When I said, “I’ve cycled here all the way from Welton”, the barlady in the Black Bull must have thought I was nutty. “This is Welton” she replied with a puzzled look. I laughed and said “Welton in the East Riding of Yorkshire, 75 miles away”; and this seemed to confirm that I was clearly a lunatic. This was a shame because I thought it would have been a good conversation topic, but maybe being alone on the road messes up what seems normal or interesting.
I wanted to ride a 200km DIY audax before the end of September and spent some time examining maps south of the Humber Estuary for circular routes which would cross the Humber Bridge. The challenge seems to be crossing the river Trent; I spent time reviewing maps looking for bridges: be they road, footpath, or for locks that might serve as a crossing point. I also searched for private ferries, wondering if the people of a village on one side ever visited the village on the far side. There is Keadby Bridge – which I’ve been incorrectly referring to as Gunness Bridge for a few years. This is the most northerly road crossing and feels quite intimidating by bicycle as it is narrow and I seem to mainly cross it in the dark or rain. The next crossing south is the M180 motorway bridge, which can’t be used by pedestrians. It feels like an oversight that the engineers didn’t provide a foot-crossing linking up Carr Dyke Road with Trent Side Road while they were building this 3 lane motorway, but perhaps that relates to the Government of the time and the culture of the time – who would walk or cycle when they could drive over the motorway?!? The next usable road crossing is the A631 Trent Bridge in Gainsborough, 18 miles south of Keadby Bridge. There seems to be a badly maintained cycle path along the side of the A631, but the main road itself looks even more unpleasant to ride along than Keadby Bridge. Another 12 miles south is the Dunham Toll Bridge (free to cyclists), on the A57 – which is one of the trunk roads from the A1 into Lincoln and a long way south; 40 miles south of Goole where we can cross the River Ouse. These three bridges seem to limit the flexibility of a circular route which heads south over the Humber Bridge but doesn’t return across it.
Examining maps can be revealing though – not only did I find an interesting looking quiet lane following the River Trent on either bank, I also found to places in Lincolnshire called ‘Welton’, the same name as the village I’m currently living in. My route was almost designing itself!
It was a bit grey and overcast as I headed out into Wednesday morning rush hour, so I put my most irritatingly bright power-ranger style clothing on to leave Welton, weave through Brough and head out into the flat lands of the Holderness Plain. I was heading directly west to Howden and I thought that I could get the ‘headwind bit’ over first. Unfortunately it seems the wind was coming from the south west, so when I turned south at Boothferry Bridge I found myself into a stronger than expected breeze. This was my first significant river crossing of the day; Boothferry Bridge over the River Ouse. Once through Goole’s morning traffic I was onto the first of a string of very quiet roads, so stopped to climb the embankment and see the river.
Following the almost deserted A161 through Swinefleet, I left the banks of the River Ouse to head for Eastoft, then onto the B1392 which took me to the banks of the River Trent for the first time. The countryside seemed to be filled with wind farms and electricity pylons, sticking up out of the arable fields which were muddy brown. The last time I passed this way the harvest was taking place, now though it seemed as though both the ploughing and sowing had also been completed.
I stopped and climbed the embankment again to look at the Trent and to see what the bits of machinery were that could be glimpsed over the grass bank. I was approaching the port of Keadby and the view was dominated by a monstrosity of a coal-fired power station. The architects clearly had no brief to make Keadby Power Station harmonise with the surroundings – being just a block of concrete with funnels poking into the air. By contrast, Keadby Bridge is visually arresting, it is a rolling lift bridge, with a massive counterweight at one end – although I believe it hasn’t been raised since the 1950s.
I was now on the eastern bank of the River Trent and following the beautiful lanes south – the only downside of this being the embankment blocking the views. Although I guess it keeps the Lincolnshire countryside from flooding too. I found it nice to take my ride easy, and stop occasionally to climb the grass banks of the river and look around. The grey clouds were dissolving under the warmth of the sun, leaving behind blue skies. I was glad I’d only worn cycling shorts and a short-sleeved top.
The roads were absolutely flat and reasonably well surfaced so I imagine that local riders can put fast times in along here, but riding alone and with a headwind I was using a lot of energy to keep going. Eventually I also started to get tired of the unchanging views; the never ending farmland, the ever-present grass embankment and the wind which seemed to be dragging me backwards. I found myself drawn by the oddities in the landscape – with even this old caravan making me turn back to get a photograph.
By the time I reached Gainsborough I was ready for a break and was tempted into the Elm Cottage by the sign offering Sandwiches and Rolls: ‘All £1.50’.
I left the Elm Cottage and found myself climbing Cox Hill – and even though it was only about 35m high, it came as a surprise after so many miles of flat roads. I was heading for Upton and away from the River Trent, but after the initial climb the road seemed to even out a bit more and the climbing stopped. It felt as though I was on some sort of raised plateau for farmland, but the surrounding countryside looked more ‘rolling’ than flat. Oddities continued to capture my imagination; as I passed through Upton and saw a creative use for an old telephone box.
These Lincolnshire towns and villages were very picturesque, but being this close to the RAF Scampton the peace is intermittently shattered by the noise of a jet engine. This is the home of the Red Arrows, and as I rode along, one flew low and fast overhead, then I saw another one coming in to land. The runway landing lights are held above the road on stalks, and this tiny little lane feels like part of the runway, flights must come in very low over this section of the A15 – the old Roman Road which is kinked to avoid the MoD land.
I arrived in Welton (by Lincoln) having cycled 75 miles to get here, so I found a pub and the church. The church is called St Mary’s and the pub next door was the Black Bull. As the church looked closed, I decided to try my luck for some conversation in the Black Bull. It was a shame that I just came across as a nutter. Oh well. After a pint I left Welton feeling a little deflated that my Welton to Welton ride had not inspired more interest.
Despite having only used maps in the planning of this ride, I’d been really surprised at how great the roads had been. With the slight exception of Gainsborough I had barely seen more than a dozen cars since leaving Goole. This held true through Lissington, Torrington and Hainton but then all changed on the A157… it could have been worse though. This felt like a very well used main road and the HGVs thundering along made me feel slightly uneasy. The road had some strenuous climbing on it too as it undulated its way towards Louth. I was very happy to finally be able to pull to one side as I reached my third ‘Welton’ of the day… Welton le Wold. A tiny little (picturesque) village in the Lincolnshire Wolds.
The church was set back from the road along a gravel driveway; St Martins. The village itself was nestled into the folds of this tiny valley in the Wolds and I enjoyed the winding lanes which climbed back out of the bottom of the village centre.
I’d reached a significant turning point now and was on my way home. 170km (105 miles) covered and only another 50km (30 miles) left to get back to Welton again, to my delight the wind was now to my back pushing me along as I tackled the rolling Lincolnshire Wolds. I’m not sure, given the choice, whether a headwind on flat roads or hills is worse – either way I was glad that my tired legs had some help pushing my body home. The views were much better now as well, with each climb revealing a different aspect of Lincolnshire.
In Binbrook I saw a little corner shop, with the encouraging sign that said ‘Coffee Sold Here’ and a CTC, ‘Cyclists Welcome’ sticker in the window. I sat outside in the late afternoon with a cup of black coffee and a chocolate stuffed croissant and finally had someone to talk to – a cyclist from Goole out for the day stopped for some refreshments too. It was nice to have some ‘normal’ chat – and not be made to feel like a looney.
I was really on the final push as I reached Caistor, dropping down into the town to make sure my GPS device properly recorded me pass this ‘Audax Control’ before climbing back out and ploughing on to the Humber Bridge. I passed Humber Airport too – with taxis parked up along the verge all around the outskirts, clearly waiting for an incoming flight. Sure enough a small jet came overhead, the second aeroplane I’d seen land today.
I crossed the Humber Bridge and was very nearly home. The tide seemed to have just turned and the flow of water in the Humber Estuary, from both the River Ouse and the River Trent, seemed to have a turbulent momentum to it as silently rolled beneath me. It was great to arrive back in Welton and in front of St Helens. The ride had been tiring; being alone with long unchanging scenery had been difficult. But getting to ride down the side of the River Trent and then visit three places called Welton had made for some novelty. The Lincolnshire Wolds were the best part of the ride though, so I think that my next foray south will be perhaps just a double crossing of the Humber Bridge and a loop around the more scenic parts of Southumberland.
That was my last ride of the 2015/16 Audax Season. I’m pleased to have achieved a “Randonneur Round the Year” award, and to have racked up 29 points in long distance events. My highest points total to date… a long way short of the better riders in VC167, but pretty good for me. October looms and the start of the 2016/17 season… where to next I wonder.