#5000colo Day 177: Renaissance

Distance travelled: 25.96 miles
Cumulative distance: 1552.84 miles
Distance remaining: 3447.16 miles
Percentage complete: 31.06
Villages visited: Spixworth, Horsham St Faith, Horsford, Felthorpe, Upgate, Swannington, Brandiston, Buxton, Frettenham.

It was good to be back on the bike! Since I last posted, I’ve got a new full-time job, which means I’m going to have less time for cycling and less time for blogging. As such, I’m going to keep this running just as a perfunctory ‘photo diary’, and do the bulk of my blogging and communications through social media.

#5000colo Day 110: Feeling Flat

Distance travelled: 18.62 miles
Cumulative distance: 1526.88 miles
Distance remaining: 3473.12 miles
Percentage complete: 30.54
Villages visited: Thornage, Letheringsett, Glandford, Saxlingham, Field Dalling, Langham, Cockthorpe, Binham, Bale, Sharrington.

After nearly two weeks off the bike, I decided to give myself a gentle reintroduction today. There were a few villages just west of Holt that I needed to visit, so I headed for Thornage to complete a gentle circuit of just under 20 miles.

There was nothing challenging about the route on paper; some gentle undulations and a couple of moderate climbs, with light winds and no rain apart from a few spots of drizzle at one point. There was surprisingly little standing water considering the amount of rain we’ve had in the past couple of days, and aside from a few muddy stretches the roads were generally in good nick.

As I was getting towards the end of the ride, it felt about right; I was a bit tired considering how long I’d been off the bike for, so I was glad that I kept it a bit shorter. However, a mile from the end I felt the all-too-familiar ‘thud thud thud’ of a rear puncture, which meant a 20-minute walk back to the car while pushing the bike.

The weather was benign so it wasn’t too bad, and at least the puncture didn’t occur a mile from the start or, even worse, halfway round and miles from the car! I’m going to get the puncture fixed on Thursday, so I might venture out on Thursday afternoon, otherwise I’ll see you again in 2021 for the remaining 3,473 miles…

#5000colo Day 98: Soft Centre

Distance travelled: 32.19 miles
Cumulative distance: 1508.26 miles
Distance remaining: 3491.74 miles
Percentage complete: 30.17
Villages visited: Beeston, Great Dunham, Castle Acre, South Acre, West Acre, Swaffham, Sporle, Little Dunham, Great Fransham, Little Fransham, Wendling, Scarning, Daffy Green, Thorpe Row.

Another milestone today! I passed 1,500 miles, which is 30% of my total distance. Katie dropped me off in the wilds of mid-Norfolk and went for a walk with my in-laws, while I chopped off another chunk of my remaining villages.

I’m going to do another count-up soon, but I reckon I’m close to having visited two-thirds of Norfolk’s villages now. Very little remains to the east; draw a line between Wells-next-the-Sea and Thetford, and I’ve pretty much been everywhere east of it (bar a couple of odd villages I’ve missed, such as Hethel and Thurning, and a little patch immediately west of Holt).

Today was another ride through places with childhood memories attached; I started in Beeston, then went through Great Dunham, where I played my first-ever football match (we won 11-0). Then it was on through the beautiful village of Castle Acre, with its ancient castle and priory; I’ve not visited those since I was at school, but will try to get back at some point soon when I’m not cycling.

Next was South Acre and then West Acre, where the road decided it didn’t want to be a road any more and would rather identify as a lake for a bit.

I managed to plot a tentative and circuitous route around the edge of it without putting my waterproof socks under too much duress; it was sorely tempting just to build up some speed and see how far I could plough through it before the weight of water halted my momentum, but it was pretty cold and I still had 20 miles to go, so I thought better of it.

I then rode back to the market town of Swaffham, where I managed just over a year at high school before high school decided I wasn’t quite what it was after and kicked me out. This was a particularly challenging time in my life, after which I was given an SEN statement and sent away to boarding school in south Norfolk to try and teach me some discipline (I’m going to try to visit there too at some point soon).

I was tempted to make a diversion and see if the Pedlars Hall Cafe was open, as I have very fond memories of hanging out in the back room playing on all the arcade machines, inhaling the second-hand cigarette smoke from the older boys. Seems like an eternity ago.

From Swaffham it was on to Sporle, and directly underneath the giant wind turbine, which was an imposing sight from close up; I resisted the temptation to stop for a photo, though, and pressed on to Little Dunham, and then on to the Franshams (Little and Great). Just outside Great Fransham I saw another huge bird of prey, which I’m pretty sure must have been a buzzard (it was bloody MASSIVE, and mottled brown in colour).

At Little Fransham I hit the A47 opposite the Canary & Linnet pub, so I stopped for a photo opportunity. Being half way between Norwich (The Canaries) and King’s Lynn (The Linnets), this pub has an almost folkloric quality among my friendship group due to it being constantly mooted as a possible pre-Norwich-match drinking location. We’ve never been, although if the owners are reading this and would like to host us then let me know and we’ll pop in once we’re allowed to go to the footy en masse again.

Then I faced a mile along the A47, which I decided to brave rather than make a three-mile detour. Thankfully the traffic was pretty light and there were no mishaps or angry drivers to contend with.

From there it was into Wendling and on to Scarning, a road I’ve travelled hundreds of times in the back of my parents’ car due to it being en route to Dereham and Norwich from my childhood home in Bradenham.

I then cut across towards Shipdham through the delightfully named Daffy Green and the tiny hamlet of Thorpe Row, before pitching up at my parents’ house for a quick socially distanced meet-and-greet before driving back to Norwich. Toying with the idea of cycling again tomorrow, but will see how my bum feels in the morning. It was a relatively easy ride on my legs and lungs, but I just can’t seem to find a saddle configuration that protects me from saddle sores. Answers on a postcard…

#5000colo Day 94: The Hardest Yards

Distance travelled: 50.34 miles
Cumulative distance: 1476.07 miles
Distance remaining: 3523.93 miles
Percentage complete: 29.52
Villages visited: Gillingham, Geldeston, Kirby Cane, Ellingham, Broome, Ditchingham, Earsham, Denton, Alburgh, Wortwell, Topcroft, Woodton, Thwaite St Mary, Mundham, Seething, Brooke, Poringland, Upper Stoke, Stoke Holy Cross, Caistor St Edmund.

I decided that it was time to get another 50 under my belt; the miles aren’t going to ride themselves, and I fancied a challenge. The weather looked relatively benign before lunch, so Katie kindly agreed to drive me down to Gillingham (the one next to Beccles, not the one in Kent) so I could take a big step towards ‘completing’ the eastern half of the county.

I started the day in very positive mood, and decided to attach my furry antlers to my cycling helmet to try to spread a bit of Christmas cheer around the back lanes of South Norfolk.

The bike felt great after its recent service, and the first ten miles or so just breezed past. I then had to take a big loop around Bungay to avoid going out of Norfolk; there’s no reason why I shouldn’t leave the county, I guess, but the Norwich fan in me doesn’t like venturing south of the border and it adds another layer of intrigue to route planning!

I was planning to stop at around halfway for a little break, but couldn’t seem to find the right place. There was a bit of drizzle in places, but I still felt pretty sprightly so I decided to press on. Before I knew it I was over 35 miles and not far from Poringland; I toyed with the idea of stopping there but decided to keep going.

Then there was the unbridled joy of the big downhill run into Stoke Holy Cross; I’d ridden up that hill back in the summer without realising quite how much of a killer it was. It only seemed fair to allow myself the chance to cruise down it!

My final chance to stop was in Caistor St Edmund; I was planning to stop and have a look around the old Roman site of Venta Icenorum, which I’ve learnt a lot about recently as I’m reading a history of Norfolk. However, there were loads of cars there and the site was much bigger than I’d realised, so I thought I might as well press on and see if I could do a ‘non-stop 50’.

Although I had to stop briefly at junctions and traffic lights going back through Norwich, I made it back home about ten minutes after the rain started, utterly exhausted and in no small amount of pain, especially in my hamstrings and upper back. I won’t be trying that again in a hurry; 50-milers are definitely manageable, but I need to make sure I stop for at least one rest!

The rest of the day was spent doing very little other than watching sport on the sofa in my penguin lounge gear…

#5000colo Day 90: Captain Fawcett

Distance travelled: 27.56 miles
Cumulative distance: 1425.73 miles
Distance remaining: 3574.27 miles
Percentage complete: 28.51
Villages visited: West Winch, Setchey, Wiggenhall St Germans, Wiggenhall St Mary Magdalen, Watlington, Runcton Holme, Stowbridge, Wimbotsham, South Runcton, Tottenhill, Wormegay, Blackborough End, Middleton, North Runcton.

Dear Diary…

Yep, I know it’s been a long old time since I last updated this blog. I took a week off from everything to do with 5000colo, as my body and brain were clearly struggling to cope. Looking back on my last entry, I think I did the right thing in taking a step back.

I’ve been busy, though; I’ve actually had a decent amount of paid work to do, as well as powering through my Mental Health Awareness qualification.

For my first ride in over a week, I started my journey through the wild west of the county.

I started and finished at Captain Fawcett’s Emporium, where the boss was kind enough to give me a guided tour of his incredible barbershop and men’s grooming museum on the outskirts of King’s Lynn. The place is absolutely teeming with fascinating artefacts and trinkets, plus this awesome modified Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200.

It was pretty chilly; certainly my coldest ride yet. Thankfully it stayed dry, and I got my layering just right so I was never too cold. The first few miles were on a cycle path running alongside the A10; it’s a very busy and narrow road on this stretch, and I wouldn’t have relished being on the carriageway with the HGVs. It was quite good fun riding up and down all the little dips in the pavement, and the surface was generally pretty good. From there it was a lovely meander through a couple of the many Wiggenhalls (St Germans and St Mary Magdalen). When you’re on the bike, you notice things more acutely; things home in on you. I was struck by the curious road layouts; although there are vast expanses of flat nothingness, the roads still take a leisurely meander with the occasional double 90-degree turn for no particular reason. I mean, there may be a reason, but I couldn’t work it out. One would have thought that Roman influence in the area would have meant the roads would be arrow-straight!

Another thing I noticed was that a lot of the houses were built from this beautiful rust-coloured stone that I haven’t noticed anywhere else in the county. Despite the lack of undulations, at points it felt like I was in Derbyshire or Yorkshire with all the pretty little cottages. Watlington, Runcton Holme, Stowbridge and Wimbotsham all flew past as I got back into my rhythm.

From there it was back up the A10 for a few miles, although it’s slightly wider at this point and there’s a little hard shoulder to dip into when there’s oncoming traffic to allow vehicles to pass safely. I know that technically I should stand my ground and stay two or three feet out into my lane, but with the speed of the vehicles it felt safer to give them the opportunity to pass safely.

I went back to the back roads at Tottenhill, then through the curiously named Wormegay (etymology and pronunciation, anyone?), then Blackborough End, Middleton and North Runcton, before zipping back up the cycle path and back to base. A nice steady 27 miles, and despite a bit of ache on my hamstrings and glutes I feel pretty good.

I must say a few ‘thank yous’ at this point: firstly to Fat Lad At The Back for donating me this brilliant jersey, then to Rehook for sending me one of their handy multitools and a drinks bottle, and to Sealskinz for the warmest socks in the world, which just keep on giving. Then Windwave sent me two pairs of BBB Cycling overshoes after my previous pair wore out. Oh, and I have some new 2021 desk calendars from the lovely folks at Wensum Print – if you’d like one, make sure you follow my Instagram account (click the link).

Finally, a massive thank you to Tim from Bicycle Links for his ceaseless support – my bike has a new chain and cassette and is running like a dream. Tim also donated me some thermal bib tights and a fleece gilet, which enabled me to brave the cold without even wearing a jacket today!

#5000colo Day 81: Penguins v. Anxiety

Distance travelled: 23.45 miles
Cumulative distance: 1398.17 miles
Distance remaining: 3601.83 miles
Percentage complete: 27.96
Villages visited: Bradenham, Necton, Holme Hale, Ashill, Saham Toney, Great Cressingham, South Pickenham, North Pickenham.

It’s been a rough old day today; anxiety levels through the roof, black dog hanging on with grim determination.

I managed to get out and ride, though; I rode around the villages in which I grew up (Necton and Bradenham) and that dredged up a load of old memories and emotions. Some good, some not so good, but as ever it was a positive step to get out the house.

I also saw a buzzard today! Not quite as exciting as last week’s red kite, but watching birds of prey on the wing is a massive bonus on any ride.

By the time I got home I was emotionally and physically drained, and close to tears. Katie made me put on *all* my penguin Christmas garments (I’m even wearing penguin Christmas boxers under the lounge pants), and this cheered me up no end.

Let’s all embrace the festive season and try extra hard to be excellent to each other, yeah? It’s been a crazy old year, and we could all use the positivity. Be good, Norfolk, and I’ll see you in December…

#5000colo Day 79: Beer & Burger

Distance travelled: 27.26 miles
Cumulative distance: 1374.72 miles
Distance remaining: 3625.28 miles
Percentage complete: 27.49
Villages visited: Tibenham, Tivetshall St Margaret, Tivetshall St Mary, Gissing, Burston, Shimpling, Dickleburgh, Rushall, Pulham Market, Pulham St Mary, Shelton, Hardwick, Starston, Harleston.

Decided to ride in south Norfolk today, as I wanted to treat myself to a Fupburger at The Cap in Harleston (and get some tasty Ampersand beer takeout!).

It was a really, really tough ride today; on paper it looked easy enough, but a combination of saddle sore, sore neck and mindset made it really challenging. I didn’t really enjoy it very much, the saddle sores were still problematic (although not as bad as they have been), my neck was sore pretty much from mile one, and it was pretty flat, grey and uninspiring (with my apologies to the residents of the villages I passed through).

Still, Katie had a Fupburger waiting for me at the end, which made everything worthwhile! Now I’m back in the warm, waiting for the Norwich match to kick off. Come on you yellows!

#5000colo Day 78: Guess Who’s Back?

Distance travelled: 27.15 miles
Cumulative distance: 1347.46 miles
Distance remaining: 3652.54 miles
Percentage complete: 26.95
Villages visited: Woodbastwick, Panxworth, South Walsham, Fishley, Acle, Damgate, Moulton St Mary, Halvergate, Tunstall, South Burlingham, North Burlingham, Burlingham Green, Hemblington, Blofield Heath.

It feels so good to be back on the bike! I’ve had five consecutive blank days waiting for my saddle sores to recover, but today was just ace.

For starters, I popped in to see the lovely folks at @woodfordestap in Woodbastwick, and they gifted me this awesome Volt IPA cycling jersey, as well as a case of delicious Nog to enjoy.

They also shot a short video with me to go on the Woodforde’s social media accounts, so keep your eyes open for that!

Meanwhile, out on the road, it was pretty hard going, but that’s to be expected after five days off. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and got to see a couple more of those tiny ‘one road in, one road out’ villages in Fishley and Tunstall.

I love this county so much, and I can’t wait to get back out there and explore the rest of it. Might be making my first trip to King’s Lynn next week!

#5000colo Day 72: Pioneering Pilgrimage

Distance travelled: 27.39 miles
Cumulative distance: 1320.31 miles
Distance remaining: 3679.69 miles
Percentage complete: 26.41
Villages visited: Fulmodeston, Barney, Thursford, Hindringham, Great Walsingham, Little Walsingham, Houghton St Giles, North Barsham, West Barsham, East Barsham, Great Snoring, Fakenham, Hempton, Little Snoring, Kettlestone.

Firstly, I am delighted to say I am now a ‘Pioneer’ for cycling in North Norfolk on Komoot! If you haven’t used Komoot before, I wholeheartedly recommend it; it’s somewhere between Strava and social media, but with much better navigation and mapping than Strava. You can add photos and highlights, and there’s a real sense of community about it. It’s free to sign up, and you can unlock free mapping and navigation for one ‘region’. If anyone’s interested in joining up, drop me a message and I’ll happily talk you through it.

So anyway, after yesterday afternoon’s exhilarating ride, today’s was a bit more pedestrian. The wind was an absolute pig for large portions of it, and I think I had a little bit of cumulative fatigue from yesterday. As such, I struggled to even reach 14mph today, which is very slow by my new and improved standards.

I stopped at the shrine in Walsingham; I’ve known since I was a kid that people make pilgrimages there, but not being of a religious disposition I’ve never really investigated. I’ve seen it called ‘England’s Nazareth’, and apparently a local noblewoman saw an apparition of the Virgin Mary in Walsingham in 1061, in which she was instructed to build a house replicating one in Nazareth where the holy family lived.

This shrine existed until the Reformation under Henry VIII, when it was looted and destroyed. However, it was restored in the late 19th century, and remains an important pilgrimage site in both the Catholic and Anglican religions.

Coming out of Walsingham, I was lucky enough to see a short-eared owl out on the hunt; I’m pretty sure it was a short-eared owl, as it had black patches around its eyes and looked a bit too dark and mottled to be a tawny owl.

Then, around the outskirts of Fakenham, I saw a huge bird of prey circling right above me, which was quite spectacular. Further investigations lead me to be pretty certain it was a red kite. What a treat!

Got home in time to watch Norwich and England win in the football and rugby respectively; my beloved Canaries are now top of the league! 😀

#5000colo Day 71: Chilly and Hilly

Distance travelled: 34.30 miles
Cumulative distance: 1292.92 miles
Distance remaining: 3707.08 miles
Percentage complete: 25.86
Villages visited: Hellesdon, Colney, Barford, Carleton Forehoe, Coston, Crownthorpe, Wymondham, East Carleton, Intwood, Cringleford, Eaton.

I took two days off to rest my saddle sores, and was absolutely itching to get back out on the bike today. It was also Radio 6 Music’s ‘Wear Your Band T-shirt To Work’ day, so I chose to ride in my Toots and the Maytals shirt, in honour of the legendary Frederick ‘Toots’ Hibbert, who passed away in September. I was lucky enough to see Toots perform at the UEA back in 2018, and it remains one of my fondest gigging memories.

The weather was pretty benign when I left Norwich, although noticeably chillier than it had been on any previous ride. I didn’t mind the biting cold on my face, and after a few miles after I’d warmed up, it was actually quite refreshing.

I headed out west today, to tick off a few little villages I’d missed: Carleton Forehoe, Coston, Crownthorpe and Intwood. I stopped for a few minutes at Crownthorpe, by which time the daylight had pretty much gone (the photo below makes it look a lot lighter than it actually was!) and it had started raining.

The next ten miles or so were absolutely awesome. I barely passed another vehicle until I reached Wymondham, and then the back roads between Wymondham and Norwich were absolutely deserted.

It does require a remarkable level of concentration riding in those conditions. It’s so pitch black that you can only see what your headlight allows you to see, giving the whole affair a somewhat ‘Blair Witchy’ feel to it. And when it’s cold and wet too, you are literally focusing second by second on the road ahead of you.

Look down at the sat nav for a split second to check the road ahead… look back up, let your eyes adjust to the light, keep your eyes on the road surface to check for potholes, puddles and debris… flick your eyes upwards to check for car headlamps… it’s basically those three things on repeat, every few seconds, non-stop.

It’s really exhilarating, feeling so detached from everything but your immediate vicinity. All the work issues, the mental health problems, the day-to-day worries and concerns, just dissipate into nothingness as you zone in on the immediacy of potential danger. The senses are heightened: the feel of the rain pin-pricking your face. The sound of distant vehicles, magnified to appear closer than they are. The sight of dancing patterns from illuminated branches in your peripheral vision.

And then, when you finally get back into civilisation, the tantalising smell of everyone’s dinner as you ride through the suburbs. Burnt toast, something very garlicky… was that bacon I got a whiff of? And riding past a fish-and-chip shop is exquisite agony.

Today was quite a hilly ride, by all accounts; almost 1,500ft of elevation, which is quite a lot for Norfolk. I think I might try and find some more challenging hilly routes now my fitness seems to be improving a bit!

It felt so good to be back on my bicycle today, it really did. Definitely going again tomorrow.