We were planning on doing our next instalment a little further from home! However the lingering British winter put pay to that and we decided to show you what the Motherland has to offer.
Our route, no huge elevation but plenty of little lumps and bumps
Our route around Essex was designed to show two famed highlights of cycling in the area. The Dengie marshes and The Blue Egg. One a flat road that services many fields but provides a training ground to many and exposes you to any element you care to mention. The other a converted barn in the north of the county that serves an array of food and coffee. In Essex we don’t have big hills to aim for, we have flat roads and cake shops!
Our starting point is Sandford Mill lock in Chelmsford. It happens to be close to HQ but for our London-centric readership is easily accessible if you have taken the train out of the city and want to spend a summer’s day exploring a bit of the country that isn’t Box Hill. A simple network of cycle paths from the city centre will get you here within 15mins.
The road east is not as flat as it looks.
Leaving Chelmsford we get to east, today with a tailwind, through the cycling heartland of East Hanningfield and using Lodge Road to get out toward Burnham. During the first hour or so the view to the right over the Crouch estuary gives you an idea of how close to the coast you are already soon encountering the famous Burnham bends that, on a day like today with the wind assisting, fire you into Burnham on Crouch, the gateway to the Dengie.
The Dengie has a rich cycling history, and indeed a sportive, the tour of the Dengie, bills itself as The Hell of the East. On a windy day no truer word is spoken. There are few still days on such a flat exposed peninsula and often solo riding here can be tortuous. A tried and tested breeding ground for time trialists of the highest pedigree. Today we are blown east and have the fortune of hitching the draft of a passing tractor back to Southminster, which is welcome especially with 70 odd miles left to do. The keen ornithologists among you will do well to keep an eye out as the area attracts a great deal of bird life and today we were lucky enough to spot a pale buzzard hunting on the marshes as well as lots of little birds that proper bird watchers will appreciate.
Marsh Road. The entry point to the Hell of the East.
Our route now takes us up through Latchingdon and Purleigh bringing us north using some familiar training roads often with names that make me chuckle every time I pass them (Tom Tit Lane, Bumfords Road, Cock Green I’m looking at you!). Apologises for childish humour. Either way the road to The Egg uses some of finest passages the county has to offer through a plethora of pretty villages. A brief stop for a Coke in Felsted, a village dominated by a sprawling independent school in its heart, reinforces that we are actually in quintessential English countryside, something that maybe as regular users of this route we don’t appreciate enough. There are other routes from here to The Egg, and to be honest I had originally planned to take a more quirky way but to be honest I forgot and went on my normal route and was too far gone before I realised. You could have fiddled your way through the school and gone up via Andrewsfield Airfield for a slightly more pleasant alternative. Either way you continue to take in hamlets and villages on your way before getting to the Blue Egg just before Great Bardfield.
Crossing Hoe Mill Lock going north toward Terling.
Without cracking on about a café too much The Blue Egg has built quite a reputation in these parts... It seems to be ideally positioned about 20 miles away from a lot of places in the middle of the countryside and as such has cyclist descending on it as a meeting place, half way point whatever at virtually every time of day! On our ride today it has come around 60 miles into the day’s proceedings and as such was very welcome and a slightly larger feed was had. Essex really is a beautiful county. It’s certainly not all revved up motors and spray tan especially when you get up this way. Indeed the roads here are generally quiet and there are some really smashing lanes around if you pick them correctly, which even as a local I struggle to do consistently! What we lack in hills we make up for in other places. Nagging winds generally. So as we dropped south west the wind became an issue, which 3 hours in is never truly welcomed.
Little roads and big roads. This is a little road.
The historic village/town of Thaxted gave us a left turn to take us south down the flight path for Stansted and down through the pretty Easton’s and a jaunt on the busier road through the Roding’s (you could pick your way through High Easter at this point for an alternative). This drops you into the village of Willingale where our second major ornithological spot is indeed spotted. A red kite, still fairly rare in this part of the country, hunting around the fields. Although common now in certain parts this is a rare spot in this area and quite exciting… If you like birds, you may not so we’ll crack on.
The route back to Chelmsford is part of our regular training rides and another example of how we are spoilt here. As you pick your way to Writtle you can, if you have travelled here by train go on into town and get to the station, however for the purposes of this article we will close the circle skirting the Chignals and straddling Broomfield and dissecting Springfield to take us back to Sandford Lock.
Sandford Mill Lock. Our start and end point.
And there it is. A loop of Essex. Others are of course available and this one is to be tinkered with accordingly. Sometimes the best things are on your doorstep. One of the best things about cycling is having the ability to explore your surrounding area. Without our bikes some of these places would remain undiscovered. You may not want to come to Essex and do this route in particular for whatever reason. But if you have taken the time to bear with the last thousand words take an opportunity to explore your locality it’s certainly never a day wasted.
You can again access the route here: https://www.strava.com/routes/4811710