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30th July 2020. An Anglo-Saxon Expedition.

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.

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14th-20th July. Four Wind-Millers visit France

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.

1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aKGXo4g26Ds

2. https://www.france24.com/en/20150823-economic-macron-reform-sparks-fears-baguette-shortage-france

3. https://www.fob.uk.com/about-the-bread-industry/industry-facts/uk-bread-market/

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16 July 2020: Birthday catchup no. 2 – Deborah’s

Thursday morning saw the usual suspects – plus Alan who we hadn’t seen for a long time – gathering in the car park of the Red Cow at Chrishall.

Splitting into two socially distanced groups, Maurice led the first group off towards Fowlmere, followed by Brian’s group some five minutes later.

Roger, Ken, Jenni, Deborah and Geoff at the Orwell meridian marker

We made the outbound leg via Shepreth and Orwell – and then, rather than take our usual route through Wimpole, we carried on to the top of Old Wimpole Road to try out the new cycle trail. A lovely addition to our list of local routes, the trail loops around the north and west boundaries of the estate to Arrington before turning back towards the Hall and café, some three miles in all with very good views of the house, folly and countryside beyond.

It was along this trail that two of our members somehow managed to fall off their bikes. First to take a tumble was Roger, a low speed involuntary dismount executed in some style, followed shortly afterwards by Alan who just keeled over into the bushes.

Pausing to take in the view across the Wimpole estate
Wimpole café – a lovely spot if you don’t mind queuing for your coffee

Back on the bikes we made the return leg via Barrington and Foxton before steeling ourselves for the long uphill climb to Chrishall.

We enjoyed an excellent lunch in the pub garden and celebrated another lockdown-delayed birthday. Last week it was Rod’s; this time it was Deborah’s turn – and she very kindly treated us all to a beer. Happy Birthday, Debs!

Lunching at the Red Cow
31 miles – including a new 3 mile section through the Wimpole estate

Thanks, Maurice, for planning another delightful outing – and, of course, Deborah for the beers.

Brian

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10 July. Rod’s delayed birthday ride. 33 miles.

To celebrate Rod’s delayed birthday due to the lockdown and also the opportunity to drive to a start point, ride in groups of 6 and have a socially distanced lunch in a familiar pub, Maurice devised a lovely 33 mile route starting and finishing at The Golden Fleece in Braughing.

Meeting at 9.00am to place our orders at The Golden Fleece was just like old times, except for the one way system through the pub and the large expanses of perspex, all done with great taste and efficiency by landlord Peter and his team. Outside there was a new deck covered by an awning which was reserved for use by the Windmill Club at lunchtime. All very smart and with the usual excellent beer and food too.

Accompanied by Andrew, Rod, Ken, Roger, Brian, Victor, Charles, Simon, Geoff, Jenny and Martin, Maurice led the way via Puckeridge, Perry Green, Stansted Abbots and Amwell Reserve to our usual coffee stop in Ware. It was great to have Victor with us after his recent bereavement with the death of his wife Rose. After our recent fund raising for Victor on behalf of Marie Curie, he very generously topped up the £440 we raised, by another £100, making £600 in all after the club had added a further £60 from funds.

This is where we went:

Bike ride 10 July 20

The roads were noticeably busier than in recent weeks, even the quiet lanes, and as we cycled alongside the towpaths of the River Lee there were many pedestrians too. The need to cycle harmoniously with other road / path users is something we need to focus on in the future, whilst also obeying any rules in place.

Some take the high road and some take the low road over Barwick Ford

Stopping in Perry Green outside Henry Moore’s studio and gardens gave us an opportunity for Charles to tell us of his time working for the Foundation for over 10 years from the mid-90s, starting as a finance / admin manager and finishing as the COO (and not the car park attendant as Andrew unkindly suggested). It was a period of great expansion for the Foundation, which is now recognised to be a world class centre for the study and enjoyment of sculpture.

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Charles pointing out where he worked at the Henry Moore Foundation in Perry Green 

Of course, two Windmillers (museum pieces Simon and Andrew) couldn’t resist demonstrating that modern sculpture was alive and well:

Simon and Andrew in modern sculpture mood at Perry Green

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Yes, the same cultural couple, this time practising singing the Marseillaise in advance of their trip to France next week with Lawrence and Martin

After coffee we headed along the towpath towards Hertford before wending our way back to The Golden Fleece through delightful lanes and enjoyed an excellent lunch. Rod very kindly bought the drinks and we all wished him a happy belated birthday. The good news is that several Windmillers owned up to have had lockdown birthdays and so there are a few more still to be celebrated.

Thanks to Maurice for planning the route and to Andrew for organising us. Sadly, Graham had not been with us on account of having had an accident the previous weekend but we wish him well and hope to see him out again soon.

Martin

 

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2 July 2020: Rose’s Ride

Saddened to hear of the death of Victor’s wife, Rose, a few weeks ago, Thursday’s outing provided an opportunity to send our condolences and make a donation to Marie Curie Cancer Care, the Humberstone family’s nominated charity. 

Maurice had mapped out a 30 mile circuit – to be tackled either individually or in socially distanced small groups – taking in Chrishall, Arkesden, Rickling, Manuden, Hazel End, Farnham, the Pelhams and the Langleys. Along the way showers threatened, catching some Windmillers and sparing others, but the roads were quiet and the countryside scenic.

Suzanne, Deborah and Roger hopeful of a bus to Chrishall

Pulling in to Chrishall, Charles hosted us on his croquet lawn, laying on lashings of beer and plentiful nibbles.

Sporting his signature stripey hose, his natty footwear accessorised with colourful Hickies, Charles was the clear winner of this week’s Best Shod Windmiller Award, Suzanne coming a close second in her shocking pink / rich plum trainers.

Charles’ Hickeys – laces are so old school

Counting the charity box takings, Andrew announced we had collected £440, a club record, and Maurice proposed we make it up with club funds to £500 for this very special cause.

Thanks, as ever to Maurice and Andrew for organising things; Charles too for his hospitality. 

Cheers!

As ever, you will find more pictures in the gallery on our website.

Brian

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22 June. Socially distanced in Simon’s bar. 19 miles.

Maurice devised a cunning route on this warm summer’s evening which involved a half way stop at Simon and Ollie’s house in Elmdon, where Simon had very kindly offered to show off his new outdoor bar to members of the Windmill Club. As a result, eight thirsty Windmillers gathered outside The Bull at Lower Langley for a 20 mile ride around the lanes, the intention being to call in there also at the end of the ride. So much for good intentions……………

This is where Maurice, Andrew, Rod, Deborah, Simon, Charles, Nick and Martin  intended to go:

Lower Langley Elmdon circuit 22 June 2020

All went swimmingly as far as Elmdon, via Shaftenhoe End, Great Chishill and Heydon with no more than 3 or 4 in a group at any time. Simon and Ollie gave us a warm welcome as we sat in their lovely garden, suitably distanced,  admiring Simon’s new bar from which he generously dispensed beers and soft drinks whilst Ollie distributed nibbles. It was a jolly gathering and time just vanished as we chatted around the table, only to realise eventually that we would be much later than usual getting back to base.

Dragging ourselves away after thanking Simon and Ollie for their kind hospitality, we decided to shave off a mile or so by taking the newly surfaced path through Elmdon wood to Catmere End instead of looping around on the road.

Elmdon wood

Emerging at Catmere end provided another opportunity for a photocall in the evening sunshine:

Obeying the rules

On we went down Hill Bastardo but it was after that when things went a bit awry. The group split up heading towards Arkesden with Maurice out front and Rod bringing up the rear with Charles, but after waiting some time in Arkesden it was clear that something had gone wrong. So Maurice offered to whizz back on his e-bike to try to find Rod and Charles and in the meantime Martin entertained the others with his dove impressions, trying his best to communicate with a dove sitting overhead on a telephone wire, but wisely not directly overhead in case the dove disapproved of the mating call:

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Martin doing his dove impressions in Arkesden

Sadly, Rod and Charles had taken a right turn towards Dudddenhoe End and so Maurice missed them and ended up back on the Wendens Ambo road before all decided to make their way separately back to Lower Langley. By this time it was getting quite late and as The Bull had no real ale on offer, all decided to say farewell and head back home.

Thanks to Maurice for devising the route, Andrew for organising us and, once again, Simon and Ollie for their kind hospitality. We all thoroughly approved of Simon’s bar.

Martin

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25 June 2020: Feeling the heat at Wimpole

Ah, those idyllic summer rides; tyres singing on the tarmac, the wind in your hair, the breeze in your gusset.

The warmest day of the year saw nineteen Windmillers turn out for a tour of Fowlmere, Shrepreth, Littlington, Wimpole, Barrington and Newton. Not just socially distanced, but widely distributed around a 29 mile circuit, our runners and riders were Maurice, Andrew, Howard, Charles, Ric, Geoff, Graham, Martin, Suzanne, Chris, Tom, Deborah, Jenni, Roger, Rod, Ken, Yorkie Brian, Brummie Brian and Lawrence.

Maurice having planned the route, Andrew ensured our starts were spread out, half of us going clockwise and half anticlockwise. And Lawrence, top chap, hosted the beer and charity box in his garden at Fowlmere.

Maurice, on his antique yellow bike, sustained an early puncture but – as the rest of us weren’t around to help (ie hinder) – he had it fixed and back on the road in record time.

Hard luck, Maurice

Crossing the Wimpole estate, we pulled in for a takeaway coffee at the café. The service was so slow, however, that Martin and Suzanne attempted that old queue jumping trick of striking up an avid conversation with a friend near the front. Alas, a brisk rebuke from upstanding members of the National Trust saw them suitably shamed and sent scurrying to the back of the queue. Tut, tuts all round.

Shady characters at Wimpole
Howard, seemingly sitting on a pedal. I didn’t know you could do that

Lawrence, keen to get back and host the Fowlmere refreshments, pushed himself so hard he could barely walk after dismounting. And Simon whizzing around to finish in a personal best time, was disappointed to narrowly miss his target of two hours. Maybe next time – with the help of shaved legs and some figure hugging lycra – he will fulfil that dream.

Cheers, Lawrence
29 miles whichever way you go

Brian

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18 June. Wimpole in all weathers. 30 miles.

With steady rain forecast for the early part of the day it was only the brave that set out early on this ride to Wimpole Hall. Maurice and Andrew waited until 10.00am and Martin, the Wimpole Wimp-of-the-day, left it until 12.15pm to set off, just as the bedraggled early starters were returning to Lawrence’s house for a wet beer. Some, including Brian, Tom and Chris, wisely opted out completely.

In all there was a healthy turnout of 13 Windmillers, the others being Graham, Deborah, Jenny, Lawrence, Ric, Rod, Charles, Simon T, Roger and Geoff. But due to the delayed start some only saw the occasional Windmiller passing by in the opposite direction.

Here is the planned route but in practice we all cut the corner at Arrington and proceeded directly through the grounds of Wimpole Hall on what is a National By-way (despite what Wimpole Hall might say):

Fowlmere Wimpole circuit

Martin’s ride was pleasantly dry throughout with increasing sunshine as he approached Wimpole in a clockwise direction which enabled him to take a photo from Croydon of a lovely view across to our familiar hills:

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View between Croydon and Arrington looking across to Barkway in the West, Great Chishill in the centre and Elmdon in the East

Roger announced later during the Zoom session that the same view was obliterated with rain when he cycled along the same road earlier.

The grounds of Wimpole Hall were quite busy with children particularly enjoying splashing about in the puddles. Deborah reports that the coffee shop was open for one of her and Jenny’s two coffees en route. The whereabouts of the second stop is unknown. Perhaps it was at Rod’s suggested farm stop in Croydon but it had shut up shop by the time Martin got there apparently due to a power cut.

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Wimpole Hall in the emerging sunshine

Other than Barrington Hill / Chapel Hill the route was devoid of anything difficult to climb and should be very pleasant to do again on 25 June when the weather is due to be hot and sunny.

Lawrence very kindly provided beer and refreshments at his house in Fowlmere and also these photos of members relaxing in his garden, and Graham mending a puncture which fortunately happened just as he finished the ride:

And by the time Martin got back for a beer at 3.15pm the garden was ablaze with sunshine:

Thanks also to Maurice for planning the route, Andrew for organising us and Graham for hosting the evening’s Zoom pub session.

Martin

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15 June. Feeling Bullish again. 21 miles.

Upper Langley or Lower Langley? That was the question on this warm summer’s evening as 8 Windmillers gathered once more for a socially distanced ride – 6 being the max allowed in one group under the current regs but, in practice, 8 spread out and so there was never more than 4 or so in a group at any time. So all above board!

As it happened, Andrew got an earful from a resident of Upper Langley for wishing to park outside their house and Deborah began to park near to where Simon and Martin had parked their cars before being advised to shift it down to the Bull at Lower Langley where Rod had parked and where Andrew decided to park too. Andrew and Rod then cycled back to Upper to meet up with Maurice, Nick, Charles, Simon and Martin before heading back to Lower to collect Deborah. Ah, the logistics of a Windmill ride take some beating at times!

Eventually, after Nick had re-mounted his bike after a stationary fall, none the worse for wear, we all set off in an anti-clockwise direction around a pleasant route that Maurice had devised:

Upper Langley circuit 15 June

Rod was tasked with being back marker / sweeper upper on his powerful e-bike and the group soon spread out over half a mile or more as we moved easily along in light winds towards Little Chishill. Then it was up to Nuthampstead past Bridget T’s house and through to Anstey, giving a shout to Keith as we passed near his house. It would be good to see him and also ‘Husky’ Andrew from Nuthampstead back out with us again now that the Corona virus lockdown has eased.

By this time we were well spread out with Maurice, Nick and Charles a long way ahead when Simon missed the turning to Great Hormead despite much hollering from Deborah, Andrew and Martin, ending up in Hare Street as a result. Martin then gave him the wrong directions for making his own way to Brent Pelham where he thought we might meet him again and so a U-turn was necessary by Simon whilst the others waited for him to reappear. The logistics of this ride were becoming memorable with Maurice calling to ask if we were all ok.

Eventually the tortoises met up with the hares outside our usual stopping place, Furneux Pelham church.

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Six of the best in Furneux Pelham

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The Rodd man out

And the second sign below describes how good it was to be out and about again on a Monday ride with the Windmill Club:

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The return leg via Brent Pelham, Meesden, where Nick peeled off, and Roast Green was uneventful until Simon attempted to start his car only to find the battery was flat. Finding the tow hook was difficult too and so instead of Martin giving him a tow we opted to call up Andrew who by that time was back at the Bull and who had his jump leads on board his Chelsea tractor, which came quickly to the rescue.

Charles headed for home in Chrishall having cycled to and from the start, clocking up around 30 miles in all – well done, Charles – whilst those remaining gathered outside the Bull for a well earned socially distanced beer consumed just off the pub premises, contributing to the bounce back of the local economy as they did so. Maurice also cycled to and from the start on his e-bike, clocking up 40 miles.

Thanks to Maurice for devising a great route and to Andrew for herding us.

Martin

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11 June 2020: Socially distanced

The pubs may be closed and the rules forbid gatherings of more than six – but that doesn’t mean we can’t all share a 30 mile route. Joining at different places around the circuit, some going clockwise, others anticlockwise, it’s fun to glimpse fellow Windmillers along the way. Sometimes it’s just to exchange a friendly wave, other times to pull over for a socially distanced chat on a quiet lane. What larks!

Thumbs up from Geoff
Bionic man, Maurice
Rod in glorious technicolor
Simon on his lovingly restored Dawes
What’s this Graham? Mudguards? In June?
Brian looking like he’s about to give the photographer a mouthful
Deborah with her fancy water bottle
Looking good, Jenny
Roger, all smiles
Lawrence; how green is your valley?
Martin, off the wall
Last but not least, Charles and those socks

Sorry to have missed Andrew, Howard, Ken and any other Windmillers who didn’t cross the photographer’s path. Will get you next time.

Andrew reports we collected £110 for charity.

Thanks, Maurice for another lovely route. And a special thanks to Simon for the pop-up, self-service bar in Littlebury Green; the refreshments were much appreciated.

30 miles – any which way

Brian

PS You may notice we have updated the website; a new look and a few new pages too. Check it out.

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1 June. Off-road but on-track with Andrew

In June we are restricted to six for easing the boredom of lock-down. Not six gin and tonics a day, but groups of six riders for a club event. It was perfect then, when Andrew, Deborah, Geoff, Maurice, Rod and Simon accepted the challenge of an ‘off road’ route organised and planned by Andrew. With a three o’clock start it was warm but this was saved by a cooling breeze. Rod just made it to the starting gun after an abortive tele-medicine attempt, likewise Deborah, because that’s what we expect of her. After a month with practically no rain the ground was like concrete, the tracks were rough and anything loose on the bike was subject an extreme test; would it fall off. And fall off it did.

The tracks were mostly bridleways, which Andrew had learned during many years in the saddle. Now, I don’t know much about horses, certainly not when compared to some other members of the club. I do know from hard experience that standing at the front sometimes results in being bitten, but that standing at the back is even more dangerous. I have seen people sitting on top of them, but that seems ridiculously risky. Two meters off to the side was early practice in social distancing for me. I have noticed however, they have four legs and that these are positioned one at each corner. This gives them enviable stability on rough ground. Bikes on the other hand have just two points of contact with the earth and these are thin and round. Still riding on bridleways was going to be easy and fun. I just knew it.

We set off with every piece of the bike soon clattering. The flints shot out like bullets from the sides of the tyres. I was great. Soon Andrew stopped, his saddle-bag had rattled off and was now an extra brake on the back wheel. Then Maurice’s handle-bars shook loose. I think handle-bars are an underrated safety item. You can pay a fortune for a nice saddle-bag but people think any old handle-bars will do, best to bolt them on nice and tight. At every bump Rod’s bell gave out another tinkle. We only needed a chant of ‘bring out your dead’ to be just like the undertakers of old. Perhaps that’s not as funny right now as it once might have been.

This route is amazing. With long open sections across expansive hillsides and equally long green tunnels filled with dappled light. We went from trail to trail popping up in village after village. I knew some of these trails but not how they all joined up. It was a bit of a master-class and if you missed this ride I recommend trying it out.

We had overlooked the final, crucial bike component which is not firmly bolted on, club members. After two hours of challenging riding, on a heavy bike, through forest path, gravelled trail and deep ruts, Rod finally came off in the last half mile. Still Maurice was there, as he always is for club members and soon a slightly battered Rod was able to complete the course.

All that was left was a socially-distanced beer in the cool evening air, spaced around Andrew’s garden. So thanks to Andrew for organising the trip and planning the route. Also for hosting the start, finish, and for the beer. Thanks to Maurice for keeping a watchful eye on the rest of us. Back to road biking for me this Thursday, my looser bits have had a terrible shaking.

xx

Trail. This one is off ‘The gap’ which is off Wicken Road, Arkesden

Not all the trails are well marked and a few years of exploring are recommended.

Simon T

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19 March. Corona virus. No Windmill Club rides for the forseeable future.

Due to the rapid spread of the Corona Virus and advice received from the Government and Cycling UK, there will be no organised Windmill Club rides for the forseeable future. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible. For those wishing to keep in touch via WhatsApp, please contact Andrew.

Here’s a short video to help keep the Corona Man away:

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16 March. Springwatch. 21 miles.

Thanks to having eagle-eyed Sandra with us on this ride we were treated to a springtime display of wildlife as we cruised around the lanes. Starting from The Bull once again at Lower Langley and led by Maurice, the others joining him were Rod, Simon, Charles, Nick and Martin – 7 in all.

This is where we went, anti-clockwise:

Bull circuit 16 March 2020

The first creature that Sandra spotted, shortly after leaving, was standing on a bank clad in hi-viz yellow and coughing furiously as we went past. Hey, that’s not an animal we said, it’s the self-isolating Corona Man himself, Andrew. Indeed it was but we didn’t stop for a chat in case he got too close. We expected him to tag along behind at an acceptable distance but he was heading in the opposite direction. Luckily, it seems Andrew did not pick up the virus whilst visiting Northern Italy for a skiing holiday but he and Lindsay were forced to self-isolate for 2 weeks on their return, and today he was half way through.

Proceeding on towards Shaftenhoe End Sandra then spotted a large herd of deer, as big as the one seen last week at Catmere End but without the albinos – frequently seen around Elmdon but very rare. In the US it is illegal in many states to shoot albino deer as they are estimated to be as rare as 1 in 100,000.

Passing through Barkway and Reed we crossed the A10 and headed towards Therfield before turning left towards Buckland.

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Stopping to enjoy the spring sunshine near Therfield. 

The star spot by Sandra was a massive barn owl, with a head the size of a football and a large wingspan, which took off just as we were approaching Buckland. Sadly no time to take a photo. Then Sandra spotted two more large herds of deer, grazing quite close to each other, by which time we were convinced that she could easily join the BBC Springwatch team.

Re-crossing the A10 at a not particularly pleasant junction we meandered on admiring the countryside which was bursting with vigour. Nick peeled off towards Meesden at the end whilst the others returned to The Bull and enjoyed a drink outside, keeping our distance, until it got so cold we just had to occupy the empty public bar to warm up!

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Keeping our distance outside The Bull

Thanks to the rapid spread of the Corona virus, there was an acceptance that this could be the last Windmill Club ride for a while, which turned out to be the case, but we agreed that we would find ways and means of still getting out on our bikes in the weeks ahead.

Thanks to Maurice for planning the ride and organising us.

Martin

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9 March. Corona ditty ride. 30 miles.

The Corona virus, what virus? Nothing stops fit and healthy Windmillers from getting out on a ride, but we were not to know that Andrew would soon be the first to self-isolate having been evacuated from his ski resort near Turin following a total shut down of Italy. So, taking The Bull by the horns six Windmillers comprising Maurice, Rod, Simon, Charles, Nick and Martin gathered at Langley Lower Green for a pleasant ride around quiet and dry lanes.

This is where we went, clockwise:

Bull circuit 9 March 2020

This week there was an equal number of e-bikes to traditional bikes but e-bikers are generally very considerate of their hard pedalling companions, with Rod always at the back as a sweeper upper. A few tow ropes would have come in handy too, particularly on the climb to Great Chishill.

The weather was kind and so we made good progress to Elmdon and beyond, stopping for a breather at Catmere End where a large herd of deer was spotted munching away on tasty young oil seed rape:

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A herd of deer

Nick peeled off towards Meesden at the end of the ride whilst the others returned to The Bull and enjoyed a pint with the locals around the bar. Charles left a bit earlier to go Scottish Country dancing. Martin claimed he was still going to Les Gets on Thursday and would miss Maurice’s birthday party ride which prompted Maurice to buy him a pint. But having cancelled the trip on Wednesday Maurice generously bought him another pint on Thursday. Good chap!

Here’s a little ditty I’ve composed that we might all sing along to on our future rides, using the music and some of the lyrics from the TV Corona advertisements of the 50s, which some of us vulnerable people might remember. It goes like this:

The Corona Man he’s in your street

The Corona Man you don’t want to meet

So wash your hands several times a day

And the Corona Man will fuck off.

Thanks, Maurice for organising the ride!

Martin

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12 March. Celebrating Maurice’s birthday. 30 miles.

There’s not a lot to celebrate at present what with the Corona virus spreading like wildfire, the stock market crashing and jobs at risk. But it was great that 13 Windmillers were able to gather together, fit and able, to celebrate Maurice’s 76th birthday and to join him on a windy day around windy lanes (geddit?), and for another 5 to join us at lunch time. The thought of Pat’s pies and curries at the Pig and Abbott in Abington Piggotts and a birthday pint from Maurice was an added incentive, and having coffee and biscuits before setting off is always a bonus.

Sadly, we were without Andrew who was in enforced self-isolation for 2 weeks with Lindsey having had their skiing holiday curtailed in Sestriere in Northern Italy due to the Corona virus. So it was Ken, Rod, Ric, Roger, Simon T, Deborah, Graham, Geoff, Howard, Charles, Mike, David and Martin (having cancelled his ski holiday) who accompanied Maurice on a delightful if somewhat blowy day around the lanes to the north west of Abington Piggotts, a cunning route devised by Maurice to reduce the impact of the wind as much as possible.

This is where most of us went, clockwise, but some decided to cut the corner off to get to the coffee stop at Waresley first, either because they were out front and hadn’t read the map or because they were in need of an urgent caffeine fix, or both:

Maurice's birthday ride 12 March 2020

Some of the strongest wind was experienced soon after the start whilst heading towards Steeple Morden from Litlington, and so an early stop at the Memorial for the 355th Fighter Group provided welcome relief:

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Back row from the left: David, Mike, Simon, Roger, birthday boy Maurice, Ric, Geoff, Ken, Charles, Rod. Front row: Howard, Graham, Deborah

Continuing on, things soon improved after Steeple Morden as we headed north west towards Cockayne Hatley where another stop was made to take in the view:

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Cockayne Hatley in Bedfordshire – famous at one time for having the largest apple orchard in England with one million Cox’s Orange Pippin trees – grubbed up in 1974 as being uneconomic

Then it was back into the wind for a stretch towards Potton – Mind The Gap being the order of the day due to the strong gusts in between hedgerows – before getting some relief towards Gamlingay, where sensible types cut the corner and got to the coffee stop first. The others had a short monster hill to climb but were rewarded with a long downwind freewheel stretch that seemed to last for about a mile before entering Waresley.

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Springtime in Waresley

The coffee stop was the excellent Waresley Garden Centre, but like all garden centres these days it is quite difficult to find the gardening department………

Maurice already had thoughts of lunch in mind and so the order was given to saddle up and pedal on, passing picturesque Hatley St. George on the way and making generally easier progress. Almost bang on time at 12.30pm and almost exactly on 30 miles (how does he do it?) we rolled into The Pig and Abbott where the fire was roaring and where it was good to be joined by Brian, who had cycled over from Cambridge, Vernon, Simon O, John B and Bernard York, an old friend of Maurice with whom he cycled from Lands End to John O’Groats. It was good to hear from John about the progress of his recent hip operation, but trying to persuade John of the merits of e-bikes proved to be somewhat difficult.

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Maurice and friends Vernon, Mike, nephew David and Bernard on the top table
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Raising a glass to the birthday boy

A toast was also proposed by Rod to our absent friend, Andrew, who no doubt will be soon be giving us tips on how to survive two weeks of self-isolation – shooting pigeons appears to be one of his survival tips.

Thanks to Maurice for planning the ride, buying the drinks, and organising us all. Also thanks to Ken for taking a photo and Brian for the lunchtime pics. And congratulations to the usual hardy types, Graham and Ric, for riding to and from the meeting point, clocking up many more miles in the process.

Stay well.

Martin

PS. If you haven’t already joined the new Windmill Club WhatsApp group, you’re missing out on easy communications between members and some fine humour. Download the app and ask Andrew to add your mobile phone number.

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5 March 2020: Wet? Not ‘arf!

The morning had started fair, twelve Windmillers exiting the Golden Fleece car park heading for Clavering. But poor old Maurice suffered an early setback when the e-part of his e-bike gave up the ghost and he was forced to return to the pub leaving us at the mercy of Andrew – who assured us he knew the route. We looked at our feet, “Mmmm, we’ll see.”

We needn’t have worried. We suspect he made it up as he went along but Andrew’s route, while distinctly wiggly, took us along quiet lanes in picturesque countryside.

27 miles anticlockwise – and looking a little lost around Clavering
Deborah and Graham circumventing a road closure

Sixteen miles in, we pulled up for refreshments at Poppy’s Barn, our first visit to this little gem of a tea room in the middle of nowhere; the tiny hamlet of Butt’s Green being the nearest habitation. The coffee and cake were exceedingly good and Graham spoke highly of the hot chocolate with marshmallow topping.

Graham’s sugar fix

We may have been cosy in Poppy’s but outside the weather had taken a turn for the worst; steady rain. Exiting the tearoom, we huddled under the barn eaves, donning oilskins and sou’westers while we contemplated our options. Go back inside and eat more cake? Send Sandra on alone to fetch her van? She didn’t like that idea at all. Resolute, we mounted our dripping wet bikes and – heads down – pedalled the 10 miles or so back to the pub.

Landlord Peter gave us a warm welcome and served up an excellent lunch; we particularly enjoyed his pie and a pint fare.

For the record, the 12 hardy Windmillers gently steaming in the Golden Fleece were: Maurice, Deborah, Andrew, Nigel, Ken, Martin, Sandra, Graham, Victor, Rod, Lawrence and Brian.

Despite the weather it was a very enjoyable outing. Many thanks to Andrew for improvising such a good route. Let’s do it again on a fine day.

Brian

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2 March. More puddles. 20 miles.

Outnumbered by the e-bikes of Maurice, Rod and Nick, Andrew and Martin had to pedal extra hard to keep up with them on this ride around wet lanes. But would they get their comeuppance whilst traversing deep puddles and fords, we wondered? Would they short out? But no, e-bikes are clearly designed to withstand anything the English weather can throw at them and so they ploughed through regardless. It was only those wearing non-waterproof shoes who really suffered.

The weather has been particularly unkind to The Windmill Club on recent Mondays and Thursdays – perhaps members have been sinning more than usual? The poor old Essex fields had given up trying to soak up all the rain and so the ditches and streams were full to the brim with water, overflowing onto the roads in many places. But at least it had stopped raining for a while which enabled us to get out on our bikes and enjoy the sunshine.

The first wave of water to ride through was shortly after starting off from The Bull at Langley Lower Green whilst riding up the hill to Upper Green. Maurice, sporting a smart new pair of Schwalbe Marathons which Andrew had acquired for a bargain price, wanted to check out Poppies Tea Room near Clavering which some of us had visited the previous Thursday and although it was closed it was agreed that we would fit it into a Thursday ride as a coffee stop. Thereafter it was a question of dodging the puddles and fords whenever possible or cruising through them with legs raised in the air.

This is where we went:

Bull circuit 2 March 2020
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Puddles? Wot puddles? None here near Rickling Church.
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Chatting to a local armed with a rake to clear a culvert which would otherwise have flooded his house

The local chap in the above photograph turned out to be a keen cyclist who rode with another club which averaged around 16mph. He said discreetly that The Windmill Club was perhaps not for him!

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Martin in front of an extra large puddle

Nick peeled off towards Meesden whilst the others proceeded to The Bull to chew the cud over some fine beers, but taking care not to share any nuts in case the Corona Man had got there before us.

Thanks to Maurice for leading the way and to Andrew for organising us, and for the photos.

Martin

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27 February. More dining, some riding. John B back.

Another week of cold and windy weather which resulted in Monday’s ride on 24 February not taking place also produced a morning of snow on this late February day.

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Charles’s garden in Chrishall – enough snow to deter anyone from riding a bike….

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……except, of course, Graham who was determined to get to The Red Cow by pedal power

Word was circulated by email and WhatsApp that the ride due to set off from The Red Cow at Chrishall was cancelled but with fine weather forecasted for later in the morning some brave souls besides Graham (Andrew, Ken, Ric, Charles and Martin), also decided to wend their way uphill to work up an appetite for lunch, and were pleasantly surprised at how nice it was.

The riders were joined by Simon T, Rod, Neil, Simon O, Brummie Brian and John B, who surprised us all with his appearance just 4 weeks after his hip operation. Here we all are enjoying a good lunch:

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John told us that he had been driving a car for the past two weeks and walking the dogs across the fields without a stick, let alone crutches. Probably all against doctor’s orders, but that’s John for you. Well done, John, and we look forward to seeing you on your bike again soon, perhaps an e-bike to start with?

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Graham about to set off after lunch

The sun was shining by now and so after bidding the others farewell, Ric and Charles made their own way home whilst Andrew, Ken, Graham and Martin set off down the hill to the Wendens Ambo – Great Chishill road. Ken peeled off at the junction whilst the others proceeded up to Builden End and continued on the byway towards Langley Lower Green and then to Upper Green in order to check out Poppies Tea Room near Clavering as a future coffee stop. And a fine place it turned out to be. Then it was on to Arkesden and over the hill towards Wendens Ambo where Andrew peeled off leaving Graham and Martin to climb Hill Bastardo with a fresh breeze coming off the open fields which at times assisted and other times hindered our efforts to return to Ickleton via Catmere End, clocking up 20 miles in all.

Thanks to Andrew for organising the lunch and enabling us to make the most of the day.

Martin

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20 February. The Windmill Dining Club. Zero miles. Max calories.

Storms Ciara and Dennis have wreaked their havoc recently, resulting in several ride cancellations. But try as they might, Ciara and Dennis failed to prevent Windmillers from getting together to enjoy a good lunch at the Fleur de Lys in Widdington.

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From the left, Martin, Brian, Geoff, Howard, Vernon, Andrew, Chris, Simon, Maurice and Ken, looking replete after an excellent lunch.

Despite the weather, Geoff e-biked over from Saffron Walden and it was also good to have Simon O join us for a drink. Conversations ranged from cars (nothing new there), summer rides in Scotland, France and Norfolk, the exploits of a group of mad cyclists called The Rough-Stuff Fellowship, and, once again, how best to split timber into logs. Simon O thought that Ken had been in a fight but Ken’s recent skin treatment seemed to be proceeding well.

This is where we should have been cycling:

Fleur 20 Feb
Another time

Martin

 

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13 February. Jemima Puddleduck – where were you? 26 miles.

Sandra would have loved this ride. Not since she led us through puddles galore a couple of years ago have we seen anything remotely comparable until this ride. And it was windy too at times which Sandra would have enjoyed even more!  So it was Mucky Maurice and Donald the Ducky Dawg who were instead jointly responsible for leading just seven Windmillers through deep puddles, streams and fords as we navigated our way through the lanes to Thaxted and back, starting from the Fleur de Lys in Widdington.

This is where we went, the southerly route out and the northerly route back:

bike-ride-13-feb-20

The weather had not been kind since Storm Ciara hit the UK a few days back and with Storm Dennis on the way it was not surprising that we had quite a small turnout for a Thursday. But, luckily, we found a window of relatively quiet weather and no rain which resulted in a very pleasant ride with blue skies at times, even if it meant cruising through the puddles with legs raised in the air to avoid getting a soaking.

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Getting ready for the off. Note Roger’s smart new fireman’s outfit he got for Christmas.

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Hi viz Lawrence extracting a mega thorn from his Schwalbe Marathon before departure

Accompanying Maurice and Andrew were Roger, Lawrence, Graham, Nigel and Martin. Besides the mega thorn which Lawrence had plucked from his front tyre, he also discovered his speed down the steep hill from Widdington towards Elsenham to be faster than intended due to his rear brake not working. A stop in Henham soon established that the problem was due to gunge in the mechanism and a few quick tweaks of the handle soon got it going again.

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Lawrence outside Henham church looking happier now that his rear brake was working again

Despite the detritus on the roads there were no other mishaps or punctures, and so we made steady progress towards Thaxted where excellent coffee and cakes were consumed in Parrishes.

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Outside The Guildhall in Thaxted, built over 600 years ago by the Guild of Cutlers

The return trip was uneventful, and shorter, but involved a pleasant detour up to Little Henham before climbing back up the steep hill to Widdington where it was good to be joined for lunch by Ken, Charles and Brian, Ken having cycled over from Ickleton. Graham also cycled to and from Ickleton and claimed to have already clocked up over 700 miles in 2020 so far!

Back at base

The contest for the muckiest man at the end of the ride was won by Roger followed closely by Andrew.

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The Windmill Knights at their round table in The Fleur de Lys

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Hands up those who thought that Today’s Soup was Buttered Bread!!

Thanks to Maurice and Andrew for both planning an identical ride, Andrew for his organisation and the Strava map, and Brian for the lunch time pic.

Martin