Saturday, 11 July 2009

Lincolnshire: cycling for softies

Lincolnshire road. Photo copyright Margaret Sharrow 2009

Sometimes you just need a change of scene. I live among the constantly altering hills and mountains of Wales, where every road bends and every turn reveals a new pattern of green hills, hedgerows, sea and sky, houses and farms in pale pastels and sombre stone. I grew up in a place that was relentlessly flat, endless suburban strip malls and tarmac, eight lanes of traffic slowed to a crawl by traffic lights on a four-minute cycle. So I treasure my mountains. But just sometimes, I need a change.

So that was why I decided to take my post-Easter break in Lincolnshire. I craved big sky country. Not the big sky country of Montana, where a hundred miles or more takes you to the next sleepy town, but a British version. The closest thing Wales has to big sky country is Pembrokeshire, but even here the terrain is challenging for a long-dormant and easily exhausted former cyclist whose bike rusted beyond repair and was then stolen. So I chose Lincolnshire deliberately, because it is flat, and I haven't been there, and I wanted to start cycling again. Also, I had previously enjoyed Norfolk, but Lincolnshire was that little bit closer...

As usual I was looking for the cheapest, most out of the way hostel, and I found it. YHA Thurlby is tucked away in a part of Lincolnshire so little visited that they haven't cottoned on to the idea of bicycle rental as a tourist service. Very pleasant back garden, immaculate kitchen, friendly and helpful wardens, and I met some great people there. Oh, and because it was after the Easter holiday rush, I had a room to myself.

The main purpose of my trip was to get a folding bicycle, and use it to cycle to nowhere in particular, preferably across the fens. Now I used to have an amazing folding mountain bicycle, a Dahon, but as my car is quite small it was a bit of a squeeze to get it into the boot (hatchback). I settled on the cheapest folding townie bike, unfortunately steel not aluminium frame so kind of heavy, but very well made, folds like a dream and fits easily in the car. (Yes, I will check the make and post it here!) Also the cycle shop tuned it up for me, while I waited amongst the titanium greyhounds that I could lift with one finger and cost more than three times the price of my car. They were ever so nice and it is really worth going to talk to professionals about what you want. For the handlebar bag I copped out and went to the cheap chain shop where they knew very little about bicycles but were willing to sell me a child's rucksack that fit perfectly over the handlebars, for only £8.50.

So I was off! Too cheap to buy the local Ordnance Survey map (well, I did try but the local shop in Thurlby didn't stock them, again highlighting its non-touristy credentials) I just followed my nose, down farm lanes, discovering woodland/wetland walks, passing canals and distant wind farms, and a surprising number of recycling plants. Eventually I realised that my second unspoken goal was to visit the Wash, the huge square bite taken out of southeast England, that represents a vast inland sea between Boston and Hunstanton.

The Wash is immense. It is hard to realise just how big until you are actually there. Looking across from the downriver-from-King's Lynn corner, I thought I was seeing Norfolk in the distance. I was, but not the north coast, as I imagined - only the bit as far as Heacham, and certainly not around the corner to the north coast where I stayed a few years ago. Big sky, big wetland, and an enormous grassy dyke to push the bike along, never seeming to get any closer to the point in the distance where the sea wall bent to the right. It was tempting to go on and on, but it would be dusk, so I turned round, and stared across the rivermouth at the opposite of a pair of twin lighthouses before starting the car for a late night drive back to Wales.

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