Saturday, 29 October 2016

Up to Keswick and Back Home the Long Way (C#53)
Saturday 29 October, 101 Miles


Click here for Route Flyby

A couple of weeks ago I was killing time in the coffee shop of my local Waterstones bookshop. I quite like it in there because they usually have a selection of books lying about which I can browse while sipping my cappuccino. Now the best bit is that the books available are often ones which wouldn’t normally appear on my radar. So it can be an interesting experience to turn the pages of something totally new. I’ve often wondered who decides what books get scattered across the coffee shop. Are they ones that the publisher is pushing? Or maybe they’re books that are not selling well. I like to think that the staff are given the freedom to put out whatever they want. I say this because in my experience the people who work in bookshops tend to have bit of a spark – personality and character – which is sadly becoming a rare trait with many shop workers who often seem to struggle to even make eye contact with the customer, let alone have an interesting conversation. And I’m hoping this is why I regularly have quite an esoteric selection to choose from. This seems to me an entirely reasonable explanation as to why titles like ‘Cabin Porn’, ‘Free At Last’ (Tony Benn), ‘The Big Sleep’ (Raymond Chandler – read it, excellent), and ‘Slaying the Badger’ (shouldn’t need to explain you, blog readers) rest alongside each other on the window ledge next to the coffee table.

Anyway, the reason for this little discourse is that the book that caught my eye was ‘Small Churches’ by Dixe Wills who I discovered has made quite a career out of writing about small quirky things. Opening the book, I found a map of the various churches he’s reviewed so naturally I looked to see if any were near where I live. One particular church stood out and that quickly became the goal for today’s ride. It was only about 25 miles away so I planned a direct route there and something rather longer and twisting to enable me to bag the century on the return leg.

But not the Lake District
I was rolling by 8:45 am with the prospect of a fabulous autumn day ahead of me. Making excellent progress I soon arrived at my goal - the small hamlet of Keswick. Having been to California for my last century it seemed entirely appropriate to visit another ‘distant’ place. Incidentally I’ve discovered that there are two Keswick’s in Norfolk – one more than in the Lake District. The other one is on the coast and maybe I’ll ride over there some day.

Anyway I soon discovered that I wasn’t going to be able to get close up to Dixe’s small church as it’s down a farm track which was sure to risk puncture issues. It was also pretty muddy and I wasn’t willing to walk and get my cleats clogged up. A shame really because the church almost looked like a model version of Norfolk’s famous round tower churches. It has an interesting history (look it up) but one of the most amusing features is that the legs of the row of pews at the front of the church are hinged. This is because the church used to be so small (an apse was added in 1964) that the only way to turn a coffin around was to fold back the pews! Shades of a Carry On film here readers.

Leaving Keswick behind me I then rode round the southern outskirts of Norwich past the impressive Science Park on one side and the University on the other. I was soon back into open countryside and really enjoying the magnificent displays of autumn colour in the hedgerows. This was also countryside that I ride more regularly and as I reached Great Ellingham I decided to conduct a little investigation.

The great Great Ellingham Observatory
I have often passed a building that looks like the home for a telescope. Now we’re not talking Jodrell Bank or Mauna Kea (Hawaii). This building is on a rather more modest scale. But it does have a domed roof with what looks like a sliding panel so I was pretty sure that it housed a telescope. Walking around the outside of the building there was nothing to confirm my suspicions apart from some pretty heavy duty locks on the door. Post-ride research on the interweb revealed that I was right, there is indeed a telescope within; a 20‑inch reflector, whatever that is. The Breckland Astronomical Society hold regular star parties here. So if you get bored of browsing the Cabin Porn you might like to book a place one evening. It seems that space may not be the final frontier hereabouts.








From Great Ellingham I then headed through Watton to the Brecks and the northern edge of Thetford Forest. Then, turning back eastwards I continued to enjoy the spectacular autumnal display of colour. If anything, the dark green pine trees brought out the subtlety and magnificence of the brown, yellow, orange and gold colours of the deciduous trees. Breath-taking wouldn’t be an overstatement.

All Saints, Croxton nr. Thetford, Norfolk
Shortly before reaching Thetford I spotted another of those round tower churches in Croxton. So I stopped to have a closer look. A helpful information sheet informed me that round tower churches are largely a feature of Norfolk. Of the 185 surviving examples, 124 are in Norfolk. They were mostly constructed by the Anglo-Saxons and opinions vary as to why they are round – perhaps because of a shortage of suitable building materials or, as a defence mechanism against invading Vikings. Several of the towers, as is the case here at Croxton, are topped with an octagonal belfry.

From Croxton I made good time over the final 20 miles home. As I rode along I couldn’t help thinking how lucky I am to enjoy such marvellous countryside on my rides. The riding itself, on my cherished Bianchi’s is a complete pleasure; the surroundings and ‘accidental’ discoveries along the way are the icing on the cake, so to speak, and one of the reasons why these century rides are so special. Passione celeste readers!

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