Nothing went wrong today. Even the damp start was bearable, perhaps because the day was warm, if rather muggy. The roads were heavy though, and my legs ache now with the effort they put in. We saw sandstone cottages, and churches with tall steeples, and fields enclosed in dry stone walls.
There being no porridge oats left for breakfast, I ate 3 tasteless rolls left from Earls Barton, with the last of my peanut butter. It was satisfying to be using up ‘bits’ on this last day of the trip. I packed a malt loaf, that had been with me since Wales, in my jersey pocket for lunch. My friend arrived and we loaded the trailer and gear into his car. Raisin jumped in too, and would not be moved.
Whilst they headed off for Bury and broccoli stalls on the market, I rode south from Horningsea and soon picked up the cycle paths and quiet lanes of Route 51. The going was flat and easy, with a tailwind, and the villages, including Swaffham Prior with its round church tower, sped past. I saw napped flint walls for the first time since leaving Wales – a familiar sight in Suffolk, and fields of sugar beet.
The flatlands stopped around Burwell, with gentle undulations to Newmarket, where the wind pushed me up the long drag out of town over the gallops, and past the opulent gates and high hedges of its stud farms. I stopped at the medieval packhorse bridge in Moulton for a photo, and the suprising ease of pushing my bike, without the trailer, into position made me laugh out loud. Whilst there, a friend whose jazz octet I had left last year, before my ride to Aberdeen, rang. She had heard I was playing my trombone again and did I want to rejoin the band. I said yes.
After Moulton it was positively hilly. Anybody who tries to tell you Suffolk is flat, is thinking of Norfolk. The 33 miles I rode today had more feet of climbing than any of the other rides on the trip – by some margin. It would have been very hard with the trailer, but unencumbered as I was, and with the tailwind, it was pure joy. These were proper concentrate-and-push-hard hills, followed by swooping decents, on well-surfaced, quiet roads. Good hills.
Six miles from home, at Barrow, I spotted an old dog walking acquaintance, Meryl, who moved to the village a couple of years ago with her chihuahua Petra. “Hello love” she said when I pulled up beside them on the green, “you haven’t cycled all the way from Bury have you?” She asked abut the bats and I explained that I had to give up rescuing them because of my mealworm allergy, which reminded me that I still haven’t decided what to do with my life instead.
Walking the bike past the market, this being Wednesday, and down Abbeygate Street in Bury felt a little emotional. Home again. Decisions to make again: what to do next with my one precious life. Apart from trombone practice, and choir practice tomorrow.
Raisin greeted me in our little garden as if she hadn’t seen me for 3 weeks, not 3 hours. Friends brought cake, flowers, good wishes and welcome card with a painting highlighting elements of the trip. Nice to be reminded on the earwig incident (not).
We had a lovely time but it’s good to be home. Thanks for the support via emails, phone calls, texts, comments and ‘likes’. In life and in cycling, Raisin and I wish you tailwinds. And good hills x
The A428 goes straight from St Neots to Cambridge in about 23 miles, but we took the scenic route to the north, via Godmanchester and St Ives. Sustrans Route 51 does an even bigger loop, to take in Grafham Water, but as it was raining when we set off I decided to save that for another day.
The scenery was flat and muted under a grey, cloudy sky. There was more sky than anything here – low and vast. St Ives was bustling and seemed to appear suddenly, like an oasis in that dreary landscape. At Market Hill we saw Oliver Cromwell, for the second time in a few days; this time in bronze. He was man of St Ives, said the statue’s inscription.
We had joined Route 51 by this point, which took us 9 miles towards Cambridge from St Ives on the ‘busway’. This peculiar thing is two parallel concrete channels in which buses run, guided by small wheels sticking out at the front. A smooth, wide cycle path goes alongside, the whole thing traffic free apart from buses hurtling along piloted by drivers texting their mates.
The channels and the infrastructure look new and in good condition despite the wildflowers that grow on the embankments and on the tracks themselves, almost as if deliberately planted. It looks attractive, especially passing as it does the great expanse of flooded gravel pits that now form Fen Drayton nature reserve.
We stopped at the reserve so I could eat lunch, and Raisin could play with Mouse. Raisin had insisted on running the first few miles of the busway but I was tired and keen to get on, so she and Mouse travelled in the trailer after that. But the wind had swung round and the beautiful lakes replaced by boring fields and building sites and my bum ached and it was hard work. I caught myself thinking a couple of hills might be nice, to give some variety to the pain and the view.
In Cambridge the busway ended near the Regional College but the Route 51 continued as a cycle path, past Cambridge North station looking modern and ready for hundreds of cyclists, judging by all the bike storage. We might have continued into town for the Camping and Caravanning Club site, but after another bad experience last night, I had booked a quiet site in Horningsea, just outside the city, and we left 51 to head north along the Cam towpath.
Last night I had filed my report and closed my eyes for much needed sleep when it became clear that the man in the tent next to ours was not going to stop talking on his phone until he had called everyone he knew to tell them all about his unremarkable day, and anything else that occurred to him. I wondered if he paid some of these people to take his calls, since he did nearly all the talking and it was hard to see what benefit there would otherwise be in receiving them. He wasn’t talking particularly loudly but every word was audible and after a couple of hours of trying to distract myself with podcasts, audio books, mindfulness etc, I just wanted to kill him.
So by the time we reached the Cam I was looking forward to finishing the ride. We had done 30 miles, much of it at Raisin’s trotting pace of 5 or 6 miles an hour. Unfortunately our river crossing point was a bridge with steps up one side and down the other – impossible with loaded trailer and bike on my own. We had to carry on to a road crossing at Waterbeach, adding another 3 miles to the ride. There was consolation though, as a kingfisher darted from an unseen perch over my head, its orange underside clearly visible and a change from the usual blue dart we see. Then a fish – a small dolphin I thought – leapt from the water in a graceful arc. Then a roe deer appeared on the opposite bank, prancing, before bounding off. All as if to say we are glad you came this way.
The camp site is small a quiet. There is a lovely big spotless shower, with full lighting and no mildew. I used it; plenty of room for Raisin in the cubicle and no one about to object to her presence there. It was lovely and much needed, although I was disappointed some of the tan came off my legs, especially round the ankles.
Raisin and I went to a pub in the village, whose houses looked pretty in the evening sun. Again there were no county boundary signs today but we must be in Cambridgeshire, and those bricks must be Cambridgeshire whites. I had veg lasagne for dinner, with chips and broccoli. Heaven. Tomorrow is the last day; Bury just 34 miles away. A friend is coming to find us and take Raisin and the trailer home by car so I can ride the last bit solo.
We saw no county boundary signs though, ‘slipping silently from shire to shire’ as, I have it in good authority, FJ Urry used to say in Cycling between the wars. Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire and Huntingdonshire today I think; from Earls Barton to St Neots via Sharnbrook and Thurleigh. Confusingly, a tree lined track marked Three Shires Way, which we had a quick leg stretch/wee stop on, seems to link Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire.
The trees are just about to turn, and a prematurely red virginia creeper reminded me of the Angel Hotel, and Autumn in Bury St Edmunds.
A layby somewhere near Yarls Wood Immigration Centre had a couple of large notices for ‘litter louts’, which seemed to be effective as the area was rubbish-free.
The Camping and Caravanning Club site at St Neots is on the Ouse, and we accessed it via a cycle path, of which there are many here. The site is surprisingly busy, although not full, with relieved grandparents perhaps, making the most of the kids going back to school, before it gets too cold and dark for camping.
Raisin and I walked into town along Ouse Way, a great expanse of meadow and parkland by the river that must all be floodplain.
Google Maps was taking us to Fisher’s Ironmongers, where I hoped to buy meths for my stove. When I couldn’t see the shop, a local lady told me it had closed two months ago. However, a cheapo household goods shop nearby sold me some, and I was so happy at the prospect of having coffee at breakfast time and hot food for tea that I bought some cakes in Greggs to celebrate. It would have been better to have bought vegetables but I didn’t have that option. After a bath, broccoli is what I most crave. We passed a couple of farm shops on the ride today that sold fresh veg, but at the time I didn’t think I’d be able to cook it, because of the meths situation.
I am too tired to report further. The rain kept me awake most of the night; it really is loud on taught canvas 8 inches from one’s head. I bet Chris Froome doesn’t have difficulty sleeping on rest days. Tomorrow should see us in Cambridgeshire. Not far now.