Fen Bridges - October 2021
A small band of brave Fridays members faced 'challenging' conditions on a daytime running of the brilliant Fen Bridges route put together by ride leader Claire. Grey skies and a tailwind accompanied the riders across the Fen's straight roads and open fields during the morning with random escaped root vegetables at the verges, occasional pumpkin patches. Then the group faced biblical weather for the second half, with Claire re-naming the ride 'Fridays Go Swimming'.
The landscape is reclaimed from the sea, later in the ride it was clearly trying to get it back. Here's Claire's report:
After a caffeine fix and the safety briefing, the group set off for a circuit of Ely to admire the historic buildings before heading north-west to Little Downham. I think the riders wondered if I was trying to trick them into multiple laps of Ely for the rest of the day!
We stopped by the Hundred Foot Pumping station to admire the architecture and the poem high on it’s frontage. It’s steam engines were replaced by diesel many years ago, and it’s now a standby for times of deluge.
These Fens have oft times been by Water drown'd
Science a remedy in Water found
The powers of Steam she said shall be employ'd
And the Destroyer by Itself destroy'd
A little way on, on the Welney bridge (the first of many!) we took photos and recounted tales of fen skating when the flooded washes were frozen over. The causeway was still dry but later in the year it will be cut off for a couple of months, with Fen skaters making an appearance on the Welney village sign as a reminder.
On we went through Upwell and Outwell, on the way discussing vanished tramways and wealthy pineapples before making use of the helpful facilities at the 'no-petrol' station. Linear villages punctuated the straight roads, the old Smeeth Road station at Marshland St James illustrating more vanished infrastructure.
Down Gravel Bank to Islington, passing tollhouses, bridges old and new, small and large, observing the lurking monolith pumping station at Wiggenhall St Germain as we passed. The crosswinds pushed us along to Tilney All Saints - a large church with a massive spire. In a small village. Bikes hidden behind the churchyard wall, we investigated the interior. Beautiful with an angel hammer-beam roof, many timbers, walls leaning outwards.
On to Clenchwarton we went, where we spotted some anti-tank blocks and hairpins that had previously eluded me. And then we were in King's Lynn, although finding our way to the Quayside was a tangled affair, involving abuse of pedestrianised areas and one-way roads which I shall draw a veil over. Don’t ask me for directions in King’s Lynn centre, unless you want to get lost.
Rain had found us by this point, so bikes parked under cover, we withdrew to Marriott’s for lunch. After a convivial hour, during which I learnt a variety of football chants, two riders departed for the train station and three of us swapped to wet weather gear for the second, damper half of the ride.
It was very wet and it was very windy! My route zig-zagged to reduce the exposure to head/head-crosswinds but there was no escaping it. The brief respite from the change in direction or hedges was met with sighs of relief, then good-humoured groans when we emerged back into the wind.
Points of interest were hastily waved at from the vantage of the bike, and noted for future, drier excursions. We stopped occasionally for snack and stretching breaks. Watlington and Downham Market train stations passed, yet we continued onwards.
Ten Mile Bank was a long session into the crosswind with heavier rain. No junctions apart from a solitary set of traffic lights. On the outskirts of Littleport, we paused to unwind in readiness for the final section back to Ely. Up the hill, descending and creeping through Chettisham until the Cathedral appeared, surrounded by mist and greeted with triumphant cheers.
Ten hours after departure, we returned. Shoes squelching, hair bedraggled but warm in our layers.
My thanks to all the riders for joining me on this inclement day.