Bressingham Gardens 80km

We all may have a shed full of bikes at home, but if you put nearly 500 cyclists on a site, you will end up with a sports hall full.
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……and not all are conventional two-wheeled machines…
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…..a great place for surveying the plethora of different cycling concepts.

On a breezy, gusty day, I headed off with this small group of companions
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to Bressingham Gardens and Steam Museum and, on the route back, got waylaid by the fascinating little town of Diss, so beloved of both John Betjemen and Mary Wilson (wife of PM Harold). It’s a town that surrounds a 6 acre mere, giving it an unusually picturesque setting.
This week of pedalling through the country lanes of Suffolk has opened new vistas on a county that is often overlooked by the passing traveller. It’s a county full of hidden gems.

Orford 62km

“Hey up….come on, move it…hup, hup, hup…..”.
I heard this in the distance, and this is what I found…….

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…..and there’s no hurrying them.
I’ve also discovered that country churches in Suffolk have baptismal fonts decorated with hairy little men carrying clubs, called ‘wodewoses’….

…and the medieval equivalent of a secure password is to have all valuables put in a chest with 5 locks, so that whenever it is to be opened, 5 men have to be present.

….but then they hadn’t discovered the power of the crowbar.
But the crowning jewel of the day had to be Orford Castle

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which, despite its fortified appearance, was probably more of a whimsical folly than a real castle.

Framlingham-Southwold 80km

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One the most remarkable things about this bunch of nearly 500 cyclists is their average age. They are predominantly retirees, many of them in their 70s and 80s, but they don’t think and act like old people. They are up for an early breakfast, chatting noisily about the day’s route, organizing themselves, preparing their bikes, and then off they go for the day. Evenings are filled with entertainment, quizzes, films, bands and slide presentations. They simply don’t have time to sit around and get bored. All of them are testament to happiness and longevity.

My route took me to Southwold, notable for its colourful beach huts and splendid pier. But en route, I chanced by this medieval painted panel in Wenhaston church,

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salvaged from the rubbish tip by someone who had noticed that the rain had washed off its ‘puritan whitewash’, and a gem was saved and restored.

Then this semi-ruined church in Walberswick,

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which was left unfinished in the 16th century because the money had run out. They obviously didn’t have a philanthropic lord of the manor who might bail them out.

Sutton Hoo 80km

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As the early-morning mist began to lift, the day promised to be hot and sunny……and it was. Narrow lanes led to hidden villages, sand on the verges testified to the proximity of the coast, and huge tractors and trailers reminded us that the harvest was in full swing.
My primary goal for the day was to spend a couple of hours at the ancient Anglo-Saxon burial site of Sutton Hoo.

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The story behind the discovery of the treasure-laden long boat is fascinating, and their exhibition gives an excellent overview of the history. And the star exhibit of the Treasury is this warrior helmet

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….simply stunning.
Nearly 150 came to hear my End-to-End of Japan story last night, and now they’ve asked for a second show…..I feel flattered.

Aldeburgh and Snape Maltings 63km

I had to be back to set up the room and kit for doing a slide presentation of my End-to-End of Japan, so a short ride took me to Saxmundum, Aldeburgh and Snape Maltings, the recent history of the last two so connected with the composer Benjamin Britten, and his singer and partner, Peter Pears.

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But another gem of Aldeburgh was its eye-catching Moot Hall, part of which still serves as a Town Hall, and the upstairs as a museum.

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Bury St Edmunds-Framingham 60km

After an excellent overnight in Bury St Edmunds, kindly hosted by long distance cyclists Steve and Debs, the miles were restored to tired leg muscles, and primed to fight against a constant headwind from the NE. We dined on a superb paella, and ‘wined’ on a cheeky Chilean red called ‘La Bicicleta’….nothing like a themed meal to complement the occasion. Steve & Debs, if you are reading this, thanks for your kind hospitality.

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I pitched my tent in the manicured grounds of Framingham College, and this was the view from my little porch.

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As the sun sets, Framlingham Castle was framed by its dramatic setting.

Kimbolton-Bury St Edmunds 100km

Obstructions in life are commonplace, but on a bike they usually take the form of other road users or pedestrians, and seldom curious cows blocking the way on riverside paths

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…..but sometimes you come across little medieval gems like this, that would have been used by trains of 50 pack-horses taking produce to the market

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….and (apologies for the excessive reflection on the windscreen) then you chance by a rusting campervan that has one member of its ‘skeleton crew’ sitting in the front passenger seat. When I asked the owner, he simply said they couldn’t afford to bury every member of the family…..

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…..and anyway, she never answers him back.

CTC Birthday Rides 2016

About to head off to Framlingham College, Suffolk, to join some 500 other cyclists for a week of cycling, sightseeing and entertainment………and looking forward to getting back to some simple camping in my little Vaude Hogan.

Back to a few basics…… here is my transport, shelter and wardrobe. The simple life.IMAG2472

Travelling through history….

Cycling along country lanes, through little villages and hamlets, I am frequently conscious of the history I am travelling through. Wherever I go in this land, people have populated this country for thousands of years, and every metre of every ride comes close to some significant event in the past that has likely got lost in the mists of time. A well known African proverb tells us: “Until lions have their own historians, tales of the hunt will always glorify the hunter”.  So too with human beings. Until the poor and dispossessed have their historians, tales of the past will always glorify the rich and powerful, and will be recounted and handed down in a carefully sanitised version.

My ride this morning took me through tiny places associated with well known people from the past, some of whom were history-makers. Christopher ‘Troublechurch’ Browne, for instance, was a non-conformist who wanted to separate church from state, and became a mentor and father-figure behind the Pilgrim Fathers who set sail across the Atlantic to found a new colony. He was associated with Thorpe Waterville and had lived in Lilford Hall.IMAG2468

John Dryden (poet) was born in the Rectory in Aldwincle, and John Quincy Adams (6th President of the USA) had ancestors that came out of the tiny hamlet of Achurch. Achurch was also the home village of Alfred Leete, the designer of the famous Kitchener poster of the Great War that encouraged men to enlist in the armed services. My route home traced a long straight stretch of Roman road, and my route out passed through the village of Yielden that can trace its origins back to the late Neolothic period (2000 BC).

We are not only ‘surrounded by geography’, we are also surrounded by our ancient past.

Wadenhoe 60km

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Late afternoon ‘bash’ 52km

A dodging-the-showers ride across countryside crying out for the harvest to be brought in. It’s the month of frustration for the arable farmers around here.Raunds Thrapston 52km

Then we get the most stunning sunset of the early summer……that’s one of the beauties of clouds…….they first bring the rain, followed by promises of better things to come.IMAG2465

Northern loop 67km

Another cracking ride. After so much recent rain, mixed with liberal dashes of sunshine, the English countryside is looking its best. Farmers must be happy………?

Northern loop 67km

Stanwick Lakes 67km

It was good to re-connect with the Sunday Club run, though not to ride in the mix just yet. But all in good time……..

And a new member, who seems to have joined in my absence (or maybe we’ve never been out on the same run before) introduced himself as being a former student of mine (and I did remember him!). He told his ‘old’ Spanish teacher that he has continued with his Spanish, listening to podcasts in the car as he drives around the country. As the smile on my face broadens, he also tells me that he’s off with a couple of old classmates to follow the Tour de France through Switzerland……on their bikes, of course.

Learning  Spanish and riding bikes…….could it get any better than that?Stanwick Lakes 67km

It never rains but……

Ever heard “It never rains but it pours”?

Well, if there’s a 50/50 chance it is going to rain, 9 times out of 10 it will…….

A dozen cyclists turned up at the coffee stop in Cambourne, all of them believing that it would be a rain-free morning, some not even carrying a rain-top (how daring is that?), and we sat outside under the veranda, wrapped up in supplied blankets, soaked to the skin, sipping our coffees and nibbling at toasted teacakes.

Enough to send a shiver up the spine……

Kim-Cambourne 70km

70km/44 miles

Edging forward….

Though I’ve been riding the miles recently on my trekking bike, ’tis good to be back out on the road bike…..

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Harry Bucknall: Like a tramp like a pilgrim

like a trampCurious that I should latterly come across a book, not only describing a journey that I had completed myself, but almost exactly at the same time as the author. The big difference being that Harry Bucknall spent nearly 100 days walking the route from London/Canterbury to Rome (in true medieval fashion), along the ancient Via Francigena, and I had broken with tradition and used a relatively modern conveyance to get me there in a quarter of the time……the bicycle. Cyclists and walkers usually mix very well on such ancient pilgrimage routes, but secretly the walker will probably look on the cyclist as a fraud, a cheat, absolving them of any right to call themselves a pilgrim (in the medieval sense, of course), whereas the cyclist will look down with pity on the walker as he/she labours slowly along carrying a heavy pack, arrogantly sustained with the belief that even riding a bicycle is still counted as ‘travelling under one’s own steam’. I was encouraged by one such pilgrim to try walking it one day, but I had to confess that I was too addicted to the wind-rush and the adrenalin-rush of travelling at 20-30km per hour.

Like a tramp like a pilgrim is a very worthy read. It may lack the sparkle and relentless humour of a Bill Bryson tome, but that is more than compensated by the fact he is a real traveller bearing the hardships and trials of the road, and his interest in the geography and history of his surroundings sustains the narrative well.

A favour returned….

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Taka before the Eleanor Cross in Geddington.

Repaying a kindness frequently broadens horizons and opens up new paths. On my trek through Japan last year, I was hosted by several generous members of the cycling confraternity, one of whom was Taka from Toyama, a large town on the Sea of Japan coastline. On the promised day, I arrived in Toyama not only fighting a ferocious headwind, but also battling with a torrential downpour and, to boot, it was after dark. All the ingredients for getting lost looking for an address amongst the 40,000 inhabitants. Knowing I was somewhere near to where Taka lived, I took refuge in a restaurant, rang him, and he jumped on his bike and came to the rescue. Fifteen minutes later, I found myself entering his extraordinary home, built entirely of wood to an ancient design, and thawing out beneath a steaming shower.

 

Yesterday, we welcomed Taka to our home in Cambridgeshire, at the beginning of his 5 month tour of five countries in Europe. He had endured several days of unseasonably cold, wet weather, and had to battle a headwind out of London to get here. Like for like, we had each apologised for our respective country’s appalling weather, opened our doors wide to extend a warm welcome to the unfortunate traveller, and provided a evening of friendship and good food to make up for the hardships. In our respective farewells, we had each accompanied the other en route to the next destination. I said farewell to Taka in Geddington, standing in front of the famous Eleanor Cross.

It’s called “fellowship of the road”.

Bill Bryson: Made in America

Bryson Made in AmericaBryson is at his best when anchored to his research desk, surveying the world and its idiosyncrasies with laboured intent, and crafting his reactions in a precise and detailed way. In the past I have cast aspersions on Bryson the ‘traveller’, in works such as Notes from a Small Island, Down Under and (more recently) The Road to Little Dribbling, but Bryson the forensic historian and linguistician is in a different league.

Made in America is a long detailed cursive look at the development of a country, from the arrival of its First Pilgrim Fathers to the present day. With every generation, and with every advance in industry and technology, the English that was originally exported to the new continent is gradually changed, making the language in its ‘pure form’ as  used by the mother country look increasingly static and archaic.

To enjoy this 500 page journey through the development of a language, you have to be fundamentally interested in language itself, but Bryson does have the literary ability to get you interested in almost any topic, and this makes an entertaining and informative read for the general reading public.

Sakura

…..and right outside my house, I am reminded of the famous ‘sakura’ (Japanese cherry blossom) of last year. Happy memories……

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Bike meets its ‘fellow yellow’….

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Caitlin Thomas: My life with Dylan Thomas

To really get an inside view of someone’s life, though not necessarily entirely objective, read an account by someone who lived with him/her for several years and, in this case, bore his children, drank with him, fought with him, competed with him in the arena ofDylan Thomas marital infidelities………and the list could go on.

This is no reverential view of a man who has come to be viewed as the national poet of Wales. Not only did Dylan Thomas write with a poetic fluency that belied his lack of sobriety, but his poems touched deep seated nerve points for all humanity, and revealed a tortured personality struggling to ‘align the stars’ of his very existence. His death at the  tender age of 39 was sudden and unexpected, but longevity was never really on the cards for a man who could ‘drink for Wales’.

Caitlin, his wife, was an equally tortured character, who spent the best part of 40 years as an unrepentant alcoholic but, in her final 20 years of sobriety (she lived to be 81) was able to reflect on the destructive relationship she had had with Dylan, describing in all its raw and explosive detail the alcoholic self-immolation that both of them submitted to, and couldn’t control. This is the story of two tragic lives, but from it emerged the immortal verse that is now celebrated across the world.

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