I did not expect to be riding this week having planned to be in Italy but, having been refused permission to board a flight to Italy at great expense, here I was outside The Red Lion’s Italian restaurant. In Great Sampford. In England.
The expiry date on a UK passport is not the expiry date which is recognised by EU countries. Oh no, that would be too simple. For EU countries the expiry date is ten years from the issue date. You see a ten-year passport must last ten years, ten years exactly. To have an easy time interacting with the EU just try to think like a German. Anything other than ten years would be deviant Anglo-Saxon toying with government rules on and an official document. This might be interesting, even amusing in the arts as witnessed by exports like Mr Bean, Monty Python or the LiveStream of proceedings in the UK parliament. But a passport is not a place for amusing flexibility with rules.
I should add the rest of the world uses the expiry date as printed on the passport. All non-EU countries take the view that the UK government knows best when a UK passport expires, and that it helpfully prints this next to the words ‘expiry date’.
The route was clockwise via Clare Castle, and we split into two groups for the ride.
I’ve always been unable to convince my wife that I disappear each Thursday to go cycling. She remains convinced that I only eat cake, dine then return home smelling of beer. Similarly suspicious females ruined my trip into the wilderness around the castle to answer the call of nature and I was forced return to the busy facilities at the café.
The toilets contained an amusing sign. Amusing that is as long as the UK government continues to grant rail companies exception to the rules concerning the disposal of human waste.
As the head of the rail union recently said “You quickly learn to turn your back and close your mouth when you’re trackside and a train is passing. As I know first-hand.” He went on to suggest that if the government were treated the same way at work then they might apply the rules with more earnestness, saying, “it is our members, not government ministers, who are regularly sprayed with human sewage while working”. In the UK, trackside workers currently need to be inoculated against hepatitis which might be obtained by contact with raw sewage. The practice was to end in 2017, then in 2020, but it has proved to be more convenient for the government to extend impunity from health and safety regulations for a while longer. Naturally I wonder if the EU would find it so amusing or be so flexible with the rules. It is said that taking trains out of service to modify the toilets would inconvenience people travelling to large cities, like London.
I should add that not all of UK industry is as customer focussed as one might expect. Indeed, upon reading about the problem I find that it is mostly the public’s fault. As proof I offer a quote from Richard Parsons, operations director of the train cleaning system specialists Airquick, who confirms that a retrofitting programme “usually takes longer to achieve than planned” (?). “We have installed toilet retention tank emptying systems for retrofitted stock, only for them not to be used for up to 12 months following commissioning”.
OK I think, park one outside the café at Clare Castle and I will happily oblige.
Apparently, it is hard to fit a large enough tank for a gravity fed, water flush toilet anywhere on a train, so our sympathy and indulgence is requested. I note that the airlines use vacuum flushing for that reason. Still, that is an entirely different industry isn’t it, covered by international, not UK only rules.
One of our oft-photographed windmills showing club members old and new; Maurice, Ken and Howard, then Paul an Ian.
Overall a brilliant ride through a very picturesque and quiet route as planned by Maurice, who also organised our meals at the restaurant. After pleasant exercise and a beer in the warm spring sunshine with the club I felt much happier.
I returned home to my wife who said “I suppose you are going to tell me again that you have been cycling?”
Monday’s ride involved Sandra, myself and Nick, Charles and Rod. That the last three have electric bikes becomes more relevant than usual as this story evolves.
After a pretty wet March the start of April at last saw some clear skies and we set off from The Red Cow in Chrishall in good spirits led by Charles who had stepped into the breach and sent out a route via Furneux Pelham.
In an eventful ride, Nick had already fallen off and hurt his wrist and knee while travelling these muddy and pot-holed roads. But then we came to a road closure between Little Hormead and Pelham. We usually ignore these signs of course, considering them more relevant to cars, that’s if they mean anything at all and haven’t just been left out from weeks ago.
This one though was different. Some clues were present which I should have noticed. There were workmen, yes real people actually doing things, with white vans, road signs and stuff. There was a red car ‘not waving but drowning’ as Stevie Smith would have it. And really I should have stopped. I should have thought about club members with big electric batteries on their bikes. I should have turned back when the water got deeper and deeper.
But I didn’t.
There comes a point where you can’t turn round. Where the water is over the front mud-guard and approaching the cross-bar. Having wet legs is one thing, but this was starting to threaten more intimate parts. It was cold, very cold ‘land-water’ and approaching the depth where most wading men hesitate. Still eventually the danger passed and I was out the other side.
To quote Stevie Smith ‘Life is a series of opportunities to be misunderstood’. And I had misunderstood my fellow cyclists willingness to tackle such a challenge. They were sensible, but were now faced with a considerable detour. Shouted instructions from Charles resulted in our reunion in Pelham. I was soaked from mid-thigh down. By the time we got back to the pub my feet were uncomfortably cold.
Still life soon improved with Charles furnishing beer and nuts for the group back at the Cow. So, Simon, ‘look before you leap’ or is it ‘nothing ventured nothing gained’. All I gained this time was a good soaking and a cold ride home. Still Charles came into his own and provided a video of the whole ‘happening’ for your amusement.
It takes a long time after heavy rainfall for the water to run off the land. Blue sky and pleasant weather is no guarantee of shallow pools on the road. Still it’s good to get out and experience your surrounding for real. No virtual cycling for us.
Cold muddy, water though, not a very pleasant experience.
“Ah it’s good to be back” I thought as my wheel-rim clanged into a second pothole filled with muddy-brown water. “I have missed dozens of those this morning and Guatemala has much bigger holes”. I made a mental note to ring the Guatemala Road Authorities and ask them if “after you have had some practice with your own potholes, can they please come and help out in Essex?”
Having listened to the Budget and Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, I was reassured nothing much had changed during my travels. I got up full of enthusiasm on Thursday ready for this weeks ride, ably organised by Graham, from the Rising Sun in Halls Green. I wasn’t sure the sun had actually risen, since it was rather grey. Still the overnight rain was easing, surface water was running down the road and all the potholes were nicely full.
We split into two manageable groups, the first consisting of Charles, Rach, Jeremy, Tom and new-Martin. The second group was Graham, Iain, Rod, Geoff, Victor and Simon. A number of members failed to attend this ride. The common theme seems to be horses; Alan was in Cheltenham choosing slow horses, Andrew was at the horse hospital and Maurice had back-ache from cleaning up after horses (and Lin’s birthday party).
All was well, though my chain came off once, when I selected an easier gear, but at the wrong time. We passed the Nine Wells Farm at Whitwell, which is one of only two watercress farms in Hertfordshire and has been run by the Sansom family for nearly 200 years. There are nine artesian wells in the cress beds, which go down 250ft, hence the farm’s name. They harvest in May and again in very late autumn. The cress is busy flowering during the summer, so they have to leave it to do its own thing.
Graham had chosen the cycling heaven of Spokes Cycling Café in Codicote, which is a quirky and highly distinctive cycle stop for proper cyclists. It has extensive workshops, excellent coffee, cake, Lycra clothing and straw hats just lying around for glabrous* cyclists to try on.
What’s not to like!
*Bald is now recognised in discrimination law as a sex specific insult. The jury is still considering ‘slap-head’ though it may be classified as incitement to unacceptable physical violence. I have tied to keep this blog within currently acceptable guidelines by using almost unknown adjectives for any physical characteristics.
On arrival Victor carefully locked his bike to their rack. He assures me his steed is from this millennium and so eminently nickable. Anyway having carried a lock that size around, he was damn sure he was going to use it. The café facilities were rustic, but cyclists are grateful just for somewhere out of the wind and so these were perfectly acceptable.
Return to the pub was uneventful. My fitness had improved a bit which is always welcome. Graham had arranged a table and pre-ordered the meals. None of this stuff happens without someone making an effort, so we were all grateful to sit down and enjoy a pint and a good meal.
It turned out to be a descent day. No significant rain and fairly warm. A very nice route (thanks to Graham), efficient pub and another good trip for the Windmill Club.
This Thursday saw a beautiful ride from one of our favourite restaurants, The Red Lion at Great Sampford, anticlockwise round this course via Castle Hedingham and back. It was completed by eleven riders.
My day started badly when I put some more air in the tyre, only for it to explode like the crack of a whip, taking the tyre off the rim. I received excellent help from Howard and Alan and was soon back in action. This was just as well since as organizer, I had a number of jobs to do.
It is difficult after many days of mourning and, when an army of journalist and commentators have said so much, for me to say anything new concerning the passing of The Queen.
Nonetheless I will try.
Even those with doubts about the institution of monarchy, with its imperialist overtones, detected considerable virtue in the late Queen. These are the enduring virtues of faith, hope and charity. Other attributes are sometimes admired in modern times, such as great beauty or intellect, riches or sporting prowess, but there is no excuse for us being distracted. The first two are mere accidents of birth, one fleeting the other usable for good or ill. Riches are rarely a measure of person’s quality. After all King Salman is rich, but he is an unlikely role-model. Likewise, we know that someone can be the greatest player in the world one day and a retiree with bad knees the next.
So, we return to the enduring virtues. Faith, adherence to one of the great faiths or the belief that life is better lived when guided by principles and circumscribed by restraints. This was clearly at the centre of The Queen’s life. Hope is so valued because it is infinitely preferable to despair. It gives the strength to move forward in faith, towards trying to create a better world. She was often a source of hope in difficult times. Her charitable efforts were focussed on The Commonwealth. This works for good governance and the elimination of corruption in many of the world’s poorest nations, also in the fight against poverty, ignorance, and disease.
Of course, we know intuitively that more is required in living a ‘good life’ than the avoidance of sin. Pray silence while we name the seven deadly sins in order that they may be recognised. They are; greed, gluttony, idleness, envy, pride, lust and wrath. No, a person is also required to display positive attributes and behaviours as well. For guidance these were identified in ancient times as; courage, truthfulness, the advocacy of fairness, modesty, friendliness, generosity, patience and the lack of self-indulgence. So, there we have it, enough on virtue. At least now we know how to recognise it, maybe we can attempt a little. But carefully and on a small scale.
We set off in two groups. Now, in the middle of September, the start was chilly but things had warmed up by the time we arrived at The Moot House in Castle Hedingham. Here the two groups interacted over the customary coffee and cakes.
There followed some discussion of current ailments. Though, in fact, anyone present would likely be classified as ‘worried well’ by their doctors. Long may that continue. Several members are so comforted by their regular ingestion of statins that they have decided to demonstrate the effectiveness of this wonderful treatment using jam, cream, butter and scones.
The first group made off, while the second visited St. Nicholas Church. This is a beautiful building and we thought how nice it would be on another trip, to climb the tower.
This route, designed by Maurice, took in some exceptionally quite lanes and pretty villages. We were soon back at the pub. Maurice was there to greet us. The food was excellent (again) as was the welcome and organisation.
Another great day out with the club for which we are all so grateful. It only remains for me to follow club tradition when a new monarch is appointed and exclaim;
God save the King!
Also, our precious planet, the National Institutions which give our lives some continuity and predictability. Also our intersecting circles of family and friends, who are always in our thoughts.
Yes, this Monday saw Alan guide us expertly around another course which he had devised. Meanwhile in Westminster we saw the installation of another (expert?) leader, who we hope proves similarly effective at devising a course towards the desired objectives.
‘Course’, of course, is a word with rather too many meanings, so I feel that I need to make myself absolutely clear. I refer to ‘course’ in the course of this write-up in the geographical sense, not the culinary one. Though I don’t deny that Alan’s service to the club could only be enhanced if next time, at the pub, he bought us all a first course. Those who received the gpx on WhatsApp and who still can’t follow the ‘course’, have only one course of action available, that is to take a course in navigation at night-school. I’m pleased to report that during this ride no hare-coursing was spotted and that over the course of time we hope that this will remain the case.
This trivial linguistic diversion has run its course to stop right now. “Focus on the work in hand, Teague, and you may yet rise-up to be average” as my Latin teacher so wisely advised me all those years ago. If only I had listened to those sage words, my life might have stayed on course better than average. But with youthful vitality coursing flowing through my veins, I was not yet ready to listen.
We started from the Bull at Lower Langley. That evening music was to be made by 20 musicians who, the landlord bemoaned, would only drink one pint each. Nick arrived on time having acquired a new cycling computer adding to the variety of gadgets on his bike, including radar. Rod was delayed by leaving the house without cycling accoutrements and had to return to get them. Anyway, it’s safe to say that with Alan armed with Garmin, and Rod and Nick baring clusters of electronics, we were very adequately equipped for a pleasant trip round our local lanes. Myself, I had invested in a new tyre and felt a warm glow, which I knew would not be punctured by future events. A warm glow of satisfaction which only Schwalbe Marathons can provide. Martin completed this high-tec peloton which cycled, through a refreshing, light shower, around the following route.
I mused on the meaning of Truss. Could a failing Houses of Parliament be saved by the placement of a suitable truss, so preventing the roof from finally falling in? Was our previous Prime Minister trussed-up and placed somewhere in which he can no longer prove embarrassing? Will I need a truss when I get my next hernia and find that medical care is no longer available in this country? Will these fine fields provide 36 lb bundles of straw after this year’s modest harvest? Finally, and most importantly, was my Latin teacher, right? Yes, on mature reflection, I think he probably was, and I have written ‘I must not get distracted’ several times on a post-it note as evidence of my contrition.
Since we were passing through Furneux Pelham we felt the urge to stop and bother Roger. But decided not to on closer inspection of the sign at the bottom of his road. Those who know the village will remember two facts relating to this village’s hospitality. The church clock has the motto “Time Flies. Mind your Business'” and a murder took place in the village of a retired Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Workman on 7 January 2004. In true Cluedo fashion, it was the gamekeeper what dunit. He later confessed to another murder while in prison and was sentenced to a minimum of 32 years in 2012. So at least we are safe from that village member. Still discretion being the better part of valour we decided to cycle on with our precious party intact, leaving the Pelhams behind to mind any business but ours.
Finally, we were expertly delivered back to the pub. Cursory examination resulted in us concluding that the road ahead might not be smooth with this chosen leader in place and so the best thing to do was to ‘drink more beer until the economy picks up’. A wise plan, since it is probably best not to approach this future entirely sober. There we go. We are lucky, we know it, we are grateful.
With Maurice out of action for a while and Dawg experiencing a series of mishaps and away-days, the organisation of this trip fell to The Reverend (Martin). A brief exploration during the week and consultation with his walking/dining club highlighted a new pub, ‘The Red Lion’ in Great Sampford. This is run by the former tenants of ‘The Gate’ in Saffron Walden. They demonstrated that they were able to transfer the production of excellent Italian food and super-efficient service to their new location.
A large turnout required splitting the group into three pelotons. It was a 35mile ride anti-clockwise round this circuit. I had somehow got into the first group which proceeded at lightning speed, mostly led by Hazel but with Alan, Graham, Howard and Jenni hanging in there. Luckily, I was on my carbon fibre racer.
I do remember seeing Castle Hedingham flash by in the corner of my eye. Charles, Geoff, Rod, Ken, and Keith however stopped to absorb some of its 800-year history. Robert de Vere (note the Norman name) who owned the castle at Hedingham in 1215 was one of the 25 barons who were sufficiently upset with King John, to risk death in forcing the King to sign the Magna Carta. He had raised their taxes. Most revolutions start that way of course; Wat Tyler′s rebellion (pol tax), French Revolution, American Revolution, Russian Revolution …. Wikipedia lists another 300 or so more, in just about every country in the world. I wonder, has there ever been a revolution about anything other than tax?
For those interesting in such things, only three clauses in the Magna Carta still remain in law: the freedom of the Church of England, the liberties of the ‘square mile’ (City of London) and our freedom from unlawful imprisonment. So here is today’s quick question, which part of the UK is not governed by the democratic principle of one citizen one vote? Answer, local government in ‘The City’. Which has its own mayor and police but not the inconvenience of voting.
Halfway coffee and cake were at Spencer’s Farm Shop in Wickham StPaul. It has an extensive children’s play area, but little people had got there first, and we were unable to get on anything so had to make do with just our drinks. Graham spotted a new WINDMILL and did it justice with a super photo. At least somebody is keeping look-out and taking club responsibilities seriously. I see one group also stopped at one of our perennial favourites. My group didn’t do stopping.
It has been extremely dry, and the harvest has come in early this year. A parked combine harvester allowed us to combine a close-up of the machinery with one of happy members of our group. The clay is so dry and cracked that Alan could park his bike in the fissures opened up by the drought-like conditions. I marvelled at the teeth on this thing, making a mental note never to get run down by one.
Safely back at the Red Lion before the worst of the mid-day heat a drink or two was called for. Maurice met us back at the pub ready to enjoy that part of the day. The food was a level above the usual and service very prompt. We count ourselves lucky to have so much good cycling and visitable pubs within a short drive of home.
This club will go a long way for a good ride, and this was proven true yet again with this week’s effort. We got up ready for a 7.30 (am!) start, despite having attained the hallowed status of ‘pensioners’, then drove right across Essex. Many members shared cars and we packed into the YMCA carpark while making them a donation. It was good to see Mike again after his move to this part of the country.
Brightlingsea was a renowned oyster fishery. After lunch, Martin was able to vouch for the continuing quality of their output. The town is also famous for the Battle of Brightlingsea in 1995. This was 9 months of protest against the export of live animals from the town for slaughter in Europe. In all 598 people were arrested, of whom 421 were local residents. Both the media and the authorities were “taken by surprise by the intensity of support” which “challenged the…stereotype of the typical animal rights protestor”. That organ of loony left-wing propaganda, The Daily Telegraph, characterised the protestors as “middle class, moral and mad as hell”. Tilly Merritt, a 79-year-old local woman, was convicted of assaulting a police constable by spraying him with water from a garden hose. She was sentenced to 2 days imprisonment, having refused to pay a fine. She was released when well-wishers paid while she waited in the prison van taking her to Holloway. The campaigners eventually won, and the live exports ceased.
Riding clockwise we enjoyed the sight of the UK’s largest village green at Great Bentley. Other contenders include West Auckland and Old Buckenham, but at 22 acres Great Bentley is the biggest. We soon arrived at the halfway point, Walton-on-the-Naze. Naze, derived from Old English næss “ness, promontory, headland”. The tower was built as a sea-mark to assist ships on this otherwise fairly featureless coast. The area is prone to coastal erosion. The medieval village of Walton now lies nine miles out to sea. The Naze is eroding at about 2 metres per year. WWll cliff-side pill-boxes are now located on the beach.
The cliffs are composed of a 2-million-year-old rock-type called Red Crag on top of a base of London Clay, which is 54 million years old. Red Crag contains many fossils including gastropod shells, sharks’ teeth, and whale bones.
Fortified by cake and drinks we set off down the coastal-path through Frinton, Holland-on-sea, via Gunfleet and on to Clacton. These are rather up-market seaside towns. Especially the rather austere Holland-on-sea with manicured coastal parks and no seaside pubs. Still Clacton looks enjoyable with its pier and tidy beachside area.
And from Clacton you can see wind turbines! Being a forward-looking club, we have accepted these as almost as good as Windmills. And as you would expect we are indeed obsessed by Windmills.
The Gunfleet array is visible from Clacton Pier and consists of 48 turbines. Since 2010 it has produced 500 GWh at £122 per MWh. Is that a lot I hear you ask? No, it isn’t, since the UK needs 300,000 GWh, so it’s 0.16% but it is not the only array on this bit of coast and the power is cheap, clean and made near where it is to be used.
The areal shot is of the several other larger arrays off this bit of coast. Authoritative, Lazard’s investment bank, analysis shows just how cheap ‘alternative’ power has become. Those living in low lying areas around the coast her may find power from CO2 producing, natural gas isn’t as cheap as it looks on this graph, having paid for flood insurance. Economists and their ‘externalities’ (aka. other people’s costs) aren’t helping the reputation of experts in general. One of the most famous of them said the quality of their ‘science’ was ‘dismal’. I don’t demure from that, I just object to them calling it a science.
By way of contrast our next destination on the coast was Jaywick. Having measured the states of deprivation across 32,844 areas in the country, researchers concluded that this is the most deprived region. Originally it was built as a holiday resort just before World War II. The war resulted a housing shortage and so the camp became permanent. The original lay-out was in the shape of a car radiator grille, with the roads named after various vehicle manufacturers. East End’ers were sold small plots and encouraged to self-build. What could possibly go wrong with that during the post-war shortage of materials? The plans for landscaping the development, along with a lake and a sports centre, strangely never materialised after the plots had been sold.
The local authority points out that the properties are sited on marshland, road improvements have a short lifespan and are quickly damaged by bad weather. In 1953 flooding killed 35 people. There were also evacuations in December 2013 and January 2017 with schools and other expensive infrastructure devastated. With poor roads and little other transport, a 2011 report saw 62% of working age residents receive benefits, compared a 15% national average. Absentee landlords find buying houses here cheap and that the rents then get paid as part of benefits, thus extracting easy money from the taxpayer. Nor is living in Jaywick much fun. A 2013 fresh-food survey found only “a bag of blackened bananas” and “potatoes at £2.29 per 2kg” within 1 mile of its centre. But then who would build a shop in a poor area that gets flooded every 4 years? Health costs are also high per capita. So, the “red tape” of planning permission saves us all money in the end. Wow what a surprise? Must get round to reading the Grenfell report.
Along the way we also saw Martello towers. These are named after the original one at Mortella (Myrtle) Point, Corsica but, they got the name wrong, misspelling “Mortella” as “Martello” which means “hammer” in Italian. The towers are 12M high with walls about 2.5M thick. Entry is by ladder to a door about 3M from the base. The garrison of 24 men and one officer lived on the first floor. The officer and men lived in separate rooms of almost equal size it is proudly noted noted in the historical write-up. Nothing much has changed then, with modern flats about the size of 1/24 of the size of a proper house.
On our way back to Brightlingsea we passed through St Osyth, named after a 7th-century princess and saint. She was forced into an unwanted marriage and ran off while her husband was hunting. She then persuaded two local bishops to accept her vows as a nun. Her husband returned, and after a polite but brief protest, he granted her some land where she established a convent. She was later beheaded by some raiding pirates, while resisting being carried off. Oh dear, never would have predicted that, on the coast and in such a remote bit of Essex. Still in the intervening 1300 years women have evolved safer, more low-key excuses; periods of inconvenience, headaches and urgent demands on their time, such as knitting and listening to the Archers
The return to Brightlingsea required a ferry ride. We had to take our bikes onto a small sand bank in the estuary to be picked up. The tide was coming in rapidly and the first group arrived at the pick-up almost dry while the second group needed to wade.
The pub had excellent food and a great view. This was a brilliant day out and thanks to Maurice and Martin for their organisation
The first human-muscle-powered flight using flapping wings occurred on 20 April 2006, with a flight of 64 metres (210 ft). It’s all about power to weight of course, but then fixed winged aeroplanes, ornithopters and helicopters are all fairly hopeless without engines. In fact there are considerable advantages in not having fixed wings, these include; manoeuvrability, vertical take-off/landing and excellent slow speed energy performance, as the hawks demonstrate for us on every ride. It is fairly easy to build a miniature ornithopter that works well when powered by rubber bands or springs. The record flight time for an indoor, rubber-band powered, wing-flapping machine is 21 minutes, 44 seconds. So maybe E. P. Frost wasn’t so daft after all.
Coffee and cake half way round saw the two groups meet.
The return half of this route into wind turned out to be a struggle both for myself and some other Windmiller’s. A fit human can output 300 Watts for a few minutes (0.4 mechanical horsepower) an insect produces the equivalent, mass for mass, of 8000 Watts, which is why we can’t fly. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7810379/ This frailty became all too evident as I pushed on into the wind and towards the pub.
Having arrived and caught my breath, the Chestnut Tree staff were so organised and welcoming, which is why we keep coming back.
All in all a very nice ride, especially considering the time of year. Thanks to Maurice, Andrew and all those photographers. Let’s hope we can keep cycling during this winter spell.
In a recent address to COP26, The Queen, also The Supreme Governor* of the Church of England, took time to remind us that, “nobody lives for ever.” Windmiller’s, are mostly in their 60’s and 70’s and ride 30 miles or more each week around the beautiful lanes of East Anglia. Each week they spend an extended lunchtime in the pub with their friends. I know none of them takes this good fortune for granted. That would be ridiculous. A memorial ride for Vernon then serves to remind us of a valued, founder member of the club and of our own good luck in being able to carry on the tradition.
We started at the Pig and Abbot in Abington Pigotts with tea, coffee and most importantly on this cold, windy day, biscuits.
The first group to set off had to chase Maurice down the road. I remember them being Sandra, Alan, Geoff, Deborah, Jenni. Mercifully Andrew was in a more relaxed mood with the second group, Rod, Tom, Howard, Nigel, Victor, Charles and me. Howard and I got lost during the first half. I admit we were chatting and not paying much attention. It wasn’t Andrew’s fault; he was following the prescribed route and we weren’t. Still, I was in good hands with Howard, and we caught up just before coffee at Waresley Park Garden Centre after an exhausting pedal into the wind.
The way I remember it, after coffee, the cycling was easy. The wind was behind us and the weather was slowly improving.
Vernon’s wife Moria and one of his sons (Giles) as well as family friends we already at the pub to greet the returning Windmillers
Ken, Brian and Hazel entered into the current fashion for saving energy, by missing the cycling and going straight to the pub. Graham missed out due to a pulled muscle, we wish him a speedy recovery. After due consideration it was decided that Lawrence and Simon (Oughton) also had good enough excuses for absence. Our best wishes go out to them.
Andrew made a moving speech recalling Vernon’s time with the club. In Windmill tradition, nobody gets off lightly in these retellings. The involuntary dismounts, the bikes scooped from the top of the car by height barriers, the crashes, the punchers. Rest assured they are all being recorded for when its your turn. I suppose they will say of me, we don’t where he is, but don’t worry, he won’t know either.
Moria was presented with Vernon’s Windmiller of the year award which had been delayed by the pandemic and with a beautiful portrait of Vernon looking relaxed after a good summer ride. This was a great choice by Maurice and just the way we remember years of cycling with Vernon.
Myself, the first word that comes to mind when I think of Vernon is, gentleman. He was unfailingly kind and generous to me. I also hope I might emulate his example. His zest for life, where he kept on golfing and cycling even in his late seventies and facing a terminal illness, also the way he approached the end of his life, with stoicism, dignity, and good humour.
So here’s to club members that contribute to the smooth running of the club, or to its entertainment value or to those who simply form the steady bedrock of our meeting week-in week-out. Maurice and Andrew are thanked once again for their efforts at the core of things.
*The Bible explicitly identifies as Head of the Church as being Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:23), so that position isn’t available.
Having assembled at one of our favourite pubs, The Golden Fleece, we set off in good spirits on a warm September morning.
Maurice needed his spare electric bike back from Lawrence, his other one having been hit by a car. Lawrence undeterred by an imminent, major operation, made it round this 30 mile ride on a standard bike. An amazing effort, only slightly assisted by a gentle push from Charles on one or two of the hills. They displayed bravery and care for other club members in the highest traditions of the Windmillers.
The highlight of this tour was the stop at The Silver Lees Polo Club owned by a mate of Maurice’s. Located in the verdant countryside to the west of Bishop’s Stortford. Despite the undoubted quality of our membership, only a few had been active polo players in their youth. Charles had played in 1977 in Quetta, Pakistan, during his military service. From the photos I see that grass was less plentiful there, but I am told that poppies do grow better.
The lady making the coffees spoke English with a southern hemisphere accent. Andrew of course immediately placed her origin to a small area of hills on the Southern Cape. Cue a conversation about the fine wines and horse riding in that part of South Africa. He never ceases to amaze me.
Horses are hard work and expensive of course. I’m told that each rider needs six ponies each to partake in a polo match. There are six riders a side, well you work it out, some full time staff are needed to keep the show on the road. The sport might be a bit expensive for your average Joe, but there you go, we were made very welcome.
The horses are exercised several at a time. The staff made riding multiple horses simultaneously look easy. In the past I have struggled with just the one. They run around a track made of shredded old carpet which is easier on their feet than sand. I always wondered what to do with all those off-cuts we have from when the bedroom was done. I can now make good use of them, I just need to buy a polo pony. Or six. I’m currently awaiting permission from my dear wife.
I also made a late entry for the ‘gaudiest cyclewear of the year award’. But the competition is fierce with several shirts in the running and Charles’s socks being in a category all of their own.
This was a great morning ride through some of the prettiest villages in England. Special thanks go to Maurice and his generous friends inviting us to the polo club. Deputy Daug for the organising and to those who donated so many nice photos to the photo-share.
A good time to be riding with the club, as our ever increasing membership proves.
This route started from the The Cock at Henham. It was rather a relaxed start with coffee quietly enjoyed, meals chosen and photos taken of members with new and exceedingly bright kit.
Exactly which route you took depended on the group that you were in it seems. Andrew introduced a change to the route prescribed by Maurice, but each turned out to be around the 30 mile mark.
Group 1; Simon, Graham, Rod, Geoff, Deborah, Andrew, Charles and later Suzann made their first stop in Thaxted. This is a place famous for the music of Morris Men and the English composer Gustaf Holst (1874-1934) who is renown for The Planets, which he wrote while living in Thaxted. He is also famous for the hymn tune “I Vow to Thee, My Country”. First performed in 1921, it is now associated with Remembrance Day services. It was used at the funeral of Winston Churchill in 1965, Diana’s funeral in 1997, Thatcher’s in 2013 and most recently at that of Captain Sir Tom Moore’s in February 2021. Still half the country is uncomfortable with the very existence of nationalism, let alone its musical expression, so we quickly rode on.
Group 2 (Brian, Hazel, Roger, Maurice, Howard, Rick, Ken, Alan) and Group 1 met up at Tilty Abby. Little remains of the Abby, but the parish church erected on its perimeter is still there. Here people might pray without disturbing the monks or indeed without seeing the extent of church property and lands.
The Abby was destroyed in 1539. The ‘Act of Supremacy’ declaring ‘England is an independent country in every respect’ had been passed in 1534, so I guess the writing was on the wall. The final jurisdiction for Law had been in Rome. Church taxes were paid straight there. Any comparisons with the ECJ and EU bodies of today is purely coincidental.
Resentment at the wealth of the Catholic Church and it’s practices (purchase of indulgencies, idolatry, veneration of relics etc) had started on the continent, particularly in northern Germany, then spread to England. The result was an outburst of religious ferocity like that we now associate with the Middle East. It is estimated that 95% of all the art in England was lost during this period, mostly burned. Abby’s were torn apart and their stone reused, the land was seized. The sanitized version, concerning a King and his choice of wives is now taught in school. The reality and politics involved must have been a lot more frightening at the time.
We thank Deborah for buying the beer on her birthday, Andrew for organizing and leading a group. Also to Maurice for route planning. This was a glorious morning cycle in a period when the weather has been a bit changeable to say the least. A great day out for all the club.
We are told, by those in authority, that it now safe to dine indoors. On this cold, windy day ‘The Club’ was happy enough to comply. The prevailing attitude to authority however remains unchanged. This is probably best summed up by the pub’s name, the ‘Pig and Abbott’.
Unsettling behaviour between authority figures and farm animals is nothing new. For instance David Cameron’s ‘pig-gate’ was just a distant echo of similar accusations levelled at Lyndon Johnson and numerous other authority figures down the centuries. Still we’ll be back soon enough to our favourite pubs like the ‘Fox and Duck’, the ‘Axe and Compass’, even the ‘Fez and Ant’, all in good time.
We split into two groups. One lead by Martin and the other by Maurice. Martin contrived to give the first group a head start by having a late tinker with his chain. Deborah had come with what looked like a child’s bike she had borrowed. Still it stops her tearing away and making us all look bad I suppose.
Excellent turnout considering the weather: Brian, Alan, Geoff, Rod, Charles, Maurice, Ric, Ken, Deborah, Roger, Howard, Graham, Mike, Suzanne, Nigel, Martin and Simon. All this despite the absence of stalwart members; Andrew, Chris, Victor, Jenny and Lawrence.
The ride past through two rather famous villages in Bedfordshire. The first was Wrestlingworth. Here lived the last woman to be publicly hanged in England (so far),1840. She was on her third husband aged 25, but was rather too fond of arsenic, apparently. A person killed using arsenic exudes a very characteristic odour upon decomposition (arsine gas, any chemist can tell you that). Her previous husbands were exhumed and she was held at The Chequers in Wrestlingworth before being hanged outside Bedford Assizes. The whole village went along for the event, so it is said. Of course they say Capital Punishment wouldn’t be as popular now, but I bet you I could still sell tickets. The refreshments franchise would also be worth having.
The other famous village we cycled through is of course, Cockayne Hatley.
In the churchyard there is a fine gravestone of the poet W. E. Henley (1849-1903). He wrote the poem ‘Invictus’ (invincible) now made more famous by the ‘Invictus Games’. Last verse is the most famous,
It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.
He lost a leg in teenage and was an inspiration to his friend, Robert Louis Stevenson, who invented the Long John Silver character, having been inspired by Henley’s determined, can-do attitude. Actually Henley almost lost his other leg as well, but it was saved by Lister who had just started experimenting with antiseptics (1870). Still it must have hurt a lot, since anaesthetics only came along a bit later when they were famously used on Queen Victoria to help during childbirth.
Henley’s poem was quoted by Churchill ‘We are still masters of our fate. We still are captains of our souls’ during a difficult period in1941. Also by Nelson Mandela on release from Robin Island and by Barack Obama at Mandela’s funeral oration. Also by prisoners of war in Vietnam, writing it using rat droppings. Also in various Nobel Prize addresses. Well you get the general idea. It’s sort of famous and from Cockayne Hartley in Bedfordshire.
Half-way coffee and a cake at Waresley were most welcome, in one of the most efficient of all the coffee stops we use. If only Wimpole would come along and see how it is done.
The Pig and Abbott had supplied coffee and biscuits at the off and again made every effort to make us welcome at the end. Our own space and excellent food and beer. Inside at last! The rain held off (just). The wind steadily increased but we were safely ensconced in the pub before the bad weather settled in.
It was Alan’s birthday and he kindly bought the drinks. He received the customary candle and celebratory singing.
We thank Andrew for the arranging and hope he can grit his teeth and make it out on Monday. Also Maurice who is still providing us varied routes. We thank him. We are all grateful to have got through the last year as an active club, unscathed.
It will only get better from here on in. Won’t it?
It’s not going to be like being released from Robin Island or involve any writing using rat shit, hopefully. No, I’m ‘captain of my soul’ and remain unreasonably optimistic, despite any infirmities.
Monday 19th April 2021. Our second Monday starting from the Red Cow in Chrishall, with last week’s cold winds starting to ease. An excellent turnout which formed into two groups; Victor, Maurice, Deborah, Jenny, Suzanne and then Rod, Charles, Sandra, Andrew and myself (Simon). The route was as last week but in the reverse direction.
Nice dry weather, the hedges in masses of white blossom. No leaves on the trees, daffodils starting to go over and blue-bells appearing in sheltered spots. Very much nicer to be riding in groups with the prospect of a sociable drink at the end. Life was getting back to something like normal. £4 a shot for AstraZeneca, even £30 for Pfizer. Feels like a bargain.
Flags were at half-mast after the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral. I was informed, by our military contingent, that most citizens had even hung their flags the right way up. Not something you can always rely on apparently,
they were just not at quite the right height.
The UK flag is formed from those of the English, Scottish and Irish. The Welsh representative had presumably nipped out for leek.
The English overlays the Scottish saltire. In the unlikely event that Scotland had won various of the battles, the flag would have looked rather different. The Irish cross was added later. The overlay is jigged a bit (the correct term is ‘counter-charged’) ensuring that a bit more of ‘Andrew’ is showing than Patrick in the all important top left area. Thus in the Union Flag, George takes precedence over Andrew, and Andrew over Patrick.
You idiots! Half-mast does not mean half way up the pole. Essex residents failed this test in significant numbers. So that members of this auspicious club do not make egregious errors, I include the correct protocol here.
In your citizenship test you may be asked the correct location of your flag, relative to the finial, during different periods of national commemoration. So as to avoid the dire consequence of having to live somewhere awful, like France, Switzerland, worst case scenario Belgium, please pay attention to the instructions here.
Once we escaped the distraction of miss-hung flags the ride settled down to the usual routine. Andrew’s bike failed after the first couple of miles. Schwalabe Marathons in tact, but the rest of the bike rebelling to such a degree he had to return home. Sandra took up the role of leader most effectively. Great to have her back with us.
We eventually caught up with Maurice’s group who had also had their troubles. Charles took the opportunity for some photos
Eventually we made it back to the Red Cow where Andrew had booked tables (three cheers to Andrew who looks after us all so well). John was already a pint or two in. Martin was even better informed about dinosaurs, having been on grandfathering duty.
As is the fine tradition in the club, beers were drunk and light refreshment taken in the cooling night air. Things were indeed getting better. ‘All will be well’ as we look forward to many rides yet. We thank Maurice and Andrew for their efforts.
The end of an era. ‘No point in complaining, better just crack on with it’.
This Thursday the 18th March was a route through some of our favourite villages. There was a distinct feel that we are now nearing the end of the pandemic. Still adhering to the rules (in outline) we set off AC and DC from our chosen starting points, several people opting to ride as a two for a bit of company.
A brilliant turn-out considering how cold it was including: Andrew, Martin, Ken, Lawrence, Simon, Maurice, Charles, Roger, Rod, Geoff, Alan, Howard, Graham, Brian, Mike, Deborah and Jenni.
It’s been a year since lock-downs started. Once again, the Thriplow Daffodil Festival has been a casualty. Now I know what Wordsworth meant as, from under my own cloud, the daffodils started to raise my spirits.
Lock-down encourages indulging oneself in some way and I am sure some of these indulgencies could be destructive. Drugs, drink, gambling perhaps? No, I think I will save those for the fourth wave. Cake? Now you are talking. For the most part club members demonstrated their disciplined natures by cycling past; El Cafecito Long lane, Fowlmere, Royston, SG8 7TG and the Moringa tree 11A Church Street, Haslingfield CB23 1JE.
I found that one hard.
Hot Numbers Roastery at Wrights Mowers Dunsbridge Turnpike, Shepreth SG8 6RB. Too far out of the way. The Old Rectory at Wimpole Estate Arrington SG8 0BW. Too slow, I could be dead of hypoglycaemia before getting any cake.
I’m told, in fact I know, there are several other cafes preying on the weakness of weary cyclists. I thought we might set up a cake-Samaritans helpline, in case we have members who need further help. All in the strictest confidence of course.
The clockwise group were encountered almost exactly halfway round. I still can’t believe how well Martin’s plan for lock-down rides has worked, and kept the club going in difficult times.
We finished up having an impromptu cycling club get together at the top of the hill, on the new multipurpose trail which now goes around the grounds of Wimpole. The whole estate has had an amazing amount of work done on it during this last year. Martin and Penny had done useful reconnaissance the previous day so we were able to enjoy it.
Scientists have studied why people like to climb hills and admire the view. The practice is popular round the world and through the ages. Apparently, people find it makes them feel secure. You can see enemies coming from miles off and prepare a defence they say. I suppose they never thought that the person next to you might have some deadly disease. Still, mostly they haven’t, they just want your cake, so you may need to defend that.
The new trail includes a variety of habitats including lovely open views, the lake, ice-house and gentle curves cutting through woods. It’s been carefully planned and will be beautiful as it settles down through the summer.
Don’t think old logs, think habitat. Insects, food for birds. Also much less hard work. Just leave stuff alone. See Bertrand Russell essay ‘In praise of idleness’
At the start of Wimpole’s trail, we came across a barn of ‘old’ farm machinery ready for heritage demonstrations of yester-year’s farming technologies. Andrew denied that the machines were in fact old, declaring, “I used one of those at school. It’s a ‘tatty harvester’ just like the one at my school’s farming club”.
As the machine is pulled forwards the flail at the back rotates. Heavy wires penetrate the ground to a depth of several inches, gouge through the soil and flick the potatoes out into the light.
I’m told that this type of machine, when used by schoolboys, is very safe. That is, safe to assume that if a boy isn’t paying attention to the lesson, the machine will pick them up and flick them over the nearest hedge. I’ve done a little teaching and can certainly appreciate how much this machine would appeal to schoolmasters.
We have always been very pleased to have Andrew here with us in the club, but now we know that we are also very lucky.
Nice route. Thanks to Maurice, Andrew for organising, Lawrence for hosting, Graham for gpx skills and several club members for coffee shop recommendations. All together now; ‘are we there yet, I’m so bored’.
I know corona virus is all around us, but these are not tough days, these are challenging days. These are some of the most challenging days we have ever known. The challenge of course is to stay fit and sane, so that you are ready for when things finally perk up. Think warm spring sunshine, a pint in one hand. You know you can do it, take it one day at a time.
From Littlebury Green I set off clockwise up the hill heading for the Royston road. I needed a breather by the time I got to the radio-tower at the top of the hill. Too much turkey and Christmas pud I suppose. I took a photo and thought, ‘I wonder why those aerials are all different shapes. I bet there are people for whom that is fascinating’. And sure, enough there are fans of radio-towers. You can buy a list of them or download the android app (mastdata), then visit them and tick them off. There are 2342 authentic ones around the country and websites for enthusiasts who add annotated photos and leave comments. I have included one such here.
LTE is ‘long term evolution’ for the uninitiated, a step in our journey to 5G. My wife didn’t find anything about this surprising. She simply said, ‘I know, I have dated men like than’.
The route was like this:
It’s always a relief to encounter fellow club members on the ride. It means you have got the right day, no mean feat during lock-down. And that you are on the right route, very reassuring when you are as bad at routes as me. I was well into the ride and feeling pigeon poetry coming on before meeting Alan. Very soon Julia and Graham past me. A little later Lawrence and I cycled on, within the rules, for much of the rest of the trip.
Both Rod and Lawrence had close encounters with lorries carrying straw, which are a common hazard this time of year. Either they cover the road with slimy straw or retain some of it on their trailers and push you off the road instead. Likewise, Andrew had the customary 4 by 4 encounter.
Just because it’s quiet doesn’t mean it’s safe of course.
Club members were able to avail themselves of a new charity box. We raised £60 which I think is commendable for a cold Monday.
We received doctor’s notes to be excused ‘physical education’ from Deborah, who planned to ride but was too tired after Samaritan’s work in the night and Martin with a case of digging-man’s-back. Brian had a good long ride which only overlapped with ours for a very few miles. Those attending in a more conventional sense were Andrew, Rod, Charles, Geoff, Graham, Alan, Lawrence, Maurice. It was a great pleasure to see you all and to know that you are all up for the ‘I’ll still be here after this bloody virus’ challenge.
Since I know some of you are parents with ‘returning’ off-spring I thought I would share with you the following story. It started with a mystery. My son who lives in the other half of the house, beyond the conservatory, would walk through into the main house, use the facilities then return to his domain. Puzzled I eventually enquired why, since there is a bathroom and toilet in his self-contained area. The reply was, ‘well sometimes it smells, and I am working all the time over there’. Yes, I thought that’s why you are an economist. That’s the way most big businesses behave.
Next Thursday’s ride will be on Friday. As if I weren’t already sufficiently disorientated. By way of retaliation I finish with more pigeon poetry, which various club members have assured me is indeed, very bad. Well here you go, you deserve it.
Pigeon. Early life and career.
I grew up in the North with green fields aplenty And won my first race by the time I was twenty Talented they said, contact a pigeon fancier With wind in my ears what I heard was ‘financier’
To London I went, fine place for a young pigeon So much money to make, no time for religion With pigeons of all types, race was no barrier Did business with fantails, homing and carrier
I know making money is a pursuit sometimes vulgar Still they built me a tall perch in a square called Trafalgar With grey sky above me, some dreary Admiral below Doing business was easy for this bird in the know
They came crying help! for my business is blighted You’re a smart pigeon, so clever, farsighted Being able to see things from great elevation I got rich doing deals between business and nation
I retired to Essex where the sky is much bluer With big fields of grain and where people are fewer Enjoying apple buds in the spring and grain in the fall Being a healthy old pigeon is no trouble at all
For Thursday 19th November Maurice had set an unusual course; a figure of eight, with Haslingfield at the centre and Burwash Manor as the coffee stop. On this occasion the pleasure to be derived from the trip depended on whether you did it in the morning, as 16 people did, or later after the rain had mostly passed, as did Deborah and Jenni.
Eight has long been regarded as the luckiest number in Chinese culture. The opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics started at 8 seconds and 8 minutes past 8 pm on 8 the August 2008. Jesus was resurrected on the 8th day after Passover. Spanish gold was known “pieces of eight”. The 8-ball is the key to snooker. Everything will be OK on this course I felt, what can possibly go wrong?
There’s no getting over it, the weather was dismal, but I set off hoping to see people and receive a cheery wave. I donned wet weather gear and reached Ickleton unscathed, then visited the charity box at Martin’s. To my delight CHOCOLATE BISCUITS to keep out the cold, top chap. And beer. Better drink that later, after all it’s only 9.50. Still I am beginning to understand why they make alcohol expensive in Nordic countries. Goodness isn’t it grey. On I go Hinxton, nobody, Duxford, nobody. Whittlesford. Where are you all? At Newton I check my phone. Yes it’s Thursday, yes I have the right map, but where are 16 of you? Uncharitably I think, they must have looked out of the window and gone back to bed.
The rain wasn’t hard, just enough to keep me in wet-weather gear. It was grey though. I thought what shall I do to cheer myself up? I know compose a poem, so here it is.
A poem by Hannibal the
Alliterative, Little, Lecter of Littlebury.
There were eight pigeons on that wire
In spring they ate all my apple-tree buds
Some birds I ‘ate because they are destructive (and don’t sing)
As a convicted multiple murderer of pigeons
Unrepentant, I will scratch on my cell wall
I ate, the eight fat pigeons I ‘ate.
And I don’t care.
To forestall the obvious literary criticism, I know these are homophones, a subset of homonyms and not alliterative, but this art not English Language A-level, so give me a break. Now you understand how bored I had become.
Finally I struck gold, none other than Maurice and how glad I was to see him. Not long after that, my cup over-floweth, Victor too. Victor had started with Brian, but Brian had pulled out, faced by impending hills and a complaining back. Victor was about to give up and go home, but now I knew everything was going to be alright. You see I knew 8 was a lucky number.
The weather steadily improved as we made our way round. We encountered increasing numbers of club members. Good to see you all and to have a chat in these lock-down days.
I say the weather improved, it did so to such a degree that by the time Deborah and Jenni had done the circuit they were able to capture these amazing images
By the end of the day one would have to say this was actually a highly successful Windmill ride. We had been encouraged out by being part of the club. We had eased the boredom. We had raised another £150, with more to come.
We thank the usual Maurice and Andrew. Also Martin for his hospitality and Graham for his efforts on Zoom pub meetings. It takes a lot of effort to make a club work and I’m sure all the members are grateful, especially in these challenging times.
Like Bob Geldof in the Boomtown Rats (and Brenda Spencer), much of the club ‘don’t like Mondays’. Still going for a cycle ‘livens it up’ without hurting anyone, so off we went again. Many members made it out; Alan, Lawrence, Maurice, Martin and Suzanne, Deborah and Jenni, Andrew, Simon, Charles and Andrew with Lindsey having to drop out of this one.
People set off from different points with Andrew having assigned a clockwise or anti-clockwise direction for each person beforehand. All very well if you can remember how to reverse your way-points on the fly. Still we set off meeting sporadically as usual with the occasional conversations from opposite sides of the road. This is most social we are allowed to be at the current time.
The highlight of the ride was the spotting of so many red kites. Suzanne and Martin saw 5, Deb and Jenni saw 10. Taking my editorial duties very seriously, I thought it wise to check the verisimilitude of these sightings of course. The RSPB site says ‘There are probably around 1,800 breeding pairs in Britain, about half in Wales, with the rest in England and Scotland. In England the reintroduced birds can be found in the Buckinghamshire Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire, Yorkshire, Gateshead and Grizedale Forest in Cumbria.’ So seeing so many was very lucky, perhaps due to a local-spot, maybe.
One the other hand, there are a number of common birds of prey in UK; Harrier, Goshawk, Buzzard, Sparrowhawk. One of particular interest is the Common Buzzard.
I shall be looking more carefully next time. Maybe we should have a prize for the first good photo?
Just outside Clavering on the way to Langley Upper Green we have a fine example of hedges cut according to two British traditions. The smooth and understated, following a time honoured style, for which the UK is famous. This tradition is best embodied by the Royalty and our splendid city parks perhaps. And on the other side, innovation and individuality, this is also the British way; the Beatles, Punk, Henry Moore and Banksy. In Switzerland the right hand hedge would elicit a letter from the council, asking for it to be tided up. I speak from grim experience. I was fined for mowing the grass on Sunday and sternly warned by a local government official, not to flush my apartment toilet after 10 pm.
Dark nights, cold and solo cycling, this leaves time for ones mind to wander. What would I like for Christmas, I thought? I don’t know. After thumbing through the back-catalogue of my memory, it came to me.
What I would like most is well trimmed bush as modelled by my niece, pictured here last summer. Yes that would make me very happy. There’s a lot that needs doing in the garden. That’s that problem solved then.
Soon after I took the hedge photos, Alan passed me and we made our way round to Chishill together. It was good to have company and the road from Chisill back to Elmdon is mostly downhill, so as the light faded, I was soon home. Another Monday ride done.
Another fine route by Maurice. Made to happen by the steady organisation of Andrew. It was good to see all those who took part.
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.
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.
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.