After the trip to Scotland I started to get itchy feet and needed to be on the road again.
During that week I had got a real taste exploring, this time with pannier, point to point.
I had done a recce in to Suffolk by car back in December of last year, my first time to this area. That trip had sparked my interest as the roads appeared quiet, and there appeared to be a lot of cycle friendly roads.
The plan, if you can call it a plan, was to freestyle a little, heading for Newmarket on the first night, then down to Suffolk to start a steady journey north. The overall aim was to head through Suffolk and along the Norfolk coast then back home.
Day 1 Home to Suffolk
Today was always going to be a transition day, getting me from home, off my usual training roads and into Suffolk, and Newmarket seemed like a good spot, 100km from the coast whilst being beyond Cambridge.
We have just had a week of full-on rain, just hideous for June, and to make things worse, I have had a summer cold, which hopefully, a week on the bike should shake. I set off at 08:30 and it was overcast, but the was no rain forecast. Well, between home and Huntingdon, it rained a little, and the wind blew a little, so on average I kept dry.
Once I got to Huntingdon I found myself on the NCN 51, which at this point was a well surfaced route, down Cow Lane, leading through to the most amazing, almost artificial looking village on the outskirts of Godmanchester, full of the most expensive looking thatched cottages, which was a real surprise.
I then dropped into the marina at Jones Boatyard, were I grabbed my lunch, I was ready for that. The sun broke through just before I left, so off with the arm warmers, and that was how it went all the way to the hotel. What a result.
After Godmanchester there was a long stretch south, into the teeth of the wind, ideal when you are all loaded up, there was no escape.
Once I reached Cambridge it was just a case of jumping from one cycle path to another, until I took a right and scooted through the centre, picking up the signs for Newmarket. The centre was bustling in the sunshine. There was obviously some event on as students were carrying around large cardboard models they had constructed.
After Cambridge I start heading east, which meant less trouble from the wind, and long stretches on cycle path also helped you feel safer when you are travelling at a slower speed than normal, and less guilty about holding up car drivers.
The White Hart is a cool pub, they upgraded me to a twin room, so the panniers have now exploded all over the room and my bike is in the Function Room for the night, but needs to be out by 08:00, before the delegates arrive.
Total 127Km and 629m of climbing
Day 2 Newmarket to Blaxhall
I woke up this morning to a beautiful blue sky, after a great night’s sleep, the first since this cold started, so it must be on its way out.
A solid breakfast at the hotel, then an 08:30 start, loaded with a sandwich from Greggs, just in case I find nothing on the road. As I head out of town along Moulton Road there are countless racehorses out on the open space complete with jockeys, a great start to the day.
My route takes me east towards, and through, Bury St Edmunds, sections of it on the NCN 51, then south west down to Stowmarket. It’s always tricky navigating through these towns, but the NCN helps, following cycle paths where they were available. It is one of the problems touring down here, with a limited number of small roads, you feel like you are slowing people down, what with being a “wide load”. I will say though; everyone has been very tolerant.
Stowmarket proved to be a bit of a pain, the Garmin wanting to route me down a road that did not exist, then throwing a fit when I ignored it. So, I made for the centre of town and took the main road south towards Ipswich. Once I got to Needham Market, I picked up the NCN 51 again, which turned in to a bit of gravel trail, passing some stunning views, which I would not have seen on the main road at Greeting St Mary.
When I popped out, I was on a road running parallel with the A14, which was nice and quiet and has its fair share of unusual buildings. This area really is full of stunning buildings, full of character. This was sadly followed by a long section of busy B-road, the B1078 through to Woodbridge, then up the cycle path beside the A12, to eventually pick up the A1152.
I start to head east now aiming for the overnight stay in Bloxhall, but instead of going directly there I make a right turn, which pulls me up through the centre of Rendlesham Forest, and with the clear skies above, it had a great feel to it, and was a great way to end the second day on the bike. A final left at Butley then up through the wide-open fields towards my digs.
When I arrived, there is a local folk club in full swing, on a Monday afternoon. I am not the biggest folk fan, but this place has a really cool feel to it, and the food was exceptional, just as well as there was nothing else in the village.
Total 104Km and 649m of climbing
Day 3 Blaxhall to Great Yarmouth
Wow, this place is so quiet, I had an amazing nights sleep, and when I looked out it was still dry with light cloud. The forecast is for rain about 16:00, by which time I should be at the next location.
Today is kind of what sparked off this whole trip, people telling me how nice the Suffolk coast was, and until one cold day last December, I had never been. After the recce trip I started to put some plans together, albeit loosely.
From the Blaxhall to Aldeburgh was only 12km, on some quiet country lanes, and despite there being no blue skies, it was still nice and warm. Like all the seaside towns along this coast, there is a unique feel of history to the towns. Unlike northern seaside resorts with bingo halls and amusement arcades, these have an abundance of old, beautifully built buildings, many clad in dark timber, giving the towns unique some character.
While taking some photos on the front I got chatting to a couple, who, ironically, were just about to head for Rutland Water for a break on their bikes, just around the corner from my home.
I rode for a short while along the seafront path, past a large piece of artwork on the beach, before jumping back on to the road heading to Thorpeness.
Now Thorpeness is straight out of the picture book of Suffolk. A ton of timber clad buildings, including the impressive Thorpeness Country Club, again, a dark timber clad single-story place, just stunning. In the centre is the Meare, edged by secluded house, but dominated by the House in the Clouds . A truly amazing site to see this house up in the air, originally built to cover a water tower on top of an alms house, now it’s holiday accommodation. The whole place was created as a fantasy holiday village at the turn of the last century.
Sadly, I now need to route inland for a while as there is no coastal road, which is annoying, but the only things along there are the Sizewell power station and RSPB Minsmere, so it’s not an issue. If I had not ridden this road I would of missed out some interesting roadside artwork. Quite unique.
I eventually drop back to the coast at Southwold, another lovely town, with a lovely classic old, recently renovated pier running out to sea, and there is a string of beach huts all the way along the front.
Without dipping in and out of all the little dead-end roads, Southwold is my last coastal town in Suffolk, as I now head back in land on my way to Norfolk. I bypass Lowestoft on a mixture of little roads that carries me through Oulton Broad, which is beautiful. At this point, I dial in my Garmin to guide me to my next hotel.
A quick re-route through the back of the town, on alley ways, and through housing estates, all on the NCN 1, then I pop out on the old coast road, so I can wander up to Great Yarmouth, without needing to touch the A47. Once I reach Gorleston-on-Sea, I finally stop for lunch. The full breakfast I had this morning had kept me going, and as there was nowhere to buy a sandwich this morning, I was getting by on cereal bars up until this point. In the harbour near Gorleston-on-Sea, there was a large floating construction carrying the components required to add more wind turbines to the Scroby Sands Offshore Wind Farm.
It was only about 20 minutes from lunch to the hotel, but I could feel the temperature starting to drop, rain is definitely on its way.
A shower, kit wash and then it was out for a walk along the front. It’s been a while since I have been in Great Yarmouth, and it has that tired English seaside resort feel to it. Then the rain came, so a dash back before I got soaked.
Total 93Km and 405m of climbing
Day 4 Great Yarmouth to Weybourne
I had been conscious since I set off that the weather forecast for today was looking grim, and I mean, grim. Last night’s downpour didn’t help. Then I was woken up during the night with the loudest storm I have heard for a while. Imagine my surprise when I woke up at 06:30 and I could see breaks in the clouds, and it was dry.
I set off at just gone nine, heading north, with the intention of heading inland to go through some of the Broads. However, unless you go through some bizarre twisty route the easiest way is to follow the A149 for about 13km. Not ideal, but, needs must, and as it turned out it wasn’t too busy.
Next, a left turn on to the A1062 in the direction of Hoveton, which on the map looks like it runs along the side of one of the water ways, but sadly not visible from the road. The ride picked up after Hoveton as the clouds started to break up and the roads got quieter and more twisty. The villages along this stretch from Tunstead to Felmington, were little more than a few houses, with bags of character and deserted, all with ornate village signs. They had to be some of the quietest roads I have ridden for a while.
From North Walsham I set the controls for the coast road, Trimingham in particular. Even the finger posts highlighted that the lanes were quiet, and you could not argue that.
Although technically not a seaside village, it’s as close as you get. I then picked up the north coast road, which if followed, will take you round all of the coastal towns to Hunstanton. I followed it to Cromer, by which time it was one o’clock and I was getting peckish. I stopped in at a little place called Blue Sky and a quick bite and hot drink.
It’s only 30 minutes up the road now to my next hotel, so I decide to swing in to Sheringham, where they had the bunting out, obviously knew I was coming.
On the approach to Weybourne there is an impressive renovated windmill, which, along with the attached building has been turned in to an impressive home. Around the corner you drop straight into the village, made up of properties which have an unusual stone rendering. Unusual, because the stones are all bigger that 75mm in diameter, making them look very solid.
I check in and dump my bags, then take a quick trip down to the “beach”, which reveals a vast expanse of pebbles rolling down around 15 metres to the sea. There were a couple of fishermen, some old fishing boats and a few walkers, certainly very quiet.
I was staying at the Maltings, an old building with a stack of history, which could do with a brush up, but the owner was a really interesting chap, and well worth a visit.
Well I have done what I set out to do, South to North, now all that remains is the journey home.
Total 84Km and 412m of climbing
Day 5 Weybourne to Home
One of the things I wanted to do on this trip was set myself a challenge, and the last day seemed to be the right time to do it. I had Googled the journey from Weybourne to my house and it suggested 167km, but when you factor in missed junctions, detours etc, that is going to hit 200km.
I was all packed and good to go by 08:45, so I had at least 13 hours of daylight. Hopefully it wouldn’t take that long, but they have forecast westerly winds, so a big part of the day will be battling into it, and on the flat lands too, where there is no protection. I have listed out the key towns and villages I need to hit to keep the journey tight and place the list in the clear pouch on the bar bag, good to go.
The “coast road”, the A149, is quite a busy, narrow road and any thoughts of following this had been put out of my mind, so after a couple of kilometres I took a left at Kelling and made my way to Wiverton. It was a wise choice as these roads were quiet, narrow and very rural. Perfect cycling roads.
The journey continued to Langham, then Binham, where I leave the Blakeney Natural Nature Reserve behind. The roads are rolling in this area, and take you through some picturesque villages, with period properties and village greens, some with village ponds.
The route progresses through Great Walsingham, then on to Little Walsingham, which is the strangely is the bigger of the two, and is a stunning, historic town, with half-timbered buildings. As I pull up at the junction my eye is caught by a small stone building, which turned out to be the Town Pump House from c1550.
The small roads kept coming until just after East Barsham, when I am forced to use the A1065 through Hempton, but thankfully after a few kilometres a right turn takes me for a long spell back on small roads towards Great Massingham, East Winch, then Setchey.
At this point I have now dropped out of the hills and on to the flat lands, which will be the terrain for the next 100km. Easy, you would think, only I am heading west, on open ground and that is where the wind is coming from. Progress is steady, to say the least, the wind catching the luggage as it sweeps around me. I can’t complain as I still manage 20kph average.
Suddenly, I spot a convenience store, out of nowhere, so I dive in and buy some water and the heaviest ham and cheese sandwich I have ever seen. It is so big I eat it a small piece at a time as I travel.
The scenery is all evry similar for the next 100km from here to Peterborough, but there are some interesting sections on the NCN 63 that take you along quiet lanes next to and over water ways. It’s here I fall into a trap, blindly following the NCN 63 into March.
The NCN 63 should take me all the way to Peterborough, and it eventually does, but when it hits the centre of March, nothing. I ask a couple of cyclists, and sadly they are of limited help, so I re-route and, a few delays later, I pick up the NCN 63 again to the north of March, and when you see it on the map, it’s so obvious, as many of these things often are.
Back on the NCN, I press on, having lost that “I have no idea where I am, and have no idea when this ride will end” feeling. Once passed, I can get on with enjoying the next stretch, but decide to leave the cycle route as It offers two options, both off-road, and I am just not in the frame of mind for that. I do pick it back up just north of Whittlesey, and soon after that, the path runs along the edge of the river Nene, all the way into Peterborough.
After Peterborough city centre, a cycle paths takes you out through the east side and on to Oundle Road. At Elton, several hours later and I have finished the sandwich, it really was that big.
Its 18:50 now and I have been on the road for 9 hours 50 minutes, not all of it riding, as there have been a lot of stops for route checking. I have learnt from previous mistakes, 5 minutes to check a map is better than back tracking 10km, or worse.
I start to get the feeling that this ride may have an end after all as I start to enter familiar roads, through Elton, on to Fotheringhay, past the stunning church there, then in through the back of Oundle, avoiding the centre and on to the Weldon road. This is a lovely area with many of the houses built from local stone.
Its 19:30 as I leave Oundle and I know there is only 35km to go, but it is a hilly 35. One consolation is that the wind has now dropped, and the evening sun is breaking through again and I am beginning to feel really good about this trip. Next stop is Corby, via Weldon, and I feel I need to get some more food in for this final stretch and I have saved a protein bar. I eat as I ride now, and this bar seems to kick in as I leave Corby as I see my speed climbing up around 28kph and it puts a smile on my face.
I take the main road out of Corby, then a left through the familiar back road all the way to my home, arriving around 12 hours after I set of, with 10:15 hours in the saddle.
I was now ready to stop, as there had been no real time out of the saddle during the trip, the 1 hour 45 difference was through eating and map checking, so it was no surprise that I had an issue walking up the stairs when I first got in the house. Nothing a hot brew and some warm food couldn’t sort out.
Total 216Km and 823m of climbing
It was an interesting five days relaxing (in places), picturesque and I was very lucky with the weather. Any rain that had been forecast had passed me by, and I was grateful for that.