Dodging the Showers

Mrs. Wow and I had a delightful Sunday pootle in the windswept wastes of Essex.

We caught the 9.22 from Southend Vic and alighted at Wickford Station at about 9.40. The first challenge was Brock Hill, Mrs. Wow’s nemesis from a couple of decades ago when, with daughter in the child seat, she would invariably have to get off and push for the last bit. Unencumbered as she was (the daughter was in Maidstone preparing for her wedding) she reached the top with no particular problem. Indeed, we briefly caught up with the tail-end of the CTC Sunday Run.

I carried out some minor adjustments to my seat-post and bars (they have been giving me slippage problems) and then we headed at some speed through South Hanningfield and towards Rettendon. The early morning rain had gone and the valley by Hyde Hall was bathed in sunlight while the fleeces we had brought with us stayed in the saddlebag. However, there were large banks of cloud around, and quite a strong south-westerly, so I felt pretty confident that the waterproofs would have an airing before the ride was out.

From Buckhatch Lane we headed north and then east towards Woodham Ferrers, the village proper, not South Woodham, the dreadful scar on the banks of the Crouch. A left turn took us towards Flambirds Farm, a 2-mile off-road stretch which is in fact a farm service road, but cyclists seem to use it as a very pleasant traffic-free short cut. Thereafter we went through Cock Clarks, whose pub, the Fox & Hounds, bears the legend “Essex-brewed Ales”: not any more as Ridleys brewery has been closed by Greene King. Onwards to Woodham Mortimer, Woodham Walter and down to Hoe Mill in Ulting, where once I saw a terrapin in the river.

Shortly after the turn-off to Ulting Church, we took a left turn into Bumford’s Lane, an evocative place which seems to have escaped the notice of Streetmap’s search engine. Here, the wind was so strong that we had to pedal even though going down a quite distinct slope, back towards the river at Paper Mill Lock.

Now anyone that knows anything about cycling in Essex knows two things: firstly, at Paper Mill Lock there is a wonderful little cakie shoppe, where the relaxing cyclist can consume home-made cakes on the banks of the river, where the ducks are a dabbling and the weir rushes noisily and the lock gate doesn’t get opened very often; and secondly, when the cake has been consumed, there is a most un-Essex like Sodding Great Hill, an unrelenting climb of about 90 metres over 2 kilmetres, followed by a further kilometre in which there is a gradual climb to the summit. Sadly, the modern 1:50000 Ordnance map does not give a height but the trusty old 1-inch series shows several: 346′ at the church, which can be seen for many miles all around; and 351′ at Lingwood Common. How is it that such important detail can be shown on a small scale map but which is then lost in the larger-scale “improvement”?

Although without a doubt the highest point in Central Essex and a fine landmark, Danbury Hill does not come close to the highest point in the county as a whole. That is reserved for the hill to be found in the north-western extremity of the County, near Chrishall, at 460′ and Langdon Hills, near Basildon, reaches 118 metres (385 feet).

But I digress. Although a mere pimple by the standards of Clarionesque Superheroes Wink, Danbury Hill still gives trouble to us mere mortals, especially after a large wodge of fruit and chocolate flapjack. I chose this route deliberately: firstly because of the cake; secondly because I wanted to play with the pixie gears in my Rohloff hub; thirdly I wanted to give Mrs. Wow a bit of a challenge on her solo machine after the previous Sunday’s tandemed efforts on The Mountain Road; and fourthly, I wanted to make sure I could do it before joining in with the Witham Wobble in three weeks’ time! Well, it was great, but a little slow.

From Danbury, we gathered a bit of speed coming down the other side, although the headwind held us back a bit. We traversed Danbury Common, took a right along Moor Hall Lane, past the now-defunct leper colony, and into East Hanningfield. From that point we wanted to get a move on. The clouds were gathering, thunder was rumbling all around us and we still had about seven miles to go before we could sit down at the lunch table at my brother’s house.

West Hanningfield came and went, and we took the Lower Stock Road. With three miles still to go, it became dark indeed, the thunder rumbled, the wind strengthened and a dousing seemed inevitable. We put our waterproofs on, put our heads down, and pedalled downhill at about 8 miles an hour. Fat raindrops began to fall, but not that many of them. Soon I reached a sheltered bit of road where my speed crept up to nearly 20 mph. I looked around for Mrs. Wow and was met with in impressive sight indeed. Not my wife, but a speed merchant on some sort of hand-cranked recumbent hurtling down the slope at at least 30 mph. It was the most recumbent recumbent I have ever seen – the rider was in a pose which would probably give him a really bad crick in the neck, but he wasn’t half fast! I tried a comment, but he was gone.

The last mile or so was uneventful. We didn’t get wet, we had a lovely lunch of sausages casseroled in red wine and spent a delightfully sozzled afternoon singing a belated happy birthday to my brother (58) and my son (22). Outside, the lightning flashed and the rain poured…

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