Sunday was the day after a big family party back in my home town of Bungay, Suffolk.
I spotted some down time when the rest of the clan were occupied so I sneaked off on a borrowed bike to recharge my batteries, to get lost in the maze of country lanes that cover the area.
South of the town is a gently rolling landscape of huge skies, fields and trees interspersed with farms and hamlets, each boasting a big medieval church that hints at the immense wealth and larger populations that were sustained when this region was one of the most prosperous places in Europe, selling wool to the weavers of Flanders.
Sadly no time to pay a side visit to today’s growing business, the St Peter’s Brewery which has created a delightful range of ales brewed in the grounds of St Peter’s Hall, some parts of which date back to 1280. (Can I recommend their mixed case as an ideal gift for anyone called Peter – went down well with my brother!)
My ride took in the gorgeous houses, the open skies, narrow lanes and hedgerows showing just a first hint of autumn, despite the fact that the warmth of this Indian Summer allowed me to ride in shorts.
I was weaving around in various loops for a couple of hours before I got home, it was delightful to be lost in a reverie. But therein lies the connection with the Bermuda Triangle, the legendary zone in the Atlantic where boats and planes go in, but they never come out.
People from Bungay know such a place. It sounds quite benign, we call it “the Saints”. I went there intending to get a bit lost this time, but it is not always so welcoming to strangers.
The Saints is the collective name for 12 pretty villages south of Bungay, each of which carries the name of its church. So to know your way round you have to know how to navigate to and between St. Cross, St. James, St. Margaret, St. Mary, St. Michael, St. Nicolas, St. Peter, All Saints, St. John, St. Lawrence, St. Andrew and another St. Margaret. Two with the same name? Oh yes. But even without that remembering which one you have just been through and which comes next when you are trying to navigate? No chance.
The modern road signs make it a bit easier, at least they are all there. But my memory as a young cyclist is that they were never complete, I am sure it was a cruel local joke to make sure every one of the old wooden finger posts had at least one arm missing, or was pointing the wrong way.
Even worse, during the Second World War the British took down all the road signs to confuse German invaders. Nobody knows if it would have worked, but according to local history it worked on the US airmen based on the two local airfields, some of them are probably still there, lost forever after a night out in Bungay.
It only took a moment or two discussing the subject with my brother and we were reminiscing about how we “town boys” never got to grips with navigating the Saints. Because these villages all had one great attraction to us as teenagers which sent us into the lost zone. Our classmates who lived out in the villages often had the chance to rent out one of the village halls for parties rather than being forced to negotiate parental absence at home. This inevitably meant freedom to have a cheesy disco and consume gallons of cheap sweet cider, a big attraction in those days.
And then we had to get home.
For some it meant the Mum and Dad taxi, which never went well because hours late some frazzled parents would roll up having taken two hours to travel five miles and tried to collect their offspring from at least four other villages and two other parties. When they arrived at the correct hall a lot more cider had probably been consumed or their kids had been kicked out by the host and were lying in the grass. Tempers were tested, especially trying to remember the way back.
Or some of us would bike. In which case there would always be fog or thick mist which only added to the mysteries of the Saints and the sense of blind oblivion which would lead us back to the same spot more than once. Trevor and I instantly remembered the night we and some mates rode back from somewhere in the Saints with four bikes, two working lights and a fog so thick every bend in the road was a discovery. We weren’t doing too badly until we discovered we were in the middle of a partially repaired bridge which was closed to traffic, only we had sailed blissfully through the bollards and warning signs without seeing any of them. I remember not being that worried at the time, probably because someone recognised the bridge and we were just relieved to have some inkling that we were on the way home.
If you deliberately want to go out and get lost on a bike I can recommend no finer place. There are no challenging hills and busy roads, just miles of windy lanes and some nice village pubs. Like my rides earlier this year in rural Denmark this is a throwback to a time and place where the bicycle is the perfect means of transport and tourism. When John Constable almost defined the classical English landscape in paint he was seeing these skies, just fifty miles or so further south.
In the 21st Century with mobile phones and GPS to complement some good maps there should be no reasons to get entirely lost.
But then again nobody ever explained all the mysteries of the Bermuda Triangle. You have been warned.
To find out more:
Waveney District Council publishes a Saints Tour Cycle route map and leaflet
The Heart of Suffolk cycle route passes through the area – the brown signs in the photos and a leaflet to download.