Mark Ames of iBikeLondon races through the lanes of Essex, lured by the promise of a seafood picnic.
I love zipping around London by bike, and the freedom and flexibility it brings me. But at weekends I like to escape the Big Smoke and cycle the surprisingly sedate country lanes of South East England. Colchester is the busy county town of Essex, with a thriving university and history that goes back to the Romans and Queen Boudicca. But it was shellfish – not Romans - that I had in mind as we set off on our cycling adventure.
Essex is flat, with big skies and quiet bicycle routes away from busy roads, making it suitable for all abilities and allowing you to focus on your journey and enjoy the countryside. Following the river Colne we soon arrived at the pretty town of Wivenhoe, where traditional boats present a clutter of masts and rigging on the old town quay. The roadside verges were lit up by beautiful Lady’s Bedstraw, a bright yellow wildflower that was used to stuff mattresses in the past. Thankfully hotel beds have come a long way since!
We stowed our bikes on the ferry for a short ride to our destination for the day; the remote and wide open plains of Mersea Island. This strange and flat island is surrounded by glittering shallow waters; the favoured habitat of Britain’s best oysters. We bought a dozen for lunch from the Company Shed in West Mersea and devoured them with lemon, some fresh bread and a bottle of beer on the beach, looking out as Thames barges raced across the horizon.
The oysters fuelled our return ride to Colchester, back across the island accompanied by a host of skylarks whistling their merry song as we passed. The sun warmed our backs as we headed north across the expansive landscape, where effortless cycling and never-ending skies combined to make the ride feel like flying.
You can only drive to Mersea via one road; an ancient trackway called the Strood which is cut off by the tide twice a day, making it a real cyclist’s paradise.
A headwind slowed our pace and after a fair few miles I started to dream of a long hot soak, a fantastic night’s sleep and a big hearty breakfast the next morning as we made our way to the Premier Inn in Colchester. We were allowed to keep our bikes in our room (such peace of mind!) and there was even enough space to stretch and warm down after a long day in the saddle, before jumping into a well-deserved steaming hot bath. I slept like a log, dreaming of fresh air, good company and the open road.
Find a hotel
As the largest hotel chain in the UK you’ll never be far from the luxury of a hot bath, a big breakfast and the choice of perfect pillow to lay your head on after a long ride.