Thursday morning saw seven Windmillers unloading their bikes in the car park of the Fleur de Lys at Widdington. The weather forecast was iffy – wind and a chance of rain – but we were up for it!
Maurice led us out – Andrew, Ken, John B, Chris, Ric and Brian – on an almost traffic free route through Henham, Thaxted and the Bardfields before stopping for coffee and cake at The Blue Egg. Popular with cyclists, the Egg is said to be Mark Cavendish’s favourite re-fuelling stop; and no wonder, the cakes are truly excellent. Brian’s piece of fruitcake could have fed a family of four.
Freighted down with cake, we took to the saddle again for the return leg through Great Sampford, Radwinter and Debden before the final killing climb (into a headwind!) up the hill and back to The Fleur. Landlord Chris had reserved our usual round table by the fire and served us up a superb two course lunch.
The conversation was wide ranging, everything from beer mixes of our youth (Black & Tan, Snakebite, etc) to paper cycle helmets (yes really – check out the BBC story).
Thanks as usual to Routemeister Maurice and Communications Manager, Andrew.
Recent Thursday rides had taken us to Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, London and various other exotic destinations. Indeed, it had been six weeks since we last lunched at The Pheasant. So it was good to be welcomed back with a hug from Ollie and a table by the fireside.
Eight hardy Windmillers – Maurice, Andrew, Sandra, Rod, Vernon, John B, Ken and Brian – had clocked up 30 miles at a fair pace, taking in Barkway, Buntingford, Old Hall Green, Puckeridge and the Pelhams with a halfway stop for coffee and cake at the Something Lovely tea room.
The Pig and Abbot at Abington Pigotts; what a tongue twister! But that was the meeting place for our Thursday morning outing; landlady Pat kindly opening the Pig at 9am, welcoming us with coffee and taking our orders for lunch.
What’s more, it was Vernon’s birthday and rumour had it that he’d be buying the beer, which probably accounted for the good turn out, 10 Windmillers in all: the birthday boy himself plus Maurice, Andrew, John B, Chris, Rick, Sandra, Rod, Ken and Brian.
Maurice had planned – and was going to lead us around – a 30 mile circuit of the lanes north west of Royston. As usual – and just in case any of us went astray – he distributed maps with the route clearly marked. He even left a paper trail of £5 notes*. What could possibly go wrong?
But leading the Windmillers is a bit like herding cats and, before long, our gang was scattered across the Beds / Herts border country. Most notable was Vernon, who did an unplanned visit to Gamlingay and Rod, who had to be chased down and turned around. “I may have been going the wrong way but I wasn’t lost,” he protested.
Eventually, everyone was rounded up and all 10 made it back to the Pig in time for lunch. We were particularly pleased to be joined by John T and Kell. They’d heard Vernon was buying.
*Maurice did indeed lose a fiver out of his back pocket but, miraculously, this was recovered and returned to its rightful owner by Andrew.
An autumnal Thursday morning saw eight hardy Windmillers pedalling off from The Golden Fleece at Braughing to explore the lanes between Puckeridge, Ware and Hertford. Our team roster was: Pete, Maurice, Keith, John B, Sandra, Ric, Chris and Brian. As this was to be Chris’ first ride with the gang we thought it best to keep quiet about the hills ahead.
The highlight of the trip lay between those hills, a picturesque five mile stretch along the River Lea between Stanstead Abbotts and Hertford. Mid way, we stopped for coffee in Ware, though John went AWOL; rumour has it to the Saracen’s Head.
All in all, it was a lovely ride, mostly dry, and with just one minor setback when Brian picked up a puncture thanks to a thorn in his front tyre. The hedge flailing season is upon us again.
We clocked up just over 31 miles (though Iron Man Ric did a further 36 miles to and from our starting point; phew!) before returning to the Golden Fleece for lunch. Nobody enjoyed his beer more than Chris who hadn’t wavered when faced with those challenging Hertfordshire hills. Maurice promises a flatter ride next week.
Thanks to landlord Pete for his hospitality at the Fleece and, as ever, thanks to Maurice for organising everything.
“There’s the problem,” said Andrew, using pliers to extract a piece of wire from Maurice’s tyre, a puncture having brought us to a halt on a quiet lane between Little Saxham and Hargrave. Left to his own devices, Maurice could have fixed things and been on the road again within five minutes – but with seven Windmillers helping it took nigh on half an hour.
We had set out earlier that morning from the Packhorse Inn at Moulton – Maurice, Andrew, Sandra, Martin, John B, Ken, Tom and Brian – on a 30 mile circuit of the countryside between Newmarket and Bury St Edmunds. It was a chilly start but the stiff climb up the hill from Moulton soon warmed us up.
Gazeley, Cavenham and Lackford went by in a whirr and – before we knew it – it was time for a refreshment stop at the West Stow Anglo Saxon Village café. Thankfully, they didn’t expect us to wear loin cloths or apply woad; lycra would do fine.
It was on the next stage that Maurice had his puncture. Why is it always the rear wheel? No worries; between us were carrying more tools than an RAC patrolman, not to mention latex gloves and wet wipes.
Once re-inflated, Maurice led us off again and we completed the ride by lunchtime, returning to the Packhorse hungry, thirsty and with remarkably clean hands.
As ever, the barman queried our order; did we really want one lunch less – and two beers more – than the number of people in our party? We always leave it to John to explain.
The beer was good – Wherry good – and the conversation wide ranging, though some important questions remained unanswered:
How many Windmillers does it take to fix a puncture or change a light bulb? It might be as many as eight.
Have we ever seen a muckier bike chain than Maurice’s?
Are wet wipes as good as Swarfega?
Why does Martin carry child size rubber gloves? Sometimes it’s best not to know.
Thanks to Maurice for leading us once more on an excellent – and virtually traffic free – ride.
A misty autumnal morning saw five Windmillers gathering in the car park of the Fox & Duck at Therfield; Andrew, John B, Keith and Brian giving a warm welcome to Sandra on this, her first Thursday outing with the gang.
Andrew had mapped out our general direction, a 30 mile circuit of North Hertfordshire and, this being his home turf, we left it to John B to pick out the choicest route through Dane End, Sandon, Rushden, Luffenhall and Weston to Baldock where we stopped for refreshment at the Delizia Café. The coffee was very good though John, finding the beer selection (Peroni or nothing) somewhat limited, opted instead for strawberry infused cider, a pink concoction which, we all agreed, looked a bit girly on him.
Refreshed, and now in glorious sunshine, we made short work of the return leg through Bygrave, Ashwell and Kelshall, returning to the Fox & Duck where we were joined by Vernon for a hearty lunch of steak sandwiches. As ever, the conversation ranged widely, everything from plastic fivers to the best way of shearing an alapaca (ask Sandra). In particular, we lamented the absence of our pal John T who we all hope to see out riding again soon.
A gloriously sunny Thursday morning saw just five riders: Maurice, Andrew, John T, Keith and Brian, set out from Widdington on a circular route taking in Berdon, Furneux Pelham, Standon, Little Hadham, Farnham and Elsenham.
Puckeridge being our mid-way point, it seemed only reasonable to stop off at the Something Lovely tea room on the High Street for a caffeine & cake fix. We like this place for the quirky decor (there’s an upside down table & chairs nailed to the ceiling) and excellent home baking, not to mention their tolerance of Keith throwing the crockery about.
Sugar levels restored, we leapt on our saddles and blazed the 17 miles back to the Fleur de Lys at Widdington – just in time to catch the two course over-60s meal deal. We Windmillers like to keep well-provisioned.
Fresh air, exercise, hearty fare and good company: what more could a man want?
The thunderstorms had passed but a combination of overcast skies, holidays, sick notes (Maurice and Martin) and dodgy excuses (Keith was having a haircut) meant that just four Windmillers turned out for our regular Thursday morning ride.
So it was that Andrew, Rick, Alan and Brian set off on a 33 mile tour of the villages to the south of Great Chishill. Andrew led the way and, this being his home patch, guided us around some of the hidden charms of the Essex / Herts border country . . .
Shortgrove Hall, where we stopped off inside the gates to admire the Capability Brown landscape, the beautiful bridge over the Cam and, er, Andrew’s paddocks.
Kell’s house in Newport, where we knocked and asked his missus could Kell come out to play? Indeed he could – so then we were five.
The Cricketer’s Arms, Rickling Green, where we stopped for coffee.
St George’s Church, Anstey, where we viewed the beautiful stained glass window commemorating the US airmen based who were based there in WW2.
Anstey being Keith’s village we also took the opportunity to check out the haircut story. He did indeed appear freshly shorn so we gave him the benefit of the doubt. He even promised to join us at The Pheasant.
Brent Pelham, where Kell tried to convince us that there was a giant buried in St Mary’s churchyard. Another of his tall tales, we thought. But sure enough there is such a legend.
Another sunny Thursday morning saw seven Windmillers setting out from The Black Bull at Balsham for a tour of the lanes around the Cambs / Suffolk border. This was a reprise of the route we did back in April, only this time in a clockwise direction. We were dizzy with anticipation.
The Magnificent Seven – Maurice, Andrew, Vernon, Rick, Ken, Keith and Brian – stopped for an early coffee at The Packhorse Inn, Moulton. Imagine our disappointment, however, when having dismounted, parked up and settled ourselves comfortably in the garden, we were told, “Sorry, but we don’t do cake.” The coffee was fine but there wasn’t even a biscuit to dunk. Slim pickings indeed.
Resuming our ride, Andrew, caffeine-high but sugar-low, pulled up at a nearby Costcutter to procure a Mars Bar. Alas, with no means of deep frying the confection, our resident Scot was forced to eat it raw. Desperate times, desperate measures.
Otherwise, it was another glorious ride with Maurice once again leading us through some delightful countryside (though he did stop once to ask a postman the way) and we clocked up a very respectable 39 miles.
Arriving back in Balsham, Keith discovered his car alarm had been going off at regular intervals in the pub car park. Despite the racket, the manager of the Black Bull welcomed us back with an excellent Portuguese themed lunch and deep draughts from a new barrel of Woodford Wherry.
The weather forecast was for sunny intervals with occasional heavy rain; enough to deter all but the most hardened of Windmillers. So it was that Maurice, Andrew, John B, Ken, Rick, Rod and Brian headed out from Steeple Bumpstead to explore North Essex and the Suffolk borders.
We were all packing wet weather gear and Ken, fearing the worst, had left his shiny new machine at home, opting instead for his trusty old, all-season boneshaker. We were prepared!
But somehow – and with a lot of nimble, last minute route adjustments, Maurice, steered us some 37 miles around the showers and led us back – dry! – to the Fox & Hounds for lunch. How does he do it?
Along the way we stopped for coffee and cake at Buckley’s Tea Rooms in Castle Hedingham, where John B was seen – somewhat sheepishly – sipping an orange juice. And they say Greene King shares have had a turbulent week.
At this point, Rick, having already cycled an additional 20 miles to join us at the start, peeled off homewards while the rest of us continued on through Maplestead, Pebmarsh, Lamarsh, Henny Street (where we thoughtfully made it up to John by stopping for a quick one at The Swan), Middleton, Gestingthorpe and the Yeldhams, before heading back to Steeple Bumpstead for the Fox & Hound’s special combo of black pudding, bacon, asparagus & poached egg. A couple of beers later we were debating Brexit with the locals while the rain fell like stair rods outside. Ah, the English summer!
So there we were sipping our coffees in the front room of The Bell Inn, Kersey, when a vintage car went by in a cloud of steam. Being a naturally inquisitive lot, we exited the pub sharpish and, following the steam clouds, found the owner topping up the boiler at the ford that straddles the village High Street. The 1910 Stanley Steamer was his pride and joy and he was more than happy to tell us all about it. Then with a cheery wave he hopped back in and drove off – more or less silently and at quite a lick – up the hill.
This was just one of the many high points on Thursday’s ride, with Ken, Vernon, Keith, John B, Maurice and Brian enjoying a very pleasant run from Long Melford to Acton, Boxford, beautiful Kersey and then on through Chelsworth before stopping for a long lunch at The Swan, Lavenham. 29 miles in all.
Perhaps the best-known and best-selling steam car was the Stanley Steamer, produced from 1896 to 1924. Between 1899 and 1905, Stanley outsold all gasoline-powered cars, and was second only to the electric cars of the Columbia Automobile Company in the US.It used a compact fire-tube boiler to power a simple double-acting two-cylinder engine. Because of the phenomenal torque available at all engine speeds, the steam car’s engine was typically geared directly to the rear axle, with no clutch or variable speed transmission required. Until 1914, Stanley steam cars vented their exhaust steam directly to the atmosphere, necessitating frequent refilling of the water tank; after 1914, all Stanleys were fitted with a condenser, which considerably reduced their water consumption.
In 1906 the Land Speed Record was broken by a Stanley steam car, piloted by Fred Marriott, which achieved 127 mph (204 km/h) at Ormond Beach, Florida. This annual week-long “Speed Week” was the forerunner of today’s Daytona 500. This record was not exceeded by any car until 1910.
Windmillers Tom & Brian took part in last Sunday’s Tour of Cambridgeshire; an 80 mile run catering for everyone from elite racers to, well, Windmillers like us.
Waiting for the off at the Peterborough Showground, we were just a little apprehensive having rarely pedalled more than 40 miles with Maurice and the gang on our regular Thursday outings. But here we were, Tom in his Marmite outfit and Brian in tomato red, surrounded by fit looking types on fancy machines all talking about about their last enduro race. These guys didn’t look like they were going to stop for a coffee.
The scale of the operation was impressive; 8000 riders had to be registered, our bikes electronically tagged, 80 miles of roads closed to traffic and feeding stations set up along the way ready to dole out industrial quantities of sausage rolls, energy bars, bananas and bottled water. And we were to be shepherded around the Fens by a posse of motorcycle outriders from the National Escort Group.
The first few miles saw some hairy moments. There’s not much room for error with that many riders packed together on winding country lanes and, sure enough, we saw some casualties keeping the paramedics busy. But once out in the Fens we started to relax and enjoy ourselves. The sunshine, the open vistas, the camaraderie; bowling along roads completely free of cars was a real joy.
And with their roads closed to traffic, the locals in the villages really were a captive audience, enjoying beers in the sunshine while, alarmingly, their kids were in the road attempting high fives with cyclists. “C’mon Marmite!” they yelled at Tom.
We also observed that Fenlanders don’t seem to have much regard for Europe. Vote Leave posters were everywhere; we didn’t see a single one for Remain.
We took the first 40 miles at quite a clip. By 50 miles, however, Brian was flagging, whereas Tom was still going strong, encouraged by the vision just ahead who we dubbed Miss Gold. She knows who she is.
The final 10 miles back to the Showground were tough going but we turned in a respectable time of 5½ hours; not bad for dads, we thought.
We also have a healthy respect for the Windmillers recently returned from Scotland. We may have had a long day in the saddle – but they had the additional challenge of steep inclines, loaded panniers and whisky hangovers.
Would we do it again next year? Maybe; but let’s first get over the persistent numbness in our rear ends.
It goes without saying that we regard The Pheasant as our home from home, the mothership to which we return after a hard day’s pedalling. There’s always a warm welcome from Simon and Ollie who tactfully turn a blind eye to our mud spattered entrance at lunchtime.
This Thursday was no exception as John T, John B, Rick, Keith, Ken, Andrew and Brian returned to Great Chishill having clocked up 32 miles, holding up the traffic in Nuthampstead, Anstey, Furneaux Pelham, Manuden, Rickling, Arkesden, Duddenhoe End and all points in between. The final climb up the hill to the Pheasant was as demanding as ever but there were no dismounts and the beer tasted all the better for our efforts.