The Grand Tour: Fife and Beyond

Ramblings of an inveterate cyclist

Windmill

When the wind comes into town,

It makes the sails go round and around,

Driving the stones that mills the corn,

That bakes the rolls on Sunday morn.

My Tricycle Association Gazette had arrived in the post and inside I found an application form for the Mildenhall Rally, cycle camper pitch £19.00, covered you from Friday through until Tuesday, what a bargain.

The weather had not been of its best but hay was are not made of sugar. I clipped the box onto my BMW C1, the box is large and totally waterproof, it would hold all I needed for the trip. Following the well-trodden path, I picked up the A701 from Edinburgh down into Peebles, Selkirk where I then would join the A68 down through the Northumberland National Park, one of the most beautiful rides south there is.

On the 12th of October 1322, the Scottish army arrived in Northallerton there to discover that Edward, King of England was lodged in Rievaulx Abbey.

Bruce sent Walter Stewart off with 500 men on horseback to capture the king, but on their arrival found that the king had fled, escaping by the skin of his teeth and reputedly still in his nightshirt. The main body of the Scottish army was engaged in battle with the English army at Humbleton Hill, a large plateau with steep sides and the English army perched on top. Riding up the road, that twists and turns it’s way to the top, gave me some idea of the difficult the Scots would have encountered. Trying to climb this steep embankment would have been bad enough but with stones trundling down upon their heads, and arrows whizzing past their ears.

On into York, Friday on an August Bank Holiday it was a nightmare, I slipped up through the lines of stationary traffic and found my way onto the B1228 for Goole and then to Caistor and the B1225. This is a wonderful road along the ridge of the Lincolnshire Wolds, an area I know well having cycled here many times in the past, in the summer months hang gliding is practiced from the ridge down the shallow incline to a repetitively soft landing, gliding still remains on my bucket list.

Woody’s Top Youth Hostel, is pretty isolated so there was a good chance of a bed for the night. The heat hit me as soon as I opened the door after my day in the fresh air. Showered, feed and a pot of tea soon put me to right, after a tiring day. There was half a dozen in tonight, and all seemed to know one another. We chatted a while then turned in, early and I slept like a log.

I stopped off at the market in Louth the following morning and bought some fruit and snacks, for the journey, before making my way down to Sibsey with its six sail windmill. This is an impressive building, the windmill dates back to 1877 and was extensively restored in 2001. It still retains all its original working machinery, and after a tour of the mill, I visited the tea room, treating myself to a pot of tea and a bacon buttie.

For all the forecast of wet weather, I never suffered a drop of rain all the way down to Mildenhall although by now the clouds were bubbling up and the wind was strengthening. My body (and old age) were pitted against me so after supper I crawled into my sleeping bag for another early night. The competition over the weekend was superb, and it was great to see so many girls competing at all levels and categories.

On Sunday I headed over to Ely and as is my habit visited Ely Cathedral.

As I entered I was handed a Sunday Service sheet and advised to take a seat since the service was about to start. I had not intended to take part in any service but since I was here I did not believe my presence would bring the wrath of god down upon us. Ely Cathedral is a magnificent building that appears to have thrust itself up from out of the flatlands that surround it. The interior is cavernous so this area must have supported a much larger population at the time of its construction.

As I sat gazing up at the painted ceiling and beautiful carvings of the Choir screen and gilded altar, my eyes lightened on an angelic angel, The man that carved this delicate creature would no doubt have been illiterate, yet still able to turn out such a high standard of workmanship. Who was he thinking of when he carved her fine features, his wife, or one of his angelic children, now forever enshrined in his work.

The service was quite a lengthy affair, sung Eucharist and ministry of healing, apt I suppose since many in the congregation were like myself past their threescore and ten. A sign of the times, with falling congratulations these buildings, struggle to survive. The voices of the Ravenscroft Singers soared higher and further than you could possibly imagine, and the service was heavy in symbolism and mystery but I have to admit I was more relaxed on leaving than when I entered. No matter what you find out about the abbey from books or the internet, it is only by taking part in such a service that you will find and understand the true worth of such buildings.

One other surprise was on leaving the cathedral a peel of bells rang out from an adjacent church, this has been such a part of my life when I lived in Bingley, West Yorkshire, I had been back in Scotland for so long now I had forgotten the sound of peeling bells, so synonymous with churches in England.

St. Mary’s Church Mildenhall

The rally introduction pamphlet gave places of interest that could be visited over that weekend, and one that took my interest was that of St. Mary’s church.

St. Mary’s was holding an open day on Saturday afternoon, giving a rare opportunity for people to ascend to the top of the tower. Mentioned in the Domesday survey of 1086 the original building has been extensively extended too over the years and during the restorations from1815 to 1853 many of the original features were uncovered. Even without the opportunity to climb the tower, this church is well worth a visit, for the exquisite wood and stone carvings. However, the crowning glory has to be the Angel Roof.

The roof beams are highly decorated with carved angles, wings outstretched. During puritan times such frills were looked upon as idolatresses and on close inspected in 1930, holes were found in some of the angel’s wings and though to be from musket fire, attributed to that time.

Monday came around all to soon and the rally wound to a close. I headed out at around 7 am on Tuesday morning. The A1101 would take me from Suffolk into Cambridgeshire and on into Lincolnshire where I would pick up the A17 for Sleaford then onto the A15 north. Where the A15 and the a1103 cross, Caenby corner Roundabout, around 15 miles north of Lincoln is a roadhouse, now a transport cafe. In the days when I was stationed near here with the RAF this was a thriving pub and dance hall. Day trippers returning home to the Black Country from Mablethorpe would stop for a few hours, all intent on having a good time, making the hotel a Mecca for the lads up at the camp on a Saturday night. Today the main building is a shadow of its former self but the transport cafe, a building to the rear serves up some of the best trucker food you are likely to come across. The cafe is popular not only for truckers but bikers too. I stopped off for a full six portion breakfast washed down with two large mugs of tea, “Its gid, tell yir ma”.

Although I never once felt rain, it did rain overnight, early Tuesday morning. I had been wakened by the heavy rain beating jig time on the skin of the tents, safely curled up in my sleeping bag I simply turned over and went back to sleep. The rain had passed by during the night, although the sky was still overcast and the roads wet when I set off. The wet tent was unpacked on my arrival home at around 5 pm that evening and my shower turned into an improvised drying room. A long haul on a little 150cc machine, that never missed a beat, but I was tired, it would be a day or two before I would recover from what had been a fulfilling trip.

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