Take your time, enjoy the views and savour the refreshment stops, with Alastair McCraw, an enthusiastic cyclist and local councillor, who lives in Brantham and shares his favourite cycling routes around the Shotley Peninsula.
“The thing with cycle routes is that they don’t always fit your needs, so this is going to be more of a guide. I like the freedom of making it up as I go, to enjoy the views and get a sense of place. I adore cycling this peninsula. It’s mostly quiet, the roads rise and fall and bend in interesting ways so that new perspectives open up throughout. Oh, and there are lots of little roads. There must have been a lot of meandering cattle in the distant past. It’s also quietly gorgeous; not the high profile ‘heritage’ sort of gorgeous, just gentle and easy on the eye.
I’m going to highlight some roads, some favourite stretches and throw a few locations into the mix. Pubs and churches will tend to dominate, purely for navigational purposes of course, although refreshment (spiritual or otherwise) is always a good idea.
So, some road geography to start with: from the top let’s look, as briefly as possible, at the A137 between Brantham and Wherstead. I try to just use the section as far as the Tattingstone crossroads (The Wheatsheaf) because after that it gets a bit fast and hairy (head for the side roads, they’re friendlier).
The B1080 runs from Brantham (The Bull) to Freston and provides a useful spine for a lot of routes on both sides. Finally the B1456 will take you, parallel to the River Orwell, from Bourne Bridge in Ipswich, all the way to Shotley Gate. It makes a marvellous launch point to go south and west on a wonderful network of little, sometimes tiny, roads leading to Holbrook. I love coming along these in the long evenings of the spring and summer months. Climbing up the little rises into a view of the setting sun lighting up the cornfields, is a particular joy.
I have some favourite sections in this area. In Chelmondiston the drop down to Pin Mill needs care of oncoming traffic, but takes you to famous views of the Orwell, and incidentally the Butt and Oyster. It would be a crime not to stop and take in the atmosphere. It’s particularly atmospheric at low tide!
At the tip of the peninsula there’s a surprisingly long run to Shotley Gate (Bristol Arms) where you can look across the Stour to Harwich and Parkeston Quay. It’s an in and out route, so be ready for a bit of a long drag uphill on the way back.
I have a big soft spot for Shotley Church, north of here. In a wonderful setting, the combination of this charming church (not beautiful, but charming) the HMS Ganges graveyard and the vista that opens up across the Orwell always moves me.
But be warned! There’s a swine of a hill here. Bottom gear for me (just) or push if you have to. Go back on the road to the North if you can.
If I have a favourite route on the entire peninsula, it’s the next one. In this direction, go from Shotley to Erwarton Hall (fantastic Elizabethan/Jacobean chimneys) round the bend south to Erwarton Church. There are some very fine medieval tombs here. As you travel along, there are glimpses of the River Stour to your left and the way twists and turns on its way to Harkstead (Bakers Arms).
You’re looking to head west here as you can easily be tempted towards the centre roads. It’s a peninsula though. How lost can you get?
From the pub just carry on to Lower Holbrook, running straight to Holbrook across the fishpond. The best bit of this whole section is that it’s mostly downhill and always feels like a long ski run to me. Be careful though not to overcook the corners. It does bend sharply.
In Holbrook (Compasses and The Swan) you have options across country north to Tattingstone, back to Stutton via the Royal Hospital School and past Alton Water.
Alton Water cycle circuit. Short version. West side….Any bike down to little pink fairy bike with stabilisers. East side…..Mountain bike with chunky tires. Only an idiot would take a road bike here! Guilty, I’m afraid.
At Stutton (Kings Head) there’s a nice route along Bentley Lane with a right turn towards Alton Water on the back road to Tattingstone (Tattingstone Wonder on the way). That brings you to the centre of the village. I sometimes think of this as my councillor route between the two parishes when there are meetings in both.
At other times, I’ll head back past the Gardiners Arms in Stutton before tackling the deep dip at Stutton Bridge. It can be very fast and tricky near the bottom where the road bends. And that will return me to Brantham. There are still two miles of the A137 down to Cattawade (The Crown) mostly with a 30mph limit. You can ‘just’ reach that at the bottom of Brantham Hill if you get a tail wind.
And that’s covered a lot of ground. This isn’t ideal country for lycra warriors on long training rides. It’s more suited to fun and social rides. And although I do own some lycra, I’ve learnt to keep it under control to avoid scaring small children and dogs. I hope you get as much out of ‘our little Suffolk corner’ as I have over the last thirty years over these roads. Safe travels and look out for other road users. We share these roads and everybody needs respect”.