I learn’t the fifth rule of The Long Distance Cyclist ( to see the first four you’ll have to read the day 1 blog) today. It goes something like this:-
Rule 4 – Stick to your plan
Which of course I didn’t. My plan said leave at 9am. I was still writing my day 2 blog at 10.30am. I left two hours late. No matter I thought at the time – I’ll catch up (ha!).
But of course it did matter. The fact I was two hours behind my printed out schedule kept messing with my head as I cycled, compounded perhaps by the weather (grey, windy and threatening rain) and the fact I’d cycled these roads many times before.
Get on, get on. You’re late, you’re late was the voice in my head. Not really a conducive mind set for cycling. Makes you more inclined to miss little gems like this – the church of St Mary the Virgin at Little Bentley with its three distinct build materials…
or to ignore the loud metallic ping which occured somewhere East of Elmstead Market. Which I duly did.
The day started on NCN route route 51 but I took a brief detour which took me down into the village of Weeley.
Why Weeley? Well I have it in my head that the reminiscence interview done for On the Home Front (1986) but which actually sowed the seed for Private Resistance (2012) was carried out with a former member of the auxillary unit from Weeley. You can listen to an extract from those interviews here (7 minutes in).
I take a breather outside the Black Boy but to be honest not much inspiration comes (apart from that nagging voice in my head ‘come on you’re late, you’re late) so on I go, dropping into Thorpe le Soken with its grandiose houses and sadly neglected station and back towards route 51.
One of the joys of cycling is the way things slowly appear, so it was with the arrival of Harwich and Felixstowe. For a full thrity minutes I would look to my right and glimpses, hints of the ports would appear and then recede. When the wind is full in your face, though, it can feel like the most annoying slow zoom ever. Head down I plowed on eventually descending past the unique Dovercourt Lighthouses
and on into the maritime town of Harwich itself. As I arrived a huge freight ship, packed high with containers, was being guided out of the harbour by a small tug. I stopped to watch for a while, recalling the premise of Private Resistance : its mid war, the Germans have successfully invaded England and are raiding large Uk towns and cities, transporting any Jews they find out to Eastern Europe through the port of Harwich.
Mind my day dreaming is soon stopped short when on a routine check I realise I have a problem with my bike. The rear wheel is catching the brake. My attempts at re-aligning the wheel and ‘messing’ with the brake make no difference. I decide (as you do) the only thing for it is to have a full english breakfast!
Whilst eating yell.com points me to a bike shop in Dovercourt and I decide to try my luck. I didn’t fancy the climb out of Harwich with, in effect, my brake permanently on. Of course when I get there I discover the problem is far greater than simply a mis-aligned wheel. That metalic ping I’d heard back in Elmstead Market was a spoke breaking – and now, some 15 miles of cycling later, the wheel has started to buckle. My face sinks – but immediately the HS Howlett bike technician tells me he can have it sorted in half an hour. ‘Grab a cup of tea next door and she’ll be right as rain’. Which she was – he even fitted some ‘show off / go faster (not) extensions to my handle bars. Couldn’t recommend that shop more – real life savers today!
Net result though is now I’m even later than I was before. So two and a half hours behind schedule I cycle back out of Harwich and in the general direction of Wrabness, my first venue for the day, and 8th on the route so far. Wrabness is a village which feels more remote than it actually is. It’s long and thin, hugging the windy U shaped road which takes you in and out. The station garden is complete with a rescued semaphore signal and the community shop is open ( I buy the last two bananas) as another customer tries to find chick peas. You get the feeling that behind its remote veneer a lot happens in Wrabness.
Still no time to hang around (I’m 2 and a half hours late you know). On I plod with my behaving rear wheel. Into (and out) of Bradfield (venue no 9) despite the enticing look of The Strangers Home Inn and on into Mistley famed for its towers and its swans. (I dropped by the Mistley Community Hall but something was going on which looked very serious so I didn’t disturb).
And so to Manningtree. Just before the station I took a sharp right and disappeared into an industrial estate. This was the closest I was going to get to the ‘location’ of the final scenes of Private Resistance – when the auxilary unit attempt to blow up the Manningtree triangle. Not surprisingly theres not much to see – so I just take a photo instead to kind of prove I’ve been there.
And so as I cross the railway I leave both Private Resistance and my 10th venue behind as I head out of Essex and into Suffolk. Out, towards a much older show – Lord Peter Whimsey and the Bergholt Bells (1993) EA’s sixth Christmas show. Lord Peter Whimsey is of course the creation of Dorothy L Sayers and the EA spoof might just have owed a debt to The Nine Tailors
“The bells gave tongue: Gaude, Sabaoth, John, Jericho, Jubilee, Dimity, Batty Thomas and Tailor Paul, rioting and exulting high up in the dark tower, wide mouths rising and falling, brazen tongues clamouring, huge wheels turning to the dance of the leaping ropes. Tin tan din dan bim bam bom bo–tan tin din dan bam bim bo bom–tan dan tin bam din bo bim bom–every bell in her place striking tuneably, hunting up, hunting down, dodging, snapping, laying her blows behind, making her thirds and fourths, working down to lead the dance again. Out over the flat, white wastes of fen, over the spear-straight, steel-dark dykes and the wind-bent, groaning poplar trees, bursting from the snow-choked louvres of the belfry, whirled away southward and westward in gusty blasts of clamour to the sleeping counties went the music of the bells–little Gaude, silver Sabaoth, strong John and Jericho, glad Jubilee, sweet Dimity and old Batty Thomas, with great Tailor Paul bawling and striding like a giant in the midst of them. Up and down went the shadows of the ringers upon the walls, up and down went the scarlet sallies flickering roofwards and floorwards, and up and down, hunting in their courses, went the bells of Fenchurch St. Paul.”
These days you do not need the help of Lord Peter Whimsey to locate the bells, unusually they are housed in a bell cage in the churchyard.
The story goes that the East Bergolt bell tower was started in 1525 with the financial support of Cardinal Wolsey. But Wolsey’s demise cut short work and the bells were ‘temporarily’ housed in a cage in 1531! The bells themselves range in date from 1450 to 1887 and are still rung today by pure force of hand, applied directly to the bell, and not by rope or wheel. What makes this even more extraordinary is the fact that they are the heaviest five bells currently being rung in England – weighing in at some 4.25 tonnes.
But the bit of the story I really like involves the family at the Old Hall over the road from the church. In the 17th century the family must have liked a drink or too on a Saturday night (and woken with headaches) or just liked their Sunday lie ins. Either way they insisted the bell cage be moved from its original east position to the other side of the churchyard!
Just up from the church this plaque marks the birthplace of John Constable, whose name is so closely attached to the Dedham Vale (and not always harmoniously).
It’s early evening now and I’ve completed the ‘printed schedule’ and with the best weather of the day on my back I decide to turn Constable tourist and take the back road to Flatford and onto Dedham. Obviously like thousands before me whilst at Flatford I try to recreate The Hay Wain. Whats more interesting is the note pinned to Flatford Mill about recreating The Hay Wain:-
None of the trees shown in The Hay Wain scene survive today..water levels in the Millstream are also higher than in Constable’s time. This part of East Anglia has sunk into the North Sea by around 30cm over the past 200 years! On the far side of the river,a long embankment obscures our views of the meadows seen in The Hay Wain. This is the sea wall, built in 1949
Over at Dedham I am able to visit a bonus venue. We first visited Dedham with the John Clare play (that man again – later in The Sun Inn, dedham I flick through an old encyclopedia and compare Clare and Constable’s entries: Constables was longer) as part of the Managing the Masterpiece project.
Leaving the Dedham Assembly Rooms and The Sun Inn behind I take the back roads and retrace my steps to Manningtree station, and then home.
Tomorrow I put away my Essex map and venture into Suffolk proper. I’ll be travelling through the places which inspired The Reapers Year trilogy, and then as I cross the Orwell by boat I’ll be right in the heart of the Margaret Catchpole story before landing in Ipswich and its numerous Eastern Angles connections.
Thanks for reading!