Some Ups and Downs in Essex and Suffolk

In just over a week’s time I’m off on a 2-3 week cycle tour in Germany/Austria/Switzerland. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some great opportunities for riding the local country lanes on a nice sunny day. Add in some random German cycle tourists and that makes for a great day!

My friend Peter (also known as Wowbagger) sent me an email on Wednesday:

We have a pair of German ladies staying with us for 3 nights: we met them on the ferry yesterday and said that if they were stuck for any reason to give us a shout. Well, they did. I think they are rather shell-shocked by their cycling experience to date, at the hands of Essex Man. I cycled out to Ashingdon to meet them. They took 7 hours to ride here from Gt. Totham, which was not really surprising as they were sticking to the pavements as much as they could when I was riding with them, and they were so frightened of the traffic that they got off and walked on the B1019 out of Maldon.

…I have suggested a ride on Thurs, as Jan and I are free. It’s not definite yet, but I’ll suggest to them a train to Marks Tey and then a 30-ish miler from there. We could either meet at the Chappel & Wakes Colne tea room or the Fillpotts Nursery one and then decide on a pub for lunch. If we were to do this, would you be interested in joining us or some or all of it? I think riding in a group would be OK for them, especially on the quieter roads of North Essex. Huette (sp?), the younger woman, is pretty strong and was racing away up the hill with a laden bike. Tina struggled a little with hers.

This sounded like a good idea and as I didn’t have too much to do then a ride around the lanes of Essex and Suffolk sounded like a plan.

Clearly these ladies (Jutta and Tina) had had a pretty traumatic experience of riding in England. They had cycled from their home near Hamburg across Germany and the Netherlands in seven days – and landed up at Harwich. As Peter said to me later:

Signage, particularly out of Harwich, is bad. That’s bad for everyone. However, it was definitely the traffic which gave them the biggest problems. Ute said “I will not cycle one metre in London!” I can’t see a way around the inevitable culture shock of being brought up riding on dedicated cycle paths and then being chucked in with the rest of the traffic. It’s bad enough when you are used to it. It must be terrifying when you have always been protected.

(Note he has various ways of spelling Jutta, none of which quite hit the mark!)

So anyway plans were made to meet at Marks Tey railway station at 10:30 on Thursday morning.

Peter and I often meet at Marks Tey (he gets the train up from Southend) and I often drive there to meet him as it’s a 10 mile (direct, through town) or 16 mile (scenic, cross-country) ride from my home and if we’re doing a 50+ mile road I don’t like to add that much to either end. However the route that Peter had planned gave me an option to cut across country homewards after the lunch stop and as the weather looked good I thought it would be nice to do it all on three wheels rather than a mixture of three and four wheels.

So I left home at 9:30am and headed straight through Colchester towards Marks Tey. Several miles of this were on a busy dual carriageway and I, too, had the benefit of some of the vagaries of Essex Man In His Van. It doesn’t worry me but I could fully appreciate why Jutta and Tina had been so unnerved by it all.

To Marks Tey

I made pretty good progress there, riding at an average speed of 12.6mph, taking 52 minutes to do the 10.96 miles (and burning off 482 calories). This is one of the slight advantages of riding in the UK rather than Germany/the Netherlands with regard to riding on the road. You often have a slightly faster journey as there are fewer mini-obstacles (like crossing roads) to negotiate. It’s a small advantage though.

Here is the altitude profile for this section of ride. The X axis is distance in miles, the Y axis (blue shading) is height, the orange line is my heart rate profile and the green line is my speed. The middle section is me riding on the dual carriageway (Cymbeline Way), so although it’s generally flat I have a high heart rate because of the excitement of the cars roaring past me:
To MT graphics

I had five minutes to relax at Marks Tey Station before the train pulled in carrying Wowbagger (Peter), Jutta, Tina and Wow’s wife Jan (Mrs Wow) on her solo Thorn bicycle. Mrs Wow had broken her foot over winter and also had various ailments that had prevented her cycling so it was good to see her back awheel.

I had a little chat with Tina and Jutta, admired their bicycles (Stevens bikes, a very common brand in Germany but you don’t really see it here), and then we were off.

The advantage of Marks Tey Station is that it’s right on the edge of the Essex countryside. Within a quarter of a mile you’re out into fields and quietish lanes and so we headed off up the hill to Aldham.

Here’s the route of the section I rode with the Wows and the German ladies:
With Wow

One notable thing about riding with Wowbagger (which I regularly do) is that we have a slightly different preference in terms of roads. He likes very quiet, laney roads (often narrow and winding but without much traffic) and seems to enjoy hills, although he takes them at a very leisurely pace. I dislike very narrow roads (the sort with a line of grot/flint/earth/grass down the middle) as on three wheels they are a real pain, plus it can be hard to see round corners with high hedges and I like to know any car whizzing round the corner can pass me. I tend to ride on wider (i.e. with a white line down the middle) roads which may have a better surface and be a bit faster – and maybe a bit flatter too. On this ride we wanted the German ladies to have a less scary time so it was important to take very quiet lanes, thus more Wowbagger-friendly ones. Such as this one!

Some quality Essex roads!

In the photo are Tina, Wowbagger, Mrs Wow and Jutta.

This is the road approaching Don John’s Farmhouse in Greenstead Green and it’s been closed for two years. As you can see, the lack of traffic along it has led to it looking rather more like a muddy track than a road, and the Road Closed section had a pathway for people on their feet or on two-wheeled bikes but we had to lift Alfie over. Still, it was only a mile from here to our tea stop at the Greenstead Green Tea Room (much to be recommended!)

The very last section before the Tea Room is pretty rough but there is an alternative, smoother route which I decided to take to save my wheels so arrived at the tea room a few minutes before the others.

We all wandered in to the very nice farm shop and restaurant.

Greenstead Green Tea Room/Restaurant

I had decided several weeks before to have a sort of cake/biscuit detox before going off on my cycle ride in Germany and so this meant I was having four weeks without cakes or biscuits and that included when visiting tea rooms. So I had to decide what to eat instead. After discussion with the waitress, we all concluded that a Toasted Teacake, despite having the word ‘cake’ in the title, is in fact more of a bread roll so I had one of those. Everyone else had lovely chocolate or walnut cakes.


Fortunately it was a nice teacake as well!

Jutta and Tina seemed to be enjoying the ride. Jutta’s English was excellent (although we spoke to each other in German). Tina’s understanding of English was pretty good, unless we spoke very quickly, but she was less confident in speaking English so I did a bit of translation for her when ordering the cakes and settling up the bill.

We headed off at midday, realising that we would end up having quite a late lunch (the route was another ten miles to lunch and our average speed was pretty slow) so we rang the pub (the Henny Swan) to see how long they served food for and it turned out they served all day so we knew we didn’t have a time constraint and were able to relax and enjoy the ride through the beautiful Essex lanes with the yellow fields of oilseed rape both sides of our route a lot of the time (and making Jan sneeze).

We passed some excellent Essex spelling as usual!

Egg Boxs

Our route had turned slightly westwards in order to take in the Maplesteads, two little villages in Suffolk (we crossed from Essex to Suffolk between Earls Colne and Halstead) and I was looking forward to visiting again the round church at Little Maplestead.

The Church of St. John the Baptist in Little Maplestead is one of only four round churches still in use in England. It was built on a site given to the Order of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem, known as the Knights Hospitaller, and is still associated with the Order today… It is generally believed that there was a church near to the site of the current church in late Saxon times as a priest is mentioned in the Domesday book but there is no documentary or archaeological evidence to support this… The present church was probably built around 1335 and is the latest of the four round churches still in use in England

It is a wonderful and peaceful place to visit.

An open door to a beautiful piece of history
Nave of the church

As you can see, it had turned into a beautiful day.

And here are a pair of Thorn Raven bicycles (one with a rather slack chain!)

The Wowbicycles

We spent about half an hour at the church looking around, wandering around the graveyard and enjoying the peace and tranquility, as well as the sunshine. Then it was time to head off towards lunch.

Barely a mile further on, as we reached Great Maplestead, we happened across one of the common wayside stalls selling jam, marmalade and eggs (you see these all the time in this part of Essex and Suffolk) but this one was selling something rather more special:

Wayside cupcake stall

Yes, they had a tub of cupcakes on a shelf that you could buy!

Tina, Jutta, Jan and Peter

As we had eaten some cake just half an hour earlier there was no need to have any more (plus I wasn’t allowing myself cake anyway) but Jutta bought some marmalade. We had spent a minute or so trying to describe lemon curd to her (that was for sale too) but clearly we didn’t make it sound very appealing as she chose not to buy it!

Anyway, we were very impressed by Lucy’s Little Cupcake Party‘s stall and I imagine the German women will be telling their friends about random things you can buy beside the road in England (with just an honesty box as well!)

Jutta decided to take a photo with me in it this time so here I am looking very yellow!

Time was really marching on so we headed off towards Henny Street (where we were going for lunch) which included a few reasonably steep hills and also a mile on a busy A-road which none of us enjoyed (lots of bad overtaking by drivers going too fast).

Eventually we were a mile or so from Henny Street and the path became very rough indeed on a long, swoopy downhill. My right hand side tyre was bouncing over flints, stones, sand, earth and grass and I had high expectations of a puncture (fortunately unrealised). I had to stop for a van to pass and then behind it was a horse (so I had to wait for that to pass too as horses tend to be really frightened of the trike), but then headed off and arrived at the pub first.

A man sitting outside with a beer said hello to me and I said hello back and then faffed with my Garmin Satnav to record this section of the route from Marks Tey (2 hours 33 minutes, 24.34 miles, average 9.5mph and 1,126 calories burned). After a few minutes Wowbagger arrived at which point the man said “Hello Peter!” and I recognised him as TimC, a cycling chum in whose back garden I have previously enjoyed a cup of tea and a biscuit. My only defence for not recognising him was that I had been told he was in America (he’s an airline pilot) but it turns out he got back at midday.

We enjoyed a rather late lunch (3:30pm!) at the Henny Swan, a venue we often choose for our rides. TimC joined us for the food and we recommended that the German ladies tried a steak and ale pie – they needed advice as to how to eat it (there was a shortcrust pastry lid). Here is Mrs Wow outside.

Mrs Wow outside the Henny Swan

Here is the altitude profile for this section of ride. The X axis is distance in miles, the Y axis (blue shading) is height, the orange line is my heart rate profile and the green line is my speed. Click to enlarge! Also please note that the scale on the left hand side is different than the first section to although it looks less hilly it was more so!
MT to Henny graphics

Time was really marching on and my dog had been on her own all day so I decided I ought to head directly home and not wait for the rest of them to accompany me as far as Bures (five miles) as I needed to ride a bit more quickly really. So after finishing our lunch I said my goodbyes and headed off eastwards (into wind!) back home.

Henny to Home

The first five miles along the river Stour (that ends up at Manningtree) are most distinctly up and down, as can be seen from the graphics of elevation, my speed (green line) and my heart rate (orange line).
Henny Home graphics

The longish flat bit about a quarter of the way is entering Bures. And then I have the distinctly un-wonderful Wormingford hill. I usually do a more country route to Wormingford but that involves more hills and I was slightly suffering from bike-maintenance-laziness in that I should have adjusted the cable length for my Alfine hub gear (as the warmer weather had meant the cable had got slightly out of line) but hadn’t got round to it. Consequently my gears 2 and 4 were a bit unreliable (kept slipping into neutral) and when climbing very steep hills after a nice lunch I struggled a bit. So I decided to take the main road hill up to Wormingford which is a better road surface and not quite as steep, although it’s still pretty steep as you can see from the graphic. (I have since adjusted the Alfine shifter cable length and all is perfect again).

Once I’m up in Wormingford it’s mostly downhill from there, as you can see from the graphic, and I had a lovely run back home. My final section of ride, on my own with the headwind, was 19.2 miles in 1 hour 38 minutes (average of 11.7mph which was good for me with all those hills and after a lot of riding) and I burned 1,024 calories as well!

Ride details in total were:
Distance 54.5 miles;
Moving time: 5 hours 4 minutes;
Average speed 10.7mph;
Average heart rate 137bpm;
Maximum heart rate 191bpm;
Maximum speed 33.9mph;
Calories burned 2,632;
Climb: 1,761 feet.

So this was a ride of ups and downs – in terms of cycling up and down hills but also in terms of our German friends’ experience of riding in England. We have some beautiful lanes and lovely scenery but we have some scary roads for riding and motorists seem much more aggressive than in Germany and the Netherlands. I think that they enjoyed the day but were relieved they had no more cycling to do after that (Jutta’s husband was coming over by car for a few days and would drive them back home again afterwards)

Here is the combined graphic of hills and speed/heart rate. Click to enlarge.
Combined Activity

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