Fen Bridges April 2022
The third edition of this night ride. A small group again, venturing out into Fenland roads. Would the weather be kind or cruel? Last year's ride was below freezing for most of the way.
We got the only mechanical of the ride out of the way before the start with a rider’s puncture en route to the Cathedral. Most of the group had travelled up from London and environs to join tonight. Stomping our cleats to keep warm, my briefing was succinct, ending in a choice of start to the route. Flat or hill? After some humorous murmurs about mis-selling of the ride (Fenland being notoriously flat), the hill was agreed as an ideal way to get the blood flowing again. A turn around the mean streets of Ely, taking in the giant mug, cobbles bouncing under wheels, then out towards Little Downham and another hill!
Gentle headwind nipped at us, finding gaps in clothing to chill the skin. Pymoor brought a pause for the Easter Bunny and a lawn parked tank. Some took the early opportunity to wrestle into additional layers, contortionist style; others held off to have something in reserve. We compared bike computer temperatures, 3℃ or below?
First bridges crossed at Welney, the ride then took quiet narrow lanes, with clear starry skies above. We saw both a shooting star and the space station pass overhead. No light pollution here.
For a glorious short while we were escorted by an owl flying close above us. Later we stopped for a hedgehog crossing, got bounced at by a muntjac and spied a kitten dust wiggling along the verge. Pedal strokes followed the tramway route through Outwell, where I was immensely pleased to find the companion to the village sign commemorating the tramway; especially after Rob presciently asked if there were any rails still about. Yes....not much though!
Then through Marshland St James’ endless village, pondering the old station imminent sale. We chatted about Friday experiences, kit choice, bike building and architecture. Silence surrounded us, punctuated only by barking dogs triggered by the sound of rubber on tarmac.
Stopping for a breather by Lord’s Bridge, the faintest glimmer of sunrise could be seen peeking from the horizon. Interesting challenge for the photographers to capture in the gloom.
More layers were added, as the temperature hit zero. Onto the next bridges, dark waters below. Up and down to Tilney All Saints, spire silhouetted against the sky, and church clock chimed 4 in welcome as we pedalled past. Feet were cold, noses were frozen, so the sight of Clenchwarton petrol station was most welcome. How often can that phrase have been written?
Hot chocolates all round warmed us up, with pannier picnics brought forth. Theme of the night: pasties.
Behind the industrial background, a rosy hue crept up the horizon seeping into the dark cobalt sky. Wrapped up further, we set off into King’s Lynn, passing monuments ancient and modern on our way to the Quayside. Tidal waters moving swiftly, mists rolling over the surface as dawn brightened. Lights off!
Over halfway, riding with the tailwind along the riverside path, we plunged into thick mist by the power station with a mysterious ghostly outline. Lights back on again!
Sunrise came on the island, golden, majestic, bleeding into the spreading mists; admiring this, we noticed a fellow photographer nearby with a tripod in search of the perfect shot.
Dew and frost coating the green shoots before us.
The ruins of Wiggenhall St Peters then provided the highlight of the ride. Perfect conditions of mist, sunrise and poignant architecture. A moment to savour. This was what I'd hoped for when planning the ride. Juxtaposition of mellow bricks, rosy light, coiling mist, framed by fractured windows.
Scrambled up onto the footpath, joined by James and Rob, we saw the river invisible yet revealed by the reeds. A delight to share in great company.
Back on the bikes, breakfast now in our thoughts, the group focused on progress back to Ely, enjoying the view before us. Mists lifted gradually as we pedaled over another bridge. Denver sluice came quickly after that, the southern end of flood protection uncloaked.
Clear blue skies, vivid bright sun echoing that of the previous night down Ten Mile Bank, river glinting alongside the riders. Sheep crowded on the banks, peering at the cyclists. Recent ploughing gave symmetrical earthy lines, shadows elongated by bright sun and contrasting against the curving road.
Nearing our goal, traffic picked up through Littleport, with groups of cyclists heading upstream for their Saturday rides. Cheery hullos exchanged, their adventure starting as ours neared the end.
Then the cathedral was in sight, and the buttery goodness of Grain Culture’s pastries. Bikes stacked against the shop window, helmets staking a claim to the bench in the sun as we piled in to claim our rewards. Relaxing, easing weary limbs, jackets thankfully removed, buns and croissants were devoured before goodbyes exchanged as riders made for trains home.
A cold night, a gleaming morning, a good ride, well earnt.
Photo credits: Claire Geary, James Ratcliffe, Rob Hale