Chapter Four – Day 1

Still Day 1 – Lowestoft to Colchester

Ness Point Plaque
Ness Point Plaque

Perhaps the final stop was not the start.  Not quite the start anyway; I had to get to Ness Point, where there is a plaque commemorating the fact that Lowestoft is Britain’s most easterly point.  Like the sign posts at Land’s End and John O’Groats it seemed the most appropriate starting point, although not quite actually at the furthest point.

I had no idea where Ness point was but I knew my gpx route started there, so if I switched on my Garmin and loaded the route, it would ask me if I wanted to navigate to the start.

Ah!  The map seemed to be frozen at the start.  It would not allow me to zoom in or out or move the map around at all.  It was also not allowing me to navigate to the start.  The tiny travel troll pinched my earlobe and cackled, “You’re buggered now!”

“No I’m not.  I can find the start easily enough.  It can’t be far.”

“But Colchester is 96 miles away,” the troll pointed out.  “How are you going to get there?”

“I’ll just follow the road signs,” I reasoned.

“All the signs will be for main roads.  Very busy, dangerous main roads, with screaming death hurtling along them in both directions.” The troll grinned with malicious pleasure.

My mind momentarily filled with panic.  Since being knocked from my bike by a lorry a couple of years previously I was no longer comfortable on busy roads.  Nearly 100 miles of busy roads might be too much to handle.  My trip might be scuppered before I even got to the start.

Frowning, I decided that no problem was insurmountable if I put my mind to it.  This was just a minor setback.  The worst case scenario was to follow small roads and lanes that headed in a general south westerly direction.  I turned my head to look the troll in the malignant eye.  “Piss off, troll!” I eloquently commanded.

Feeling a little brighter I determined that the route might load properly once I was at the start, so, asking a local for directions, I headed off.

Me at Ness Point
Me at Ness Point

Ness Point was well signed and just a few minutes cycle away.  I stopped to take the obligatory photos and then set about reloading my route.  I shut the Garmin down and rebooted it.  Loaded the route and…frozen!  The file must have corrupted!!

“He he he!” giggled the unrepentant troll.

Refusing to listen I thought the problem through.  What about the routes for the other days!  Were they all corrupted too?  I loaded Day 2 and was relieved to be asked if I wanted to navigate to the start.  That meant it was ok.  Then it struck me that it also meant I had a fall back for today: I could click yes and the Garmin would guide me to the start of tomorrow’s ride, i.e. the end of today’s.

“Yes,” interrupted the troll, “but only by the most direct route, which will still mean busy roads.”

The troll had a point but at least it was something.

My thoughts were distracted by the antics of a group of curious photographers who had appear on the scene of my drama.  They were not curious about something, they were about something curious:  they were taking photographs of the ground and the nearby walls with their lenses a scant inch from their targets.  Maybe they didn’t read the directions for their cameras?

Directions!  Of course!  Obvious!  I was meant to be following Sustrans routes and surely those routes would be signposted.  All I had to do was follow the signposts!  Genius.

“Genius?  Took you long enough,” grumbled the troll, looking a little petulant. You’ll probably miss one somewhere and end up in the middle of nowhere,” he added, the glint of hope lighting his eyes.

“Excuse me,” interrupted one of the photographers.  “Do you mind if I take a picture of your bike?”

“Not at all,” I said.  Maybe he had spotted my titanium
seat post and stem customisations.

He crouched down near my back wheel and, with his lens hovering an inch away, took a few shots of my cassette [the cogs for the chain on the back wheel].  Strange.

“Can I take one of your face?”

“Why not?” I uttered, never one to stand in the way of a man with good taste.

Almost shoving the lens in my eye he took an oblique shot of my eyeball.

A little perturbed I asked, “What are you lot up to then.”

 “We’re part of the Lowestoft Photographic Club,” he said, taking a few shots of my nose hair.  “Today we are learning about taking macro shots – real close ups.”

I should have known really.  I’ve a macro fetish myself.  I do it in private though.  And certainly not as part of a group. I like to take shots of fungi and creepy crawlies.

Creepy Crawlie
Creepy Crawlie

The photographer wandered off to capture come grains of sand on a flagstone and I put my own camera away and prepared to make a start.

Looking at the frozen map I suddenly wondered if the map would work without the navigation on.  A couple of years previously I had abandoned the London Edinburgh London Audax ride and needed to follow part of the route in reverse, to get back to the beginning.  The Garmin had driven me crazy, constantly telling me to U turn, until someone had shown me how to turn the navigation off and just show the route on the map.  Then it was just a case of following the line.  Well, the line of my route was still showing, the map was just stuck at the start.  If I could just remember…

A few minutes later I was flicking the troll on the nose and setting off, following the red line of my route.  The only downside was that it didn’t show the route profile, so I couldn’t see the ups and downs to come but that hardly mattered because I knew today was pretty much flat.

The route retraced my tyre tracks almost back to the railway station and then picked up the A12, over the harbour bridge and onwards, out of town.   I was disappointed by the bridge.  I had seen it described somewhere as, “…a bascule bridge, like Tower Bridge across the Thames in London.”   This was nothing like Tower Bridge.  Not a tower in sight.  I suppose the reference had been to the design of the bridge element, not the Victorian elaboration adorning it.  A bascule bridge is one that swings up, like a drawbridge, rather than sideways.  My expectation had been too high although I was caught between regret at not seeing it in action and thankfulness that I hadn’t been delayed.  I was already feeling under time pressure; it was after 10:00 and I had nearly 100 miles to ride.  If I cycled at the average pace I managed on my last two trips (10 mph including all stops) I was unlikely to reach Colchester before 20:00.

The A12 was fairly busy for a Saturday morning but there was a good cycle path along the pavement, which was slow, due to numerous obstacles requiring slowing or stopping, but safe.  The route soon cut across the A12 at a crossing and followed cycle paths and quiet residential streets out of town on Route 30.

Leaving the houses behind I hit the lanes of Suffolk.  Unfortunately my initial impressions were marred by also hitting the full force of the wind.  There were no hedges to blunt it.  In fact there was nothing to soften its power.  Apart from the odd tree here and there, the landscape consisted of pan flat cornfields.  Even the sky was fairly devoid of features, hardly a cloud in sight.  It was proper ‘big sky’ country.

Despite it being flat I was already finding it hard going, struggling to get into any rhythm.  Looking back, I should have been enjoying myself immensely.  I was free of responsibility, the sun was shining and the road beckoned before me.  At that moment though, I did not have the right head on.  That head was feeling very sorry for itself.  Perhaps as a result of:

  • Not getting enough sleep (maybe the troll was right)
  • Setting out on a 96 mile ride quite late, having already been up for 5 hours so feeling I should be halfway through.
  • The strong headwind pushing me backwards.
  • Thinking I should be going faster than I was because it was flat. Riding in Devon I dreamt of flat. In fact I often thought that the Supreme Being should take a mighty sword and slice the tops off all the hills and invert them to plug all the valleys, making everything nice and flat. Now I wasn’t so sure it was a good plan: there were no downhills where I could stop pedalling!
  • Not being fit enough.

Blowing a stream of snot from my left nostril I settled on ‘not being fit enough’.  I had prevaricated over training, never feeling I had the time when it was really the inclination I lacked.  Then, when I finally decided I really had to do something, I was hit by wave after wave of viruses and chest infections.  I was still in the final throes of one.

Despite the sun I was feeling the gloom and made the mistake of trying to get some miles in before relaxing into the ride.  A silly thing to do.  I should have relaxed from the start, or at least after the initial adrenaline rush to get out of town.  Perhaps that was another part of the problem – the ‘rush to get out of town’ was the 5th adrenaline rush of the day:

1.       Waking and vacating the train.
2.       Cycling across London.
3.       Charging about at Ipswich railway station.
4.       Panicking about the route not working.
5.       Rush to get out of town.

As a result I have little recollection of the first 20 miles of the ride other than it was a relentless grind into the headwind with weary legs and a tired head.  The landscape was flat with very straight roads, meaning there was little variety.  It was boring.  And despite being flat, the constant force of the wind made it feel like I was cycling uphill the whole time.  Admittedly, not a steep hill but one that went on for mile after mile without rest.

The other side effect of the wind was the continuous noise.  It was mentally draining.  Add to that the return of the water torture ‘tick’ and I was beginning to curse the day I had ever thought of doing this ride.

 Railway Crossing
Railway Crossing

Then, at roughly 20 miles, I had to stop and get off the bike to cross a railway line.  This may be quite normal in some parts of the country but something I am unused to so I stopped to take a picture of an angle of the track I rarely see.  It crossed my mind that these must have been the tracks I had clattered over on the train that morning.  Whether it was the relief I felt that I didn’t have to worry about trains again on this trip or simply the brief rest from pedalling I do not know but I started to feel a little better about the trip.  Yes, there was a headwind but the day was warm, hot even at 23oc, and uncharacteristically sunny.  Sure, I was tired but this ride would chase off my cold and I would get fitter over the next day or two.  Ok, the bike was ticking but I would work out what that was and cure it, in the meantime I could ignore it.  So there were no hedgerows to blunt the wind’s assault but the cow parsley and the poppies on the borders of the field were a natural tapestry of wonder.  The good was all there, I just had to see it.

Despite my head down approach to the first 20 miles, it was now nearly midday so I had only managed to average about 10 mph and I still had a long way to go.  I climbed back in the saddle but resisted the urge to ‘push on’ again.  I determined to relax and ease up a little.  If I pushed too hard on the pedals I would tire myself quickly and I had 8 days of cycling ahead of me.

 Bernard Matthews Sign
Bernard Matthews Sign

A mile down the lane I passed Bernard Matthews.  Any British reader will know that Bernard Matthews is a turkey farmer.  A major turkey farmer, with 56 farms throughout Norfolk, Suffolk and Lincolnshire, farming nearly 7 million turkeys each year.  That’s a lot of Christmas dinners, sandwiches and leftover turkey pasta dishes.  This must have been one of the processing plants (slaughter houses?).  They seemed very proud of the fact that they were a nut free site.  I was still wondering whether or not I was on a nut free ride.

I continued on along endless miles of narrow lanes flanked by pale green cow parsley and vibrant red poppies against a back drop of dark green wheat.  It was a beautiful scene but very samey.  The human brain has a built in mechanism that dismisses beauty and wonder very quickly, without variety.  No doubt it stems from our days swinging in the trees, needing to stay alert to danger and not losing ourselves in the lovely… whatever.  That is why, when we visit a wonder like the Grand Canyon, we stand in awe for two minutes and then wander off for a cup of tea.

The only break in the monotony was looking forward to turning left.  That may seem slightly abstract but the route, whilst heading generally south westerly, was actually zig zigging through a network of lanes, first west and then south.  So, after each slog in a westerly direction, directly into the teeth of the wind, I would look forward to turning left and heading south for a few hundred metres, with a mere cross wind to contend with.

Water tower
Water tower

Aside for the occasional small, shopless [lunch was beginning to press on my mind and I was running out of water] village, and a few farm buildings, the only things to mar the landscape were water towers.  These were quite a feature of the area, presumably because of the lack of hills (you certainly never see water towers in Devon). They weren’t unsightly but perhaps not ascetically enhanced by the communications antennae bolted on top.  Again, with no hills they must be the highest points around. In fact, the highest point in the whole county is at only 128 metres.  That’s a relatively minor climb in the hillier parts of the country.

It was with some relief that I spotted a shop in Peasenhall.  I grabbed the last baguette, a pack of ham, a large bag of salt and vinegar crisps (to stave of cramp – it’s a good excuse anyway) and a 2 litre bottle of water and repaired to the bench on the village green outside.  OK ‘green’ is pushing the imagery but it was on some grass.

For me, food on a cycle is a matter of getting the calories in to make sure I have a steady supply of energy.  Of course I will pick the tastiest food available but I will not go out of my way to track down the tastiest.  But I have to make a special mention of the baguette.  Our local co-op bakes some excellent baguettes but they weren’t a patch on this.  It was crisp, light and had an excellent flavour, although perhaps hunger is the best relish.

I tried hard to have a leisurely lunch but the troll was making his presence known.  Having been flicked on the nose he wasn’t bold enough to sit on my shoulder but he started up a whispering campaign.  “That looks like a nice lunch.  Do you have time to eat it?  It’s 13:00 you know.  How far have you cycled?  Less than 30 miles!  That’s not even a third of the way!  Surely lunchtime is halfway through the day.  You’re miles behind where you should be.  You should stuff that baguette in your pocket and eat it on the move.  Get some distance under your tyres as you eat.  You don’t see the pros stopping for a laid-back lunch on the side of the road.  Every five minutes sat here is a mile on the road.”

Eventually I cracked, stuffed half the baguette in my back pocket and hit the tarmac again.

When I had turned the corner into Peasenhall and spotted the shop I had stopped without changing down gears.  The gear I had been riding had not felt particularly high whilst I was pedalling but trying to get going again I felt like a track sprinter, trying to muscle around a massive over gear.  It didn’t help that I had been stopped for a few minutes and had begun to stiffen and seize up.  Before they could scream into cramp I rapidly shifted down a few gears and spun my legs back into submission.

I was soon back into open country, tacking through the wheat fields, first west, ploughing into the wind, then south, being buffeted towards the edge of the road by the cross wind.  It was like sailing across a green sea, the wheat rippling with the wind squalls as if giant invisible hands were brushing this way and that across their feathery tops.  Any individual stalk of wheat would have been flattened by the treatment but united they were resilient, each stem supporting the next, the strength of the whole much more than the sum of the parts.  It left me wishing for some cycling companions.  I normally prefer to cycle alone but right then I could have done with some help battling the relentless wind.

Framlingham Castle
Framlingham Castle

With thoughts of battle rampaging through my head, I turned south once more and found myself cycling alongside a freshwater lake with a formidable looking castle staring across the water at me. I stopped to take a picture [13:56 and 57km] and then cycled on to find a sign that might tell me which castle it was.  It turned out to be Framlingham Castle and had a long history.  The first wooden fort was built not long after the doomsday book in 1086 and was rebuilt in stone in 1136.  That castle was dismantled by King John (not him personally, I am sure) during a supressed rebellion following Magna Carta but was rebuilt by 1213 with the massive stone curtain walls that still stand today, over 800 years later.  In its pomp the castle has entertained the likes of King John (after it was rebuilt following his own demolition of it – fickle), was the place that Henry IV’s son was educated and was where Mary Tudor rallied her troops to fight for the throne.  This illustrious history took a nosedive in the 16th and 17th centuries when the castle was used as a poor house.  It is now managed by English Heritage.

Crinkle Crankle Wall
Crinkle Crankle Wall

Five miles of tiny lanes brought me to the village of Easton and another notable wall.  It was not quite so dominating but it was weird.  It was a red brick affair, perhaps 9 feet high and hundreds of metres long*.  It went on and on and on and then turned a right angle and disappeared out of sight.  Presumably it was the boundary wall of some large estate, erected long ago, when labour was cheap, or forced.  What was weird was the fact that it was not straight.  It was sinuous; like a snake.  I could not fathom why anyone would build a wall in such a way.  Building a straight wall of such proportions would have taken tens of thousands of bricks and goodness knows how many man hours but S bending it must have almost doubled the quantities.  Perhaps it was merely a statement.

[* Please excuse my mixing of imperial and metric measurements.  I have been educated in metric but brought up imperial, being born shortly before decimalisation.  I think miles in terms of distance but metres in terms of elevation.  However, I think in feet and inches in terms of height but metres in length.  I weight baking ingredients in ounces and my own weight in kilograms!  I do not think I am alone.  I go to the timber merchant and by 2”x4” in 2.4 metre lengths.]

I later discovered that such walls are known as ‘crinkle crankle’ walls and are especially associated with Suffolk.  The sinuous design adds strength, removing the need for buttressing.  The wall at Eason is apparently the longest example of its kind, left behind when Easton Hall, the seat of the Duke and Duchess of Hamilton was demolished and transported to the USA in the 1920s, to be re-assembled as a ranch!

But it was time for me to slither onwards.  I was only just over 40 miles into the day and was determined not to stop again until I reached at least the 50 mile mark.

The lanes began to change nature a little, with low hedges becoming more prevalent.  Whilst the wind still buffeted my head, my body got some respite and more of my effort seemed to be transferring into speed.  To counter this the road was starting to go up and down a little.  It wasn’t much but after mile after mile of flat it was a bit of a shock to the legs.  The troll certainly took great delight in telling me all about the climbs to come in Wales.

My 50 mile target arrived at the same time as a glimpsed sign for Buttrum’s Mill.  Looking for an excuse to stop I turned down a dirt track for a 100 metres or so to the mill.

Buttrams Mill
Buttrams Mill

The mill itself was closed but I managed to glean that it was the tallest mill in Suffolk; six storeys standing at 61 feet (18.6m).  The sails, whilst not in operation, were formidable with a span of 70 feet (21.3m).

With no opportunity to have a look inside I cycled back up the track to the road and headed into Woodbridge.  It was downhill into the town centre and on the map of my Garmin I could see the route heading back in a sharp V, almost parallel.  I was wondering whether to cut across on one of the side roads but by the time I had dithered it was too late and I was at the point of the V, turning to head back up the hill on a different road.  It wasn’t much of a hill, probably only about 7-8% but it felt like more on tired legs and knowing I could have avoided half of it.

At the top I was rewarded with the sight of Seckford Alms Houses.  I think they only caught my eye because they were the largest building I had seen all day.   In my driven state, having only just stopped for the mill and having wasted energy on the hill, I didn’t stop but remembered to make a note the next time I stopped: ‘big brick place @ sekkleham’, which is  perhaps a reflection of how tired I was getting and it was only day 1.

Seckford Almshouses
Seckford Almshouses

From Woodford it was a short ride to the outskirts of Ipswich.  Route 1 took a very safe but convoluted route towards the town centre and then veered away out of town again.  It was long and torturous for someone who was hoping to pick up a bit of speed towards the end of the day.  The route followed footpaths and pave ments and back streets and crossings and continuously twisted and turned, never allowing any speed to be gained, constantly on the brakes for the next blind bend. It seemed to take forever to reach the countryside again, with a short prelude of a dirt track, the first on the route, through a park just on the furthest outskirts.  In all it took well over an hour and was a total distance of 10 miles.  Urban cycling on a Sustrans route is not my favourite.  But I must stress that it was a very safe route.  Although I probably could have been through on the main roads in half the time.

My reward for getting though the urban sprawl was to hit my most rural lane, narrow with nettles and brambles encroaching on both sides and a middle ridge of mud and rocks.  Luckily it was dry and my tyres were tough!

From there it wasn’t long before I was crossing into Essex.  It had taken me 76 miles of mostly flat lanes to cycle across the 8th biggest county and it appeared that Essex was at the top of a hill. Gun Hill to be precise.  The moment I crossed the county line the road tilted upwards.  It was the biggest hill so far at about 8% for several hundred metres.

It soon flattened out again and within a few miles I was pedalling though the outskirts of Colchester, repeating my Ipswich experience.  It was frustrating to be crawling along so slowly, stop starting when tired legs just wanted to set a steady rhythm.  The town seemed to be much more up and down than Ipswich and I was soon wishing the last few miles of urban streets away.  But after a particularly long drag up a pavement alongside the busy A134 I was compensated with the sight of part of the original Roman gate to the city.

Colchester Roman Gate
Colchester Roman Gate

According to the sign it is the largest surviving Roman gateway in Britain.  Following the sacking of the Roman town of Colchester by Boudicca in AD60, the Romans constructed a wall around the town, the gate forming the entrance for the main road from Londinium [London].

It is amazing that any of the gate survives, being nearly 2,000 years old.  That more doesn’t survive is not a reflection on the Roman builders’ skills but more the action of history.  Over the centuries the wall and gate have been a supply of premade building materials ready to be plundered and large parts of the walls were dismantled following the siege of the city in the 17th Century during the English Civil War.

In its day, the gate must have been formidably impressive judging from the picture of a reconstructed model above.  The remaining arch shown in my photo is the foot gate on the right hand side of the model.

Colchester Gate Model
Colchester Gate Model

Shortly before arriving at my pre-booked B&B I stopped at the local convenience store and bought myself some sandwiches, a pot noodle and a bag of crisps.  I also stocked up on cereals bars for pocket food the next day and purchased a large bottle of chocolate milkshake, as an after ride recovery drink.  The silk rucksack I had purchased for the ride came into its own, swallowing the load and allowing me to cycle without the encumbrance of a carrier bag in my hand for the last half mile.

Above I called my stop for the night a B&B.  That was an exaggeration.  It was just a B, not providing Breakfast to go with the Bed.  When I rolled to a stop outside I was not overly impressed.  Admittedly, I was not expecting to be: it was only £12 a night!

The landlady was very pleasant though.  She was of foreign origin, I think Italian, but it transpired that she could speak several languages fluently.  She led me to the house next door and showed me to my room.  It was basic but had everything I needed – a bed and some electrical sockets to charge stuff up.  The bathroom was clean and tidy and just two doors away.

I hit the shower as soon as I was free from the show around.  It felt great to wash all the hassles of the day down the plughole along with the sweat and dust.  I hoped the troll would get flushed away with them.  I washed my kit by scrubbing it with soap and then grape treading it in the bottom of the shower as I washed.  I then rinsed it and wrung out as much water as possible.

I felt much relieved after my shower and retreated to my room to get my kit in order, ready for the next day, before allowing myself to relax.

First port of call was to roll my washed cycling shorts, top and socks up in my towel as tightly as possible and then wring it, to get as much moisture out as I could.  I then hung the kit in an open window to dry.

Next I emptied my saddlebag and laid it all out ready for neat re-packing in the morning.  Any electrical items, such as the Garmin, my phone, the tablet and my back-up battery where put on charge.  I was alarmed to discover that I had forgotten to bring the charger for my camera.  I was going to have to be economical with it and hope that the battery would last for the trip.

Annoyed with myself for not double checking my kit list I washed my water bottles and refilled them, ready for the next day.  Similarly I laid out a number of cereal bars as pocket food for the first session of the day.

I was then in a position to write a blog post on the tablet whilst it charged:

Well, I’ve made it to the end of day 1. Whilst I didn’t think I wouldn’t make it to the end of the day there were a few moments when I doubted the wisdom of the whole venture.

It was an incredibly windy day. Sadly it was a westerly wind and I was cycling in a generally south westerly direction 😦  The route was incredibly flat but the wind made it feel like I was climbing all day. Progress seemed to be very slow and my legs were protest­ing.  It didn’t help that I was feeling tired due to lack of sleep. By the time I had covered 30 miles I was starting to feel I had had enough.

The day was pleasant apart from the wind. Out of the wind it was quite hot, up to 23 degrees. But the wind was cold. At times I was tempted to put my arm and leg warmers on.

The route was very quiet and apart from 1 section of hard pack, tar­mac throughout. There was one dodgy lane; narrow with nettles over­growing each side and rocks and mud in the middle. But on the whole the Lanes were excellent. They were straight and flat with lots of wild flowers like poppies along the edges. There were many traditional looking house and quaint green triangle junction. The only problem was it never varied. 95 miles of the same views grinding into the wind. I am convinced I passed exactly the same quaint Saxon church 15 times and I am sure I wasn’t going in a circle. Maybe I was, the day did drag.

I need to get my mental sorted for tomorrow. I need to put my touring head and legs on in the morning rather than the commuting ones. I can’t cycle 100 miles in a couple of hours so I shouldn’t be concerning myself with how long it is taking.

But I am tired and not feeling fit. The wind didn’t help nor the batch or viruses and infections I have been afflicted with for the past 6 weeks. I felt a bit better today but I was still leaving a trail of snot in my wake, like the slime trail of a giant slug. In fact that is how I felt all day: sluggish.

Tomorrow is another day…

Day 1 Statistics

Distance:  96 miles
Av speed:  12.4 mph
Time cycling:  7:40
Time overall:  8:48
Av heart rate:  137 bpm
Calories burnt:  4,602
Total ascent:  1,097 m
Max speed:  41.5 mph

Note: the average speed is actual pedaling speed and does not include time stopped.

Day 1 Elevation Profile
Day 1 Elevation Profile

Note: the above elevation profile looks jagged, like a day of constantly riding up and down short sharp hills.  This was not the case.  The effect is created by the scale of the x axis in relation to the y axis.  A total of only 20 metres was gained in the first 20 km, an average gradient of 0.1%.

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