Prittlewell – Rochford – Ashingdon – Hullbridge – Battlesbridge – Rettendon – South Hanningfield – Stock – Buttsbury – Billericay – Little Burstead – Lower Dunton Road – Wash Road – Oak Road – Borwick Lane – Bridleways via Sapper’s Farm & Dollyman’s Farm – Rawreth – Rayleigh – Dawes Heath Road – The Fairway – Westcliff – Prittlewell
There’s an old saying I used to use when fishing on cold miserable days when the fish weren’t interested: “I’ll be bloody glad when I’ve had enough of this!” It was appropriate for the greater part of this ride.
I had intended to start soon after 8 a.m., but the first rain to fall in Southend for what seems like a decade decided to visit us this morning. Not real rain, but a fine drizzle borne upon a biting wind. Optimism that it would soon stop delayed my start, but eventually the urge to cycle became irresistible.
Initially I thought I could do without my waterproof, but I hadn’t gone a mile when out it came and stayed on for 20 miles or so. I didn’t want to return it to the saddlebag because each lull in the rain promised to be temporary.
The road from Rochford to Battlesbridge is marked yellow on the map. Don’t be fooled: it’s busier than many an A-road in other parts of the country. It’s not wide, but I was overtaken by a succession of heavy lorries which never gave me enough room and always cut in too early. There is a dual-use cycle lane / footpath beside the road, but the last time we used it, my son came close to running over a small girl who suddenly turned in front of him, so it’s fraught with problems. Today, I felt that the rain would keep most people inside, so I used it. It was better than riding on the road. It doesn’t last long though and has an abundance of dotted white lines implying that the cyclist should stop, but often with no obvious reason why.
Shortly before Battlesbridge my second cup of tea at breakfast was making its presence felt so I looked for a secluded spot. I found one, did the needful, and just before getting back on my bike planted my left foot into a large pile of dog poo. Would I have seen it if I had been wearing my glasses? Possibly, in dry weather, but my glasses were useless in the rain and were in my shirt pocket in any case.
After Battlesbridge, there is a cycle track on the old A130 which is better than some but still cluttered with a fair bit of debris. I used this and after Rettendon turned along Hoe Lane and up Chalk Street. There was much less traffic here and the South Hanningfield Road was also reasonably pleasant. Turning right into Middlemead, between Hanningfield Reservoir and the Water Treatment Plant sent me straight into the wind. Even so, I made fair progress into West Hanningfield and better still along Lower Stock Road.
I resisted the temptation to drop into the Hoop for some lunch. I don’t know why, really. It was lunchtime, it was near at hand and it invariably serves excellent beer. It must have been my Puritan Gene getting the better of me. Instead I turned towards Billericay along the B1007 and shortly after Stock Church took a right turn into Honeypot Lane. It was a relief to get out of the traffic again and I followed the road as far as Buttsbury Church and then took a left towards Buttsbury Wash. The rain merely had nuisance value: it had done nothing to raise the level of the River Wid, so I blithely cycled through the ford. This was a mistake that almost cost me dearly, as my front wheel slid suddenly to the left, but my momentum kept me going and I was back on dry tarmac soon enough.
I followed Mountnessing Road right out to the A129, took a left and at the lights turned right into Tye Common Road. I stopped outside number 23 to take a photograph of my birthplace (sadly no blue plaque yet!) and I had just put the camera away when a car pulled up. Three people got out, clearly having been to the supermarket, and I couldn’t resist the temptation. “Excuse me, do you live here?” “She does”. replied the man, pointing to the older woman. “I was born here,” I replied. “‘Ere, this man was born in your house!”
We then conversed briefly and the lady of the house asked if I had a sister who worked at Basildon Hospital. I replied that I did, and it was evident that this woman had been to ultrasound for one reason or another and my beloved sister, with whom I am not on speaking terms, had scanned one or more portions of her anatomy.
Soon I was on my way again and after leaving Little Burstead I reached the dizzy speed of 33mph during the descent to the Lower Dunton Road, my best ever since the invention of cycle computers. A left here brought me to the Old Fortune of War. There are probably few left alive who can remember when it was a pub, but as a building it has outlived its successor. The New Fortune of War, on what used to be a roundabout, was built at about the same time as the Southend Arterial Road (1938?), but was recently demolished along with several other Basildon pubs, the Double Six and the Jolly Cricketers to name two, to make way for housing development.
From the Old Fortune, I crossed over into Wash Road, so called because there used to be a ford of the River Crouch right next to the current road bridge. I can remember when this was still in use in the early 1960s, but it is completely overgrown now. At the junction with Hardings Elms Road I turned left and, shortly, right into Oak Road, again pleased to be away from the heavy traffic. Oak Road really is a minor road, but is also under-maintained, with plenty of pot holes and several accumulated sandbanks, so it is not safe to relax, even here. This took me to Gardiner’s Lane and at this junction I took Borwick Lane, something of a gamble as I had no idea how easy it would be to negotiate the bridle track half way along.
As it turned out, there was no problem, but of course the east end of the road took me out onto Nevendon Road. It was here that that I saw two other cyclists, almost the only ones of the entire ride. Both were middle-aged men looking as though they were going to and from a shift change in Basildon, and both were on the pavement. I kept to the road, again getting caught up in heavy traffic, until the roundabout when I took Cranfield Park Road. After some distance, taking a right at the second roundabout, I saw a large mechanical gate closing across what I had thought to be a bridleway. It was a concreted road, but there was a footpath sign up and a space for pedestrians to get through. It took some negotiating to get the bike through the narrow gap, but after that I had about two miles of quiet riding along “bridleways”. In fact, these were little short of service roads for two farms whose land had been carved up for road development and whose buildings were used to stable horses and as small industrial units. At least there wasn’t any traffic on them, even if frequent cracks in the concrete made it a fairly bumpy ride. Eventually I reached a bridge over the new A130 and then rejoined the A129 near the Carpenter’s Arms.
From here, it was a fairly uninteresting ride into Rayleigh, although Crown Hill was a bit too exciting for my liking. I had little difficulty in cycling up it, but it is fairly narrow and again is used by heavy traffic. At one point an enormous lorry decided to overtake, and to give the driver his due, he gave me plenty of room. It must be quite unusual for that stretch of road to be clear of oncoming traffic for long enough for him to have achieved that.
The last five miles or so were memorable only for the pain. My elbows and upper arms were aching because I had been leaning on them for too long. My bum was aching through saddle soreness, and my thighs were aching from too much pedalling. I arrived home 4 hours and 45 minutes after I had left, stopping en route only to put on or take off my waterproof, to drink water, or to take the odd photograph. The total distance was 46.03 miles and, fleetingly, it has the status of the Longest Ride of the Day on Cyclogs.
If this ride has taught me one valuable lesson, it is this: for rides over 30 miles, I’ll buy a train ticket to Wickford, which is where Betjeman’s “sweet uneventful countryside” begins, and miss out on the heavy traffic. For shorter rides I’ll stick to Barling and Canewdon.