Cycling in Essex

July 18, 2013 at 7:51 am | Posted in Cycle Rides, Cycling, Eating and Drinking, Travel | 1 Comment
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IMG_2085Essex is a great county to cycle round. Last Saturday Mr C [still waiting for the right Famous Five pseudonym to present itself] and I did a circular route from Audley End to well, obviously, Audley End. The towns, villages and countryside along the route are beautiful, with just the right amount of hills (I never felt like I was constantly peddling up hill but there were enough inclines to keep things interesting).

IMG_2100The first stop was Saffron Walden, home of the glorious Fry Art Galley which has an extensive and wonderful collection of works by Edward Bawden, Eric Ravillious, Kenneth Rowntree and many more. You can get fine cakes, quiches and scones from Cafe Cou Cou but it is extremely hard to find anywhere to leave your bikes. We ended having to ask the vicar if it was ok to lock our bikes up to the church railings.

From Saffron Walden we set off in the direction of Thaxted, a sweet village with a windmill and plenty of impressive examples of pargetting, a traditional style of decorating the exterior plasterwork of buildings with patterns. Pargetting is big in this part of Essex and nearby Cambridgeshire. IMG_2072

We kept looking for a river or pool in which we could take a dip (temperatures exceeded 30 degrees on Saturday) but sadly this was not to be. But we did come across some very cute hens, and Mr C bought some freshly laid eggs which we had for breakfast with Brick Lane bagels the following day. This is my egg cup, Mr C is far too manly for such a thing.IMG_2099

Given our various stop offs, and the high temperatures, we took our time getting round the 34 mile route. By early evening we were more than ready for a drink and pub meal. We stopped off at The Cricketers Arms by Rickling Green and had a quintessentially English experience of drinking Pimms (me)/ale (Mr C) while sitting on the grass watching a game of cricket.IMG_2097

I’d highly recommend this ride although doing it in one day means you won’t have time to visit all of the various attractions en route (the house at Audley End, Bridge End Garden and turf maze, Saffron Walden Museum, and various churches). The route can be found here.

And here is some recommended viewing; 4 films from the East Anglian Film Archive:

The House that Essex Built (1958)

An A-Z of East Anglian Villages: Ugley (1975)

Britain’s Historic Counties: Essex (c.1955)

Ripe Earth (1938) Boulting Brothers documentary about harvest time in Essex.


Yet another cycle trip

June 20, 2013 at 9:52 pm | Posted in Cycle Rides, Cycling, Dick, Eating and Drinking | 1 Comment
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Hallo everyone! (‘hallo’ being much more Blytonian than ‘hello’) I’ve been on yet another cycle trip, although sadly my bicycle is currently sitting upside down in my flat suffering from a buckled wheel. This year Dick and I got back in the saddle and did a circular route out from Oxford. We stayed in a mildly surreal but beautiful [and cheap] resort-type hotel (for business types during the week, and families and couples who want to spa during the weekend) and managed to get in some quality hills and birthday cake along the way. Here are some snaps from my album:



My beautiful bicycle, glinting in the sunshine on the canal path between Oxford and Blenheim









I like the strips of green, white and yellow in the fields along this stretch of the cycle route, also in between Oxford and Blenheim (although we were about to hit the horrid bit of the track that runs alongside a busy main road).







A nice hot bath was just what was needed after a long and dusty day on the road.









On the way back we stopped at the smashing Rectory Farm. They have a cafe, a shop and you can pick your own strawberries and asparagus too!









…they also have bunting…










…and good lunch offerings including this salad of local broad beans and asparagus with a pullet’s egg on top (plus a much needed mug of tea).








And lastly, even Timmy wouldn’t have felt left out – homemade dog treats!

All packed…

March 30, 2013 at 10:12 am | Posted in Cycling, Timmy, Travel | 2 Comments

…and ready to set off for Caen, Normandy via London Waterloo, Portsmouth and Brittany Ferries. Plastic Timmy is raring to go, as am I, especially as I will be riding my brand new (to me) bicycle, an early 80s British bike built by Mike Kowal and restored for me by the brilliant Rob Sargent of Sargent and Co. More on all of this to follow.


Spence Bakery Buns

March 29, 2013 at 2:05 pm | Posted in Cycling, Eating and Drinking | Leave a comment
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Spence bunsEvery Easter I endeavour to make hot cross buns (you can see some of my previous efforts here and here. Oh, and also here). This Good Friday has been a little too hectic for the soothing activity of kneading dough, piping crosses and enjoying the wafting scent of fruited buns baking in the oven. This is mostly because tomorrow I set off for France for 3 days of cycling around Calvados and Camembert country and a few last minute preparations have been necessary, including the purchase of an inflatable sleeping mat and the slightly failed attempt to make my sleeping bag roll up a little bit smaller than it wanted to (this has been taking longer than you might think). Yes, camping is on the cards…

Anyway, back to buns. Where I live I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by a number of makers and purveyors of fine hot cross buns. The E5 Bakehouse does an excellent one, as reported last year, but this year I have also discovered the joys of the soft, sticky and generously sized Spence Bakery bun. Mmmm. The buns are normally £1.30 each but during Easter week they’re on special offer and going for 2 for £2 or 6 for £5. My cousin and I ate ours toasted, with plenty of butter, for breakfast this morning. If you happen to live in London I suggest hot footing it over to Stoke Newington Church Street right away. Happy Easter everyone!

Get Cycling?

July 30, 2012 at 10:40 pm | Posted in Cycling | Leave a comment
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There couldn’t be a better time to start cycling if you live in London. Yes, that pesky event called the Olympics means that cycling is now officially the best way to get to work (if, indeed, it wasn’t before). Everyone must be underground, off on holiday or at one of the Olympic venues because the centre of town and the roads leading in have been exceptionally quiet over the past few days. Obviously this depends on where you live but I for one will be making the most of it (random torrential rain storms aside).

The Transport for London cycling pages have some useful tips on routes etc, plus they are showing a cute little film in cinemas eulogising the freedom of the bicycle. But readers beware! It’s not all a utopian dream, as these transport posters from 1916 and 1933, respectively, suggest. So ride, but ride carefully…


Sorry the text of the one on the left is so small. It reads:

‘DON’T hold on to other vehicles when they are in motion or stationary, and especially don’t hold on to Motor-buses. You may meet with an accident.


DON’T cut in past vehicles on the near side, they may pull in and you will find yourself jammed.

DON’T try to ride in congested traffic when the speed is too slow to make keeping your balance easy’

The red text on the bottom of the right-hand poster says:

‘Read and obey the Highway Code. Observe the rules of the road’

Fancy an ice?

July 11, 2012 at 6:47 am | Posted in Cycling, Eating and Drinking | 2 Comments















Spotted near London Fields on my way home from work last night – a pop-up ice cream shop, the Five would be pleased. I like the way the sign is strategically positioned to catch the eye of passing cyclists in particular.

Norfolk Cycle Tour (Day 3)

June 12, 2012 at 10:18 pm | Posted in Cycle Rides, Cycling, Eating and Drinking, Timmy | 1 Comment
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Georgian market town Holt attracts lots of visitors (locals meeting for a coffee, tourists, second home owners in search of olives and harissa). I went to pick up a few supplies for my day and to have a little look around its shops which include an outpost of the Norwich art and craft shop, Verandah, and Old Town, purveyors of modern versions of old style home and workwear (stove pipe trousers, house dresses – lots of twill).

For provisions I went to the Owl Bakery and got a sausage roll, warm from the oven, and a coconut tart, which was the closest I could get to one of the Five’s favourites, coconut macaroons. There’s a tea room at the back of the bakery where I stopped for a coffee, which was much needed on what was shaping up to be a damp and misty morning. The tea room is charming without trying too hard and has booths and tables with old tea tins, metal teapots, tennis rackets and other miscellanea propped up on shelves all around. I had a good cup of hot coffee but did note that it cost more than a cup of coffee in a fancy East London cafe (this says much about the fashionable parts of North Norfolk).

My route on Day 3 was Holt to Heydon, via Blickling Hall. There are a few nasty B roads around Holt but cycle route provision means there’s an underpass to help you avoid the worst of these. Within a few minutes I was once again completely alone on a quiet road in the midst of woods and fields, on my way to my first stopping off point, Baconsthorpe Castle.

Baconsthorpe is an actual ruined castle, on the very edge of the village at the end of a long farm lane. Apart from the Tudor Gatehouse, the rest of the castle is a little Kirrin-like. Timmy and I had the place to ourselves, apart from the cawing rooks and a lot of geese (there’s a mere next to the castle). We explored a little and as it was a bit lonely and eerie we stopped to fortify ourselves with the coconut tart  –  a delicious and very restorative elevensey (is this the singular of ‘elevenses’?). As we were leaving some day trippers in a motor car turned up. Pah!

The roads around this part of the county are lovely. Contrary to popular belief, Norfolk is not flat, especially around this area which was shaped long ago by Ice Age glaciers. There were a few little climbs followed by some exhilarating downhill stretches. In Itteringham we stopped off for a ginger beer from the village post office. NB This is an excellent little shop which sells postcards, stationery, teas and ices much in the tradition of the village shops encountered by the Five.

My timings were much better than the previous day, perhaps because I decided to abandon my 20 church quest, and I arrived at Blickling in good time for a picnic lunch inspired by a meal in Five Have a Wonderful Time in which they feast on sausage rolls and strawberries. I confess my version was a little inauthentic as I opted for fresh (although rather squished after a morning being bumped around in my bike basket) rather than tinned strawberries.

After a look around the hall and its gardens, I visited its excellent and rather large secondhand bookshop. Despite trying to travel light I succumbed to two hardbacks. These were Blytons, of course: a hardback Ring o’ Bells Mystery and Enid Blyton’s Nature Lover’s Book. The second is a thing of such beauty that I will return to it in more detail another time.

Day 3 was by far my greediest day. In less than an hour I was in Heydon’s Village Tea Room and Shop (I took a longer route to avoid busy roads) with a pot of tea and a scone. Like Biddy’s Tea Room in Norwich they sell lavender scones so I requested to have mine with lemon curd and cream – a heavenly although rather indulgent combination. But surely ok after all that cycling?

My destination for the night was the Stable Cottages at Heydon Hall, run by the fabulous and indomitable Sarah. I was given another cup of tea and, with the other guests, sat outside and watched the wide array of birds (woodpeckers, nutcrackers) that frequent Sarah’s garden and the grounds of the hall. Rather magically, a barn owl appeared and flew around the estate on its early evening hunt.

This was the final night of my trip. The next day I had a gentle ride back into Norwich day (2-3 hours along the Marriott’s Way, old railway track which is now a designated cycle route) and decided to round off my trip with a final cream tea, this time in the garden of the Briton’s Arms on Elm Hill. Whipped rather than clotted cream but very good nevertheless.

Tally for the penultimate and the final day: Ruined castles (1), ginger beers (1), cream teas (2), stately homes (1), churches (0).

Norfolk Cycle Tour (Day Two)

June 5, 2012 at 3:14 pm | Posted in Cycle Rides, Cycling, Travel | 1 Comment
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I got up early for a pre-breakfast cycle to the beach which was a mile or so from where I was staying. When I left the barn a little after 7 there was a thick mist hanging in the air and this got even thicker as I got closer to the sea. The previous day I’d been able to see the Happisburgh lighthouse, with its distinctive bright red and white stripes, from many miles away but this morning it was completely invisible. Happisburgh suffers from extreme coastal erosion and as I went down the cliff path, the one remaining house on the edge of the cliff looked very lonely, bereft and run down.

I left my bike and Timmy behind and went down to the beach. It was a bit like the beginning of of A Matter of a Life and Death when airman David Niven gets washed up on a beach which looks very other worldly. There may have been other people down there but as I could only see a few metres in any direction it felt like I had the whole place completely to myself. Gradually the sun began to break through, the mist started to roll back from the land, and the lighthouse slowly revealed itself. After a little wander around the churchyard (which, it turns out, did actually feature in an M R James adapatation – eek) I cycled back to the farmhouse for a hearty breakfast of poached fruits with yoghurt followed by scrambled eggs and smoked salmon (Rosie definitely knows how to feed her guests).

This set me up nicely for the long morning’s (hot and sunny) cycle to Felbrigg where I planned to rub one of the church brasses. I decided to set myself an additional challenge: to visit 20 churches over the course of my four day trip. I’d already looked around four the previous day, plus Happisburgh that morning, so I was well on track. Or so I thought.

From Happisburgh I picked up National Cycle Route 1 which took me down lots of quiet lanes. For the most part the national and regional cycle routes are well signposted but occasionally either they are not, or I get distracted by looking at other things and miss crucial turnings. Happily I didn’t go too far wrong and soon after Ridlington followed the route up past Witton Bridge to St Margaret’s. The church has a round tower and from the end of the churchyard a glorious view over to the coast (you can see Happisburgh lighthouse and church, plus several other churches dotted across the landscape). As on the previous day I trustingly left my bike and luggage outside while I went in to look around. I was pleased that all of the churches that I went to, no matter how remote they were, were all unlocked and accessible. However, all had notices about ‘smart water’ and anti-theft deterrents and it’s very sad to think of people robbing these beautiful old buildings. Church tally for the day: 2 and counting.

I mounted up and continued down to Paston, best known for its association with the Paston Letters. These span the 15th and 16th centuries and give an incredible insight into the life of a private, socially rising family, during this time. William Paston’s magnificient thatched Tithe Barn, built around 1580, is still there, as is the church (yes, another St Margaret’s   – she’s a popular saint in Norfolk) in which numerous members of the family are commemorated. It also has good wall paintings of St Christopher which are well worth seeing.

From Paston I temporarily left national cycle route 1 and headed for Knapton, partly because it was a shortcut but mostly because I wanted to see Knapton church which is famed for its glorious ceiling of carved angels. I’m afraid my photograph doesn’t really capture its full glory but it really is stunning. From Knapton, to Trunch, via ‘quiet lanes’. The ‘quiet lanes’ concept is a nice one that has been implemented by Norfolk County Council over the past ten years or so in an attempt to make these small roads more people and cycle friendly and to encourage cars to drive considerately and/or use alternative routes.

After pausing at Trunch church (good font, churches so far: 5) my hopes of getting to Felbrigg by lunchtime were rapidly waning. I grabbed a quick and refreshing ginger beer before leaving the cycle route to cut across country via some less pleasant B roads. Finally arriving at Felbrigg around 2 I locked up my bike, left my luggage in the National Trust lockers and took my brass rubbing kit down to, yes, you’ve guessed it, St Margaret’s church. My 1970s Shire Guide to brass rubbing advised writing to the current incumbent to get permission beforehand which I duly did. The internet is a glorious thing so I didn’t have to go the local library to consult Crockford’s Clerical Library as the Shire guide suggests, but was instead able to Google the vicar and send him an email (to which he replied quickly and in the affirmative).

All of the brasses in the church are covered in mats to protect them so I spent a little while rolling these back to look at the brasses and decide which one to rub. I finally opted for Jane Coningsby, who had a nice Tudor ruff but who was inconveniently positioned half under the an altar table near the front of the church. It was quite hard work but very enjoyable, and had novelty value for people coming in to look at the church. One advantage of being situated under the altar meant I didn’t have people stepping over me all the time. After a cup of tea at the National Trust tea room I had time for a quick look around the hall before it shut. Picking up the cycle route that runs through Felbrigg estate and out the other side I then headed off to Holt for a shower and good rest followed by a trip by car (yes!) to the Wiveton Bell for dinner (local crab) with a friend who drove up from Norwich. Lovely.

Tally so far: cream teas (0), ginger beers (1), churches (10), brasses (1 rubbed), stately homes (1), ruined castles (0).

A Norfolk Cycle Tour (Day One)

June 2, 2012 at 4:55 pm | Posted in Cycle Rides, Cycling | 3 Comments
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Plastic Timmy and I have returned safely from our Norfolk Cycle Tour 2012. I’m pleased to report that  there were no punctures, loose spokes or hurricanes, as in previous years. There were, however, cream teas (2), ginger beers (2), churches (10+), brasses (1 rubbed), stately homes (2) and ruined castles (1).

Norfolk is a truly beautiful county to cycle around, especially in the early summer when the May blossom is out in all of the little country lanes and the fields are full of green wheat and cornflowers. I cheated a little on my first day and took the train from Norwich to Hoveton & Wroxham so I could get straight out into the countryside. From H&W station I was perfectly placed to begin a tour of the northern part of the Norfolk Broads. I’d originally planned to first go south and climb the magnificent church tower at Ranworth but unfortunately the foot ferry at Horning has been discontinued so I decided instead to approach Horning from the north.

My first stop was the little church of Hoveton St Peter. Dating from 1624, it’s very sweet and made of red brick with Tudor/Jacobean style gables, a bell and a thatched roof. From St Peter’s it was down to Horning, a charming village by the river with cream teas, ices etc.  (too soon to stop for one of these though). Horning is the setting for Arthur Ransome’s Coot Club (1934) and The Big Six (1940) and in Arthur Mee’s travel guide (from the same year as the latter) Horning is rather poetically described thus:

‘a little Venice in the heart of Broadland, where the waterways wandering from the river into the gardens are crossed by tiny bridges. The river winds in and out until it nears the old church, which looks out on shining water through a mantle of tress and on sails like white wings among the green. Lovely lanes bring us to it, and to the charming thatched house with gables and dormers keeping it company.’

The King’s England: Norfolk

I left my bike and baggage outside of the church (St Benedict’s) so I could have a look around. The service had just finished and the congregation were dispersing but a few of them stopped to chat and to tell me about the open air service that will be happening on the first Sunday of August. This is a yearly tradition and is tied up with St Benet’s Abbey, a ruined riverside abbey a couple of miles away. This was the only abbey to escape Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries and he in fact made the Abbot of St Benet’s the Bishop of Norwich too. This link continues up to the present and each year the Bishop of Norwich, who is still the Abbot of St Benet’s, arrives to hold an open air service at the abbey. The East Anglian Film Archive has a film from the 1960s of the Bishop arriving by wherry and although I’m not religious, I’m quite tempted to try and return to Horning to witness this age old tradition.

My next stop was Irstead, a cul-de-sac village next to the River Ant near Barton Broad where I popped into the dark and cool church (another thatched roof plus some lovely glass). I hadn’t realised how close I was to the water until I caught a glimpse of a white sail gliding through the trees just past the end of the churchyard. There is a little thrill in this – in Broadland you don’t always realise you’re near the water at all until you suddenly see a sail moving along nearby. I went down to the river and stopped off at the staithe where I ate my packed lunch of a cheese sandwich and a banana (thanks mum!) and mapped out the next part of my route.

Because the minor roads and lanes in this region don’t really lead anywhere they are exceptionally quiet; I hardly saw a car at all for the whole day. From Irstead I went up through Barton Turf, Dilham and Honing and then across to East Ruston, home of the magnificent Old Vicarage gardens. I had a cup of tea and a wander around before heading to my final destination of the day, the Manor Barn and Farm B&B near Happisburgh. Hostess Rosie gave me a warm welcome and a cup of tea before leaving me to unpack, explore the barn’s fine range of local interest books and have a little sit out in the suntrap courtyard before going over the the farmhouse for a glorious dinner of local crab cakes, salmon and local asparagus and home-made blueberry ice cream with biscuits. This was served up as a communal meal with the other guests and was both delicious and jolly good fun. Tired and happily full, I retired to my very comfy bed with a book of Norfolk ghosts and legends. Timmy bravely offered to stay outside to guard my bicycle and despite thoughts of Old Shuck, a very different and decidedly more diabolical black dog, I managed to fall asleep without any trouble.

Tally for the day: cream teas (0), ginger beers (0), churches (4), brasses (0 rubbed), stately homes (0), ruined castles (0).


Broads, Brasses and a Bicycle

May 24, 2012 at 8:09 pm | Posted in Cycling | 1 Comment
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Most excitingly (for me at least), I have next week off work and am embarking upon a brass rubbing cycle tour of Norfolk. Oh yes. The past fortnight has been a whirl of finalising routes, booking B&Bs and trying to source brass rubbing equipment. The latter has actually been quite difficult, even in London, as brass rubbing is less fashionable than it used to be. Who would have thought?

Day one is Norwich to Happisburgh via a selection of the Broads and Norfolk churches. Day Two will encompass brass rubbing at Felbrigg and a visit to the hall, finally ending up in a barn near Holt and a trip to the Wiveton Bell. Day Three is Holt via Blicking to Heydon, a very charming little village where parts of one of my favourite films, The Go-Between, was shot. Day Four I return to Norwich from the west via a cycle path along an old railway.

I think my holiday is going to be something along the lines of Coot Club-meets-the Kirrins-meets-John & Myfanwy Piper (hopefully not M R James though – I have been cautioned not to dig up an ancient treasure or blow any whistles I might find). This year it will be just me and Timmy although Dick and I had a warm-up cycle around the Chilterns last weekend (Note to Self: do not take Brompton off road via muddy bridleways and woods). I will be armed with a 1950s Shell Guide to Norfolk (which promises to tell me about EVERYTHING worth seeing), my OS map (no. 133 only) and of course my brass rubbing kit. Wish me luck!

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