23 July 2013
The tent had survived the overnight storms well, despite a patched up pole; another win for the Hilleberg Akto. It had been pretty fierce at times, with the heat wave breaking in a dramatic fashion. The thunderstorm had brought bangs and flashes which illuminated my tent and kept me awake, along with a few heavy showers which cooled everything down. I’ve always liked storms and it was pretty exciting lying there whilst it sounded like the apocalypse was starting outside. I wondered if it was heralding the arrival of my brother and sister-in-law’s second child, which was due any time, however I got a text from Will a bit later to confirm the baby still hadn’t appeared.
I had a bit of a slow start to the day as I waited for the patchy rain to stop, so didn’t actually leave the campsite until around 11.30. I also discovered I’d bought the wrong replacement brake pads yesterday, even though I could jury rig them in, so I’d need to find another shop at some point.
I had a quick pedal around Brightlingsea, down to the marina and around the town, before riding off on the penultimate penultimate day of my tour, destination Ipswich where I was planning to stay with old friends – JJ and Sacha.
It was decidedly cooler than the previous day, with the overnight storms having freshened things up, and clouds still in the sky. Everything smelt crisp and fresh, that wonderful aroma you get when it’s been dry for ages and then suddenly rains.
It was quick riding around to Clacton-on-Sea, via Jaywick, both of them pretty typical British seaside towns. Clacton had a pier and amusements, and the usual assortment of holiday makers.
After a brief break I pedalled on to Holland-on-Sea, then around to Frinton-on-Sea and Walton-on-the-Naze where I stopped for lunch; a sandwich meal deal from a supermarket. The last bit of Essex coastline followed as I made my way up to Harwich.
It was a nice ride up to Harwich, as the sun came out and it started to get hot again. I arrived at about 15.00, and had to wait 45 minutes for the ferry over the Rover Stour to Shotley Gate. I grabbed a coffee from the little cafe next to the ferry pontoon, and called my parents to make sure they weren’t having any dodgy parties in my house; they were staying there awaiting the birth of their next grandchild, as its within striking distance of Cambridge where Will and Louisa live. It was good to have someone in the house for a bit, and Dad would no doubt fix anything he found to be wanting that I hadn’t got around to; wobbly shelves, dodgy light bulbs etc.
Harwich quite surprised me. I was expecting a pretty dull and busy port, and whilst it is indeed a large and very busy container port it’s also a pleasant town, with multicoloured beach huts and unique lighthouses. It was nice riding slowly along the waterfront, looking at the large ships out on the water and idly contemplating stowing away on one to get over to Amsterdam. I was really starting to dread getting back to Norwich, even though I was looking forward to seeing friends again. I’d spent so long planning for this tour, and then 3 more months doing it, and I wasn’t really sure what was going to happen next even though I’d had lots of ideas. I guess I was worried that once I got back to work life would just return to the same old cycle of long hours, and not having the time to pursue what I really wanted to do; sadly one has to earn a wage. I resolved to sit down and properly plan out alternatives over the winter months, so I’d have something to look forward to in the new year.
The ferry over the River Stour cost £4.50; a pleasant crossing and the captain helped load my bike and panniers on board. Back in Suffolk I rode towards Manningtree alongside the the River Stour, through some lovely and very peaceful countryside, before turning onto the A137 to Ipswich. This was familiar territory as I’d only travelled on it yesterday on my way down from Latitude, to restart my tour around the coast.
I was drinking copious amounts of water again due to the heat, so stopped off at Jimmy’s Farm for a break. I’d watched his TV series several years ago, where he gave up a relatively stable life to start a farm in the Suffolk countryside, overcoming financial challenges, and learning how to farm pigs from scratch. He had a loan from his childhood friend Jamie Oliver to start the enterprise, and I admired his commitment and resolve to see things through, despite the strain it put on his relationship and coming close to failing on a few occasions. He saw it through and now appears to be running a successful business.
It looks like he’s diversified quite a bit since the TV series, with a ‘Theatre in the woods’, Caravan Club area and restaurant, as well as the shop and nature walk. I didn’t stay long as it was starting to get late, but it was good to have seen, and motivational from the point of view of thinking about new starts; I’d have to come back for a proper visit soon.
I pedalled on to Ipswich, with the traffic getting heavier as it was rush hour. I got shouted at by one driver who wanted me to get onto a non-existent cycle path, which was helpful. Despite the busy roads and a few navigational errors in Ipswich itself, I made it to Sacha and JJ’s unscathed. JJ is an old friend from University, and it was great to see both him and Sacha again. Sacha and the kids had spent a busy day de-fleaing the house, it having been populated by the annoying critters courtesy of their new and delightful cat Miss Moneypenny. It was lovely to have a shower and relax after a relatively short day mile wise, just 62 miles, but it had been pretty hot again for the last half.
I chatted to Sacha whilst we waited for JJ to get back from work, and I helped peel the spuds; it was good to catch up. A lovely dinner of beef and roasted vegetables followed, accompanied by a beer and good company. JJ was in training for the Ipswich half marathon, having only started running a few months ago; he’s completed it now, a great effort, congrats and good luck with the full marathon, or Spartan Challenge ;o)
We watched a couple of episodes of Arrested Development to chill out to before bed, which was something I hadn’t seen before and pretty funny. It was nice to sleep in a real bed again after the festival, and not sleeping too well last night due to the storm; I had to be careful not the let the kitten sneak in though!
It was weird going to sleep thinking that this time tomorrow I’d only be a stone’s throw from home.