Brazier’s Run

Well, that was a day to remember.

Everything was meticulously planned. Sarnies made the night before, bags packed, trial run with the tandem on the bike rack – fitted perfectly, so we set off, admittedly a little later than I intended – only to realise, 5 minutes down the road, that we had left the computer at home. Rushed home, picked it up and got to the start  about 10 minutes late. That was what we didn’t need: I reckon that I can possibly afford a 10 minute delay over 100k these days, which shows some improvement from last October when I did the Golden Tints with a lot of help from my friends, but Jan was on her first Audax, it was only our second decent ride on the new tandem, and I knew we would need every minute.

Off we went, eventually, through the Rickling and Wicken Bonhunt stretch of the ride (did they really have a good hunt for witches before they named that village?) and into Newport, where I had a ridiculous rush of blood to the head and turned left instead of right. Fortunately, I realised before we had gone very far and, after a wait for the gap in the traffic, we were on course again.

The stretch around Debden is hilly. OK, I can hear the odd snigger from the north-of-Watford brigade, but in my book a hill is something which starts at one level and finishes at another and these do exactly that. In addition, since the Essex hills all start lower than the North of England ones, gravity is a lot stronger so they are harder to climb. We churned away and used our gears (all 14 of them) and I pointed out to Jan all the places where I had had my lunch in the years during which I spent my Thursdays teaching chess to the denizens of Saffron Walden and in between times watching herds of fallow deer make mincemeat of farmers’ fields.

We saw a few ACFers going out as we were coming in, as it were, and Juliet and pals suffering from the faeries. We waved, checked that they were OK (I would have been most miffed if anyone had actually asked for help!) and carried on through steady gentle rain and not much wind, accompanied briefly by Manotea on his fixie. However, after Radwinter, we turned the corner and realised exactly how much help the wind had been lending us. It exacted a swingeing rate of interest as we headed south-west, pushing the pedals hard as we sought Thaxted and its magnificent church (not the largest in Essex though – that belongs to Saffron Walden) and eventually we saw it. Down the high street we fled, looking for the right turn which I almost missed in our haste, saw it at the last minute, and then we enjoyed a cycled re-run of a lovely walk we took on Jan’s sometieth birthday a few years ago, along the Chelmer valley where the river is still small enough to jump over, a mere babe compared to the mighty torrent it becomes as it heads towards the idle marshy bits around Maldon.

We arrived back at the ‘Ut about a minute after we ought to have done, but were really feeling the effects of the morning’s efforts. Soup, wonderful fruit cake and a cup of tea later and we were on our way again, somewhat behind the clock but with 56k to do in 3 hours 15 minutes. This was going to be a challenge, but when the first hour of the second leg yielded 18 valuable kilometres, I felt we were in with a fighting chance. The worst point of the ride occurred around the airport, as the noise from the planes coupled with a strong smell of aviation fuel made us realise exactly what the locals have to put up with. However, after Takeley we were out in the country again and this was decidedly flatter than was the morning’s work. We kept up a respectable speed, found the name of the Councillor who opened High Easter post office, made mental notes of two house names after Aythorpe Roding, and then whittled away at the remaining kms. Jan was hampered for the last 20 kilometres or so by back pain, so we freewheeled as often as we could, but I was aware that we still had a good deal of work to do.

We arrived in Takeley again with about 15 minutes left, and kept up as high a speed as Jan could put up with, and I did my best to avoid the pot-holes (to be fair, most of the roads were in good condition) and finally we rounded the bend under the bridge and trudged along the quagmire back to the hut. 4.04 p.m. – right on time!

It was a great ride.

We did take a camera with us but didn’t use it until we got home. This one says it all…

One final point puzzles me: what is the most refreshing reward after a long ride?

Is it a) Tea and cake; b) A pint of beer; c) Watching England get absolutely smashed by the Irish at rugby?

It puzzled me so much I had to enjoy all three. Grin

Kirklees Ride

Rather belatedly, here are some pictures of our ride near Huddersfield last week.

Lepton from Highburton

Emley Moor Mast

Mrs Wow at Emley Moor

Towards Wakefield

Evocative road names.

Is this where I took a photo in 1984?

One for Hummers.

Cracking cheese, Gromit!

The White House, near Meltham. A good lunch with Timothy Taylor’s “Landlord”.

Cousin Lynn’s horse.

Turned out nice again!

I turned over in bed and prepared to give my slumbering wife a quick hug prior to getting ready for my morning ride (oo-er) when suddenly she sat bolt upright with an expression on her face like Gromit when he’s seen a penguin. It appeared that I disturbed some dream or other in which she was walking on the edge of a cliff… With a sigh I pulled a clean pair of cycling shorts on and reached for the light switch.

I left the house before 8 and the sun was appearing, just to make liars of the Met Office. There was little traffic about as I freewheeled past the scene of Friday night’s carnage where Southend United stuck 5 past QPR and headed past the hospital and on towards Rayleigh. I always find this first few miles or so a drag, as they involve quite a bit of gradual climbing at a time when my limbs would have preferred it if I had left them behind. However, the beauty of A-roads before 9 on a Sunday is that there’s hardly anyone about and I’m out in the sticks before the roads get busy.

From Rayleigh I whizzed down Crown Hill, past the station and on towards the Carpenter’s Arms. This is a lovely fast bit of road and, having been given a 25mph boost by the steepest part of the gradient, it isn’t hard for me to keep my speed above 15mph for the next mile or so. I crossed the old A130 and then took a right into Old London Road, a stretch which has been redundant to through traffic since the mid 1960s. I remember as a small boy, 7 years old, walking with my brothers along here from Battlesbridge Swimming Pool, a crab-infested concrete lined crater filled with brackish water from the River Crouch, to my grandma’s house in Shotgate. We only did that walk once, 1st July 1961. It was probably the first time in my life that the temperature reached 90°F in the shade and I remember being bad-tempered. The following year my father bought his first car.

The road is still passable for cyclists, walkers and horse-riders as it goes under the new A130 and carries on towards Wickford and there were plenty of equestrians about today. I carefully avoided the meeting place of the SE Essex group of the CTC and went straight for Brock Hill, quite long but not steep enough to warrant a gradient sign. It is quite easy to reach 35 mph coming the other way provided the west wind isn’t too strong. I considered stopping at the Hanningfield Essex Wildlife trust centre for coffee, flapjack and to see what had been seen recently, but decided to press on as we had a family gathering scheduled for lunch time.

I noted that Crowsheath Farm was for sale. I had had a holiday job there when I was in the sixth form, with Mr. Knox, a rather intolerant Scot, long deceased. That was where I learned to drive a tractor. I made a mental note to look up the estate agent’s website to see what the going rate was for farmhouse, outbuildings, fishing lakes and 103 acres. £2,000,000!

Rounding the bend towards Dowsetts Lane, this time I eschewed Ramsden Heath, my parents’ home for 43 years and mine for about 18, and turned towards Stock and Leatherbottle Hill. When I reached Lower Stock Road, towards West Hanningfield, I had a most agreeable surprise as it had been resurfaced with lovely smooth black tarmac – not just a botched job with tar and gravel, but a real, new top 4″ or so of road, so a cyclst no longer has to pick his way through the ruts, divots and pot-holes and could just sail straight along, keeping up a speed of around 20mph for much of the time. The stream was swollen with snow-melt and last night’s heavy rain, and at times it spilled over onto the road, but nowhere more than rim-deep.

I turned right when I reached the Three Compasses in West Hanningfield and right again into Middlemead, the road along the Britain’s longest barrage dam, straight as a dye for more than a mile. I could not see the water – that was to my right, some 40 feet above me – but I could hear it as the wind blew sizeable waves into the dam wall. No trout fishermen today – it’s the closed season. I was pretty well sheltered from the wind, and that little that reached me was in my favour, so I sped down the hill onto the dam and again kept up a pretty steady 18mph, slowing as I reached the slight rise by the treatment plant and on to South Hanningfield, the scene of my tumble a couple of months ago. Down the hill I went, but even though I pedalled, it was an effort to get the computer to read more than 30 mph, and then into Chalk Street and Hoe Lane before turning right onto the old A130 and through Rettendon. Chelmsford Borough Council spent a good deal of money narrowing this road and adding a cycle track when the Rettendon Bypass was built about 5 or 6 years ago, and most of it was money wasted. I thought of Ed as I kept to the main road, the cycle track being covered in grit and vegetation debris after the heavy rain, but since there were no cars coming anyway, my 20mph down the slope towards the roundabout inconvenienced no-one.

I noted with concern that some heavy dark clouds were spilling their contents over the Thames valley ahead of me, but the wind was coming from the west and shortly I would head east. With luck, the rain would hold off for my last 10 miles or so. I crossed the Crouch at Battlesbridge (see Oscar’s Dad’s photos for the scene) and took the left turn into Beeches Road which later became Watery Lane, very appropriate today, as much of the road is below the level of the surrounding fields and they drain directly onto it.

The clouds were now to my right, with blue sky to my left and the transition from one to another directly overhead, and a few spots of rain reached me. Through Hullbridge, up the short sharp shock which is Coventry Hill (why is it called that, I wonder?) and then the lovely sweeping Lower Road, Hockley, towards Rochford.

This is always fairly busy, and today it had the added spice that there seemed to be some kind of off-road convention. A succession of scruffy four-by-fours, each with oversized wheels, came whizzing past, mostly too close, and in one case one scruffy four-by-four was towing a trailer supporting an even scruffier one. The driver was considerate enough to hoot long and hard as he approached, just in case I hadn’t heard the cacophonous combination of road and engine noise. I shouted back my usual Friendly Overture but I doubt if driver or passengers heard.

It wasn’t long before I took the Canewdon Road, and then a right turn into Hyde Wood Road, past the llamas and into Doggetts Farm. As it was Sunday the barriers were down, so rather than clog my cleats with mud walking through the gap by the side of the road, I dismounted, leaned the bike down and went underneath. Suddenly I was approached by a spaniel puppy, probably no more than 12 weeks old, all wag, smiles and flop.

From here, I chose Rochford centre as the drier option than Stambridge Mills, had a quick glance through the Broadoaks window to catch a glimpse of my dad, and then home. I had dodged the rain and the sun was shining again.

35.77 miles in 3h 2m 27s and a time out of the house of only 3 hours 7 minutes.

Burnham & Baddo Cyclo Sportive

That’s what it says on the flier – Cyclo Sportive – two words.

I talked Mrs. Wow into doing this ride – actually, she didn’t need a lot of persuading – as part of our preparation for LEJoG. East Hanningfield is a pleasant village with a pub which sells Britain’s best-ever beer (official) and with a lot of pleasant countryside around it. We drove off there this morning with the tandem perched on the back of the car.

It was a very daunting experience for both of us. There were some seriously athletic looking people there, with very serious bikes and very serious cycling apparel, and we had somehow got mixed up in this. However, we did our best not to be daunted and queued to pay our £4 each to take part, and added our name to a list marked “Tourists”. All the other groups were age-related and we didn’t want anyone to know how old we were. If there had been a list entitled “Grockles” then that would have been us.

The official starting time was 9 a.m. and, not unreasonably, the fastest (i.e. youngest) groups set off first. At about 9.25 it was our turn, so off we trundled. The route sheet was pretty clear, but no distances were given. That didn’t matter, because someone had been round the course previously and posted attractive blue and red arrows at all the junctions, red for the 40k ride, blue for the 100k. We were doing the latter.

I’ll put up a gmap of the ride later, but suffice it to say that I had ridden every road previously, with the exception of Marsh Lane, which goes so far to the east that you almost expect to meet camels. It was a pleasant ride, mostly pretty flat but with one or two hills which had to be ground out or, if we were going the other way, elicited squeaks of excitement from Piglet sitting behind me as we reached dizzy speeds in excess of 35 mph. We went into Burnham where we partook of Cake of an exceptionally chocolatey variety, and when we arrived in Tillingham, the Cap and Feathers, run by an Australian couple, seemed to be offering a good lunch, so we had some of that. I went for the Spag Bol, my dear wife for a chicken penne with pesto. Mine was washed down with a couple of pints of Adnams, and then I helped Janet eat the rest of hers.

That was at the 36 mile mark and we left the pub at 2 p.m. It was a little frustrating the way the route persistently doubled back on itself and it gave the ride an aimless quality. Had we wished to do so, we could quite easily have cheated, but we didn’t because we wanted to get the miles in. After a slowish resumption after lunch, we began to pick up speed and were fairly bowling along up to about the 50 mile mark. Then it seemed that fatigue set in rather, and as the light began to fade, so did we. We crossed the Chelmer at the famous Paper Mill Lock, and then climbed the formidable North Hill towards Little Baddow and Danbury. We prepared bottom gear in plenty of time for the gradient, and up we went, slowly, relentlessly, breathlessly, past the Rodney, past the General’s Arms until the road flattened out more near Spring Elms Lane. Here we decided to stop for a breather and a drink of water, and as we did so a gentleman on a mountain bike pulled up alongside us. We nattered briefly about hill-climbing and tandems, and then we were on our way again. Once at the top of the hill, it was plain sailing all the way back to the East Hanningfield Village Hall, where we arrived at a little after 5 p.m.

I knew that we would be amongst the last, if not the very last, to finish, so I didn’t expect to see many bicycles at the hall. However, I did at least expect to see some organisers. We walked in to be met by a large woman riding a broom. “Can I help you?” she asked. I explained that we had finished our bike ride and that we had come to report back to the organisers. There was something about her facial expression which told me that the organisers had departed long ago, and this was confirmed verbally. “Oh, they went hours ago – they handed the keys back at 3 o’clock!”

Now in my book, riding 67 miles (that’s what our computer made it) at tourist speed, with the necessary stops that tourists make, is going to take a good deal longer than 5½ hours. Indeed, since our average riding speed was just short of 12 mph, it would have taken us 6 hours without any stops. There was nothing on any of the advertising material that I saw which said that the organisers would leave us all to our own devices fom mid-afternoon onwards. However, there was a statement which said “Certificate for finishers.” What it didn’t add was that you have to design and print the bloody thing yourself!

I must finish on a positive note. Mrs Wow completed her first metric century and, between us, we got up the dreaded North Hill without having to get off and walk. And – guess what – when we got to the top we found that we had never been in bottom gear at all, but bottom gear but one. No wonder I felt so knackered!

The route. 107 kms of it. The little dog-leg in Burnham is down to us – we were searching for a coffee shop.

Looking up old friends

It being Friday, and the afternoon, Mrs Wow and I got the tandem out and off we pootled. Canewdon was our destination today, a village with an enormous stone church on top of a hill.

Canewdon is, apparently, named after Canute, the king who proved to all who didn’t believe him when he told them that he didn’t have the power to turn the tide (if only our leaders had such wisdom in the 21st century, when they might at least make the effort…). It is also, allegedly, known as a centre for ghoulies, ghosties, witchcraft and anything else that might go bump in the night and therefore a good place to avoid on Hallowe’en, when it fills up with silly people driving there in order to witness some kind of paranormal traffic incident. It makes for quite a pleasant ride, but not a long one, but the roads are generally quiet, although there is the chance of meeting some absolutely gargantuan articulated lorry laden with Scandinavian timber, as it trundles its way out of the Baltic Wharf on the river Crouch.

Today there were few events, and we had an errand: we were going to take a pot of marmalade to Fred and Corrie. Fred was an old teaching colleague of mine who retired in 1980. Corrie, his wife, had phoned us around Christmas, just to find out if we were still around, and said we would be welcome to drop in at any time. They live in a lovely cottage very close to the Cherry Tree pub.

It’s about 10 years since we have seen Fred. He is 85 now, and, having been diabetic for almost half his life, often has bad days. We didn’t give warning that we were going today, and when we arrived Corrie was really pleased to see us. Fred was having a bad day, and was asleep in his chair, and was decidedly grumpy when Corrie woke him, but it was lovely to see his face change as he recognised who had come to see him.

One thing I have learned about old people is that they like to talk about old times and old friends. Even miserable old so-and-so’s like my dad cheer up no end when there is someone around to whom they can talk about times gone by, and once we got talking about Southchurch Hall, the school we where we both taught, Fred was much more cheerful. He told me that Harold Shaw, a former Head Teacher at the school, is now in an old people’ home. “Does he wander up and down the corridors wielding a cane?” I asked, recalling Mr. Shaw’s reputation as a Hard Man. “No, but he has a wooden sign on his room door which says ‘Headmaster’!” Fred replied.

In addition, Fred recalled that his retirement present from the staff was a bicycle. He told me this as though it was news to me. “I know”, I replied, “I was the one who rode it back to school from the bike shop!” (Bates of Westcliff, as it happens, an old cycling name associated with diadrant frames and cantiflex forks). Fred said that when he was in his 60s he rode that bike to Maldon for a pub lunch, a round trip of nearly 40 miles. Rather him than me – it was a sit-up-and-beg machine with a Sturmey Archer hub gear, if I remember correctly. Corrie, being Dutch, also has a great interest in bicycles, and told us of some of the times they had had travelling around the low countries while visiting her relatives.

We also had a good natter about cricket. When Fred retired, we organised a cricket match in his honour. In his youth, Fred had been a very good batsman, and although modest about his achievements, I am pretty sure he played minor counties’ cricket at one time or another, I think for Lincolnshire.

Shortly it was time for us to be on our way as, although we have perfectly satisfactory lights on the tandem, it is always better in daylight, especially when the traffic is heavy. We bade Fred & Corrie farewell, with a promise that we would drop in and see them again soon, and then made our way through Stambridge Mills to avoid the busier roads in Rochford, up Sutton Road and home. Total journey 14.43 miles in about 75 minutes’ cycling.