Pleshey Pedal

Nick Cotton’s Cycle Tours around North London: no 7.

I had planned a completely different day’s cycling from the ride we actually enjoyed. However, events, dear boy, events…

After a frustrating morning in which son Graham stayed in bed far longer than he said he would and Janet spent quite a while taking some provisions to my aged aunt (at least she went on the Brompton), we ended up eating lunch at home and then strapping the bikes to the back of the car.

It made sense not to start in Thaxted, as that is at the northern extremity of the route and we live well to the south of it, so we parked at Pleshey and, once the machines were off the carrier and it was safely in the car, off we went.

The heavy clouds which had been so ominous when we left home had lifted and again we were treated so some glorious cycling weather. However, we hadn’t been going for more than 5 or 10 minutes when I decided that my cup of tea at lunch was making its presence felt, and a convenient gap appeared in the hedge. Five minutes later, with all three of us relieved, we set off again and Graham said encouragingly “You did lock the car, didn’t you?” “I bloody hope so” I replied, but that terrible feeling of unease had gripped me. I couldn’t remember locking the car…

We headed north-east towards Ringtail Green (do they have hen harriers there? I doubt it very much) and then crossed the A130 and headed north towards Felsted. It was very easy going as we approached the Chelmer, involving a high gear and a speed in excess of 25mph as we sped past the redundant Hartford End brewery, where Ridleys was brewed until Greene Bloody King took the brewery over and closed it down.

Just as I was changing down through the gears, I heard a faint ringing from behind. Jan had stopped and was gesticulating over her shoulder. “Rucksack!” I heard her say and instantly understood. She had left it back at the piddle stop. I looked at my computer: we had covered just over 3 1/2 miles.

“OK, you two wait here, I’ll go for it”. I was hopeful that it would still be there because there had been virtually no traffic on the road and indeed there it was, on the verge right next to the bush against which we had leant the bikes. This was just as well as it contained Jan’s purse and several important plastic items. Having gone so far, I couldn’t resist returning to the car just in case… and I had locked it!

I caught up with the other two again, that little interruption having cost us about half-an-hour. We headed through Felsted and on towards Stebbing. What was marked on the map as a pleasant valley was in fact filled with dreadful modern housing and there were far too many 4* 4s struggling past up on the narrow lane. At a bend I stopped. “If we take a right turn here, we can use a bridleway to avoid some of this traffic. That will take us where we want to go and we can cross the A120 straight on to the Stebbing road.” The other two agreed, so off we set. We decided that the bridle track was just a bit too rough, especially for Jan’s spanking new Shimano rims with their skinny tyres, so we wheeled the bikes.

It dawned on me, quite some time after we had committed ourselves to this route, that the A120’s traffic was very much noisier than I expected and … it was out of sight! My fears were confirmed when we found our way blocked by a fence and beyond it a cutting containing a dual carriageway whose existence was not even hinted at by the map we were using. We followed the bridleway along its new route parallel to the road and there was the bridge that we wanted to take, up a very steep bank.

I didn’t know how difficult it was to wheel a bike up a 1 in 1, but it is hard. Once I got to the top I leant my steed against the crash barrier and went back down the slope to help Jan. It was an easy matter to lift her Dawes Discovery 701 over my head, Critical Mass style, and just stomp up the hill with it. It’s a lovely light bike.

At this point there was some voluble swearing from Graham. He had somehow entangled his older brother’s bike with an aggressive-looking thistle and, whilst attempting to disentangle it, had caught the rear reflector on the crash barrier and half-torn it out of the mudguard. An araldite job when we get home…

Stebbing was the next port of call, and we arrived there just in time to hear the church clock striking… 10. I looked at my watch: 4.35. In spite of the eccentric time-keeping, Stebbing is a lovely village. There is an enormous tudor house on the right and further buildings of antiquity along the High Street, as well as a couple of pubs (both shut) and of course the church. We reached Bran End and took the right turn towards Lindsell. I was conscious that Jan was flagging a little, and I offered her the option of cutting the ride short, which she took. It was a shame to miss out on Thaxted, but it will be there for quite a bit longer yet.

After Lindsell, we headed towards Little Cambridge and suddenly my bike developed an alarming noise, which I took to be something fouling the spokes. However, when I freewheeled, the noise stopped, so that narrowed it down a bit. It turned out to be the gear cable fouling the chain, indicating that I must have pushed on the pedals so hard that the wheel had slipped in its drop-out. It was actually quite tricky to fix, because the chain seemed to want to be either too loose or too tight. Eventually we achieved a happy medium and the noise had gone, so I settled foor that, making a mental note that this was likely to happen with the Shimano Nexus 8-speed hub because of the angle of the gear cable’s approach.

We took the B184 for a few hundred yards and then turned off towards Duton Hill. I would sooner use the slightly longer minor road than the B road, which used to be called the A130 and on a Sunday is fairly busy with fast cars. Little Easton came and went, and so did a number of ancient vehicles coming from some show or other, pumping the no-longer-familiar smell of leaded petrol into the atmosphere.

On reaching the B184 again, we reached the Cricketers Pub, which was open…

Forty-five fortifying minutes later we were back on our bikes and heading along Dunmow High Street. We took a right towards High Roding and then the minor road towards Philpott End. This was a great rarity: an Essex road with grass growing down the middle. Such things are commonplace in Wales and the West Country, where rain is more frequent, but not here in the semi-arid deserts of East Anglia.

A brief spell back on the B road, a Roman road so inviting for the cagers with their Porsches and Audis, and then we were back on the bendy and narrow, past Chimballs and on to High Easter. From there, it was only a mile or two back to the car.

Total miles covered by me: 35.8 (abot 29 for the other two).

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