Snow

In January 1987, Southend was cut off.

The snow started on the Saturday evening. I was in a pub in Great Wakering, drinking beer with a pal. We cycled there and he fell off his bike on the way back.

We had a curry at his place and I then made my way home, about 5 miles in the snow. It snowed all night and by Sunday morning there was about 8 inches lying.

That evening, at around 7 p.m., the temperature in my garden dropped to -14 deg C. My sister, who lives about 8 miles inland in a shallow valley, recorded -18.

About midnight Sunday the real snow started. By 2 a.m. Monday everything disappeared. I walked into work the following day and every step the snow was over my knees. I measured the depth at 19″ as a uniform snowfall. Other people came to work on their skis. The children’s school was closed for a week. Once the snow on the pavement outside our house had been compacted, you could lift it in ice bricks 6″ thick. We made an igloo in the back garden.

By the following Saturday evening a snow plough had worked its way down the dual carriageway to the north of the town and had cut a swathe about 7 feet wide through snowdrifts 6′ deep. The removed snow had been placed on top of the drifts. I cycled back to the same pub with an 8′ wall of snow on either side of me. It was an amazing experience.

We drank beer and had a curry.

Plus ça change!

Spotting the Beastie

The day that we saw the pine marten we also saw “The Beastie”. We (Mrs. Wow, older daughter, younger son and I) were holidaying in Ireland, in Sligo. We hired a couple of boats to try to catch the huge pike which lurk in the Templehouse Lake, so called because it dates back to the Knights Templar, but were caught in a squall and could not row the boats back against the wind. We drifted to the far side of the lake and were obliged to abandon the boats.

Temple House has been in the hands of the Percival family since the 17th century, and we telephoned Mrs. Percival to let her know of our predicament – being on the wrong side of an Irish lough can involve a long and difficult walk! She advised us how we should get back to the road and agreed to meet us in the car. Shortly before she arrived, we saw a pine marten cross the road in front of us. it was less than 20 feet away. I didn’t get a good view but my daughter, an accomplished artist, later painted a picture of it and there was no doubt at all.

We recounted this tale to Mrs P, clearly before we had identified our previous sighting as a pine marten, and she said “Ah! you’ve seen The Beastie.” We asked her more about this beastie and she said that in the 19th century one of her husband’s ancestors had brought some wild cats over from Scotland. These had bred, possibly cross-breeding with domestic moggies, and occasionally they could be seen. She said she hadn’t seen one for a couple of years, but had had a very good view of one down by the lake and had watched it for quite some time.

She invited us into the house to change into our dry clothes, gave us tea, and after admiring the 32lb pike in the glass case, we then went on our way. I was so intrigued by her story of the Beastie that I drove back along the road where she had met us, just in case we should see something else.

We drove slowly along the stretch in question and about 200 yards further on, we had left the woodland behind and were out into open country. I reversed the car into a field entrance to turn round and as we looked back, there, silhoutted against the green of the trees, was a large dark feline shape, I would say about the size of a greyhound. It loped across the road and disappeared into the undergrowth.

I have never seen a Scottish wild cat, but I believe them to be not much bigger than a domestic cat. Whatever it was that we saw was a good deal bigger, although of a slimmer build, than a domestic cat. However, some sources say that Scottish wild cats are generally smaller today than they were 200 years ago as a result of ruthless hunting by Victorian gamekeepers who were paid a bounty to catch and display the largest and most ferocious looking wild cats, so the gene pool became restricted to smaller specimens. Maybe the exports to Ireland were just that much bigger and survived in the wilds around Sligo?

The Witham Wobble

What a splendid day! The sun shone, the birds sang and the wind was light.

Mrs. Wow & I caught the train from Southend, joined another at Shenfield and met Scum of the Road and Jurek, both Witham-bound. We found Brain Road (has the highest IQ of any road in Britain) without any problem and began the day with introductions over a nice cup of tea.

Nutty was already there. He cycled, setting off from SE Essex at about the same time that we left home. How lovely it would be to be fit! Born Again Cyclist and Mrs BAC turned up next, and last, but by no means least, Fatters arrived.

Soon we were on the road. We headed north out of Witham towards White Notley, and on the whole the cagers drove in a manner inappropriate for the road conditions. Eventually, we turned left and things calmed down. The group had become split, with The Current Mrs. R leading and Oscar’s Dad guiding the back markers (Mrs Wow and me). The Born Agains were sort of caught in a no-man’s land and missed the left turn so Fatters went storming off to hunt them down and guide them back to the straight and narrow. It’s a marvellous trick if you can do it, but he rounded up not two lost sheep but three (he’s been taking lessons from Valiant)! We were joined by a lady on a very smart Cannondale who was out for her Sunday Training Ride, and she stayed with us all the way to our lunch stop in Little Baddow. Will she become an ACFer or did we frighten her off?

We headed through Ranks Green, where the Pretty Lady is no longer a pub but a private house, then through a ford in the Great Leighs area. I paid suitable homage as we neared the church: in 1965, the Rector of Great Leighs, the Rev. A. H. Franklin, was my Latin master. If he’s still around the old boy would be well over 100. His nickname was “Granddad” then, long before Clive Dunn sung a song of the same name.

From here we rode towards Terling and the second ford of the day. This was an altogether different kettle of fish from the first, and, having a reputation to keep up, Nutty briefly contemplated attempting it on his bike. What finally decided him against this course of action were the strains of “Farewell & adieu to you Spanish Ladies” wafting from a passing trawler.

So to Hatfield Peverel, where, in true ACF style, we took a wrong turning. No problem – a quick about turn and were were heading the right way again, and it wasn’t long before we were crossing the Chelmer by Paper Mill Lock and climbing That Hill. It’s the second time in a week that I have climbed it, and it holds no particular terrors for me now. At the top, we arrived at the lunch stop, the General’s Arms. Shepherd Neame “Late Red” bitter was the preferred option, accompanied by the Sunday Roast in my case, Mrs Wow opting for liver & bacon.

After this there was a very pleasant downhill run via Spring Elms Lane towards the Hoe Mill bridge at Ulting. From here, we approached Nounsley where  there is another ford, but on this occasion it was not on our itinerary. Another visit to Hatfield Peverel was in order, after which it was an easy run back to Brain Road for tea and cakes.

The total ride was almost exactly 30 miles, which, when added to the 4 or so miles we cycled to and from stations, allowed me to pass two important milestones: today I completed my monthly target of 400 miles, and I also passed 2000 miles since registering with Cyclogs. Scum of the Road and Jurek both remarked how pleasant this bit of Essex is, and how it didn’t seem like 30 miles. That must be down to two factors: firstly, it was an excellent route chosen by Steve & Kirstie, and secondly, as ever, ACFers are ace company.

For photos, click here

Tandem Ride, Sutton Park

Mrs. Wow and I were in two minds about setting off for the ride this morning. Hers and mine. She was all rationality: “Where’s the sense in driving over 300 miles so that we can cycle about thirty, when the weather forecast tell us that we’re odds on to be drowned out?” I was all optimism: “Well, we’ve been lucky before… I grant you we’ll probably get a bit wet, but we’ll meet some lovely people, we’ll see a bit of the country we don’t know, and we’ll have a good lunch.”

We left home around 7.15 and rolled into Sutton Park shortly after 10 o’clock. The only event of any note on the way up occurred on the M1 when a motorcyclist pulled alongside our car and waved to me in slow motion. It took a while for the penny to drop: it was Charlotte!

We must have been pretty well the last to arrive. We had scarcely got out of the car when a lycra clad gent with strong Brummy accent greeted me and shook me by the hand. “Didge” said he. The inestimable Mr. Didge, aka Charlie. We meet at last!

There were others whose existence we had only previously witnessed electronically: Si (main ride organiser), Docsquid, Clarion, Pagan, Elleigh (came to wave us off), Mr & Mrs Pike, Windy, Paul, mas051 plus others whose names I will inevitably forget. Apologies to all – worn-out brain syndrome (WOBS). Of those I had met before, there was  Vicky, Charlotte (that awful Charlotte!), The First Two Things, Zipperhead & Son, AlanS and Alchemy (flying visit). There were 10 tandems (one with a complete crew substitute at half-time), two pretty standard (but high quality) touring bikes, Didge’s splendid Viking Fixie, the recumbent that Charlotte had borrowed for the day and a very interesting concoction made out of a mountain bike frame and a park bench which Johnny Thin rode. He arrived at the lunch stop and accompanied us back to Sutton Park.

As parks go, Sutton park is very impressive. It’s big: probably not as much as a square mile, but it can’t be much less. There are lakes, trees and lots of the other stuff that urban parks are renowned for, but on a large scale. The first mile or more of our ride took place within the park, but then we were out on (almost) open roads. Little Aston looked plush – we didn’t see any houses because they were all set back too far from the road. Thereafter we took a fairly meandering route to the lunch stop, mostly on country lanes with a plethora of bovine evidence about them, but with a couple of busy road crossings thrown in. At one point we saw a buzzard and Vicky I think it was pointed out a second, but my eyesight wasn’t up to that one.

Charlotte had to do a bit of luggage adjusting ( Shocked ) and we took the opportunity to find out which of our wheels was rubbing. It turned out that we were losing a great deal of power because the front wheel wasn’t seated properly. A quick flick and back with the quick release skewer and out bike went a lot faster, or, more accurately, went at the same pedestrian speed much more easily.

Lunch was excellent. Not many people went for the starter, but I did: mushroom and cheese with a bit of salad. Tim & I opted for the bangers & mash main course, and the toffee pudding for afters, washed down with plenty of tea. There was a good deal of variety and forummers selected a fair cross-section of what was on offer.

Then we were on our way back again, by a considerably shorter route than on the way out. I made the entire journey 33 miles. Once back at the start, there were photographs, some silliness involving a recumbent which involved Windy sitting in a puddle, but most importantly there was a very large black cloud heading northward and, having had the luck and the dry weather, we were keen to get in the car before the heavens opened.

We had scarcely left the park when the rain started. It was heavy and lasted at least half an hour, by which time we were on the A14.


Charlotte shows her class.

Family Clarion & Windy at lunch.

More ACFers at lunch.

Keeping the faeries at bay. This dance is clothing optional.

A collection of tandems.

Didge shows his class.

Golden Tints

Rickling, Stickling, Clavering and Bonking with Three Fast Ladies

I lost my virginity today. I completed my first ever Audax. I ache. I have some abrasions in places I prefer not to mention. But I bloody did it!

The Golden Tints Audax does not take Climate Change into consideration, as most of the tints we witnessed today were still decidedly verdant.

As I approached the train from Liverpool Street to Elsenham, a lady waved to me. In my confusion I thought it was Little Miss Mac, but it was Peliroja (Vicky). We nattered and I was flattered that she remembered me: we must have met at a previous Critical Mass, but my memory is so bad these days…

Once we arrived at the Shaftsbury CC Hut, the sun having decided to break through the mist, we greeted Tourist Tony and then, when they arrived, Litle Miss Mac (Alex) and the redoubtable Comet (Liz).

Shortly we were off but we hadn’t been going very long when LMM had a faerie visitation.  I was in two minds here: we had an arrangement, whether spoken or not, that we would ride together. However, I knew right from the outset that maintaining 15 kmh for 109 km would be very close to my limits. I waited a little while as Alex & Vicky attacked the problem, but was so concerned that chivalry took second place to naked self-interest. Since these three ladies were invariably waiting for Tony & me (for that is the natural order of things) at the top of every hill, I did them a favour as well as I set off to try to cover some more Kms… They caught us up anyway within about 5 miles (8 km).

I would like to say that the ride was eventful, but I was concentrating so hard on keeping my speed above 15 kph that there were few events which drew my attention away from the matter in hand. I was fairly familiar with most of the morning’s route, and that saved us a little time and, in one case, the Leading Ladies a small diversion, where the left turn to Wimbish Green was not to be confused with a later left turn to Wimbish. We passed Wimbish Village Hall, the scene four years ago of a County Chess semifinal in which Essex lost to Cambridgeshire but I won a particularly memorable K & P ending.

We returned to the Club Hut in good time for the stage, but then spent too long (in my view) over lunch. At 1 pm, with about another 60km still to do, and less than 4 hours in which to do them, I set off, shortly to be overtaken by the ACF Peloton of 4.

We returned to the B1383, quite a ghastly road, and probably no slower than when it was the A11, and headed through Newport then left to Strethall. The scenery now was superb. Who said Essex was flat? We were treated with wide, expansive views, suffered climb after climb, and descent after descent. At one point my speedo read 63.6, without a doubt my fastest ever going solo, but sadly this was measured in Kms, so works out at 39.75 mph. Still my personal best on a solo machine.

We were, more or less, keeping up with the time, but it was touch and go, and I was seriously regretting my decision to wait 10 minutes with the faeries. There were some long, sometimes steep, climbs as we reached the highest point in Essex, near Chishill, and that’s almost in Hertfordshire. Now, pretty much every time we reached a hill-top, I needed to drink, and quite often I delved into the pack of soreen in order to keep the dreaded Bonk at bay, but it was an uphill struggle, in every sense of the expression.

The last 10 miles were an ordeal. I knew the others wanted to get on with it, but, lovely people, they waited for me (always the slowest) at hill-tops and junctions. I was beginning to shake as my blood sugar level dropped, and ate more soreen, but it didn’t seem to help. The fact that my cycle computer reckoned the route to be rather longer than the organisers claimed was also a source of discomfort, but gradually the row of pylons I knew to mark the end of the journey came ever closer; we crossed the M11, and finally returned to the Club Hut.

An Audax has to be completed at a speed no less tha t 15kph, which for 109 km is 7 hours 16 minutes. The finishing time was 4.46 pm. I am still not sure what was written on my brevet card: was it 4.44 or 4.45? I don’t know, but all I do know was that I had a terrific day courtesy of the Shaftsbury Cycing Club and ACF and I’ve done an Audax!

One footnote: Tony mentioned my bike. It’s not the bike that fails to fly, but its portly, decrepit, arthritic owner. I am quite confident that, in the hands of an athlete, it would be perfectly adequate.

Edit: no photos this time. I took the camera, but never had the time to use it.

Cotswold Walking Weekend

I was quite worried that this weekend away might have had to be cancelled as I did something to my left foot a couple of days before setting off, and even when we were on the train heading for Stroud, I was still limping quite a bit. As it happens I needn’t have worried.

A couple of times a year Mrs. Wow & I go for a walking break with the Povall Boys, some long-standing friends of ours, now retired, who happen to share our fondness for good food (especially curries), good beer and good walks. Jeff & Mike are twins. I suggested the Cotswolds as a destination when I picked up some cheap train tickets (£20 return, Prittlewell to Stroud) and they readily agreed.

One of the great things about ACF is that you get to meet new friends, and on the Friday evening Jaded (actually, this was the third consecutive weekend that I have enjoyed Jaded’s company!) and Monsieur Pumpé joined us for some excellent beer and a good curry. We drank at the Golden Fleece in Nelson Street, a basic pub with a wide choice of well-kept real ales. This was followed by a visit to the Balti Spice. I’m sorry to say that I wasn’t on the best of form, as I was pretty knackered and my foot was still giving me some trouble. However, everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.

Saturday’s walk was a 9-miler starting and finishing at a disused airfield here .

We headed north towards Withington,

where we visited a pub (the Kings Head?) with a loopy dog

desperate for attention and gravity drawn beer which was past its best, then east towards Cassey Compton,

and then south towards a Roman villa

near Chedworth. From the villa we walked east aong the MacMillan Way then followed the edge of the wood and back towards Chedworth village where we visited the Seven Tuns, quite remarkably a Young’s tied house with some very good Ramrod bitter, but too much of a hint of SW1 about it, and then climbed the hill beside the church

and back to the car.

At one point we had some difficuly with the navigation as what we thought was the path had been ploughed up and, not 100% sure of our ground, we were reluctant to stomp across ploughed land unnecessarily. We kept to the edge of the field until we reached the road. The road was easy walking, but I was annoyed: bloody farmers are supposed to keep footpaths open and I gained the impression more than once during the weekend that some marvellous hillwalking country was being made less accessible by the Landed Gentry. I wonder how much of this attitude is fostered by the proximity of royalty just down the road at Highgrove?

We had an evening meal at an Eldridge Pope pub in Cirencester, the Black Horse, but it was not great. The food almost made up in quantity for what it lacked in quality, and they only had one beer on. Furthermore, half the bar space seemed to be occupied by unwashed glasses until someone whom I took for the landlady appeared and suddenly things got done. After getting back to our digs, Jeff & I walked to the Golden Fleece again, where Maurice X, the Man from Madagasca (or was it Morocco? Somewhere alliteratively African, anyway) was entertaining the packed house with unnecessarily amplifiied guitar playing. Jeff & I sat outside and drank London Pride.

On the Sunday we did Laurie Lee’s walk, a 7-miler starting and finishing at Bulls Cross. This was another wonderful walk, with much more up-and-down than the previous day’s. However, we found the route rather difficult to follow. The walk is no. 21 in the Pathfinder Guide, Cotswold Walks, and perhaps it didn’t help that we were following the route clockwise when the instructions assumed anticlockwise. We had a good reason for this: it was the only way, we reckoned, to be able to arrive at Laurie Lee’s local, the Woolpack in Slad, at a sensible time for a cooked lunch.

However, many of the paths were overgrown, there were occasions when the waymarks were absent, and quite a few fallen trees made the going difficult. In addition, I don’t recall visiting an area as bad as the Cotswolds for signs telling you what you were not allowed to do. “Private, no footpath!” , “Private road. Footpath only. No bicycles.” Even the local publication, Guide to the Cotswolds, depicts a beautiful lake, the most prominent feature in the photograph being a “No Fishing” sign.

There were some superb views. Here are some.


Once we had overcome our navigational difficulties, during which we disturbed three fallow deer which disappeared into the undergrowth, we found the

pub. It does not get a mention in the current Good Beer Guide, but I have seldom been into a finer pub. It served Uley’s beer, of which Old Spot was the favourite. There was also Laurie Lee’s bitter and a basic bitter. For the cider-inclined there was, of course, Rosie’s Cider.

The beer was good, but the food

was fantastic. It was a traditional roast, either pork (Gloucester Old Spot, of course) or beef (Aberdeen Angus) and they ran out. Apparenty they had only ordered enough food to supply 80 Sunday lunches, but we got ours!

The locals were extremely friendly. I had hardly set foot in the bar when another customer, a burly bearded bugger, thrust a digital camera in my face and photographed me. It turned out that the pub was running a beard-growing competition  Grin involving quite a few customers. Regulars who were taking part had had their photos taken in September at the start of the competition and again a few times until the competition concludes at Christmas. There was also  a Rogues’ Gallery of occasional visitors who showed some expertise in the noble art of beard growing and Yours Truly should now be firmly established somewhere there.

I put my rucksack and sticks down in the bar while carrying some beer, and one of the regulars said in his lovely Gloucestershire burr, “They’ll be alright there, no one round here goes walking!” I retorted, “What, you mean they all ride bikes?” which he found far more amusing than I expected.

After leaving the pub we climbed the hill opposite, involving about 100 metres of ascent in half a kilometre. Then it was a reasonably straight route back to the car. It was along this stretch that we followed a footpath, scarcely wide enough for walking between the dry stone wall and the barbed ire fence, immediately next to a much wider path which was evidently meant for horses, but the two were separated! It would have been possible to get over the wall and negotiate the barbed wire for some much easier walking, but some land owner wanted it that way so walkers were relegated to a difficult path when a much easier one could have been made available!

On the way back to Stroud we visited Painswick, a very neat village with a load of extravagant topiary in the churchyard. I looked in the estate agent’s window: hardly anything under half a million.

That evening we visited the Duke’s Head where we enjoyed some Timothy Taylor Landlord bitter, not exactly local but a very fine beer nonetheless, and followed this up with an even better curry than Friday’s, at the Radjoot restaurant, immediately next door to the Balti Spice.

My impressions of the weekend? The Cotswold Hills are a fantastic area for both walking and cycling. There are plenty of small roads, some steep hills, but lots more easy riding. Picturesque villages tend to be in steep, narrow valleys with the wider open spaces round about more undulating. The walking is hampered in places with inadequate waymarks and path maintenance and there is a lot of evidence of horsy types dominant: lots of green wellies, Land Rovers and pro-hunting signs.

The people we met were mostly very pleasant: Jaded & Monsieur Pumpé are first rate chaps and the fact that Gloucester is a great rugby-playing area makes it almost an extension of South Wales (I’m going to get some stick for that comment!). I felt that one woman, high on a magnificent horse, rather held her nose when she answered our “Good Morning” and there were one or two other occasions when we felt that the more cut-glass-accented residents would prefer it if a bunch of scruffy ramblers wouldn’t ask them which way the footpath goes.

I was not overly struck with our accommodation, the Downfield Hotel. The beds were comfortable enough, the breakfast plentiful and well-cooked, and the shower worked well. However, the Maitre d’ seemed to think that making jokes at guests’ expense was a good way to conduct business and he seemed to resent our asking for a nightcap at his pretty well-stocked bar. He had quite a choice of single malt, but we couldn’t see Lagavulin so Jeff had a Laphroiag and I settled for a Macallan. Janet asked for an orange joice and he replied sardonically “This is a bar…” and then tried to laugh it off. I think he was trying to imply that she should have been drinking something alcoholic.

Would I go back? Certainly! I’ll be amongst the first when Jaded’s Cotswold tour comes to fruition. I reckon a Sunday Lunch at the Woolpack in Slad would be hard to beat. If it can be beaten then it will be by a very special establishment indeed.

Estuary Ride

Mrs. Wow was Bromptoning to her yoga class this morning. The weather was beautiful: sunny, crisp and with a light breeze, so I thought I would keep her company and then take the scenic route back.

There is quite a wide choice of rides out, and we selected one involving Leigh Broadway. I think, with hindsight, that this is a mistake at half past nine in the morning as convoys of 4*4s are returning to barracks after active duty on The School Run. I became involved in an altercation with a VW driver, whose idea it was to overtake Mrs. Wow and then immediately stop dead. At the next bottleneck, I overtook the VW and then stopped dead and gave her a piece of my mind. Since I am in the process of losing it, there wasn’t a lot left over.

With Mrs Wow safely(ish) ensconced in her Yoga class, I headed west to Marine Parade, where the views across the Thames are at their finest. Here are a few:-

Looking towards Two Tree Island.

The Sun was shining on the sea…

Municipal Gardens

Who left that bike there?

Shortly I reached the borough boundary and gazed into the Badlands beyond…

All of the land in the foreground belongs to the Salvation Army and just beyond Hadleigh Castle they run an open farm. There’s a restaurant where adults with learning difficulties (residents at the farm) act as waiters & waitresses.

Beyond the ridge leading up to the castle is Canvey Island, with the white tanks on the horizon evidence of the petroleum industry.


Here a C2C train from Shoeburyness to Fenchurch Street can be seen.

And this zoomed shot shows the Castle in more detail and part of the Sally Army Beef Herd. Benfleet Yacht Harbour can be seen in the middle distance.

Moving swiftly on (i.e. pretending that Hadleigh doesn’t exist) we see the start of a recenty refurbished bridleway which is now quite pleasant to cycle. Locally known as “Nutty’s Bane”* it remains to be seen whether it was money well spent.

You can actually pretend you are in a pleasant part of the country when riding along here.

There’s the occasional dez. rez.

and the odd Nice Little Pad…

…and some houses so exclusive that they are invisible.

All too soon the Borough of Southend reappears.

It’s then a fairly easy run home along Manchester Drive.

I turn right here…

and go straight on here.

Shortly afterwards, I arrive home.

*Nutty has pointed out below that the section I have photographed is not, in fact, “Nutty’s Bane”. That’s another bit.

However, on this thread I thought Nutty was indeed objecting to the bit I photographed this morning. It’s the same bit I was talking about then…

Dodging the Showers

Mrs. Wow and I had a delightful Sunday pootle in the windswept wastes of Essex.

We caught the 9.22 from Southend Vic and alighted at Wickford Station at about 9.40. The first challenge was Brock Hill, Mrs. Wow’s nemesis from a couple of decades ago when, with daughter in the child seat, she would invariably have to get off and push for the last bit. Unencumbered as she was (the daughter was in Maidstone preparing for her wedding) she reached the top with no particular problem. Indeed, we briefly caught up with the tail-end of the CTC Sunday Run.

I carried out some minor adjustments to my seat-post and bars (they have been giving me slippage problems) and then we headed at some speed through South Hanningfield and towards Rettendon. The early morning rain had gone and the valley by Hyde Hall was bathed in sunlight while the fleeces we had brought with us stayed in the saddlebag. However, there were large banks of cloud around, and quite a strong south-westerly, so I felt pretty confident that the waterproofs would have an airing before the ride was out.

From Buckhatch Lane we headed north and then east towards Woodham Ferrers, the village proper, not South Woodham, the dreadful scar on the banks of the Crouch. A left turn took us towards Flambirds Farm, a 2-mile off-road stretch which is in fact a farm service road, but cyclists seem to use it as a very pleasant traffic-free short cut. Thereafter we went through Cock Clarks, whose pub, the Fox & Hounds, bears the legend “Essex-brewed Ales”: not any more as Ridleys brewery has been closed by Greene King. Onwards to Woodham Mortimer, Woodham Walter and down to Hoe Mill in Ulting, where once I saw a terrapin in the river.

Shortly after the turn-off to Ulting Church, we took a left turn into Bumford’s Lane, an evocative place which seems to have escaped the notice of Streetmap’s search engine. Here, the wind was so strong that we had to pedal even though going down a quite distinct slope, back towards the river at Paper Mill Lock.

Now anyone that knows anything about cycling in Essex knows two things: firstly, at Paper Mill Lock there is a wonderful little cakie shoppe, where the relaxing cyclist can consume home-made cakes on the banks of the river, where the ducks are a dabbling and the weir rushes noisily and the lock gate doesn’t get opened very often; and secondly, when the cake has been consumed, there is a most un-Essex like Sodding Great Hill, an unrelenting climb of about 90 metres over 2 kilmetres, followed by a further kilometre in which there is a gradual climb to the summit. Sadly, the modern 1:50000 Ordnance map does not give a height but the trusty old 1-inch series shows several: 346′ at the church, which can be seen for many miles all around; and 351′ at Lingwood Common. How is it that such important detail can be shown on a small scale map but which is then lost in the larger-scale “improvement”?

Although without a doubt the highest point in Central Essex and a fine landmark, Danbury Hill does not come close to the highest point in the county as a whole. That is reserved for the hill to be found in the north-western extremity of the County, near Chrishall, at 460′ and Langdon Hills, near Basildon, reaches 118 metres (385 feet).

But I digress. Although a mere pimple by the standards of Clarionesque Superheroes Wink, Danbury Hill still gives trouble to us mere mortals, especially after a large wodge of fruit and chocolate flapjack. I chose this route deliberately: firstly because of the cake; secondly because I wanted to play with the pixie gears in my Rohloff hub; thirdly I wanted to give Mrs. Wow a bit of a challenge on her solo machine after the previous Sunday’s tandemed efforts on The Mountain Road; and fourthly, I wanted to make sure I could do it before joining in with the Witham Wobble in three weeks’ time! Well, it was great, but a little slow.

From Danbury, we gathered a bit of speed coming down the other side, although the headwind held us back a bit. We traversed Danbury Common, took a right along Moor Hall Lane, past the now-defunct leper colony, and into East Hanningfield. From that point we wanted to get a move on. The clouds were gathering, thunder was rumbling all around us and we still had about seven miles to go before we could sit down at the lunch table at my brother’s house.

West Hanningfield came and went, and we took the Lower Stock Road. With three miles still to go, it became dark indeed, the thunder rumbled, the wind strengthened and a dousing seemed inevitable. We put our waterproofs on, put our heads down, and pedalled downhill at about 8 miles an hour. Fat raindrops began to fall, but not that many of them. Soon I reached a sheltered bit of road where my speed crept up to nearly 20 mph. I looked around for Mrs. Wow and was met with in impressive sight indeed. Not my wife, but a speed merchant on some sort of hand-cranked recumbent hurtling down the slope at at least 30 mph. It was the most recumbent recumbent I have ever seen – the rider was in a pose which would probably give him a really bad crick in the neck, but he wasn’t half fast! I tried a comment, but he was gone.

The last mile or so was uneventful. We didn’t get wet, we had a lovely lunch of sausages casseroled in red wine and spent a delightfully sozzled afternoon singing a belated happy birthday to my brother (58) and my son (22). Outside, the lightning flashed and the rain poured…