An early train to Cambridge for the BHF Cam to Coast ride. At Lpoo St I met a chap I haven’t seen for quite a long time (he was on the Priory Park Committee about 10 years ago) and we had a good natter on the train up to Cambridge. A few minutes before we arrived I used the loo and who should come bouncing up to me but Barion and Clutterfly, on their way tandem shopping. We wove our way between the various colleges and found our way to Jesus Green (Clarion said it sounded like a profanity) and soon set off.
What an absolutely marvellous day for a bike ride! The escape from Cambridge was very pleasant, and a good deal of it was off road on very well maintained cycle paths. We went round the back of Addenbrooks Hospital, through Whittlesford, where some years ago I recall playing a Chess County Championship semifinal, I think against Cambs, and I think we lost. The mist cleared, although it was always hazy, and by Duxford it was time to get my legs out. I kept up (for me) a rattling good speed and those flimsy-looking wheels and the pencil-thin stays did their job and the bike and I didn’t end up in a crumpled heap. The Brooks Professional saddle was not the most comfortable, but it looks as though it has never been ridden. Where did I get that, I wonder?
We passed through Littlebury and the great heights of NW Essex loomed before us. I stopped on the bridge by Audley End to see if the black swans had nested there again. They did some years ago, during a period in which I taught in Saffron Walden and would come down to the river Granta to eat my lunch. However, this year I saw no signs of any, although there were plenty of Canada geese squabbling noisily.
When I got to Thaxted the Swan wasn’t serving any proper food so I went down the hill, acknowledging Gustav Holst’s house as I went by, and found a shop which I hoped would have cake. It didn’t. I was a bit surprised that a busy small town like Thaxted, with its spectacular church and wonderful Tudor guildhall, seems not to have a proper baker’s but near the shop I had tried there was a cake sale in aid of Macmillan Nurses. I bought two for £1 and washed them down with a fairly noxious banana milk shake that I’d been given by the chap I’d been chatting to on the train. The cakes really were quite awful. The sponge was rubbery, the icing was leathery and the words “Macmillan cancer care” or whatever it said were printed in lurid green ink.
I set off again and used the minor roads through Tilty and Little Easton. A pair of teenage girls were riding ahead of me and continually looked over their shoulders as I gradually gained on them. Eventually they moved over to the right and allowed me to overtake. We exchanged greetings and off I went.
The Cricketers pub in Dunmow was a scheduled drinks break but there were no other cyclists there when I arrived. I’d covered something like 35 miles and the generally nasty nature of the refreshments I’d consumed in Thaxted had had an unfortunate effect and although I had no desire to buy anything from the pub, I did need their facilities. Some minutes later, off I went again and made pretty good progress towards Great Leighs and the St. Anne’s Castle pub, whose claim to be the “Oldest pub in England” seems dubious to say the least. I bought some fish and chips and a pint of Nethergate ale yclept “Growler” (fnarr fnarr). I had just finished when a young lady asked me if I would look after her bottle for her. I suddenly realised that she was one of the team of Southend Cycle Instructors and there indeed were some more, including Sara Hadden, one of the Road Safety Officers, whom I’ve had on the back of my tandem. (that reminds me – I don’t think she’s on my list!)
I carried on, mostly riding alone, with not much happening, but noting the house where another composer, Elizabeth Maconchy, lived, on the outskirts of Boreham, until I began to climb. I climbed and I climbed and, as I climbed, I thought “This is The Mighty North Hill! I’m on my Mercian! This will be a ride to impress the MEMWNR crowd!” I hurtled down the south face towards Bicknacre and stopped briefly at the Swan to see if there was anyone there I knew, but now I was on very familiar roads, the sun was beginning to lose a bit of its power as the afternoon drew on and I wanted to get the ride over with. I toyed with the idea of going through Rayleigh, but in the end I stuck with the Watery Lane route and as I was riding along Lower Road, Hockley, I detected that there was someone on my wheel. I don’t recall this ever happening before, but have read enough ride reports from audaxers to realise that they find it irritating when some unidentified person plonks themselves right behind you, almost invading your personal space. You cant’s see them, only their shadow, and you wish they’d stop being such anti-social gits and identify themselves.
As the Ashingdon Road loomed ahead, I decided I’d had enough of this person’s company so I left the prescribed route and headed instead for Doggetts Farm. I’d end up cycling about half a mile further, but at least I’d have two or three miles of traffic-free peace and quiet and I’d lose whoever this parasite was who had all but leaped on my back. I did indeed lose my parasite and after Rochford I rejoined the route again. Now I was in Southend borough and using rather uneven tarmacadamed cycle lanes in the environs of the airport. I crossed the A127 near Tesco’s and then joined Westbourne Grove, whereupon my right shoe lace twanged itself on one of the teeth of my big ring and the outer casing snapped. This is exceedingly irritating as I have been having a lot of trouble with shoe laces recently and I don’t know anywhere in Southend that sells decent ones.
I avoided the cycle lane on the sea front as there were too many people milling about and shortly I arrived at Southchurch Park and the end of the ride. Sara and her friends were in one of the marquees and it turned out that they were celebrating Colette Kemp’s birthday (Colette is another of the road safety officers) so I inveigled myself and was duly offered a slice of birthday cake. After consuming it I trundled home to a lovely hot shower.
The Mercian on the bridge at Audley End.