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.