Hitching a lift


I was preparing myself to be put to shame today: I had planned my inaugural ride with the Forty Plus Cycling Club. I was worried that a whole bunch of septuagenarians would leave me behind, and indeed they did. I was late turning up at the start outside the Crown in Rayleigh, and they had already gone. However, the weather was perfect: sunny, a light breeze, and not too warm, so I thought another solo ride would be a good idea.

I reached Battlesbridge much more quickly and easily by a generally more pleasant route than my previous ride, but only part of that was down to the route. I had had the bike up on this work stand the previous evening and I discovered that one of the front brake blocks was rubbing the rim, to the extent that a small cornice of dust had accumulated at the forward end of the block. I wonder how many miles I have covered with the brake on?

From Battlesbridge I used the old road towards South Woodham without ever intending to visit. It is an awful place with just one saving grace: it is the home of Crouch Vale Bitter, produced in a matching pair of lockup garages built in breeze blocks and a most incongruous place it is to have produced the stunningly-good Brewer’s Gold, the bitter which won the Best Beer in Britain award for both 2005 & 2006.

From here, I took the road towards East Hanningfield and then turned right, eventually reaching Edwins Hall Road, with its fine views across the Crouch Vale. I made good progress through Stow Maries, stopped at Cold Norton for an iced bun with a cherry on the top, and then through Latchingdon, past Maylandsea and the Stansgate Road, which leads towards Stansgate Abbey Farm, the ancestral home of Lord Stansgate (aka Tony Benn). Almost subconsciously I was heading towards Bradwell. I stopped briefly for a couple of photographs of the high tide and the redundant nuke, took another of the church, then headed eastward towards St. Peter’s on the Wall.

According to some sources, St. Peter’s is Britain’s oldest church, having been founded by St. Cedd in 654. I am always suspicious of claims like this: the Priory in Priory Park, Southend, is supposed to date from the 11th Century, but what remains was “extensively rebult” in the 1920s and I doubt very much of any if it is original. Most of the original priory was destroyed during the Reformation. However, there is plenty of evidence that bits of St. Peter’s are older than others and it is indeed a very fine building.

From there I returned to Bradwell and headed south, keeping the marshes on my left, until Tillingham. The Fox & Hounds was very inviting, and bore the legend “Gray & Son”, a brewery whose last issue of beer was in December 1972. I know, because it was the occasion of my last hangover from the stuff. Just like everywhere else, it now serves Greene King, so IPA it was.

I swelled the number of customers in the bar to 3. The other two were clearly locals, whose traditional Essex accents bore no trace of Estuary. There were two people behind the bar: the barmaid and the chef. He announced proudly that he was now into his second helping of the crab and sweetcorn soup which was today’s Special and that if I didn’t order soon he would be eating more.

My crab and sweetcorn soup was indeed excellent and was accompanied by a baguette filled with beautifully lean ham and a substantial salad, which was about the best £5’s worth I have bought for a long time. I spent the best part of an hour at the pub, leaving a few more customers than had been there when I arrived, and headed towards Asheldham, taking the minor road from Dengie, to be rewarded by a very fine view of one of the lakes there. I headed through Southminster, stopping briefly to photograph the church, and then went straight to Burnham, where I hoped that the ferry would take me across the Crouch, thereby reducing my journey by at least 15 miles of, frankly, rather unpleasant and busy road. I found that it only operates at weekends, but undaunted I headed towards the yacht harbour, in the hope of finding some kind soul who might just take me across the stream. Plan C was to get the train home.

Suddenly I was greeted by complete strangers. It was the couple who had apparently walked into the pub after I had and recognised me. Am I really that distinctive?  They commented on how quickly I had cycled the six or so miles from Tillingham to Burnham and said “You really put us youngsters to shame!”. I thanked them and didn’t have the heart to tell them that I reckoned that they were at least 5 years older than my youthful 52!

I then made for the Harbourmaster’s office, found him and then told him: “I’m going to exercise an awful cheek: do you know of anyone who could give me a lift over to the other side?”

“I’ll take you myself as soon as my colleague has finished with that launch”, he replied, pointing to some manoeuvring going on in the marina. I suppose you would only become a harbourmaster if you have a love for the sea and boats, and to be cooped up in a portacabin on a glorious day, watching everone else having the fun while all you can do is mess around with a computer must be a variety of hell. (I emailed the Harbourmaster’s office afterwards to thank him and let him know I had donated to the RNLI).

I didn’t have long to wait and I was on Wallasea Island, very close to the Canewdon Loop I have cycled once or twice with Fatters. Beer wasn’t on my mind this afternoon, though, it was just getting home and polishing off several cups of tea.

The normally-pleasant Stambridge Road was in the process of being surfaced and there were two miles of loose chippings to negotiate. I turned off at the Stambridge Mills, taking the footbridge over the Roach and missing out Rochford. Thereafter, it was the most familar two miles of all, along Sutton Road and back to East Street.

Total time out of the house: 7 hours 7 minutes.

Total miles: 58.08

Time in Pub and other stops: not far short of 2 hours.

Ride rating: totally spiffing!

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