With our now well oiled morning routine held up as an shining example with which to shame our dried out bicycle chains and my treating the bikes to a little lube being likened giving our rides breakfast, the start of our fourth day was full of tenuous links and similes. Well, I had to start this day somehow, and if you’ve described one Full English, you’ve described them all.
Having said that, it is worth mentioning the breakfast team at the Windmill Farm was a delight. With characters such as the whirlwind front of house man, rushing from table to table to make sure everybody had what they needed; to the cook bursting through the kitchen door to deliver well timed put downs aimed at his hard working colleague; to the barmaid, quietly observing events as she prepared the pub for opening. It was like being in our own private episode of a classic British Sitcom.
With bidons filled at the bar and and breakfast applied to the chains, we were ready to go at our increasingly normal 8.40 in the morning. At 83 miles, this edged yesterday’s leg off the top spot for the longest of the trip by a couple of miles. However, although in no way mountainous, as it consisted of considerably more climbing, my legs were questioning how much they were going to enjoy it.
We didn’t have wait long to find out. After negotiating Lincoln’s rush hour around the trading estate on which the hotel stood, we were soon pointing upwards towards the village of Waddington. Before long, with 70 metres of climbing straight off the bat, we’d already done 10% of our total in just three miles. Perhaps today wouldn’t be that difficult, after all.
It wouldn’t be without technical issues however. On top of the hill, on a cycle path along side the A607, my normally ultra reliable Wahoo started to have a fit. Although it still seemed to be tracking my path, it stopped recording my speed resulting in the hideous realisation that the ride would never have existed if it wasn’t recorded. For four miles, whilst Sandra was shooting ahead, I kept stopping every five minutes to shake the device above my head towards the satellites. Eventually however, as we moved further away from the military base, RAF Waddington, things settled down and and it wasn’t long before we turned on to some quieter roads at the village of Navenby.
Seasoned Off Roaders
In fact, we so were engrossed in discussing how nice the scenery was, it took a chirp of admonishment from Wahoo to tell us we were heading off course. Bored of tarmac, Komoot felt it was time for some bridal way action along High Dyke and Ermine Street and, although those in Rome should do as the legions do, Sandra didn’t get off to the best start. After just a handful of metres, with wheels deep inside rutted furrows, I turned round to the sound of a yelp and the sight of her falling into a patch of nettles. Dismounting quickly (but carefully so as not to damage Dylan), I rushed back to see if she was okay, and trying not to laugh, or even get stung, I helped her up and vowed never to discuss the matter again.
Challenging though this trail was in places, with grooves so deep, full pedal strokes were compromised; and with the tarring effect of mud and puddles combined with the feathering effect of deep, skid inducing sand, we were clearly getting good at this off road stuff, covering about three miles in just over 20 minutes.
Passing both RAF Cranwell and RAF Barkston Heath with no further repeat of the Wahoo failure, I was beginning to think I may have read too much in to the issues experienced earlier in the day. Gremlin free, we rode on past Ancaster and headed towards the half way point over some well surfaced, undulating country roads. With nothing too taxing and the reintroduction of downhills giving us welcomed respite, my legs’ nervousness at the beginning of the day was proving to be unfounded.
The Willoughby Arms in Little Bytham, at just under halfway, was a perfect space to celebrate this fact. This was another pub with restricted access to the garden because of Covid, but, once signing the track and trace sheet, the landlord did allow us to take our bikes through the temporary fencing. With shoes and socks off we enjoyed a refreshingly naughty lunchtime pint with our sandwiches in the shade.
To avoid getting too comfortable, and turning the afternoon in to a summer drinking session, we headed back out into the countryside. After six or seven miles we reached Stamford where we stocked up on water and, in an impromptu, spur of the moment decision, grapes. Not your usual cycling food, granted, but if it was at all possible to pack a handful in to a jersey pocket without them disintegrating into mush, they would probably become a staple.
Stamford: a big fat lie
Whilst stuffing our faces, we swapped stories of cycling adventure with a friendly local interested in our journey before getting back on route. With the town’s name being the product of spelling best described as hit and miss prior to the invention of the dictionary, it had bastardised over the centuries from its ‘stoney ford’ origins. That meant the way out of Stamford took us across the River Welland rather than one called the Stam. The lie was complete by there being no ford either.
Unlike the River Wellend, which made the sensible decision to navigate around the lump of earth to the south of Stamford rather than spend eons carving a valley through it, we had no choice to make the day’s second biggest climb out of Duplicitousville. Having reached the lowest point of the journey since Lincoln whilst bridging the Wellend, all the height we had just spent the last 25 miles shedding was now going to have to be reclaimed in just two.
It was annoying rather than difficult, but we had rather hoped for a better reward than a cycle path alongside the A1 for the next four miles. Heading southbound adjacent to oncoming northbound traffic along variable surfaces was not for the faint hearted. Broken only by a quick stop at, ironically (well, it’s ironic if you’ve been paying attention), RAF Wittering to take photos of the Harrier Jump Jet parked outside.
The rest of the way was spent avoided discarded bottles of Trucker Juice which was either Lucozade, Irn Bru or more likely very-dehydrated-borderline-on-needing-a-doctor-you-chav urine. Still, other than eternity, all things end, and that assault on the senses eventually faded in to 20 miles of countryside as we headed towards the Alconburys.
The next flirtation with the A1 was much more pleasant, for a while at least. Shielded from the road by a big fence there was an immaculate ribbon of tarmac for the next mile before leading to a big roundabout for the A1, A14 and A141. Here it was apparent that the cycle path wasn’t fully open and that we had been dumped on a busy junction with the need to cycle along a dual carriage way for an unknown distance.
Komoot doesn’t always know
And this is where allowing Komoot to blindly plan the route failed for the first time. Komoot’s algorithm had no idea that the cycle route wasn’t open but, as people had logged miles on it and, as I had specified a slight preference for paved over fully off-road, it thought it was fair game. Even the protestations of an idiot with a small penis driving a 15 year old Mercedes, didn’t change the fact that riding along a dual carriage way A-Road isn’t illegal unless specific restrictions apply. And so, after spending a long time trying to find alternatives, we bit the bullet and cycled what turned out to be around a kilometre along what passed for the shoulder of the A141.
And if Premier Inn hadn’t rebooked us in to St Neots due to the Huntingdon hotel still being closed after lockdown, that would have been that. As it was, we did the cycling equivalent of a stone skimming the surface of the A1 for the 10 miles left to St Neots. We later found out from a 1:25,000 map that we would have been able to avoid these sections with bridal ways which may have taken longer but wouldn’t have detracted from an otherwise excellent day on the bike.
Day Four: Lincoln to St Neots