London to Dunwich by bike in the dark

Hypnotised by a long line of red lights and a sudden feeling of being totally alone in the darkness were surreal sensations I experienced as I took on the challenge of the Dunwich Dynamo last weekend.start

I’d read a few personal accounts of this 120-mile blast through the Essex and Suffolk countryside but nothing really prepares you for the ride that starts in the fading light of East London.

A sea of cyclists greeted you as you arrive in London Fields – a mix of serious lycra together with quite a few souls in regular clothes who look as if they were popping down the shops for a pint of milk rather than an overnight ride to the coast. The park was also still busy with people out enjoying the warm weather with the thermometer still hovering around 25C. Though the event has been running for 24 years a couple of bemused onlookers asked me “what the hell is going on”.

“This is NOT a race”, screams the first line of a sheet of A4 directions handed to me by one of the organisers. And without any fanfare, at 8pm, legions got on their bikes by the Pub on the Park. My intentions of grabbing a big bowl of pasta before the start were soon forgotten as I joined the throng making its way through the narrow confines of Martello Street bike path.

The procession through Hackney was not everyone’s idea of fun though the sheer number of cycles was enough to stave off even the most impatient motorists.

eppingEast London quickly turned into suburban Essex and the scrum of cyclists had already turned into a single file. The sun was already set by the time we reached the Wake Arms roundabout though I assured my two cycling buddies that there would be plenty of options for pasta and coffee in Epping – noble intentions that ended up as pork pies and cans of Coke from Londis…

I’d never cycled beyond Epping – unknown roads even harder to navigate in the darkness. Familiar names started to flash past: Moreton, Fyfield, Leaden Roding and the 32-mile point Great Dunmow. Pockets of villagers screamed encouragement at cyclists including a four-person handbuilt contraption, tandems and one brave cyclist who’d brought his child along in a trailer.

nags head moretonWe stopped for a pint in Great Bardfield at 43 miles; locals joining in the party atmosphere as cyclists either stopped or pedalled on. Although just gone midnight conversations seemed to hover over the fast pace of the tour, probably helped by the fine weather and almost constant light westerly breeze. Finchingfield, Wethersfield, Sible and Castle Hedingham then passed in quick succession before we reached the halfway point at Sudbury about 1am where huge queues had formed for coffee and a barbeque put on by the local fire crews.

Though the temperature never fell below 16C over the entire event tiredness was now starting to set in but before we got too ensconced in our chairs we decided to push on.

sudburyIt was this part of the event where groups of cyclists started to spread out though, because most were cycling at roughly the same speed, you started to notice the same people: the guy in the Heinz baked beans top, the group cycling for Alzheimers, the guy with the kiddie trailer (again) comes into view, the child still awake and appearing to be transfixed by a tablet. I exchanged pleasantries with a guy in a top with the dragon of Wales emblazoned on the back – inane conversations though most seem happy to just get their heads down and eat up a few more miles.

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Sizewell B is getting closer

It was around Bildeston that the roads suddenly seemed to turn really dark. Pedalling on I focus on the line of red lights in the distance – almost hynotised by the rhythm of the whole thing – but then suddenly realised that I was cycling downhill at roughly the same speed as I would in daylight. I turned my head to find that my two cycling buddies were nowhere to be seen, and neither were any other riders. An overwhelming feeling of being alone suddenly dawned on me and I eased back on the pedals though it was a good 10 minutes before my companions catch up – one asked just what exactly was in the muesli bars that I had been munching away on for six hours.

At 3am the delirium started to set in: the University Challenge theme tune was going on a loop in my head – a couple of cyclists that have brought along loud speakers failed to distract me. Our charge to the coast was eventually interrupted by a puncture, my cycling buddy exclaiming in the darkness: “This wheel doesn’t feel right!”.

moretonBy 4am the sky had long begun to lighten and the fading batteries of many riders’ headlamps was no longer such a pressing issue. I think it was around Sibton Lake that pop-up cafes started to emerge at the side of the road. Alas, the long queues prevented us from stopping, so terrified were we that if we stopped for too long our bodies would cease up. No matter. Many other cyclists by now were beginning to stop and rest on verges; a few oblivious that the sun was beginning to rise as quick as they were falling into a slumber.

framlinghamDunwichThe last 10 miles from Framlingham, once the sun had risen, seemed to be the hardest. I’m not sure if it was my brain being unable to cope with the additional distraction of having to deal with looking at beautiful countryside. And a couple more inclines seemed to be the last straw for a few cyclists who got off and walked.

The pine scrub of Minsmere spread out after passing through Darsham before our ultimate destination Dunwich, the Lost City, ended our odyssey. After 10-and-a-half hours we’d done it.

beacg
I’ve managed to raise over £1,000 for Sarcoma, the soft tissue and bone cancer charity

strava

sulston

 

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June 2016: extremely wet, dullest on record

Storm clouds gathering was a common sight in June 2016, but enough about the tumultuous political situation…

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The levels of Heronry pond have benefited immensely from the rainfall which was 2.5 times the average in June

For anyone looking for summery weather there was little to cheer about. For sunshine the month was the dullest June in a record going back to 1797. Just 96 hrs were recorded – which is just over half what we can expect in an average June.

Most notable was the rainfall: just over 139mm fell which is 272 per cent of average, and the third wettest since 1797. Only 1903 and 1860 were wetter. The month also saw the record broken for highest daily rainfall in a 24-hour period. A multi-cell thunderstorm in the early hours of the 23rd saw 60.8mm fall, most of it in two hours, bringing flash floods to the surrounding area.

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The synoptic situation at midnight on June 23 when the heaviest rainfall this area has seen since at least 1960 fell

With the lack of sunshine and copious rainfall it is, perhaps, surprising that the mean temperature for the month finished just above average: 16.8C is 0.7C above the June average. The warmest day was the 10th with 25.3C recorded – only one other day saw the mercury exceed 25C – very unusual for this time of years.

Air frosts: 0, Ground frosts: 0

So what has July got in store weatherwise? The models on the 1st suggest more of the same weather that we have seen during the last third of June. Sunshine and showers with the occasional ridge possibly calming things down for a few hours.

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Roads in Wanstead were turned into rivers in the early hours of June 23rd

Beyond the grasp of the models my long range outlook method suggests a rather warm month at 50 per cent – so given the cool start perhaps we can look forward to something summery in the final half to one third? Rainfall and sun looks inconclusive so I would guess average. Because of the high rainfall last month I think my long range method falls down.

A slightly wetter than average month looks most likely at 50% probability. Sunshine probably about average.

So to sum up: mean 18.8C (0.3C above average), rainfall 50mm, sunshine 190 hours.

My June outlook for temperature was good. I predicted a mean of 16.9C (outcome: 16.8C). Rainfall was very poor: 38mm (outcome: 139mm). Sunshine very poor: 178 hours (outcome: 96 hours).

Here follows the full weather diary for May…Full stats for the month here:http://1drv.ms/1rSfT7Y

1st: Cloudy and cool all day.
2nd: Cloudy and cold all day, brief brightness at 11am.
3rd: Cloudy and cool all day, limited brightness late morning. Cloudy overnight with limited breaks – air was very humid with warm front and visibility severely limited.
4th: Cloudy all day though cloud was lighter and air felt warmer because of the warm front that came in yesterday from Europe. Brief milky sunshine at 7pm.
5th: Cloudy up until 9.30am when the cloud began to thin. Sunny spells from 11am before a clearance at 1pm interspersed with occasional cloud.
6th: A gloriously sunny day all the way through. A lovely evening too.

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Sunny sunsets were rare in June

7th: Sunny start but cloud rolled in at 1.30pm with thunder heard all around Wanstead. Some serious flash flooding in Croydon. Highest official total was over 40mm in Kenley. Just 1.7mm during the day but trough brought rain at 5am, about 3mm.
8th: Sunny start but felt very humid and oppressive. A thunderstorm skirted Wanstead at 1.40pm with thunder and much rain in Chigwell, not much in Wanstead. More thunder at 2.10pm. Rain came and went for rest of day until 7pm – very little upper air movement. Mostly cloudy overnight.
9th: Cloudy start but some sunny spells developing.
10th: Cloudy start but soon decreased with long sunny spells developing. Lower humidity so felt pleasant.

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Heavy rain in Chigwell

11th: Cloudy and humid start with very heavy rain at 3pm. This lasted for 45 minutes. More rain fell sporadically through the day, evening and overnight.
12th: Cloudy after moderate rain. Showers and longer bursts of rain returned before a brief clearance at 3pm. More showers piled in with a real corker to the north of Wanstead.
13th: Damp start soon led to light rain, turning persistant at 11am. Then outbreaks of rain throughout the day, evening and overnight.
14th: Light rain to start but this quickly gave way to heavy showers all day. Some brightness at 6pm then turning drier overnight. Gin clear dawn.
15th: Sunny start but with lots of convective cloud. Some drizzle but a heavy shower stayed to the east of Ilford.
16th: Bright start with sunny spells, more breeze than recent days
17th: Lots of cloud around though sunny spells arrived early afternoon. Then showers between 5 and 6pm.
18th: Cloudy with spots of drizzle. Feeling cold all day – a maximum of only 16.5C.
19th: Sunny start but cloud gradually increasing all afternoon. Rain by nightfall that fell intermittently for hours. Rain again at obs time.
20th: Rain to start that lasted, with variable intensity, through the morning. Sunny spells from mid afternoon.
21st: Sunny start with just a few cirrus and cumulus, this tending to increase through the morning to leave an overcast afternoon. Cloudy overnight – a few spots of drizzle on school run as frontal wave started to move across UK.
22nd: Cloudy start with warm sector drizzle. Showers developed at 11pm, much thunder and lightning and the rain turned really heavy through the early hours.

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Extremely heavy rainfall during the early hours of the 23rd

23rd: Cloudy and humid to 1pm. Showers at 3pm.
24th: Sunny with variable cloud. Feeling humid in the sunshine.
25th: Bright start with sunny intervals. Light shower at midday. Thunderstorms at 2pm, 4pm and 9.30pm.
26th: Sunny spells though significant cloud at times. Rain between 4 and 6pm.
27th: Mostly cloudy though with some brightness after noon. Warmest point was in the evening at 7pm.
28th: Bright though cloudy start. Some sunny intervals but rain late afternoon into the evening. Cool overnight.
29th: Cloudy and breezy, some rain in the air early afternoon and again in the early hours
30th: Cloudy with slight breeze. Some light rain in the early hours.