Last weekend I made my second run at the Dunwich Dynamo (my first was four years ago in 2019.) It's been a while, and this time I think I enjoyed it more: the weather was nicer (although bloody cold at night), I was less under the cosh to get to the beach in time for the last coach, and I had a little help from some friends.
I used the same touring bike as last time (albeit with a new, more comfortable set of handlebars, and the troublesome mudguards removed) and wore similar clothes. I relied more on the food stops this time round as well, rather than bringing huge bottles of water and pâté sandwiches with me.
What I did not rely on as much was GPS navigation: this time I used a simple route sheet. It was occasionally dicey in the dark, and when the measurements began to diverge from my own GPS readings—but generally easy to follow, the analogue experience was overall easier than trying to juggle keeping my phone charged through the night.
The route sheets divide the route into 5 sections. So, divided by section, this is a photo essay with minimal commentary. Enjoy...
I. INTO THE WOODS
I got to London Fields at just around 4:30, and left at 4:50 with a group of people aiming to get to Dunwich for dawn (at about 4:40am the next morning.) It was a warm summer Saturday, so the Fields had its usual relaxed party atmosphere. And even some three hours before the generally-agreed departure time, there were quite a few people outside our group clearly planning destined for Dunwich.
As is inevitable, the first part (on the way out of the city) was easily the slowest: traffic, dodgy road surfaces, and short traffic light phases separating the group, and a bevy of possible routes through Clapton. The new cycle tracks on the Lea Bridge Road were being well-used, although clearly weren't intended for a group of our size (we also indignantly dinged our bells at an errant driver who'd straddled her enormous SUV half in the cycle lane, half in the pavement.) The Waterworks Roundabout remains terrifying thanks to impatient drivers shifting lanes, and unfortunately won't be improved any time soon (there's a dingy and narrow subway and this is apparently enough.) Things sped up as we passed Woodford, but that also meant the terrible Epping New Road 'cycle lane' that sticks you in the cambered and rutted edge of the road—enough to shake anything loose from your bike.
Unsurprisingly, this was the section of the ride when I took the fewest photos.
After a short section of contraflow roadworks through Epping, and heading straight across the Talbot Roundabout and the last A-road for a while, the character of the route changed drastically: the high speed urban racetracks were gone, and everything slowed to an altogether more pastoral feel.
II. ACROSS ESSEX
The weather was glorious on our way out of London. The wind at our backs, the sun ambling towards the horizon, and spectacular clouds. And yes, while the stereotypes about Essex drivers might be true (this was my only encounter with a truly stroppy driver on the night, who honked as they overtook our group) we moved quickly and it lifted my mood a lot.
III. THE SUFFOLK PRAIRIES
It was the uphill part of a dip between Great Bricett and Ringshall Stocks, where I suddenly needed to stop and pushed my bike off the edge of the road to rest for a bit before proceeding—my legs were struggling with the sudden climbs, and what little breath I had left was being used to call the hills "bastards" under my breath. I stopped for fifteen minutes or so to watch people cycle past, and text my partner and a friend (who gave me some gentle
bullying encouragement into getting back on.)
From there, it wasn't that far to Needham Lakes. For context, last time I did the Dynamo in 2019, I reached Needham Lakes in daylight and when it was already deserted: this time I got there in the small hours, just as the first light was starting to emerge from behind the trees, with various riders' disco lights and the pop-up coffee and sausage roll stalls giving a party atmosphere.
I probably stayed here a little too long, actually. It gave me an opportunity to switch to a new roll of CineStill 800T in my film camera, and recharge my phone and my watch (which was an awkward dance trying to get them to retain contact when plugged into my power bank.) By the time I was comfortable proceeding, I was shivering. I should've brought more layers.
IV. SILLY SUFFOLK
Says Southwark Cyclists' page of the Dynamo: "Cycle-tourists can pass like ghosts leaving only cash to keep country pubs open for another year." Gosbeck community village hall was embracing the ghosts with open arms, setting out marquees, tables, and selling sausage rolls and coffee by the morning twilight. One often finds that after a long ride, you become grumpy: the smiling faces certainly helped to lift my spirits, and I doubt I was the only one.
It may not have been at the beach, but the sunrise over the flat Suffolk prairies was delightful.
Up to this point, I'd been humming various cry-dance synthpop anthems and Jim Steinman bangers under my breath, but the winding roads and the sharp lighting meant the only thing going through my head for these few miles was the warthog run theme from Halo.
I had intended to keep slugging on, but by Brandeston I needed another comfort break and to refill my water, so swung into the lay-by for the community centre.
To my surprise, at this point I spotted a man with a yellow bicycle and a grey hoodie who looked familiar—similar enough to someone I've known online for ages that I gave chase on my way out of Brandeston to confirm that it was indeed Paul, who'd started much later than I had but had caught up in the time I'd spent mooching around at the food stops. His company in the closing 30km was much-needed moral support and accountability to keep going (plus it was someone else with whom to compare notes on the route.)
My last stop was at Framlingham where I made a quick stop to use the public toilets—and it was there that we also ran into Josh, who had ridden up from London having come down on the train from Manchester and had a busy day beforehand!
V. DOWN TO THE LOST CITY
We crossed the A1120 (hilariously called the Hackney Road—presumably not a direct continuation of the A1208 Hackney Road in Bethnal Green and Shoreditch) at Peasenhall. From then, it wasn't far. 20km. 18km. 15km.
I will admit that I was subtracting the number of kilometres I'd done from 180 (having worked out that the route sheet's mileage towards the end was a tad suspect) and comparing it to rides I do on the regular. It's about 15km to the ponds at Highgate from my flat. About 10 was my usual commute pre-corona. Around 7 is my current commute. 2km is a short hop to the other side of Stratford. This made the hills all the more bearable, until we saw the sign for DUNWICH—and then the beach car park—and then…
We got to the beach at around 7:45am—around 3 hours too late for sunrise on my part, but worth the extra time for the breaks, and my sanity, and to avoid any al fresco toilet arrangements, and for the happy accident of meeting Paul and Josh. A short queue to put our bikes on the coach later left plenty of time to relax on the beach.
I didn't get a chance to swim in the sea after my last Dynamo. This time was a more authentic experience, and I can't adequately describe how surreal and yet joyous it is: the water is cold once you get in but the sun beats some warmth into you, the water is mercifully clean, and taking the weight off yourself and the taste of the salt and the light and the sight of the Sizewell B nuclear power plant in the distance and the peace and quiet and the occasional squealing of other people getting into the water—it is a kind of sensory brainfreeze, a really good dessert at the end of a long banquet, and I bloody loved it.
Lesson learned: when doing the Dynamo, always leave in time to have a swim at the beach, even if it means leaving early. People always seem to balk at the idea ("you swam in the sea after cycling 112 miles?") but swimming itself is not hard—I simply did some gentle breaststroke in a circle. Getting into my swimming trunks on the shingle while avoiding (in Paul's words) a Marilyn Monroe moment was more difficult—a German attitude to public nudity would've made it much easier, but alas, we're in Britain, so the awkward dance under a towel it was.
I climbed out of the sea and back up the beach (less Daniel Craig in Casino Royale, more Sandra Bullock crawling out of that lake in her pants at the end of Gravity) to relax on the beach for another hour or so. Enough time to people-watch, to doze for a bit using my pannier as a cushion, and to gobble down the last of my bananas, wine gums, and extra-large chocolate buttons, before it was time to jump on the coach home.
And that was that: my second Dunwich Dynamo, and a much more authentic experience than the first. At some point I might consolidate my notes into a single page with advice for people looking to do the DunRun in subsequent years (Josh mentioned that my previous post had given him reassurance he could pootle to the beach.) But for now, I've marked my calendar for 20-21 July next year.
Now to hope the weather is as good next time…