Tuesday, 11 April 2017

11 Apr: Senior cyclists ride around Santon Downham

John S writes: This week Adrian organised and led a Tuesday car-assisted ride starting from Santon Downham – a village between Brandon and Thetford. This used to be part of the Downham Hall Estate, but the Hall was demolished in the early 20th Century, and the village found a new life, and grew as the Forestry Commission developed a new community with housing for its employees, hidden away in the middle of Thetford Forest.

These car-assisted rides make a nice change from our regular rides, as they give a chance to explore different areas. I knew from Thursday and Sunday rides that Adrian is always keen to explore short-cut off-road sections that usually mean he re-appears ahead of the main group, but I had not yet been on one of his rides that planned go off-road for quite a distance.

Seven of us (Regular Tuesday riders Adrian, Clive, David and Vic, joined for this special ride by Steve G , Mike Bonner, plus me) met in the (free) car park in the middle of the village, and we set off north east across the railway and along a Forestry Commission road.

Clive, Vic and Steve riding along Harling Drove Road

After a short distance we turned east onto Harling Drove Road and began exploring some of the off-road trails through the forest. These were variously sandy, gravel-y or just a series of parallel ruts in grass, and presented quite a technical challenge for those of us used to riding on roads with narrow tyres.

A pause on the Forestry Commission trail (Photo: Adrian Lee)

It was quite depressing to see that these beautiful secluded trails had been used for fly-tipping, with piles of rubble, old fridges and washing machines dumped beside and across the path at several points.

On Hereward Way near East Wrentham Heath

We all made slow but steady progress, with a few gentle skids and slides along the way, and after a short spell back on tarmac, we joined the off-road Hereward Way before passing under the railway line and crossing the A11. Here we turned off the trail, and in a clearing found what looked like a shipping container that had been re-purposed as a snack bar.

The Pit Stop Snack Bar at Roudham Heath Picnic Area

I went for the misleadingly-named breakfast baguette. This turned out to be a full English breakfast – sausage, 3 rashers of bacon, 2 fried eggs and fried mushrooms – somehow shoehorned into most of a large baguette.

Others wait as John struggles with breakfast baguette (Photo: Adrian Lee)

Although very good value, this proved to be more than even I could cope with, and I am ashamed to admit that while I ate most of the contents, but found myself unable to deal with all the bread! Others had been here before, and so knew to select more moderate choices from the menu.

Five riders on the Peddars Way

At this point we had just left the Hereward Trail, and instead joined the Peddars Way and headed south for a short distance. As we crossed the next road, we found that the path was temporarily closed, and so Adrian improvised a road detour past Shadwell Park.

No pedalers' way for Clive and Vic at Peddars Way

We then joined the road through West Harling Heath. Before North Lopham, Adrian decided to turn North West towards East Harling, and on to lunch at the Angel Inn in Larling, which we have visited several times before.

After a nice lunch in this friendly pub, and stories of past CTC Cambridge off-road cycling adventures and late-night encounters with farmers, we proceeded over the bridge across the A11 from where we could just about see the motor racing circuit at Snetterton. We passed through Snetterton village and on to Shropham, were our planned route was blocked by another road closure. Adrian again improvised a detour on the fly, and we headed north to Mount Pleasant, and then zig-zagged towards Stow Bedon, where we crossed the A1075, and joined the Pingo Trail, which runs along the path of the former branch-line to Watton.

Adrian and Steve clearing the blocked Pingo Trail

Like me, you are probably wondering what on earth a Pingo is. I looked it up here: "Pingos were originally low hillocks that formed 20,000 years ago during the last ice age when water beneath the surface froze to form lenses of ice pushing soil upwards. During the summer thaw, the soil on the surface would sludge off and accumulate around the periphery of the hillocks. Shallow craters were left when the ice finally melted, causing the hillocks to collapse". The English word pingo is apparently derived from an Inuvialuit (Western Canadian Inuit) word for ice.

Even Adrian had to dismount to avoid the "sludging off" on the Pingo Trail

This stretch was probably the most entertaining part of the day, as the track had certainly been doing some recent "sludging off", and was made even more exciting as several trees had blown over across the path in the recent storms. These gave opportunities for a bit of amateur Ray Mears-style bushcraft, and much lifting of bikes. This trail was very much singletrack, with several boggy sections where we had to wheel our bikes.

We left the trail at Hockham Heath, and proceeded on-road through Stonebridge and East Wrentham to rejoin the morning’s route through Thetford Forest where we had earlier joined Hereward Way.

Mike, Clive and Vic back on-road again near East Wrentham

We finished our adventure around 6pm, having cycled about 40 miles in total, enjoying perfect weather conditions along the way.

A big thank you to Adrian for devising such a fantastic route for us, and for dealing with the various unplanned diversions. It made a nice change to avoid traffic for hours at a time, and to experience a wide range of different off-road conditions. I am now very much looking forward to Adrian’s next car-assisted ride in Derbyshire in early May (see here for details). John Seton



Download GPS track (GPX).

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