Tags: Audley End, cricket, Cycling, Essex, Fry Art Gallery, pargetting, Saffron Walden, Thaxted
Essex 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).
The 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.
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.
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.
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)
Britain’s Historic Counties: Essex (c.1955)
Ripe Earth (1938) Boulting Brothers documentary about harvest time in Essex.
Tags: BBC Radio 4, Cycling, On Your Bike
The BBC is currently broadcasting a 10-part history of the bicycle, that ‘most civilised of inventions’. The bicycle has not only provided speed, freedom and the ability to engage with the world around us in a unique way, but it’s also played a fascinating role in society by affecting work patterns, social activities, women’s rights and even the way some wars have been fought (to say nothing of helping the Famous Five out in several adventures). Find out more and start listening on the iplayer (the first episode of On Your Bike is available for three more days).
Tags: Akeman Street, bell ringing, Burford, C H White & Son, Cirencester, Coln St Aldwyn, Cycling, Fosse Way, National Cycle Route 47, right to roam, Tolsey Museum, Welsh cakes, White Way
The second day’s cycling got off to a bad start when we fetched our bikes to discover a puncture. Quelle horreur! After my previous foolhardy comment about Dick’s susceptibility to punctures, it was of course my Bobbin that let us down, and with a rear wheel affliction no less. I was saved by (and am eternally grateful to) C H White & Son, Malmesbury’s cycle shop. Although the shop was technically closed for holidays, the proprietor was there and kindly agreed to do a quick fix on the Bobbin so we could get to Cirencester.
We set off as soon as possible after this, fearful of the predicted ‘wall of water’ (our hearts sank when we heard this phrase used by the BBC weatherman). After a few miles in lovely sunshine the skies rapidly clouded over and the first few heavy drops began to fall. We donned waterproofs and pushed on, hoping to come across a pub, teashop, barn etc etc. By sheer amazing coincidence we did actually find a barn to shelter in, and with perfect timing as the aforementioned ‘wall’ hit. Wondering ‘what would the Famous Five do?’ in such a situation, we turned to our knapsacks and found something to nibble on while we waited for the storm to subside.
After that it was mostly blue skies to Cirencester, ancient Roman capital of the Cotswalds. Everyone we met on this holiday was so friendly it was actually quite surreal (and a welcome contrast to last year’s nasty pub landlady in Buckland). While we stood on the outskirts of Cirencester pondering if there was a bike shop in the town centre (for reference, yes there is, in the Woolmarket) a passing man who was walking his dog overheard our conversation and pointed us in the direction of a man just down the road who fixed bikes. As I’d been warned that my puncture may have been caused by the combination of an old tyre and a heavy load, I wanted to have it properly looked at so I took it to the wonderful Derek who lives on Chesterton Lane (there is a sign on his house indicating bicycle repair). For a few pounds Derek spent two hours fully checking the Bobbin and making sure it was road worthy. I didn’t need a new tyre and I’m pleased to report I was beset by no more punctures.
While in Cirencester we visited the museum (impressive Roman mosaics and amusing waxworks including some ‘fearsome’ Celts) and the ampitheatre, the oldest surviving Roman ampitheatre in Britain. Dick was not overly impressed by this grassy mound but liked the museum waxworks.
Next morning we headed for Burford, our last stop off before our return to Oxford. The ride from Malmesbury to Burford was an excellent one – good roads (again very few cars) and less hills than the Bath to Malmesbury stretch. From Cirencester we took the White Way north (a National Cycle Route) before crossing the busy Fosse Way (an old Roman road) and following the Welsh Way through the fabulously named Ready Token and on to Akeman Street (another Roman road). Coln St Aldwyn has a nice looking shop (right) but, like Colerne, is a ginger beer-free zone. Shortly after this we stopped for a picnic lunch (egg sandwiches and Welsh cakes) at the bottom of the Leach valley. This is nicer than it sounds. You can access the land here under the ‘right to roam’ so we sheltered from the blustery winds just off the footpath and watched swooping swallows (some Blytonian alliteration there) while we ate. As good law-abiding citizens we did not feed livestock, use a metal detector, engage in any organised games or let plastic Timmy run wild, all of which are forbidden under the right to roam legislation. For any cyclists travelling this route, and who are thinking of picnic-ing in the vicinity, there are also good views from the seemingly accessible fields about five minutes ride beyond here, after another steep hill that takes you up out of the valley.
For the final stretch of our journey, we chose not to go the quickest way but to divert via Little Barrington and pick up National Cycle Route 47 which travels alongside the River Windrush towards Burford (and out the other side towards Witney – but that is another, and less pleasant, story). This route is very nice and brings you out in middle of Burford, a pretty and bustling town with a serious car problem at rush hour.
If you like quirky small museums from a past age of museology I strongly recommend you visit the one in Burford. Rather poignantly, entrance used to be 70p but is now free. The museum is full of unusual artefacts relating to the history of the town including an ancient iron chest, a town charter, needlework samplers, old photographs, displays relating to bell making and brewing, and a doll’s house that is based on a real Georgian Burford building. A number of the bells in Burford church were cast in the town and can be heard on Friday evening (practice night) between 7:30 and 9:00pm.
Final stretch: Burford to Oxford!
Tags: Cycling, Hackney Marshes, Lee Valley, National Cycle Network, Route 1, Sustrans, Victoria Park, Walthamstow Marshes
Sustrans sent me a really useful ‘Free Your Bike’ pack with a map of my nearest National Cycle Network route (you can sign up for a free one on their website), so today I set off on a short reconnaissance jaunt along part of route 1, from Victoria Park, East London to Walthamstow Marshes. The route goes alongside the Hertford Union Canal and the Lee River Navigation (the canalified part of the River Lee). Some parts, especially near Hackney Wick feel slightly lonely and potentially dodgy (I wished I had a fierce and protective Timmy with me from time to time) but on the whole it is an interesting and eerily beautiful journey, with large stretches of open space and plants surrounded by overhead power cables with industrial buildings and lots of cranes in the distance.
There’s also lots of FF style potential. I’m sure the Five would be interested in seeing the new Olympic stadium being built but there are also loads of brambles for autumn blackberrying, the Lee Valley Riding School (shades of Captain Johnson’s riding school in Five go to Mystery Moor) and the marshes themselves which are a nature reserve and home to over 300 types of plants as well as numerous birds and butterflies (Billycock Hill stylee). You also go past the impressively large Hackney Marshes where, as the ‘about Hackney Marshes’ notice board says, up to 100 games of Sunday League football can be seen in one day.
Next time I will have to go a bit further (you can continue past Tottenham Marshes and thenceforth out of London) and take a nature guide and some binoculars (sorry, field glasses) and see what wildlife I can identify. Oh, and some tomato sandwiches and a ginger beer of course!