Chelmsford YHA Group


The Monthly Newsletter of Chelmsford YHA Local Group

September 2017

A Tale of Two Punctures

Cycling from The old Red Lion hostel, Castle Acre

The last time we visited the Old Red Lion at Castle Acre, ten years ago, we managed to commit the sin of greed and consume the breakfast items provided for the entire weekend in one day. We were able to repeat this on our recent re-visit for our summer cycling weekend, but this time they were not replenished, leaving supplicants in search of extra supplies.

The lovely hostel is situated just before the Bailey at the entrance to the village, close to the remains of Castle Acre Priory and the rather classy Ostrich pub.

The Priory was a magnificent Cluniac monastery, thriving in the 12th Century but reduced to flinty rubble on the orders of Henry the Eighth. The monks revered St Benedict and adhered closely to his rules, but this weekend we decided to canonise Jim, who was saintly in his endeavours to rescue stranded cyclists by the roadside. It was little short of miraculous how Jim could remove inner tubes with such dexterity and without (many) profanities. 

He was sorely tested. James was unlucky enough to have two punctures before morning coffee, leading him to abandon the group and walk back with Marion. I followed with one of my own, caused by a perfectly sharpened piece of flint which could have been crafted in Neolithic times for the express purpose of piercing 21st century bicycle tyres. My relief was however short lived, as moments later, as if to deliberately test Jimís saintly patience, I had another one. By this time, Jim had run out of spare inner tubes, and must have been praying for divine intervention to prevent any further incidents.

We rode through Rougham village, stopping to Google Marianne North, and then Harpley and Great Massingham, admiring flint cottages and successfully dodging most of the showers. Our afternoon pub stop at The Colkirk Crown had high visibility artificial flowers which provided the perfect foreground for a facebook photograph of Dave in his cycling gear. Marianne North would have turned in her grave to see these gaudy, polyester specimens disgracing the table of a public house.

In total, we cycled 35 miles, arriving back to enjoy the more tasteful courtyard gardens of the Old Red Lion, where most people took tea from the extensive range of herbal varieties provided, whilst Jim continued to minister to ailing bikes and Tom and Yasmira cooked supper.

Sunday dawned bright, and the full team set off in the sunshine to cycle south via Oxburgh Hall, where Alison and a support vehicle would be waiting for casualties. As I suffered the further humiliation of a broken gear cable, I was particularly grateful for her services to avoid struggling home on my very challenged bicycle.

On such a glorious day, and with the added attraction of jousting, Oxburgh Hall was looking photogenic and the National Trust must have been delighted with the visitor numbers. There appeared to be an invading army attempting to scale the ramparts, raid the tea shop, and search the priest hole. The fortifications and high cost of entry did not deter them, and Jimís ill disciplined team scattered at first sighting of the enemy, or perhaps to compete for picturesque lunch spots. After an extended break, only an elite team cycled back to Castle Acre in a peleton, covering the distance in an impressive time and enjoying an incident free episode of riding.

I visited the Priory, and reflected on the Rules of St Benedict that we had broken or followed in the course of the weekend. The mix up about room bookings meant that the rule about all monks sharing a dormitory was more closely followed, with only two couples breaking the rule. The rule of vegetarianism was followed to the letter, although it created some last minute problems for Caroline who had to change the sandwich menu at short notice, from ham to hummous. Saint Benedict, and Alison, the hostel proprietor, could be proud of us.

A splendid pilgrimage for the group, with thanks to Saint James.


Riverside Ramble

Iíve lost count of the number of times Iíve walked the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation Ė it must be 15 at least. This yearís trek was another classic. Despite some truly impressive rain during the week, the Sunday stayed dry and mostly sunny. Great in terms of walking, although a little crowded around the Ďhoney-potsí of Papermill Lock and Maldon promenade. It was also surprisingly busy on the bus that took us from our cars in Maldon to the start of our walk in Chelmsford. Where could they all be going? What could possibly be better than a stroll by the river? The start through Central Park is possibly a little mundane (flower beds rather than reed beds), but you are soon out on the flood plain. Just outside Chelmsford there were a few himalayan balsam (alien invader!), but these soon gave way to more native decoration. Reeds provided seclusion for moor hens, often heard rather than seen, and banks were crowded with willowherb, alexanders and cow parsley. There were also tall, swaying strands of purple loostrife. A few other walkers, the odd cyclist, but otherwise a peaceful Sunday walk between busy tea rooms. Perfect.


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