With only two days to go before Carol and I go cycle touring and she is bedridden with cold and fever. The much anticipated "Easter Cycle Tour" was looking like being cancelled and much hand-wringing and reality-checking was taking place. The night before we were due to leave we were still wondering whether it was really going to happen. The plan was to cycle to Darlington, catch the train to Kings Cross, cycle to a B&B just south of Cambridge and then continue the journey over the next few days to eventually get home. I think it was the "cycle to Darlington" at 5am, in the rain, which was causing the most consternation. The weather had been so warm and lovely for weeks was taking a turn and a cold blast was coming south from the arctic and bringing sleet and snow. Great. With an attack of common sense, I loaded the bicycles and panniers into the car; we could drive to Darlington, drop me and the bicycles off and Carol could get a lift back to join me an hour later.
Waking at 6am the good news was Carol was feeling much better - all signals green - the trip was going to happen! Carol dropped me at Darlington Station as planned and headed home. I sat drinking coffee and trying to keep warm. In the picture below, those are not headlights - there are so many reflective bits on our bikes!
7am and Carol arrived back, we rolled onto the platform and headed to the end for the Guard's carriage. Everything was so simple and smooth - loading the bicycles was easy and we had a fast train to Kings Cross which got us in at 10am. London was a shock to the system. Wheeling out from KX, Carol was eager to set off. I dithered a bit but then we started pedaling. Now I've cycled out of Kings Cross before and I know that whatever route I work out in advance will bear no relation to the route we take, but I wasn't worried because if you head sort of northeast you eventually hit either the A10 and the A1010 which runs pretty straight out to Lea Valley and Waltham Abbey. Having cycled past Arsenal's Stadium I thought Carol might like to see it - they really seem to be the new "Cathedrals".
It was about 22km and at first Carol struggled with the high particulate matter in the air. After two days with a cold and cough hitting the diesel fumes was a challenge. The first slight incline and ahead of me was a girl on a drop barred bicycle, "an easy catch" I thought - much to Carol's miffedness. We got separated at some lights and I eased back - to be fair, I had thought it was an easy catch for Carol but we had to stop at Market Estate for our first breather. But from then on it got so much easier. Carol was (un)impressed by Arsenal's ground. From satellite pictures you can see the shadow cast by the 10' concrete lettering...
...anyhoo - we rode past the front here and up to the Seven Sisters Road where began our "bus lane" freedom. So "set free" was I, that Carol had to point out I was going to ride straight into the back of a stopped bus.
We met the A10; more bus lane fun... and then on to the A1010, through Tottenham and Edmonton which seemed to go on forever. With the hundreds of cars which passed us, I only had two worrying moments, one with a council van collecting rubbish in a hurry and the other with a boy-racer wanting to turn left where I was. Overall a very pleasant ride out of London on a beautiful warm and sunny day. I spotted when we crossed the M25 and we stopped at Waltham Cross for a coffee. Carol is convince that we had the most courteous drivers in the country that morning.
We were both doing well - Carol was pleased the long run up the A1010 was over. Now we were heading out into the countryside but first we had to navigate a couple of dual carriageways to get to Waltham Abbey and access the Lea Valley. Carol saw the dual carriageway heading up a bridge and really didn't want to go that way, but I knew it was just a short bridge and went back to single carriageway the other side, plus it was a 40mph zone so we ought to be fine - and we were. Pulling into Waltham Abbey it was time for a proper stop and something to eat - lunchtime had arrived. Next to the Abbey was a tearoom, so I lent my bicycle against the wall/window and started to look at the menu - oops - a lady came out to
tell me shout at me that the building was really old and I shouldn't lean my bicycle there. I was caught by surprise with the strength of her reprimand and asked if I should go somewhere else for tea/coffee, she replied that she wouldn't dream of serving me. Gosh. Anyway, round the corner was a quiet little Greek cafe and as I was leaning my bicycle against the wall the lady from this place came out.... and invited us to wheel the bikes through the cafe into the garden, "so you won't have to worry about them". What a difference.
The moussaka was filling and Carol found a nice grilled chicken salad, we rested in the sun for a bit. When we were ready to go we headed out for the B194 rolling along next to Lea Valley. I had thought there might be a way through Lea Valley for cycles, but in the interest of actually getting to our B&B it was wisest to follow the B road. B roads are our friends. We cycled along enjoying the glorious sunshine and I was occasionally concerned for Carol as the road climbed, but she seemed to be getting stronger and stronger. We took the B181 through Roydon to Stansted Abbots and another cafe stop with possibly the chattiest lady in the world. "Do you have soya milk?" I asked. "I'm sorry we don't do that," she said, "and I'm lactose intolerant - perhaps we should." she continued. She was very nice and spent 10 minutes talking to us about health issues until she really had to go back inside and serve others. It strikes me that to work in the hospitality industry you either love to listen or you love to talk. It allowed us to rest.
We retraced our steps to get to the B180 and then began the most lovely cycling section all the way to Heydon. These were gently rolling Essex, Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire hills, nothing you needed to change down for and they generated a rhythm to our cycling. Through the "Hadhams" to our town-name amusement; Little Hadham, Hadham, and Much Hadham. No hope of a salad here we guessed. And on the Pelhams; Stocking Pelham and Brent Pelham. All very beautiful.
We were getting tired and the cold was creeping in. Carol was adding extra layers to keep warm as the sun was dropping in the sky when we were passing Little Chishill and within a spoke's distance of the B&B. We kept going (of course) I knew it was only a mile or two and we'd be able to rest. We found our B&B in Heydon at the end of the long road out of the village; it's called "End Cottage" and it really was. What a fantastic B&B, a single thatched outhouse with comfortable doublebed and wonderful views all the way to Cambridge.
Nearly 75 km covered in the day and a gentle pace with plenty of stops. We showered and freshened up before walking out to the local pub. I knew we were in for a treat because I'd found this online before the journey; King William IV
- a traditional pub with excellent traditional food... and also three times winner of "Vegetarian Pub of the Year" and the Booker Prize for catering excellence.
We were early on a Monday night, so we didn't expect it to be busy. The food was delicious - I had puff pastry pillow filled with asparagus, broccoli and leeks, bound in a blue cheese sauce and Carol had the roast okra and courgette Thai green curry with coriander rice and poppadum. (I think I won!) We walked back to the B&B in a clear evening reflecting on a great day's cycling - and how much Carol had achieved given she was so ill the day before.