Updated: Jan 30
I don't know about you, but I find it difficult to take time out to visit family and friends that don't live local to me. I'm either doing my own thing and enjoying myself, working or sleeping, not much in between! But when I make the effort it's always a pleasure and I regret not doing it more often.
The head shaped part of the UK is called East Anglia, this area includes Cambridgeshire and Norfolk, and is where most of my family and friends reside. Unfortunately for me East Anglia is mostly fen-land, which is very flat, it can be slightly undulating but there certainly aren’t any significant hills or any mountains at all. So not somewhere I chose to go mountain biking, although on this trip I learned that I can do that in Norfolk too.
Norfolk is a much maligned county, often the butt of jokes by people that haven't actually been there. Of all the places I've lived, Norwich is my favourite city. 'A Fine City' as the sign describes it, is in fact true. It's moved with the times, there's lots to do, whether it be shopping, cultural centres, leisure activities or eating out. There's many fab beaches, open countryside, beautiful sunrises and sunsets. If you haven't been, plan a trip now!
Since returning to the UK on the 15th of April, I’d been having too much fun camping and riding at some of the UK’s beautiful mountainous and hilly locations to want to visit the flat-lands of East Anglia. This meant I had been selfishly neglecting my family and friends, having not seen them since late 2017, before my trip to Australia. But no matter, I had a master plan….even if they had to wait a while!
My old school pals, Chris, Julie and Mark had organised a year of 78 school reunion in the youth centre we all used to hang-out at back in the day. It’s been 40 years since we left school, argh how can that be, I don’t feel old enough…..most of the time!
The 9th of June had been a firm date in my diary for the past eight months, where I’d need to be back in Sawston, south of Cambridge, where I grew up. I needed to make sure I wasn’t on another jolly, and always had it on my mind.
My brother and his family and my Uncle John and Aunty Yuriko live in Cambridge, so it would be a multi-stop trip to see them too. I also needed to take the opportunity to visit my best friend Ruth who lives another 50 miles or so East of Cambridge, near Attleborough in Norfolk. Ruth and I had met over 30 years ago, we both raced our classic Ford’s in the Road Going Saloon series. Ruth in an Escort Mexico and me in my Cortina Lotus. Another 20 miles East, in Norwich, is an old friend of 30+ years, Bob Dance, that I really wanted to catch-up with too.
No trip would be complete without some mountain biking, even in the flat-lands, so I started researching what was around. And settled not on a downhill venue, but Thetford Forest, which is midway between Cambridge and Attleborough, and pretty damn flat!
I had no fixed plans for my few days back East, except for being at the reunion. I think anyone that really knows me, knows that I’m a last-minute type of person! Calling my sister-in-law only on the Wednesday before the Thursday I planned to visit but she was happy to have me stay with them in Cambridge for a couple of nights. A last-minute job interview scuppered going on Thursday. I couldn’t get my arse out of bed early on the Friday, so didn’t leave Banbury until around lunchtime, arriving in Cambridge less than three hours later.
The road from Banbury to Cambridge is a complete bastard and is another reason I’m put off visiting the area. I go kind of out of my way, North then down, which makes the road all dual carriageway. Alas there is a major revamp of the Huntingdon to Cambridge section of the road, which has road works and a 40mph speed limit….until 2020, Yes twenty bloody twenty! The straight across route is only partially dualled, so on a Friday afternoon would be too painful to use.
When I got to Huntingdon flyover I could see the East West A14 was at a standstill, so I diverted off into the fen-lands, returning to the A14 after the worst of the traffic, but still in the 40mph zone, very tiresome. But strangely it still only took me around two and a half hours.
It was good to stay with Gary, my brother (who is a year younger than me) and Tracy his wife. They have four kids and eight grand-children, Gary runs a car repair workshop, and is always doing something to help his kids. He also does some funky soul sets in pubs and clubs, and spends a lot of time in his music room, late at night finding the latest tunes and organising his records. I'm not sure when he sleeps.
Tracy is pretty chilled, and chilling and yakking is what we did until lunchtime on Saturday, then me and Tracy visited Uncle John. Aunty Yuriko is in Japan so we didn’t see her unfortunately, but seeing UJ was good. And we got far too engrossed in chit chat and didn’t leave his house in Cambridge until around 4pm which was an hour later than I had planned.
UJ is 76 years old, he is a prolific social mediaist! He messes around on Facebook and has over 1200 YouTube subscribers, with thousands of views. Take a look at his YouTube channel here it's named John Whitehead. He’s clever and very funny. Although his YouTube is quite sensible, his Facebook is often rather sillier! Yuriko is very good at ‘photo-shopping’, so helps him out on his Facebook antics!
We have a bit of a tradition at UJ's where we take photos with the camera on auto, and have to change position in the ten seconds between each one, which is so funny, I love it!
I’d wanted to get to Sawston around 5pm, so I had time to visit my mum and dads grave, before going to help set-up the reunion. I was running too late, so had to skip the cemetery visit, going straight to the youth centre. I know it seems callous, but on reflection it was better spending an extra hour with Uncle John than being somewhere where no one would know I was there! I’ll have to go later in the year.
When you get with ‘your people’, people you were moulded by, people you’ve known since you was a kid, it’s like there’s been no break, and you just pick-up from where you left off, a bit of catching up, and it's like you've never been away.
We had a great time at the reunion, most of it was talking, with a little dancing. Around 50-60 people attended, which I think was a little on the low side, quite a few people couldn’t be traced. A few didn’t come, which is a shame as it was a fab night! Can’t wait for the 50th anniversary……not sure I’ll be around then tho!
One teacher showed up, Mr Anstead, a memorable French teacher, I couldn't believe how well he looked, I thought he was a hundred forty years ago!!! He looked so much younger than I thought he would and he isn't doddery at all!! It was extra special him being there, as he knew my parents well.
Most of the people I knew well at school are friends on my Facebook, but it was really good to reconnect in person with them, especially one particularly good school friend that I hadn’t seen for twenty years. I’ll make an effort to see her very soon. And perhaps catch up with some of those that couldn't make it as well.
I only drunk water that night, I don’t need alcohol to have a good time, and I was driving. After giving the youth centre a tidy-up, around mid-night, I called it a night, which was late enough and way way past my bedtime!
I had a nice chilled Sunday morning at my brothers, then made my way to Thetford Forest, arriving around 2pm. As I was driving along the very long driveway into the forest there was some very strange signs, ‘No Umbrellas’ and ‘Only two litres of drink per person’. I thought that was rather strict! It wasn’t until later I realised that the forest is used as a concert venue as well as for mountain biking and hiking! That night there was a Kasabian concert, with the musicians setting up the sound system all afternoon.
The trails are all pretty much on the flat, with some slight undulations. But they were way more fun than expected. And the forest in the afternoon and evening sun was much prettier than I thought it would be too. And it is well sign-posted!
I rode sections of the red Lime Burner trail, sessioning a nice bermy part through the trees, until around 5pm. The queues were building for the concert by then, and it caused a little disruption when riding back to the car park but nothing much, but I may have swore! I was a bit annoyed already as I’d dropped one of my gloves and was buggered if I could find it by retracing my steps!
I called Ruth around half five, to see if she was home, and if I could visit. There’s been times I drive all the way to hers and find she’s not there, I wish I could plan, I just don’t like plans! Luckily she was home so we had a nice evening catching up. I ended up staying two nights. I had thought I’d find a campsite near Winterton-on-Sea, as it's my favourite Norfolk beach, alas had left it too late for Sunday night, especially as internet connections are rather rubbish in the wilds of Norfolk!
Ruth lives with her partner Paul and their three dogs on a non-working farm, in a rural area. It's heavenly!
On Monday Ruth’s partner asked if we’d take his camper van to Huddersfield to get a carpet fitted, it was a great opportunity to yakker being a four hour journey each way, so that was Monday done. We had a chilled Tuesday morning, then I left to visit my friend Bob in Norwich.
Bob is a very well known Formula One mechanic. He is 83 years old and is still working.
Currently still working with the Chapman family at Classic Team Lotus. He has worked in motorsport for nearly sixty years. More info on Bob can be found here
It’s quite an achievement to remain working in motorsport so long. He has the most fabulous stories of his days with Team Lotus, Colin Chapman and many of the great F1 drivers from the sixties to the nineties, including Jim Clark, Mario Andretti, Ayrton Senna and the like. Many of his stories are hilarious, he never fails to have me in fits of laughter.
Bob still travels to race events and is invited to attend Lotus functions all over the world. A real ambassador for motorsport, a very chilled man, and very mischievous! It was fantastic to catch up with him, and he was looking so very well, long may it continue! I’m not sure why he doesn’t have an OBE for his services to motorsport, he really is a legend!
After my visit with Bob, it was the long journey back to Banbury from Norwich. I don't know why I make such a fuss about it, I used to do it every week! On my journey home I popped back in to see Ruth as I realised we’d not taken any photos, and I did the same at my brothers, alas he wasn’t home, but Tracy was. Shame I didn't get any photos of Gary.
It was an uneventful journey home, the traffic was perfect, even though I was travelling past Cambridge just after rush-hour.
Visits done, catch-ups done, and actually England is looking rather beautiful and green. I'd have a fantastic time and will have to return very soon. But first I need to visit my other brother Paul who lives in south London!