The Dry Run (actually quite a wet run)

The plan was to challenge myself and test the bike, clothing and other kit. It was always going to be a bit of a ‘mission’ given that the over-nights (except the last one) were fixed in advance so I had to do the miles. Red wine and ibuprofen (not at the same time) helped no end.

The legs:

DayStartEndApproximate miles
WednesdayNorthamptonSutton Bridge85
ThursdaySutton BridgeCromer60
Friday (AM)CromerEast Tuddenham30
Friday (PM)East TuddenhamRisby45
SaturdayRisbyCambridge35
SundayCambridgeNorthampton60

Wednesday morning then, with 85 miles to cover I set off early. Some 45 minutes later and I am still in Moulton… on the verge (in more ways than one) at the side of the A43. It was raining steadily and I am faffing about with my first puncture. Yes, less than 10 minutes in and I had a puncture. Worse than that, the tyre had a half-inch gash in it. In spite of this I am having trouble finding the hole in the tube. Thinks… spare tube! Use the spare tube and fix the puncture later. A good plan until I snapped the top off the valve rendering the tube useless. So back to the finding the hole, patching, installing (ideally without snapping the valve) and pumping. Almost an hour gone, 84 of 85 miles still to go and I pedal off into the now bucketing rain.

The first photo stop. Can’t remember where it was, but I do remember it had stopped raining.
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First proper rest of the trip was at Whittlesey. I sat on the Market Square watching the world go by whilst munching a well-deserved Melton Mowbray Pork Pie. It was here that I encountered my first well-wisher. A rather tall smiley man came over for a chat. Turned out he is a keen cyclist and member of sustrans. He was full of questions and genuinely interested in my endeavour. A thoroughly nice chap and I am still kicking myself for not asking his name. Anyway, the encounter made me feel like something worthwhile was beginning.

It occurred to me that following the valve snapping I was in need of a spare inner tube, and Whittlesey might just have a bike shop. Turned out to be about a hundred yards from where my pork pie disappeared. The nice ladies at Whittlesey Cycles Ltd sorted me out with an inner tube and pair of gloves. With a refill of my water bottles I was off, looking forward to some seriously non-hilly cycling.

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Some really flat terrain after Whittlesey was welcome, but I didn’t expect this…DSC00078

Yes, this is a National Cycle Route. Surely I had taken a wrong turning… but no, a bit further on a post confirmed that this really is part of Route 63.

It was somewhere around here that I saw a man taking his dog for a walk in the car… doesn’t sound right. A man taking his dog for a walk through the car window… doesn’t sound right either. I’m sure you’ll work it out.

Arrival at Sutton Bridge felt like a real achievement.DSC00080

The Riverside Bar & Restaurant

I couldn’t wait to get into a nice hot shower followed by a nice warm bar, a nice glass of Shiraz and a mouth-watering perusal of the menu. Lamb shank seemed like a good idea and indeed it was. After that a second glass of wine and the warmth from the fire soon saw me nodding off. It felt good to climb into bed feeling as if I would sleep the sleep of the righteous. Not so as is it turned out. Bloody legs! And the nightmares! The same nightmare again and again. I am about 3 feet into a hill climb and my legs give up. I can’t ride, I can barely walk and there are miles and miles of hills ahead. Ibufrofen sorted the legs, but did little for the nightmares. Fortunately, after a really really big full English I was packed up, on the bike and off to Cromer feeling surprisingly refreshed.

Nice folks at The Riverside, and there is some serious history around Sutton Bridge, not that I had time to sample much of it.

Apparently King John’s crown jewels and other valuable crown possessions were lost in marshland near Sutton Bridge on 12 October 1216. Poor King! This was King John of England (1166-1216). Things went from bad to worse and a week later he died of dysentery. Poor King! His 9 year old son Henry III took over for the next 56 years. Not sure what he did for crown jewels though; it seems the lost ones are still lost despite some serious technology assisted searches.

Anyway, back to the biking and the road to Cromer. It rained. It rained a great deal, and it started at about the time I got my second puncture. This time I took a couple of minutes to get waterproofs on before tackling the puncture. Just as well because the torrential rain soon turned to double torrential with extra down-force. It rained all the way to Cromer and the only respite was when I stopped for lunch in a concrete bus shelter. It gave me a chance to wring out my socks, eat another pork pie, and empty the water out of my lovely water-proof cycling shoes.

I took the opportunity to fall off whilst still clipped-in after lunch. It all happened very quickly as I tried to regain the road after drifting into the gulley at the sharp broken edge of the road. I remember thinking I just had to get the front wheel up and the back would follow. I failed with the front and the road hit me before I knew it. My poor bike! My poor wounded pride. My panniers are detached. My leg hurts. My shoulder hurts. My god, there might be a car coming! Fortunately the rain was such that all the sensible people were indoors. I scrambled to get me and the bike and the luggage recovered to the gulley before one of the less sensible people squashed us. I needn’t have worried, it was about half an hour before I saw anyone, sensible or otherwise.

Just outside Cromer it stopped raining and I stopped for water and wine gums at a garage. I probably should have emptied my shoes again, but Cromer was so close. The garage lady followed me with a disapproving gaze as I squelched my way between the wine gums, water and selection of chocolate treats. This selecting of chocolate treats, and the consumption of Melton Mowbray pork pies were already becoming a feature of this trip.

The wind was getting up as I rode into Cromer and climbed the hill to Albury House, Alfred Street where my next overnight stay was booked. Me and the bike were soaked and muddy, but we were both invited in. What a lovely welcome and what a lovely B&B. My bike was berthed overnight in the dining room and I had a nice big room, warm, dry, spotlessly clean (before I arrived anyway) and just right for getting me clean and the washing dry.

Before turning in for the night I popped into Cromer town centre for a curry and a pint. A short sleep later and me and the bike were enjoying a not inconsiderable, and most delicious full English with toast and jam and coffee. I know, I seem to be obsessed with eating.

Leaving Cromer I didn’t even stop to look at the sea, let alone take any pictures. It was a bit drab anyway. If you need a look at Cromer here are some pictures from my visit in 2011.

Back on the road and I am having bike trouble. The front dérailleur has lost interest in the biggest chain-wheel, and I am a bit scared of trying to fix it. I did have a half-hearted twiddle of an adjuster, but it didn’t help, and I couldn’t seem to get any real momentum.

It wasn’t long before I came to Marriotts Way which would take me almost directly to sister EJ’s house in East Tuddenham. I have no doubt that in the summer this track would look every bit a idyllic as the web-site suggests. In February it was dreadful. Not all of it, but large parts were just mud and in other parts the mud was hidden by the water. Progress was painfully slow. As it turned out, a bit slower than it needed to be due to my earlier twiddling. I can’t imagine what I was thinking, but I had managed to adjust the rear brake so it was really binding. No wonder it didn’t fix the gears! Feel free to call me bad names, I did. Things looked up thereafter though and the visit to EJ happened, albeit rather later than planned. Lovely house, and very nice Battenburg EJ.

I was running late for the second leg of the day which would see me at a place called Risby, not far from Bury St. Edmunds. It was dark before I arrived and I had the chance to see just how pathetic my front light was. I have no doubt people would see me, but it would have been nice if I could see the edge of the road at least.

My stop was at the The White Horse Coaching Inn where after a welcome shower and the inevitable clothes washing I took a couple of glasses of red with Justin, home computer aficionado and Manager of the White Horse.

I almost left the White Horse (after the full English of course) without reading the guest information. Interesting… glad I didn’t read it the night before:

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So, it is Saturday, and almost a day off. I only have to get to Cambridge and the rest of the day is free. My SatNav invited me to ride across another field, but otherwise the trip was uneventful. Gears still playing up, and hands suffering from a not quite right riding position, but otherwise things are good. It had been hard work and I felt like a rest.

I heard they are big on bikes in Cambridge…DSC00094

Booking in to my room in Cambridge was an experience. When I arrived there was a young man with limited English being booked in. The lady doing the booking saw an opportunity for economy of scale and decided to book us both in at the same time. Given that he had limited English, I had limited patience and she wouldn’t look at the person to whom she was speaking it went quite well I suppose. We were at different stages of the booking process when she started, but ended up synchronised and following her to the Annexe. He had my photocopied map, but I felt disinclined to try to get it from him. He had bigger problems anyway in the shape of the biggest and most badly behaved rolling suitcase I have ever seen. It was big enough for at least one room-mate if not two. In fact, if it were not for the concealed room-mates he wouldn’t have needed a room at all.

After getting settled I locked up the bike and set off into the city centre on foot. It was lovely to walk and lovely to be free of luggage for a while. I even left my camera behind. As ever I was starving so first job was to find a massive fish pie, apple crumble and custard and a couple of large glasses of red. As luck would have it I found a restaurant that served exactly that. The Shiraz wasn’t special so I tried the Malbec, and that was very special at 14.5%. That kept me warm all afternoon as I wandered aimlessly in and out of the shops and within teasing distance of the punt trip sellers. Without my camera I had to resort to using my phone. Rubbish pictures, but at least they prove I’m not making it up.

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After a restless night in The Annexe (somebody humping a bloody great rolling suitcase around I suspect) I was up early tucking in to an egg and bacon sandwich, a pecan Danish and hot coffee.

The first thing that struck me when I went outside was the wind. When I say struck me, that is what it did. It was ridiculous. Wind is my least favourite weather for cycling. I love it when walking the ridges and edges in Derbyshire, but on a bike it is no fun.

A good part of the journey back to Northampton was on the gloriously smooth tarmac of the Cambridgeshire Guided Busway. Lovely for cycling on… were it not for the wind.

The Busway connects Cambridge, Huntingdon and St Ives. Apparently it is the longest guided busway in the world; the second being the O-Bahn Busway in Adelaide, South Australia. Specially adapted buses are used, and the bus driver does not need to hold the steering wheel on the guided sections. It was opened in August 2011 so at the time of writing, all that not having to steer must surely mean the thing has paid for itself by now. It cost around £181 million though so I’m not convinced. Perhaps it would have been cheaper to pay the drivers to steer all the way? Just sayin’.

Did I mention the wind at all? This ride was without doubt the most physically demanding thing I ever did. At times, even in my lowest gear I had to stand up to make any headway. If it was not head-on it was threatening to have me in the ditch or into the path of oncoming traffic. Sounds silly now, but it was making me very cross. It just would not relent. I was swearing at it, at the top of my voice, and all it did was change from phhhhhhhhhhhhhh to PHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

This picture shows Grafham Water. You can see where the wind has even blown away some of the sky.DSC00097

This is where I nearly had my second breakfast.DSC00104

This is where I actually had my second breakfast. A pork pie and the other pecan Danish. You have to buy them in twos, otherwise I would only have bought one… twice.

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This place is Kimbolton, and I sat on that actual bench. The church bells were just audible over the sound of the howling wind and the sweary cyclist.
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A welcome sight, but still a long way to go. At least it wasn’t raining. It saved that until about half an hour from home. It was rain, but it felt like freezing cold needles being driven into my face. You know why.

First job when I arrived home was to get my bike to the bike hospital at Pitsford. Then a very very long hot shower whilst I reflected with satisfaction that I had completed the ‘mission’. Around 300 miles, some very nice people and some really dreadful weather. I reckon I can do Great Britain.

Finally my route (ish)… I had to fill some gaps where GPS logging stopped working…

and some stats

WhatCount
Hills walked0
Rests taken on hills0
Tumbles (bike)3
Tumbles (bike and me)2
Pork pies5
Glasses of wine (large)pass
Litres of waterloads
Full English breakfasts3
Curries1
Pints of beer1

 

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