Garden Party in Sible

It was a boiling hot day for a bike ride, but about 26 Easy Riders turned up, including 3 new riders: Chris, Peter and Beverley. We headed out north, running parallel to Panfield Lane, though the housing estate. We made our way towards Jaspers Green, Shalford Green and Church End, and Blackmore End.

Mick’s safety tip for the day was to keep drinking. It’s hot weather, and everyone needed to drink copiously whenever we stopped to reassemble at junctions. I think I won the prize for drinking the most – 3 bottlefuls – 2.25 litres in total.

I spent some time riding with Beverley, one of our new riders. It turns out Beverley is Australian, from an area south of Perth. I spent a student exchange year in Perth, so we had some common ground. In Australia, teachers are entitled to a 10 week break on full pay, after 10 years’ service – how good is that! So Beverley has chosen to spend her 10 weeks riding around the UK. She has an uncle in Notley with whom she is staying for the time being, and her first touring rides will take her in the direction of Berkshire.

Beverley aims to use Warm Showers for accommodation on her tour. Warm Showers is an organisation that links touring cyclists with people (typically other touring cyclists) who can provide a free overnight accommodation. My husband Jim and I are Warm Showers hosts. We participate because Jim has needed accommodation when he was riding in Australia, and has had some amazing hospitality from hosts, particularly in the Sydney area. And now it’s time for us to payback to the cycling community.

In the 18 months that we have been hosts, we have hosted 4/5 guests. Guests normally email the day before, to see if you can accommodate them. There are 2 other hosts in the immediate Braintree area, and it is usual for guests to email all 3 hosts and accept the first offer they get. The benefits to us, for hosting cyclists, is that we get to meet people ‘who are not like us’ but with whom we have something in common. They always have an interesting story. We’ve hosted a Swiss engineer; a retired BT engineer; a couple of German students returning from student exchange in Cardiff; and a Dutch man. They always have admirable language skills. Most of these have been heading either to or from Harwich, and sometimes Jim will ride out of Braintree with them the following morning, to put them on the right road.

After 16 miles we got to Sible Hedingham, where Gifford and Lesley hosted a wonderful refreshment break. Their garden is stunning – an idyllic haven for wildlife – with feeders, flowers, vegetables, choice trees and, even, better, a wildlife pond. According to Gifford Lesley is the Head Gardener, and he plays to his strength as Under Gardener. Lesley and her friend had obviously been slaving over a hot stove yesterday as there were about 8 different home-made cakes (I sampled about 4(!) and one was the best Bakewell tart I’ve ever eaten!). Lesley’s 8 year old assistant Lottie served cake, and issued the Cycling UK forms for everyone to complete. Lottie was very excited about her upcoming holiday in France. Lesley was very reluctant to accept our group’s contribution to her costs. We suggested she could use the money a) for some pocket money for Lottie’s holiday in France; b) buy a new plant for her garden (as a gardener I think this is a great idea); c) make a donation to a good cause of her choice (she used to work with people with learning disabilities, so there is plenty of choice for good causes there). My preferred choice would be to do all 3! But it’s up to her.

Mick then galvanised us back into action, and we pedalled off, heading from Sible Hedingham, to Beazley End, Bocking and Braintree. 26 miles, 2 hours 22 minutes pedalling time. Every time I go out with Easy Riders, I come back in high good humour, thinking ‘that was the BEST RIDE EVER’. And this time, it really was!

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