A damp ride to Waltham Stores

Having had a spate of bright days for riding, this morning dawned cold, damp and wet. Not inspiring for a bike ride, but about 24 intrepid Easy Riders turned up to brave the weather. We had one new rider, Dee (friend of Ann) who we were glad to welcome.

With our reduced numbers, we set off in two groups. Jim Dodge led the longer group, tailed by Brian and Paul. I think Jim was a boy scout in a previous life, as he had very sensibly checked our route a day or two previously, and discovered we were meant to cross a ford … which when he inspected it, was flooded! So after last night’s rain, he decided a re-routing was required.

The Easy Riders rode off down London Road, turning down Queenborough Lane, across the A131, under the A 120 to Rayne in steady drizzle. I wished I’d put my visor on, as the rain was obscuring my glasses. We followed the route down through Willows Green, to Thistley Green, where we paused to reassemble.

I noticed the sugar beet had been cropped, and in several places tons of beet was stacked alongside the edge of the field, presumably to make it easier to load on lorries. Steve and I had a bit of a debate about sugar beet – I’m not sure what it is used for. I know my elderly aunts insisted on cane sugar to make jam, resolutely refusing beet sugar, but I don’t know why. So does beet sugar have specific purposes? Steve remembered being told that a large cane sugar crystal was used to get the crystalisation process started in the beet sugar refining process.

At the same area, I noticed a bird box attached to a tree facing the road, in the middle of the countryside, which I thought was an odd place. If I put up a bird box, I’d be hoping to see the birds use it, which would be unlikely if it faced a road.

We passed the old Priory, but took a diversion somewhere around here to avoid the flooded ford. We turned right at Littley Green and ended up at Hartford End. Much admiration of the old brewery took place while the group reassembled, then a long haul up to the B1008. Here as usual I admired the pleached trees at the junction. In winter, you can see the way the lateral shoots are wound around each other onto horizontal poles, thus providing a narrow high level barrier to the road. I love these trees.

We cycled swiftly down (from 60m to 40m above sea level) to the righthand turning to Howe Street. We made our way to the Stores at Great Waltham, where the shorter group had already arrived and were tucking into tea and buns. As usual, the Stores had made a double batch of sausage rolls as they knew we were coming! Yumm! I noted that Gifford had used his helmet cover as rain protection on his saddle, and I did likewise

There are a couple of health and safety tips for this week. First and foremost, is to allow extra space between riders when riding in the rain or on wet roads. Braking distances are considerably increased in these conditions, and it is easier to fall off on a slippery road. So pay attention, and keep a safe distance. Additionally we had a bit of a debate about small bits of kit suitable for Christmas presents. We came up with several good suggestions for Santa to bring: a front and rear light; fluorescent gloves (half and full finger); buff; sun visor, helmet cover; map; and rear mudguard. As it was raining today, quite a few riders were wearing a strip of mud down their backs, through not having a rear mudguard, and some of the following riders were wearing mud too! Not exactly a good look!

The Easy Riders left the Stores and cycled south east to cross the B1008 to ride through Little Waltham, then cross the A131 to return to quieter roads running parallel with the A131. We almost reached Great Leighs, then turned right to pick up Route 16, past Finches Quarry site, back to Braintree, where the group dispersed.

Had the Easy Riders not been going out, I would not have ridden my bike today. As it turned out, the rain did not last long, and I had a lovely bike ride with my mates, and worked out something significant from my university work (more oxygen to the brain always helps).

What not to like! 23 miles, c10mph.

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