Stop, Salt-Water Ahead 2k23

A Dunwich Dynamo 2023 photo essay.

Stop, Salt-Water Ahead 2k23

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 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.

People cycling in jerseys and bib shorts away from camera on a road with trees on either side.

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.

At sunset, A corner shop with its shutters closed: "Tylers Green Stores, established 1956, confectioners, tobacconists & newsagents." The logo of HELLO! magazine appears ton the shop frontage and the faded red awning. There's a telegraph pole and a skip.
Denise, a Black woman wearing gloves, wrist protectors, sunglasses, nose ring and earrings, a Karrimor jersey, and a cross, with a pair of headphones around her neck, sits astride her recumbent bicycle with a route sheet attached to the handlebars.
It was at Tyler's Green that we said goodbye to Denise the candle fairy, who'd joined us for the first stint out of London. She set out the tea lights at each junction to guide riders the right way in the dark—something that's no mean feat considering how stop-start it is!


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.

Shot from the saddle of a flat-handlebar bicycle's cockpit with a bronze Crane bell, rubber grips, and a blue handlebar bag. Inside the bar bag is a route sheet. It reads: II Across Essex 15 miles 24km EPPING: TL RIGHT SP B181 19 miles 30 km Talbot @ S/O SP High Laver T RIGHT SP MORETON T RIGHT SP MORETON 24 miles 39 km FYFIELD: T LEFT SP DUNMOW 46 km T RIGHT SP A1060 Chelmsford 29 miles 47 km LEADEN RODING: @ LEFT SP B184 GT. DUNMOW 32 miles 58 km GT. DUNMOW: @ S/O @ LEFT SP TOWN CENTRE 59 km RIGHT by Saracen's Head Hotel into MARKET PLACE @'s S/O 60 km RIGHT SP FINCHINGFIELD B1057 43 miles 70 km GT. BARDFIELD: T LEFT SP FINCHINGFIELD B1057 45 miles 73 km F'INGF'LD S/O SP WETHERSFIELD 47 miles 76 km WETH'RSF'LD: S/O SP S.HEDINGHAM SIBLE HEDINGHAM: 52 miles 84 km T RIGHT SP A1017 Braintree T LEFT SP A1017 Haverhill after 200m 85 km RIGHT SP CASTLE HEDINGHAM 94 km BULMER TYE: T LEFT SP. SUDBURY 60 miles 96 km SUFFOLK County-line, TL S/O
A group of people cycling away from camera along a gently winding country road.
A mauve-blue sunset with dramatic stratus clouds taken from a moving bicycle with a blur of wheat heads sparkling gold in the sunshine.
It was definitely worth leaving early to experience Essex like this, sparkling in the sunset.
Seen across a field, the sun sets dimly, an orange circle set amongst a sky laden with grey clouds.
...and this was the point where I told the party to take a good look at the sun, because that was the last we'd be seeing of it for a while.
In motion: Point of view looking down on my left arm holding the left-hand grip on my bicycle's handlebar, with the route sheet visible on the bar bag and my Apple Watch with a rainbow strap. The bicycle's front light casts a pleasant curved cone of light ahead onto the road surface.
...and I was very glad for my hub dynamo and my reliable front and rear lights. More bicycles should have them.
Blurry shot crossing a two-lane road bridge with lit bollards and modernist arced balustrades on either side.
Ballingdon Bridge in Sudbury, over the River Stour—just as we entered the confusing Subdury one-way system that marked us as being over halfway through and entering…


Blurry shot of bicycle cockpit with twisty light trails from little indicator lights on the front light and its control unit.
A chaotic arrival into the White Horse at Great Waldingfield.

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.)

A relaxing sight to enjoy during my short break in the early morning.

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.

People cycling with glowing rear lights and front lights, and some people festooned in fairy lights, down an unlit country lane. In the distance, the pale blue of dawn rises beyond the road's edge.
The sharp hills out of Needham gave a tantalising glimpse of the coming daylight. By this point, getting to the beach for dawn was well and truly out for me, but I was looking forward to sunrise over 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.

The wall of a community centre with one of those LED light trees in the foreground. In the foreground is the marquee festooned with bunting and string-candle lights, and the corner of a table with a gingham tablecloth. There's an automatic external defibrillator on the wall. A drop-bar bicycle stands against a drainpipe. A piece of paper taped to the drainpipe with an arrow pointing right reads: "FILL YOUR WATER BOTTLES HERE! TAP AT FRONT."
"Somewhere in the heavens… they are waiting"
With another road joining from the right, cycling along a country road during a mauve-coloured dawn. Some people are stopped at the junction with green and purple strip LED lights on their bikes.
Sunrise getting tantalisingly close.
A cyclist in a fluorescent green jacket and with a red backpack on a road bike cycles right-to-left past a "GIVE WAY" sign and a signpost reading "Crettingham 2½ miles left, Brandeston 3 ½ miles left, Helmingham 2 miles right, Otley 3½ miles right, Woodbridge 10 miles right, Ipswich 11 miles right."
A turn that I missed first time around.

It may not have been at the beach, but the sunrise over the flat Suffolk prairies was delightful.

A pink-and-purple sunrise over flat fields with electricity pylons in the distance.

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.

People line up and wait by a gazebo with a table. Sunlight shines on an orange pickup truck which glows in response, and a barn which has the shadow of a tree cast on its corrugated walls.

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!

A car park in a village with wooden chairs and a blue building with the sun shining on it. Cyclists sit on the chairs. A chalkboard reads: "Menu: Crisps £1, soup £3+roll, cakes £2.50, any hot drink £3, Soup + Roll £3, Cans £1.50, Bottled water £1, Bacon roll £4.50, meal deal: Bacon roll + hot drink £6, accept cards + cash."


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…

Selfie of Jonathan in sunglasses wearing a stripy cycling jersey waiting in a queue on the beach.

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.

A view out to sea from a shingle beach, with the water and the gentle waves sparkling in the fresh morning blue.

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.

A cyclist lies on a shingle beach with people milling about near the sea and some swimming in the sea itself on a sunny day. In the distance, the white dome of Sizewell B power station sticks out on the sloped coastline like a sore thumb.

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.

A ladybird on an orange towel messily laid on the beach, with the back of my leg in the top-left of the frame.
Surprise visit from a ladybird. There were more insects than I would have expected on the beach—we saw a few bees buzzing around too.
View out to the sparkling North Sea from the shingle Dunwich beach. A man with cropped hair in silhouette swims left to right around 10 metres out to sea.
Jonathan, a white man with short hair and a scruffy beard, standing on the beach, facing camera, smiling. I'm wearing green towelled shorts and a teal-coloured vest with the word BREATHE on the front.
Me on the beach, photographed by Paul, just as we were about to head back to the coach.

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…