On the first friday of November Steve Whittington and Dan Shackleton rode the 210km (130 miles) from Manchester over the Pennines to the excellent Viking Centre at Claxby on the north-eastern edge of the Lincolnshire Wolds near Market Raisen. We had the sole use of the hostel, which Nigel Bishop had kindly found for us – he and Mandy Bishop were planning to come until they got a better offer from Rouleur magazine for Mandy to speak at their event in London. Oooooh swanky pants! It’s hard to see how anyone could prefer an expenses-paid trip to stay in a London hotel, be wined and dined and get their due respect as world champion, when they could be kept awake by a bunch of sweaty, half-cut cyclists coughing and snoring all night. There is no understanding some people.
Rob Taylor arrived early having also cycled there, in his case 50-odd miles with a tearing tailwind from Rotherham, and the rest of us arrived by vehicle with only the legs for two rides. Getting myself sorted in the spotless and well-heated hostel later that evening I received a somewhat pitiful text from the rest who were holed up in a pub (or pubs) in Market Raisen and needed lifts home as Andy, the designated driver, had refreshment taken and there were no taxis for 20 miles. Shocker.
I’d plotted a 130km / 80 mile triangular route down through the best of the Lincolnshire Wolds to Horncastle into the head wind, across to Lincoln with a cross-wind, then back to Claxby, hopefully with a tail wind. It was straight up a stiff climb onto the Wolds, which confirmed the parlous state of my lungs, legs and other essentials after a 2 month enforced lay-off, something I had in common with Jo – we’d be riding on memory. The Wolds are very open and rolling, with many of the roads being straight ahead for a mile or so, but we were lucky with the weather and some of the views across the plain to our right as we headed south were extensive. It is a relatively empty part of the country, with few villages and fewer pubs and cafés, so it is just as well we were including Horncastle, a well appointed market town with a Roman past that received it’s charter in the 1200’s and whose football team plays on (really) The Wong. After some fruitless faffing going the Wong way a local directed us to the School House café, a lovely big room with really good food and cakes. I emerged refreshed and somewhat re-energised, and we left the home of the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson, the first president of the Royal Society Joseph Banks, and 1908 Olympic gold and silver medalist runner Harold A. Wilson, with my lungs sounding a little less like the lead singer of heavy metal band Saxon, Peter ‘Biff’ Bifford, another Horncastle notable.
Nice lanes took us to Bardsey and the shallow valley of the river Witham where we joined the traffic free tarmac of the Water Rail Way, a sculpture trail which was quiet and enabled us to ride at normal speed, with water on both sides, passing boats and sculptures beneath a complex sky. Dan and Steve were still on the front despite the previous day’s long ride.
Nine miles took us right into Lincoln, which was just as well as it was heaving with traffic and pedestrians which made trying to find the famous Michaelgate climb pointless. It’s a shame Nigel couldn’t come, as he could have regaled us with his battle stories from climbing it multiple times in the 1989 Milk Race, the year he held the yellow jersey, and from the Lincoln GP when he made the podium. Happy days, if a tad painful on the legs.
At a slightly slower pace than Nigel we headed up a busy road to the cathedral refectory, another nice room, but didn’t stay long enough to do the cathedral justice. Lincoln cathedral was reputedly the tallest building in the world for a couple of hundred years, until the spire on one of it’s towers fell down. It still has a looming presence above the town and at least the planners have prevented any tall developments to compete with it.
We headed north, now with the wind behind us the pace went up, with Steve and Dan still on the front, but a perky Nick joining them and even contesting a few of the sprints to village signs that became the theme of the day. We got back to the welcoming hostel before dark, on small lanes, to complete an interesting ride in a new area. A few cuppas and showers later we headed for a curry in Market Raisen and mighty fine it was: 3 out of 3 good food stops – winner.
In the pub Dan and Steve were ribbing each other about who had won what sprint, with Steve most delighted by Nick beating Dan on one. We managed to wheedle some racing lore out of Steve. In case you don’t know, Steve Whittington was GB schoolboy road champion and heading for professional success when a bad racing crash ended his career. He road in the Junior Tour of Ireland for GB , and at 16 in Carrick on Suir he raced in the 1989 Christmas Hamper Classic road race for amateurs and Irish pros, including local legend Sean Kelley (who had just finished 3rd in the World Championships), along with Martin Earley and Lawrence Roche. Steve told us “I was away with a break near the end, Sean was in it too, and on the last lap I attacked and got away. 800m to go and I looked under my arm and they were a few hundred metres behind, I thought ‘**** I’ve got this!’ 400m to go and I looked under my arm again, then, WHACK, Sean goes past on the right, and I mean, flying, and I’ve got no chance of catching him. I ended up third in the bunch sprint, for fourth place.” Not too shabby for a 16 year-old.
That evening Steve was reluctantly introduced to Sean, one of his heroes, who said “Oh you are that 16-year-old that attacked. I thought you were going to get it there.” He then invited Steve out for a mountain bike ride the next morning, gave him a signed jersey, and couldn’t have been nicer.
Steve headed off for a 100 mile route home, while the rest of us opted for a steady 50 miler to the coast and back. We found really nice lanes heading east, until encountering main roads towards Grimsby and Cleethorpes, which are like Salford on Sea. Not the best, but hey, it’s the seaside.
We negotiated the industrial labyrinth of the dockland to find a view with some actual boats in it. The fish docks are presided over by the Grimsby Dock Tower, a hydraulic accumulator tower built to power the dock gates, cranes and machinery and modeled after an Italian renaissance building. We worked that out just from looking at it, I mean some people of limited experience might have to look that up on t’interenet….not us. A few dead ends and crumbling warehouses later we escaped for the busy road leading to the glories of Cleethorpes.
The pier is huge chip shop meets Strictly Come Dancing, all chandeliers and vinegar bottles. “Ooh yes, we get very busy, there is usually a half hour wait for a table.” We elected for a brew and scones in the classy tea room, where the soporific piano music sent us off into a dreamy silence, which with forensic accuracy Nick identified as a Jazz trance:
Don’t fear the Jazz! A spot of rain came to nowt, and we reversed the grim roads to Grimsby. The Wolds seemed all the better after the urban seaside, and very pleasant lanes led us back over them to lunch in Caistor, another nice market town, but somewhat forlorn and decayed compared to Horncastle. The steep straight climb of Nettleton Hill past the site of the ironstone mines took us to the top of the hill above Claxby, with more fine views west. A swooping descent got us back to the hostel for the last time.
It was interesting to ride somewhere completely new. Lincolnshire has it’s own atmosphere – empty, with scattered farms in big open spaces punctuated by cold war communications towers and airfields, intimate folded valleys and straight hedges. Where will our bikes take us next?
You are very welcome to join Centreville for our trips away (no-one left behind) and much more: get in touch