They call me the wanderer, Yeah, the wanderer, I roam around, around, around . . .
Lyrics sung by Dion in 1961
Thursday morning saw Ken and Martin ready and waiting to greet Windmillers arriving at The White Swan, Conington. Ken had prepared the route and – with Andrew laid up sick – Martin had taken on the logistics. Seventeen Windmillers were expected and, keeping us Covid safe, Martin had planned for us to gather, ride and take lunch in three groups, separated in time and space. What could possibly go wrong?
A flurry of Whatsapp messages and phone calls later, however, and Martin’s plans lay in tatters. Several Windmillers were stuck in traffic on the M11 and Deborah, distraught on the telephone, was lost in the wilds of Cambridgeshire. With cyclists now arriving in dribs and drabs, Martin, thinking fast to avoid chaos, assembled and dispatched groups of six on a first come, first served basis.
Meanwhile Deborah, still orbiting the outer reaches of the county, with Martin’s help was guided in to rendezvous at our refreshment stop – The Wheatsheaf, West Perry – where her spirits were revived with generous helpings of coffee and cake. No group outing for her, though she did at least manage a pleasant ride around Grafham Water, which the rest of us could only glimpse over a hedge.
Near Buckden, those of us following Simon were mortified to see him take a wrong turning on to the busy A1. Yikes! Attempting to call him back, we yelled for all we were worth, but to no avail; there he was pedalling alongside the traffic, seemingly bound for Scotch Corner and all points north.
That was the last we saw of Simon for some time as he embarked on an impromptu 17 mile tour of Brampton, Huntingdon, Godmanchester, the Hemingfords and Fenstanton before finally rejoining us at the White Swan in Conington. Mightily relieved to see him back safe, his arrival was applauded by Windmillers and locals alike. Somewhat pink in the face but otherwise unharmed, he enjoyed a restorative pint though was sadly too late for lunch.
Simon, poor chap, suffered a final indignity when his car stubbornly refused to start. Martin, Ken and Lawrence tried pushing it around the car park before enquiring in the pub as to whether anyone might have jump leads. A very helpful Sandra-type lady came to the rescue, positioning her Audi alongside Simon’s Honda and, connecting up the cables, he was soon firing on all four again.
It had been an enjoyable, if eventful, outing – the majority of riders clocking up 35 miles. This week’s high mileage awards went naturally to Simon (42 miles), but also Ric (70 miles) and Graham (88 miles).
Thanks are due to Ken for planning the route and Martin for improvising his very own Operation Stack, avoiding chaos on the approaches to Conington, much like the Kent police do for Dover.
Finally, we must pay tribute to our dear friend, Vernon, who sadly passed away this week after a long illness, bravely fought. Our thoughts are with Moira and his family. We will be organising a memorial ride in the next few weeks.
The weekend had been windy. Branches removed from the trees, with lashing of rain and grey skies. So it was with considerable relief that come Monday and the Windmiller’s ride, the weather had turned to give a lovely autumnal late afternoon, with bright sunshine and little wind. The sun shines on the righteous of course. Seven Windmillers assembled at the Red Cow in Chrishall; Martin, Maurice, Alan, Simon, Charles, Deborah and Nicolas. With the present Covid rules we set off well-spaced and in the fervent hope that the locals can’t count.
We were determined to do our best to enjoy the ride despite the absence of Andrew, alias Deputy Dawg. Martin reported that Dawg had acquired food poisoning, had lost 10 pounds and was feeling too miserable to ride. We thought that sounded quite plausible, after all, that is quite a lot of money for a Scotsman.
We rode clockwise round this loop.
Along the Royston Road and up the hill to Arkesden. At 4.30 the pull of the Axe and Compasses was easily overcome. Our furthest point was Stocking Pelham. Wikipedia tells us that its population was exactly 163 in 2001 and exactly 163 in 2011. My belief is that so little happens they probably put the same documents in for the 2011 census that they had for 2001. This shows an admirable contempt for government form-filling, as one would expect from the wild no-man’s-land that is the Essex-Hertfordshire border. More Pelhams, then on to Lower Langley Green, where the attractions of the Bull were, with some effort, resisted. Down to Duddenhoe End where Nick peeled off and back to Chrishall, losing Charles to the attractions of Chalky Lane. Deborah needed time to do something for her husband’s birthday. The details were mercifully sketchy. Only three Windmillers up for a drink then, the downside of which is that there were only two available for me to scrounge drinks off.
Sitting in warm, post-ride sunshine Simon observed, quite correctly, what fine child-bearing hips the barmaid at the Red Cow has. Only to be told by another club member that they had spotted her first and that he would have to join the back of the que. He felt that this offends against the usual spirit of the Windmill Club, with its all-important emphasis on generosity and sharing.
We thank Maurice for the route and leading. Andrew for coping so well with organising the club in these times of increased rules and restrictions on our cherished freedoms. Members should note that ‘Simon’s Law’ in the new Club Rules, restricting the sharing of nuts and crisps, was studiously observed throughout. All that was shared was our company, something for which were all are truly grateful in these times of government sanctioned isolation.
Was this, the last day of summer in 2020 (if you believe that the Autumn Equinox marks the first day of Autumn), the reason why romance remained in the air for a second Monday running? Not only did Maurice plan the route to ensure that we went by the same field of flowers but he picked some flowers together with Martin and they were then snapped by Deborah and Simon plighting their troth! Very worrying indeed, until it became apparent that both posies of flowers were for their wives and not each other. Gasps of relief all round!
Starting once again from The Red Cow at Chrishall, nine Windmillers set off on a delightful cruise around the lanes, the others being Andrew, Rod, Lawrence, Deborah, Nick and also Lindsay who it was a pleasure to see again. It was also great to have Simon rejoin us only a few weeks after his hernia op and to see him charging up hills. This is where we went:
Although this was the last day of summer it didn’t really feel like it – it was very warm, sunny and quite balmy when we got back to The Red Cow. What a good ending to one of the strangest summers ever experienced, and a pleasant contrast to daily news about Covid-19. It wasn’t long, however, before we lost Lindsay who took a right towards Great Chishill at the bottom of the hill from Chrishall, down which the other eight went at high speed, but hubby Andrew and Deborah went back to find her and we all reconvened at Langley Upper Green.
Passing The Bull at Lower Langley, which we haven’t visited for a while, we passed close to Nick’s house and then through to Brent Pelham and down to a gravel strewn, but dry, Violet’s Lane and back up to Washall Green. (Violet’s Lane is generally avoided in the winter as it floods at the bottom end and can be icy.)
At Starlings Green the prolific plum tree was devoid of plums. We were probably just a bit too late although there were suspicions raised that Andrew had got there before us. But then he discovered it last year, so fair enough.
Passing Stickling Green and skirting Clavering, it wasn’t long before we were picking flowers again near Duddenhoe End. This time, Simon and Martin dived in first but Simon took a distinctly scientific approach by getting up close with his camera and listening intently to the sound of buzzing bees, and impressed too at the environmental contribution this farmer was making.
Meanwhile Martin got picking another bunch of flowers for Deborah, who was a short way back with Lindsay, and was ordered by Rod to get down on one knee to present them. But then he had to dash back to pick a second bunch for Penny, who had very much enjoyed receiving last week’s bunch, whilst Maurice did the same for Lyn.
Andrew and Lindsay took a short cut back to The Red Cow whilst the others returned via Elmdon and we all enjoyed refreshments outside, Lawrence having to leave first as it was bedtime story time by Zoom for one of his grandchildren.
Well done to Simon for getting ride-fit again so quickly and for taking some pics. And thanks to Maurice for planning the romantic route and Andrew for organising us.
Would you rather be lost with Maurice or lost with Andrew? That was the tricky decision faced by a dozen Windmillers as we set off from the Golden Fleece on Thursday morning. But the question was academic as Andrew, brooking no dissent, picked two teams of six. We were off! And, in fairness, our worries were groundless; both leaders knew the route very well and neither got us lost.
We had been warned there would be no stopping at a café so, having brought our own refreshments, we found a pleasant spot to sip coffee and munch biscuits in the September sunshine.
Now we all know Martin likes gadgets – more the steampunk kind than electronic – and so, chancing on this fearsome piece of kit in someone’s front garden, he dismounted and took a snap . . .
It’s an Allen Scythe – a petrol powered lawn mower to you and me – guaranteed to transform rough pasture into a passable domestic lawn. These were made from 1935 until 1973 and although many are still in regular use they can be dangerous; the clutch system only disengages the wheel drive from the engine, leaving the blades turning. Health and Safety be damned, eh?
Both teams returned safely to the Fleece and enjoyed an excellent lunch served up by Landlord Peter.
Thanks as ever to our team leaders, Maurice and Andrew. These are difficult times to plan outings but, week in – week out, you rise to the challenge and get us all organised. It is much appreciated.
Starting from the Fore Street Pay and Display Car Park in Framlingham (phew, got that mouthful out of the way safely), just down the road from the Crown Hotel where some had congregated for coffee beforehand, two groups of Windmillers set off in the direction of Aldeburgh. Five in each group was the plan but Maurice shot off at speed (such is the acceleration of an e-bike) accompanied in Group A by Ken, Lawrence and Howard whilst Group B was led by Andrew with Deborah, Mike, Alan, Graham and Martin in line astern.
The route was familiar for some, through very quiet and beautiful Suffolk lanes, but it was just as well that Group B had a couple of GPXers with them, Graham and Martin, as Group A went out of sight quite soon. The problem with GPX files, however, is that they are never wrong – the old saying of garbage in, garbage out still applies – with the result that Group B faithfully followed the route but just before Knodishall discovered that it took them down a sandy track, through a farmyard, under the pylons from Sizewell and then back on the tarmac. Group A, meanwhile, were relying on Maurice’s paper map which is never wrong!
This is where we went:
Entering Thorpeness, Group B were surprised to find Group A on the green by the Meare. Were they admiring the group of vintage Rudge motorbikes we wondered? Or was that a Windmiller’s bike upturned and being attended to? It was indeed Lawrence’s rear disc brake that was not working correctly and despite various adjustments it stubbornly refused to cooperate. Nothing for it but press on and have another go over a coffee in Aldeburgh.
The next stop was Aldeburgh for coffee but Group B stopped to admire the Maggi Hambling scallop sculpture on the beach, which created such a hoo-ha amongst the locals when it was first commissioned and installed in 2003, who considered it spoilt a lovely stretch of open beach. But the general view now, certainly amongst Group B, is that it enhances the beach and has withstood both vandalism and gale force winds without flinching.
Aldeburgh was heaving with visitors and so coffee was not easy to come by. But whilst some were queuing for their lunchtime baps at a baker’s shop Mike came to the rescue and invited everyone for coffee in his spacious garden at his and Pat’s house near the church. And what a glorious place it turned out to be, not to mention coffee worthy of the best barista. And Deborah voted the jam that Mike and Pat produced to accompany her croissant as being 10 out of 10.
By the time we set off at noon on the downwind leg back to Framlingham, some had already eaten their fresh warm baps whilst the others were looking forward to a picnic lunch at Snape. The route was a Maurice special – a left after Aldeburgh Golf Club and then along a sandy track, a boardwalk through wetlands and a forest path all the way to Snape, with a diversion at the end through a wood and then along the river bank to the Maltings. And with a high tide to greet us, the views were quite stupendous.
Maurice had worked up a thirst by this time and so he headed off to The Ship at Blaxhall to see if it was open. Indeed it was and so after the picnic the others joined him there and some stayed for a pint whilst others started to make their way back, stopping in Easton on the way to get creative, photographically, with the famous crinkle crankle wall, thought to be to longest in England:
Maurice, Mike and Martin, energised after a pint, set off some time later and despite a stop to admire the view over a hedge caught the others up as they were leaving the Fore Street car park. Thus ended a fabulous ride.
Thanks go to Maurice for planning the route, even the scenic sandy route at Knodishall, Andrew for organising us, Mike and Pat for their kind hospitality and all the photographers who contributed pics.
Valentines’ Day is a long way off but Deborah and Martin looked like they were getting romantic on this lovely summer’s evening when Deborah suddenly jumped off her bike and dived into wild flowers sown at the edge of a field near Duddenhoe End, hotly pursued by Martin. And what a splendid assortment of flowers they were, humming with the sound of bees and insects amongst them – a great example of what environmentally friendly farmers can achieve if they put their minds to it. Well done to the farmer concerned.
But poor Deborah had a jilted look on her face when Martin said the posey was not for her but for his missus, Penny, who displayed them in the neat little vase above when Martin got home. There were Asters, Marigolds, Anemones and several others that a botanist such as Ric might be able to identify.
All this took place towards the end of a very pleasant ride around the lanes, starting and finishing at The Red Cow in Chrishall. Seven Windmillers set forth – Maurice, Andrew, Rod, Charles, Lawrence, Nick and Martin. Nick had come over from Meesden and so he peeled off at Langley Lower Green whilst the remaining six continued towards Clavering on a very warm and sunny evening – one of the best.
Back at The Red Cow it was good to be joined by Simon O and to hear his tales of tractor driving, where it seems there is nothing to do these days but let the GPS steer the tractor whilst the driver reads the Financial Times. He also told us about his grand daughter’s first day at school which resulted in her returning home enquiring about a certain part of the male anatomy. The things they teach kids at such an early age these days!
What a contrast with almost a year ago when this ride was first planned but then cancelled due to inclement weather. Instead we had almost perfect conditions for a cycle ride – non-stop sunshine after a slightly cool start, little wind and pleasantly warm on the return leg.
Starting from a lovely pub, The Square and Compasses, in Fuller Street, south of Braintree in the midst of quiet Essex lanes, 12 Windmillers set off in two groups, suitably equipped with GPX files on their devices. But Maurice took the wise precaution of bringing along a paper map too which proved to be quite useful towards the end of his ride………….
Group A was led by Martin, who devised the route using mainly National Cycle Network routes, and he was accompanied by Maurice, Charles, Alan, Chris and Mike. Group B was led by Rod and his faithful followers were Andrew, Ken, Deborah, Howard and Geoff (who had a back up GPX just in case). At a couple of points Group A took wrong turnings only to watch Group B wizz past on the correct route – so much for Group A’s ability to follow a GPX route, correction Martin’s ability, who should have known better as he had done a recce of the route a year ago.
Except for a housing estate in Witham the route took us along delightfully quiet and often narrow winding lanes with far reaching views of the Essex countryside, and hills were few and far between. Exiting Witham, where Martin took one of his wrong turnings, resulted in cries of ‘Where’s Maurice?’ once Group A had caught up with Group B. So we waited and waited but then spotted a smiling Maurice approaching us. Why was he smiling so broadly? It soon became clear that the wrong turning proved to be to Maurice’s financial advantage as he spotted a £20 note lying on the ground which he just had to stop and pick up, by which time the traffic lights were against him. But this being deepest Essex, had the note just been printed locally we wondered?
It wasn’t long before we were heading down towards the River Blackwater at Heybridge Basin, a familiar sight for Maurice who used to keep his boat further down the Blackwater at Maylandsea and often sailed it to Heybridge Basin and Maldon. It was low tide and so the view was mainly of black estuary mud rather than black water but gorgeous all the same.
The return leg commenced with a trip up the side of the River Chelmer / Blackwater Navigation Canal containing many moored craft including a lifeboat. This consisted of a narrow towpath / bike path / footpath which required careful bike navigation to avoid falling in or knocking a pedestrian in. But both Groups made it safely into Maldon avoiding any roads and ending up on the banks of the muddy Blackwater as it flowed into the estuary. Then it was a short trip down the Blackwater before turning up into the centre of Maldon, an attractive town hosting an excellent brewery, and exiting on the north side for the final miles back through beautiful undulating countryside. Group A found this to be peaceful whilst Group B experienced some road rage from an angry lady driver and a fast moving tractor.
Entering the pretty village of Terling, Martin stopped to admire the view which resulted in Maurice and Howard taking the wrong road out of the village but thanks to Maurice’s paper map they found their way back to the pub without any great delay.
After a warm welcome at the Square and Compasses and an excellent lunch, washed down with thirst quenching JHB from the Oakham Brewery, the main drama of the day suddenly unfolded when Mike staggered to his feet saying he had to find a doctor / hospital quickly. It turned out that his pedal had hit a shin bone which resulted in a broken blood vessel which quickly grew to the size of a tennis ball. Directions were given to the local hospital in Chelmsford but Deborah recognised the pain Mike was in and offered to drive him there. Well done Deborah! A medal for sure at the Christmas lunch. The good news since is that the swelling subsided and that the doc thought there was every chance that Mike would be able to go climbing in the Alps as planned within a couple of days. That’s an extreme Windmiller for you!
So was it a hornet or a wasp that stung Andrew badly last Thursday? We’ll never know but he was clearly not a happy bunny 24 hours after the event.
By Monday the swelling had subsided and he was his usual cheery self when out on a 19 mile ride around the lanes with Maurice, Rod, Charles, Alan and Martin:
Starting from The Red Cow at Chrishall at 4.30pm, Maurice led the way around our quiet autumnal lanes taking in Shaftenhoe End, Nuthampstead (giving Bridget a wave as we passed her house), Anstey (giving Andrew a shout), Brent Pelham, Meesden, Langley Upper Green and Duddenhoe End, before enjoying a pint outside on our return, at which point the temperature began to drop quite quickly.
Thanks to Maurice for planning the route and Andrew for getting us assembled.
It wasn’t Andrew’s day. Not only did he suffer a flat tyre before we had even left the pub car park – but then he was stung on the neck by a wasp. He swears it was a hornet; no doubt it was the size of a Tam O Shanter.
Apart from that, it was another excellent ride. Starting from the Rising Sun, Halls Green, Maurice steered us in a wide loop around Stevenage, so wide indeed that – apart from the odd glimpse from afar – the town remained out of sight. The surrounding countryside is hilly – but the roads are quiet and the scenery delightful.
Half way round, we pulled in at Whitwell to visit Emily’s Tea Room, one of our favourite haunts, where we particularly enjoyed the homemade crumpets and jam.
For the record, our peloton comprised Maurice, Andrew, Alan, Chris, Roger, Mike, Graham, Charles, Rod, Howard and Brian – and upon returning to the Rising Sun, Simon joined us for lunch. Recovering after his recent surgical procedure he reported he had one black one and one white one. Oo-er, we hope he is in the pink again soon.
And then to cap it all, a lovely surprise – Vernon turned up, accompanied by wife Moira. We hadn’t seen our old pal for a long time so it was particularly good to catch up with him again. Indeed, it was Vernon himself who first introduced us to The Rising Sun three years ago; you can read all about it here.
Thanks, Maurice, for another great outing. Andrew too, ever cheerful in the face of adversity, for getting us all organised.
We like the Fox & Hounds at Steeple Bumpstead, not least because Landlady Kate provides coffee and biscuits while we wait for Deborah, who generally arrives just as we are draining our cups.
Refreshed and ready to go, twelve Windmillers attempt to form two equal sized pelotons in conformance with government guidelines*. Only it never quite works out, Maurice heading out with eight riders while Brian musters just four. Maybe some can’t count? Maybe – quite understandably – others fear getting lost with Brian? Or maybe it’s just our Keystone Cops-like inability to get organised. Who knows.
Whatever the reason, all twelve somehow found their way to Clare where we enjoyed some excellent coffee and cake at Platform One, the café in the long-disused railway station.
From Clare we made short work of the return trip to Steeple Bumpstead where Landlady Kate served up a hearty lunch washed down with a restorative ale.
For the record, this week’s riders were: Maurice, Howard, Roger, Deborah, Jenni, Alan, Victor, Graham, Geoff, Charles, Lawrence and Brian – and Ken joined us for lunch.
Thanks, Maurice, for organising another terrific outing.
*As of Thursday, 27 August 2020, Cycling UK’s guidance is that groups of up to fifteen can ride provided they take reasonable steps to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Read more.
Socially distanced cycling, eh? Who’d have thought? Whereas our peloton used to be upwards of a dozen strong – a veritable rolling roadblock – we now only venture out in groups of six or less, appropriately spaced. This week it was Maurice leading the first group and Brian the second. Trouble was, Brian didn’t really know the route, relying instead on tail-enders Graham and Rod to shout directions from the rear.
So it was that Maurice, followed by Roger, Ken, Alan and Chris set off from The Rushbrooke Arms, Sicklesmere, heading for Gedding – followed ten minutes later by Brian, Victor, Deborah, Mike, Graham and Rod – Brian making sure he kept within earshot of Graham and Rod.
Sunshine and the beautiful Suffolk countryside ensured a very pleasant outbound ride to Lavenham, where we pulled in for refreshments at The Swan. Most ordered coffee and teacakes – but Graham, who had already cycled the extra 35 miles from home – was desperate to wet his whistle with a pint. Coffee and teacakes were served aplenty but, despite increasingly desperate reminders to the staff, the beer did not materialise and poor old Graham took the saddle just as thirsty as when he arrived.
Returning to Sicklesmere via Bridge Street, Shimpling and Hawstead, we enjoyed an alfresco lunch at the The Rushbrooke Arms where, thankfully, Graham managed to down a few restorative pints ahead of his 35 mile return home, neighbour Mike joining him for the ride.
Thanks, Maurice, for planning the route and leading the way on such a delightful outing.
Thursday morning in Steeple Bumpstead and we were hopeful of a fine morning’s cycling ahead of the thunderstorms forecast for the afternoon. But thunder was already heard as we unloaded the bikes and rain followed shortly after. There was nothing for it but to retire to the Fox & Hounds for an early coffee.
The worst of the downpour passed and we ventured out on the wet roads; the first group – Maurice in the lead followed by Lawrence, Howard, Roger and Simon – followed some five minutes later by the second group comprising Brian, Deborah, Geoff, Graham and Mike.
We had gone barely three miles when the rain came down again, only this time in torrents. Soon the road was awash and we could barely see where we were going. In Stambourne, Maurice’s group sought shelter under the church lych-gate. Old English for corpse-gate, this was the sheltered meeting place where a funeral party would gather and where the priest would receive the shroud-wrapped body and commence the funeral rites.
What better port in a storm for five sodden Windmillers?
Meanwhile, Brian’s group, caught out by the deluge on a quiet lane, sought shelter in a cowshed. The cows didn’t seem to mind and neither did the farmer who, turning up to unblock a storm drain and initially startled by the sight of sodden cyclists in her barn, said we were very welcome – but we weren’t to milk the cows.
Half an hour later the rain had stopped and we headed out again, skirting the deeper puddles. Ten miles down the road, the sun was shining and we were almost dry again.
Mike, joining us for the first time, was on a fixie – a great way to keep fit as you have to go all out and attack every hill; either that or get off and push, which doesn’t look cool. Mike crested every hill with ease; we were impressed.
Given all the delays, there was no time for our usual coffee stop in Finchingfield as we were expected back at the Fox & Hounds for lunch. Instead we sailed on through the picturesque village and out past the windmill, heading for Cornish Hall End and the final leg back to Steeple Bumpstead.
Enjoying a beer at the pub, we were glad to report no punctures, no broken chains, no e-bike breakdowns, no disputing the highway code with wayward drivers – and nobody had fallen off. A triumph!
Thanks, Maurice for another great outing – and a belated Happy Birthday to Roger, who bought the beers.
After such an eventful ride it was a relief to get back to the cars and relax with a picnic.
The day had started badly for Rod when the e-part of his e-bike failed, rendering it a p-bike (go figure). Even with the battery removed, pedalling an electric bike can be challenging, they are anything but lightweight. Rod had a tough day’s riding ahead.
Then there was Andrew’s chain. Half way into the ride and pulling up for a comfort break, he noticed a semi-detached link; clearly, an accident waiting to happen. There was nothing for it but to up-end the bike and effect a repair. His usual bike mechanic, Tom Robinson, being unavailable, it fell to Andrew to do his own dirty work; and his was a truly filthy chain, mired in the accumulated muck of Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Essex, Normandy and Brittany.
With assistance from Maurice, tools from Brian and much effing and jeffing from Andrew himself, the chain was eventually made whole again, albeit a little shorter than before.
Meanwhile the rest of us used the time to take on water, munch snacks and generally loll about. Charles took great interest in a passing canine, evidently some sort of rare breed, engaging the lady owner in small talk. She seemed quite taken with his stripey hose.
A mere 45 minutes or so later and we were underway once more. Strung out over half a mile, our peloton was steadily overtaken by an energetic female rider. Maurice on his e-bike was comfortably able to keep up with Carol (as we subsequently learned her name was) and struck up a conversation. Hearing we could do with a coffee, Carol very kindly led us to The Anchor, her local in Stoke-by-Nayland. Unfortunately the landlord refused to contemplate opening up half an hour early. Nonetheless, we thanked Carol, for her solicitude and, bidding her farewell, continued on to Kersey, surely one of the prettiest of Suffolk villages, where we were delighted to find The Bell open and welcoming.
Sod the coffee, let’s have a real drink – seemed to be the general feeling as we formed a socially distanced queue at the bar – and Rod, now looking distinctly red in the face, expressed strong approval. What’s more, having missed celebrating his birthday during lockdown, Charles insisted on buying the beers. Thank you, Charles, and a belated very happy birthday to you.
It would be nice to report that the rest of the outing passed uneventfully; but that wasn’t to be. We were on the last mile and approaching Long Melford when Andrew was overtaken dangerously by a Volvo estate; indeed, not just cut-up but yelled at by the driver. Catching up with the Volvo at a junction, strong opinions were exchanged on both sides before we all went our separate ways. If only that had been the end of it.
Arriving back at the cars and setting out our chairs, tables and picnic, we sat down to enjoy the fine prospect across Long Melford green. Rod, in particular, was very relieved to get back and set about his sandwiches with great gusto. Quite how he had managed to keep up with us over 34 miles, we will never know; but somehow he did. Well done, Rod, that was quite a workout.
Alas, the pleasant ambience of our picnic spot was disturbed when the Volvo driver reappeared, driving across the green and pulling up alongside us to complain about her car being scratched. Andrew, remaining impressively calm and businesslike, thought it best to de-escalate things by exchanging details. After all, this is what our club insurance with Cycling UK is for and – thankfully – the heat was taken out of the encounter. Well done, Andrew, for handling things in such a business-like manner.
For the record, the 34 miles was completed in two socially distanced groups: Maurice leading Brian, Ken, Chris, Simon and Graham, followed five minutes later by Andrew leading Lawrence, Charles and Rod.
Thanks, Maurice and Andrew, for organising things and leading the two groups.
And so it was on this pleasant afternoon in early August that seven Windmillers led by Maurice and accompanied by Andrew, Rod, Simon, Charles, Alan and Martin came across the same field in Clavering that we saw a year or so ago. The wheat had just been cut with an old fashioned binder so that the straw could be used for thatching, but the drying stooks looked irresistible to Simon who suddenly came over with a huge desire to be a hermit crab, so in he climbed. He might have just fancied a new hair-do but either way he semed very pleased with the result.
The ride had started at The Red Cow in Chrishall and took in familiar quiet lanes to Elmdon, Littlebury Green, Arkesden, Clavering, Langley Lower Green and Duddenhoe End.
And this is where we went:
Thanks as always to Maurice and Andrew for planning and organising the ride.
Thirteen Windmillers set off, in two groups, on the usual Thursday club ride this time from the Pack-horse Inn in Moulton. Pack-horse bridges (~1400 AD) pre-date the canals and railways. They were just wide enough to accommodate a mule with their packs, allowing them to cross geographical barriers such as the River Kennett here in Moulton.
The Kennett has been much reduced of late, by water extraction for agricultural purposes and to quote the Wikipedia page “it has only been the presence of the sewage treatment works between Dalham and Moulton that has meant any water has flowed through Moulton in recent years”. This reason isn’t in all the guide books though.
The first leg saw us ride through Cavenham and Icklingham, then stopping at the West Stow Anglo Saxon Village. It was 10.50 and they usually didn’t start making coffee until 11.00. However Morris and Andrew used their considerable powers of persuasion to get things started anyway. It was difficult to keep social distancing in this process. Future rides will be altered to try and avoid the problem, so that everyone can feel comfortable and safe.
West Stow was the site of an Anglo-Saxon village (~700AD) and was the site of ‘experimental archaeology’ in the late 90’s, where scientists tried out their theories about how Anglo-Saxon’s lived by re-building the village, in ancient style and trying to live that way for a while. Often this is a disaster of course, but that just adds to the fun.
The centre has a Beowulf and Grendel trail, indicated by a giant log and a wooden sword outside. The tale of Beowulf, a legendary Anglo-Saxon King, is important because it’s one of the first things ever written down in English. Everything else of the era was in Latin, the language of the church and monasteries. The story is; in his mid-twenties Beowulf kills a monster, Grendel and its mother, in a cave. Then after 50 years as King, he kills his final dragon, then dies quickly and painlessly soon after from his wounds. It’s the sort of life-story many members of the club aspire to. Any similarities between it and The Hobbit we are told are “accidental”. But Tolkien was professor of Anglo-Saxon history at Oxford and wrote a book on Beowulf, so I’m not so sure.
Such stories share the common tropes of good versus evil, reluctant chivalrous hero and the tragedy and pathos of a final, but costly victory. They were told round the camp-fire in an oral tradition, with the teller making them more popular, by embellishing here and there.
This tradition isn’t dead.
The Anglo Saxons were well known to popularise stories by the inclusion of suggestive language and for mentioning their love of beaver which was readily available in their riverside villages.
The ride returned via Dalham, a very attractive village, which has both an old oast-house and a windmill. Though getting a picture of the latter required attaching a telephoto lens to my phone . In Dalham a small group split off for a detour, adding a few extra miles, on what was a beautiful day for cycling. Back at the pub we enjoyed food outside and were joined by Brummy Brian who had cycled out to meet us.
Thanks to Morris for the route and to Andrew who books the pubs, deals with all the administration and who led the 2nd group round the ride.
Thursday morning saw the Windmillers gathering at the Golden Fleece, unloading their bicycles, strapping on helmets and applying liberal doses of sun tan lotion, while Landlady Jess stood by to take our orders for lunch.
Come 09:15, we were off, in two socially distanced groups, one led by Maurice, the other by Andrew, heading south towards Puckeridge. Alas, Simon, in his haste to leave the house, had grabbed the nearest bike to hand and only now – some two miles into the ride – realised his saddle was uncomfortably high. Pulling over to make adjustments, he enquired whether anyone had a spanner. Delving into saddle bags, we mustered an impressive collection of multitools and hex keys – but nobody had what Simon actually needed, which was a good old British Standard Whitworth half inch spanner. Nothing for it, Simon, but to sit tall in the saddle and remember to always dismount alongside a high kerb.
And that wasn’t the end of his travails. Along the route, we got quite used to dodging various bits that fell off Simon’s machine; a broken reflector here, a detached derailleur cable there, and from time to time the rear peloton caught up with the front peloton providing ample opportunity to return the various components to their rightful owner.
And what a lovely route it was, taking in Barwick, Whempstead, Benington, Walkern and Ardeley – where we pulled in for refreshments at Church Farm. It is a sign of these COVID times that most establishments take an inordinately long time to serve a dozen or so Windmillers. There is usually only one person allowed behind the counter to take our orders, make the coffee, serve cake, take payment, etc. But hey, at our time of life, what’s the hurry?
Church Farm comes up trumps, however, for lending obscure tools to distressed cyclists; a friendly mechanic providing Simon with a half inch Whitworth spanner. Top chap!
Back on the bikes, we made the return leg – via Wood End, Haultwick, Great Munden and the delightfully named village of Nasty – to Braughing and the Golden Fleece where our hosts, Peter and Jess, served up an excellent lunch and Howard, this week’s birthday boy, bought the beers.
A big thank you – as ever – to Maurice and Andrew for organising another superb outing. And well done, Simon, for managing twenty something – fairly hilly – miles using just two gears.
Not everyone was encouraging about this trip. “You are not going to France. You will still be locked-down, locked-in and should be locked-away for contemplating it. We’re in the middle of an international crisis. Quarantine, infection, no ferries, no accommodation, nothing will be open. You’re not fully fit. Maybe you will have to isolate when (if) you return.”
I could only reply. “Fair points but maybe we can still figure out how to make it happen. We may need to tweak the plan a bit. At this stage of life though, it’s important not to give up on one’s pleasures too easily”
So it was that after considerable uncertainty and several changes of plan, four Wind-Millers set off for France on one of the first passenger-carrying ferries to leave Blighty during this fateful year. It was the result of hours on the phone to ferry companies by Andrew (Deputy-dawg) and a complete re-write of the plan by Martin (Rev.), from pedestrian crossing followed by cycling point to point, to becoming a trip with two cars, lots of driving, with cycle racks, indeed with dismantled cycles in the car. It took quite some planning. Still we remembered those fateful words, “Never give in. Never, never, never, never in nothing, great or small, large or petty never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense.” (1 see link). We might need to rethink the “good sense” bit perhaps.
Tuesday, the first day, was a circular ride to Mont St. Michel. This was an inspiring sight in the mist during a day which started with rain and gradually became very pleasant. I wondered why we admire these monuments so much. Why do people come from near and far to this pilgrimage cathedral, on a remote rock, in a sparsely populated corner of France? If anyone suggested it now I guess an accountant would say “if you must build a worship solution, it would be cheaper to build it on flatter land, in a place with better transport links”. Today the Glory of God has been replaced by worship of the profit and loss account and I suppose people miss something else to value.
The cider in this region is most impressive. Each Gete seems to make their own, not too sweet or dry and redolent of the small area the apples came from. Every breakfast had exclusively home-made jams and locally sourced croissant. Sometimes the start of the day’s cycling was delayed by the absolute necessity to wait for the Gite owner to return from the bakery. The roadside was also completely devoid of the detritus all too common on roads in the UK. Recent elections in France have seen the ‘Greens’ returned. I wonder if we won’t see much more of that in this country.
Wednesday 15th found the intrepid Wind-Millers cycling north from Mont St. Michel, up the coast with Jersey a distant silhouette out to sea. In a tiny town called Quettreville we sought our evening meal and came across a gem. This was a restaurant run by a former Rumanian monk, brewing his own beer and I can only say ‘designing’ his own sea-food dishes. All this from what looked like a corner-shop cum transport café. The restaurant was filled with home-made preserves and pickles. The food was as good as any high-class restaurant in Paris. The chief was completely immersed in the art of cooking. I still can’t quite believe a place like this exists in a location so remote. Full marks for Martin in finding it. We sampled much of what was on offer and cycled back to the Gete with the level of discipline that Morris would expect of us.
Thursday saw us cycling through low-lying marshes well in-land from Carentan. The wildlife was plentiful, especially noticeable were cranes and storks. The area is so remote that no restaurants were available near the accommodation. Our rooms were a wonderful set of ex-stables next to a local race-course and we cooked using the stable-lad’s two ring stove out in the courtyard. Myself, ably assisted by sous-chief Dawg, soon rustled up spaghetti carbonara. Afterwards we got back on the bikes, just in time to attend the local, evening trotting race.
In a previous blog I have admitted to my utter ignorance about horses. However being a member of this club is nothing if not an education. It turns out Dawg can spot a winner at the races from the angle of the horses ears during practice. However his virtual betting style missed a £130 win from £5 down. The Rev meanwhile, having rapidly sussed-out the racing in France, employed an intensely data-driven approach, but to less effect. Much less effect actually. Still both myself and Lawrence came out marginally ahead on the night. Once again ignorance and idleness had triumphed over knowledge and application. Life isn’t fair in so many ways I’ve noticed.
Friday 17th we started out back to the coast, then headed east across the beaches where on June 6th 1944 the Allies started a new chapter in Europe’s history. Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword, the scale of what happened here is difficult to comprehend even now. The Mulberry harbours, as big as Dieppe port, two airports, a petrol pipe back to the UK, all built in a few days and under fire. Every promontory has a gun battery overlooking what are now beautiful, white sandy beaches. We stopped at a few including the monument to the 47 Royal Marine Commandos at Port-en-Bessin. Dawg has repeated their D-day ‘yomp’ many times along with a former club member Kell Ryan. Unfortunately Kell has since passed away but is remembered at a memorial in the village, dedicated to him and other friends of this commando group.
We stopped by at the Normandy US cemetery where many of the first 10,000 casualties of the invasion are interred. I’m in two minds whether a war cemetery can ever be an ‘attraction,’ no matter how imposing it is. One downside of tourism is that it sometimes treats places like Venice and Belsen as equivalent. Soldiers don’t die in neat rows to be marked by clean, white, marble crosses of course. My own father, on burial duty, exhumed and bagged three day old corpses from shallow, sand graves. He extracted a legless tank-officer’s corpse from under a thorn bush and found the dead using binoculars to spot flocks of feeding birds. To his cost he was never able to fully express just how much he hated war. Still the men buried here liberated Europe and we celebrate them. I just hope the Instagram generation aren’t too distant to truly understand what this cemetery cost. Uneasily, we took a few photos and left in a slightly sombre mood.
Though I am generally well disposed towards it, I couldn’t help but notice that France was very foreign. This fact seemed to have escaped one ex-pat we met, who had bought the land on which was situated one of the German’s largest defensive fortifications. It was buried by the Allies and has since been excavated by him. However all his attempts to turn this into a museum and attraction have been complicated, almost defeated, by local rules and bureaucracy. Oh yes, bureaucracy, I think that is a French word, isn’t it? A few minutes with him underscored some of the differences between our two countries. He may eventually get somewhere, if he lives that long and his blood pressure can stand it. We wished him well and quickly cycled on.
The difference between France and the UK can easily be explained using bread as an example. In France bread is baked locally and bought every day at 8.30am from the boulangerie. (2) It tastes of something (bread), is regulated by the government and is part of life. On the other hand, in the UK, 85% of bread (by volume) is made by just three manufactures in a small number of bread super-factories. (3) Not even Mr Corbyn suggested regulating bread’s price, size and content because the UK hasn’t had a revolution about it (yet). In the UK it’s bought once a week and its nature can best be described as “convenient carbohydrate”. Club members might try it sometime as an inexpensive excursion into the food culture of the UK’s masses. One country celebrates the local, high quality and the availability of a simple pleasure to everyone; the other convenience, efficiency and market-driven price, size and quality. Of course good bread is available in the UK too, if you can or want pay for it. So there you have it, two countries and two approaches to life through the allegory of a simple commodity.
The final day of cycling (Sat. 18th July) was a challenging 65 miles following the coastal roads back to Deauville. On the way, by chance, we met the head of Renault’s historic car collection. The Rev and Dawg, both proud former Renault owners, needed to reassure themselves that Renault did indeed have examples of the cars they had owned and loved. They did, because Renault has a collection of 850 different cars which they show to enthusiasts all over the world. I’m glad we all enjoy different things. My current car is blue, I thought the last one was red, but my son tells me it also was blue. It’s funny how your memory plays tricks on you. Deauville was packed for some Saturday racing. In the evening the harbour area was a heaving mass of people. We found a suitable (posh) restaurant well out of town and settled down to more fine food. And a few drinks, which we felt were richly deserved having had such a busy day.
Sunday was given over to the Rev and Dawg going to get the car from Mt. Michel while myself and Lawrence read the newspapers at the hotel. Thanks, you guys are heroes, then driving on to Dieppe and an AirB&B which Martin had booked. The air in AirB&B originates from the first beds being blow-up ones in the corner of someone’s room. But things have moved on, and the beds were very comfortable, especially after a trip to one of Rick Stein’s secret sea-food restaurants in Dieppe and a few more glasses of Muscadet.
The ferry back was uneventful. A certain amount of ‘shopping’ had been done in Dieppe but Customs waived us through. Perhaps they couldn’t hear the clinking. Those ferries are so very noisy.
So there you have it, a great holiday in excellent company; a testament to the restorative virtues of exercise, good food and reverently drunk wines. We must do it again some time. I hope so.
Thursday morning saw the usual suspects – plus Alan who we hadn’t seen for a long time – gathering in the car park of the Red Cow at Chrishall.
Splitting into two socially distanced groups, Maurice led the first group off towards Fowlmere, followed by Brian’s group some five minutes later.
We made the outbound leg via Shepreth and Orwell – and then, rather than take our usual route through Wimpole, we carried on to the top of Old Wimpole Road to try out the new cycle trail. A lovely addition to our list of local routes, the trail loops around the north and west boundaries of the estate to Arrington before turning back towards the Hall and café, some three miles in all with very good views of the house, folly and countryside beyond.
It was along this trail that two of our members somehow managed to fall off their bikes. First to take a tumble was Roger, a low speed involuntary dismount executed in some style, followed shortly afterwards by Alan who just keeled over into the bushes.
Back on the bikes we made the return leg via Barrington and Foxton before steeling ourselves for the long uphill climb to Chrishall.
We enjoyed an excellent lunch in the pub garden and celebrated another lockdown-delayed birthday. Last week it was Rod’s; this time it was Deborah’s turn – and she very kindly treated us all to a beer. Happy Birthday, Debs!
Thanks, Maurice, for planning another delightful outing – and, of course, Deborah for the beers.
To celebrate Rod’s delayed birthday due to the lockdown and also the opportunity to drive to a start point, ride in groups of 6 and have a socially distanced lunch in a familiar pub, Maurice devised a lovely 33 mile route starting and finishing at The Golden Fleece in Braughing.
Meeting at 9.00am to place our orders at The Golden Fleece was just like old times, except for the one way system through the pub and the large expanses of perspex, all done with great taste and efficiency by landlord Peter and his team. Outside there was a new deck covered by an awning which was reserved for use by the Windmill Club at lunchtime. All very smart and with the usual excellent beer and food too.
Accompanied by Andrew, Rod, Ken, Roger, Brian, Victor, Charles, Simon, Geoff, Jenny and Martin, Maurice led the way via Puckeridge, Perry Green, Stansted Abbots and Amwell Reserve to our usual coffee stop in Ware. It was great to have Victor with us after his recent bereavement with the death of his wife Rose. After our recent fund raising for Victor on behalf of Marie Curie, he very generously topped up the £440 we raised, by another £100, making £600 in all after the club had added a further £60 from funds.
This is where we went:
The roads were noticeably busier than in recent weeks, even the quiet lanes, and as we cycled alongside the towpaths of the River Lee there were many pedestrians too. The need to cycle harmoniously with other road / path users is something we need to focus on in the future, whilst also obeying any rules in place.
Some take the high road and some take the low road over Barwick Ford
Stopping in Perry Green outside Henry Moore’s studio and gardens gave us an opportunity for Charles to tell us of his time working for the Foundation for over 10 years from the mid-90s, starting as a finance / admin manager and finishing as the COO (and not the car park attendant as Andrew unkindly suggested). It was a period of great expansion for the Foundation, which is now recognised to be a world class centre for the study and enjoyment of sculpture.
Of course, two Windmillers (museum pieces Simon and Andrew) couldn’t resist demonstrating that modern sculpture was alive and well:
Simon and Andrew in modern sculpture mood at Perry Green
After coffee we headed along the towpath towards Hertford before wending our way back to The Golden Fleece through delightful lanes and enjoyed an excellent lunch. Rod very kindly bought the drinks and we all wished him a happy belated birthday. The good news is that several Windmillers owned up to have had lockdown birthdays and so there are a few more still to be celebrated.
Thanks to Maurice for planning the route and to Andrew for organising us. Sadly, Graham had not been with us on account of having had an accident the previous weekend but we wish him well and hope to see him out again soon.
Saddened to hear of the death of Victor’s wife, Rose, a few weeks ago, Thursday’s outing provided an opportunity to send our condolences and make a donation to Marie Curie Cancer Care, the Humberstone family’s nominated charity.
Maurice had mapped out a 30 mile circuit – to be tackled either individually or in socially distanced small groups – taking in Chrishall, Arkesden, Rickling, Manuden, Hazel End, Farnham, the Pelhams and the Langleys. Along the way showers threatened, catching some Windmillers and sparing others, but the roads were quiet and the countryside scenic.
Pulling in to Chrishall, Charles hosted us on his croquet lawn, laying on lashings of beer and plentiful nibbles.
Sporting his signature stripey hose, his natty footwear accessorised with colourful Hickies, Charles was the clear winner of this week’s Best Shod Windmiller Award, Suzanne coming a close second in her shocking pink / rich plum trainers.
Counting the charity box takings, Andrew announced we had collected £440, a club record, and Maurice proposed we make it up with club funds to £500 for this very special cause.
Thanks, as ever to Maurice and Andrew for organising things; Charles too for his hospitality.
As ever, you will find more pictures in the gallery on our website.