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
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.
I wanted to push on to St Neots today, and thus be in with a chance of making it home for choir practice on Thursday, but my body had other ideas. Specifically, my right calf, which cramped the minute I got up and had me hobbling and cursing with pain till late morning. We had run out of water in Northampton yesterday, still with a few miles to ride and I got dehydrated I think. Schoolboy error; stupid.
So I paid up for another night at the marina here in Earls Barton and we wandered into the village via Nene Way, along the river. There are a couple of guillotine locks here. Locks terrify me anyway, and these look double scarey, although I expect they are designed so it’s quite difficult to behead your boat.
The river is pretty, with fish darting around in the clear water and heron out to catch them.
Heading away from the Nene and towards the village, we could see a roofscape of round pointy tent tops and heraldic pennants flying. Upon reaching the place, a sign said it was Midlands History Festival, involving knights and vikings, and in small writing, something about ‘Colonials having a bit of a tiff’. Had it said tiffin, we would have gone in.
The village has a few fair shops, none of which were open, this being Sunday, apart from a big Co-op and a more down-market convenience store. The latter looked a safer bet for leaving Raisin outside, so I dashed in and bought tasteless bread and unripe tomatoes. The thing I most need at the moment, however, is meths for my stove. I thought I would ask if they sold it, just in case. The chap serving said he hadn’t heard of it. “Methylated spirits?” I then said, to clarify. He shook his head. He seemed to be under the impression it was a brand of drink – indeed it probably tastes better than some of the cheaper stuff they had on sale in the booze section.
There’s only us here, and a caravan, in a large area under some big old trees that I think are black poplar – new to me and quite rare. The caravan lady stopped by for a chat and explained that she and her husband live in Gran Canaria but come back in the summer to do a bit of work in their business. There’s no electricity ‘hook up’ on site yet for caravans, so she said they were ‘slumming it’ without a hair drier or hoover and suchlike during their stay. I wanted to laugh but feared it would sound hysterical, so just nodded in sympathy.
It’s difficult to know but I reckon I have enough meths for 3 or 4 more water boils, which means rationing it unless I can find an ironmongers very soon. I shall have to decide which is more palatable: cold coffee or uncooked Supernoodles.
During the afternoon it turned windy and threatened rain and, there being plenty of time to kill, I made a basha (if that is the correct expression). This evening, in the rain, I cooked slightly crunchy Supernoodles without getting wet or setting fire to the tent. If nothing gets blown away or broken in the night then I can say it was a success.
Weather and legs permitting we will be off tomorrow, heading east again, for Cambridgeshire, and then we’ll be across the flat lands and home in no time.