Sunday, 2 September 2007

Windmill Country: A 1930's Whitsun Weekend

by Donnex Claydon

On Friday evening, Frank Bland and I set out on the tandem. With me on the front, Frank on the rear and behind him, strapped to the carrier, was a small ridge tent with sleeping bags and provisions for supper and breakfast. We also had a small Primus stove, billy can and of course our cameras. We made our way along the quiet Huntingdon Road, now the dreadful A14. After Huntingdon we joined the Old North Road and the Great North Road, now the A1 and A1(M).

Donnex Claydon was D.A. President until his death in 2006 at the age of 96. He joined the C.T.C. in 1931 and met his wife, Doris, on a clubrun.
He worked as a bricklayer for S. J. Starr & Co, eventually taking over the firm when Mr Starr retired.

During World War II Donnex served in the Royal Corps of Signals. He landed in Normandy in June 1944 with 2nd Army Head Quarters and stayed with them all the way to Berlin. He returned to his previous life (after de-mobilisation), as a bricklayer and touring cyclist.

He returned to the continent many times, touring with Doris. They were both regular riders on clubruns until Doris was incapacitated and eventually died.

Donnex continued to attend Sunday club teas until about two years before his death.

Peter Rowell, 2007. Photo of Donnex in 2006 by Mike Stapleton

It was a pleasant evening with only an occasional car to be seen. Near Norman Cross we turned into a narrow lane and set up camp in a small meadow.We would normally seek permission to do so but it was very late and there was not a house in sight. In the morning we washed in dew,scooped up by the handful from the grass. The water in our bottles was needed for making tea. We packed up and headed for the Lincolnshire Fens. Frank entertained the locals in one small village when he cleaned his teeth in their water-splash We carried on along a dead straight road, high on the bank alongside one of the fenland drains, twiddling the top gear of 104" like mad.

It was about lunch time. Frank went into the village shop in search of food and then stuck his head around the door, saying "Can you eat a haystack?".

"I feel so hungry I could eat anything" I replied. He emerged with the "Haystack" the size and shape of a large loaf. It was a local speciality, a concoction of minced meat and herbs, baked in a bread tin. Very substantial and just what we needed.

I forget exactly where we went, but I think it was near Woodhall Spa where we came across an isolated farm and obtained permission to camp there a couple of nights. On the Sunday morning we discovered that the rear brake had been rubbing on the tyre which looked as it would burst any moment, so we made our way to Louth with its famous crocketed church spire and found a cycle shop. Of course it was closed.

We were told that the owner lived a mile or so away and were given directions to his house. He was a very pleasant chap and was only too pleased to cycle with us to his shop and provide us with a new tyre.

One reason for our visit to this part of the country was to photograph windmills which abound in this area. During the weekend we photographed mills with two, four, five, six and eight sails. Many of them were working. While we were taking a photograph of one of the five sail mills, the miller came over and offered to stop the mill for us. We thanked him and told him it wasn't necessary.

Sunday lunch time. All shops were closed. Frank knocked on the back door of the village bakery and returned empty handed, saying "I knew I was unlucky when the parson opened the door". Eventually we came to a pub. And asked for shandies and packets of biscuits. (Biscuits at two pence a packet before the advent of Smiths potato crisps). The landlady must have thought we looked hungry and said

Heckington Mill (2004)

"We will be closing in a few minutes, you can join us for lunch if you wish". It was an offer we could not refuse. We sat down with the family and enjoyed a meal of roast lamb, Yorkshire pudding and an assortment of vegetables followed by a fruit pie. It cost us two shillings each.

Whit-Monday morning. It was time to pack-up and head for home. We asked the farmer how much we owed him. "Its alright, just give the boys a tanner each". There were three youngsters playing in the yard. As we handed out the pieces of silver he said "No not him, he's not mine". Needless to say they were all treated alike.

It was about 5pm when we reached Heckington and as we photographed the massive eight sailed mill, the miller approached and invited us to have a look over the mill. He spent the next hour showing us around, explaining how everything worked. (Some time after this the mill was severely damaged by lightning but was restored to its former glory). In fact I think it happened again and was restored once more. (When I saw it a few years ago it looked in perfect condition. Peter R).

By the time we reached the Six Bells at Bourne, a Club tea place, it was 7pm. We managed to have a late tea (or was it supper?). Afterwards, we wasted no time and arrived back in Cambridge at 10.30pm having covered 57 miles since tea. Donnex Claydon