Tag Archives: Manningtree

Six Wheels In Germany – Month 12

March 2015

Cycling Statistics This Month

Here is the summary of rides I did this month – as you can see, not very many, only 224km!

Screen shot 2015-03-31 at 22.01.11

And this is where I rode – not very far afield at all!

Screen shot 2015-03-31 at 22.02.08

As mentioned in last month’s blog post I was hit rather badly with the flu in February/March which seriously curtailed my cycling and meant I dropped behind my year target (10,000km again), having been on track for January and the first half of February. But the summer is coming and that will make it much easier to crank out more miles!

Once I started feeling better in mid-March it was time to get riding again, slowly as a three week layoff means you lose some fitness (although I also lost 5kg in weight with the flu which was a bonus!)

I started with a very gentle ride with Klaus, Claudia and Lara. Claudia seems to be enjoying using my old Trice Q. Here are all three recumbents ready for the off.

Trikes ready to ride

I attended the monthly Fahrrad Stammtisch again (my first longer cycle ride since the flu, riding there with Klaus). There had been a bike exhibition in Essen recently and two people had visited the ADFC stand and found out about the Stammtisch so we had some more faces.

Clockwise from top left: Jochen, new chap, Uli, Hartmut, me, Klaus, new lady

Clockwise from top left: Jochen, new chap, Uli, Hartmut, me, Klaus, new lady

I have enjoyed riding Penelope with her cool new lighting – which gets an awful lot of attention. I also seem to ride faster with the LED striplights on!

Anyway, when I arrived at the VHS the other day I noticed a slight issue…

One-eyed Penelope

This means that Penelope was now technically legal in Germany (you’re only supposed to have one light) but clearly something was amiss. I sent the photo to Klaus and he suggested I pop round on the way back from the VHS and he’d have a look (he lives just 2km away on my route home). So I appeared at his door at nine at night and he quickly identified the problem – in the tangle of wiring beyond my feet a plug had come undone. He sorted it within a minute and commented “we’ll need to change this for a better connector”. I had had a bumpy ride to Viersen along a rutted cycle path so perhaps that’s why.

Anyway, the next day I rode to the Süchteln choir and when I arrived…

One-eyed Penelope 2

But this time, as I knew what the problem was, I was able to fix it – although I wouldn’t have minded arms about a foot longer to assist with scrabbling around in Penelope’s nose.

Two-eyed Penelope

My goals for my year in Germany

If you’ve been reading this blog from the beginning of the ‘Six Wheels In Germany’ time you may remember I set myself some goals for this year in Germany (which has now extended, of course). But did I achieve them?

Here is the list:

(a) Increase my skill in German from B2 to C1 (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages)
(b) Cycle to all the churches in Kreis Viersen
(c) Join a choir
(d) Get involved in some kind of cycling group in the area

With regard to item 1, the VHS did offer for me to go up to the C1 course after my first semester of B2.2 but the course was on a Wednesday evening (when I have my Süchteln choir) so I decided to stay on in B2.2 as I am still learning plenty at that level. So I think (a) has been achieved.
(b) Is still a work in progress but I have only about fifteen churches to go now.
(c) I have joined two.
(d) I joined the ADFC and ride with them, plus the Fahrrad Stammtisch and also lots of rides with Klaus. So I guess I have achieved that too. Hurrah!

And after a year in Germany, what is my general impression about the Germans – are the stereotypes correct?

Well, as you’d expect, the answer is ‘yes and no’. Some stereotypes are correct, such as the significant bureaucracy in Germany compared to the UK (you have to get your chimney swept every year, for example. This is recommended in the UK but not mandatory). I have also found that German people are generally punctual (which is good as I am too), and they eat a lot of pork and pork products.

What has been quite different than I expected is the friendliness of Germans – even those I haven’t known long. The fact I speak some German clearly helps but I have been overwhelmed by how friendly and hospitable people have been. When ill with the flu I realised I had at least eight different people whom I could have phoned to asked to do things for me such as do some shopping, although this was not necessary as my landlady sorted me out, but it was very encouraging to know I had made such good friendships in a relatively short time.

Having read a lot on Toytown (English-speaking expats forum) I had heard a lot about petty nitpicking from neighbours, strict adherence to pointless rules etc, but I have seen none of that here. Everyone seems laid back, helpful, understanding and not too fussed by the rules (such as not mowing lawns on a Sunday, etc, not that I have to do any lawn mowing).

All in all this has been a fantastic experience of living in another country and culture, improving my skills in another language and getting to know a diverse group of people among whom I count some really close friends now. In fact, as I said to my mother the other day (and I had a bit of an epiphany moment whilst saying it), it’s probably been the best year of my life so far.

People I’ve seen/Things I’ve done

Rose Biketown

I’m leading a cycle tour to SPEZI Radmesse over the last two weeks of April. It will be a group of five trikes (me, Klaus, Simon and Joyce from the UK and also Nigel, a very experienced long-distance triker). That will be four ICE Trikes and one Steintrikes.

Anyway, Klaus doesn’t have any proper cycling waterproofs (being German he used to just leave his trike in the garage over winter; I have now trained him better) so he thought for a two week tour he really ought to get some.

We live an hour from Rose Biketown, a huge German cycling shop with masses of stuff (although the clothing seems rather expensive). Anyway, Klaus decided he would go along and see what he could find and I asked to tag along.

This was on one of the days when I was still recovering from the flu so I was rather weak but I managed to help Klaus choose a set of very smart waterproofs (jacket and trousers), some overshoes and some socks, with occasional sit-downs in the shoes department to recover. Me, I managed to buy some socks and a waterproof bag for my tools – 15€ spent by me, Klaus spent rather more!

Here’s a view of Rose’s clothing section.

Rose Biketown

Interestingly, if you want waterproof jackets your colour choice now seems to be black, red, green or high-vis. Klaus went for black as the jacket he liked the best only came in that colour.

A Concert in Wiesbaden

I’m a big fan of Andreas Scholl the German countertenor and have been for seven or eight years. Usually I go to four or five concerts per year, a couple in the UK and the rest in Germany (combining the concert with a short holiday). Anyway, having been in Germany for a year I hadn’t been to any concerts but discovered he was singing in the St John Passion by Bach in Wiesbaden this month. Wiesbaden is about two and a half hours’ drive away so I thought it worth the trip.

I bought two tickets (I was sure I could find someone to go with me). The Alto voice only actually sings two Arias in the St John Passion, one of which I don’t really like, but I knew I enjoyed the whole Passion with the Chorales etc so it was worth the trip for me, even if there is only a very small contribution by Andreas Scholl.

I was all set to drive there but a couple of weeks before, when Claudia found out I had a spare ticket, she suggested Klaus might like to come along (and drive me there). She would have really loved to come as well but was entertaining her brother as it was his birthday and they wanted some brother/sister time together. Klaus, being rather a third wheel, was offered as a taxi service, which I gladly took up (I am not very used to long distance driving now).

So we duly set off southwards with the traditional boring Autobahn view for most of the way…

On the way to Wiesbaden

However the journey was a bit quicker than I was expecting as Klaus is not afraid to put the pedal to the metal.

Slow German drivers

We arrived with plenty of time to have a cuppa (I eschewed the lovely-looking cheesecakes due to Lent) and a quick evening meal before going into the concert.

Our tickets were in the ‘Orgelempore’ which turned out to be a balcony with an excellent view.

Schiersteiner Kantorei

The acoustics were not so great up here at times and the wooden seats a nightmare for the back and backside but the concert was absolutely wonderful. I have heard the Schiersteiner Kantorei before but this time they were even better. All the soloists sang well but I was particularly impressed by the Evangelist, Andreas Weller.

All in all it was an excellent evening although with the uncomfy chairs I was looking forward to the interval… which didn’t come! They played the full two hours straight though.

We had a quick cup of tea before returning back to Viersen – also a chance to use the loo in the café.

It was the first time Klaus had heard Andreas Scholl sing live and was not the best acoustics for it but he said that he was ‘begeistert’ by the whole thing. It is always great to go to a live concert and we were also very amused to see a chap playing a Bassono grosso, a giant bassoon/Fagott that looks like this:


(This photo is actually taken from the Schiersteiner Kantorei website but I’m not sure if it’s the same chap playing it).

And here’s a report from the local Wiesbaden newspaper: http://www.wiesbadener-kurier.de/lokales/kultur/lokale-kultur/schiersteiner-kantorei-solisten-und-barockorchester-la-corona-glaenzen-mit-bachs-johannes-passion-in-der-marktkirche_15106097.htm

Visit to England

Every three months I visit England to see my husband, family, friends and to also have a day in the office in Eastbourne for our Sales Meeting.

I have got into a routine for this now – I get a list of English things my German friends want (cider, various moisturisers, teabags, Horlicks Light, Kettle Chips etc) before I leave and when I am in Eastbourne for work I go to the Morrisons Supermarket next door to the office and get everything.

I also make my once-per-quarter visit to the Griesson de Beukelaer chocolate factory (any more frequent is dangerous for my waistline) and get supplies to share with friends at church, work and others. I did well this time!

Chocolate supplies

As usual I had booked the overnight ferry so spent the day with friends and headed off from the Niederrhein to Hoek van Holland at 17:30. My car decided to give me some disco party lights (low oil warning light, then low brake pad warning light) but I pressed on, wanting to get to the ferry.

The Dutch are still redoing the roads around HvH so we had the diversion that takes the lorry route but I know where to go and it was fine. I arrived with an hour and a quarter before I planned to board the ferry (I like to leave it late so that Poppy has a chance for a final loo stop as late as possible) so I went to the Torpedoloos (Torpedo Lounge) again for a cuppa. And then decided on a waffle as I was a bit peckish!

After a relaxing hour Poppy and I boarded. Here she is in the car boot.

And here is my cabin – small but comfortable for the night’s crossing.

I arrived back at my house in the UK at 7am. Poppy was delighted to see James of course. I had to go through all my post (three months’ worth) and this included my new YACF jersey that I bought second hand… which will undoubtedly be appearing in photos in this blog on the SPEZI tour which starts in 25 days.

Just two hours after my return it was time to head off to church. We drove to Colchester and parked just down the road from the ruins of St Botolph’s Priory.

We arrived very early as I needed to attend the choir practice. This is the interior of our church – it’s just 25 years old, built over some shops in Lion Walk Shopping Precinct.

Although I am quite clearly in England in Colchester there are a few reminders of Germany – such as this Bockwurst stand in the precinct.

When we got back from church (where I had distributed lots of Griesson de Beukelaer chocolates) we discovered Poppy had found the sunniest spot in the house.

I take lots of photos of the beautiful skies around Niederrhein each month but Great Bromley also has some impressive sunsets – I was treated to this one on my first day back.

On Sunday evening we had some friends round for a Chinese take-away. I have not yet found a decent Chinese restaurant in Germany (and have really given up looking) so it was a definite must for this short visit back to England!

And of course, to finish we also had a cuppa. And just to prove that I am a proper Brit at times, I made it in a teapot.

It was good for Poppy to have a chance to revisit some of her favourite walks. I took her for a walk along the Stour River in Manningtree on what turned out to be a rather nice morning.

We then walked into Manningtree to visit the card shop for some birthday cards for friends. I’ve included this clock in this blog before – can you spot the mistake?

I liked this advertising board outside a pub in Manningtree.

As usual I had to visit Eastbourne for work as part of my UK trip so on Monday afternoon I headed off on the two and a half hour drive to the south coast and, with the reps and the boss and his wife, went out for another evening Curry at the Ganges Restaurant in Sovereign Harbour (where we used to keep our boats).

And of course the following morning it was a Full English Breakfast at the Camelot Lodge Hotel again!

The Sales Meeting at work went well and then it was time to head back to Colchester, stopping off in Tonbridge on the way back to see my in-laws and also my friend Charlotte whose birthday had been the day before. We went to Pizza Express which was nice but very pricey compared to German prices for Italian meals.

It is interesting how quickly Poppy settles down when back in England and gets into her routines – here she is resting her weary head after a day of sleeping on the bed.

I went for lunch with my parents, sister and niece at the Wheelhouse in Woolverstone Marina, Suffolk, overlooking the river Orwell. You can see the impressive Orwell Bridge in the background.

There was a very good selection of food for lunch, which included as starters calamari…

Goat’s cheese with chutney

And main courses chicken with a mushroom sauce

And Anna’s very healthy lentil and squash meal

Desserts included Sticky Toffee Pudding with custard

And a three-chocolate option

Here we all are after our meal. This photo was taken by my niece Gwenllian and is my sister Anna with me and our parents

And here are Anna and Gwenllian

It was great to see everyone and as a bonus my Mum and Dad have given me their old Dyson hoover (which they no longer use) as I can’t get on with the vacuum I have in my Wohnung.

My last day in England was a day for routine appointments – yes, I had the excitement (and expense) of a trip to the dentist, the optician and the vets (for Poppy’s rabies booster). Which involved visits to Brightlingsea, Manningtree and Colchester too!

Poppy of course realised that I was packing that morning when I put a few things in my bag and started to get a bit perturbed.

Poppy halfway down the stair

I went off to the dentist in the morning and parted with £75 for the pleasure. In the afternoon James came along to walk Poppy at Manningtree whilst I had my short (and only £26) visit to the optician.

Manningtree

Manningtree 2

When I got back from Manningtree I had an hour for a cuppa before it was time to go to my third appointment of the day – this time to the vet.

This was to update Poppy’s rabies booster. The reason being that several weeks ago I had noticed on her passport the original rabies stamp had “Authorised Veterinarian” as the title for the column

Rabies vaccination

Whereas for the worming treatment it just says ‘Veterinarian’.
Bandwurmbehandlung

I suddenly wondered if that meant that a normal vet can’t do the Rabies booster. So I emailed the government website to asked them and hadn’t had a response for several weeks until two days before I was due to return home and I got this message:

Yes a vet in Germany can administer the rabies booster provided that they are approved by the authorities in Germany. In GB we class them as Official vets in other EU countries they are referred to Authorised vets. You do not have to return to GB to have this booster.

Any vet who is licensed in the country of treatment can administer and record the tapeworm treatment in the pet passport.

A bit of googling showed this did not help much as I didn’t know what an ‘Authorised Vet’ would be in German and I couldn’t get anywhere with searching. So I quickly rang up my UK vet and fortunately they were able to book Poppy in for her booster, so she had it three months early but at least it was done by an ‘Authorised Veterinarian’.

After that it was time to cook dinner for my husband (toad in the hole, as we were in England) and then I packed up the car ready to head off for the ferry at 9pm.

Car packed

When I booked this crossing months ago I hadn’t realised it would be the first evening of the Easter Holidays and consequently there were long queues for the ferry check-in

Queue at Harwich

And the ferry itself was full. I just went to bed as usual.

The next morning I woke up early so went to the lounge area (wifi wasn’t working in the cabins as they are redoing it) and decided to have some breakfast. I purchased what has got to have been the driest roll in the Netherlands…

Breakfast on the ferry

Then it was the two-and-a-quarter hour drive home and I arrived back in Kempen at 11am. Poppy gave everyone in my house a rapturous welcome and I was delighted to confirm that indeed the central heating and hot water were now working, hurrah!

Poppy immediately returned to her usual German lifestyle of having a snooze during the day to recover from a tiring night’s sleeping…

Poppy asleep on chair

If a pillow is unavailable use a toy donkey.

Poppy with donkey pillow

The German Healthcare System

As mentioned, I’ve had the flu.

Normally I wouldn’t go to the doctor’s for flu but interestingly the German websites about flu all said “go to your doctor as soon as possible” (whereas the NHS sites say “stay at home”). So I did the NHS option but after two weeks when I was still very weak several (German) friends recommended I visited the doctor. So in the end I caved in.

Thus I was introduced to the German healthcare system.

As a Brit I am used to the NHS “free at the point of need”. What this means (for those not familiar with it) is that you don’t pay any money to see the doctor, have no insurance or anything. You just register with a GP (Hausarzt) and go and see them if you have a problem. They may refer you on to a hospital if you have something more serious but your first contact is always with the GP (unless it’s an emergency and you go straight to the local hospital Accident & Emergency department). You don’t pay any money for ambulances, hospital treatment, doctor’s visits. You may pay a charge for a prescription (medicine) but this is capped at £9 per item and most people don’t have to pay (if you have particular long-term health conditions you don’t pay, if you’re over a certain age or out of work, etc etc).

This is a fantastic safety net as you just don’t have to worry about healthcare costs. The money for the NHS comes from general taxation.

There have been lots of media stories about long waiting lists and things like that, which can be true in some cases (if you have a non-urgent situation such as a need for a knee replacement, for example) but my experiences of the NHS have been almost universally positive, as have those of my husband and parents. We love the NHS.

It is possible in the UK to have private health insurance as well but this is not something that most people seem to go for.

Anyway, the German system is somewhat different. By law you MUST have health insurance, either private or public. I would have qualified for the public insurance (as I have come from the EU and have ‘paid in’ to the NHS for years) but unfortunately the way they work out my contribution, as a freelancer, made it rather pricey – 350€ per month. That’s a lot.

However it is also possible to get an Expat International Travel Insurance policy which fulfils the German insurance rules requirements, and this is what I did (at £111 per month). It’s an AXA-PPP policy and is based in Tunbridge Wells in the UK (near where I used to live, in fact). I had been paying my £111 per month since I arrived in Germany.

So now it was time to see if this policy would work – although I have a £300 excess per year so it seemed unlikely that I would actually end up claiming.

So anyway I was ill. St Hubert has three doctors, which should I visit?

I asked the Roddays and my friend Anja and had mixed advice. Lara said not to go to the lady doctor as she always gives out the same tablets that don’t work; Anja thought she would suit me well. I looked at her website and she was clearly into homeopathy (the pointless pills) so I discounted her immediately.

The next two options, two male GPs, were in the same road so I decided to go to whichever one of those I could find. Lara came with me the first time to help out with translations if necessary.

I arrived first at Bernhard Heithoff’s practice which looked new and clean. I went in and handed over my insurance card and they had a look at it and told me to go and sit in the waiting room. There were another nine people already there – in Germany you don’t have appointments, it’s just turn up and pot luck when you get seen (although you are seen in order). As there was a huge flu plague sweeping Germany I wasn’t surprised the waiting room was full of people. And, typical for Germany, everyone says “Guten Morgen” and then when you leave they say “Auf Wiedersehen” or “Tschüß”, none of this unfriendly ignoring British behaviour.

After an hour and a half I was seen. The doctor was very nice and spoke absolutely brilliant English, which was great. I explained about having the flu and said that I felt my heart rate was rather high. He tested my blood pressure (very low – not a surprise as I had fainted in the shower a few days before and woken up lying on the floor very inelegantly) and my pulse rate was 150 which was very high as I was sitting down. So he said they would do an ECG (EKG) on me straight away – and lo and behold I was taken into the next room and the lady I thought was a receptionist (although she turned out to actually be a nurse, but in normal clothes) did the ECG. She took my blood pressure and said it was high but the ECG was borderline a bit high at 130, so better than five minutes before.

I saw the doctor again and he suggested I came back the next day for blood tests and for another ECG.

So the next day I went back (on my own) and had blood drawn. I declined the ECG as I’d been wearing my cycling heart rate monitor the previous afternoon and my readings were generally OK. I suffer from White Coat Syndrome (getting very nervous at the doctors) so readings taken there aren’t really very accurate. Also I had been informed by a German friend that EKGs cost about 80 Euros a pop – and I would be paying for this!!

They took the blood, did not seem to mind about the ECG and told me to come back the next day.

So the next day I arrived again, this time at 11am (when they said the results would be back) and saw the doctor after a wait of just half an hour. He looked a bit serious as he said a couple of values in my blood test, relating to liver function, were clearly very off. One reading (I didn’t get what it was) should be a maximum of 47 and mine was 1,620. He said he would do an ultrasound of my liver and lo and behold had a little room with an ultrasound machine and did it instantly. This was very reassuring as he said there was nothing obviously wrong with my liver, no gall stones or anything or liver tumour, but my spleen was a bit enlarged (not too surprising).

He suggested doing some more involved blood tests the following week to find out if I had some kind of hepatitis, and not to drink alcohol in the meantime (I am a lifelong teetotaller so that was not a hardship).

This was a Wednesday and the following Monday I went in to have the extra blood tests. In the meantime some of my symptoms for liver problems (related to what you might see in the toilet bowl!) had clearly improved a great deal and it looked like my liver was working pretty well again, plus I now felt much, much better. But the blood was taken and I then had the frustration of waiting for the results which took way, way longer than I expected (nearly two weeks – I thought they would be there the next day). In the end the receptionist rang up the laboratory and asked for them to send whatever results they had as I was going on holiday so they faxed through most of the results (which were all OK, according to the doctor).

In the meantime I had no idea how much this was all costing but had contacted my insurance company who sent me a form for the doctor to fill in and also gave me a ‘claim number’ so this illness was officially registered on their system. So far so good. Because I have only had the policy 11 months they had to ensure this was not a pre-existing condition (pre-existing conditions aren’t covered until you’ve had the policy for two years) but it isn’t so that was OK.

The bill for the first (simple) blood test came and it was 55€ so I paid that before my trip to England. On my return from England I had the bill for the Hepatitis blood tests – get a load of this!!

Impressive blood test bill

I’ll have two more at 55€ to come, as well as the bill from the doctor, so the total is looking around 800€. It’s interesting to see how much healthcare costs – God Bless the NHS!

Cakes this month

Somewhat bizarrely, the flu made me go off cakes. And once I was better I realised I’d had three weeks of the six week period of lent (Fastzeit) without cake so perhaps I could try to go for the full Lenten experience. Well, technically I did have cakes (two of ’em at the Tortenschlemmen) on Ash Wednesday but I decided to let that one slide.

So anyway, March was a cake-free month for me. Wow.

However, my friends still had cakes – and one was rather interesting. It was called a ‘Herman Cake‘ and was made with some kind of special sourdough which you pass along to two other friends in a kind of chain letter thing. It takes a week to make and seemed unnecessarily complicated. Claudia made one and offered me part of the mixture but we realised I would be in England for some of the time things needed to be done so that wouldn’t work, but Gudula had a go. Here it is partway through the procedure…

Herman cake

Anyway, this was the resulting cake that Claudia made – I didn’t try it (Lent) but it looked rather dry to me!

Herman cake

And here is Gudula’s finished cake…

At work in England we had lunch all together and a colleague had made a chocolate fudge cake but, due to Lent, I didn’t have a piece. A miracle!!

As Sunday is Easter Day and normal cake-eating service will be resumed you can expect to see some more photos of the great German cakes in my next ‘Six Wheels In Germany’ post, but I’ll be writing daily blog posts during my SPEZI tour (from 20 April till 1 May) so there should be more to read in my blog before then.

I’m writing this at ten in the evening on the 31st March – exactly a year ago I was boarding the ferry heading off for the start of this adventure. Long may it continue!

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Filed under Alfie the Trike, Penelope the Velomobile, Six Wheels In Germany, Trikes & Velomobiles

The Joy Of Essex 2 Cycle Ride

I led a ride around my bit of north east Essex about six weeks ago and it was very well received, although lots of people who wanted to come weren’t able to. So I organised a similar ride for Sunday 11 August which more people were able to attend. It turned out to be a very enjoyable day – and one with three ICE Sprint trikes!

As usual the plan was to meet at Manningtree Station at 9am for breakfast, leaving for the ride at 10am.

When I arrived at 8:45am Delthebike was already there, having cycled all the way from Southend (50 miles). He left home at 5am!

I ordered my traditional Station Café Half Breakfast to set me up for the day.

MNG Station Breakfast

Del had already eaten his.

We sat around chatting as more people gradually arrived.

MNG Eating Breakfast

Then James arrived and sat next to Del – can you tell them apart?

MNG James and James

Delthebike took this pic of me before the start.

Auntie Helen and camera (photo courtesy of Delthebike)

By the time we were ready to go, a group of twelve of us, we had a good selection of bikes including three recumbent trikes, a Moulton, a fixed-gear bike, a Dawes tourer, two Thorns, a Mercian singlespeed, a Ridley carbon road bike and two audax-type bikes that are the same frame but different brands (a Hewitt Cheviot and a Byercycles Aravis).

MNG a row of trikes

Here we are ready to leave the station.

MNG Leaving The Station

And this was our route for the day:

Joy of Essex 2 Route

So we headed off through the centre of Manningtree, enjoying the faces of passers-by as this group of different vehicles (and three recumbents) passed through. There was another cycling group starting from Manningtree at 10am (apparently) and we saw several people in lycra who were probably heading for that ride. I think we may have eaten all their breakfasts!

We were a group of mixed abilities (as usual) but I thought it would be good to try to keep reasonably together so I stopped regularly for people to catch up.

A brief stop

Obviously on the hilly bits it was easier for each to go at their own pace – Graham on the ICE Sprint FX whizzed ahead on the uphills as his legs needed to get going, I trundled uphill at my usual pace.

Here’s Del’s picture of Mrs Wowbagger, Wowbagger, James and Mark underway

I had made a slight mistake with the route and so had to ensure Delthebike was with us when I went off route as he was following the route on his Garmin and stopping to take lots of photos – I didn’t want to lose him!

I liked this identical body language between Bob and JenM!

Body language

It’s an enjoyable ride from Manningtree up to Mistley, Bradfield Heath and then down into Wix. At Wix we headed towards Tendring, at one point stopping next to a field of onions which was being harvested. I like to pick up roadkill onions so may have to go back that way in the next few days to see if any have fallen off the tractor trailer!

We headed to Beaumont-cum-Moze and then headed inland again through some lovely quiet lanes until we arrived at Weeley. A quick spin up the hill out of Weeley over the railway line and we arrived at the Hilltop Garden Centre and its Floral Cafe.

The Garden Centre manager had said (when I visited earlier in the week) that we could take our bikes through the Staff Only bit to park them where we could see them whilst having our cake, so we wheeled our way up a little corridor and parked them on a grass patch near the cafe.

We went into the café and everyone lined up for their tea and cake.

Which cake to choose

It was a bit like school dinners!

School dinner queue

I had a piece of chocolate cake but unaccountably forgot to photograph it so here is a picture of the slice of cake I had on my recce trip to this tea room earlier in the week.

Hilltop cake

We were ready to leave at just past midday which was way ahead of my expected schedule. I phoned the Haywain, where we were going for lunch, to warn them we’d be about an hour. Andy the landlord was a bit concerned as they were due to be busy around 1pm (I’d originally expected us to get there at 2:30). He said we may have to wait a little while for food – I said we’d try to ride in a leisurely manner.

So we faffed around a bit more, Andrij using some insulating tape to stop a broken spoke from moving around too much. On we went, into a surprisingly fierce headwind as we rode towards Great Bentley.

The headwind made conversation a bit difficult but we pootled onward, enjoying the sunshine and the views, on this flatter section.

From Great Bentley we headed to Frating where James (my husband) took over the lead for a little bit, bringing us into Great Bromley and then up the back lane past the church to head to the Hawywain, which we reached at 1:20.

Sitting outside were TimC and his daughter who had ridden from Manningtree Station (Tim couldn’t make the beginning of the ride).

TimC, Wowbagger and Georgia (courtesy Delthebike)

We went into the pub and they had set aside a room for us which we all managed to squeeze in (there were 14 of us now and I had said 12 to the Haywain). We mostly ordered baguettes although Bob had a full roast dinner and a few people were still full of breakfast and cake and so just had beer.

Here is my roast chicken baguette – it was very nice!

Haywain lunch

After a leisurely lunch we pootled off, this time with TimC and Georgia along.

When we reached the end of Waterhouse Lane between Ardleigh and Great Bromley James and Mark turned off to go back to my house. James was having a bit of trouble with a painful knee so didn’t want to irritate it further by riding the extra 20+ miles.

Goodbye to James and Mark (photo courtesy of Delthebike)

We were down to 12 cyclists again.

We rode the back route through Ardleigh, passing the field of alpacas (we stopped and had a look at them), then heading to Lamb Corner where we took the road to Langham, crossing over the busy A12 on a bridge.

Delthebike had planned to ride home from somewhere round here but decided to keep going with us and headed down Gun Hill with us on the super-zoomy descent into Stratford St Mary.

From here we headed past Stratford St Mary Church and then rode downwind at a good pace into Dedham. The original plan was to stop at The Boathouse for an ice cream but we could see it was heaving so we carried on into Dedham Village, noticing the ice cream machine at the Essex Rose tearoom had no queue and there were seats outside. So we stopped, parked up all our bikes and queued for our 99 Vanilla Ice Cream.

Whilst we were queuing some other people arrived and took some seats but we were able to sit down and watch Bob fixing the puncture on his front wheel that he’d got just as we were arriving at Dedham.

Bob fixing his puncture with help and advice from 11 other cyclists… (photo courtesy of Delthebike)

Here are Mrs Wowbagger and Wowbagger with their ice creams.

Ice cream queue

It was then time to head off for the final five miles or so to Manningtree.

I’d chosen the route that avoids the A137 as much as possible; it’s a scenic route but pretty hilly so there was quite a lot of waiting at verges for people to catch up.

Waiting

Whilst waiting at the corner of Jupes Hill and Mill Hill (next to Stour House in Dedham Heath) JenM noticed that Georgia’s fantastically yellow-accented bike had one black valve cap and one yellow one. It just so happened that Jen had a yellow valve cap on one of her wheels too, so a trade was done and bicycle/clothing matching was restored!

The final run down Cox’s Hill was great fun – I reached 36mph which was 4mph less than last week when I had a tailwind for it (and was chasing a velomobile).

Cox’s Hill is fun going this way! (photo courtesy of Delthebike)

We stopped for a cuppa at the station and talked to a Dutch family of a mother and three children who had cycled to Cardiff and back. The children looked fairly young (young teens) so this was a very impressive feat!

We waved goodbye to our plucky group of cyclists and then I rode home.

A very enjoyable day with great weather and good food!

One of the other recumbenteers, Graham, was videoing much of the day and he has put together a pretty long but good video of our day.

Graham Williams’ video

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Breakfast with Velomobiles

It’s not every day that, by 7:45am, you’ve seen five velomobiles ride past.

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Today, however, is the exception to that rule and I not only saw five velomobiles but also one recumbent bicycle (not sure of the type) and, of course, my own recumbent tricycle.

This little corner of Essex isn’t usually a mecca for weird bikes but today (and presumably one day next week too) it becomes part of a journey from Abroad to Edinburgh, part of the London Edinburgh London Audax.

Audaxes are long distance rides. They’re not a race but do have a time limit (minimum as well as maximum). Every four years the London Edinburgh London audax (LEL) takes place, starting at Loughton in north east London.

People travel from all over the UK as well as from Europe and even farther afield to participate (I think they have about 1000 riders this year). I have several friends who’ve ridden this audax, including the wonderful Andy Allsopp who wrote a book about LEL2009 which I typeset for him called Barring Mechanicals (well worth a read).

Anyway, LEL has been in planning for years and a lot of discussion takes place on YACF, a British cycling forum.

I read YACF regularly but not usually the audax subsection. However, as I know several people riding LEL this year I have taken the occasional look and noticed someone had asked for a good route from Harwich to Loughton (where LEL starts). As I’m familiar with the roads between Harwich and Colchester I offered some suggestions and after a few messages to and fro we (Gabriele, a German velomobile rider, and me) agreed to meet for breakfast in Manningtree. The overnight ferry from the Hook of Holland chucks passengers off at 6:30am so not much is open for food but the Crown in Manningtree agreed to open early for us to provide some hungry cyclists with a Full English.

Gabriele explained that there might be a couple of other velomobile riders as well as lots of people would be getting that ferry.

So anyway, this morning I got up bright and early (6:30am) and headed off by trike to Manningtree. Once I arrived at the Crown I saw they weren’t yet there (unlikely as it’s 12 miles from Harwich ferry port to Manningtree) so I thought I’d ride towards Harwich on the route that they were taking and meet them along the way.

It was a lovely warm morning with sunshine and very little breeze. This early on a Friday morning there wasn’t too much traffic and I enjoyed my ride. I got as far as Bradfield and then decided to wait there (rather than doing an extra hill), so when I got to the brow of the hill that goes to Wrabness I decided to turn round.

I did a U-turn on the road (there was no traffic) and then started cycling back towards Manningtree to find a layby in which to wait.

The u-turn involved my left wheel going through some grot at the side of the road for about a metre and lo and behold I had a puncture (my new fast tyres are not very puncture resistant!) so I rode on the deflating tyre to somewhere safe to stop and put the trike on the pavement.

One thing about these tyres is that they are very easy to get on and off the wheel and the puncture was really obvious too. There was nothing in the tyre, it was just a sharp stone or something that had punched a hole. I changed the tube, used my new pump (a Topeak Road Morph, worked really well) and as I was pumping up the tyre I saw two velomobiles approaching.

They called out to me “Do you need any help?” and I replied “No, I’m fine,” at which point they carried on. I assumed that this was Gabriele and some other random chap so as they continued on I called after them “I’m Auntie Helen, aren’t we breakfasting together?”

The guy who had called out to me turned round and came alongside. “I have no idea who Auntie Helen is,” he said, and then I saw that the other velomobiler was also a man. Not Gabriele then. I apologised and explained I was meeting some velomobilers. “Ah, you mean Gabriele, she went a different way at the roundabout from the ferry.”

These chaps carried on and as my bike was ready I followed them. I had a sudden thought that maybe Gabriele had taken an alternative route and was now at the Crown so it would be sensible to go back there.

I kept up with the two velomobiles without much difficulty until the downhill into Mistley at which point they shot off, turning left at Mistley Towers to go up New Road out of Manningtree. I carried on along the Stour River to the Crown. When I arrived the staff were preparing for breakfast but there were no other cyclists. I decided to wait at the Crown in case I otherwise missed them somehow.

After five minutes or so I saw, in the distance, the weird shape of a velomobile… and another… and another! They had arrived, along with a recumbent bicycle.

We said our hellos and everyone was introduced. Gabriele I knew previously (although had not met). I was introduced to Dutch man Bas, also in a white Quest velomobile, and two German chaps, Morten and Rolf. Rolf had a yellow Mango velomobile and Morten a very fast-looking recumbent bicycle.

Here are the vehicles parked in the Crown’s car park.

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Then it was over to the picnic table outside for our Full English breakfast.

We started with some cups of tea and orange juice.

Breakfast at the Crown

And then a good old-fashioned English Breakfast arrived, with accompanying toast.

Full English

It was a very enjoyable leisurely breakfast. Gabriele has ridden LEL before (on a normal bike) but it is a new experience for the other three riders, although Bas (the Dutch chap in the other Quest velomobile) has ridden over in the UK a fair bit.

Here are the velomobiles – firstly Gabriele’s Quest.

Jedrik's Quest 1

And Rolf’s Mango – this is shorter than the Quest but I think otherwise very similar.

Mango 1

Bas let me have a good look around his Quest.

Quest Interior 1

Quest Interior 2

You can just see written on the edge of the cockpit the words “KEEP LEFT” – an aide memoire for riding in the UK!

Quest Interior 3

And on the side the elevation profile of LEL

LEL Profile

And here is Bas and his machine.

Quest and Bas

Here is the happy band of cyclists – without Bas’s Quest and with my trike instead.

Velomobilers and trike

Gabriele and Rolf in their machines.

In the cockpits

It was time to head off. I decided I’d ride with them to Colchester and lead them through the worst of the traffic so they were confident of their route.

We set off, straight up the hill in Manningtree in South Street (at least there’s no traffic). We certainly created quite a stir, a procession of weird vehicles!

Here’s a short video I took whilst riding at the front – a bit bumpy and noisy but you get the idea!

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We then headed along the A137 between Manningtree and Ardleigh. I led the way – this was the view in my mirror.

View in the mirror

We were holding up the traffic a bit but it was fun riding and we were making a reasonable speed.

We arrived in Colchester to discover that Eastgates Level Crossing was closed. No problem, I knew a good alternative that took us up Hythe Hill, but this would have been annoying for them if they were on their own.

At the top of Hythe Hill I took a photo.

In Magdalen Street

Then it was a fast zoom around the ring road of Colchester, a dual carriageway called Southway. Not much fun really (and a rather potholey/rutted surface) but cars seemed to be very willing to give us space. We had lots of smiles from people waiting at bus stops or walking along the pavement.

We arrived at the Maldon road which is the route out of Colchester towards Chelmsford. At this point I took another photograph of everyone and then said goodbye – I was heading back home again.

4 weird bikes in Colchester

They trundled off towards London leaving lots of astonished expressions on passers by in their wake.

Good luck to everyone with LEL – I hope that they enjoy it!

And if any of you want to track the riders on LEL, here is a website link for each of them:

Gabriele
Bas
Morten
Rolf

For explanations of where they are on the route, here is the map of controls (the stops along the way to check in)

LEL Controls

And a week later I met them all on the way back. You can read all about it here: Dinner With Velomobiles

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The Joy Of Essex Cycle Ride

I don’t only tour in Germany – I also cycle in England!

I’m a member of two cycling forums, CycleChat and YACF (Yet Another Cycling Forum), and have previously organised some cycle rides in my corner of Essex which people from those forums have attended.

Having not led a ride for a couple of years I thought it was about time so organised one for Saturday 22 June, entitled The Joy Of Essex.

This was my planned route (zoomable map)

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The plan was to meet at Manningtree Railway Station at 10 for the start of the ride, but I would be at the station an hour earlier for breakfast (they do an excellent cooked English breakfast).

Alfie waiting outside the Station Café

I headed in for breakfast; after all, I needed plenty of energy for a 34 mile ride…

Half Breakfast at the Café

I was soon joined by audaxer Lindsay who was having a rest day (just cycling 35 miles with me) as the following day she was doing a tandem trike time trial (she ended up with the Ladies Time Trial record!).

Before long we were also joined by Tim Hall, my husband James, friend Mark and a new face from CycleChat, Paul.

Paul, Lindsay, Tim, James and Mark

After a short session of trying on my spare CycleChat jersey, we headed off on the first leg of this epic ride, an eleven mile jaunt over to Boxted.

Tim Hall had his camera with him and always takes excellent pics – he’s given me permission to reproduce some of them in this blog post.

He took this one of my suntanned feet following my German cycle tour.

Auntie Helen’s feet – I need to give ’em a scrub!

We headed into Manningtree (the station is on the west side) to take the scenic route along the walls to look at the river Stour. We passed the Manningtree clock with its rather unusual number arrangement.

Manningtree Clock (photo Tim Hall)

We headed along the Stour briefly, turning south and up a bit of a hill once we reached Mistley Towers.

Mistley Towers (photo Tim Hall)

At the top of the hill we had to ride along the main A137 for a short while but the traffic wasn’t too bad. A group of six can spread out a fair bit but we kept a reasonable pace (although knowing Lindsay was on a rest day we didn’t want to do anything too strenuous).

We were soon back onto quiet country roads, taking Mill Hill towards Dedham and then heading along Long Road West to Lamb Corner before heading into Langham, where we briefly stopped at Boxted Airfield (which is in Langham), an old World War Two USAF base.

Bikes at the memorial

Boxted Airfield Plaque (photo Tim Hall)

From here it was just a couple of miles until we arrived at Fillpots Nursery, a garden centre with a very good café (although Mark seemed to have been overcharged for his scone).

I enjoyed a piece of sponge.

Oh look, a piece of cake!

It was nice and relaxing after the enormous energy expediture of the previous eleven miles!

Tea ‘n cake

We headed off for the next leg of our journey – another 11 miles. We aimed towards Dedham, pootling along the quiet country lanes that are my regular cycle routes.

Another random stop to look at something-or-other

We went down Gun Hill (which is always fun) and then turned off towards Dedham, riding through it and then back up the hill the other side.

Mark was finding it rather warmer than he had expected!

Mark seems to be overheating! (photo Tim Hall)

As we were cycling up the hill out of Dedham I saw my friend Kirstie’s parents. I reckon I see them about half of the times I visit Dedham. Kirstie’s mum said “I saw a group of cyclists and thought that it might be you!” and I pointed out that I was leading from the back (everyone except James was up ahead).

Tim took a great photo of James and I as we reached the brow of the hill!

Auntie Helen and James (photo Tim Hall)

After another 11 gruelling miles we arrived at The Haywain, one of my local pubs and probably my favourite.

Parking the bikes at the pub – and the sun has come out!

I decided to have a reasonably light lunch as breakfast and cake had not been that many miles ago so enjoyed a chicken and stuffing baguette.

Food!

After lunch Paul had to head back to Manningtree Station and Mark needed to get home so he and James headed back to our house (where Mark had parked his car), so now my little band of cyclists numbered just three as we forged ahead on our final 14 miles.

We headed south from the Haywain towards Little Bentley, again on roads I cycle several times a week. Tim liked the new use for the old BT phone box – a book swap and noticeboard.

Little Bentley phone box (photo Tim Hall)

We were riding into wind now along the NCN51, the route to Harwich that I took on the way to my Konstanz to Koblenz cycle tour a month ago. It was nice to be on quiet roads and able to chat.

At Wix we turned north, crossing under the A120 and following the undulating road to Bradfield Heath which then heads for Mistley Heath and we were soon whizzing down the hill towards Mistley Towers past the Edme Maltings.

We arrived back at Manningtree Station and had time for a cup of tea before Lindsay’s train to Bury St Edmunds and Tim’s train to London. After the cuppa we said goodbye and Lindsay headed to the other platform to await her train.

Waiting for the train

Tim’s train arrived and he put his bike in the Guard’s Van before heading towards the Big Smoke.

Tim heads to Lunnun

My ride to and from Manningtree increased the total ride distance for me to a heady 42.84 miles (which I covered in 3 hours 39 minutes, so an average of 11.7mph which is pretty good for a group ride). Sadly the relatively relaxed pace meant that I only burned 1,967 calories – I leave it up to you, having seen the photos of my breakfast, cake and lunch, whether I burned them off!

I’m going to re-run this ride (or a slightly longer version) in a month or so’s time as lots of people wanted to come on this one but were unable.

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