Most crazy projects are the result of too much alcohol, but as I don’t drink, I can’t blame that.
This one came about during a reunion meeting with the group who were on the Alps trip back in 2018. We normally meet up for a coffee ride and throw some ideas about, which is when a round trip to Hunstanton, 160km away, in a day, raised its head.
For years now I have wanted to do a ride close to the summer solstice, which would go through the night and finish at the coast. OK, so you can see where this is going, I threw in the idea of setting off in the evening, ride through the night, hit the coast at dawn, then ride home.
Both Rob and Michiel jumped onboard, and the event was on, dates followed shortly after, making sure it fit with family obligations. We settled on the 17th/18th June, a few days before the solstice, but close enough to get the most of the short night.
I put a route together with the help of Komoot and shared it with the group. This was refined over the following weeks and tips taken from other people we know that had done similar journeys.
In the weeks leading up to the ride I had put several 100km rides in but 320km was going to be a whole new deal. My longest route to date was only 217km, so time in the saddle was key.
It’s not like I’m a cycling virgin, I had done 5,300km up to June of this year, its just a ride like this need careful pacing and fuelling, two of my weaknesses.
I suggested to Michiel that we should do a long ride the week leading up to the trip as a test for some of the route and to put some hours in the saddle.
Testing the legs (and the bum)
On the Tuesday 14th of June, I met Michiel in a village close to home called Medbourne, and we set off east down our planned route via Stamford terminating at Crowland.
In town we found a cracking cafe, The Copper Kettle where we had lunch and regretted the fact that it would not be open when we do the trip on Friday.
Leaving Crowland, we dropped south to pick up the return route which would take us via Peterborough, through its amazing cycle network and spitting us out to the west of the city, only a couple hours from home.
A final drink-stop at The Falcon in Fotheringhay before we made a sprint for home. We did the round trip averaging 24.2km/h, which Michiel thought was a bit high for the full route, so we would need to keep our eye on that. With Michiel’s TT history, pacing is his speciality.
Total 166Km and 915m of climbing
I decided to rest Wednesday and do one-hour low aerobic turbo session on Thursday, just to keep the legs turning ready for Friday. Friday was a lazy day, doing as little as I could because I knew sleep was a long way off.
The Big Day……..Night….Night and Day
I heard a knock on the door at 19:05, and there was Rob, grinning from ear to ear, and ready to go. This was followed a few minutes later by Michiel, equally excited and eager to get going.
Sure enough, by 19:20 the three of us were Leaving my house close to the River Welland, crossing town and drifting out down the Welland Valley, getting into our stride. The day had hit 30oC, and even when we left it was still 28oC, and just a beautiful way to start.
As we climbed out of the Welland Valley, we stopped and looked back at the Harringworth viaduct, then dropped over towards Stamford. By this time, we had ticked off four counties, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Rutland and now Lincolnshire, where we would stay for a while. It seemed strange to be passing busy pubs, with people sat outside, knowing we were just starting our journey.
From Stamford we followed Tuesday’s route out into the flat lands of east Lincolnshire. It took a while to get into a steady rhythm, but the slight tail breeze and quiet, flat roads were hypnotic.
Shortly after Bainton we swing left up a one-way road, which has an exception for cyclist, always a pleasure, and start to drift north for a couple of km. Then we spot some flashing red lights in the distance, a level crossing closed on the LNER London route.
A short delay and then it’s on to Maxey, and around Deeping Gate, riding along the edge of Deeping High Bank overlooking the River Welland. We travel another 5km and turn in to Crowland, crossing the River Welland for the last time, as it heads NE to Spalding and we continue east.
By 22:30 we arrived in Crowland, and we are one 600ml bottle into the ride, requiring a top-up, so we head to look at the old Abbey in Crowland and to see if there is a pub open. Opposite the Abbey is a chap who is stargazing outside his house, waiting to get his telescope out. We get chatting and he offers to refill our bottles. A real gent.
Topped-up, it’s time to get a few more km under the belt.
Now, when I plotted this route, I chose to stick to surfaced roads throughout. However, what I didn’t take into account is the state of some of the roads in this area. The area is riddled with waterways, but I just wonder if the recent dry spells have reduced the water table, as the smaller roads have started to crack, drop away and are generally falling apart.
We first notice this on Whale Drove, where we have to concentrate as it is easy for a wheel to either drop into a crack or run along the edge of a ridge while you are leaning the other way. Both end in tears.
Then we do a left, right turn onto Old South Eau Bank and are greeted by a sign “Unsuitable for Motor Vehicles”. We should be ok, right? Well, it starts like a ruffled carpet, constantly pitching you up and down, then these cracks open and it gets more like an old school bridleway, overgrown by trees. It is great fun, although tricky in the dark. As we shout warnings to each other, all we can hear are the poor, disturbed bird clattering about, flapping their wings in the trees, some flying out into the fields. They had no idea what the noise was, but some were not staying around to find out. To them, we say sorry for the bad night’s sleep. A few km later we popped out, back on rideable roads, grinning like mad men.
We now start to either ride besides, or cross some of the main drains, a familiar sight in this area. They are wide waterways, controlled by large sluice gates and look very impressive in the dark as they are very still, like large mirrors reflecting the night sky.
It’s getting close to midnight now and we pass into Cambridgeshire, our fifth county, arriving in Wisbech, 100km into the ride and ready for some real food. We know there is a fuel station here, which is now on window-service only, so we dive in, and the super helpful assistant brings us examples of all the sandwiches to choose from. We sit for a while on the forecourt eating and drinking, but also watching the string of drunk, grumpy, and bewildering, array of people that bother this poor chap, until we feel it is time to leave “civilisation” behind again and cover some more ground. Once out of Wisbech, we entered our sixth county, Norfolk.
Leg two of the ride sees us head through the quite streets out towards Kings Lynn, then right crossing the Middle Level Main Drain, then the Great Ouse River and Ouse Relief Channel.
Just after Middleton, I take a left turn, but don’t see the gravel on the inside of the corner, at which point the front wheel drifts, I correct it, the rear wheel comes round, I correct it, and I keep upright, taking the guys by surprise. Once round the corner, I stop as I realise, we have taken a wrong turn. Nobody was more surprised than me that I was still upright, have unconsciously done the right thing to save myself. I know it was unconscious, as I was now starting to feel too tired to have done it consciously. It was a reminder that we needed to stay alert.
By about 02:30 we were riding through the Queen’s Sandringham Estate, a stunningly beautiful area. All the estate property looking immaculate, and timeless. With no traffic around, this could have been 2022, or 1922, I bet little has changed.
There is light starting to seep into the sky now and it clear to see the clouds are rolling in, as forecast. We also spot our first sign for Hunstanton.
As we come out of Sandringham, we have a navigation error. The first one takes us down a trail which should have linked to a short bridleway, but that bridle way was blocked off by fencing and overgrown. Coming out of this and trying to loop round, we take a right instead of a left and head east for about 500m. We soon spot our mistake and get back on track.
By 03:20 we are at the lighthouse on the front at Hunstanton. Time to put on leg warmers, top-up with food and take the obligatory “we were here” photographs.
Point to note, the Tesco fuel station at Hunstanton, which is said to be open 24 hours (on Google), is 06:00 to midnight.
Our return journey rolls south in the direction of Kings Lynn, entering the Sandringham Estate from a different direction, this time along a stunning tree lined boulevard, which, as dawn is breaking, is quite special.
We soon pick up a cycle path, the NCN 1, which rolls you through some amazing quiet roads through Ling Common and into the outskirts of Kings Lynn. At 05:00, we spot a Jet service station, which is open, and very welcoming. A drink, another sandwich, and a giggle, sat on the forecourt helps us rest up and get ready for the next 140km.
The aim now is to reach Whittlesey, 50km down the road in time for breakfast. We reckon three hours will cover it, by which time the Whetherspoons should be open.
The route out of Kings Lynn is back on the NCN 1, down the side of the Great Ouse River, crossing the Magdalen Road on which we used last night. Our return journey is further south and takes us across the Fens, thankfully there is little wind, but it is now getting overcast and colder.
The terrain is flat and, to be honest, pretty featureless, but I concentrate on the distance, as when we reach Elm, I will have done my longest single day on a bike, 217km. After that comes Michiel’s target of 244km, and this inspires him to get on the front and set a nice tempo of 26 to 28km/h and he hits his target just before Whittlesey. We then roll off, swing into town at 08:01, just after Whetherspoons opens. Timed to perfection. I say that because as we order our breakfast the heavens open, and the streets are awash with rain.
Only 67km to go now, and the rain has stopped by the time we leave. From here we pick up the NCN 63 cycle path, which is a lovely route along the edge of the River Nene all the way in, and through Peterborough. It takes you along the Rowing and Sailing facility then out into the commercial area, then out past the East of England Showground.
It’s the home stretch now, all going well until we turn off at Elton and head for Fotheringhay, when I hear a shout from Rob, he can’t change gear.
It looks like his rear mech cable has frayed inside the housing, and it’s dropped into the smallest cog and won’t shift at all. He is now reduced to two gears, 50 x 13, and 34 x 13, as we head off again with the end in sight.
By 13:00 we roll into the park near my house, lay the bikes against the cafe wall and consider the job done. Food and drink ordered we can do nothing but smile. All three of us established a new longest ride, we did over 300km, we rode through the night and had an amazing experience.
Total 324Km and 1345m of climbing
Lessons for next time:
- Take some proper food (sandwich, banana, etc.)
- Take a small bottle of fruit squash to add to a bottle. Hydration tablets are OK for so long, but lack the flavour
* Thanks to Michiel for the photo at the railway crossing and the road sign.