Ely, Chatteris, St Ives, Papworth General, and St Neots, Sunday 14 June, 2015
“What’s Chatteris if you’re not there?” For What is Chatteris
I left my heart in Papworth General
“Sampling Alessi in St Neots” Our Tune
Waking with mild hangovers, and to the scent of still-damp cycle-wear, we set off into the drizzle towards the fens. The morning’s ride is far more enjoyable than the typical biscuit tour fare. Instead of murderous A-roads or bleak post-industrial landscapes, we bowl along riverside cycle paths and quiet flat roads with lines of poplars on the horizon. We both have the strange sensation that we’re not in England, but one of those civilised continental countries where travel by bicycle is a by and large pleasant experience.
Our route along the Ouse takes us to the day’s first destination, Ely. Stopping for Double Deckers next to the spectacular cathedral (no gargoyles resembling Bob Todd by the way) we reflect that Chatteris is going to have to perform well to deserve its ‘Envy of the Fens’ status. On the way out of town, we pass next to Oliver Cromwell’s house. He’s not there, but we stop for a quick snog with the puritans standing guard outside.
Expectations are high as Chatteris nears. This is the Big One – the most famous destination immortalised by HMHB, unless you count Trumpton (and that was already immortal anyway). It’s fair to say that we’re a bit disappointed on our arrival: any decent market town with quintessence should have a proper sign bearing a coat of arms and details of a twin in Bavaria, but – nothing. However, like its town hall band’s CD, Chatteris is a grower. We can’t find a chandler’s but there is indeed at least one good butcher’s and a first class cake shop. The smooth and commendable one-way system is in evidence, and we witness no drive-by shoutings, let alone either of us being knocked on the bonce.Confident that we’re in a town with low car crime, and lower gun crime, we leave our bikes in the courtyard of the Golden Lion, whose proprietor points us the way of the Old Bakery Tea Room for lunch. They’ve just been proudly celebrating their 10th anniversary – the bunting’s up, and during our main course, the vicar pops by to congratulate them. As we eat our apple crumble and watch a procession of tractors pass by, we decide that Chatteris is doing fine for quintessence, whether you’re there or not. You can keep your Ely and your St Ives.
Bidding farewell to clean streets and award-winning swings, we push on through St Ives towards Papworth Everard (which sounds like a character in a long and difficult satirical novel) towards the day’s third destination. Instead of the sensible option of cycling through the village, we follow the roadsigns to the hospital that take us onto the motorway-like A-1198, where I’m very nearly flattened by a boy racer with little regard for lane etiquette.
Leaving our hearts at Papworth General, we begin the last leg of our weekend tour, pushing on through the well-kept villages of Yelling and Toseland into St Neot’s. The station is deserted and there’s no information about trains back to London, but what’s a timetable if your journey’s infinite?