Last Train to Clarksville . . . Midnight Train to Georgia . . . Chattanooga Choo-Choo . . . but alas, nobody sings about Elsenham and waiting for the barriers to open, even though there’s time aplenty, 15 minutes in our case, to draft a ditty.
So there we were exchanging banter with the crossing keeper, our party of ten Windmillers having just set out from The Cock at Henham, and barely 2 miles into a 30 mile tour of North Essex / North Herts. We had come close to being just nine Windmillers, Rod having forgotten his helmet and about to head home, when Landlady Mel, bless her, appeared with a spare one she keeps on the premises. Now that’s what we call a cycling friendly pub.
Some three trains later, the keeper opened the crossing and we were underway once more, heading for Ugley Green and all points west.
Maurice had promised us a flat ride but, e-bike convert that he is, maybe he no longer notices the hills. We certainly did and, as the morning wore on and the mercury headed upwards of 25C, our once-tight peloton became strung out over a mile or more. While some of us like it hot, others, most notably Simon, aren’t so keen and, by the time we pulled in for refreshment at Braughing, he was looking distinctly pink.
It was in Braughing that Maurice had arranged an out-of-hours visit to The Golden Fleece. Mid-way round and run by our good pals, Pete and Jess, where better to stop off and take on some much needed water, coffee and biscuits.
Back on the bikes Maurice took the return leg at quite a lick, having promised Mel he would get us back in good time for lunch, so we were grateful when Henham and the The Cock finally hove into view. Sitting in the garden, we enjoyed a restorative pint while Mel’s team served up an excellent lunch.
For the record, our peloton comprised Alan, Andrew, Brian, Chris, Geoff, Graham, Maurice, Rod, Simon and Victor.
Thanks go to Maurice and Andrew for organising things, Jess and Peter for opening up The Fleece, and Mel for her hospitality (and helmet) at The Cock.
And finally, we wish our pal Lawrence, currently laid up in St George’s Hospital, a speedy recovery from his illness. We hope to see him back in the saddle soon.
Translated from the Latin, means ‘I, Borage, bring always joys’ and that was certainly the case for 10 happy Windmillers who cruised around the lanes from West Wratting admiring the blue Borage fields and wondering why so many farmers are growing the crop this year. The joy of money perhaps?
Meeting at The Chestnut Tree for coffee before departure were Maurice, nursing a disjointed new knee, Andrew, birthday boy Ric, Simon, Victor, Brian, Howard, Suzanne, Tom and Martin.
This is where we went looking for Borage, going clockwise:
The first stop was en route to Dullingham where we gathered under a threatening looking East Anglian sky, which proved to be harmless, and paid homage to Borage (photo above). Simon was joyfully happy to be photographed posing alone………….
………….as was Suzanne:
So Borage clearly has a joyful effect on Windmillers. Not surprising really because this is what Francis Bacon had to say about this ancient herb: ‘It hath an excellent spirit to repress the fuliginous vapour of dusky melancholie.’ And John Gerard said in his book Herball: ‘Those of our time do use the flowers in salads to exhilerate and make the mind glad. There be also many things made of these used everywhere for the comfort of the heart, for the driving away of sorrow and increasing the joy of the mind. The leaves and flowers of Borage put into wine make men and women glad and merry and drive away all sadness, dullness and melancholy, as Dioscorides and Pliny affirm. Syrup made of the flowers of Borage comfort the heart, purge melancholy and quiet the frantic and lunatic person. The leaves eaten raw engender good blood, especially in those that have been lately sick.’ So there you go; pick some and don’t just bung it in your gin and tonic but make a syrup and it will cure all ills whilst also putting a lid on your average lunatic Windmiller.
At the half way stage in Barrow we discovered a new pub The Three Horseshoes who opened up specially for us at 11.00am to serve good coffee, which was enjoyed in the pub garden, but the all important cakes were not on offer unfortuately. Opposite the pub was a fine garage, Kevin Williams, specialising in classic cars and we were somewhat surprised that neither Maurice nor Howard stepped inside to do a deal.
The return leg to West Wratting took us through more delightfully quiet Suffolk and Cambs lanes where GPX files came in very useful unless you happened to be on Maurice’s tail, who sped along at high speed even though he was recovering from a fall on his replacement knee – well done Maurice!
Back at The Chestnut Tree, birthday boy Ric very kindly bought the drinks and received a hearty rendering of Happy Birthday in return. Large helpings of food appeared from the kitchen and an excellent lunch was had by all.
Thanks once again to Maurice and Andrew for planning and organising the route and to Brian and Andrew for some of the photos.
What a colourful ride in Suffolk this was! Colours galore and colourful Windmillers much in evidence, the ride being a repeat of 27 May but going clockwise this time. Some even learnt about the art of dyeing, for which Lavenham is famous.
Starting once again at the popular Plough in Rede, who welcomed us warmly and efficiently with excellent coffee at 9.00am, we pondered the extensive menu before placing our lunch orders and then split into two groups of seven Windmillers before heading east on the first leg towards Lavenham. One wag was heard to comment that the arrival order in the car park set a club record with Deborah being one of the first to arrive and Andrew the last, a reversal of what usually happens.
Leading group A was Maurice with Rod, Howard, Brian, Graham, Roger and Lawrence in tow. Following on a few minutes later were the B team of Martin, Andrew, Charles, Geoff, Ken, Simon and Deborah but it wasn’t long before B caught up with A due to the lane being blocked by a large lorry.
Suffolk houses and gardens are a joy to behold, none more so than this cottage and immaculate vegetable garden in the pretty village of Thorpe Morieux:
Not long afterwards, group B could not resist getting up close to a couple of gigantic John Deere tractors, despite orders barked by Brigadier Charles to ‘get off my tractor’.
Soon Lavenham came into view over the fields and it was great to revisit the National Trust Guildhall tearoom, part of the magnificent Guildhall featured above, and to sit in the courtyard garden devouring cakes and coffee.
The perfect weather continued during the return leg to Rede – not too hot and just a light wind. And the best bit was being able to descend Hartest Hill instead of labouring up it as we did on 27 May.
And of course an obligatory stop had to be made outside the impressive Church of St Mary in Hawkedon:
Group B eventually arrived back at The Plough only a short while after Group A, despite Brian reporting quite a lot of competitive racing between Howard, Graham and Roger, with Howard just having the edge were it not for the occasional call of nature. He also reported no mishaps, no newsworthy thrills or spills, no near misses, punctures or dismounts. Likewise, group B and so the perfect ride ended with a perfect lunch at The Plough.
Thanks to Maurice and Andrew for organising us, everyone for taking part and to photographers Simon, Charles and Brian.
The Red Cow in Chrishall was once again the meeting place for seven Windmillers to spend a pleasant evening cruising around our quiet local lanes and admiring the countryside in all its splendour. We are so lucky to have this on our doorstep.
Maurice, Andrew, Charles, Suzanne (who rode all the way from Abington and back), Rod, Alan and Martin set off at 4.30pm and had an incident free ride taking in Heydon, Great Chishill, Nuthampsted, Anstey, Furneux Pelham, Brent Pelham, Lower Langley and Builden End before returning to The Red Cow for a drink and chips from the pulled pork van (which also offers excellent Alsace-style coleslaw with chunky bits of fermented white cabbage – go for it!).
Here is the route taken:
Thanks go, as always, to Maurice and Andrew for devising and organising the route.
This route started from the The Cock at Henham. It was rather a relaxed start with coffee quietly enjoyed, meals chosen and photos taken of members with new and exceedingly bright kit.
Exactly which route you took depended on the group that you were in it seems. Andrew introduced a change to the route prescribed by Maurice, but each turned out to be around the 30 mile mark.
Group 1; Simon, Graham, Rod, Geoff, Deborah, Andrew, Charles and later Suzann made their first stop in Thaxted. This is a place famous for the music of Morris Men and the English composer Gustaf Holst (1874-1934) who is renown for The Planets, which he wrote while living in Thaxted. He is also famous for the hymn tune “I Vow to Thee, My Country”. First performed in 1921, it is now associated with Remembrance Day services. It was used at the funeral of Winston Churchill in 1965, Diana’s funeral in 1997, Thatcher’s in 2013 and most recently at that of Captain Sir Tom Moore’s in February 2021. Still half the country is uncomfortable with the very existence of nationalism, let alone its musical expression, so we quickly rode on.
Group 2 (Brian, Hazel, Roger, Maurice, Howard, Rick, Ken, Alan) and Group 1 met up at Tilty Abby. Little remains of the Abby, but the parish church erected on its perimeter is still there. Here people might pray without disturbing the monks or indeed without seeing the extent of church property and lands.
The Abby was destroyed in 1539. The ‘Act of Supremacy’ declaring ‘England is an independent country in every respect’ had been passed in 1534, so I guess the writing was on the wall. The final jurisdiction for Law had been in Rome. Church taxes were paid straight there. Any comparisons with the ECJ and EU bodies of today is purely coincidental.
Resentment at the wealth of the Catholic Church and it’s practices (purchase of indulgencies, idolatry, veneration of relics etc) had started on the continent, particularly in northern Germany, then spread to England. The result was an outburst of religious ferocity like that we now associate with the Middle East. It is estimated that 95% of all the art in England was lost during this period, mostly burned. Abby’s were torn apart and their stone reused, the land was seized. The sanitized version, concerning a King and his choice of wives is now taught in school. The reality and politics involved must have been a lot more frightening at the time.
We thank Deborah for buying the beer on her birthday, Andrew for organizing and leading a group. Also to Maurice for route planning. This was a glorious morning cycle in a period when the weather has been a bit changeable to say the least. A great day out for all the club.
At 390 feet above sea level, West Wratting can claim to be the second highest village in Cambridgeshire, beaten to the top spot only by Great Chishill, where Charles, sitting in his garden at a lofty 479 feet, can look down on everyone else in the county.
West Wratting’s other claim to fame is as the haunt of the mythical Shug Monkey. Cambridgeshire folklore has it that the creature – half dog, half monkey – haunts the road to Balsham. Nobody saw it, not even Hazel who, having enjoyed a pint of strong and possibly hallucinogenic rhubarb cider with her lunch, was the most likely of us to experience a vision.
At Graham’s recommendation, we were lunching at The Chestnut Tree in West Wratting, a wonderful village pub, blessed with a particularly fine garden. Our hosts, Peter and Rachel, had welcomed us earlier that morning with coffee and we were now enjoying a fine lunch and some excellent beers.
It had been an eventful outing. Early on, Roger’s and Alan’s bikes somehow got entangled and they took a tumble in the road. Mercifully, they emerged relatively unscathed apart from the odd patch of road rash and bruising. Nothing as bad as the spectacular pile up on the opening day of the Tour de France.
We’d had a few mechanicals as well; a puncture for Victor and – more significantly – a seized bottom bracket for Howard. Victor effected his puncture repair quickly enough but Howard, unable to turn his pedals for the final mile, had to be pushed back to base by Ric.
We always make the time to pull over and admire the natural world. This time it was a silk tent in a hedgerow, the work of a small eggar moth caterpillar colony. Following emergence from their eggs, the caterpillars construct a tent consisting of layers of silk fibres.
We pulled in for coffee at Café 33 near Stradishall. The place doesn’t look much – but the ladies make exceedingly good cakes; well worth stopping for when you next visit your relatives over the road at Highpoint Prison.
For the record, our riders were: Alan, Brian, Charles, Deborah, Geoff, Graham, Hazel, Howard, Maurice, Mike, Ric, Roger, Suzanne, Tom and Victor.
Thanks, Maurice, for guiding us around another lovely route. Also Graham, Charles, Deborah and Hazel for the photographs. And Peter & Rachel for their hospitality at the Chestnut Tree; we shall return.
Whenever we passed The Cock Inn at Henham, John Bagrie would go missing, which was a pretty sure sign that the landlord kept a good cellar. So it was high time we tried the place for lunch – and it didn’t disappoint. The food was good, and the beer, generously bought by Birthday Boy Geoff, was good too.
Ten Windmillers – Andrew, Brian, Charles, Geoff, Graham, Maurice, Ric, Roger, Simon and Victor – had set out some three hours earlier from Henham bound for Broxted and all points east. Returning to the pub after an excellent ride, we were hungry, thirsty and – despite the dire weather forecast – thankfully dry.
Stopping midway at Finchingfield, we had enjoyed coffee and cake overlooking the green before returning via Thaxted, where we were delighted to see Ken and Suzanne waiting to join us for the final leg.
As ever, Maurice had devised a lovely route; the Essex lanes were traffic free and the roadsides seemingly ablaze with poppies.
And the poo? Well there was a pile of manure on the roadside in Stanbrook and Simon couldn’t resist the temptation to squat and pose for a photograph.
Thanks go to Maurice for the route, Andrew for logistics, Charles, Simon and Graham for photographs – and Geoff for the beer.
The site of Clavering Castle is reputed to be the oldest in England, according to the description on the information board overlooking the deep moat which would have surrounded it. Windmillers have ridden past the site on countless occasions without noticing it, hidden as it is behind trees and only accessible by a lane leading to the church or by a footpath, but on this ride a stop was made to soak up the history behind it.
Starting from The Red Cow in Chrishall, Maurice, Andrew, Lindsey, Lawrence, Charles, Deborah, Nick, Suzanne and Martin set off on a repeat of last Monday’s ride but in an anti-clockwise direction, taking to gravel tracks at times. This is where we went:
Maurice had warned of gravel tracks and, true to his word, it wasn’t long before we were ascending the lane from Builden End to Lower Langley, passing the Thames / North Sea watershed ditch on the way at the top of the ‘col’. We’re proud of our mountains around these ‘ere parts!
Then it was down to Brent Pelham, Violets Lane (thankfully free of water) and up to Washall Green where a stop was made for a natter as much as anything.
Not long afterwards it was time to stop and trek up through an unspoiled 1,000 year old meadow (photo above) to view the site of Clavering Castle – all except for Nick and Charles who nobly stayed back like knights of the castle to guard probably 10 grands worth of e-bikes and push-bikes. Thanks chaps!
Continuing northwards via Arkesden on this warm summer’s evening, Maurice treated us to a ride up hill bastardo to Littlebury Green before taking to the gravel again through Elmdon woods and again through Chrishall woods before coming to rest back at The Red Cow, where he very kindly bought a round of drinks. Thanks Maurice! Somewhere along the route Nick left to return home to Meesden and Lawrence likewise to Fowlmere to get back in time for reading bedtime stories to his grand children. If we ask him nicely he might read us one too.
The Monday Pimp my Fish van was not in evidence but, instead, a French van selling delicious pulled pork, chips and the best coleslaw outside of Alsace kept the Woodheads fully nourished for two days.
Thanks again to Maurice for planning the route, Andrew for organising us and Deborah for sharing more photos of her student days in Leeds with the current leader of the Labour Party. Parties in Headingly have probably never been the same since.
Thirteen Windmillers, a veritable baker’s dozen, followed Maurice out of Braughing towards Puckeridge. Born and bred in these ‘ere parts, Maurice needs no map, knowing as he does every nook, cranny, lane and hedgerow, not to mention public house, within a 30 mile radius.
We were off on a 33 mile tour of North East Herts. Twas a lovely morning, and a goodly turnout to boot; following Maurice were: Alan, Andrew, Brian, Charles, Deborah, Graham, Hazel, Howard, Nigel, Roger, Simon and Victor.
The highlight of this particular route is the delightful five mile section along the riverside, running from Hertford, through Ware and on to Stanstead Abbotts. And where better to pull in for refreshment than Ware Café, where we enjoyed coffee and cake in the garden.
Setting off on the return leg, we headed for Hunsdon, Perry Green and thence Braughing where, pulling into the Golden Fleece, we were delighted to be joined by Suzanne who had pedalled all the way from Abington.
Our thanks as ever go to Maurice and Andrew for organising things; Simon who got stiffed with the rather large bill for refreshments at Ware; plus Charles, Graham and Hazel for the many photographs which you can find here in the club album.
Grantchester, according to the eponymous TV series, is the murder capital of East Anglia. Week in, week out, some poor sod gets bumped off, whereupon the evil doer is tracked down and unmasked by the local vicar-cum-sleuth. It’s Cluedo with clerics.
So it was on Thursday that we rounded up the usual suspects: gang leader Brian, followed by Alan, Deborah, Geoff, Graham, Hazel, Howard, Jenni, Jeremy, Mike, Ric, Rod, Roger – and prime suspect Charles (aka Colonel Mustard, handy with a lead pipe, wrench, rope, revolver, dagger or candlestick).
Starting out from Trumpington, we headed for Cambridge and the fens. Guaranteed a hill-free ride, our regular e-bikers Rod, Charles and Geoff had opted to leave their e-machines at home and pedal the 32 miles unassisted.
Mid-way, we stopped for coffee and cake at the Willingham Auctions Café, and it was here that we quizzed Deborah on how she came to feature in yesterday’s national newspapers pictured alongside the dashing Sir Keir Starmer. The photograph was taken in the 80s when they shared a student house in Leeds.
Setting off once more, we headed for Over before turning south and winding our way homewards through Longstanton, Oakington and Girton. Finally, skirting Cambridge to the west, we pitched up at the Blue Ball Inn, Grantchester and tucked into a well earned lunch.
Simon was full of the joys of Spring on this ride through deepest Suffolk, resorting to Pagan displays of happiness at times which involved praying to the flowers (photo above), ritual dancing to celebrate the forthcoming summer and a special Pagan pose too for good measure:
Starting from The Plough in Rede, where Joyce and her staff made us feel very welcome with large helpings of coffee whilst we placed our lunch orders, we split into two teams with Maurice taking the A team of Rod, Roger, Charles, Suzanne, Deborah, Alan and Jeremy whilst Martin followed on with the B team of Simon, Brian, Lawrence, Graham, Mike, Hazel, Geoff and Victor.
This is where we went, cruising through the most delightful countryside on a reasonably warm morning, waiting patiently for the sun to emerge:
The first village on the circuit was Hawkedon, which we rode through recently, with its church situated centrally on the village green and surrounded by quiet lanes – a spectacular sight when coming from the direction of Rede. This set the pattern for the rest of the ride as we passed through Hartest with its steep hill (the steepest in Suffolk with a maximum gradient of 12.6%), Lavenham, Thorpe Morieux, Bradfield St Clare, Sicklemere and Hawstead.
Team A chose to stop in Sicklemere for coffee whilst Team B took up Brian’s suggestion of coffee in the centre of Lavenham at the excellent National Trust Tea Room / Garden.
By this stage, Mike was not feeling 100% having already ridden to the start with Graham and Hazel and so he took it easy with Graham on the remainder of the circuit but all arrived back at The Plough at about the same time thanks to puncture stops for both teams, Deborah suffering one for Team A whilst Brian got one in his back tyre shortly after thumping into a large pothole. But, boy were we impressed with Brian’s speedy repair – surely a Windmill Club record – not timed but it can’t have been more than 4 minutes. Well done, Brian – fancy giving the rest of us a few lessons?
Meanwhile Charles in Team A had been busy snapping away as they moved through the Suffolk lanes:
Back at The Plough, those who stopped for lunch sat down inside a very pleasant dining room and enjoyed an excellent lunch washed down with drinks kindly provided by birthday boy Graham, who received a hearty rendering of Happy Birthday thanks to having choirmaster Lawrence with us and being joined by other pub customers too. We nearly brought the beams crashing down. Thanks Graham!
After lunch Hazel couldn’t resist chatting up the owner of a smart red Jag in the car park, alongside other iconic vehicles out for a spin.
Many thanks to Maurice for organising the ride in all respects, in the absence of Andrew who was sunning himself in Scotland. All agreed that the ride was worth doing again in the opposite direction, with the benefit of descending Hartest Hill.
And thanks to Charles, Lawrence and Graham for supplying some of the photos.
PS. Just to confirm that of the money we have raised so far this year, we have already distributed £1,000 to Macmillan Nurses following the sale by Charles of the model boats given to the club and £200 to Jess at The Golden Fleece to support a breast cancer charity. Let’s hope that by the end of the year we beat last year’s record distribution.
Yes or No was the question poised to the Windmillers at 2:50 by Andrew on Monday afternoon. Andrew had spent the early afternoon studying meteorological websites and to be honest they did not look too promising for a dry ride. Not wishing a repeat of the previous Monday when a late call resulted in some cyclists not seeing the late cancellation and turning up. Andrew requested that the group made the call to go or not.
Within a few minutes of the question being poised there was a unanimous yes for the ride.
Andrew made the GO call at 3:15.
At 4:15 Andrew, Maurice, Deborah, Rod, Charles, Jeremy, Simon and Alan gathered at the Red Cow. It was clear from Windmillers dress that there was a range of opinion on what type of weather they might encounter. Ranging from shorts and shirts to a full wet suit get up.
At 4:30 Andrew made another GO GO Go call this time in the style of the recently departed Murray Walker and off we went.
The route was a reverse of last weeks Monday ride Great Chishill, Little Chishill, Langley Lower Green (by passing the Bull), Butts Green, Upper Langley, Duddenhoe End, Littlebury Green, Catmere End, and Elmdon.
The tail end of the group had gone less than 200 meters from the Red Cow car park when the first Stop call was made.
Jeremy had a front puncture. The front of the group had gone ahead but the stop call reached them before they had gone too far up the road.
This unplanned stopped allowed discussion among the front of the group as to what of type of pine tree was at the corner of Palmers Lane and Abrams Lane. Simon told us about the new technology in Android phones that enables users to photograph a plant and Google will find the name. As nobody had an Android phone we will have to wait for another day to find out what type of pine tree it is.
While the discussion on the local flora was taking place Jeremy set about fixing the puncture only to find that the replacement inner tube was also holed. Fortunately Deborah had another inner tube only for Charles to announce that it too was faulty. By this time Alan who had been in the front of the group came back to find out what the delay was, after all we are all seasoned cyclists who can change a tyre in less than 5 minutes!
A third inner tube was produced from Alan’s saddle bag, but before it could be fitted, it was found that the second inner tube was in fact fine. The fitter admitted that they had made made a technical error??
Within a few minutes we were all off again.
Very soon afterwards very dark clouds appeared and it was clear that the rain which many of us had been tracking before we set off was coming our way. In fact looking around after the Little Chishill hill there appeared to be rain showers everywhere and especially in the direction we were heading.
As we passed through Lower Langley we were passed by a van and car who had obviously been taking tips from the local rally school as they felt the need to use both the road and verge to pass us by. The car narrowly missing a head on with another car coming round the corner.
Somehow either by clever route planning or just good luck we managed to miss most of the rain with only one shower cloud giving us a gentle wet kiss as we passed through Roast Green.
The rest of the ride was enjoyed by everyone in fine weather and with no more impatient drivers. We were about 2 miles from the end just before Elmdon when the second Stop call went up. Alan had a puncture in the rear tyre.
Rod and Charles stayed behind while the rest of the group sped off to the get the drinks in from the Red Cow and chips from Pimp My Fish.
Rod ,Charles and Alan arrived shortly after the others and enjoyed their well earned chips and beer.
Thanks to Maurice for planning another excellent ride and to Charles and Rod for helping with the punctures and to the weather for not drowning us.
We are told, by those in authority, that it now safe to dine indoors. On this cold, windy day ‘The Club’ was happy enough to comply. The prevailing attitude to authority however remains unchanged. This is probably best summed up by the pub’s name, the ‘Pig and Abbott’.
Unsettling behaviour between authority figures and farm animals is nothing new. For instance David Cameron’s ‘pig-gate’ was just a distant echo of similar accusations levelled at Lyndon Johnson and numerous other authority figures down the centuries. Still we’ll be back soon enough to our favourite pubs like the ‘Fox and Duck’, the ‘Axe and Compass’, even the ‘Fez and Ant’, all in good time.
We split into two groups. One lead by Martin and the other by Maurice. Martin contrived to give the first group a head start by having a late tinker with his chain. Deborah had come with what looked like a child’s bike she had borrowed. Still it stops her tearing away and making us all look bad I suppose.
Excellent turnout considering the weather: Brian, Alan, Geoff, Rod, Charles, Maurice, Ric, Ken, Deborah, Roger, Howard, Graham, Mike, Suzanne, Nigel, Martin and Simon. All this despite the absence of stalwart members; Andrew, Chris, Victor, Jenny and Lawrence.
The ride past through two rather famous villages in Bedfordshire. The first was Wrestlingworth. Here lived the last woman to be publicly hanged in England (so far),1840. She was on her third husband aged 25, but was rather too fond of arsenic, apparently. A person killed using arsenic exudes a very characteristic odour upon decomposition (arsine gas, any chemist can tell you that). Her previous husbands were exhumed and she was held at The Chequers in Wrestlingworth before being hanged outside Bedford Assizes. The whole village went along for the event, so it is said. Of course they say Capital Punishment wouldn’t be as popular now, but I bet you I could still sell tickets. The refreshments franchise would also be worth having.
The other famous village we cycled through is of course, Cockayne Hatley.
In the churchyard there is a fine gravestone of the poet W. E. Henley (1849-1903). He wrote the poem ‘Invictus’ (invincible) now made more famous by the ‘Invictus Games’. Last verse is the most famous,
It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.
He lost a leg in teenage and was an inspiration to his friend, Robert Louis Stevenson, who invented the Long John Silver character, having been inspired by Henley’s determined, can-do attitude. Actually Henley almost lost his other leg as well, but it was saved by Lister who had just started experimenting with antiseptics (1870). Still it must have hurt a lot, since anaesthetics only came along a bit later when they were famously used on Queen Victoria to help during childbirth.
Henley’s poem was quoted by Churchill ‘We are still masters of our fate. We still are captains of our souls’ during a difficult period in1941. Also by Nelson Mandela on release from Robin Island and by Barack Obama at Mandela’s funeral oration. Also by prisoners of war in Vietnam, writing it using rat droppings. Also in various Nobel Prize addresses. Well you get the general idea. It’s sort of famous and from Cockayne Hartley in Bedfordshire.
Half-way coffee and a cake at Waresley were most welcome, in one of the most efficient of all the coffee stops we use. If only Wimpole would come along and see how it is done.
The Pig and Abbott had supplied coffee and biscuits at the off and again made every effort to make us welcome at the end. Our own space and excellent food and beer. Inside at last! The rain held off (just). The wind steadily increased but we were safely ensconced in the pub before the bad weather settled in.
It was Alan’s birthday and he kindly bought the drinks. He received the customary candle and celebratory singing.
We thank Andrew for the arranging and hope he can grit his teeth and make it out on Monday. Also Maurice who is still providing us varied routes. We thank him. We are all grateful to have got through the last year as an active club, unscathed.
It will only get better from here on in. Won’t it?
It’s not going to be like being released from Robin Island or involve any writing using rat shit, hopefully. No, I’m ‘captain of my soul’ and remain unreasonably optimistic, despite any infirmities.
The BBC must have another Michael Fish on the staff. This time, not wishing to be blamed for cyclists being killed by massive hailstones on lockdown-easing day, the forecaster warned of terrible weather between the hours of 16.00 and 20.00 which resulted in Andrew calling a halt to the ride at 15.49. Good decision; safety has to be at the forefront of our planning but it was too late to prevent five Windmillers congregating at The Red Cow in preparation for a 16.30 start, a sixth who started early (Nick) and a seventh (Maurice the debt collector) who brought up the rear at breakneck speed to collect fivers from those ahead, making this an official ride after all.
But was it go-or-no-go at 16.30? The skies were clear, there was no wind and so Rod, Charles, Simon, Suzanne (who rode over from Abington getting a bit wet on the way) and Martin took the plunge and set off on what proved to be a delightful ride with not a hailstone to be felt let alone a drop of rain. That’s weather forecasting for you. Who would want the job?
The route took us via Elmdon, Strethall, Littlebury Green, Duddenhoe End, Langley Upper Green and Roast Green before conversation got around to The Bull at Langley Lower Green and how we had not been there for a while. And how good it was to sit outside in the warm sun and enjoy a good pint.
And then who should come along but Maurice, skidding to a halt to collect our fivers but sitting down to enjoy a pint of Southwold.
By this time it was already 5.30, when Andrew had suggested meeting at The Red Cow, and so Rod decided to call him to invite him over, but to no avail.
Time was passing and so instead of continuing on the intended route via Shaftenhoe End and Great Chishill, the decision was taken to take the short cut via Builden End where there was a splendid view of Chrishall at the col of the lane.
Back at The Red Cow there was time to devour some good chips from the Pimp My Fish van (can someone please explain how a fish is pimped?) and to sample some more fine ale.
We were sorry not to have Andrew with us and also sorry not to see Nick on our travels but luckily the weather was kind to all, except to Suzanne who got soaked in Duxford on the way back and Martin who also got soaked in Ickleton.
Thanks to Maurice for planning the route and Andrew for getting us to the start even though we were not meant to be there.
Maurice, Andrew, Roger, Ric, Chris, Brian, Alan, Tom, Deborah, Victor, Geoff, Alan, Charles, Howard, Suzanne, Nigel, Graham, Hazel (guest for the day) and Martin were expecting Lawrence to join them on this ride, which would have made a record turnout of 20 Windmillers. But poor Lawrence had torn a leg muscle whilst out running and so couldn’t make it at the last minute. Suzanne was suffering likewise but, fortunately in her case, she was able to cycle but not run.
It was great to welcome back Nigel who we hadn’t seen since the first lockdown – a sign that there is definitely light at the end of the tunnel provided it’s not an Indian train coming in the other direction. And Graham invited a fellow Ickletonian to join us for the day, Hazel Turton.
The starting point was The Fox and Hounds in Steeple Bumpstead where we were welcomed by the landlady and her staff at 9.00am for a civilised coffee and the placing of lunch orders before setting off on a quiet, twisty- turny route through very minor lanes in North Essex – how does Maurice do it? The man’s a miracle.
This is where we went:
There seems to be always someone who is the centre of attention on a ride and this week it was the turn of Tom who arrived without his helmet (so easily done in the morning rush). Deborah came to the rescue (as often happens in these situations) and promptly whizzed off with Tom to a friend’s house to collect one. That made Tom, Deborah, Brian and Roger the last of three groups to set off, the first one being led by Maurice who shot off as usual at high speed and Martin leading the second group. But it wasn’t long before groups merged, demerged and even went different ways before all met up at Winners Café in Finchingfield for more coffee.
Tom’s second claim to fame was when he stopped to have a drink of water only to discover that when the bottle was squeezed it shattered into small pieces, smothering him with water in the process. He admitted later that the bottle could have been quite ancient and had been sitting in hot sun which could have made it brittle.
Winners Café did us proud as the horde of Windmillers descended on them like locusts, hoovering up cakes galore and drinking excellent coffee. Well done to the staff for handling such a large group with great efficiency.
It was only a short ride back to Steeple Bumpstead where excellent beer and a good lunch was devoured in the courtyard at the back of the pub, the drinks being very generously paid for by Mike whose birthday we celebrated in an out-of-tune style. If choirmaster Lawrence had been with us we might have achieved a better rendering of Happy Birthday. Room for improvement before the next birthday is celebrated, which seem to be coming fast and furious at present.
For those who rode to and from Steeple Bumpstead, Graham, Hazel and Ric, the weather changed dramatically after lunch resulting in a thorough drenching on the way back which was very unlucky for them.
Once again, thanks to Maurice for devising an excellent route, to Andrew for organising us and to all those who have contributed photographs. Keep ’em coming.
By any standards, even the high ones set by Brian, we were fortunate to have with us on this ride three ace photographers – Jeremy, who took the one above, (having spurted ahead like a true professional to find a good vantage point), Charles, who took the photos of the puncture repair brigade, and the third photographer, responsible for the last photo in this blog, who wishes to remain anonymous.
Deborah arrived at The Red Cow in Chrishall with her bike already in disarray – a puncture in her front wheel and a brake that hardly worked but an army of helpers led by Alan set to work whilst others including Jenni and Martin whiled away the time playing footie in the car park.
Eventually, together with Maurice, Andrew and Martin, all nine Windmillers set off on the same route as two weeks previously, but in a clockwise direction. This is where we went:
The weather was perfect – sunny, warm and a long, light evening to look forward to ahead to devour fish, chips, burritos, mushy peas or whatever else took people’s fancy from the Pimp my Fish van back at The Red Cow. And the fields were ablaze with oil seed rape, but no signs of course of Chinese or Japanese tourists who descend increasingly on the UK, in normal times, to admire our yellow fields.
Bluebells were also at their best, although a trip to Rickling Green is necessary to see Deborah’s favourite display where she reports they are better than ever this year.
Cycling past Bridget Tarrington’s house in Nuthampstead it wasn’t long before another stop was made on the climb to Great Chishill where Jenni, Deborah and Maurice were like Chinese tourists admiring the field of oil seed rape stretching towards ‘our’ windmill:
Meanwhile, the others had careered on ahead desperate for beer and to get first in the queue for Pimp my Fish at The Red Cow, where a warm welcome was received from the ever efficient staff. Hats off to them for being so well organised.
Towards the end of scoffing chips, and Jeremy tucking into a juicy cod burrito which risked ruining his smart bike jacket, there was much merriment as our anonymous photographer took a classy photo of Martin’s half pint of beer, worthy of Charles Eck the celebrated beer photographer………….
And on that revealing note (ho-ho), the only thing left is to thank Maurice and Andrew for organising another great ride, and our photographers for their quality pics.
It was polling day and the Windmillers were exercising their democratic right to roam North East Hertfordshire. Our safe seats were Maurice, Andrew, Suzanne, Deborah, Tom, Roger, Brian, Graham, Simon, Howard, Charles, Alan, Victor, Rod and Lawrence.
Maurice set the pace, leading a slim majority out of Braughing towards Puckeridge, followed five minutes later by Andrew’s coalition of Scots, Irish and independent hopefuls.
The constituency of North East Hertfordshire has an electorate of some 76,000 – but thankfully only a small proportion of them were out driving; we enjoyed quiet roads, unhindered by traffic.
Stopping for refreshments at Church Farm, Ardeley, our two parties caught up and, resisting the urge to score cheap political points, we compared manifestos over coffee and cake.
Back on the bikes we headed for Haultwick (according to Roger it’s pronounced ‘Artic’) and Cromer, where we paused for the obligatory Windmillers-by-the-Windmill photograph. Then it was on to Sandon, Buntingford and Westmill before returning to Braughing.
Arriving in the garden of the Golden Fleece, Peter and Jess gave us shelter from the elements and served up an excellent lunch, made all the more special by Andrew buying the beers. Happy Birthday, Andrew, and lang may yer lum reek!
Our thanks go to the Whips’ Office – Maurice and Andrew. Also Charles and Simon for the photographs – and Peter & Jess for taking such good care of us at the Fleece.
As the saying goes, it was cold enough on this ride to freeze the balls off a brass monkey – a reference to cannon balls on a ship’s deck in case you were wondering, or so the myth goes. But this didn’t stop 19 Windmillers from venturing out on yet another mixed day of sunshine and icy cold April blasts, including hailstones at one stage. Amongst them were Alan and Martin who chose, and bitterly regretted, baring their legs whilst Simon wore just his familiar white shirt under his jacket and shivered his way around the Suffolk lanes.
Those more sensibly dressed were Maurice, Andrew, Ken, Howard, Charles, Roger, Lawrence, Brian, Rod, Geoff, Chris, Mike, Suzanne, Ric, Graham and Jeremy. Ric was already warmed up having ridden all the way from Harston.
Setting off in two groups from The Three Blackbirds, Maurice led the first group around lovely quiet Suffolk lanes on a route which included both familiar and new roads, followed by Martin’s group a few minutes later. This is where we went, clockwise:
Cycling past the posh, neat and tidy studs in Cheveley it wasn’t long before Dalham was reached where both groups stopped to look at the Lower Windmill, minus its sails. Presumably there was an Upper Windmill at some stage but there is no sign of one now.
On we went through picturesque villages being pelted with hailstones at times, which attack bare legs like shotgun pellets. Group A decided to have coffee at a Stradishall café outside the prison gates whilst Group B stopped at The Plough at Rede and enjoyed plentiful supplies of coffee in the back garden. So impressed were they that a return visit is planned for lunch when the weather allows. Just outside Rede is the highest point in Suffolk at a mountainous 131m.
By this time, Graham and Mike had caught up with Group B which then subdivided again to form Group C to keep numbers down and a slightly different route to Group A was taken through the lanes on the return leg.
Back at The Three Blackbirds in Woodditton where everyone arrived at around the same time, unlike last week, warm clothes were donned by those who had them whilst blankets were dispensed to others as we sat in a wind tunnel to tuck into a good lunch, although some wished they had gone for dishes with larger portions. Some warmed up, others didn’t, not helped by the gas heater expiring but it was good to be back once again around tables in the time honoured fashion of The Windmill Club telling stories and swigging good beer, all paid for very generously by Howard whose birthday we celebrated. Cheers Howard!
But there was one person who never quite warmed up:
Despite the cold, this was a great route and we look forward to exploring more Suffolk lanes soon. Thanks to Maurice for arranging it, Andrew for organising it and Brian, Charles and Suzanne for the photos.
PS. Congratulations to Graham for clocking up 3,000 miles to the end of April. And huge thanks to everyone for raising the magnificent sum of £3,405 to date, i.e. approx £1 for each of Graham’s miles. So if Graham does 9,000 miles for the year, will we make £9,000 and achieve two bullseyes?
Brian should know better than to just blindly follow Maurice’s GPX routes. He should know by now these provide general guidance as to direction rather than turn-by-turn instruction. Just because said route directs you off-road, through a wood, up a grassy bank, over several stiles and across a paddock full of frisky horses – doesn’t mean you should follow it unquestioningly. Alas, that is just what Brian did – as did all the other mugs who followed him.
The upshot was that the eight poor devils following in Brian’s wake arrived back at the pub nearly an hour after Maurice and his seven wise men – causing some consternation as rumour had it Birthday Boy Rod would be buying the beers. We rolled up as Maurice’s group, having wisely stuck to the road, had finished their lunch and were contemplating a second pint.
Some seventeen Windmillers had set out several hours earlier from The Golden Fleece at Braughing for a thirty-odd mile circuit of East Herts and the Lee Valley. This being Maurice’s home turf, he had included some particularly lovely lanes and riverside paths, and highlights along the way included the view over the bird reserve at Amwell, the gazebos overlooking the River Lee at Ware, and a stopover in Ware itself for some excellent coffee and cake.
Viewed across the river in the bright April sunshine, the gazebos, some dating back to the 18th century, were built by innkeepers and other high street traders as havens of peace and quiet away from the noise and bustle of the town. In the 1830s there were some 25 along the riverside but, by 1980, only ten remained.
Back at The Fleece, we raised a glass to Rod and sang him a boisterous Happy Birthday.
For the record, the turnout was: Rod, Maurice, Andrew, Lawrence, Mike, Howard, Graham, Alan, Ken, Charles, Simon, Roger, Deborah, Martin, Suzanne, Tom and Brian.
Nigel had hoped to join us but pulled out at the last minute citing a problem with his boat. Whether it was shipwreck, mutiny or a Suez Canal mishap, we don’t know – but we wish him well and look forward to catching up with him again soon.
Thanks, as ever, to Maurice and Andrew for organising things – also to Pete and Jess at The Fleece who served up a splendid lunch.