We noticed that Mrs Wow’s saddle was a little lower than it ought to have been, and could well have been a cause of the back pain she experienced last weekend on Brazier’s Run, so out came the Allen keys this morning before we set off on our pootle. Then off we went along familar roads – past Southend Hospital, across at the Kent Elms Lights, Eastwood Road into Rayleigh and then a stretch of the A129 which is rapidly becoming one of my favourite bits of road. There is a lovely sweeping downhill from the centre of Rayleigh past the station, but then the gradient seems to continue, almost imperceptably, for another three-quarters of a mile. We get into a high gear and can keep up a speed of about 25 mph for quite some time, and even when we meet the Carpenter’s Arms roundabout we are still doing well over 15mph.
Conditions were ideal this morning as well: cloudy but not raining, little wind and fairly mild. We headed towards Shotgate on the old London Road and there it was that we met a pair of equestrians (or perhaps the horses were humanists?). We approached fairly gently because we did not want to give the poor old gee-gees the heebie-jeebies by having to apply our none-too-quiet brakes and it was just as well we did. We had just said “Good Morning” to the people on the horses when the nearer horse decided it was time to shy away and attempt to bolt. The other followed suit so for a few seconds we had somewhere in excess of a ton of prancing, frightened horse-flesh to contend with, until the riders brought them under control again.
“He didn’t expect there to be two people on one bike!” explained the man. So there we are, it’s official: horses can count to 2. We had a similar reaction from a Yorkshire horse when we were riding around Kirklees a couple of weeks ago so perhaps that confirms it. Horses, it would appear, are likely to be frightened of tandemists.
Nothing of any note occurred for the next four miles or so, apart from a brief shower, so we arrived at my brother’s house in Ramsden Heath, ready for coffee, around noon.
Forty minutes later, well fortified and after a pleasant chinwag, we were on our way again. It was raining steadily now and off we went, still heading north, along Dowsetts Lane. We took a left towards Leatherbottle Hill, a hamlet named, apparently, after a pub which used to be there, but that was certainly before my time. We were following a solitary cyclist along this section, and we tended to catch up on the downhills only to be left behind on the uphills. Eventually we caught up with her and conversed for a few minutes about cycling in general, her trip from Bordeaux to Barcelona and the fact that we were going to do LEJOG next month, until we reached the Three Compasses in West Hanningfield, which was where she was stopping for lunch. The temptation to join her was quite strong but we resisted and after we rounded the bend into West Hanningfield we were forced to resist a wind which was even stronger.
This came as quite a shock and also no small disappointment. West Hanningfield is one of the high points of the ride, and we have come to expect the best part of six miles of wind-assisted downhill. The gradients were all still in the correct places, but the wind most definitely was not. It was pretty strong and it was a south-easterly, smacking our faces vigorously as we pedalled along the dam wall. This is normally a nice easy straight flat bit, but today it was anything but easy. We changed down a gear or two, put our heads down and trudged along as though the tarmac had been coated in treacle. 9mph was about our limit, and even when we reached the junction in South Hanningfield and took the left turn we found our progress hampered by the headwind.
Chalk Street and Hoe Lane came and went, far more slowly than usual, and viewed over rain-bespangled spectacles. We kept to the road through Rettendon, avoiding the cycle track with its gravel, twig debris and horse muck, and did our poor best to swoop down towards the roundabout below, but still hampered by a stiff breeze.
The last 12 miles were all the same. Heads into the wind, rain in our faces and, to be honest, I enjoyed it. There was quite a bit of traffic as usual, but nothing especially annoying and as we reached Doggetts Farm I could really feel that my knees had done some work. To my great delight, Jan was not complaining at all about the conditions, and she barely tolerates rain. How she survived as a child in the Pennines east of Manchester I can’t guess, but we are bound to have some wet days on our Land’s End – John O’Groats jaunt next month, so surviving a wet day and a headwind now would be good preparation.
We returned home for a very late lunch after 37 miles at just over 10 mph. Within minutes Jan had had her shower, the soup was ready and the mugs filled with steaming tea. A lovely ride in tough conditions.
Doggett’s Farm, the T-bird and yours truly.