Three groups got together for a mass ride to the coast – well there were at least 25 disparate riders from South Herts CTC, Havering CTC and some locals from Essex. After a quick cuppa and a longer queue for the only loo at Norton Heath we were off into the cool, grey morning.
Gathering at Norton Heath
We started off on a familiar route, following NCR1 into Chelmsford along some leafy Essex lanes. My back-markers were equipped with a route sheet, but maybe my instructions weren't too clever. They only doubled back to take the left turn to Newney Green after they saw me waving frantically.
On the road to Chelmsford
The cycle tracks along the Chelmsford Riviera were a pleasant alternative to the main roads and we were soon heading out into Chelmer Village, although that seems to be a bit of a misnomer. The traffic heading for the retail park there had worn out the road, so the boys from the black stuff were blocking our way, which called (officially) for a walk along half a mile of pavement. Despite this we still found our way to the narrow bridge over the Chelmer at Sandford Mill.
I lost touch with the tail-enders here and they showed no signs of showing up when we reached the Maldon Road. They had been delayed by a ‘minor mechanical’, then gone off left on NCR1 heading under the A12 before consulting GPS and route sheet to see they had gone wrong. I was beginning to feel a bit like a sheepdog going back and forth to round up stragglers. Reunited, we made good progress into the Dengie peninsular, with the wind behind us, to reach North Fambridge on the River Crouch.
The Ferryboat Inn
Not surprisingly, this place is geared more towards people arriving by yacht than by bike: there is a well-appointed yacht haven with a clubhouse, café and bar. But we found our way to the pleasant Ferryboat Inn, known, not surprisingly, for its seafood. It’s also now a misnomer as there was not much evidence of any ferry to South Fambridge.
There wasn’t too much to see around here, except for an old barge by the slipway and some impressive salt flats. In better weather it would be a worth a visit to the neighbouring Blue House Farm Nature Reserve, run by Essex Wildlife Trust.
The route to Cold Norton was busy, but improved as we carried on through Cock Clarks to Bicknacre (where I temporarily failed to follow my own route instructions), then we crossed over our outward route before the long drag up to reservoir level at South Hanningfield.
I was heading for the Hanningfield Reservoir Visitor Centre (also run by the Essex Wildlife Trust) for tea, but someone reckoned there were only hot drinks from a machine there, so we stopped earlier at The Café on the Water instead and enjoyed waitress service. No one had told the Brent Geese, who seemed to prefer this location to the Wildlife Trust one.
After tea it made sense to split into three groups. We bade farewell to Havering CTC as they headed towards Upminster. That left a faster and a slower group completing the circuit back to Norton Heath via Stock and Margaretting, although most of the Essex locals peeled off to cycle home. I was thankful that it had stayed dry, we had a patient group and I hadn’t lost anyone for too long.
View full screen map Jon C 14/06/2015