An account of a North Norfolk cycle tour undertaken by David ‘Cap’n Steadley’ Stead, Nick ‘Rhythm & Blues’ Duckett, ‘Crazy’ Paul Oberg, Gordon ‘Ocean Going’ Langford and the man returning to home soil, Richard ‘Bicycle Repair Man’ Higginbottom.
Wednesday 22nd September 2010
A beautiful day in the South East. Richard took the day off to placate the long-suffering Sandra – though spent a while putting his Tifosi road bike into tour trim. Took some time out to drive the family down to Hertford for some lunch. Went into a bike shop and got a new pump and front lamp – which of course took longer than it should as I was talking gear ratios and wheels with the man in the shop. Cycled to Letchworth (7.5 miles) to get the train because the weather was so good. Met Dave and Nick on Cambridge station where we joined the train to King’s Lynn. Long train, long platform at our destination so Dave – never one to rush – ensured his luggage was all secured then pedalled down the deserted platform to catch up with Richard and Nick. Only to be pulled up short by Mr Grumpy the station guard, informing the Whitley Bay Champion that such behaviour was “totally illegal”. Is that better or worse than slightly illegal?
Dave produced a selection of lights – and eventually found a rear one that worked fitfully. Nick had borrowed Richard’s beloved Marin so he was suitably illuminated. Richard’s posh new light worked indifferently as we got in approximately the right direction – missing our destination by half a mile and needing to be advised – painfully slowly – by our landlord over the phone. We called ahead to Gordon and Paul, already getting the beers in at The Deer’s Leap, requesting 2 x sausage and mash and 1 x fish and chips. Good to see we’re all on a healthy eating kick.
Checked in at The Grange Hotel. Service was pleasantly relaxed. Had to remind myself that no-one rushes in Norfolk. Unless you’re close to missing the only bus of the week from Kenninghall to Attleborough. Got talking to some locals in the bar. One gentleman informed us he was a keen cyclist himself, the proud owner of a ‘Jee-ont’ SCR3. I’ve heard of the Giant (US company) SCR3 – a top selling mid range road bike – but this was obviously not the same thing. Our local cyclist told us he’d got up to 2,500 miles this year but with the nights drawing in was putting his bike up for the year. Richard pretended he was just making conversation when he replied that if the weather’s reasonable over the next 3 months he should make it to 10,000 miles. Our new friend seemed suitably impressed. You could say he regarded Richard as a “Jee-ont” amongst men.
Up at the Deer’s Leap – Nick and Richard figured that the sausages and gravy were not worthy of a poor school dinner. The beer was good though the price was closer to London than Middlesborough prices (Richard offered the view – common amongst Norfolk people – that Kings Lynn is East Anglia’s version of Middlesborough). The barman was wearing the suit Richard bought for job interviews in 1988. Bizarrely he also had similar hair to how I was wearing mine back then – but I couldn’t afford to dye mine blond. Back at the hotel, Richard shared a room with Nick and were dismayed at the dank odour. A few pints of Woodforde’s Norfolk Wherry had unfortunately not dulled our senses of smell. Highlight of the evening was toasting Gordon’s recently betrothed status and Paul’s unveiling of a yellow jersey for outstanding achievements of each day.
Thursday 23rd Sept
Very good breakfast. Decided that the waitress was actually from Australia and not from Norwich (a peculiar bum steer from Richard before he’d even started drinking). Got the bikes out of the shed as the clouds gathered … poor forecast was starting to come true.
We quickly located Cycle Route 1 (Norfolk Coast) which included some excellent off-road sections; just as we were reaching Sandringham (Nick was planning to blag his way to morning coffee by introducing himself as one of Camilla’s cousins) it started to rain very heavily so waterproofs were donned. It continued to bucket down for ages as we headed into the sticks – so very few places to seek refuge.
At last we arrived in Ringstead – here’s a picture of Dave hiding the ‘Ring’ (apologies for the obvious innuendo):
In The Gin Trap we ordered coffees and made the place look like a Launderette as we attempted to get some dryness into our soaked kit. As a fascinating counterpoint to this an elderly couple were getting ‘soaked’ – the lady downing triple brandies whilst her husband was drinking bitter with a triple whisky chaser. ‘What a way to spend your retirement’ mused Richard; Paul reckoned it was pension day so they were trying to spend their entire pension on alcohol before teatime. One of the locals said they were only in their early 50s, just that the alcohol made them look about 75.
Off cycle route 1 – it is rather spuriously called the Norfolk Coast route as actually it rarely gets within 3 miles of the sea. Local boy Richard devised a route via Old Hunstanton into the centre of Hunstanton to have lunch at the largest inn in town – The Golden Lion. The rain was now easing and after lunch we pedalled up to the bike shop with the best name I’ve ever heard of – ‘Fat Birds Don’t Fly’ – and Richard got two drinks bottles (for water in case you think this is a two-wheeled pub crawl) and a gear cable to complete the repair earlier started on Gordon’s seized front gear mech.
As we pedalled around the coast road the weather gradually improved. We pulled into a fruit farm just short of Brancaster and bought some plums, apples and pears. Nick ate half an apple and was willing to pay for the rest of it. Apparently he buys a lot of stuff this way – try then buy – including soap, underpants, razor blades and toilet rolls. We rolled into Burnham Market (called ‘Chelsea on Sea’ by the locals because of the number of second homes) and had superb tea and cakes at Lucy’s.
Back up to the coast to go via Burnham Overy Staithe on a tiny road where a hen and her week-old chicks featured amongst a group of very-free-range chickens. Just as we were going past Holkham Hall – Richard boring the team with his explanation of the Four Course Rotation – Nick sprung a puncture. Richard did the necessary whilst a gentleman whose wall we were leaning against came out for a chat and gave us some useful opinions on where to eat in Wells. Crazy Paul, driven on by the the thought of a shower, some food and (most importantly) the local beer missed all this fun and was grumbling about getting cold – which put the kibosh on the plan to go swimming in Wells Creek (where the tide rips along in a most exhillarating fashion). We didn’t realise at this stage that this was the best weather of the trip. A couple of hours earlier we had been thwarted in our North Sea Diving exploits by the sea being at such a Low Tide at Brancaster that it seemed we could wade to Holland. Checked in at Remus B&B – brilliant place – and headed to the Edinburgh for a drink (chav barman with no manners put us off) then down to the Crown for a good selection of beers and food. Service pleasant but a bit slow; bit surprising as the staff were antipodeans – seemed to be taking the “slow pace of life” two notches further than it really is. Awarded the Maillot Jaune to Nick for getting a puncture and wearing a cap like Dickie Bird’s. ‘You’re lucky I didn’t stop play for rain today’ quipped the Lancastrian marvel. 41 miles covered.
Back at the B&B watched Question Time and thought that you could imagine Caroline Flint in a pirate’s costume with a parrot like her famous ancestor. Ian Hislop as smug as usual. John Redwood even more creepy than normal. It was like the bar scene from Star Wars.
Friday 24th September
Richard got up early and pottered around the quay in Wells; noticed that the tall ship that had been half hidden yesterday was actually a licensed restaurant. Shame we hadn’t been there the night before – might have ended with inadvertent swimming. The Bicycle Repair Man completed the work to Gordon’s gears and now the big man was ready to take on the steepest hills (“why did you bother?” I hear you say). Onto the coast road and the weather went from drizzle through steady rain until our coffee stop at Blakeney – where it quite literally rained cats and dogs – Paul hit by a corgi, Dave by a whippet, Richard narrowly dodged a ginger tom …
Here’s some photos of the brave ensemble just before the elements conspired against us:
The rain eased slightly so we remounted and continued along the coast road through Cley where on a sharp bend there was a sign to Holt. “No not that turn” advised Richard – “the scenery is superb up to Salthouse – we’ll continue along and turn inland there”. Unfortunately the onshore wind picked up, bringing in hail and pelting our left side as we grimly struggled along. I don’t think any of us saw much scenery being preoccupied with keeping the bikes upright and staying on the left hand side. Mercifully the turn to Holt appeared and we had the wind (and rain) on our backs to get us to the Feathers at Holt – a fine old coaching inn that became another impromptu drying room. Richard and Nick both ordered Spotted Dick for dessert. Paul amazed us by not having heard of it before except as a slang term for a rather unpleasant virus.
After lunch Richard found some very pleasant back roads and we went through the tiny village of Swannington where Dave confessed to an urgent need to visit the toilet. Fortunately he had the fortitude to resist Paul’s suggestion to test the stretch, smell and continence qualities of his lycra shorts and successfully found relief in the facilities at the world’s biggest Garden Centre cafe in Taverham. Thus, the Beast of Swannington was slain. We arrived at the B&B in Norwich and headed into England’s finest city, starting with a drink in the George at Bishopsgate. Here’s Dave and Nick rewarding themselves for the day’s exertions:
Heading into Tombland via the Cathedral, Dave spotted a bar with girls dancing in it so we all followed the cap’n in. We proceeded to be deafened by The Specials debut album (it sounded good in 1979). We quickly decided we’d done too much too young, said goodbye to the monkey man behind the bar and headed out to see if the lunatics could take over the asylum.
Dinner was at a splendid Thai restaurant where a lady at the next table had the world’s best laugh, causing the entire restaurant to erupt in laughter. The snort was the coup-de-grace. Norwich still shuts a bit earlier than most cities so we ended up in The Bell Hotel (a Wetherspoons pub) as they kept open until midnight. A gang of bandits were in – “do you speak Spanish?” asked Paul. “No, we’re Mexican” came the reply. Norfolk Education Authority gone downhill since I left. Here’s les hombres:
Wow it got cold … impressed that the local girls could keep warm in such short dresses (though – sorry girls – you’re still way overdressed compared to Newcastle and Liverpool). Staggered back to hotel to reflect on 42 miles of damp pedalling (83 miles total).
Saturday 25th September
The day broke beautifully sunny. We scoffed down breakfast and Nick handed over the yellow jersey to Gordon, elected the winner for his sideways cycling technique:
Into the valley of death they thundered … not quite. As we approached Barnham Broom for a coffee stop the weather closed in again and we were cycling into a squall. The delightful back roads we’d found were being endured but a small consolation was the presence of hedgerows and narrow lanes, keeping some of the weather off us. Made it to Dereham where the George Hotel was in good form and we stayed in there over 90 minutes to recover. After lunch the wind increased as we made our way across to join the B1145 Kings Lynn road – but at least the sun came out. Stopped at a truly idyllic place for a brief rest. Here’s Nick in front of a bucolic landscape:
Riding as a team we approached our final tea stop in Gayton. These pictures show the sheer athleticism and classic technique employed by L’Equipe du Angleterre Nord et Est.
We got to King’s Lynn ring road where Paul and Gordon went straight on to reunite with Paul’s car. Dave, Nick and Richard turned left onto the fierce A149 where the only good aspect was the tail wind. We arrived at the busiest roundabout in East Anglia and had to improvise our way to the railway station where Dave was met by Mr Grumpy. This time he didn’t do anything remotely illegal. 49 miles in the day for a tour total of 132 miles.
Thanks to my esteemed friends for putting up with the dreadful weather. Until the next time mes amis!