Monday 28 November 2016

East Suffolk Sunshine Sing Song (C#59)
Monday 28 November, 103 Miles

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Last night’s weather forecast was full of promise and it certainly did not disappoint. Even though it was dark when I got out of bed I could tell that this was going to be one of those epic autumn days that are perfect for riding. By this I mean dry, light winds, clear skies, sunshine, cold and crisp air but with no frost or ice to worry about. The sort of air that rasps your throat and tingles your cheeks, but in a nicely invigorating way!

I’ve had my eyes on another of those rides in Chris Sidwells ‘Best 100 Mile Bike Routes’ book – around East Suffolk. So with such perfect conditions today was the day for it. And to get the full Sidwells experience I decided to start where he did, in Diss instead of starting from home. So at 8:15 I rode out of Diss heading east towards Stradbroke and Framlingham. Riding directly into the bright sunshine proved to be a bit of challenge and I regretted not putting on a cap with a peak in place of my standard Castelli thermal skully. (I’ve since ordered one online.) Even with sunglasses it was occasionally quite difficult to see the road surface clearly so my strategy of avoiding very minor lanes in winter meant (hopefully) that I wouldn’t have too many potholes to contend with. Whilst on the subject of road surfaces, the dry conditions meant that I could enjoy that delightful slightly sticky sound of tyre rubber on tarmac which always gives me a buzz. At times like this I can forget the Garmin numbers and revel in the sounds of progress being made as I turn the cranks.

Reaching Eye I re-joined my ‘standard’ coastal route. But what surprised me was how different it felt. Starting from Diss, instead of from home, meant that I had shaved about 10 miles off the route at this point. And although the scenery was the same as usual, the ride felt very different. I guess this was the subconscious effect of reaching Stradbroke and Framlingham about 30 minutes sooner than I normally would. An illusion of course, but a very pleasant one.

Once I reached Framlingham I headed on to Saxmundham, crossing the A12 which for me is a bit like entering a new country. This is simply because I don’t ride on the eastern side of the A12 that often (outings to Orford excepted). As I headed towards Leiston I could see the Sizewell reactor dome looming menacingly in the background. Then I soon reached Aldeburgh, the first of my targets for the day. Approaching the seashore I could hear the sound of the surf crashing onto the shingle. It’s one of those unique sounds that I always associate with happiness. Being born and growing up in the West Indies, the beach was a constant feature of daily life. The end of the school day was often followed by a trip to the nearest beach for a swim. One school I went to was within sight of a lovely sandy beach and I regularly used to get told off for looking out the window dreamingly when I should have been looking at either the blackboard or my textbooks! Today Aldeburgh was quiet with just a few dog walkers on the front. There was quite a lot of activity around several of the fishermen’s huts so I imagine that they had recently landed their catch. The one I paused outside had a mouth watering list of marine delights on offer. Sadly, transporting a supply of fresh wet fish on my Impulso was beyond my capabilities.

From Aldeburgh I headed up the coast through Thorpeness with its delightful Meare and the House in the Clouds. The House in the Clouds was originally built in 1923 as a water storage tower. Nowadays it’s available as a holiday rental (the water tank was removed in 1979). It’s not a cheap place to stay though – rentals range from around £2,000 per week to over £3,000 in peak season (including Christmas and New Year). So I’ll just enjoy the view.

Leaving Thorpeness I rode back to Leiston before heading north, and parallel to the coast towards Southwold. By now the sun had worked its magic and it had warmed up a bit (to about 5°C). I was enjoying the ride and feeling really happy. Sometimes when I’m this happy I’m prone to bursting into song. At this point readers I must come clean and tell you that I am not known as a tuneful singer. Quite the opposite in fact. But exercising my lungs when I’m happy is something I enjoy doing. Normally this isn’t an issue as there’s no one around to hear me. But today was rather different. As I rode towards Southwold I had been drawing on a wide repertoire. Stopping at some temporary traffic lights I was so wrapped up in my happiness that I carried on singing without being that aware of what I was doing. Something made me look over my shoulder to see a silver haired woman in a soft top sports car who was grinning at me. How embarrassing! She then shouted at me to say how happy I seemed; cycling must be the reason. I smiled inanely and fortunately the lights changed so I could move off without having to respond with some ‘clever’ comment. As she passed me after the traffic lights I received a lovely smile and a wave.

Unlike Aldeburgh, Southwold, which was my other goal for the day was bustling with activity. There seemed to be some sort of small market in the town centre and the stall holders were doing a brisk trade. I headed along the North Parade pausing to take a photo of the Impulso and the pier. Then it was time to continue onwards to Beccles, Bungay, Halesworth and finally to Diss. But let me share a little secret with you. Leaving Southwold I had to stop at that same set of traffic lights. And do you know what? I gave the citizens of Southwold another nice little ditty. Well, it would have been rude not to. Sadly, or even perhaps fortunately, this time I had no audience.

Saturday 19 November 2016

Surveying the Shire Again (C#58)
Saturday 19 November, 102 Miles

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We’ve reached that time of year when the weather becomes a significant constraint on riding outdoors. And I’ll admit, or confess if you prefer, that I DO NOT like riding in the rain when it’s cold. I’m quite happy to get wet on a ride but I’m very reluctant to set out when it’s raining and likely to stay that way. So that’s when I resort to the turbo trainer in my garage. I have an old winter bike (sssshh, it’s not a Bianchi) locked into it and if there’s little prospect of a ride then I’ll get an hour or so in. I try to spin at a reasonable cadence (90-100 rpm) for an hour with occasional bursts at around 110 rpm. For me it’s all about maintaining stamina rather than building strength.

My approach to long distance road riding is to maintain an average cadence of about 85-90 rpm with my heart rate at around 120 bpm and an average speed of 16-17mph. I’ve found that if I stay within these parameters I can keep going all day long. I’m a bit like a diesel engine in that regard – I take a while to pick up speed but can cruise along quite efficiently.

To reduce the boredom on the turbo I have a tv in front of it and Santa usually brings me a boxset to watch. I’m currently immersed in Series 3 of The Bridge. The lead character, Saga Norén certainly has some personal issues, Asperger’s possibly, which adds to the atmospherics. So, for the first part of the week I was glued to the screen. Yesterday was a better day so I was able to get out on the road for a 50-mile run around the local lanes – I had ‘things’ to do in the afternoon.

This morning broke as a lovely crisp, cold autumn day. It was cold enough though to freeze the surface of any sheltered puddles on the roadside. But at least the road surfaces were dry. Having surveyed the northern part of the Shire on my last century ride I decided to complete the survey by heading to the south and have a look at how things were in and around some of Suffolk’s most picturesque villages. After heading over to Stowmarket I turned towards Bildeston and then on to Lavenham.

Lavenham was largely founded on the wool trade and was once one of the richest towns in England. However with the production of cheaper cloth elsewhere as well as imported wool, Lavenham’s status and prosperity declined. This decline is the reason why there are so many unmodified medieval and Tudor buildings still present. There was simply no money to modernise them. As the saying goes, every cloud has a silver lining and the distinctive half-timbered buildings are the reason why Lavenham is now much visited by tourists and Claudia Schiffer who spent the night before her wedding here.

Leaving a bustling Lavenham to its visitors I then headed over to Long Melford and Clare, two more villages built on the wool trade. Whereas Lavenham is a rather compact village, Long Melford is much more elongated sitting astride the main road, built by the Romans. Clare however is a rather cosier place akin, to Lavenham.

From this trio of wool villages I continued westwards towards the edge of the Fens northwest of Newmarket before turning back and riding through the Kings Forest. The autumn colours here were simply stunning. In particular, the beech trees were displaying their finest autumn colours from light, sunny yellows through rich deep caramels to magnificent golden oranges. The surrounding green pines and mottled oaks helped to reinforce and bring out the richest colours. I suspect that autumn has now reached its visual peak and the prospect of further frosts and winds will soon cause the leaves drop.

Emerging from the Kings Forest I arrived at Elveden, the name of which means ‘Elves Valley’ – an appropriate place to visit on this tour of the Shire. The estate here was acquired by Maharajah Duleep Singh, the last Maharajah of the Sikh Empire, who was exiled in 1849, and bought the estate in 1863. He had grand plans for its restoration but his vision was never fully achieved. Following a downturn in his fortunes, the estate was sold after his death to Edward Cecil Guinness (later Lord Iveagh) and a member of the family that created the Irish ‘nectar’. Today the estate is a widely recognised as a world-class producer and supplier of local and regional food. The always busy Elevden Courtyard and Inn provide visitors with the opportunity to sample and buy the produce. And, based on personal experience, the restaurant, serves some rather tasty dishes. Just the thing for the century cyclist but sadly not for today.

By now I was about 80 miles into the ride. The combination of ideal riding conditions, spectacular scenery and the opportunity to sit in the saddle on my Impulso enjoying it all reminded me how lucky I am. If it had been warmer and the days longer I might even have kept going and done a double century ……….  And by way of a bonus, unlike last Sunday's survey of the northern Shire, my Impulso was almost as clean as it was when we set off this morning. Sadly tomorrow’s forecast is not looking encouraging so I’m probably going to have to resort to the turbo and Saga.

Monday 14 November 2016

Surveying the Shire (C#57)
Sunday 13 November, 101 Miles

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Slowly but surely the days are getting shorter as the nights draw in. But on the other hand, provided the weather isn’t grotty, the sun is putting in an appearance before 8:00am. In practical terms this means that it's still possible to ride a century in daylight. For local rides I allow about 6.5 hours to complete a typical century. This includes time to take pictures and for comfort stops. In colder weather I tend not to stop for refreshments on a ride (unless donuts are on offer) and take a couple of gels and a protein bar with me for an energy boost. I much prefer to keep riding and stay warm. On a few occasions I’ve ridden centuries non-stop i.e. no photos or comfort breaks. I’ve sort of ‘trained’ my body to cope with this though I daresay a cycling trainer would probably frown.

Today I decided to survey the Shire in a sort of Bilbo Baggins manner. While I had a general idea of the route I intended to take I hadn’t planned it out specifically. I thought I would add in the miles depending on what took my fancy as I rode along. With the rain of the last few days and colder temperatures, road surfaces around here are quite wet – the sun doesn’t have enough warmth to properly dry the tarmac. So I fitted a rather handy Zefal Swan to my seat post to keep my bum dry as I can’t think of anything worse than riding in soggy lycra with a wet bum! But enough of this.

Christmas is coming ....
Leaving home I headed into Thetford Forest towards Brandon. On the way I passed the entrance to Center Parcs at Elveden which seems to be getting ready for Xmas. I went to one of Center Parcs sites many years ago and whilst I had a lot of fun there I’ve never really felt the urge to return. I always have a wry smile as I pass by the Elveden site because I can see the security fence as I ride along. It reminds me of a POW camp, but that’s probably just my warped sense of humour!

Passing through Brandon I soon reached the western edge of the Shire with the Fens of Mordor just visible in the distance. By now the sun was trying to break through and I could see some hints of blue sky. But my front wheel was glistening with water as it swished along the wet tarmac.

I then did a little detour north to Foulden which means “hill frequented by birds” (Fowl and den). There doesn't seem to be a shortage of fowl in these parts as many of the fields are hooching with geese. So, in the true spirit of Xmas and as there was no one near me, I burst into song!

"Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat
Please do put a penny in the old man's hat
If you haven't got a penny, a ha'penny will do
If you haven't got a ha'penny, then God bless you!"

My son is around here somewhere - allegedly!
Soon after my little impromptu singalong I arrived at the Stanford Training Area, known locally as Stanta (and not Santa). This covers about 30,000 acres and has been used since 1942. The mix of open heath and pine forest provides any number of different types of countryside to train in. Villages have been built there over the years to replicate the local conditions that troops can be deployed to. Stanta’s other claim to fame is that many episodes of Dad’s Army were filmed around here. “Don’t panic Captain Mainwaring!” Today was a rather more poignant occasion for me on two counts. First it was Remembrance Sunday so I stopped to observe the two-minute silence. The second reason was that my son, who is in the Royal Artillery, was somewhere here on a training exercise. He must have been very well camouflaged because I didn’t spot him or any members of his Battery. Or it might just have been that he was tucked away somewhere else in the 30,000 acres.

From Stanta I headed north to Watton and then turned towards Attleborough before heading back to more familiar countryside closer to home. I can report that the northern part of the Shire is in good heart and there are no mysterious goings-on to be seen. The populace seems happy and the few Hobbits I passed all had a cheery smile and often an even cheerier ‘hello’ to share. I sense that with Christmas in the offing this is indeed the time of good cheer.

I managed to complete the ride well within the notional 6.5 hours so I was pleased with that. The only downside was that although the Swan had kept my bum dry, the celeste of the Impulso was now mottled with sticky brown mud. Indeed, it almost looked like camouflage paint – quite fitting considering where I had been.