Red sky in the morning? Shepherd’s warning! This is how the saying goes and how right it turned out to be on this mild autumnal but mixed weather day. Graham had set out early from Ickleton, as usual, to cycle to the start of this ride in Brick End near Stansted Airport which he had very kindly organised, capturing the magnificent red sky en route.
The Prince of Wales was to be our base for the day and what a fine pub it turned out to be – a huge car park and the prospect of some fine beer and grub at lunchtime, pre-tested by Graham he assured us. But having placed our lunch orders, the red sky delivered its warning and it was soon pelting it down with rain. Undeterred, some donned wet weather gear and some decided to take a shower whilst Ken, who arrived later than most, decided sensibly to sit in the comfort of his car and catch us up at coffee time. Contrast no.1.
GPX files are created by many apps these days and, in theory, should work anywhere. The file for this route, however, in contrast to most files loaded on to the Windmill WhatsApp group, refused to behave itself and seemed to defeat even the most IT-literate Windmillers. However, eventually after much experimentation and tweaking a sufficient number made it on to the devices of our 3 leaders for the day, Graham, Brian and Tom. Contrast no. 2.
So this was the devious route Graham had planned for us. Was it the figure of 8 and the mix of clockwise and anti-clockwise circuits that confused the GPX gremlins? Perhaps we’ll never know. ‘You can’t beat paper’, Maurice would say, and he might have a point.
Graham led the way in the rain accompanied in Group A by Rod, Jenni, Sandra, Deborah and Roger. They were soon overtaken by Group B, due to a minor technical issue of some sort, comprising Tom, Charles, Iain, Andrew, Keith and Martin who were in turn overtaken by both Group A and Group C’s trio of Brian, Simon and Victor, partly because Group B took a wrong turning (blame the rain and screens being difficult to see) and partly because poor Charles got a puncture in his front tyre – the first he has had for ages, possibly ever?
Having a puncture in a narrow muddy lane whilst it’s raining with lots of cars squeezing past is not exactly fun but the source of the puncture was soon discovered – a whopping great thorn, so easily picked up from the hedge cuttings currently in our lanes. Everything went well with the installation of a new tube until it failed to inflate, so it was back to square one. A dodgy valve it seemed was the cause. Finally, after much squirting of ice cold gas into a second tube, Group 2 set off again in pursuit of the others.
After a succession of tiny lanes we then found ourselves cruising through Great Dunmow from North – South before crossing the A120 and once again taking to quiet lanes.
By the time Group B entered glorious Hatfield Forest, the sun was out big time but Group A had already left. Cycling through this National Trust property was a dream, with a café positioned perfectly in the middle by a large lake, which served excellent coffee and a good choice of cakes. Ken arrived at this point and tagged along with Group B.
Having gone clockwise so far most of the time it was now an anti-clockwise circuit, exiting Hatfield Forest after a long grassy trail, a bit soggy and uphill in places which was easy for those with e-bikes but quite tough going for those without. The scenery was fabulous.
The route back once we hit the road again was a mix of quiet lanes and quite busy stretches as we crossed the M11 a couple of times. This led to Group B experiencing some significant road rage, mainly from angry lady drivers, three of whom hurled abuse at us whilst cycling in single file on wide roads. Perhaps they thought it was just a bit of fun on their part. In contrast, there were no other reports of such rage from either Group A or C. Contrast no. 4.
And the mix of quiet lanes, forest trails and some busy stretches? That makes Contrast no. 5.
Despite Group B’s late arrival back at The Prince of Wales, the timing was perfect as lunch had been ordered for 1.15pm and it was soon on the table, washed down with a nice pint of Ridley’s and other ales.
Many thanks to Graham for inventing and organising a terrific ride and for giving us such an interesting day of contrasts. And thanks also to Graham, Charles and Brian for some of the photos.