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« The best of 2009: History | Main | Precious moments, lost forever »

Riding my bike to Grandma’s house

For ten years, from the age of 13 until I was 23, I lived in Luton; an industrial town some 30 miles north of London.

This was where I started cycling, and throughout my teen years I rode my bike all over the South East corner of England, within a hundred mile radius of Luton.

My grandmother lived in a little seaside town called Hythe; in the county of Kent. It is on the South Coast of England, near Folkstone and Dover. On a clear day you can look out over the English Channel and see the coast of France.

On many occasions I rode my bike to visit my Grandma, who at that time still lived in the same house on High Street (Left.) where my mother was born.

The shortest route was 100 miles, and I would usually ride down on Saturday, stay overnight, and ride back on Sunday.

The direct route took me right through the dead center of London; right down the Edgware Road, to Hyde Park Corner.

If I could get an early start, usually around 5:00 am., I would be clear of London’s center before 8:00 am. when the traffic got heavier. This was a Saturday, and it was the 1950s when traffic was a lot lighter than today.

On the way back, I would take a detour north and east to Gravesend, where I would catch a ferry boat over the River Thames to Tilbury on the North Bank. This route was about 110 miles, taking me through Brentwood, Harlow, Hertford and Welwyn Garden City.

On one occasion, I rose early for my ride to Granma’s; I ate a large breakfast and immediacy threw up. Throughout my childhood and teen years I would periodically have these stomach upsets that my mother always called a “Bilious Attack.”

Looking back, I now suspect it was nothing more than food poisoning.

We never owned a refrigerator, and meat would be cooked, and then eaten over several days.

I really had no choice but to make the trip, neither my parents nor my grandma had a phone.

I had written a letter the week before, saying I was coming; had I not arrived she would be terribly worried.

I rested a couple of hours, then ate something again and set out. By now it was too late to take the direct route through London; I would have to go the long way.

I hadn’t gone but a few miles when I brought up the food I had just eaten. I struggled on, and somewhere out between Harlow and Brentwood, weak from lack of food inside me, I collapsed in the long grass at the roadside.

I hadn’t laid there long when I felt something biting me and I discovered I was lying on a red ant’s nest; I was not having a good day.

However, it did get me up and back on the bike again; soon after, I was forced to eat again, and this time it stayed down. Once I was able to eat, my strength returned and I completed the ride.

If you ever have a chance to visit Hythe, be sure to check out St. Leonard’s Church. (Above, right.) Originally a Norman Church built in 1080; it was later enlarged in 1120.

An unusual feature is the crypt under the church; it houses a stack of 8,000 human bones, and some 2,000 skulls.

These are the remains of some 4,000 men, women and children, some who may have lived in the first millennium.

They are believed to have been placed there when the church was expanded, and later when the graveyard became full and bodies were removed to make room for more.

I went there as a child in the 1940s, and always wanted to return, but during the 1950s though the 1970s it was closed to the public. Now it is open again and there is a small fee to visit, which helps in the upkeep of the church.

Reader Comments (7)

Just think if that had happened in this day and age - you'd have telephoned and cancelled, thus unable to share one of those eye closing moments with us!

December 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJoby


Terrific post.

While I haven't experienced the joy:-) of cycling under Bilious/Red Ant Attack from Luton (or St. Albans) to Hythe I do have many fond memories of those beautiful villages and the geography surrounding them.

Your photo of St. Leonard's Church helps me vividly recall a trip to the UK where I stayed in a B&B adjacent to Winchester Cathedral, southwest of London...ironically as I was reading Follett's historical novel "Pillars of the Earth" and thinking of the toil endured by the stonemasons of the time.

Great post...thanks.


December 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMike in CT

Nice piece Dave. I only ever cycled 100 miles one time - took me 8 hours. Couldn't do it in my present stateof fitness but hopefully next year I'll be in better shape.

December 17, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterstephen_mc

I don't envy the food poisoning or the red ants, but I envy that you had a such a perfect length to ride to a relative's house, especially given the traffic patterns at the time. Wish that that situation was possible here in the US West.

December 17, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterdb

I presume you were eating an english breakfast . I had one of those once and barely kept it down myself.

Good story!

December 17, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermercator

Cool story. Riding that far to see your grandmother is quite an adventure. How many kids nowadays could pull that off now - or even be allowed to?

No 'fridge and leftover meat - bad combo (burp).

December 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDan O

How backwards we were in the 1950's (I am only a bit younger that you). No telephone, no refrigerator, no cell phone, no 3g smart phone, light traffic in London. It's amazing we have survived.

I was in London a number of times between 1975 and 2005 on business. It would be a tough place to ride. My cycling experience there was almost being run down by a cyclist before I corrected my American habit and learned to look the proper way as I stepped off the curb.

December 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGary Beardsley
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