Cycle Route : the Hills of North Essex

The BBC News website had an article on Saturday – ‘Rise of the Mamils (Middle Aged Men in Lycra)’ (link) which looked at men who take up cycling between the ages of 33 and 45. Sadly, I realised I was a couple of years older than that when I took up cycling – but I should point out that I took it up not for the fancy bikes that had become available, but because my knees weren’t up to running anymore, or anything like squash or badminton.

The article mentioned that such cyclists often dream of tackling Mont Ventoux, one of the toughest climbs in the world, so I decided it was time to tackle a few hills outside Colchester. I put up the route I took on the Gmaps site as usual – click here – and here’s a quick overview piccie :

Now the younger, more svelte cyclists may scoff at the hills I’m going to describe, but when you’re 50 and carrying rather more weight than you should, and have two dodgy knees, let me tell you, these aren’t easy!

The route gets you from Colchester North Station out west to the ‘posher’ part of town, heading out on Lexden Road. The obvious route is around the St Botolphs Circus roundabout, west along the dual-carriageway Southway, through the lights past the Polis Station, across the roundabout at the top (ie the south end) of Balkerne Hill, and onto Lexden Road. A little bit scary unless you’re ok about sharing the road with cars travelling at 40mph. Try this route to get out onto Lexden Road, which is much more cycle friendly. The only tricky bit is again getting across Balkerne Hill, which will have to be either via the underpass or the pelican crossing. Once you’re over it, cross on the pelican crossing outside the Hospital Arms. ie

The first hill you will find is the one that after dropping down the hill towards the church, you’ve got to head up the hill with the church to the left. It’s a bugger if you’re not warmed up! At the top of the hill, admiring the renovated pub on the right, carry on straight ahead at the roundabout (cars approaching from the right at speed!), and keep your eye open for where you have to get into the right hand lane after about 50 yards to make a turn to the right onto Halstead Road.

The route takes you down Halstead Road, over the A12 and turn right onto Chitt’s Hill, which you follow as it bears left and goes down. You actually go down Chitt’s Hill, but at the bottom of the hill, before you enter West Bergholt you turn left on Argent’s Lane. There’s an easy little hill, then a bit of a flat bit, then you climb a narrow lane that winds left and right – and there’s more cars than you might expect.

At the top of that hill you pass a nice cricket pitch to your left, and when you reach the t-junction you turn right onto Fiddler’s Hill. As with Chitt’s Hill, you head down it, and as you cross the bridge you start climbing it – although by then it may well be that technically you’re climbing Mill Road up into Fordham. It’s a long and steep climb (for Essex!). You can get your breath back as you go through Fordham, admiring the green to your left. Watch out for the turning on your left called Chappel Lane, as you’re going to turn right at that junction.

Once you’ve turned right, follow the road and you will bear left, and drop down, and when you see a nice pond behind a blasted oak to your left, prepare yourself for a deceptively awkward climb! Follow the map, heading for Little Horkesley along London Road, and you’ll drop down and then up Fishponds Hill. Right turn at the top and head towards Nayland. You’ll hit the A134 and you’re going to have to turn right onto the busy road for 100yards towards Colchester before turning left.

You’re now headed for a world of pain. Burnt Dick Hill is a bugger. An absolute bugger.

Once you’ve made it, at the t-junction, if you’re done for, take a right, then a left onto Wet Lane, and a left onto Mill Road. You’ll be going up Workhouse Hill, but that’s a doddle. You’ll end up on Straight Road, with a right turn to take you back into town.

If you’re up for the final challenge, you’re going to turn left and go along Church Road and you’re going to drop down steeply. At the bottom, turn right, engage a very, very low gear, and climb up Carter’s Hill.

At the top of the hill, if you’re wanting more pain, you can head to your left to Dedham, drop down into Dedham Vale, and enjoy more pain as you climb up out of Dedham Vale. Me, I was done for, and turned right onto Straight Road and along it and then down Nayland Road. The cycling gods looked down on me as the lights and traffic was with me so I could zip out of the bottom of Nayland Road and around the roundabouts at the railway station and under the bridge at a pretty decent pace.

Only problem is, you’ve got to get up into Colchester. Either strain up North Hill in full public view, or do what I did and turn left on St. Peter’s Street, head for the castle, then wend your way up Maidenburgh Street towards the High Street. There’s even some cobbles you can ride over to pretend you’re doing the Paris-Roubaix! Once on the High Street turn right down Queen Street to get back to North Station.