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Fakenham columnist Jim Harding on the ups and downs of cycling

In his weekly Wensum column, Fakenham writer Jim Harding discusses bike riding...

I got my first bike at the age of 12, a second-hand model which was my pride and joy. It gave me a freedom I’d not previously enjoyed and was ideal for getting me to school and back during that period of my life. When I got a Saturday morning job in a garden nursery some three miles distant from home, the bike was invaluable transport.

Throughout all that time I never had a lock for it. In my twenties when I lived and worked in Sydney I spent three weeks cycling around the state of NSW en route to Canberra and back. Settled back in England and part-way through a degree course at Borough Road College I had read a book called The Pilgrimage to Santiago by Edwin Mullins.

Jim Harding has cycled all his life
Jim Harding has cycled all his life

This inspired me to fill one summer vacation biking across northern Spain in the ‘footsteps’, so to speak, of the thousands of pilgrims who had travelled this route for centuries past.

Despite a poorly leg from a football injury, I made my way down to Southampton to catch a boat to Spain – the bike travelled free – before heading into the Pyrenees and the start of the pilgrimage. Following a well-marked route, I headed west for an adventurous uphill and down dale 500 miles before reaching my goal.

There was a big gathering in front of the Santiago cathedral when I got there which I joined as an interested spectator. Applause suddenly broke out when the diminutive figure of Spanish leader Franciso Franco appeared from within the cathedral and acknowledged the crowd with a wave.

The roundabout where Jim Harding was knocked off his bike
The roundabout where Jim Harding was knocked off his bike

When my wife and I finally settled in Fakenham I got to know the byways of north Norfolk on two wheels, my particular interest being its numerous medieval churches. I’ve also tried to take part in the annual Churches Bike ride which raises funds for maintaining Norfolk churches and helps towards assisting a church of the rider’s choice – in my case Fakenham parish church. Another commitment has been to the Active Fakenham Ride North Norfolk challenge which I mentioned in last week’s Wensum.

As any cyclist will tell you, there are hazards involved when you take to the saddle. Most of us have fallen off from time to time. It surprises me that the wearing of crash helmets is not compulsory here as it is in Australia.

Anyway, I was glad I was wearing mine when I had a recent accident in town. I was on my way up to the gym and was crossing the double roundabout at the town end of Norwich Road, just opposite the Conservative Club. I’m always very careful here as traffic converges from four directions and not everyone seems familiar with the rights of way.

I was halfway across when a car entering from Cattle Market Street hit me broadsides and sent me flying onto the ground. Fortunately, I was not badly hurt and plenty of people were quick to my aid. Those from the Con Club were especially helpful, shepherding me inside their premises and sitting me down with a cup of tea. I will always be grateful for their kindness and care as I tried to assess the situation and thought along the lines of: “It could have been worse.”

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