It was a fairly prompt start from Shenfield Station, since Ben, Janet I were the last to arrive. At something like five past 10 we were on the road, a foolhardy band since the Met Office’s website showed the entire country covered in red as severe weather in the form of thunderstorms was forecast. However, our first worry was that we might get to the elevenses stop in Blackmore before it opened. Hall Lane, past Shenfield Church, is a very pleasant long descent, the ideal start to a ride, and one whose corresponding climb is well-concealed, so our speed was quite respectable. Through Doddinghurst we dashed, then Stondon Massey, another easy freewheel down the Nine Ashes Road and there was Blackmore, just as it always was, cake-laden and inviting.
Tea, coffee, cakes were all consumed and then Mike arrived from Cambridge, riding the storm like a very suave valkyrie on his stunning new Ti steed. We hung around for a bit waiting for the rain to subside a little, and then we would have been away other than an unsporting visitation form the pianoforte, or at least, something whose initials were p. f. Jurek was the victim, and it proved to be a bit of a problem, but just as Nutty was begining to flex his scar tissue ready to enter the fray, the faerie decided that discretion was the better part of valour and the tyre stayed hard.
Those of us who had donned our waterproofs now removed them again as the sun turned the wet roads into swirling vapours. We found our way along Spriggs Lane, noting the presence of the ostriches and llamas, and then crossed the main road at Norton Heath, carefully avoiding the café there as it appeared to be full of cyclists and we didn’t want to be mixing with that sort, now, did we?
These Essex lanes are an absolute delight, unless of course you are a bit short of time at the back end of a 200k audax, and I often wonder why it is that the road which approaches Willingale from the south has quite so many hairpin bends. It’s almost alpine with one very obvious omission, and that being stout red-faced yodelling fellows in Lederhosen. Through Wilingale we went, noting Spain and Doe, the two churches in one churchyard, separated by an elegant avenue of lime trees, in full flower at this time of year, and then onwards and northwards through Berners Roding and High Easter before emerging on the B road which heads towards Dunmow.
High Roding was our lunch stop, and the bar staff had done a grand job, providing us with some really tasty fare quite promptly. The beer was also very acceptable, and there was a certain amount of minor silliness involving a Father Christmas hat which Nutty had provided. I suggested singing a few carols but no-one seem interested, so after a brief snooze we wended our way. Mike left us at this point to return to Cambridge.
As we began our southward plod so the weather seemed to want to disrupt proceedings. There were dark clouds, rumbles of thunder, a very menacing looking storm to the south-west and another one to the east. Yet undeterred, the bold and intrepid party sped swiftly on until somewhere near Loves Green large raindrops began to bounce around us. Almost immediately the faerie was back, having sunk her fangs into Fixedwheelnut’s rear tyre. This was looking quite seriously like a water-born sprite which only emerged to do its damage in the rain.
Not long afterwards we found ourselves quite by chance inside a pub, the Viper, and again beer was consumed. Thereafter we sped through a wet Fryerning, not really interested in finding the Hall, even though it was apparently the birthplace of Charles Kortwright, thought by some to have been the fastest bowler in the history of cricket, and coiner of the phrase “Are you going, Doctor? You’ve still got one stump standing!” We decided to give the Buttsbury Ford a miss, on the grounds that it might have swollen to bicycle-consuming proportions, and headed along the old A12 and back via Mountnessing and Arnold’s Farm Lane to Shenfield.
If we had had any doubts beforehand, we knew we were in Essex now: the Mercedes driver who couldn’t safely overtake us spent about 10 seconds leaning on his horn; and when we entered the station we were treated to the Disruption of Service notices as some woebegone unfortunate had ended it all at Romford. The first train to Southend was announced but was on its way before we had had time to board it, and while second was being prepared, I overheard a couple approach the driver, who patiently explained that someone had committed suicide at Romford and that services would not be as per the timetable.
“Really!” exclaimed the youth, “Some people are so shtoopid!”