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This month we’ve been talking to Anne Dew, about cycling with her husband Bodo and the Cycling Gang, all in their seventies and eighties, who have shared annual cycling holidays in Europe since 1999.
PN: Did you cycle before you knew Bodo?
AD: I can remember as a child, I must have been about eight, learning how to cycle on my street, because we lived in a crescent in Fulham, in West Kensington, and I got on that bike and I wobbled around and then I finally managed to cycle all the way down the street, and all the way round North End Road, and then back to my house. And that was my first cycling. My mum cycled, and my dad cycled every day to work at Fulham Power Station, so it was in the family. So we were definitely a cycling family, not competitive, but we used to really enjoy our cycling.
PN: So how did you meet Bodo?
AD: We met in a jazz club, in London, then he was offered a job in Hong Kong and he said well, would I like to come, so I did, he sent me a one way ticket to Hong Kong, and then we got married there. I never realised it at the time, but I once met an American woman in Earls Court and when I told her it was the beginning of the sixties, and I went out to Hong Kong on my own on a ship, I was the only passenger, she said I must have been one of the first liberated women, but I never saw it like that. For me it was escape, I never felt really English, I wanted to escape, I never felt homesick. I didn’t want my parents’ working class life. It was only when the children got to an age where I thought, do I want them to be German, or do I think that English is perhaps more important for them, and that’s when we came back because of them and moved to Kingston to be near my parents.
PN: So was Bodo a keen cyclist too?
AD: Oh yes, but there was no cycling in Hong Kong. Bodo bought himself a scooter, a Vespa, and we used to go out on our Vespa into the New Territories, which was just a wonderful wilderness then, it’s hard to believe now, but it was wild beautiful countryside. And we cycled a lot when we moved to Munich, before it was a big thing. I can remember putting my son Thomas, who was about two, on my bike, and Bodo would have Chris, and we would go all around the Bavarian countryside with those two small children and that was a very unusual thing, you didn’t see many people cycling then. We’d get on the train and go out somewhere and then cycle round the lakes or something, but that was really not a common thing.
PN: So which do you think are the best countries to cycle in?
We haven’t done a lot of cycling in Italy and France, so I’d say Germany, where we go with the Cycling Gang. We’ve been every year since 1999 with four lovely friends from Kingston, plus my sister and her husband. Our first trip was the Danube, and we’ve explored all the German river valleys since then. Every year, as soon as we finish the trip, they say “Bodo, where are we going next year!” Germany has such fantastic cycle paths, and there are lots of Gasthofe, little places where you can stop, so we never booked, ever. We only came unstuck once, when we were intending to go along the Baltic, we booked the first hotel, and we had never had any problem finding somewhere to stay, but this time everywhere we went was fully booked, because there was a huge regatta, with all the tall ships, and people were coming from everywhere. We’re going to do Berlin again this year, we’re going to go in September. We always stay in a little suburb called Friedrichshagen, where we can go round the lake, and cycle into Berlin without ever coming into contact with a car.
PN: So what brought you to Colchester?
AD: Our son Thomas moved here in 2008 with his three children. We sold the family house in Kingston, and I couldn’t think of living anywhere else in Kingston, as we were right on the river. And my daughter is in Switzerland, so we came here. The Swiss too are fantastic cyclists, you can rent a bike at the station. We cycled all through a valley, hardly uphill, but with mountains all around you. And I’ve cycled with my sister in Derbyshire, the Tissington Trail, it was beautiful weather. And the Camel Peninsula in Cornwall; and Whitstable; and Tiverton in Devon. We’ve always tried to have at least one cycling holiday a year with the gang. My sister is still a keen cyclist. We stayed in a Travelodge, or Premier Inn, they always have a room where you can lock your bike. They understand how important it is.
PN: So where do you cycle in Colchester?
AD: Well there’s the path through Cymbeline Meadow, I love that, right in the town centre. And the trails to Wivenhoe and Rowhedge. But we do find the last bit to Rowhedge is still a bit like a muddy field. You can get the ferry from Rowhedge over to Wivenhoe and then cycle back to Colchester. And I’ve got an allotment at Mercers Farm so that’s a regular journey I can do on my bike. The last ride we did recently, a couple of weeks ago, we went from Jaywick to Frinton, but you can’t cycle along the prom between October and May. I understand that in the summer the beach huts are occupied, people do their barbies, and it would be really dangerous to cycle along there then, but in the wintertime nobody’s there. I get really nervous, as there’s all these No Cycling signs where there are beach huts, but there’s no one sitting outside in December. I wish they’d put up a notice to say cyclists are welcome off season, like they do in Bournemouth, as it’s wide enough to go round people, there’s no danger. They do have a cycle path along the top, so I cycle along there but it’s very windy, and quite steep up and down. They should be encouraging more people to cycle all the way from Jaywick to Frinton.
There are some lovely cycles around Hadleigh, little country lanes. Bodo does the route planning, he has maps with all the cycle paths, and he gets all these pamphlets about cycle routes. We did a really lovely one over Easter, we went to Lowestoft, we cycled around Lowestoft, and then we went to some of the little towns around there. And we found a lovely cycle man. Bodo wanted his tyres pumped up, and he said to me, you need to have a new brake pad, and he did it all for nothing, he was a lovely guy.
PN: So have you had many different bikes over the years?
AD: Well, not many. And every time I take my bicycle anywhere now … it’s one that has been welded together from other parts, and the saddle’s all split, and the man in Lowestoft said I needed to get a new chain. It’s very heavy too. Bodo’s had quite a few bikes, his is lighter. He’s much more fussy than I am. I think if it’s still going, it’s not worth getting a new one.
And there’s another good route here in Colchester, we push the bikes up to St John’s Abbey Gatehouse, then there’s this wonderful plateau through the Garrison, and on to Friday Woods. And one time we went to Layer Marney, it was wonderful, I loved it, there were hardly any cars, and we had a lovely cup of tea.
I do love cycling, it’s such a joyous thing to do. So when I think about it, we’ve had quite a cycling career, and we’ve no plans to stop, definitely not!
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