Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Ashby to Amsterdam - Day 1

Like all of our madcap adventures, it's difficult to remember how this one came about. I like to think the alliterative qualities of the title is what swung it - or else the prospect of many miles of flat roads.

Ashby de la Zouch
We arranged to meet at our regular spot - The Oddhouse near Newton Burgoland at 9.00am. It was a warm bright morning, clear skies absolutely no chance of rain - but we made sure we had waterproofs anyway. We could have cheated at this point and headed straight for our destination for the day, but no; like true gentlemen of the road we cycled the extra miles into Ashby-de-la-Zouch to make it official. Through the town centre and up the hill before turning off and heading for ...... well, Hemingford Gray was our target, however Gary was having some technical problems with the GPS system. The sunlight made it harder and as he crouched over the handlebars, his head a few millimetres from the display, he looked, to the casual passerby, as if he was totally knackered and struggling for breath. We made slow progress via a progression of Leicestershire lanes and villages. After 30 miles I realised I was only about 8 miles from home!

Jade Tearooms - Newtown Linford
We passed through the neat and congenial village of Newtown Linford, thatched cottages, stone walls, litter free and elegantly somnolent - we were due a coffee stop and swung across to The Jade Tearooms - already bustling with the chattering classes and we struggled to find a table. We joined a woman who was waiting for her daughter - 
'Have you been far' she enquired.
'No' said Gary - 'But we're going far'
'Where to'
There was a pause and a vague look of incomprehension.
'Good gracious'

The coffee was welcome and Gary proclaimed that the cakes on display were the best he'd ever seen. We sat amongst what could have been the tea break for a Boden catalogue shoot on a blissful bright blue morning. It was a perfect stop.

And then we were off again. A bit more stop-start with the GPS and we were heading towards Leicester - in fact we very nearly passed my place of work. The traffic was quieter at this time of day but still busy enough to make us think twice before any change of direction. We cut through the traffic like London couriers as we made our way out of the city and in the vague direction of Cambridgeshire.

Before this trip someone said 'It'll be easy - it's flat all the way after Leicester' - They lied - it isn't - in fact immediately after Leicester we laboured up a number of hills, some of them dragged on-and-on... it was hot now, the midday sun was strong, streams of salty sweat stung our eyes. We were on roads that offered nothing in the way of hospitality. No pubs, no roadside cafes not even the ubiquitous mobile burger van - nothing but tarmac and grass verges. We carried on, upwards, by now we had begun consulting a map - both Gary and I had torn out pages from old map books - his was slightly larger scale than mine and offered more detail - but went over more pages. We concurred that a good plan would be to turn off and head to a town, we needed some food and a rest.

The Crown - Uppingham
So it was we rolled up in Uppingham at around lunchtime on a hot, sunny Thursday. We were tempted by the Co-op but instead opted for the The Crown Inn - hidden down a dark alley that led into the town centre. We parked our bikes and enjoyed a sandwich each, washed down with two pints of a Pale Ale the name of which I forgot to make a note of. The barman, skeletal like, came out for a chat he is a singer with a Death Metal band - at least that's what I think he said. As we finished our second pint a man and woman took up residence at the adjoining table, he that particular breed of Englishman, slightly aloof, possibly eccentric but particularly fond and familiar with a lunchtime tipple. When he heard of our plans he gave an excited shout 'Ooohhh that's an adventure...'

Off we went, back out into the sun, soon to feel the recent intake of fluids seep from our pores. We still had a long way to go, and it still wasn't particularly flat. We made steady progress through endless green fields, the great fire and brimstone, steam and grind of the industrial upheaval of the 19th century never made it here. As we laboured slowly up yet another hill I spotted a sign at the roadside - 'Gelato' - It took less than a nano-second to decide on a stop.

At the Olive Grove
This was the Olive Grove Nursery at Polebrook - a trendy, upmarket coming together of farm foods, plants and bits of old olive trees made into garden containers and dubious sculptures. Gary had two large lemonades, I opted for the guaranteed stimulus of caffeine - making sure with a double expresso and a large cappuccino. A young lad, one of the staff, came over to look at the bikes - he used to do some racing and his dad was a cyclist. He told us he'd had an accident a few years ago and hadn't ridden a bike since, his dad was still riding though. The girl who brought our drinks to us told us that we weren't far from our destination and with our thirst sated we set off. Unfortunately her geography wasn't a strong point - we rode long and far skirting Huntingdon and past an RAF base with an American jet fighter sitting on the grass outside. By now Gary's GPS seemed to have come to life, we travelled the last miles completely guided, crossing the river, turning a corner and there it was - Hemingford Gray - 104.2 miles ridden, 7 hours on the bike and a max speed of 40.6mph

We checked into The Willow B&B - fantastic choice by Gaz - more like a hotel, spotlessly clean, fully functional, modern and a friendly welcome from the owner Kate. A quick shower, some clean, dry clothes and we were off to the pub for supper - all of 20 yards away!

The Cock had some great hoppy beers and we worked our way through a couple before moving into the dining room - this is more restaurant than pub - but still retains a pubby atmosphere. The food is gastropub, sophisticated, modern and maybe a little minimal - but tasty enough after 104 miles. We finished with another pint and then bed. Long way to go again tomorrow.

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