A ride around Thaxted, Dunmow and Stansted Airport

Although most of my cycling is done alone as I pootle around Great Bromley for 24 miles every day, occasionally things are made a bit more interesting by riding with friends. Even more occasionally, I take the bike somewhere different to ride with friends. And, very fortunately, friend Wowbagger (also known as Peter) had organised a ride in the Saffron Walden area for today.

The weather forecast for this ride was looking pretty appalling (non-stop heavy rain all day) but at the last minute the forecasts changed to less rain. However, the originally fairly large group of people planning to come had thinned out a bit when the forecast was poor so there were actually ten of us who met up at Audley End railway station in Wendens Ambo at a very early 9:30am this morning.

The drive from home had taken me almost an hour and a half so I’d got up rather early but it was good to ride somewhere different again and to do it in company with old friends.

Here is the route that we took today:

Today's Route 2

Three had arrived by train (Andrea, John and Wowbagger) and the rest of us had come in a selection of cars. TimC had brought his son along on his blingy bike, the rest of us were on more normal touring bicycles. I was the only one with three wheels this time round.

The first part of the route was surprisingly up-and-down. I tend to think of Essex as flat, and I suppose my bit of Essex is largely flat, but this bit was quite rolling. I have had a slightly dodgy knee over the last week so I had to spin a bit more up the hills to keep the pressure off.

After nine miles of hilly up and down but generally quiet, country lanes, we arrived in Thaxted. Anyone who does Audaxing in this part of the world knows that all routes go through Thaxted, so it was fitting that our non-Audax went through too. In honour of audaxing we stopped at Poppy’s Tea Room for a restorative cuppa.

Here are most of us (I am behind the camera and TimC’s son was hiding behind me)

Audley End WARTY 2

I decided that, after nine miles, I really needed to clog up my arteries a bit so had a proper cream tea.

Audley End WARTY 1

We had arrived just as the café was opening at 10:30am and spent a nice relaxing hour there, enjoying the cakes, cream teas, cinnamon toast etc.

We had, as usual, dumped our bikes outside. I had tricked Keith the Moultonaught into locking his Moulton to my trike through the front chainring guide so I think he got a bit oily unlocking it. Sorry Keith!

Audley End WARTY 3

We continued on, leaving Thaxted and heading just west of B184 on various quiet side lanes. The main road went through Great Easton, where I worked at the LEL control a couple of months back, but our route went through the smaller Little Easton.

Audley End WARTY 4

I now see why all the LEL Audaxers were complaining about the hills – it is hilly around here!

As we went through Little Easton I wondered where Tom the LEL controller and cycling chum was, as he lives in Dunmow. I sent him a text to say we were approaching Dunmow and we exchanged a couple of messages. He said he was just out for a ride and, lo and behold, just as we were arriving in Great Dunmow who should I see behind me but…

Audley End WARTY 6


Not bad for a selfie photo taken when on a busy-ish road. Here was the view ahead at that time…

Audley End WARTY 5

Tom guided us round the big roundabout under the A120 and then he headed off a different way as we headed up to Barnston and from there towards Pleshey.

We stopped for WobblyJohn to mend a puncture.

Audley End WARTY 7

It didn’t take him long and we were soon on our way, having got a little cold whilst waiting in this fairly exposed spot. Apart from the fact it wasn’t very warm (about 11-12 degrees) it was turning out to be a lovely day with quite a lot of blue visible in the skies.

One plan had been to have lunch at the Leather Bottle in Pleshey but we felt it was a bit early on in the ride and it would be good to get a few more miles under our belts so we continued on through High Easter and then arrived at High Roding where we went off our route to find the pub Wowbagger had selected for us.

So we arrived at the Black Lion, High Roding, a lovely 14th century inn where we were almost the only customers. They had a good choice of food and were very friendly but as it was less than 20 miles since my cream tea I didn’t need too much (I had a sausage baguette).

Good, proper pub food.

Audley End WARTY 8

We spent a long time there, enjoying the food and the chit-chat, and then suddenly it was 3pm and I realised time was marching on. I had to get back to look after the dog and we had 17 miles to go yet. So we all trooped out and reunited ourselves with our bicycles.

Audley End WARTY 9

Now very eagle-eyed readers will notice something about my trike in that picture which I didn’t. Can you see something white on my flags? Well, I didn’t see that and we rode off, heading north west towards Takeley. There were some nice, smooth roads with swoopy downhills so our overall speed increased fairly well. TimC’s son tried drafting me but it didn’t work too well for him – but it was fun!

Anyway, as we were heading down the hill to Hope End Green I decided we needed to stop to let some of the others catch up. Just as I was pulling up Bob shouted “something’s fallen off your bike.” In the road was a small square of white paper. “That hasn’t come off my bike,” I said, as my sidepod bags’ zips were closed. But he and TimC had both seen it come off my bike. Bob picked up the paper, opened it and said “it’s definitely from your bike.” You can see why!

Spielst du Harmonika

Do you play the Steirische Harmonica? I have a question.
House opposite the parking place with thatched roof.
Knock on the door.
Or telephone 0044 (0)1371….

Well I don’t play the Steirische Harmonica, but what a random note! But yes, it must have been for me, and then I noticed a paperclip on my German flag and we concluded the note had been on there. When I got home and looked at the photos we were right.

Trike with note on flag

Still, I couldn’t do anything about it now, so we carried on, zooming along again.

We had a brief stop for Bob to have another puncture (he had one on my Joy Of Essex ride!) We didn’t pick the nicest place to stop to mend it.

Audley End WARTY 10

Whilst Bob was fixing his puncture I put some insulating tape around my front derailleur gear cable as I noticed that the outer casing has worn away where it rubs against the track rods. I was showing WobblyJohn how it has worn the track rods and ran my finger along the cable, getting some metal stuck in my finger as a reward. Anyway, a bit of insulating tape will look after it for a little while.

From Takeley we rode through Bambers Green and then around the north-east side of Stansted Airport, watching lots of planes taking off. We had an airline pilot as one of our number today so he was talking to us a bit about his job which is all very interesting. I was slightly surprised to hear that he’s never crashed but he has been shot at so that sounds more interesting (not whilst flying civilian airliners though).

We rode up to Henham, going pretty fast now as the wind (not that there was much) was behind us. We passed Ugley (such a good name, and Nasty is just down the road too!) and then headed up towards Newport at which point I was joined by a road cyclist who spent a few minutes chatting to me about the trike as we went along. He whizzed off ahead so I tried to go a bit faster and catch him up (which I couldn’t), but I provided a good tow to Bob and TimC and SonC for a few miles so that was good fun.

We got back to Audley End station and SonC rode round the car park on my trike. He seemed to think it worth mentioning to Tim that Christmas was approaching…

We waved goodbye to those catching the train and then installed our bikes in our cars and headed off.

A good day’s ride was had by all – we did 47.24 miles in a moving time of 4 hours 7 minutes (that’s an average of 11.4mph). My maximum speed was 33mph and the total climb was 1,491 feet.

I drove home and once I’d walked the dog and had a shower it was time to phone David, the man who had left the note on Alfie.

We had a nice chat once I had identified myself. He said he had heard tales of a cycling German lady who was a harmonica player, thus the seemingly random question as to whether I played. No I don’t, but the reason he wanted to find a German harmonica player is that he plays the Steirische Harmonika which is a special type and he’s been looking, for seven years, for the sheet music for a particular song (Schützenliesel-Polka). And it’s not normal sheet music but instead something called Griffschrift, which is different notation. He has asked loads of German friends and failed to find any source of the music.

I said I didn’t know any harmonica players but I knew some German people so I’d have a look. I posted a thread on Toytown, the English-speaking expats in Germany forum, and within nine minutes had a link to exactly what David wanted – a sheet music book which includes, as the last song on the list, the very one he was looking for. So I rang him back and gave him the info – he was very pleased! Just goes to show what paperclipping a note to a German flag attached to a recumbent trike can achieve!

It was a fun day overall and we didn’t have a drop of rain. Good food, good company and good cycling – is there a better way to spend a Saturday?


  1. Nice ride, sounds very relaxed. Hilly or no, I think I might envy you for those quiet roads. As for Ugley and Nasty, if you take a look at a map of Germany you can find two villages called Elend and Sorge ( Misery and Sorrow ) – They are located in the Harz mountain area, so there’s a few more hills around those places. Not exactly cycling terrain but well worth a visit.

  2. A part of the world I knew well twenty-five years ago; you brought it all back to me.

    And I was reminded of the story that “Any Questions” was once introduced as coming from the Ugley Women’s Institute.

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