“History is now and England”

I’ve been fooled before by aerial photographs, so I pedalled off to check that the A1(M) north of Huntingdon really does still have the adjacent old road, and that it is usable as far as Sawtry. It’s an important part of my trip north and I wouldn’t want to backtrack so early. I also wanted to check whether I could use OS 250k maps printed in back and white to navigate between villages I’ve never seen before.

To spare you from suspense I’ll tell you now: yes the maps are fine, and yes the old road is there and usable. It is now called the B1043, which is less interesting than either “Ermine Street” or the “Great North Road”.

The route took me through a previous home town of Godmanchester. It was packed out with cars parked on roads, pavements, greens, anywhere there was space. I checked my old house was still there, and was about to cycle away when I heard pop classics coming from loudspeakers across the river on the water meadow.

The River Great Ouse splits before Godmanchester, forming a number of islands that tend to flood. The Roman Ermine Street, which much of my cycle route was on, forded the river here; the Via Devana went to Cambridge (via Fenstanton); and another road went to Sandy.

The pop classics were belted out by The Singing Waitresses, a trio of highly competent and confident vocalists in the style, perhaps, of the Andrews Sisters. We left after their set to continue our ride and later returned for the final few minutes of the event, Big 10, a ska band. Not my cup of tea, but they were good and the crowd loved them.

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This Picnic in the Park was organised by the Godmanchester Community Association, with which I had some involvement three decades ago. Doesn’t time fly? I was delighted to see the organisation was thriving.

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We followed Ermine Street north over the medieval bridge into Huntingdon (but the photo looks south towards Godmanchester).

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I don’t know if these two signs together mean “no entry except for bikes” or “no entry, but bikes can use the pavement (and not the road)”.

We continued past Cromwell’s birthplace to RAF Alconbury. The United States Air Force 423d Air Base Group hang in there, and motorists sporting crewcuts peered suspiciously from the windows of massive left-hand-drive SUVs at this solitary cyclist. The base has an airfield but no planes except for this one, which BB insisted on posing beside.

It’s a Northrop F-5E Tiger II, capable of 1055 mph which would put Brown Bike to shame even on a good day. Except that it’s really a plastic replica like a giant Airfix kit that hasn’t moved in three decades, so perhaps BB isn’t so slow after all.

The Post Office and Co-op at Sawtry, surprisingly open and busy on a Sunday, supplied some much-needed food.

This is the road to Little Gidding, which is hosting a T S Eliot festival next weekend. I love narrow lanes that go to only one place.

… If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion.
 (Eliot, Four Quartets no. 4, Little Gidding, 1942)

King Charles I hung out around here (If you came at night like a broken king, …) after he lost the battle at Naseby and thus the first English civil war. In the rematch he lost both the second civil war and his head, but eventually gained Anglican sainthood and lent his name to both North and South Carolina, USA. Then local lad Oliver Cromwell took charge. Olly also lost his head, but only after he died. He was never sainted but in 1961 one of his descendents married into the royal family. I guess he wouldn’t have approved.

Here’s Little Gidding. This is about all there is. Children were playing here, on their bikes.

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