Saturday 19 November 2016

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

Click here for Route Flyby

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.

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