Summer holidays… wide-open beaches… beating sun… ice cream… factor 50. I didn’t get any of this, but that’s what you get for bike touring in September. Over the last few years I’ve been on some sort of cycling holiday with my dad, it’s become something of a Dibble tradition. After the lock-down and the closing of any travel corridors, we were left with no option but to ride in the UK. The location had to be flat and easy going with plenty of pit stops (a small Holland if you like).
We landed in Norfolk: somewhere I knew very little about but, with the prospect of a week out on the bike, I didn’t care where we went. We planned the trip for around 5 fairly easy days, with manageable mileage.
Before we get into the day-to-day, let’s talk bikes. I’ve finally committed to my Bristol Bicycle, and I love it. It’s not stock, but mechanically it’s not far off. Built up as a party pace touring bike with fat tyre capabilities, it became my go-to bike for relaxed rides, errands and shopping. My dad was on his trusty Temple Cycles adventure disc, with some big changes. Out with the classic drop bars with bar-end shifters and cable discs; in with the flat bars and hydraulics. In the week leading up to the ride I switched the old set up with some shiny new Velo Orange Crazy bars, a modern take on butterfly touring bars. He managed the trip with minimal back pain or hand issues, something which were a common occurrence with the drops. Dad had the standard full Ortlieb touring rig: rear double panniers, and a handlebar bag. I went for a lighter classic setup: Carradice super C saddlebag and front basket with Carradice bag sitting inside with bits and bobs fixed to the basket. Also, a little Restrap stem bag attached to the rear of the basket for those mid ride snacks.
We left the warmth of home on Thursday night to stay in a friend’s very nice air BnB just outside Ely. On Friday morning the ride started in much the same vein as the rest of the trip: we left the cosy accommodation, rode one mile up the road, and tucked into a full (veggie) English breakfast. This was not a trip from which we would come back two stone lighter and match fit; it’s a holiday after all, and coffee stops and guilt-free eating are what cycle touring is all about. The first section of the day took us through flat back roads which slowly meandered their way through Thetford and into Thetford Forest. Once at the forest we had to turn on the charm to secure two coffees and cheesy chips thirteen minutes before the cafe was officially open. After chomping through the chips we were ready to get ‘Rad’ in the woods. We had made good time and were probably now halfway through the day’s ride. The next section of the route took us on forest tracks and bridleways, a fun excursion from the long sections of road. With my 42mm supple tyres I floated over the bumps and sand that covered the forest. A mix of upright riding position and off-road riding never fails to bring a smile to my face. We then rejoined the road and slowly ambled our way to Norwich.
By the time we were heading to the hotel it was dark and wet, so that warm, welcoming bed couldn’t come quickly enough. We stuffed our faces with Indian food, had multiple warm showers and, after a night’s sleep, we were ready to hit the road again. This time our planned route would take us to the coast, first to Cromer and then along the seafront towards Sheringham. Day two was wet from the word go, and about 10 miles in we were already sitting under cover drinking tea and escaping the rain. We decided to take an ever-so-slightly shorter route along the start of the Marriott’s Way. The begining of the route consisted of a long section of single track alongside a miniature steam train line. This might have been the best part of the trip: muddy tracks, loose autumnal leaves, and laden-down touring bikes are a recipe for fun. I love how my bike floated across the uneven ground with its upright position keeping me planted throughout.
Once off this track and over a few more lumps and bumps, we cruised down into Cromer. Cromer can probably be best described as fine, not terrible, but also not top of my list. Think Weston-super-Mare with less mud. After a short tea break it was back onto the bikes and a quick nip down the coast to our hostel.
Hostel living… can’t say I don’t live a life of luxury! The bed was a bed and the shower was warm, that’s about all we needed after a wet day on the bikes. After forgetting to bring shower gel we were forced to use the tools we had and take apart the soap dispenser. “We found it like that,” was what we told the receptionist, while I slowly hid the multi tool.
The previous day’s off-road jaunt gave us our first mechanical. After a full brake clean and reset we realised that the pad had somehow completely worn away on my dad’s brand new disc brakes, impressive work for flat Norfolk! We are putting it down to a small fault with the the manufacturing – no pad or residue was left, and it looked as if the whole pad had fallen away from the metal plate. Luckily a very friendly man in Wells-next-the-sea had a spare set of pads left over from that season’s hire bikes!
The ride into Wells-next-the-sea was one of my favorite sections of the route, the sweeping lanes and rollercoasteresqe hills were a nice change from pancake-flat roads. The blue sky was just poking through (the first and last we would see of it on this trip). The rest of the day was much the same as the days before: food stops, photo opportunities and slowly pottering through country lanes. We were taking a beating from the heavens as the day grew shorter, so the warm and welcoming accommodation was even sweeter. The room for the night was above a pub, and there’s nothing better than a pint and hot meal after a day of wet and windy riding. One disappointing lasagna and a catch-up on the Giro Italia later and I was sound asleep.
Day four… you guessed it, was slow. We had decided to go for a slightly longer day and get back a bit ahead of schedule. We loved the trip, but another day of being rained on and getting cold didn’t sound like much fun. We had to cover 50+ miles to get from the Norfolk coast back down to where the car was parked in a village just outside Ely. The route took us past Big Liz’s house in Sandringham, into Kings Lynn, and then to our first pit stop in Downham Market for tomato soup from a greasy spoon. Once refreshed and re-energised, we had to slog across the flat levels near Ely and back into Chippenham. About 8 miles from the finish our route took us across an old farm track and through a thick grassed bank. Although this was really fun and felt like we were channeling our inner rough stuff fellowship. being so close to the end and against nasty crosswinds felt like a slight kick in the teeth.
Four days of cycling were over; a slightly different experience compared to previous trips on the continent, but no less enjoyable. The novelty of using accommodation rather than camping was something that might stay on some (NOT ALL!!) future rides. Not having to put up tents or find places to stay in the wet is always a plus. The bike was a dream! I had one puncture, but other than that it kept me comfy and smiling all week. I can see me and my new Bristol Bicycle embarking on many trips in the future. It’s already replacing the car for small trips. Back to normal life now… Oh well! I’ll be back out on the bike in no time.
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