Two Cycle to Mersea Island

June 5, 2010 at 12:02 pm | Posted in Anne, Cycle Rides, Cycling, Eating and Drinking, Julian, Travel | 1 Comment
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Bicycles, an island, ginger beer. Pretty FF, huh? Yesterday I went with my friend Mike, hereinafter referred to as ‘Julian’ (apologies, Mike), to Mersea Island, Essex. We caught the train from London Liverpool Street to Colchester, a journey that takes just under an hour. NB the London to Norwich train is good for bikes as you can put them in the guard’s van rather than awkwardly propping them up in the carriages.

I always thought that Essex was pretty flat but that’s actually not the case. To get onto the Mersea road you have to cycle up a massively steep hill to the centre of the town. I thought of Anne’s dilemma – to cycle painfully and slowly to the top, or to get off and push (Reader, I cycled slowly and painfully to the top). After this the road gently undulates all the way to the sea, with a few long slow hills that keep things interesting and challenging. This was my first long-ish distance ride on the Brompton and I confess that it was pretty hard work. Having wheels the size of jam jar lids means you have to pedal almost constantly and I felt very much like Anne as Julian sped off ahead with minimal pedal revolutions. If I was George I would have sulked.

A bike, a map and a ginger beer

When we were halfway there we paused for a brief rest and an extremely refreshing ginger beer (Enid definitely got that one right). Sadly this meant we weren’t quite ready for another stop shortly afterwards when we passed Butterfly Lodge Dairy and Farm Shop, home of delicious sounding Caprilatte goat’s milk ice cream. There were several other pretty looking places to stop off along the Mersea Road – the Peldon Rose, a fifteenth century inn complete with duck pond and climbing roses, and just after this, a farmshop advertising local asparagus and Tiptree strawberries. By this time, however, we were determined to reach our destination and kept on cycling.

Mersea is connected to the land by a long causeway called ‘The Strood’. The Strood offers expansive views of the mudflats and surrounding countryside, and the road surface is dotted with clumps of seaweed because at particularly high tides the Strood gets flooded and the island is cut off from the mainland.

Mersea Island Sparkling Wine

Our plan was to head to the Company Shed for lunch – an amazing seafood place where you have to take your own bread and wine – so we made a brief diversion to the Mersea Island Vineyard and picked up a bottle of local sparkling white. The Shed gets very busy at lunchtimes so it is best to get there 40 minutes or so before you want to eat, put your name down for a table and then pop off for a walk or a quick drink in the local hostelry (the staff at the Shed are very lovely and will keep your wine cool in their fridge). You help yourself to glasses and a corkscrew from a shelf in the corner and then choose from an impressive selection of hot and cold seafood. I had some grilled tiger prawns with salt, herbs and garlic mayonnaise and Julian ordered some glorious scallops with bacon and roasted vine tomatoes. We also shared a salad and selection of crevettes, smoked mackerel pate, dressed crab, peeled prawns and smoked cod’s row (the entire bill came to just under £30 – an absolute bargain). A lot of food admittedly, but well-earned after all that cycling, especially with the return journey still to come. The Famous Five’s huge appetites suddenly seemed completely understandable.


Bromptons, Bobbins, Brooks

April 21, 2010 at 7:42 pm | Posted in Cycling, George, Timmy | Leave a comment
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Cycling has rather fallen off the FFS agenda of late, but fear not! It is once again the season for serious cycling and another summer touring holiday is in the offing for August. There has actually been a rather sad reason for my cycle-less winter which I won’t bore you with here but in short it involves a small flat, a grumpy neighbour and a large bike that took up too much space in the communal hallway. The Bobbin is now rather like Timmy the Dog during his Alf the Fisherboy period. It is currently residing with a kindly friend/relative (who rather generously does not want all of my pocket money in return). Like George with Timmy, I plan to retrieve the Bobbin for short stretches of time, in the hope that I will discover a hoard of gold ingots that will enable me to move to a larger flat (so enabling me to give the Bobbin a permanent home).

In the interim, I am discovering the joys of a folding Brompton bike. If you want a bicycle, have a job, and your place of work is part of the scheme, I would strongly recommend exploring the Cycle Scheme initiative. This enables you to buy a bike at approximately 60% of its real cost and pay for it (including lights and other accessories) in installments over a one year period. You don’t pay any interest and it comes out of your salary/pocket money before tax so it is relatively painless.

While the Brompton is not really a vintage ride, it is now a bit of design classic. It is also properly British being one of only two frame manufacturers still based in the UK. The Brompton philosophy is one of independence and freedom and their website declares that: ‘The Brompton owner is free and independent – she chooses where to go and when and how’. You could say this about any bicycle really, but it’s a nice sentiment nevertheless and as we know, bicycles do indeed give the Famous Five lots of independence and freedom.

It did take me some time to master the Brompton fold (just like a girl, eh Julian?). I had to keep referring to the Brompton online demo and on a couple of occasions kindly strangers offered to fold it up for me as I stood scratching my head in the street. I’ve just learned how to embed clips so here is this enlightening short film. He makes it look so simple…

At the time of writing this clip has had 83,269 views. A good number of those were me when I was desperately trying to work out how to fold the thing. But I’ve got it now and am really enjoying the bike – despite its small wheels it is not at all difficult to ride. The regulation seat is not a thing of comfort or beauty, however, so I would like to purchase a nice Brooks leather saddle for it soon (according to the upstanding members of the Tweed Cycling Club these are only uncomfortable for the first ten thousand miles). Brooks was established in 1866 so the bottoms of the Kirrin cousins may well have moulded a quartet of these bike saddles.

‘Matthew’s Cycling Blog’ has alerted me to this Brooks ‘soundslide’ (I think this means a series of still images presented alongside sounds) which is made up of fascinating images from the Brooks factory – thank you Matthew. It’s part of a 2009 project by photographer and graphic designer Nick Hand, who cycled clockwise from Bristol around the coastline of Britain, recording the work of artisans and craftspeople along the way. Nick has a very nice website recording his route and presenting the soundslides he made along the way. I was pleased to see that he visited both the village of Cley and Old Town in the town Holt (see previous posts) while touring the fine county of Norfolk, and such cycling prowess is inspiration for this summer…

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