Monday, June 12, 2017 Colchester-Harwich
It was an easy day of riding with the wind at our back for most of the day. We stopped for the morning coffee a few minutes before noon at a small pub in a village in the country. The pub is owned by the village and staffed by volunteers. The village bought the pub and villagers staff it on a volunteer basis in order to keep it open. It is the only business in this small village and the villagers did not like the prospect of not having a place to meet and socialize. Although it does have a kitchen, the pub does not serve food.
We arrived in Harwich about 2 p.m. and spent some time riding around the old city and waterfront with its many old buildings. We had no trouble finding the pub/inn where we stayed last year and the home across the street where the captain of the Mayflower lived.
We scoped out the ferry port where we will catch the foot/bike ferry tomorrow morning. The ferry ride is about a mile in mostly open water. With the wind today, the ferry stopped running at about 11 and did not reopen. Hopefully the early ferry that we are taking will not suffer the same fate.
We phoned Dan & Rita Harris, with whom we stayed last year when we were in Cambridge to try to get together. At this moment it looks promising.
Tuesday, June 13, 2017 Harwich-Leiston
The day started out cloudless and, for a change, windless. We rode to the foot/bicycle ferry slip at Harwich to catch the 0910 a.m. mile long crossing to Felixstowe, a seaside resort area.
A large ferry most likely headed to Holland left its dock a few minutes before we took off. It is hard to describe how big and ominous it looked compared to our ferry. We also floated by a container ship being loaded by huge cranes. That was also intimidating.
Although there was a dock at Harwich, there was no dock at Felixstowe. The ferry just pulled into the pebble beach bow first and the crew lowered a “gang plank” from the bow of the boat to the loose pebble beach, which stretched about 150 yards to the road. We carried the bikes to a flat and hard surface and then carried the panniers to them before mounting them back on the bikes.
Felixstowe is a beach front community heavy into British tourism somewhat like Atlantic City in the U.S. with big, old houses and mansions galore mostly sitting about 50 feet above the beaches.
Every quarter mile or so there were beautifully manicured parks with shrubs and flowering plants.
The “beach front” shops include many arcades and other venues primarily for children. Although the sun was still out while we were in Felixstowe and others descried the day as ”very warm”, we didn’t see a single person in the water and very few on the pebble beaches. Each of the beaches that we have seen has small, colorful huts that are semi-permanent and “decorated” inside. Of the few that were open so we could see inside had a bed, a kitchen set up, chairs and tables.
Very shortly after leaving the beach area we took another ferry, even smaller and were in farm land with large, treeless wide open fields of onions, potatoes, beans and grains. The route we’re following now is the National Cycle Route (NCR) #41 called the “Suffolk Coastal Route”. There were few roads, which was great for navigation, and the towns and villages were small, with old, well kept houses.
Although the Cotswolds are a tourist mecca because of the old, quaint towns, artsy shops and a myriad of well kept, thatched roof houses, the seaside villages we rode through today also were chocked full of the same. You will not however, see any mention of them in any tour book. These are the villages of farmers and journeymen workers but every bit as interesting and a better picture of English country life than the tourist towns in the center of the country.
The weather turned overcast by mid-day and stayed cloudy for the rest of the afternoon. For a change, it wasn’t windy. We stopped at an old Malting Factory (think beer) that has been transformed into a gallery of shops for antiques, art, ceramics, handmade jewelry and other artsy items you didn’t know you couldn’t live without. It is also known for its classical music under the former leadership of Benjamin Britain. It was a nwonderful diversion.
The riding today was on small, out of the way country lanes with little or no traffic. It is so nice to be out of the maelstrom of London area traffic and noise. The drivers in rural England are exceptionally nice and patient with cyclists.
We pulled into Leiston just after 4pm. Based on the size of the print on our map we had expected a larger town. We had fish and chips for dinner and planned the route for most of our time left in the UK. Yesterday we contacted a Warmshowers couple who we stayed with in Cambridge last year. And will meet them in Ely (1hr. train ride for us and about 20 min.for them) on Saturday and spend the day together. Ely is a small town about 12 miles from Cambridge and on our route to the north of England. We’re looking forward to seeing them again.
Wednesday, June 14, 2017 Leiston-Gillingham
Today was sunny and warm with the prospect of warmer for the next week or so….a very nice forecast. More back country lanes bordered by trees and vast fields in crops.
This is big farm country with few residences considering the acreage. We would have liked to explore the town of Beccles, but we were pretty tired and the place we were staying, the Swan Motel, was a few miles away in village of Gillingham. We didn’t have the energy to travel back. Instead we had an excellent dinner at our motel and relaxed. We almost always put our bikes inside to prevent theft. Here we were told that the owner would put them in the kitchen when it closed. This would have necessitated us leaving them unlocked for him after we’d gone to bed. We didn’t feel comfortable doing that even though they were not visible from the road. We stayed up until after 11 and he still had not come to retrieve them so we brought them into our room for the rest.
Thursday, June 15, 2017 Gillingham-Norwich
Again we had a beautiful 23 mile ride through farm country. This area is mostly flat with very large farms and farmland as far as the eye can see. It is very similar to North Dakota complete with the only break in the landscape being tees acting as shelter belts. We arrived in Norwich about 12:30, went first to the train station and bought tickets to Ely for Saturday where we will have lunch with our last year Warmshowers hosts. We also purchased train tickets from Ely to Hull for Sunday. We’re not riding that 200+ miles as we rode this stretch from Cambridge to York last year and wanted to have as much time as possible in the north of England.
After purchasing the tickets, we rode to the Aviation Museum of Norwich which is located adjacent to the airport about 7 miles north of town. The 7 miles turned into 10+ as there were few signs even for the airport, road construction and a very busy road. It took us almost one and a half hours to get to the museum, but we were treated to a personal tour of the old planes and WWII photos, etc. The tour of a British rescue/intelligence gathering plane took about an hour and was really interesting. It was in use through the Afghanistan war and had a ton of history including the Cold War and Falkland’s War. We’re staying at a wonderful AirBnB just outside the center of the Medieval Norwich. The couple who own the house are very enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the area. We spent a couple of hours just visiting and swapping life stories.
June 16, 2017 Norwich
We took the bus from our lovely AirBnB suite to the Norwich Cathedral
where we took a 1 hour guided tour of this huge and gorgeous church known as the best example of Romanesque architecture in the UK.
Actually most of its architectural features are Romanesque but there are many places in the church where the budding Gothic style which began in the late 1200”s is used, some of which were modifications of the Romanesque. It’s all a big confused as are all of these very old churches. The stained glass is not original.
In fact some is quite old while some is modern. We did discover a large caldron used as a baptismal font with the unlikely past of being used to make chocolate. Its present use combined with its past gives new meaning to the word “dipped” used in both instances. We may convert!
From the cathedral we moved to the 11th century castle which like most we have visited this trip, was ordered built by William the Conqueror after he and his armies conquered England at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
The castle which appears robust from the outside is actually “hollow.” That is although the outer walls and the inner stairways are well preserved, the wooden structures inside which include all of the floors above the ground floor are no longer there. The ground floor now serves as a museum containing artifacts from the Roman period which have been unearthed mostly in the last 25 years from excavations for a mall, the Castle Mall, which is subterranean and immediately adjacent to the castle while not visually interfering with the outstanding views of the castle.
In addition to the history and use of its various rooms and elements as a castle, the lowest floor was a jail for more than 500 years. Interestingly the castle is also the Norwich museum and contains a number of exhibits including historic doll houses
to tea sets dating to the beginning of the 1700’s, which was one couple’s collection of over 2000 tea pots and cups. So very beautiful.
We did a bit of wandering around and viewed a couple buildings before heading back to our rooms by bus and then a picnic dinner.
Saturday June 17 Ely
We caught the 10:40 train from Norwich and arrived in Ely around noon. Dan and Rita met us at a Pub called The Cutter on the canal for lunch, and we proceeded to catch up with each other for the next 5 hours. We took a tour in the Cathedral
and walked through the street market, then drove to near Cambridge to watch a “bumping” race along the canal. It consisted of teams from the various colleges rowing crew with the aim of bumping into the next boat. You win if no one bumps your boat and as a prize you get to put branches of the local trees on your head. All quite entertaining with lots of music and beer. It was an absolutely beautiful day for hanging around outdoors and we all really enjoyed being together. At 6:30 pm they left for home and we had fabulous Thai food for dinner.