemn moment for me which I kept to myself: Coulsden was the home of Jessie Gilbert who played chess against my daughter quite frequently when they were young, and who died so tragically a week or two ago.

Then we were out in the country, the ill-mannered motorists were nearly all in bed, and we were riding along at a fair old rate. Almost before we knew it we were clamouring at Tourist Tony’s door and that excellent fellow let us in to get at the superb spread he had put in front of us. Pasta, pizza, cake, fruit, a cup of tea..

That was almost my undoing. After leaving Tony I definitely felt the load was heavier as my digestive system and my legs argued with one another about whose turn it was for the oxygen. Most of the ride I was near the back, but when two of our number chose to return via Gatwick, that definitely made me the back marker. As we approached Turner’s Hill, I remembered that it was not called “Hill” for nothing, and it was quite a struggle to make the top.

At most other stops I had tried to set off as soon after Simon as I could so at least I was in the group for as long as possible before some gradient or other pulled me back. This time I didn’t manage it and everyone was away. I did my best but it was not enough and the group was soon out of sight. I felt sure that I was still going the right way, but the longer I went without seeing another cyclist the more the doubts began to grow. There was no point in going back and I knew that Simon, who had been whizzing back and forth so much in shepherding his flock that he must have ridden at least 15 miles further than the rest of us, would not let me escape, so I kept my pace down below my normal turgid rate so that if I had gone astray I would soon be found again.

Of course, these were all demons brought on by fatigue and a wild imagination just before dawn, and before I knew it there was a reassuring red light in the distance again and someone was trying to mend a chain amid the usual helpful gaggle of onlookers, no doubt much to the delight of the residents of five o’clock Lindfield.

From now on I sort of knew the way. The name Slugwash Lane appeared out of nowhere in the depths of my memory and within minutes we were there. Simon, who by now had left the guiding of the main group to 661-Pete, a Burgess Hill man, warned me of a vicious right-hander and straight away I remembered a small child hurtling out of a trailer in one of the 1980s rides, his flight being broken by mercifully soft leaf mould and vegetation. There was the bend, tighter than I had remembered it, and I had to brake fairly quickly to keep control.

From here, the Beacon came into view. It’s an impressive hill, and is quite forbidding to an Essex Man like myself. There was what turned out to be a traditional gathering near some spectacularly derelict greenhouses, where a generous soul had joined the ride for a few minutes just to give us some fresh coffee. How welcome that was!

There was a fair bit of conversation and banter, but there was an underlying sense of foreboding as everyone was aware of the presence of The Hill, the defining moment of the ride. Then suddenly, without warning, a rider set off at speed and as soon as he did so, others followed. Within seconds, there was hardly anyone left so there was nothing for it but to go.

Initially the gradient is quite gentle. You can tell you are climbing but there is still a gear, or maybe two, to spare. Then, after the crossroads, the real work begins. I had decided in advance that my days of conquering this hill ended some time in the 1980s but I would keep going at a very gently pace, pretty much as slowly as I could without actually toppling off, until the inevitable happened and my legs just wouldn’t respond any more.

The first bend arrived, and I was still going. “Keep going to the next bend” said a voice, so the legs kept churning. Suddenly it became a good deal steeper. “Dance on the pedals!” urged the voice (was it Phil Liggett’s?) so I stood up in the saddle for a few seconds and reached a more forgiving piece of road. Another bend in the road, at a point at which it looked as though a huge bite had been taken from the hill but greenery was doing its best to fill it in again. Once again the legs responded to the challenge.

I was going incredibly slowly, no more than walking pace, but suddenly I saw sunshine ahead. Ditchling Beacon has a couple of false summits but I knew that once you are clear of the trees you have almost made it. I also realised that everything was so much easier than Turner’s Hill had been an hour or two earlier. But I didn’t allow myself to think about the overall goal, just the immediate task. I’ve lost plenty of games of chess due to over-confidence, thinking it was “in the bag” and relaxing. I wasn’t going to allow the prize of climbing The Beacon to escape my grasp, so I just kept the legs turning at the same pedestrian manner when the rest of the riders came into view. “Forget them, you silly bugger!” shouted the voice, so I did, even when a few of my riding companions rushed out, paparazzi style, to record for posterity the fact that Santa Claus was about to don the polka-dot jersey.

The Man with the Coffee appeared again and handed me a most welcome cup. Once I had finished it, it was time for a few photos of that very special place, and then the descent into Brighton. This was fairly uneventful, apart of course for the speed, but again Simon and a couple of others kept me company until the remainder of the ride came into view on the promenade. A couple of brave souls went into the sea, and Phil Norman and I joined them. It was not too cold, at least, not compared to my Scottish experience of a couple of weeks previously, but even so, I had a train to catch so after a quick change of clothes a couple of us headed off to the station.

This was a brilliant ride. It was a considerable challenge, and I think tested me pretty much to my limits. I am most grateful to Simon, for showing such forebearance but doing a terrific job as Ride Leader, and also the two or three others who made sure that I, the slowest rider in the group, had company all the way in. And of course Tourist Tony. What kind of saint opens up his house at 3 o’clock in the morning to a couple of dozen people, some of whom he has never met before, so that he can ply them with really tasty and welcome fare?

Hitching a lift

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I was preparing myself to be put to shame today: I had planned my inaugural ride with the Forty Plus Cycling Club. I was worried that a whole bunch of septuagenarians would leave me behind, and indeed they did. I was late turning up at the start outside the Crown in Rayleigh, and they had already gone. However, the weather was perfect: sunny, a light breeze, and not too warm, so I thought another solo ride would be a good idea.

I reached Battlesbridge much more quickly and easily by a generally more pleasant route than my previous ride, but only part of that was down to the route. I had had the bike up on this work stand the previous evening and I discovered that one of the front brake blocks was rubbing the rim, to the extent that a small cornice of dust had accumulated at the forward end of the block. I wonder how many miles I have covered with the brake on?

From Battlesbridge I used the old road towards South Woodham without ever intending to visit. It is an awful place with just one saving grace: it is the home of Crouch Vale Bitter, produced in a matching pair of lockup garages built in breeze blocks and a most incongruous place it is to have produced the stunningly-good Brewer’s Gold, the bitter which won the Best Beer in Britain award for both 2005 & 2006.

From here, I took the road towards East Hanningfield and then turned right, eventually reaching Edwins Hall Road, with its fine views across the Crouch Vale. I made good progress through Stow Maries, stopped at Cold Norton for an iced bun with a cherry on the top, and then through Latchingdon, past Maylandsea and the Stansgate Road, which leads towards Stansgate Abbey Farm, the ancestral home of Lord Stansgate (aka Tony Benn). Almost subconsciously I was heading towards Bradwell. I stopped briefly for a couple of photographs of the high tide and the redundant nuke, took another of the church, then headed eastward towards St. Peter’s on the Wall.

According to some sources, St. Peter’s is Britain’s oldest church, having been founded by St. Cedd in 654. I am always suspicious of claims like this: the Priory in Priory Park, Southend, is supposed to date from the 11th Century, but what remains was “extensively rebult” in the 1920s and I doubt very much of any if it is original. Most of the original priory was destroyed during the Reformation. However, there is plenty of evidence that bits of St. Peter’s are older than others and it is indeed a very fine building.

From there I returned to Bradwell and headed south, keeping the marshes on my left, until Tillingham. The Fox & Hounds was very inviting, and bore the legend “Gray & Son”, a brewery whose last issue of beer was in December 1972. I know, because it was the occasion of my last hangover from the stuff. Just like everywhere else, it now serves Greene King, so IPA it was.

I swelled the number of customers in the bar to 3. The other two were clearly locals, whose traditional Essex accents bore no trace of Estuary. There were two people behind the bar: the barmaid and the chef. He announced proudly that he was now into his second helping of the crab and sweetcorn soup which was today’s Special and that if I didn’t order soon he would be eating more.

My crab and sweetcorn soup was indeed excellent and was accompanied by a baguette filled with beautifully lean ham and a substantial salad, which was about the best £5’s worth I have bought for a long time. I spent the best part of an hour at the pub, leaving a few more customers than had been there when I arrived, and headed towards Asheldham, taking the minor road from Dengie, to be rewarded by a very fine view of one of the lakes there. I headed through Southminster, stopping briefly to photograph the church, and then went straight to Burnham, where I hoped that the ferry would take me across the Crouch, thereby reducing my journey by at least 15 miles of, frankly, rather unpleasant and busy road. I found that it only operates at weekends, but undaunted I headed towards the yacht harbour, in the hope of finding some kind soul who might just take me across the stream. Plan C was to get the train home.

Suddenly I was greeted by complete strangers. It was the couple who had apparently walked into the pub after I had and recognised me. Am I really that distinctive?  They commented on how quickly I had cycled the six or so miles from Tillingham to Burnham and said “You really put us youngsters to shame!”. I thanked them and didn’t have the heart to tell them that I reckoned that they were at least 5 years older than my youthful 52!

I then made for the Harbourmaster’s office, found him and then told him: “I’m going to exercise an awful cheek: do you know of anyone who could give me a lift over to the other side?”

“I’ll take you myself as soon as my colleague has finished with that launch”, he replied, pointing to some manoeuvring going on in the marina. I suppose you would only become a harbourmaster if you have a love for the sea and boats, and to be cooped up in a portacabin on a glorious day, watching everone else having the fun while all you can do is mess around with a computer must be a variety of hell. (I emailed the Harbourmaster’s office afterwards to thank him and let him know I had donated to the RNLI).

I didn’t have long to wait and I was on Wallasea Island, very close to the Canewdon Loop I have cycled once or twice with Fatters. Beer wasn’t on my mind this afternoon, though, it was just getting home and polishing off several cups of tea.

The normally-pleasant Stambridge Road was in the process of being surfaced and there were two miles of loose chippings to negotiate. I turned off at the Stambridge Mills, taking the footbridge over the Roach and missing out Rochford. Thereafter, it was the most familar two miles of all, along Sutton Road and back to East Street.

Total time out of the house: 7 hours 7 minutes.

Total miles: 58.08

Time in Pub and other stops: not far short of 2 hours.

Ride rating: totally spiffing!


Repeat Performance

Tonight we repeated our July 5th ride, with a small amount of tweaking, but in a faster time. In fact, we probably went further and our descent of Lifstan Way, all freewheeled, took us to 30.6 mph, our fastest yet on the tandem. Next time I’m going to get in a high gear and see what happens.

We had an ice cream at Uncle Tom’s Cabin on Shoebury Common, but after that we had an unbroken ride home save for a brief examination of the front wheel to see why it was rubbing the mudguard. Probably some of the spokes settling. They were all intact.

We completed the last 12 miles of the ride in well under an hour.

Mrs. Wow is still not happy with her saddle. We took the Brooks Flyer off and put on a gel saddle which she had beeen using on the Brompton, but it was evidently no better.

Is there any evidence that a saddle that is too low will tend to give more bum pain than one which is the correct height? My wife is a good, long-legged lass but wants the comfort blanket of being able to put a good deal of foot on the ground.

A Triumph of Ambition over Judgment

Prittlewell – Rochford – Ashingdon – Hullbridge – Battlesbridge – Rettendon – South Hanningfield – Stock – Buttsbury – Billericay – Little Burstead – Lower Dunton Road – Wash Road – Oak Road – Borwick Lane – Bridleways via Sapper’s Farm & Dollyman’s Farm – Rawreth – Rayleigh – Dawes Heath Road – The Fairway – Westcliff – Prittlewell

Gallery of ride

There’s an old saying I used to use when fishing on cold miserable days when the fish weren’t interested: “I’ll be bloody glad when I’ve had enough of this!” It was appropriate for the greater part of this ride.

I had intended to start soon after 8 a.m., but the first rain to fall in Southend for what seems like a decade decided to visit us this morning. Not real rain, but a fine drizzle borne upon a biting wind. Optimism that it would soon stop delayed my start, but eventually the urge to cycle became irresistible.

Initially I thought I could do without my waterproof, but I hadn’t gone a mile when out it came and stayed on for 20 miles or so. I didn’t want to return it to the saddlebag because each lull in the rain promised to be temporary.

The road from Rochford to Battlesbridge is marked yellow on the map. Don’t be fooled: it’s busier than many an A-road in other parts of the country. It’s not wide, but I was overtaken by a succession of heavy lorries which never gave me enough room and always cut in too early. There is a dual-use cycle lane / footpath beside the road, but the last time we used it, my son came close to running over a small girl who suddenly turned in front of him, so it’s fraught with problems. Today, I felt that the rain would keep most people inside, so I used it. It was better than riding on the road. It doesn’t last long though and has an abundance of dotted white lines implying that the cyclist should stop, but often with no obvious reason why.

Shortly before Battlesbridge my second cup of tea at breakfast was making its presence felt so I looked for a secluded spot. I found one, did the needful, and just before getting back on my bike planted my left foot into a large pile of dog poo. Would I have seen it if I had been wearing my glasses? Possibly, in dry weather, but my glasses were useless in the rain and were in my shirt pocket in any case.

After Battlesbridge, there is a cycle track on the old A130 which is better than some but still cluttered with a fair bit of debris. I used this and after Rettendon turned along Hoe Lane and up Chalk Street. There was much less traffic here and the South Hanningfield Road was also reasonably pleasant. Turning right into Middlemead, between Hanningfield Reservoir and the Water Treatment Plant sent me straight into the wind. Even so, I made fair progress into West Hanningfield and better still along Lower Stock Road.

I resisted the temptation to drop into the Hoop for some lunch. I don’t know why, really. It was lunchtime, it was near at hand and it invariably serves excellent beer. It must have been my Puritan Gene getting the better of me. Instead I turned towards Billericay along the B1007 and shortly after Stock Church took a right turn into Honeypot Lane. It was a relief to get out of the traffic again and I followed the road as far as Buttsbury Church and then took a left towards Buttsbury Wash. The rain merely had nuisance value: it had done nothing to raise the level of the River Wid, so I blithely cycled through the ford. This was a mistake that almost cost me dearly, as my front wheel slid suddenly to the left, but my momentum kept me going and I was back on dry tarmac soon enough.

I followed Mountnessing Road right out to the A129, took a left and at the lights turned right into Tye Common Road. I stopped outside number 23 to take a photograph of my birthplace (sadly no blue plaque yet!) and I had just put the camera away when a car pulled up. Three people got out, clearly having been to the supermarket, and I couldn’t resist the temptation. “Excuse me, do you live here?” “She does”. replied the man, pointing to the older woman. “I was born here,” I replied. “‘Ere, this man was born in your house!”

We then conversed briefly and the lady of the house asked if I had a sister who worked at Basildon Hospital. I replied that I did, and it was evident that this woman had been to ultrasound for one reason or another and my beloved sister, with whom I am not on speaking terms, had scanned one or more portions of her anatomy.

Soon I was on my way again and after leaving Little Burstead I reached the dizzy speed of 33mph during the descent to the Lower Dunton Road, my best ever since the invention of cycle computers. A left here brought me to the Old Fortune of War. There are probably few left alive who can remember when it was a pub, but as a building it has outlived its successor. The New Fortune of War, on what used to be a roundabout, was built at about the same time as the Southend Arterial Road (1938?), but was recently demolished along with several other Basildon pubs, the Double Six and the Jolly Cricketers to name two, to make way for housing development.

From the Old Fortune, I crossed over into Wash Road, so called because there used to be a ford of the River Crouch right next to the current road bridge. I can remember when this was still in use in the early 1960s, but it is completely overgrown now. At the junction with Hardings Elms Road I turned left and, shortly, right into Oak Road, again pleased to be away from the heavy traffic. Oak Road really is a minor road, but is also under-maintained, with plenty of pot holes and several accumulated sandbanks, so it is not safe to relax, even here. This took me to Gardiner’s Lane and at this junction I took Borwick Lane, something of a gamble as I had no idea how easy it would be to negotiate the bridle track half way along.

As it turned out, there was no problem, but of course the east end of the road took me out onto Nevendon Road. It was here that that I saw two other cyclists, almost the only ones of the entire ride. Both were middle-aged men looking as though they were going to and from a shift change in Basildon, and both were on the pavement. I kept to the road, again getting caught up in heavy traffic, until the roundabout when I took Cranfield Park Road. After some distance, taking a right at the second roundabout, I saw a large mechanical gate closing across what I had thought to be a bridleway. It was a concreted road, but there was a footpath sign up and a space for pedestrians to get through. It took some negotiating to get the bike through the narrow gap, but after that I had about two miles of quiet riding along “bridleways”. In fact, these were little short of service roads for two farms whose land had been carved up for road development and whose buildings were used to stable horses and as small industrial units. At least there wasn’t any traffic on them, even if frequent cracks in the concrete made it a fairly bumpy ride. Eventually I reached a bridge over the new A130 and then rejoined the A129 near the Carpenter’s Arms.

From here, it was a fairly uninteresting ride into Rayleigh, although Crown Hill was a bit too exciting for my liking. I had little difficulty in cycling up it, but it is fairly narrow and again is used by heavy traffic. At one point an enormous lorry decided to overtake, and to give the driver his due, he gave me plenty of room. It must be quite unusual for that stretch of road to be clear of oncoming traffic for long enough for him to have achieved that.

The last five miles or so were memorable only for the pain. My elbows and upper arms were aching because I had been leaning on them for too long. My bum was aching through saddle soreness, and my thighs were aching from too much pedalling. I arrived home 4 hours and 45 minutes after I had left, stopping en route only to put on or take off my waterproof, to drink water, or to take the odd photograph. The total distance was 46.03 miles and, fleetingly, it has the status of the Longest Ride of the Day on Cyclogs.

If this ride has taught me one valuable lesson, it is this: for rides over 30 miles, I’ll buy a train ticket to Wickford, which is where Betjeman’s “sweet uneventful countryside” begins, and miss out on the heavy traffic. For shorter rides I’ll stick to Barling and Canewdon.