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Festive food frolics…

| Blog, Cycling Plus, Features | 17/12/2012 18:12pm

Starting the ride as we mean to go on with a pre-ride cuppa, we eventually leave Melton towards Saxby, with a gusty crosswind for company. Surprised to be riding in bright sunshine after an unpromising forecast, we make swift progress through the rolling countryside. Although not particularly busy, the B676 counts as a fairly major road in these parts, so it’s nice to get onto a proper country lane at Coston. Single track and seemingly abandoned by traffic, the feeling of a road less travelled is strengthened by the mercifully shallow ford we have to navigate. A red kite circles above us with barely a flicker of its wings as we climb towards Croxton Kerrial.

Whilst a pork pie is obviously a Christmas essential, it was at Croxton that we come across what could possibly be the most important ingredient of any festive dinner. In the centre of the village, Lings View Farm are preparing for their busiest time of the year. Whilst their turkeys keep a low profile, a group of geese mill happily in the yard, blissfully unaware of what the next few weeks have in store for them.

Can you tell who’s got a pie in their pocket?

A fast descent into Knipton is followed by a lovely stretch of woodland before we arrive at the impressive Belvoir Castle.  The ancestral home of the Duke of Rutland sits on the edge of the escarpment overlooking the wide expanse of the Vale of Belvoir. It was here in the 1840s that the tradition of afternoon tea was invented by the Duchess of Bedford, who found herself struggling to go between meals without a bit of cake and a cuppa. It’s a struggle we identify with, but unfortunately the castle café is closed. I suspect the elusive Croxton turkeys may be involved – we had hoped to find some cranberries from the estate fruit farm in the attached shop.

Leaving the castle we speed down into the valley, stopping for a bite to eat at the Rutland Arms in Woolsthorpe. The locals apparently call the pub “the Dirty Duck”, but despite being next to a canal, we eat our lunch in warm sunshine, untroubled by waterfowl in any state of hygiene. Suitably refreshed, we follow the ridge east, making our way along quiet, winding lanes through a variety of small, but perfectly formed villages. Crossing under a railway bridge and past a sign announcing a gated road, we enter the picturesque Woodnook Valley. Populated by more red kites and a noisy family of buzzards, it feels almost like a tiny piece of Snowdonia has ended up here in South West Lincolnshire.

It’s pronounced Beaver Castle apparently… (© Tom Simpson)

The advertised gate never materialises and turning left onto the ancient road of Ermine Street, we find ourselves in a completely different world. Built by the Romans to link London and Lincoln, the road now provides a handy route for HGVs and impatient sales reps as we make our dead-straight way, deeper into Lincolnshire. Fortunately that previously pesky crosswind is now right behind us and we don’t have to spend too long on the only unpleasant stretch of road of the day. Even then, the road has its charms – looking east on the brow of one the little hills reveals nothing but the pan flatness of the fens between us and the North Sea.

It’s not just long, straight roads we have to thank the Romans for of course. It is believed they also brought sausages to Britain some time before 400AD. Add another Latin import – sage – and you get the famous Lincolnshire sausage. In Ancaster, the local butcher gives us the chance to sample this wonderful local delicacy. In 2010, the Lincolnshire Sausage Association attempted to take a leaf out of Melton Mowbray’s book and obtain Protected Geographic Indication. Unfortunately, the EU didn’t support the bid. I’m guessing they never tried the sausages that we just scoffed. Having obtained another ingredient for our Christmas table (with some locally smoked bacon for our pigs in blankets) we set off under threatening skies via a narrow, poorly surfaced, hedge-lined road. It’s all a bit reminiscent of Paris Roubaix, a feeling strengthened when we get held up by a level crossing.

Insert sausage joke here… (© Tom Simpson)

It’s the Leicester Forest CC club ‘meat’… I thank you… (© Tom Simpson)

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