We like the Fox & Hounds at Steeple Bumpstead, not least because Landlady Kate provides coffee and biscuits while we wait for Deborah, who generally arrives just as we are draining our cups.
Refreshed and ready to go, twelve Windmillers attempt to form two equal sized pelotons in conformance with government guidelines*. Only it never quite works out, Maurice heading out with eight riders while Brian musters just four. Maybe some can’t count? Maybe – quite understandably – others fear getting lost with Brian? Or maybe it’s just our Keystone Cops-like inability to get organised. Who knows.
Whatever the reason, all twelve somehow found their way to Clare where we enjoyed some excellent coffee and cake at Platform One, the café in the long-disused railway station.
From Clare we made short work of the return trip to Steeple Bumpstead where Landlady Kate served up a hearty lunch washed down with a restorative ale.
For the record, this week’s riders were: Maurice, Howard, Roger, Deborah, Jenni, Alan, Victor, Graham, Geoff, Charles, Lawrence and Brian – and Ken joined us for lunch.
Thanks, Maurice, for organising another terrific outing.
*As of Thursday, 27 August 2020, Cycling UK’s guidance is that groups of up to fifteen can ride provided they take reasonable steps to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Read more.
Socially distanced cycling, eh? Who’d have thought? Whereas our peloton used to be upwards of a dozen strong – a veritable rolling roadblock – we now only venture out in groups of six or less, appropriately spaced. This week it was Maurice leading the first group and Brian the second. Trouble was, Brian didn’t really know the route, relying instead on tail-enders Graham and Rod to shout directions from the rear.
So it was that Maurice, followed by Roger, Ken, Alan and Chris set off from The Rushbrooke Arms, Sicklesmere, heading for Gedding – followed ten minutes later by Brian, Victor, Deborah, Mike, Graham and Rod – Brian making sure he kept within earshot of Graham and Rod.
Sunshine and the beautiful Suffolk countryside ensured a very pleasant outbound ride to Lavenham, where we pulled in for refreshments at The Swan. Most ordered coffee and teacakes – but Graham, who had already cycled the extra 35 miles from home – was desperate to wet his whistle with a pint. Coffee and teacakes were served aplenty but, despite increasingly desperate reminders to the staff, the beer did not materialise and poor old Graham took the saddle just as thirsty as when he arrived.
Returning to Sicklesmere via Bridge Street, Shimpling and Hawstead, we enjoyed an alfresco lunch at the The Rushbrooke Arms where, thankfully, Graham managed to down a few restorative pints ahead of his 35 mile return home, neighbour Mike joining him for the ride.
Thanks, Maurice, for planning the route and leading the way on such a delightful outing.
After such an eventful ride it was a relief to get back to the cars and relax with a picnic.
The day had started badly for Rod when the e-part of his e-bike failed, rendering it a p-bike (go figure). Even with the battery removed, pedalling an electric bike can be challenging, they are anything but lightweight. Rod had a tough day’s riding ahead.
Then there was Andrew’s chain. Half way into the ride and pulling up for a comfort break, he noticed a semi-detached link; clearly, an accident waiting to happen. There was nothing for it but to up-end the bike and effect a repair. His usual bike mechanic, Tom Robinson, being unavailable, it fell to Andrew to do his own dirty work; and his was a truly filthy chain, mired in the accumulated muck of Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Essex, Normandy and Brittany.
With assistance from Maurice, tools from Brian and much effing and jeffing from Andrew himself, the chain was eventually made whole again, albeit a little shorter than before.
Meanwhile the rest of us used the time to take on water, munch snacks and generally loll about. Charles took great interest in a passing canine, evidently some sort of rare breed, engaging the lady owner in small talk. She seemed quite taken with his stripey hose.
A mere 45 minutes or so later and we were underway once more. Strung out over half a mile, our peloton was steadily overtaken by an energetic female rider. Maurice on his e-bike was comfortably able to keep up with Carol (as we subsequently learned her name was) and struck up a conversation. Hearing we could do with a coffee, Carol very kindly led us to The Anchor, her local in Stoke-by-Nayland. Unfortunately the landlord refused to contemplate opening up half an hour early. Nonetheless, we thanked Carol, for her solicitude and, bidding her farewell, continued on to Kersey, surely one of the prettiest of Suffolk villages, where we were delighted to find The Bell open and welcoming.
Sod the coffee, let’s have a real drink – seemed to be the general feeling as we formed a socially distanced queue at the bar – and Rod, now looking distinctly red in the face, expressed strong approval. What’s more, having missed celebrating his birthday during lockdown, Charles insisted on buying the beers. Thank you, Charles, and a belated very happy birthday to you.
It would be nice to report that the rest of the outing passed uneventfully; but that wasn’t to be. We were on the last mile and approaching Long Melford when Andrew was overtaken dangerously by a Volvo estate; indeed, not just cut-up but yelled at by the driver. Catching up with the Volvo at a junction, strong opinions were exchanged on both sides before we all went our separate ways. If only that had been the end of it.
Arriving back at the cars and setting out our chairs, tables and picnic, we sat down to enjoy the fine prospect across Long Melford green. Rod, in particular, was very relieved to get back and set about his sandwiches with great gusto. Quite how he had managed to keep up with us over 34 miles, we will never know; but somehow he did. Well done, Rod, that was quite a workout.
Alas, the pleasant ambience of our picnic spot was disturbed when the Volvo driver reappeared, driving across the green and pulling up alongside us to complain about her car being scratched. Andrew, remaining impressively calm and businesslike, thought it best to de-escalate things by exchanging details. After all, this is what our club insurance with Cycling UK is for and – thankfully – the heat was taken out of the encounter. Well done, Andrew, for handling things in such a business-like manner.
For the record, the 34 miles was completed in two socially distanced groups: Maurice leading Brian, Ken, Chris, Simon and Graham, followed five minutes later by Andrew leading Lawrence, Charles and Rod.
Thanks, Maurice and Andrew, for organising things and leading the two groups.