CTC ride to Lavenham

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Cambridge CTC is currently undergoing some soul-searching about the future of the Sunday all-day ride. For many years, this ride was the mainstay of the club, but in the last couple of years attendance has fallen off and the club is finding it hard to get volunteers to lead it. The general opinion seems to be that the ride is too fast and too long. I am sorry to hear about this development, because the all-day ride was formative for me. I remember very clearly a ride led by Mike Stapleton in August 2008, soon after I started riding regularly with the club. We lunched at Old Warden and then Mike led us south into Hertfordshire, climbing the escarpment at the northern edge of the Chilterns, following Lilley Bottom Road to Whitwell, and then heading north for tea in Litlington via Wymondley, Willian, Baldock and Ashwell. I rode 147 km (91 miles) and it opened my eyes to how far it was possible to cycle. I think it would be a shame if there were fewer opportunities for younger club members to have that kind of experience.

But I also have to admit that I am part of the problem: family commitments at the moment mean that I typically only have one Sunday a month for cycling, and when I do go out I want to get as much exercise out of it as I can, and that means cycling at my own pace and not with the group. Take today’s ride, with stops at Depden for coffee, Lavenham for lunch, and West Wratting for tea. With those stops, the ride will be about 130 km (80 miles). But on a warm dry summer’s day it ought to be possible to do substantially more than that and maybe ride some new roads. Could I go all the way to Stowmarket, for example? Not if I met the day ride for coffee and lunch. But if I set off early and met them at lunch, it looked doable.

So I left the house at 08:00 and headed east. On Ditton meadows I spotted a cyclist in orange in the distance. I caught him on High Ditch Road and it was fellow club member Adrian, with his own extra-curricular plans! I bid him good day and set off again for Six Mile Bottom, Dullingham, Woodditton, and Kirtling Green. There was no point in going to Depden for coffee, as the farm shop doesn’t open until 10:00. Instead, I stopped at Adam’s Café near Stradishall at about 09:40 for coffee and egg on toast, and by 10:00 I was on my way again. The route east from Stradishall, through Denston, Hawkedon, Hartest, Shimpling, Cockfield, Felsham and Rattlesden, I know very well from the “End of Hibernation” audax, which I rode in 2010, 2011 and 2014. The audax runs in March when the skies are grey and the fields bare, so it is very different seeing these Suffolk hills covered in wheat ready for harvesting (or being harvested) under blue skies.

The audax route stops at the Lakeside café at Onehouse and then heads south on the B1115, but today I continued into Stowmarket, where I bought a doughnut from Greggs and sat in the sunshine to eat it. It was about 12:00 when I set off again, heading south on splendid narrow hilly lanes that were wholly new to me, through Combs, Charles Tye, and Wattisham to Bildeston, then up the B1115 to Hitcham and west through villages with great names (Kettlebaston, Whelp Street, and Preston St Mary), arriving at Lavenham on the dot of 13:00, having cycled 108 km (67 miles).

At Lavenham I met Adrian and Keith, but where was the day ride? Adrian and Keith had made their own ways to coffee at Depden, and waited until 11:30, but saw no sign of the day ride. Perhaps it had been delayed by punctures? Anyway, Adrian said he’d make his own way to tea, and I suggested that Keith follow me. I planned to take a southerly route through Acton and then west along the escarpment on the south side of the Stour valley, before heading northwest through Kedington and Withersfield to West Wratting.

Near Acton I hit a stone and punctured, giving Adrian a chance to catch up and help out with the repair. Back on the bike, the going was getting difficult in the heat of the afternoon sun. The Met Office measured 25 °C in the shade, but out in the sun it felt as if it was above 30 °C, and we were rapidly draining our water bottles. Also, there were clouds of thunderflies rising from the wheatfields, and although these are not biting insects, it’s irritating to be covered in hundreds of the little itchy animals and having to keep wiping them off your face. We reached the Chestnut Tree at West Wratting at 15:54, and about half an hour later the day ride turned up. They had been very late getting to coffee, had arrived at Lavenham just after we left, and then had taken the short route to West Wratting. (See Nigel’s report.)

I had 152 km (94 miles) by this point, but I was still keen for more, and didn’t fancy going straight back with the others. Instead, I put in a small loop north to Dullingham and Swaffham Bulbeck, bringing my distance for the day up to 184 km (114 miles).