East Anglia Tour 2011 - by Nick Harris


East Anglia Tour – Thursday 14th July to Sunday 17th July 2011 

Prologue (with apologies to Dexy’s Midnight Runners)

On a hot night in June 2011 Richard Somerset left his low-profile Welwyn Garden City hide-out to round up a firm.  Disillusioned by the lack of response from all the major faces, he knew this was going to be the big one and if he was going to pull it off he would have to be four handed – with the hardest hitting men in town. +++ 

Sadly, the hardest hitting men in town were decorating so up stepped Nick Harris who'd got fed up waiting for the Brickendon circuit to be resurfaced with cobblestones, closely followed by John McDowall who threw the report of last year's East Anglia tour on the table and shouted “I want to do something as good as this only better”.  The boys knew exactly what he meant and welcomed him with open arms.  The team was made four with the inclusion of Jim Ewers who'd got wind of a big one going off in the East.  The firm was complete – now for the caper......   

Stage One – Newton to Blaxhall  

Figuring that a 100 mile schlep from Hertford was a little too hardcore even for the second rung hardest hitting men in town the completed firm drove to the rendezvous at my sister's house just south of Cambridge.  After a quick cup of tea we headed off towards Saffron Walden.  Weather was overcast and cool but mercifully dry and a tail wind ensured good progress.  Thanks to a Garmin 605 Sat Nav (of which more later) and some hard work by Richard to program a route we were able to stay in the maze of quiet lanes for almost all of the ride.  After a while I got used to having no real clue as to where I was – the roads were so quiet and the place names were largely unknown to me.  Regular mileage updates from Richard reassured us that we were heading in the right direction.  Lunch was taken at the White Horse in Edwardstone.  The landlord had advised Richard that lunchtimes could get very busy so we booked in advance to avoid disappointment.  We needn't have worried however since we seemed to be the only diners that day.  The food was fantastic though and booking ahead saved all that “may be the next/last pub will be/was better” discussion.

The Youth Hostel was reached after some 77 miles and nearly 5 ½ hours of riding.  Although there were no climbs to speak of, total elevation gain was almost 3,000 feet.   The hostel offered dinner (including wine which was something of a change since my last hostelling experience as a teenager) but The Ship about 50 yards from the hostel provided our evening meal and a few pints for some. 

Stage 2 – Blaxhall to Sheringham

This was by far the best day weather-wise and the route which largely followed the shape of the coastline albeit some miles inland was spot on also.  After an excellent traditional English breakfast at the hostel we hit the road.  An unusual feature of the day was two ferry crossings – both very short but most welcome for the mileage they saved.  The first at Reedham was a small chain ferry big enough for perhaps three cars.  £1 per person was money very well spent.  Reedham also provided the lunch venue – another Ship but with an excellent garden overlooking the river.  Just next to the pub was a sort of swivelling railway bridge and were kept amused by seeing the bridge in action during our stop.  We were also engaged in conversation by an elderly local on a shopping type bike who seemed determined to share his life story with us.  Was I the only one of the party who looked into the future and saw himself performing a similar role?  I'd certainly be happy to still be riding a bike.  

The second ferry crossing was at Horning.  On arrival at the River Bure there were many boats but no sign of a ferry.  We soon spotted however, a small notice advising travellers of the telephone number to ring.  The phone call was made and within a few minutes an open motor boat arrived which took us to our tea stop (not a pub you may be surprised to read, but a tea shop) where tea and cake ensured that we were fuelled up for the final push to Sheringham Youth Hostel.  

Total mileage for the day was 74 miles covered at an average speed of 13.6 miles per hour.  Again, no major climbs although we reached the dizzy height of 400 feet before the final run down to Sheringham.   

The Sheringham Youth Hostel offered very similar facilities to Blaxhall but again we spurned the in-house evening meal and headed in to town.  A local chippie provided fish and chips which were consumed on the sea front while watching a picturesque  sunset.   

Stage 3 - Sheringham to Dersingham     

Another satisfying traditional breakfast was as good as it got for the first part of the day since the threatened heavy rain began almost as soon as we left the hostel. And just to make a difficult day even harder, John and I, despite being in possession of a sat nav managed to go off the planned route and were soon separated from Jim and Richard.  A phone call quickly established that we were heading in completely the wrong direction so we turned round and retraced.  This unintended detour added some 10 miles to our ride.  After a tearful reunion at a tea shop in Wells (run by a former BBC producer who'd opted out of the rat race) we set off for Jim's house in Dersingham.  The final hour or so was mercifully free of rain although the roads remained very wet and flooded in places.  Local knowledge led us (all of us this time) to depart a little from the planned route which saved a few miles.   

54 miles (less for Richard and Jim who hadn't gone off course) after setting off from Sheringham we arrived at Jim's.  Arrival was swiftly followed by more tea and cakes (thanks Sally) which combined with the improved weather helped us to forget our earlier trials and tribulations.    

Dinner was taken in a local pub. 

Stage 4 – Dersingham to Newton 

The prospect of another long wet day led Jim to decide to temporarily resign from his re-found interest in touring in order to  spend more time with his family (and a comfy car seat).  Perhaps unsurprisingly, it started raining just as we left and although the rain came and went, a nagging headwind stayed with us for all of the 68 miles back to Newton via Ely and Cambridge.  Nevertheless, the average speed of 14.9 miles per hour made it by far the fastest day of the tour.  Not sure that we have fully embraced the leisurely touring ethic yet although speaking for myself, a few more birthdays should remedy that. 

And finally.... 

Despite the sometimes unseasonal weather the tour was a great success; route, distance, countryside, food and drink were all top drawer.  Thanks to Richard for organising and Jim and Sally for the final night's accommodation and breakfast.  

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