THW weekend in Suffolk, 4-6 April 2008
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4 April 2008

There is nothing finer than skipping work and heading off on your bike on a nice day. Seven of us assemble at Liverpool Street station on Friday morning. Others will take the train out Friday night, others might show up randomly other places, who knows. There will be like 20 total at some point, a rather full house. There is no problem getting on to the train to Colchester. Although there seems to be an amount of faffing about after arriving, bathroom breaks, getting snacks, navigating the scary tunnels under the tracks, and ok, should we go now?

As promised, the Sustrans route out of town doesn't disappoint. There was no exotic livestock (llamas or whatever) and no gates to open and close, but most everything else was there. You had a winding path through industrial estates, a few abandoned buildings, a few lovely parks, nicely paved sections followed by bumpy gravel paths, and a nice ride along the river. All those things that make Sustrans routes so very distinctive.

We soon arrive to the beginning of the coast near Wivenhoe and stop off to look at the river and then press on to meet our first ferry of the weekend at Brightlingsea. It is a little boat and takes a bit of arranging to fit 7 bikes and persons in it. A short crossing and we storm the beach and drag our bikes across the loose sand and gravel and try to figure out how to get out of Port Clear and onto the path again. We pass the first of about 800,000 martello towers we will see over the next few hours.

A few minutes riding inland and then we make it to the proper sea at Seawick. Even the caravan park doesn't totally spoil the view. There is something very amazing about the light today. Looking out to sea, it has a silvery shimmering to it, like looking at a sea of mercury. I really should swim somewhere here but I'm ashamed to say that it just seemed like too much hassle, ok, and the air temperature was rather cold too. I hang my head in shame but on with the journey.

Just down the coast, wow, Jaywick is almost scary. There are rows of beach huts and I don't know if it is flood damage, vandalism, arson, or what, but a lot of it looks like a war zone. A few other residents make a valiant effort to sweep sand away from their huts, one even resorted to the vacuum on their front porch. Noble but foolish, it seems.

And finally to the first food of the day, the cafe in Clacton-on-sea. Is it lunch, is it tea? I generally just treat all the stops as lunch stops and if the next one is actually lunch, well then I can just have cake or maybe have a second lunch. No sense passing up an opportunity like that though. Did you know that Clacton was named after some Saxon lord, Cacc (I think, don't feel like looking it up now). A sign by the beach informs me of that and the history of the area.

Next on to the main part of Clacton, the pier and all that. Is this the one that is the 2nd longest in England, or Essex or some other random statistic like that? We get lost a little bit when the cycle path in-explicitly appears to head down some steps to the pier. Some try the steps, some go the other way. And eventually we all meet up on the other side.

Through Holland-on-sea and the first mechanical failure, a mudguard has broken loose as well as a rack. Nothing to do but zip tie it. Once we get past Frinton-on-sea and into Walton-on-the-Naze, a sense of laziness seems to overtake everybody and there is a bit of napping on the sea wall. My parents call and oh hi yeah I'm out in the middle of nowhere. I help them find me on the map and then everybody starts to wake up again and we decide to go see the tower too.

The Naze has a pretty cool name, I'm not really sure what it means. It also reminds me of the Nuge, although it is a bit different from the gun wielding conservative mad man. And I also start humming that song by Nazz. The tower is very cool. Sadly, apparently, it will be in the sea in less than 10 years if the coast crumbles the way it is expected to. But a stop here to have some cake. The ginger cake is quite excellent.

Heading inland again, it is a bit boring for a while until we get back to some water near Manningtree. We are totally on the home stretch now. We round the cove and go past the train station, a short stop, was anybody on that train we should wait for, but no, heading on then. A steep hill, conveniently placed so that anybody who just took the train to Manningtree from London wouldn't miss out on it. We soon arrive in Brantham, the sun is just starting to go down and the farm bunkhouse is quite pretty. The fields are filled with pheasants and hares. We meet up with the rest of the group and after cleaning up a little bit, set off in the dark to try the local pub for dinner, which is quite good. The walk back in the dark, with a sky full of stars (not only the 30 or so you can see from London on any given night), is a nice way to end the day. I think it was something like 51 miles today. And one ferry.

Arrival at Liverpool Street Station

Though the industrial parts of Colchester.

Heading south through the outskirts of Colchester.

Near Wivenhoe.

The first ferry of the weekend at Brightlingsea.

How to fit 7 bikes in there.

A bit packed but seaworthy.

Arrival at Seawick.

The sea has an amazing silvery shimmering to it today.

Arrival at Clacton-on-sea.

Cafe for lunch.

Funny cycle path down to Clacton Pier.

Leaving Clacton Pier behind.

Through Holland-on-sea.

Into Walton-on-the-Naze and its pier.

Nap time.

The Naze Tower.

Another lunch stop.

The less nice parts before Manningtree.

Rows of houses, exactly the same except for the colors.

Nice part of Seafield Bay by Manningtree.

5 April 2008
Let me say a few words about the bunkhouse in Brantham. It seems nice and just converted and fairly well set up. However, the doors. People started waking up at 6 am and the doors have very feisty springs on them. Whoosh (door opens), one, two, three, SLAM. And into the main room, SLAM. Somebody else wakes up, SLAM, SLAM. Somebody in the main room heads to the shower, SLAM, SLAM. I gave up sleeping eventually and went for a walk, thinking how I could set up a perfect storm of slamming, open one door, sprint to the next one, open it slightly less, run to the next one and barely open that one, SLAM-SLAM-SLAM. I never got to try it out though. That evening everybody had experienced the doors and a sock gets tied around the lock to dampen the sound.

But a beautiful day and a nice morning for a walk around the farm. I'm particularly interested in the old rusty farm equipment all over. It is a bit cold out but the sky is pretty clear. The breakfast crew has cooked up porridge and toast and other things and 20 of us pack into the kitchen and work our way through it. But we must go. There are miles to travel and more importantly, many ferry trips to take.

Who is in the short ride, who is in the long ride? Luckily it sort of splits up into half and half. But I went for the long one. It promised two ferry rides. We make it to the outskirts of the farm and we have have already lost somebody. One guess as to who that is. Soon, the entire group is assembled and we set out for real. Back through Manningtree and back along the water and head for the coast.

The RSPB is having an open house and it is a little tempting to stop and see. Maybe the shorter group will get to spend longer there. And a man is doing a charcoal making demonstration and we stop and chat with him for a little bit. Harwich is next. So, how do you pronounce that? I hear a few different versions this weekend. In the harbour, the ferry is only big enough for half of us at a time. I wait behind and there is some tea and part of a sandwich. Because it has been hours since breakfast. We sit and wait, there are a few interesting birds around and I try to practice identifying them. A seal bobs its head out of the water way in the distance and then is scared off by a boat before I can get a closer look. And then the ferry is back and we load our bikes and set off.

The ferry drivers (or whatever they are called) are quite nice and we chat with them about lots of things, mostly about what in the world happened to that crane over there that now looks like a huge twisted pile of, well, twisted metal I guess. (Big storm or something or other, boat crushed it.) Most of the group sits inside the cabin but it is so much nicer outside. Slightly cold but it is nice to be out on the water. And as we would find out later, the other guy on the ferry, not the driver, I guess the conductor then, he was like super famous. But more on that later.

In Felixstowe, apparently the first group has found a cafe to wait in and we go off to find them. There is a little debate, do we stay and have something or do we head on. As I remember, I had tea and probably a cake. I mean how can you pass it up? Just slightly further up the coast, in Old Felixstowe, we have another ferry to get across the Deben. It is a tiny boat and can only take a few passengers at a time, and, well, there is a cafe there, better get something to eat. The line in the cafe is a bit slow but eventually I emerge with the food. Most everybody else is across by now.

I proceed to do everything wrong. But then the ferryman seems to be the crabbiest person alive and I probably don't stand a chance. He scowls at me for standing on the wrong side of the pier. Then hand him my bike wrong and he glares at me until I discover the way he wants it done. Once over to the other side, I compare notes and it doesn't seem like anybody else did it right either. I guess you can have the best system in the world but if you don't actually tell anybody, just get crabby when people do the wrong thing, well, I guess you will probably just continue to be the crabbiest ferryman in Suffolk.

Luckily there is food waiting for me on the other side. A nice scone. The weather turns on us a little bit later and the hail stones are a bit painful. Once I start getting soaked, I break down and get out the waterproof trousers. Of course, minutes later, it clears up. But it is cold so I keep them on to warm me up. Rendlesham is supposed to be some UFO center or something. Or one landed there. Or it was a hoax, or who knows. There wasn't one there when we went through so that much be proof of something.

In Woodbridge, the tide mill is very cool. It seems worth a tour though and I'm happy I did. That's some pretty nice technology for the time. And then down at the train station, yet another lunch was calling. I think I'm on my fourth lunch but I'm worth it. A nice mushroom and garlic soup there.

There is still a ways go to after this. We have to head through Ipswich which is a bit busy and slightly confusing. A few false starts and we navigate through town and are on the home stretch. Past the Royal Hospital School, which has some connection with Greenwich which nobody was quite able to figure out or remember. And past the A14 bridge, which is the something longest concrete bridge or some other random fact which I can't remember now. The swans were pretty amazing and we pick out some different types of ducks.

Then back at the bunkhouse, dinner is all sorts of different pastas, lots of wine, and it is a noisy affair. Some of us decide to head back to the pub for a quick nightcap. There was supposed to be a wedding reception and a band playing. The pub feels a bit intimidating at first, very local, oh no, did we burst in on some sort of private function. Should we stay? And then in between songs, we get a shout out from the band. Our brush with fame, we are getting a shout out from the Onion Band. I guess we can stay then. One of them is the ferryman from earlier today and recognises us. Not the crappy ferryman but the nice one from the first ferry. Then back to the bunkhouse and to bed. Luckily, most everybody is a bit tired tonight and are careful about the doors. 53 miles today, I think, and two ferries.
Sunrise on the farm, through a spiderweb.


Old rusty equipment.

Bike shed.

The group for the longer ride sets off.

We seem to have lost Ian already.

Back through Manningtree and past Seafield Bay.

Rapeseed starting to bloom.

A break in Harwich.

Harwich Harbour.

Waiting for the ferry.

Turnstone waiting on the dock.

On the ferry across Harwich Harbour, apparently an official part of National Cycle Route 1.

Little did we know he was famous, in a band.

Destroyed crane.

Across the harbour in Felixstowe.

At Old Felixstowe to take the ferry across the River Deben.

Near the air base at Rendlesham, you know, UFOs and all that.

Near Sutton Hoo.

Woodbridge Tide Mill.

Touring the tide mill.

6 April 2008
Today is exciting. During breakfast, it is snowing. Look look, snow. And it actually seems to be sticking. As a cold climate boy, winter just isn't winter without a good snowstorm. Of course, this isn't really it but will have to do. It is pretty good. It doesn't last terribly long and by the time we pack up and are ready to go, it seems cold and slightly rainy/sleety but has cleared up a little bit.

Today there are all sorts of different plans. Is it a long ride through Lavenham, a shorter one because of the weather, or just a quick one to Mark Teys to catch the train back. Mostly there are 18 people and that is way too many to all ride together in any sort of reasonable way. I waver myself a few times, long ride, short ride, oh I don't know. Finally, a mile or so into it, we have to make some sort of decision. The group is somewhat reluctantly split up and we head off in different directions. Our group heads to Flatford, where Constable lived for a while and painted a lot. It is pretty there and the tea room was fine. The cake wasn't quite as good as I hoped but the tea pots were pretty distinctive and stylish.

The weather clears for a little bit and is actually pretty nice for a while. But it doesn't last. We join up with the other group again outside of Colchester. There are a few punctures as we are heading through town and disappointingly, when the snowstorm really hits the hardest, I'm standing and waiting the whole time, wondering where the group ahead went, wondering if the group behind will show up yet. Eventually we all end up back together and enough is enough. It is wet and cold. Luckily the pub in town is a carvery and has an entire room we can occupy. It is just perfect, all you can eat food, a nice room to dry off in and stretch out in for a while. It continues to snow and rain.

Eventually we have to head back out in it, there is a train to catch back to London. It is just a few miles left to Mark Teys but we become rather spread out. The train is there waiting. There is rail replacement so it has been waiting for a while and probably will wait a little longer. But who has my ticket? And where is everybody else? Do we wait and catch the next train, do we go? Everybody though shows up a minute or so before the train is to leave and it becomes worst case being that somebody on the train has my ticket if they do check. But they don't and a few of the group disembarks at Stratford and the rest of us get off at Liverpool Street.

Somehow, two of the bikes have become completely entangled, pedals stuck in spokes and there is no way to get them apart. Tools come out, wheels are taken off and eventually they are separated, but it does take some few minutes. But besides some punctures and a broken rack, it was probably the most major mechanical problem of the entire weekend. Despite the rather large group, the entire trip went quite smoothly. Thanks to Caroline and Dave for organising it. I only wish it had snowed a lot more, but I guess you can't have everything. And something like 30 miles for the day by the time I get home.
Snow in the morning.

Time to leave.

Huge group heading out.

Flatford Bridge Cottage, a Constable home.

Heading away from Flatford.

Lots of snow going through Colchester.

Drying off at the George in Colchester.

Off to Mark Teys to catch the train back to London.