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Is it so wrong to choose a holiday on the basis of country pubs lying on or near the route?
So I did the Needham Market -> Dedham -> Lavenham loop like I did a couple of years back, on that basis. The difference was this time I used a hire bike, rather than my own, which meant that I had to get the saddle height right and accustom myself to the gearing, especially on the fairly crinkly terrain of the Stour valley.
So I'd barely left the base when it started to rain, first a nuisance scatter, then heavily, necessitating a stop and change to wet weather gear, so I ground away until the rain stopped -- then wondered why my legs were already tired (answer: because the saddle was too high and I was having to over-extend on the down stroke). And then fun with recalcitrant gears that didn't change if there was any significant load being applied, so a lot of get off and push if I didn't change down in time, when I really wanted to still be in high gear on the down slope.
Consequently, I didn't get past Copdock until going on 1pm, and opted for the Tattingstone White Horse for lunch. Being Sunday, the place was quite busy, so I'd supped one pint of Wherry by the time my bangers and mash arrived, and was on the second. Then it was time to take rather less of a detour (modulo the need to cross the A12 in places) on the way to the Sun Inn at Dedham.
And of course there was more weather -- after coming through Capel St. Mary (where'd stopped to take on provisions), I could see a wall of rain approaching, but hoped I might be able to pass it to one side.
No such luck, so I arrived at Dedham quite damp, and sat watching the rain over a couple more pints at this agreeable watering hole. When it seemed that the weather had eased off, I headed the last mile to Milsoms, getting the benefit of one last shower of rain.
This time the menu was a bit disappointing compared with the previous visit -- I ended up with bread and oil, chilli and rice and an ice cream sundae.
Monday started dull and breezy, but at least it was dry as I wended my way to Stoke-by-Nayland (avoiding the crinkliest of the terrain by taking the main road a while); and then with the road closed that I would have otherwise taken, took off cross country to Sudbury (cadging a coffee from my surprised parents).
Then I took the easy terrain of the old railway, the first time I had really been able to open up a proper cruising speed, taking a loop aiming at the Cherry Tree in Glemsford. One mishap on this route -- having taken two off-road sections already, I tried the bridleway to Pentlow Street, that started wide and dry, narrowed in a few places, got overgrown in a couple more, and then, within sight of the far end, a short quagmire. So I then needed to find a puddle to wash my shoes in.
Late lunch at the Cherry Tree, and then out into some heavy drizzle for the last leg.
Not feeling up to a Marco Pierre White dinner, I opted for the Memsaab and a vegetable dansak, before having a wander in the evening sunlight, a wander than ended up at the Greyhound for a couple of pints, where, as the only customer, I spent the time chatting to the barmaid, an enterprising young lass in her mid 20s who had just moved into her own home in the last few weeks after working all hours and saving the cash -- puts the lie to the moaning about it being difficult to get on the property ladder these days.
Then Tuesday opened bright and sunny, and not quite so windy, so I decided to make a long loop, aiming for Ickworth House, but covering new terrain. Skirting a road closure in Long Melford, looping through Clare -- then discovering that the road thence to Poslingford had such a rough surface that I was having to put a fair amount of effort in maintaining a slow pace even on generally down slopes, and then hit a whole bunch of recent top-dressing on the roads. Upshot -- it was going on 1pm, with ~30 miles still to cover, by the time I was getting close, and when I saw that the last mile to Horringer was just freshly top-dressed, I said "Nope!" and carried on past the turn on roads worn smooth and comfortable to cycle.
Once I'd gone past Sicklesmere (a quick refreshment stop at the Rushbrooke Arms, and the cheapest -- by 50p -- pint of IPA I'd had all holiday), the terrain became more rolling, and I could achieve a steadier pace, getting back to base about half past 4, despite a couple of places where I missed turns because of misleading names being signed, and a total of 121.1 miles for the trip.
And so, home