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.
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.
Some Windmiller spouses have long questioned our sporting credentials, teasing us that we are more a dining club than a cycling club. But it has been six long months* since we last enjoyed a good lunch in licensed premises – time enough to rebut that outrageous slur and demonstrate our commitment to the cause of cycling.
While it has been an exceptionally long dry spell for the club – dry in the sense of teetotal – Thursday’s outing, while still dry, augured a brighter, more refreshing future. This was to be our last temperance ride before the mighty institution that is The British Public House opens for custom next week; or at least opens its garden. If the weather is good enough to cycle then it will be good enough to lunch!
So it was that some eighteen cheerful Windmillers set off, not just for their final abstemious outing, but also their final ride under rule-of-six restrictions. It was a repeat of last week’s 30 mile route, but an opportunity to reverse the direction of travel. Setting off from Bartlow were Andrew, Geoff, Lawrence, Deborah, Jenni, Brian, Chris, Charles, Martin, Suzanne and Tom; while setting off from Steeple Bumpstead were Maurice, Rod, Alan, Roger, Graham, Simon and Howard.
A number of Windmillers had cycled to the start including Suzanne, Graham, Mike, Tom and Brian; Mike clocking up an impressive 75 miles by the end of the day.
Along the way, there were a few compliance busting encounters as the various groups pulled over to chat and exchange news.
Cafés are few and far between in these parts, though several Windmillers did venture a few miles off circuit to visit the The Old Butchers Coffee Shop in Balsham; an excellent refreshment stop and well worth the diversion. And many found the coffee at the convenience store in Keddington more than acceptable, especially when Deborah was buying the cakes, individually wrapped madeleines, no less. Proust would have approved.
Poor old Tom suffered an unusual puncture caused by damaged rim tape, but being our star mechanic, this was fixed in no time.
Thanks as ever to Maurice and Andrew for organising things.
Charles certainly stamped his mark on this outing. We all know the man for his signature stripey hose – a look he has made all his own – but this Monday he was resplendent in a pair of fabulous new socks; all the colours of the rainbow on a tasteful black background. And the novelty didn’t stop there, back at the ranch Charles had crafted a new charity box, much bigger than the tatty old one, big enough indeed to kennel a large dog.
Was it just me, or was this circuit particularly hilly? Whatever, eleven Windmillers turned out and most, I hope, got back before the worst of the rain later that afternoon.
For the record, the turnout was: Maurice, Andrew, Charles, Rod, Graham, Martin, Suzanne, Jeremy, Lawrence, Victor and Brian. And, for once, we captured everyone on camera. Here’s the photos, fresh back from the chemist . . .
Thanks are due, as ever, to Maurice for the route, Andrew for logistics and Martin, Jeremy, Charles and Victor for pictures.
We have English, Scots and Irish in the team but, to the best of my knowledge, no Welsh. More’s the pity, as this was a St. David’s Day outing.
And a chilly day it was too as a dozen Windmillers set off – some solo, some in pairs – for a 20 mile ride taking in Elmdon, Arkesden, Clavering, Brent Pelham, Langley Upper Green and Chrishall.
Being the Windmill Club, we are always on the lookout for a windmill photo opportunity. But have you noticed the shocking state of the mill at Brent Pelham? An oil painting it ain’t. Erected in 1826, it was adapted in the 20th century to house a water tank, was clad in corrugated iron and – as you will see below – is now in a very sorry state, indeed. Once Roger has finished restoring Furneux Pelham church maybe he can step in and restore Brent Pelham’s mill to its former glory.
For the record, Monday’s riders included Maurice, Andrew, Charles, Nick, Geoff, Rod, Jeremy, Alan, Suzanne, Graham, Deborah and Brian. Poor old Geoff had to repair a puncture but, apart from that, I believe everybody got around just fine.
Thanks, Maurice and Andrew, for organising things. Charles too for hosting the charity box.
If, like me, these twice weekly outings are the highlight of your lockdown, you will understand just how it lifts the spirit to see a fellow Windmiller pedalling your way. The hail-fellow-well-met is followed by the inevitable question, “What’s news?”, knowing full well your pal will have very little to report, and neither will you. Whereas a year ago we all had stories to swap and issues of the day to debate over a pub lunch, these days it’s just a brief bantered exchange on a country lane.
But there is some good news on the horizon. The end of lockdown is in sight and – come 29th March – it looks like we will be able to resume our Rule-of-Six rides. Welcome news, indeed, but an organisational nightmare for Andrew.
Then on 12 April, pub gardens open. Hallelujah! – 40 days and counting.
For the record, Thursday’s runners and riders were Maurice, Andrew, Laurence, Ken, Graham, Mike, Martin, Suzanne, Brian, Geoff, Deborah, Jenni, Howard, Roger, Alan, Rod and Charles. Phew! That’s 17 Windmillers, all socially distanced, not to mention stone cold sober.
As far as I know, nobody fell off or suffered a puncture. Some even managed to source a coffee at Elsenham or Stansted Mountfitchet, and we hear those two trenchermen, Graham and Mike, somehow managed two breakfasts; one at Flint Cross and another at Great Chishill.
Then there’s Suzanne who did some fifty miles from home, as did Brian from his, and Martin who clocked up a very respectable thirty eight. Deborah’s natty new hi-viz was widely admired – and visible from space. Oh, and Ken and Suzanne found a lovely final resting place; see below.
Much love and thanks, as ever, to Andrew and Maurice for all their efforts; and not forgetting Charles, Martin and Simon for the many excellent photographs.
Riding past Simon’s house on a chilly February morning, Jeremy and Brian spotted the man himself, togged out in gardening attire, trundling a wheel barrow across his estate.
“Not cycling today?” we cried.
“Weather’s not great . . . lots of pruning to do,” came the reply.
Grateful for a breather after the stiff hill climb up to Littlebury Green, we asked to see Simon’s famous ship’s bell. Found in a junk shop, he had lovingly restored it, built a frame to mount it, and given it to his missus for Christmas. It was indeed impressive; big and shiny. What else is there to say about a bell but could we hear it ring, please? Alas, it was a little early and Simon feared his neighbours would run for their air raid shelters.
Once again, Charles hosted the club charity box – this time without the camera trap. It was here that Jeremy and Brian caught up with Andrew. Admiring Jeremy’s new helmet, Andrew and he swapped some rather alarming head injury experiences. That explains a lot, thought Brian.
This day and age, it is hard to believe there is anyone left on the planet who hasn’t taken a selfie. Step up, Deborah Goodman. Her first ever effort, taken while stuffing a fiver into the charity box, shows she needs a bit more practice.
She reported the highlight of her ride was the slice of scrumptious Victoria sponge handed over the hedge by her friend in Langley Upper Green.
For the record, Monday’s team roster was: Alan, Andrew, Brian, Charles, Deborah, Geoff, Graham, Jeremy, Julia, Lawrence, Martin, Maurice, Nick and Suzanne – all spread out over a 19 mile circuit. Let me know if I’ve missed anyone.
Thanks as ever, Andrew and Maurice, for planning and organising everything. Thanks too, Charles, for hosting the charity box.
A goodly number – I reckon it was twelve Windmillers – turned out on the first Monday of 2021 to burn off their Christmas pudding. Riding either solo or in pairs, the roster included: Maurice, Andrew, Deborah, Jenni, Martin, Alan, Charles, Nick, Graham, Lawrence, Suzanne and Brian. Apologies if I have overlooked anyone; do let me know.
Maurice had devised a 23 mile circuit – with the charity box and a basket of beers tucked away on his driveway at Heath Farm – an ideal spot for our resident photographer to snap passing Windmillers.
Alas, it was much too cold for our photographer to linger longer in the hope of snapping further Windmillers and, saddling up, he was last seen heading up the hill to Barkway.
There was an element of competition in the outing: who could turn in the fastest time on the 7 mile section near Heath Farm? Multiple claims, counter claims and allegations – not to mention dodgy historical data (thanks, Sandra) – appeared on the club’s WhatsApp message board – and I, for one, can’t make head or tail of it. It will all be forwarded to the relevant authorities – British Cycling, WADA, Guinness Book of Records, etc – for validation.
Thanks as ever to Maurice for devising the route and providing the refreshments – and to Andrew for rousing us all off our sofas.
PS Lawrence, poor chap, lost his wallet somewhere between Barkway and Barley so, if anyone comes across it, please shout.
Thursday morning saw sixteen Windmillers turn out for a tour of north west Essex, joining the circuit at whichever point was closest to home – some solo, some in pairs – some going clockwise, others anticlockwise – on a route taking in Saffron Walden, Widdington, Rickling, Stocking Pelham, Langley Upper Green – and Littlebury Green, where Simon hosted refreshments and the charity box.
Undaunted by Martin’s warning that much of the county was under water – we did indeed have to negotiate the odd flooded road – somehow we all got through without dismounting and wading.
Howard in particular had a memorable outing, pausing as he did to assist a stranded motorist. Not only had she a flat tyre, but hers was a vehicle equipped with a can of tyre repair sealant instead of a spare wheel. Howard did his best but only succeeded in getting the tyre semi-inflated. Thanking him profusely the lady drove off, only for Howard to encounter her – again with a flat tyre – a short distance down the road. It was time for her to call her family.
Meanwhile, the day was turning out colder than forecast and we were looking forward to stopping off at Poppy’s Barn for coffee, sustenance and warmth. Alas, we had to sit outside and freeze as Geoff, Ken and Deborah had beaten us to it, arriving early and commandeering three separate tables (remember the rules; no household mixing!) Whereupon the proprietor, deciding she could not accommodate any more cyclists inside, asked the rest of us to sit outside. Humph! Neither did it help when Deborah gave us a jolly wave through the window as she tucked into her full English breakfast.
Suffering mild exposure, those of us finishing up at Simon’s were too chilled to consume cold beer and opted instead to stuff our fivers in the charity box and head for home. Poor old Victor and Brian, however, sustained punctures on the way home. Victor, making several stops to pump up his tyre, managed to get home without mending the puncture. No such luck for Brian, who found himself marooned on top of Coploe Hill with a totally flat tyre. Fortunately for him, Martin drove by on his way home, scooped him up and returned him to Great Shelford. Many thanks, Martin.
For the record, this week’s hardy bunch comprised Maurice, Andrew, Alan, Martin, Ken, Deborah, Geoff, Howard, Charles, Lawrence, Graham, Mike, Simon, Roger, Victor and Brian.
Simon reports the charity box yielded £120; well done, team! And thanks, as ever, Maurice and Andrew for organising it all.
Finally, we must just give a special mention to our two pals – Keith and Nigel – who, for various health related reasons, have been unable to join us for the past several months. We miss their company and look forward to them joining us again once things get back to normal in 2021.
According to Wikipedia, the village of Chrishall marks the highest point in Essex, at some 147 metres above sea level. Atop these lofty heights lives our Windmill chum, Charles, who on Thursday was hosting the Club charity box.
Victor and Brian, having cycled from home, had already clocked up 40 miles and stopped to help a stranded cyclist, so we arrived at Charles’ somewhat later than expected. Just as the Union Jack flies over the Palace to signify the queen is in residence, we were hoping the Cross of St George flying over Chalky Lane meant that somebody was home. Letting ourselves in through the side gate, we found the place strangely deserted. Charles was probably walking his many dogs or otherwise airing his cavalry twills. No matter, stuffing our contributions in the charity box, we mounted up and headed back down the hill towards Great Shelford some ten miles distant.
We had enjoyed a delightful outing; perfect autumn weather, beautiful countryside, quiet roads and, every so often, a cheery wave – or a few brief words – exchanged with a Windmiller going the other way.
Our notable moments had included:
Graham passing us on the circuit not once, not twice but three times. The man is a machine!
Judging by the many photographs posted, the big log on the roadside between Little Hormead and Furneux Pelham proved a popular spot to pause for refreshments; we trust everyone sanitised the log before moving on.
Pulling up for a breather in Nuthampstead, we found ourselves outside Bridget Tarrington’s house – and there was the lady herself tending the garden. We had a lovely chat – hopefully overlooked by the lockdown police – separated as we were by Bridget’s garden gate. She sends her love to all and hopes to join us on a Monday ride in the spring.
The aforementioned stranded cyclist was Suz, who we found mending a puncture by the roadside in Great Chishill. Helping out, we realised we had a mutual acquaintance; Suz lives in Wendens Ambo and is a near neighbour of Andrew’s. She was interested to know more about the Windmill Club and, who knows, we may even see her join us on future outings.
Finally, we must thank Maurice for the fine route, Andrew for logistics, and Graham, Simon, Martin and Deb for the many fine photographs.
When cycling with Martin we recommend you bring a good book, or maybe the Times crossword, or even Travel Scrabble – anything to while away the hour it can take to mend one of his punctures. Being such a nice chap, everybody wants to help and for each additional helper you can add another 10 minutes. So Martin plus five helpers equals a one hour puncture repair.
Then there’s the collateral damage; this week’s included three new inner tubes (two exploded), one bicycle pump (also exploded), two CO2 cylinders (fully discharged), not to mention minor injuries (Roger’s finger, bent but not quite broken).
That aside, we enjoyed a delightful ride, Martin leading Geoff, Roger, Charles, Victor and Brian around a 30-odd mile loop from the Packhorse, Moulton to Maglia Rosso and back. Lunch – a little later than usual – was excellent and over a beer or two we swapped stories of Martin’s memorable mendings; the most notable of which include the one outside the Blackwall Tunnel and the one at the vicarage in Comberton. Check them out.
Of Graham’s group, Simon reports . . .
Bike rides are a bit like life. First comes the easy bit when you glide along thinking it’s all going well. What you haven’t noticed of course is that the wind has been behind you.
Out we went through Upper Green and Little Saxham to the bike shop and café at Hawstead Green – Simon, Mike, Deborah and Jenni – ably shepherded by Graham. The weather, in particular the westerly tail wind, was kind to us, apart from a brief hailstorm that forced us to shelter for a few minutes under a tree.
Funny how you don’t notice the wind until you turn and it is blowing in your face. Just like that stage of life when you are building a career and raising a family, you have to keep going. We pedalled on, legs aching, struggling to make headway, the scenery all a bit of a blur; though I do remember there were some busy roads and intimidating drivers to keep us on our toes.
Then came our mid-life crisis where everyone had to rally round with the sole objective of getting back to the pub on-time. On this occasion Deborah had a puncture after we had ridden past some seasonal hedge cutting.
The group came together nicely. We had all the necessary kit but not always the clearest of ideas of how to use it. Still we muddled through and were soon on our way. The descent into Moulton came as a relief and, arriving back at the Pack Horse, we enjoyed a well earned beer.
By next Thursday we may even have the energy to do it all again, with the prospect of more stories, more laughs and finishing with another good lunch and a beer. So here’s to next Thursday. The weather can’t be that bad, can it?
Maurice’s Group . . .
. . . comprising Maurice himself, plus Howard, Ken, Rod, and Alan, had a memorable start, Maurice arriving as he did with a flat car tyre. Rumour has it he has never changed a wheel; “I have people who do that,” he explained. In no time, the Windmillers had his car jacked and the wheel changed in a marginally sub-Formula 1 time. We only hope Martin was watching and learning.
Needless to say, we had all enjoyed a great day out and owe a special thanks to Maurice – for selecting a fine route, Andrew – for getting us organised, and of course, Martin, Graham and Maurice (again) for leading us all safely around the circuit. Thanks, guys.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.