Whitby, Thursday 1 June Day 33 870 miles
Thought you might like to see the White Rabbit.
I really felt I was making progress when I crossed the Humber Bridge. Now at last I am in the North of England after a week of pedalling through the flatlands of Lincolnshire with a following wind. The flatness continued for a further four days to Scarborough with a light headwind. Two weeks slowly clocking up the mileage, strengthening the legs. Very satisfying. Today's short (20 miles) to Whitby saw the start of the hills. I managed to cycle up three 1-in-7 hills but failed to get out of Robin Hood Bay without walking ñ the first time since leaving home. Have done 870 miles, the same as the distance from John O'Groats to Lands End. I have seen just the thing for your back garden ñ chipmunks running through tunnels (see slides E27-29).
Lots of love,
Leaving King's Lynn I somehow missed the turn to the old little bridge which my map suggested still crossed the Ouse and found myself struggling amidst the heavy traffic hurtling along the dual carriageway which bypasses the town to the south and takes the A47 over the river to join the A17 to Newark. Thankfully I turned off through West Lynn to cycle round the large loop of farmland which borders the southern end of the Wash. There was very little to see but King's Lynn sewage works made its presence smelt. I meandered slowly through the Fenland farms, the wind at my back, the road completely flat. It was so easy to maintain a light, even cadence, feet scarcely touching the pedals, cruising along slowly and easily. On a day like this I could believe I really was a cyclist. Blissful!
The Fens are eerie cycling country, wide and flat with nothing to see but space and sky. There was an unnatural, dreamlike sense of pedalling without getting anywhere, nothing to focus on, nothing to judge distance by. I stopped at a crossroads to try to capture this sense of emptiness on film. It was a forlorn hope, just two miles of nothing stretching out to the next small feature rising above the plain, made worse by the flat light from the overcast sky.
I crossed the Nene at Sutton Bridge where King John is said to have lost his baggage train in the marshes whilst travelling north after placing his seal on Magna Carta, then crossed the Welland at Fosdyke. The day ended at the village of Kirton, two miles south of Boston, after an easy, satisfying forty miles of cycling.
King's Head House dates from the sixteenth century and had been the King's Head pub until the Duffs bought it. They had been trying to sell the house for six years and it was now priced at less than my tiny flat. You hear of people setting out on a journey and then liking a place so much that they go no further. It was tempting. I could afford to buy the house but not to maintain it. Anyway it was on a main road, and the village didn't seem particularly attractive. The fantasy faded.
There was only one other guest staying. He had grown up in the area and had returned for a wedding. He was monstrously overweight and kept telling me the same story about the wedding and having too much to drink. He had finally been destroyed by drinking Snake-Bites, his favourite drink but banned where he currently lived. He was now sober, but by the time he'd told me the same story for the fourth time during the course of the evening, I began to wonder whether the alcohol had caused permanent brain damage.
After a good breakfast I took a long back road loop into Boston where I bought sandwiches and postcards, but in forty minutes of wheeling the bike through the centre of town did not find a single fruit stall. There are lots of things to see in Boston but I felt restless and couldn't commit myself to chaining up the bike and doing some serious sightseeing. I wanted to get some more miles under my wheels.
I set off east to the tiny village
of Fishtoft, then down to the edge of the Haven, the channel cut
in 1882 to widen and deepen the river from the new Boston Docks
to the Wash, to see the Fishtoft Memorial to the Pilgrim Fathers.
This must be one of the oddest memorials: erected in 1957 to commemorate
the site from which the Pilgrim Fathers did not set sail
in September 1607! Thirteen Puritans were attempting to sail secretly
from what was then Scotia Creek to find religious freedom in Holland.
To leave the country without approval was illegal. They were betrayed
by the captain of the ship and imprisoned in cells in what is
now the Guildhall Museum. The following year they succeeded in
fleeing to Holland and later formed part of the group that sailed
to America from Southampton, via Dartmouth and Plymouth, on board
the Mayflower in 1620. Ten years later another group set
sail from Boston and founded the town of Boston, Massachusetts.
I got into a steady rhythm clocking up the miles throughout the morning. Lunch was delayed by the difficulty of finding anywhere to stop. The fields came right to the edge of the road. No hedges, no grass verges, just acres of space with nowhere to sit down. Nowhere to get out of the way for a rest and a meal, just exposure.
I discovered that this was cabbage country. In every direction millions and millions and millions of cabbages for mile after mile after mile. Not that I could actually see any cabbages. They were covered by a shimmering sea of polythene sheeting, rustling in the breeze. Glimpsed at the edges of the sheeting was the most extraordinary soil: a fine-grained, brown soil, completely stone-free, fresh and clean as if it had just come out of a packet.
The last twelve miles into Skegness had to be made on the A52 which is the coastal road along here. The Tourist Information Centre booked me into a bed and breakfast; a tiny room, scarcely bigger than the double bed it contained, but with a toilet and a basin somehow crammed in. But it was clean and cheap and I was able to wash and dry my clothes. To my surprise the place was nearly full. Apart from a couple of grand-children, everybody was at least twenty years older than me, making use of the cheap rates before the summer season started in earnest. It had been another forty mile day and I felt very tired with a twinge in my right knee but I was in good shape and in optimistic mood.
In the morning I posted another package, the third so far, to Richard and Adele, with an optimistic postcard to Jamie. Of course Jamie couldn't read these postcards. He was barely five and only just reading, but Adele would read him the card, then he would help Richard pin it to the map of Britain on his bedroom wall and watch whilst Richard inked in my route on the map. He took the whole process very seriously.
The day started with misty sunshine and a fairly brisk east wind. In other words a cross wind; better than a head wind but making for twitchy steering as it gusted around me. I twirled northwards slowly and easily, enjoying the day more and more as the sky cleared and the wind dropped until, by the end of the afternoon, it had become quite hot.
Along the coast flourished an almost continuous carpet of caravans, all lurking below the level of the sea wall or the raised embankment of the road. All intended for a holiday by the sea but none having a view of the sea. This has long been a holiday coast for the masses; at Ingoldmells Billy Butlin opened his first holiday camp in 1936, offering a week's holiday by the sea for between thirty shillings and three pounds. It snowed when they first opened on Easter Saturday! The beaches were still deserted, though there were an increasing number of holidaymakers walking the streets.
At Sutton I ate my lunch by the paddling pool and stretched out for my siesta on a grassy bank by the empty bowling green. Then I turned inland for the last fifteen miles to the youth hostel at Ruckland. Suddenly, after crossing the A1104, I found myself at the top of a hill with a view before me of rolling countryside. It was of such slight eminence to be scarcely worthy of the title of hill, but it was the first vista I'd had for three days and it came as a complete shock. A few more miles and I climbed to the top of Meagram Top, all of 180 feet high, with a panoramic view for miles around. The sun was casting a beautiful light on the rolling green fields, striped with the darker green of the shaded tracks left by tractors.
I bought beans, bread, margarine, fruit pies, and milk from the garage in Burwell and chatted about my trip for some time with the woman who ran the shop. A series of short, stiff climbs ñ or so they seemed at the end of the day ñ took me to Woody's Top youth hostel. It had been a short thirty mile day in perfect conditions, ending in a perfectly situated hostel. There was still a slight grumbling from my right knee so tomorrow I would laze around in the sunshine and read a book.
This is one of the simple hostels still looked after by volunteer wardens. Bill and Helen Forber, a chatty couple from Barnet were in charge for their annual fortnight. They had stayed here as hostellers many years previously when it really had been simple, with no shower, and drinking water had to be fetched up the hill in a barrel on wheels, and loved it so much they came back every year. They sat me down with a mug of tea and offered to cook me a breakfast the next morning as long as I promised not to tell as volunteer wardens weren't supposed to provide meals.
I showered, washed my clothes and hung them out to dry in the sunshine, then gorged myself on immense quantities of beans on toast. Helen, who was sitting outside knitting away furiously, burst out laughing when I spun-dried my clothes. It was a trick I'd learnt from a letter in the CTC magazine: wring out your clothes as much as you can, put the damp clothes into a string bag, then whirl the bag around your head for as long as you can keep it up. You look a complete idiot but it really works. Helen had already wormed out of me that I had retired from the Science Museum and took this performance as proof that I was a scientist. Nothing could dissuade her from this and for the rest of my stay she teased me by reading spurious scientific significance into my every deed.
Later that evening two other cyclists
arrived; real eighty-mile-a-day merchants, travelling light on
a fast, five-day tour. Like me they had taken early retirement,
having been pensioned off from the power generation industry.
They were happy to be retired but said that what really hurt was
the knowledge that power stations they had built as young engineers
were now being decommissioned simply because they were coal-fired
even though they were still working economically.