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.

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