Widdershins around East Anglia

IaninSheffield

Veteran
Location
Sheffield, UK
Prologue

With the roofer having to put back work on my chimney until October, and the sun returning to the skies after a prolonged absence, the opportunity for a short tour once again proved attractive. This time though, the Elephant Bike would remain in its enclosure while ‘Bogtrotter’, my Koga touring bike would get its first outing since New Zealand. A chance also to test my recently developed skills in the form of the dynamo hub wheel I built - will it a) hold together; and b) generate sufficient power to satisfy my modest electrical charging needs?

The location for this tour will be East Anglia, so I can complete the section of ‘The Pachyderm Heads East’ that eluded me earlier this year. I’ll be catching the train from Doncaster down to Stevenage, then head across to the east coast and head anticlockwise-ish until Boston, from where I’ll head back home. After that previous tour, the flatlands of South Lincs. hold slightly less dread for me than they once did, but let’s see what the weather brings this time. I’ll be covering familiar ground on the way home, after having enjoyed unbroken territory for the first few days. I’ll be making the most of the cheap backpacker rates I get as a member of the Camping and Caravanning Club sites - the locations of Club sites pretty much determines my overnight stops and how far I travel between them. It’s a constraint having to plan for that, but since I can get a pitch on a site with good facilities for less than a tenner, I’ll take that.

In a nod to Hobbes, I’ll also be rejoined by a small companion, someone who’s been away from touring for a while. He may or may not appear in future photos.

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IaninSheffield

IaninSheffield

Veteran
Location
Sheffield, UK
Day 1: Home - Hertford (37 miles)
Monday, 6th September

These things are sent to try us.

With an exciting day ahead, the 'crack of dawn' was no more than a distant dot in the rear view mirror as I set about breakfast. This also gave me plenty of time to pack all the gear I had assembled and set out last night. Despite plenty of practice, I've yet to devise a system which arranges all the stuff into the two panniers and bar bag. Yes, some things do have their regular place, but mostly it's just about keeping cooking equipment and food together; sleep system in one bag, clean clothes and cleaning accoutrements close together. But since most things come out the bags at the end of each day, then go back the following one, it matters not too much.

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A quiet forecourt at Doncaster station​

I gave myself two hours to cycle the sixteen miles to Doncaster. Given that my ticket was for a specific train, I wanted to include a time contingency in case of emergencies. And with the sun providing some welcome heat, I was keen not to work up a sweat. My luck was in and I arrived at the station with 40 minutes to spare. After examining the departure boards to find the platform at which my train would arrive, I headed for the lifts - a fully loaded touring bike is more than a handful for me these days, so stairs are to be avoided if at all possible. Is it the bike getting heavier or just that my aging body finds it harder to cope? As I was waiting for the lift, a bemasked figure to my right asked 'Aren't we talking then?' It was my brother. Let me try to give you some idea of the magnitude of this coincidence. Despite living a mile or so apart, we move in different circles and lead different lives, meeting only a couple of times a year to exchange birthday and Xmas gifts. Yet here we were, miles away from our homes, both about to catch trains and set off on adventures, me heading south and my brother north to hike the West Highland Way. It really is a small world!

Having wished each other well, we parted company and I sought platform 1 for my London bound train. This is where things could begin to come unstuck. LNER, the primary rail company serving the London - Edinburgh route, recently added new rolling stock in the form of 'Azuma' trains - they look sleek and modern, but have attracted the ire of many cyclists who report the provision for bikes leaves a lot to be desired. You can't just wheel your bike on; it needs to be booked in advance and a space reserved. To board the train you need the assistance of one of the LNER platform staff to unlock the bike spaces, which are apparently rather limited in size. Having been obliged to wrangle bikes on 'Voyager' train sets in the past and knowing how much of a struggle that was, I wasn't looking forward to this experience at all!

I needn't have worried. Leona, the platform supervisor(?), rang the onboard train manager to confirm which of the two bike compartments were occupied or free - two other cycle tourers with reservations had showed up, and there was a bike already on board. Leona accompanied me down the platform to the correct zone where we chatted whilst the train arrived, a couple of minutes late. Here we go! Leona carried my panniers - they have to come off the bike for loading - whilst I got the bike onto the train and into the bike space alongside the one already in place. No problem!

My reserved seat was in 1st class in the same coach, so I was soon sitting comfortably in my single spacious seat enjoying the countryside whooshing past out the window. The 1st class fare (with Railcard discount) was £28, which is the main reason I opted to treat myself, although the peace, calm and ample space are also attractive. If we take into account what a lunch of orange juice, coffee, ham salad sandwich, crisps, and brownies might have cost (these are covered in the cost of the 1st class ticket), it was more than worth it.

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Having been helped to detrain my bike by the other cyclist who was continuing on to London, I found myself in Stevenage station ready to start my tour proper. It was hot! But I'd much rather it be sunny than the dismal grey we've had for the past couple of weeks. It's sometimes a little tricky picking up the start of the route on the Garmin, especially in busy town centres, more so when there are roadworks thrown into the mix. So I just followed my nose and was soon reassured the Garmin by latching onto the programmed route. Unfortunately, time spent on Stevenage's wonderful cycle network was all too short lived as I headed out onto peaceful country lanes. With only fifteen or so miles to the campsite just outside Hertford, I was in no rush. However, when my planned route began to head down bridleways, after the first short one I declined any further off-road forays. I like the quietness of these routes, but the tree roots, over hanging branches, and occasional awkward gates, not so much. So I stuck to the quiet, rural lanes and let the Garmin work its re-routing magic.

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All too quickly I arrived in Hertford and managed to pass through without colliding with any of the pupils spilling aimlessly out of the local schools. Then things began to unravel slightly as I arrived at the site only to find:

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As much unwelcome as unexpected!

Oh dear! Plan B it is then, which in this case involved heading for another C&CC site around 15 miles away. With the heat as it was, and with empty water bottles, I first popped on site to see if I could wangle access to a water tap. Having found one of the site staff to seek permission, she apologized for the site being closed (staffing issues of some sort), but also informed me my Plan B site wasn't open either, nor in fact was the Plan C site! This I've never come across before, but it serves me right for not booking.

With my water bottles full I and my increasing thirst somewhat quenched, I was now better placed to give thoughts to Plan D. Just off site, but still in reach of the site's wi-fi, I searched for local hotels on Booking.com. I guess I could have searched for local campsites, but I actually just wanted to be sure of somewhere to lay my head. Now my luck changed, finding a hotel located on the route I planned to take tomorrow; the miles earned in getting there today could be banked in shortening tomorrow's longer day. Click, click, click, booked!

The gods of chaos hadn't quite finished with me yet and threw up one more challenge.

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Accepted! Nine out of ten 'Road Closed' signs can usually be passed, safe in the knowledge that as a cyclist, it's usually possible to navigate as a pedestrian around road works which might close off the road itself. And so it proved on this occasion. Rush hour had arrived in Hoddesdon, making for an exciting passage through it, but then the route sought out the towpaths alongside and across the River Lee, where rather distressed narrowboats seemed to occupy most of the bankside moorings. A mile or so of sniggling back and forth across bridges and around footpaths and I arrived at Roydon Marina Village where the hotel was located.

After checking in, declining a room which I discovered hadn't been cleaned, and getting another, I headed across to the Marina Boathouse where I could get some food and a beer. One veg chilli and a pint of Wainwright's later, I was feeling much happier. The cost of today's rejigging left me lighter of pocket than I'd expected, but, as my cycling buddy regularly reminds me, 'There's no savings banks in the afterlife.' That I'll miss one night under 'canvas' is a shame, especially with the weather being so amenable, but there's always tomorrow. Despite being reassured by the C&CC site manager that the next site on my list is open, I don't think crossing my fingers will do any harm.

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IaninSheffield

IaninSheffield

Veteran
Location
Sheffield, UK
Day 2: Roydon - Polstead (56 miles)
Tuesday, 7th September


Not sure why last night's sleep was so restless; first night away so often is though. Despite the nocturnal turmoil, I awoke adequately rested, ready for a new day and hoping for better luck with accommodation.

Even with a pre-nine o'clock depart, the sun was still low in the sky and not making its presence too strongly felt as I rolled away from Roydon Marina.

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Roydon Marina Village

Roydon village was a charming little place, much like many of the settlements through which I would pass today. A church, a school, a mini-supermarket, a railway station, a couple of pubs; what more could one ask?

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St Peter's, Roydon

After the quietness of Roydon, approaching Harlow proved to be a bit of a shock, but ameliorated by the network of cycle paths which sensibly seem to have been included during the planning of similar 'New towns’. Having cycled through Milton Keynes, Stevenage and now Harlow, I continue to be impressed with how easy the path network makes it to traverse these towns. With the help of the Garmin, I was at times alongside, but safe from, busy dual carriageways, in quiet, leafy parkland sharing the space with runners, parents pushing kiddies in prams, but strangely, few other cyclists. In fact I saw more electric scooterists than cyclists. The wide paths away from traffic (and pedestrians for the most part) do lend themselves to this burgeoning alternative form of transport.

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Cycleway through Harlow Town Park

The sun was getting stronger, but I was delighted to regularly find shelter in the tree cover which even often appeared alongside the lanes as they wound their way through the Essex countryside. I was surprised by, but grateful for the extent of arboreal shade from which this landscape benefits; I just hadn't appreciated how wooded the area is. Another quirk of the rural English scene, and one I've commented on before, is the variety and quirkiness of place names.

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There were several today which prompted me to think what the origins might be - Cole Engraine for example. However I shall award today's prize to Matching Tye. When I took the preceding photo, I did wonder whether it might be a wind-up, but no, as I wheeled my way through the village, there were numerous other references to the village name. Perhaps the residents (who, based on most of the properties would appear to be well-heeled) were keen to celebrate their village name. How whimsical it must be to reply to the query 'Where do you live?' with 'Matching Tye', especially if I was at a posh dinner!

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I skirted the edge of Great Dunmow, famous for its 'Flitch', and in a nod to that tradition, joined the Flitch Way off-road cyclepath, which takes the route of a former railway track. It provided much needed shade, was mainly flat, had a reasonable surface (at least from Felsted onwards), and since it's often on an embankment, offers good views of the surrounding countryside. And yet … I wasn't feeling it. The bike, my panniers, water bottles, and my feet were getting covered in dust. And whilst it's obviously much safer and more family friendly than being on the road, the surface makes the effort required that little bit harder than it would be on smooth tarmac. And there were a good few miles! So when the gorgeous and clearly popular cafe at Rayne station came into view, a sigh of relief could not be avoided.

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'The Booking Hall' cafe at Rayne

Patronising the cafe was a good-sized cycling club, lots of young families with toddlers, dog walkers, and some several retirees. This boded well and though it took a while for orders to be taken (it's through a now common Covid hatch rather than at a counter inside) and served, I was in no rush and grateful for the rest. Unfortunately my request for a 'Sweet sausage sandwich' couldn't be fulfilled (run on bangers, for which I blame the cycling club!), so I opted instead for the tart of the day … I'll leave that hanging. It was delicious, a goodly sized portion and for a fiver, good value I thought. Before leaving I tried topping up my bidons from the water urn thoughtfully placed outside for those who should need it. Of course it was almost empty because … yep, cycling club again!

Rather than continue along the cycleway for the remaining couple of miles into Braintree, I took to the parallel road. An inspired choice as I spied a Lidl on the way into town and I would need a couple of things for tomorrow's breakfast. In addition to the porridge, tortillas and bananas, I'm afraid to say I was tempted by a croissant - I do like Lidl bakery pastries. Oh, also tempted by a litre of chocolate milk … and a chicken and chorizo sandwich … and an apple. I deserved to feel bloated after consuming said comestibles so shortly after the cafe … and I did. But I'd consequently probably have no need of a main meal in the evening. I'd call that a win-lose.

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St Mary's, Bocking

Into the countryside north and east of Braintree, I was soon back amongst the quaint villages and quiet lanes, although it became decidedly lumpier. Not Derbyshire or Devon lumpy, but enough to raise the heart rate a few extra beats.

With 1% of battery power left in the Garmin, I rolled into the Polstead Camping and Caravanning Club site. Yay, it was open! I was given a choice of pitches on the little camping field away from the motorhomes and caravans. Although it was pleasingly quiet in terms of campers, I was soon reminded that the noise from the busy B road which passes alongside the site boundary is quite intrusive, especially when you only have a few microns of sil nylon to shield you from it.

After de-dusting the tent and panniers, I set up my pitch in the shade and headed off for a much needed shower. Washing the salt away from your eyelids and face … bliss! I then did the clothes I'd been wearing the same favour and switched the bike into clothes horse mode, hoping things would dry in the late afternoon sun.

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I'd much prefer a hot day than a wet one, so with regular access to plenty of fluids, I was more than happy with today's sunshine and heat. Although the forecast for later in the week is less promising, I'm hoping for at least another couple of days of September sun.
 
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IaninSheffield

IaninSheffield

Veteran
Location
Sheffield, UK
Day 3 - Polstead - Kessingland (63 miles)
Wednesday, 8th September


Last night, sleep was slow to come and quick to depart as I fitfully tried to acclimatise to being back under canvas. Maybe it was the almost relentless traffic noise, or just that it takes me a couple of nights to become comfortable in the snug-fitting sleeping bag, or rolling on and off an air mattress. Or even spending over 10 hours in bed - in normal life it's normally about half that.

Despite the temperature being quite pleasant, it still took a while to spring into action. Less of a spring and more of a pffft I think.
Breakfast was the usual: coffee, porridge, followed by peanut butter and banana on a tortilla wrap. It covers nutritional needs and is easy to both carry and prepare. To heat water I've been trying the long, thin butane canisters rather than the short, squat propane ones and this was my first ignition after the canister's been sitting outside overnight. It was a bit livelier than I was expecting and seemed to have a less concentrated flame than I'm familiar with. For the cost saving, and because I don't do cold weather camping, I'll get used to it.

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With a relatively dry tent, striking camp was painless and I was rolling out the site gates around 9:15. The landscape picked up where yesterday's left off, though the hills, such as they were, were gentler and undemanding, for which I was grateful.

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The ford through Kersey

Once more it was quiet, meandering lanes, charming bucolic villages, and field after field of arable crops, mostly cereal. I read someone's account of cycling through East Anglia in which they claimed to have found it boring. Although I wouldn't go that far, I now see what they meant.

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So far I've found the cycling to be pleasant, although somewhat repetitive - there's little variety. You're invariably looking out over a field of corn, bounded by a tree or hedge line, and as you round another bend, it's more of the same. The paucity of significant hills also means few decent vistas.

Before too long I found myself passing the rather grand grounds of Brandeston Hall, Framlingham College’s prep school, an independent boarding and day school. It was some five miles however, before I reached the town after which the college takes its name, and where I intended to make a refueling pitstop. '221b Bakers' kindly obliged in the form of an enormous cheese salad bap, muesli flapjack and tea. A curious little place - part bakery, part cafe, part bistro/bar. Diversification seems to be the order of the day if a business is to survive in these troubled times.

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Framlingham Castle (in soft focus because I should have been wearing my glasses to view the camera screen!)

Leaving the town took me out past the castle on one side of the valley and the Framlingham College Senior School on the other. Then it was more of the morning's palette of fields, lanes and villages, but occasionally something really catches your eye, which in my case was this village hall in Peasenhall.

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Peasenhall village hall

Slightly alpine and somewhat Scandinavian, it nevertheless boldly staked its claim in this quiet corner of Suffolk. And with the heat and my thirst whittling away at my water supply, I was grateful for the external tap I found round the back. Public buildings like churches and community centres in their own grounds often have a tap. If you pass this way in this direction, note that in the village centre, there’s also a couple of cafes and a shop should you need one. I also appreciated the bountiful and ubiquitous supply of brambles alongside many of the roads, which provided a juicy, tasty energy boost every so often. This is definitely the best time of year for the foraging cycle tourer.

With a smidgen over sixty miles on the clock, I arrived at the Kessingland Camping and Caravanning Club site a few miles south of Lowestoft. Slightly more expensive than last night's, but still good value at under a tenner. Tent pitched, I headed into the village and at the local co-op found some fixings for an evening meal and for breakfast. After a soothing and much needed shower (back on site and not at the Co-op!), I sat in the tent porch eating my evening meal with this view:

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Kessingland Camping and Caravanning Club site

I regularly pass wind turbines when out on the bike and have always wondered how wind energy critics make the claim that turbines are noisy. That's never been my experience. I have to say this particular beast is quite noisy, making a sort of rhythmic swooshing as the blades cut through their enormous arcs. Will it disturb my sleep as much as the traffic last night? Or the yappy dog that some owner somewhere across the site seems at a loss how to control? I'll let you know.
 
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IaninSheffield

IaninSheffield

Veteran
Location
Sheffield, UK
Day 4 - Kessingland - West Runton (57 miles)
Thursday, 9th September

Perhaps I'd become accustomed to my sleeping gear, or maybe I was just too darned tired, but whatever the reason, last night blessed me with a good night's sleep. The wind turbines turned out to be no problem at all, in fact quite the reverse as they seemed to soothe me to sleep in the same way the blowing wind heard through an open window can sometimes do.

The sun poked its nose through the clouds just as I was striking camp, hinting at another warm day. I was out the campsite gate by 9:20 and swiftly into the now familiar East Anglian countryside, regularly dotted with quirky but impressive local churches. Many have rather different towers, as in the circular tower at St Michael’s in Rushmere, which also boasts a thatched roof. The upkeep of such buildings must be a challenge.

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St Michael's, Rushmere

The first significant settlement which today's route crossed was the charming little town of Beccles. Being sited along the banks of the River Waveney has enabled the town to benefit from those enjoying pleasure boating on the Norfolk Broads.

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The Waveney in Beccles

From one Broads town to the next at Loddon, then onwards past Rockland Staithe, each location often hinting at the history of hard work which preceded the more recent leisure uses of the infrastructure.

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Loddon Marina

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Rockland Staithe

This is a very low-lying, marshy landscape; despite its beauty, not a place I would wish to be living as sea levels continue to rise. However, like much of the East Anglia I had experienced so far, this too was a fertile area, on this occasion its sandy soil providing for the needs of a rather different crop to those I’d seen so far.

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A whole field of parsley

As I approached, I was surprised to see such a verdant crop and wondered what it might be; only on closer inspection did I recognise it. I’ve never seen a field of parsley before, assuming (wrongly) that as a herb, it was probably grown in smaller quantities under glass. How on earth does such abundance get spread across the markets when, I assume, the whole crop matures at the same time?

Only a few miles later and I was in Norwich, a town through which I’ve passed and where I’ve camped before. So when my route took me down alongside the River Wensum, I knew there was a supermarket nearby where I could pick up some lunch to refuel. Morrison’s kindly obliged with a ham and leek quiche, a cheese salad baguette, a delicious pear and almond tart and a litre of chocolate milk, all of which contributed to a wonderful lunch sitting in the shade on the banks of the river.

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The old and the new along the waterfront in Norwich

I like Norwich; it’s a lovely city through which to walk and offers so much history to explore … but not today. My onward passage began along the waterfront, then struck out across town, but cycle.travel had done a great job of picking a cycle-friendly and enjoyable route which soon had me heading northwards out through the countryside once more.

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Crossing the Bure near Brampton

Just after Brampton, crossing over the Bure and looking towards Oxnead(?) Mill, I spotted a pillbox at the side of the river. There was another on the other side of the bridge, which set me wondering about their military use, given that I’d now seen a number during this trip. What function could they serve so far inland? Seeking answers online, it rarely takes long to find folks who have an interest in and study these kinds of things, and nowadays through the Interwebs, we can benefit from their knowledge and experience.

I arrived at West Runton C&CC site shortly after four. After setting up camp and showering the day’s grime away, I walked down into the village to catch a train to Cromer to find some comestibles for the evening and for breakfast. It’s barely a five minute journey, but altogether much easier than hopping back on the bike. And I do enjoy train rides!

Later, back at camp, I write my journal to the "twit twoo' of Tawny owls in the woods. Even more soothing than the swooshing of wind turbine blades.
 
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IaninSheffield

IaninSheffield

Veteran
Location
Sheffield, UK
Day 5: West Runton - Sandringham (44 miles)
Friday, 10th September


Ne'ery a tear would fall to my cheek on leaving West Runton site. It was busy; has a stony, gravelly, steep, half mile access track which is a sod both to descend and climb; it had no internet access, at least as indicated by the missing access point; and there appears to be few level pitches. Now that might be fine if you're in a caravan or motorhome and can deploy a couple of chocks. That option isn't available to us tenters, so as one might expect, since I was pitched on the merest of slopes in turn led to a poor night's sleep.

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Fortunately though, today was to be only a short run of some forty miles to the Sandringham site. This was just as well since the forecast for the afternoon was thundery showers. Eek! Within the first mile or so it was back onto the quiet but consistent Norfolk lanes that are frankly now beginning to wear a little thin. Leafy lanes such as the following were sadly too rare.

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Whether it was the lanes or the landscape, or just that I lacked the inspiration, the battery in the camera wasn't unduly troubled today. There were more gorgeous, flint-faced, circular- towered churches, but even they weren't floating my photographic boat. I did spot a couple I'd photographed when I was through here earlier in the year; snapping them again would have been too lazy, even for me.

Almost before I knew it (but not really because the Garmin was right there in front of me!), the outskirts of Fakenham sneaked up on me. At just beyond the halfway point, it was a good place to take second breakfast, especially as I knew there was a large Morrison's - I stopped there the last time through. Compared with yesterday, today's meal was no more than a snack - BLT sandwich, salad pot, and an iced coffee drink. With less than twenty miles to go that would see me through.

Although I didn't tarry, the Fakenham I saw as I passed through seemed pleasant enough, although I'm not sure what to make of this, as one of its highlights?

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Fakenham Museum of Gas and Local History

I have to be honest, if I'd been in Fakenham rather than just passing through, I'd definitely have visited. I love these quirky little places that are as much illustrative of social life as they are of their specific focus. Having stooped to take the photo, the Garmin seemed to be trying to sell me a dummy. Since I'd come this way before, I was fairly sure of the way out of town, however, I was also aware I'd tried to plan a slightly different route over towards Sandringham, just for variety. So I played along with my nagging GPS guide for a while, until I was convinced it was taking me in exactly the wrong direction. After stopping, reloading the route, my scepticism had been vindicated and once more I was on (the right!) track.

Back on the quiet lanes I began to hear a whine/whirr from somewhere below. Having quickly ruled out a physiological source, that left the bike. Strange, as the noise wasn't there before I stopped in Fakenham. Knowing that ignoring it wouldn't make it go away, that's precisely what I chose to do, even up to and including overtaking a more senior couple of cyclists with a cheering greeting and explanation of 'It's OK, it's not my knees'. After another couple of miles, not only had the mechanical audio complaint not subsided, it was getting worse. I was convinced, or rather worried, it was my new dynamo, and eventually I had to pull over. Lifting the front forks, I spun the front wheel - silence. I just about managed to lift the rear of the bike and spun the back wheel … or rather I tried. That's where the source of the problem was; something was clearly rubbing on the tyre. A perfunctory inspection made it clear that the mudguard stays were rubbing the sidewall of the tyre. Now Schwalbe Marathon Pluses are good tyres, but even they won't stand up to that level of abuse for long … even if I could keep pedaling against the resistance!

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Having reluctantly unloaded and upended the steed (and having put my specs on!), I could now see the likely cause - the bolt securing the mudguard stay to the frame at the axle was beginning to work loose. Once tightened up, the wheel spun freely, and more importantly, silently and friction-free, once more. If only all mechanicals were so quickly resolved.

With around eight miles to my destination, the rain that the forecast had predicted began to materialise, although fortunately not in thunderstorm proportions … yet! Since the clouds didn't seem too ominous I chose to sit out the shower under a tree in the hope it would swiftly pass. A few minutes later the spots of rain were sufficiently sparse that even this wimp chose to sally forth unencumbered by waterproof protection. Luckily it paid off and the dampness to my clothing soon evaporated in the breeze.

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Anmer Village Social Club

Although traveling the Norfolk lanes had become groundhog dayish, occasional gems such as the club house above came into view. I wondered about the community it serves. The tiny village in which it sits would hardly seem to warrant such a grand facility; not that they are undeserving, just that the population seems too small to maintain it. Perhaps it was built by some munificent landowner to serve the needs of his or her workers?

I pushed on through the final few miles and arrived on the Sandringham site slightly earlier than normal, but that was to prove fortuitous. As the site staff member was showing me to my pitch, it began to thunder. Time to get the tent up, sharpish-like! The storm must have passed by and deposited its worst on some other unfortunate folk; we luckily only got a relatively short, sharp shower.

This site is nowhere near a shop so I'd planned a meal that was both easily carried and easily prepared. A packet of Thai-style Mugshot noodles, a spoonful of peanut butter, and a pouch of lime and black pepper tuna. For something that was thrown together so easily, it didn't deserve to be delicious and tasty … but it was so good!

There's a peace and serenity about this site that was lacking at West Runton, so I'm hoping for a much quieter, more restful night. Fingers crossed.
 
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IaninSheffield

IaninSheffield

Veteran
Location
Sheffield, UK
Day 6: Sandringham - ?
Saturday, 11th September


A change of plan?

My original intention was to cycle to the CC&C site at Woodhall Spa today, then complete the journey home tomorrow. But with the weather possibly turning, I wondered about an alternative - straight up to Lincoln, from where I can get a direct local train to within a couple of miles of home. Hmmm? The ride to get there would be around 80 miles of almost flat terrain; not strenuous in one sense, but potentially a pain in the a*** spending so long in the same position in the saddle. Anyway, no rush to make up my mind; I could see how I feel when I take a refreshment break in Boston.

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Sandringham Camping and Caravanning club site in the heart of the forest.

The route away from Sandringham towards King’s Lynn was along a few quiet roads, but mostly on good quality segregated cyclepaths. Signs to places with intriguing names such as ‘Castle Rising’ and ‘King’s Reach’ had me wondering for a short moment whether I’d been teleported into an episode of Game of Thrones, but mercifully no, and all my limbs remained intact and in place. The route through King’s Lynn crosses ‘The Walks’, a park, where I almost got tangled up with the parkrunners, but veered off from the entrance funnel at the last moment. I didn’t have my barcode with me anyway, and as all we parkrunners know - ‘No barcode, no result, no exceptions.’

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King's Lynn parkrun

As I headed south along the embankment of the Great Ouse out of town, the exposed position served to allow the westerly breeze to make its presence felt. That might become a rather annoying feature of the ride through the flatlands of South Lincolnshire, particularly the westerly section towards Boston as I navigated the foot of The Wash.

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Looking northwards along the Great Ouse towards King's Lynn

The section through Clenchwarton and onwards became increasingly tedious because of that wind; you become grateful for the relief offered by a couple of hundred yards of thick hedging on the windward side, and curse when it comes to an end and you’re exposed once more. It certainly wasn’t blowing a gale, but went just a bit beyond ‘irritating’ on Beaufort’s cycling discomfort scale.

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Sutton Bridge

The linear settlements of Sutton Bridge and Long Sutton not only brought temporary shelter, but a refuelling stop courtesy of Othello’s Bakery. The generously proportioned cheese salad baguette with coffee would have been ample, but I couldn’t resist the siren call of the treacle and ginger tarts. There are a few chairs and tables inside if you need proper shelter, but I headed for a bench a little further along the main street and watch the world go by.

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Fossdyke

The A17 provides a more direct route from King’s Lynn to Fossdyke, however it’s far from safe for cycling. This makes it wise to take to the back roads resulting in a journey of over 12 miles to do what the A17 manages in under 9. On the bright side, the likelihood of being mown down under the wheels of an artic doing 50mph, is considerably reduced on your 12 miles through the boondocks. On arriving safely in Boston after my adventures in the sticks, I headed for the market square and the mobile cafe I called at on my last time down this way for an egg bap and cup of tea - humble, cheap, good value, and the tea is served in a proper mug! The back roads had given me the time to think and I’d made my mind up to push on up to Lincoln and get home a day early. I’ve been at the Woodhall spa site twice this year; I like it and I’d rather make sure I continue to look forward to staying there, rather than it simply becoming a too familiar stopping off place.

I left Boston on NCN1/Eurovelo 12 as I had originally planned, but rather than striking off for Woodhall from Anton’s Gowt, I stuck with the route right through to Lincoln. It largely follows the River Witham, sometimes at a distance, often along the embankment. I enjoy cycling alongside waterways, though the thirty-odd miles to Lincoln can sometimes be quite trying, especially the 4 mile dead straight section to Chapel Hill, and even more so when there’s a breeze off the port beam.

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Witham at Dogdyke. Yep, that is a river!

Vast stretches of the river had been transformed into this green carpet, a mixture of duckweed and Azolla weed apparently, giving the appearance you could walk from one side to the other. Erm, this is not a recommendation! The final 15 miles were along the now familiar section of the Water Rail Trail I’ve cycled before, though with the breeze and my flagging energy levels, it became more a matter of getting there rather than enjoying the journey.

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Millenium NCN marker at Bardney

When I’d originally considered the Lincoln option I checked train times and thought that if I left Sandringham shortly after 9:00, my usual departure time, I might make the 17:34 train, but if not, there was an hourly service so I wouldn’t have too long to wait. After around 80 miles worth of cycling I rolled onto the Lincoln station forecourt just before five. I’m always strangely surprised that my journey times always seem to be pretty much as predicted, barring unforeseen disasters en route. I assume an average speed of 10mph, which includes refreshment and photo stops, and that tends to be what I manage across most terrains. After buying a ticket at the machine, I had time to grab a bite to eat and a coffee, which Greggs were good enough to oblige me with, and enjoy them sitting in the warm, afternoon sun on the station forecourt.

With rather loud Saturday evening revellers seated in the bike storage area on the train, most of the journey home was spent standing. Asking them to vacate the space didn’t seem like a good idea; perhaps I’m too timid? I can see why fold down seats might make sense since the bike area won’t always be occupied, but in my experience, it’s usually the cyclist who is first inconvenienced, then other people because you end up juggling the bike and panniers in the vestibule. Ah well. After leaving the train, only a couple of miles back home would bring me to the end of another short tour.
 
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IaninSheffield

IaninSheffield

Veteran
Location
Sheffield, UK
Epilogue

This was a tour of only six days during which I covered 339 miles. Hardly epic. But just like those who undertake them, tours come in all shapes and sizes. Despite snipping off one night’s camping, I still came away satisfied with what I’d achieved.

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Sculpture(?) by the cyclepath in King's Lynn

It had been wonderful to get back on the Koga and enjoy the ease with which it wafts me and my kit through the countryside. I really do find it a pleasure to ride. And with its upgrade in the form of a dynamo hub, I now seem to have the means with which to keep my electricals charged. Sure, my needs are only modest and I was only away for a week - the fully charged power bank I took would have supplied all I needed - but I’m now confident I’d be OK on a longer tour.

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Having a picnic table on which to prepare breakfast ... luxury!

Perhaps even more reassuringly, the wheel I built to carry the hub, the first I’d ever built, appeared as sound at the end of the tour as it had been at the beginning, in spite of the rough treatment it endured during some sections.

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Bridge in Harlow

I wrote in an earlier post about my mounting ambivalence towards East Anglia, but perhaps I was a bit harsh? It really is a pleasant and undemanding area through which to cycle. I could have done the whole week on the Elephant Bike and not have been unduly troubled. Although it doesn’t make the heart sing out in the way that, say the Scottish highlands do, the area is quiet, untroubled and mainly charming. In fact if I was looking to recommend a place for someone new to cycle touring to cut their teeth, East Anglia would come high on the list.

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The Green in Hainford

Apart from the first night where the Hertford Camping and Caravanning Club site was closed, temporarily throwing my original plans into disarray, Covid became for a short, blessed while, little more than marginalia. It was simply accounted for, rather than driving the agenda. In fact, having to rethink my accommodation simply served to remind me that I have the luxury of being flexible, adaptable and open to change, as in fact my change of plans on the last day proved. This is partly facilitated by the CC&C ‘policy’ of always striving to find a place for a backpacker with no booking. Membership of the Club makes it easier when turning up unannounced and also helps to keep the cost down - as a ‘Senior’ member (due to age, rather than any hierarchy!), I never paid more than a tenner for a night’s stay. To me, having access to a shower and the other quality facilities is worth that modest fee.

Would I visit the area again? Well, I purposefully steered clear of the coast, hopefully saving that for a future tour which should provide a different sense of the area. So yes, I’ll be back.
 

Slioch

Guru
Location
York
Thanks for the write-up @IaninSheffield. I've really enjoyed reading it whilst tracing your route on the map.

Did a similar tour myself 30+ yes ago from my then home in Herts, but went Widdershins and stayed at YHA's. Highlights that stick in my memory include Ely, the broads, crossing the Reedham Ferry, fish n chips in Southwold, the "house in the clouds" in Thorpeness, and being the only person staying in the hostel which was an old converted mill at Nedging Tye. The old building creaked and groaned all night, and I managed to convince myself it was haunted. Think I made a speedy exit at 7am the next day.
 
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