Wensum, by Jim Harding, September 6, 2016

Riders take part in the Fakenham 50 cycle ride around North Norfolk - Jim Harding out on the route ANL-160828-201350009
Riders take part in the Fakenham 50 cycle ride around North Norfolk - Jim Harding out on the route ANL-160828-201350009

Jim Harding out on the route of the Fakenham 50 cycle ride

In common with many of you, I also felt terrific pride in the achievements of our cyclists at the Rio Olympics, both in the Velodrome and out on the roads. How fitting it seemed to be, then, that over 300 bike riders took part in the fourth annual Fakenham 50 challenge which brought to an end Active Fakenham week in the town.

We gathered early that Sunday morning outside the community centre to register, collect our numbers and maps and receive last minute instructions. The one I recall in particular advised all ages and abilities to enjoy the experience and ‘remember it’s not a race’.

For those not into serious cycling there were circuits of 15 miles to Walsingham and back or 25 miles, also through Walsingham but looping north and west to include Wighton. It was pleasing to see a number of youngsters accompanied on these shorter routes by older relatives. The more dedicated wheelers could choose between 36, 64 and, incredibly to me, 100 miles. My personal odyssey took the best part of three hours.

The weather gods had smiled on us all with a bit of cloud, a bit of sun, a bit of wind but positively no rain. Most of the fields had been harvested but some still stood tall with wheat. How lovely it all looked. Half-way round a tree had fallen right across the road and was in the process of being sawn up as I approached. There was just enough room to get through. A feeding station had been set up near the old pump in the middle of Walsingham with a very welcome bounty of water, bananas, apples and flapjacks.

One of the charms of these north Norfolk routes is the relative absence of traffic. About the only congestion I encountered was along the narrow ‘sacred mile’ to the Slipper Chapel. On this holiday weekend the neighbouring fields were crammed full of tents and at least a dozen cars squeezed past me. Back at the starting point there was time for some chat, refreshment and photos.

It was all over for another year.

Normally when we go west it means a holiday car trip to Wales. But as the schools get back to business as usual this week we’ll be heading much further west across the Atlantic to America. My brother has lived and worked in Princeton, New Jersey, for most of his adult life and it was always a small delight to me that his employment as a research chemist was with a branch of FMC which formerly had a pea-harvester manufacturing centre in Fakenham. Anyway, he’s long since retired now and this will be the second time around for us and Princeton.

I’m no student of American politics but must say I’m looking forward to getting closer to the final weeks of the presidential campaign. Not exactly a ringside seat but maybe the next best thing with regular updates of all the confrontations being played out right across this vast country. The elements of pantomime already revealed could yet serve us up with more.

Whilst we’re away I’ll be planning to continue with my column, endeavouring to capture something of the flavour of living in a celebrated 
university town and maybe uncovering a few quirky aspects of the ‘American way of life’.