Gareth writes: I wasn't intending to do any bike riding this weekend. I was supposed to be visiting my family, and then riding the Mildenhall 200 on August 29th. But my sister had been staying with me and had been ill, so I was in quarantine! I needed a ride quickly, and Daniel came up trumps with a plan to ride the Cambridge Market 200. This is another of Nick Wilkinson’s permanent audaxes (the third one I’ve ridden, after the Pork Pie 200 and the Civil War 200.) It’s an out-and-back ride that goes from Girton to Framlingham in Suffolk and back again, with controls at Bury St Edmunds, Needham Market, Framlingham, and Bury St Edmunds.
We met at the Co-op in Girton at 07:30 and set off towards Newmarket on the A1303. Despite living and cycling in Cambridge for more than 20 years, I’ve never ridden this road. It’s not all that busy (at least not at 08:00 on a Saturday) and it makes short work of getting to Newmarket, with a couple of steady climbs, one up to the bridge over the A14, and one up the ridge overlooking the race course.
Coming out of Newmarket, we took Moulton Road which climbs Warren Hill past the ‘gallops’. These are extensive areas of grass that are used by jockeys and trainers to exercise racehorses. This training takes place on weekdays and Saturdays from 06:00 to 11:00, so this was the first time I’ve seen the professionals at work.
The route takes pleasant country lanes through Moulton, Gazeley, Barrow and the Saxhams before descending into Bury St Edmunds for the first control. It was 10:15 on a Saturday morning and the market was bustling. We bought crêpes and carried them down to the Abbey gardens for a quiet breakfast. The Suffolk Registration Service holds weddings at the Athenaeum opposite the Abbey gardens, and we watched the guests assembling. With the sun blazing down and the temperature already well into the 20s, it was a day when I was glad to be wearing cycling shorts and not a three-piece suit!
From Bury St Edmunds there is a fine cycle path as far as Thurston, and then the route turns southeast through Beyton, Drinkstone, Woolpit Green, before crossing the Rattlesden River at Onehouse and skirting the southern edge of Stowmarket. From Combs Ford, there’s a cycle path beside the B1113—described as ‘passable’ on the route sheet, it’s narrow and bumpy but does the job as far as Needham Market. In this section the south-easterly wind, blowing hot and dry in our faces like a hairdryer, made it pretty tough going, and we were glad to stop to control at Elton House News in Needham Market. Here they seem to be used to passing cyclists: the assistant, noticed me somewhat dazedly wandering through the store and directed me to the flapjacks.
From Needham Market the route makes use of the A1120 through Earl Stonham, Stonham Aspal, Pettaugh and Earl Soham before cutting across country to Framlingham. Nick says in the ride description that here in east Suffolk, “even the A roads are more like B roads and the traffic levels are low” which we found to be true, and we made good progress, reaching Framlingham about 13:00. This is a pretty little market town, very popular with cyclists. Sitting under an umbrella in the café courtyard, we watched dozens of cyclists pass up the road to Dennington, or turn towards the castle.
With the audax time limit weighing on us, we didn’t pay the £7.20 to go into the castle, but contented ourselves with a brief look at the walls and the moat. We chatted with another cyclist, who was on holiday from Cornwall and said that he found the cycling much easier in Suffolk!
The route back from Framlingham is similar to the way out, but it omits the diversion to Needham Market, instead heading due west through Debenham, Mickfield, Old Newton, Haughley, Wetherden and Tostock, to rejoin the outbound route at Thurston. Haughley also has a castle, or at least a moat and the ruins of the motte and bailey. In the good weather, the farmers were hard at the harvest, with combine harvesters at work in the fields, and convoys of farm machinery travelling the lanes. There were piles of corn on the roads in places: a one-a-year bonanza for the pigeons.
We were wilting a bit in the relentless 30-degree heat, and at Bury we didn’t feel like eating much: all we could face was ice cream. But I knew that with 50 km still to go, we’d need something more at some point, so I popped into Greggs and stocked up on buns. We retraced the outbound route through the Saxhams to Barrow, and then instead of going back through Gazeley and Moulton, we took a more southerly route through Denham, Dunstall Green, Dalham and Ashley. Sure enough, the climb out of Dalham was one too many for Daniel, and we stopped on the green at about 17:45 to eat our buns. This gave us just enough calories for the last 34 km back to Girton, which we reached at about 19:23, just under 12 hours after setting off. I had drunk six water bottles dry!
What can I say about this ride? It gets the job done: it’s an efficient way to cover 204 km. There are some dull sections on main roads, but there are also lots of nice Suffolk views, Saxon churches, and castles. It was very satisfying to get so deep into Suffolk, and to ride many new roads. The thing that was most annoying was the sun: since the route heads east in the morning and west in the afternoon, we had it in our eyes all day, and even with sunglasses this got a bit trying. My advice is to ride it on an overcast day!