Saturday 15 April 2017

Roundabouts, Gas and A Pudding (LGD -393 Days)
Saturday 15 April 2017, 73 Miles

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Well it all seemed to be pretty clear on the ‘phone. Daren (Nairo) Morgan and I had arranged to meet in the car park across the road from Tesco in the centre of Watton. I arrived early so I had the time to have a quick look round to see this small and rather unprepossessing town. Five minutes was all it took and, at the risk of annoying the locals, I felt that was all the time I needed to see what Watton had to offer. So back to the car to await Nairo’s arrival. Next thing I knew was a phone call – “Where are you?” “In the car park opposite Tesco!” Anyway, long story short, so was Nairo – but a different car park. No matter we were soon reunited, kitted up and ready to roll.

With the prospect of a fairly strong and gusty wind from the north west we had decided to head north west on the outward leg of the ride, hopefully benefitting from a tail wind back. To ring the changes I had included a few lanes which I hadn’t ridden before. Nairo was amused (I think) to hear that I have a map of East Anglia which I mark up to show which roads I’ve ridden on. The map’s now quite well marked so I’m at the stage of trying to fill in the gaps. With the strong wind, and my selective deafness, it was sometimes quite difficult to hear what Nairo was saying but I did catch the words “obsessive” and “affliction”. Hmmm.

We made good progress to our first landmark, the lovely small village of Castle Acre which was quite quiet. If the wind risked cooling us down, the short sharp rise into Castle Acre was perfect for raising the body temperature. Leaving Castle Acre we continued to head gently upwards, making light of the wind, along one of those typical long, straight, deeply hedged Norfolk lanes. This one forms part of the Peddars Way, a 46-mile-long path starting on the Norfolk/Suffolk Border and ending at the coast near Hunstanton where it meets the Norfolk Coast Path. The coast path which covers the 44 miles from Hunstanton to Cromer is a lovely walk which I did a few years ago.

At Great Bircham we turned north east bound for Burnham Market. This provided us with immediate relief from the wind and our speed picked up. It was also much easier to hold a conversation. We had thought that Burnham might be a good place to stop for a quick drink and cake but when we arrived it was absolutely heaving with people and it seemed almost as if every Range Rover and Discovery owner in England had decided to come here today (Easter Saturday). Mindful of our last café frustration with the Hell Angels in East Harling (see 1st April) we decide to press on and seek our sustenance elsewhere. I subsequently discovered that the crowds were there for the Burnham Market International Horse Trials. And this being rural Norfolk, the highlight of the day’s programme was some camel racing!

We didn’t have far to go as a couple of miles down the road Nairo spotted a café sign so we pulled over and treated ourselves to coffee, cola and some tasty coffee and walnut cake. The “café” was actually a rather more ambitious venture since it also sold local produce and assorted country crafts stuff. It was also heaving with people so we had to wait rather longer than was ideal before our order arrived.

Suitably refreshed we set off heading south east with the wind fully in our favour and made good time to Fakenham. I celebrated our arrival by doing a lap of honour round the roundabout before entering the town – Nairo was somewhat less complementary about my antics!  As we head out of the town we stopped at the Fakenham Gas Museum which seemed a rather quirky attraction to find in north Norfolk.

With some post-ride giggling on the ineterweb I learnt that the gas works produced town gas from 1846 to 1965 when it was the last one operating in the UK after the others had been closed and demolished. It is the only complete town gas works in the country and has been converted in to a museum which opened in 1987. It is also protected as a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

We paused at the delightfully named hamlet of Pudding Norton with the remains of St Margaret’s Church visible from the road. The church is believed to date from the 12th and 13th centuries and it is thought to have been used until the reign of Elizabeth I. Little is known about it after then. Today, only the west tower and part of the west end of the nave remain.

Nairo and I continued to make excellent speed as we headed south east towards Dereham before turning back to Watton. The riding was excellent marred only by quite a lot of traffic. This being rural Norfolk even the B roads are busy. The last leg back into the wind made sure that any fuel left in the tank was pretty well used up so we adjourned to Watton’s greasy spoon to top up.

Saturday 8 April 2017

Suffolk Spring Sunshine (LGD -400 Days)
Saturday 8 April, 87 Miles

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Today was a gloriously sunny day. Spring really does seem to have arrived at last. The weather forecast was promising unseasonably warm weather so I put on a pair of bibshorts for only the second time this year. I decided to head east initially to get the maximum amount of sun in my face and start work on those cyclist’s tan lines. I already have quite a pronounced line around my neck but from the wind, so much so that a couple of people have asked me where I’ve been on holiday. Sadly my facial ‘tan’ is the result of the wind and not anything more exotic. It comes complete with a couple of stripes where the straps of my helmet cover my skin. Hmmm.

My Bianchi of choice today was the Infinito which was feeling quite dapper. I say ‘dapper’ because I have just given it a new set of tyres. The old ones had worn out - the rear tyre was almost bald in a couple of places. My tyres of choice are Michelin Pro 4 Endurances which over the years have given me excellent service, both in terms of puncture resistance and the number of miles covered. Choice of tyres is a subject that some cyclists can get quite excited about. Everyone seems to have their own preferences and is an expert on the subject. Personally, that old motto: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it …” is usually my best guide for this sort of thing. For sure there are probably tyres out there with a lower rolling resistance or more that are comfortable or have better puncture resistance or whatever. The Michelins have served me well over the last several years so I’ll be sticking with them.

Anyway, back to the ride. From home I headed out to Eye and then on to Fressingfield before turning south, eventually arriving at Framlingham which, on a Saturday morning, was bustling with activity. I had thought of stopping at The Dancing Goat Café which I’ve heard is both good and cyclist friendly. Like the rest of the market square it was heaving with people so I decided to keep going.

From Framlingham I headed to the edge of Wickham Market which was the furthest east I had ridden this year. I then explored a few small lanes to the north west which I hadn’t ridden over before. The gently rolling countryside provided some great views over the fields which are now coloured with rich shades of green (winter grain crops) and vibrant yellows (oil seed rape). It really does seem that now the sun has got its hat on, the countryside has come out to play. Not only are the colours invigorating the scents are almost overpowering too. The pungent smell of oil seed rape pollen was all around me. Fortunately I don’t suffer from hay fever – I pity those who do.

Would you fly in this?
Approaching Monewden something caught my eye through the hedgerow so I stopped to investigate. Walking round a barn I came across the wreck of small plane, a Cessna I think. Without its engine and wings I have to say it looked very small. The size of the cockpit wasn’t much bigger than the inside of a small car (think Mini or Fiat Cinquecento). I’m not sure I’d be happy to go flying in that. Heading back to the road I peeped through the barn doors and spotted a US Army World War II spotter plane. It appeared to be an original, not a replica. It looked as if it was still being used and if I thought the Cessna was tiny, then this was its smaller sibling! As I headed back to the road I saw a sign tucked into the hedge proclaiming that I was at Monewden Airfield. There was little visible sign of a landing strip but I imagine small planes don’t need much. The hedges and trees around the ‘airfield’ could make for some interesting and tense moments during landings and take offs.

Leaving the aeronautical splendours of Monewden behind me I passed through the small and delightful hamlet of Hoo. As I rode along I amused myself with an imaginary conversation: “Where do you live?” “Hoo.” “No, where DO YOU LIVE?” Haha, how droll! Anyway, back to reality. Pausing to take a photo of the village sign one of the villagers I guess, walked past me. We nodded at each other and exchanged cheery good mornings. My response to the question “How far had I come” (“About 60 miles”) was met with a stony silence and a complete lack of reaction. My village walker carried on as if I didn’t exist!

From Hoo it was an easy and very pleasant spin through Earl Soham and eventually back home. At 87 miles this was my longest ride of the year so far. And most enjoyable it was too. If the good weather holds I think I’ll try to complete my first century of the year tomorrow.

Saturday 1 April 2017

South Norfolk in the Flandrian Style with a Bit of Magic Thrown In (LGD -407 Days)
Saturday 1 April, 53 Miles

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Today the destination of choice was South Norfolk. I had arranged to meet Daren (Nairo) Morgan in the Market Square at East Harling and had laid on a route of about 60 miles that would take us north almost to the River Tud before we headed east to Wymondham and then south back to East Harling. Unlike last Saturday’s ride there was going to be very little in the way of climbing. The countryside round here is vaguely like that of Flanders but without the cobbles. It seemed quite appropriate as the next day the professionals would be competing in the Tour of Flanders, a Spring Classic and one of the five Monuments. As it looked to be a fine day I opted to ride the extra ten miles from home to East Harling for my rendezvous with Nairo.

I made good time and enjoyed a coffee whilst watching East Harling awake and observing its citizens go about their various Saturday morning routines. I do enjoy a spot of people watching.  Soon enough Nairo arrived, unloaded his bike and was ready for the off.
So, off we went. We made excellent speed with Nairo leading with his usual fast start. I was quite happy to tuck in behind him and be pulled along! After a couple of miles I realised that I might have made a tactical error with my route planning. Our fast speed was aided by a strong tailwind. What this meant was that the latter and much more exposed section of the route was going to involve riding straight into the wind. Hmmm.

Reflecting on my route planning capabilities I remembered a story about Freddy Maertens. Freddy was a Flandrian professional cyclist during the 1970’s and early 80’s who won several classics and Grand Tour stages. He was also the World Road Race Champion twice, in 1976 and 1981. His career was a case of swings and roundabouts and rather overshadowed by that of his fellow countryman, Eddy Merckx.  Nevertheless, he amassed a significant tally of wins and had a reputation as a hard man. His approach to training involved riding as far and fast as he could with a tailwind until he was unable to go any further. Then he turned around and rode back home again – into the wind! Nowadays Freddy is Curator of the Tour of Flanders Museum in Oudenaarde. So today it rather seemed as if we were going to pay homage to the Tour of Flanders and its cyclists.

With fast and easy riding Nairo and I engaged in a lively debate and were soon putting the world to rights. I won’t bore you readers, with the details. Suffice to say that it involved our differing perspectives on the distribution of wealth and the growth of the world’s population. Heavy stuff and heady stuff!

In seemingly no time at all we arrived at Yaxham and turned east heading for East Tuddenham before turning south into that strong wind. From here it was a case of grinding it out as we headed over the gentle folds and undulations of this part of south Norfolk. With my diesel-powered approach to riding I led us along, trying to maintain a high(ish) cadence with Nairo tucking in behind and popping out occasionally to give me a break. Arriving at Wymondham was an opportune time to refuel and Nairo took advantage of the three for two offer on chocolate to augment his Milky Bar with a Kit Kat. I was a tad more restrained with a Twix, but I suppose that’s cheating slightly as it does have two biscuits.

Suitably refreshed we left Wymondham still heading east. Nairo got excited when we reached the start of a Strava segment and indulged in a spot of sprinting. (I blame the Milky Bar!) We regrouped at the end of the segment and turned south again back into the wind. Much of the final leg of the route consisted of pan flat, near mile-long straights. With the added force of the headwind, this was riding that Freddy would surely have revelled in.

Where's My Milky Bar?
As we approached East Harling I suggested that we could ride the additional mile over to the St George’s Distillery, which we had passed on the way out, for a coffee and a cake, which I felt we had earned. I suspect Nairo thought I may also have hankered after a wee dram too! Arriving at the distillery we discovered that it had been overrun by a gang of Hell’s Angels. Well, not really Hell’s Angels but a group of Harley Davidson riders dressed up like Hell’s Angels. Unfortunately, they had monopolised the café and were each individually ordering their choice of refreshment and the person operating the coffee maker was running at one speed – slow. So, faced with a lengthy wait we opted to backtrack to East Harling and call in at The Swan for our restoratives. They did us proud with a sticky chocolate brownie for Nairo and an apple turnover for me.

Sitting outside in the bright sunshine time almost seemed to lose all meaning. What I hadn’t anticipated was the post ride entertainment that Daren had laid on. When he’s not on his bike, or at work, Daren has another side – he’s an accomplished magician. With a slight of hand, a pack of cards appeared on the table and Daren was soon mesmerising me with an array of tricks and illusions. And surprise, surprise, to me at least. The brand of cards he used were called Bicycle! How appropriate. Readers, it’s because of their quality rather than any tricky features. Well, that’s what Daren claimed and who am I to disagree. Next time out I’ll bring my Battle of the Bikes Top Trumps pack and see if I can impress Nairo!