Lets find a Cafe (or tearoom)

Lets find a Cafe (or tearoom)

Locations of reviewed cafes

For more information on the Cafes I have visited and the latest cafe cycle news go to http://www.cake-crusader.co.uk/

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Monday, 18 May 2015

Painters trail (3 cafes on Suffolk Essex boarder)

Painters Trail,
Fountain House Tea room (East Bergholt),
Mon-Fri 9:30-16:30, Sat-Sun 10:00-16:00,
Huffers of Sudbury (Sudbury),
Mon-Sat 8:00-17:00, Sun 10:00-16:00,
Hall Farm Cafe (Stratford St Mary),
Everyday 10:00-16:00, 

A few years ago, following the advice of Big George (who had done the same), I had taken my family on a two day ride around part of the Painters Trail on the Essex Suffolk Boarder. We both remembered it being a good route but felt we needed to complete the whole thing. It is 70 miles and fairly hilly making it excellent ironman training (Did I mention I was doing an Ironman triathlon). It would also give me a chance to do some cafe cycle reviewing in a different part of the country. In fact I don't even own enough boxes for this ride to tick so yesterday myself and Big George loaded our bikes on to the 8:30 to Manningtree and set off to the start of the Painters Trail.
Train arriving at Manningtree station for start of ride
As usual there was a deadline as I needed to catch the 5:12 train back to Norwich, at the latest, so I could get back in time for my swimming session. If we kept a decent pace and had no problems we should make it easily. 

Things didn't start well as doing some last minute research on the train on the way down I discovered the Painters Trail no longer existed as a sign posted route and the map and information pamphlet I had got hold of were from 2004 so all the information was out of date. A lot of the information was about famous artists who had painter there, fortunately all of them are dead now so facts about them would still be correct. I hoped the same would be true of the roads.
Last minute research using out of date information
I very much blamed the out of date information pamphlet (OODIP) and lack of signs when explaining to Big George why I had blindly followed the route on my cycle GPS out of the station and in the wrong direction. It was about a mile before I had realised my mistake after which we had had to return to the station to start again. Our first chunk of contingency had now been used up and we had got exactly nowhere, other than going the extra mile, which I'm told is always a good thing.

When we did set off the correct way it wasn't far to the first planned stop, as recommended by the OODIP, which would be at Flatford Mill. This is where John Constable (famous artist) painted some well known pictures of fields. According to my OODIP it took him many hours to paint each one. Nowadays you can do this sort of thing in seconds with a phone camera, see below, and I think my one looks more realistic, especially the cows.
Painting I did at Flatford mill with my phone camera.
 It is like the one's Constable and Gainsborough used to do but with more realistic cows.
To complete the hatrick of early issues we discovered that the National Trust tearoom at Flatford Mill was not open for another half hour. We obviously couldn't afford to wait that long as we won't get back in time for the 5:12 train. This was a shame as on hearing about my trip to the area the NT tearoom at Flatford Mill had tweeted me suggesting I visit them.


calling in at Flatford? Rhubarb and ginger scones are in the oven..

We still wanted to have an early cafe cycle review so I asked a passing National Trust Lady if there were any more tearooms near by. She claimed there were none in the direction we were going and tried to engage us in chit-chat. She was clearly trying to keep us there until the Flatford Mill NT tearoom opened and the rhubarb and ginger scones were out of the oven. Big George was getting sucked into her trap but I insisted we push on and thanked her for her help. We slowly cycled back up the hill to the village disappointed that the first cafe cycle review was not now going to happen and that we were missing out on rhubarb and ginger scones (are they really a thing?)

We were therefore surprised that when we got to the top of the hill we came face to face with the fountain house tearoom in East Bergholt not 2 minutes away. Nice try National Trust Lady I thought.

There was nothing about Fountain house tea room in my OODIP but you can't go wrong with a pink cafe so we went inside as sadly there was no outside seating area. We sat in the window which had a nice view of the village.

I checked out the cake selection which had a solid choice of the usual cake suspects so I awarded a solid effective cake selection (ECS) rating and ordered carrot cake. Big George ordered a toasted tea cake. Although a toasted tea cake has the word cake in it it is clearly not a cake but a fruit bread so Big George would take no further part in any cake based reviewing at the fountain house tea room.
Good solid and nicely presented cake selection
While we waited for our cakes and drinks to arrive we decided to share our knowledge of the great British landscape painters of the 18th century. Fortunately the refreshments arrived soon after as the silence was getting embarrassing.
Drinks and cakes at the Fontain tea room
Both my hot chocolate and Big George's filter coffee were nice drinks and kept up the very solid performance of the fountain house tearoom. The carrot cake was also very nice, moist and nicely iced so scored well in the cake taste quality (CTQ) ratings.

If ever there was a tearoom, or cafe, to use as a benchmark to compare others against then the Fountain House tea room would be it as it did everything really well but without being exceptional. It was a very good first stop and we could have stayed longer discussing Art but there were still many miles and adventures to be had so we paid up and remounted.

The next section turned out to be extremely hilly with no respite between getting to the bottom of one hill before having to start to climb up again. Many of the climbs also had false finishes where you thought you had reached the top only to round the corner and find there was still plenty more up to do. However there were some great views to reward your efforts.

It was interesting to note the amount of radio masts there were on the horizon. Presumably making use of the hills. It was clear that Constable was not good at painting radio masts as he appeared to have missed them out of all of his paintings. This made me question the accuracy of any of his work as I also don't remember seeing a single hay wagon (or wain as he liked to call them) on our ride and he painted lots of them.
Some of the many radio masts we saw.
If Constable had taken this photo he probably would have photo shopped
 them out and added a hay wagon instead.
Due to the mountainous terrain we were ready for our second stop at the halfway point in Sudbury.
Outsider Huffers of Sudbury
As it was directly on the route and had a good name we choose to stop at Huffers of Sudbury in Sudbury. Again no outside seating area. We choose a table in the busy indoor seating area which had views of the Sudbury one way system.

I checked out the cake selection which was rather small but still contained the cake trinity of Victoria, carrot and chocolate so I awarded a reasonable ECS rating.
Small selection but did included all the cake classics
I went for Victoria sponge and Big George choose lasagne. Clearly lasagne is not cake so once again Big George disqualified himself from exciting cake reviewing action here.
Drinks and cake

Both our drinks were very good but unfortunately the Victoria sponge had seen better days and was a bit dry with a disappointing filling. I'm afraid Big George was not keen on his lasagne either. This maybe because, as he confessed afterwards, he doesn't actually like lasagne and only had it as it was pasta which he thought you needed to eat on a long bike ride. This led to today's cycling guest cycling top tip.

Cycling guest cycling top tip no 29. For a bonk free experience on long cycle rides regularly eat cake to keep up your energy levels.

Before leaving I noticed that Huffers of Sudbury operated a loyalty card scheme. Although I'm unlikely to return on another 8 occasions in order to claim my free drink, I did take a card (and get it stamped) to add to my loyalty card picture library on the blog.

We were a little behind schedule so if we were going to make the 5:12 train target it was time to get going again. It would also be interesting to see if pasta or cake would perform better on the second half of the ride. 

As we saw more and more paint-able countryside I was inspired to come up with an idea for a new sport. It would be a cycling art mash up called pycling. The idea would be to race on your bikes through some attractive country side whilst you painted a landscape scene of the route. The winner would not necessarily be the first to finish but added time bonuses would be awarded based on the quality of your painting. I pitched my idea to Big George and he soon came back with an imaginative idea about where I could stick the easel. 
The sort of scene you would need to paint in the new mash up sport of pycling
The next part of the ride had far less hills but a few stepper ones and some off road sections.  At one point it combined both aspects at the aptly named sandy hill. This is where we discovered cake was the winner in the battle of cycling food. I know this as when I reached the summit I looked round to see Big George had got off and was pushing his bike. When he eventually caught me up I questioned him on this cycling faux pas but rather than blame the lasagne he claimed he had had a mechanical (flat tyre, chain off etc) and therefore had had to get off. I felt guilty, for a moment, about doubting him until it transpired that this 'mechanical' turned out to be that he had overheated as he had over layered in the sun and had had to take a top off to cool down. I pointed out that traditionally a mechanical was when the bike not the rider had broken and we cycled on in silence for a bit.
Big George finally making it to the top of Sandy Hill.
Fortunately I had a copy of War and Peace with me which I was able to complete while I waited
We were now well behind schedule and when we were further slowed down by roadworks and newly shingled roads, the 5:12 train looked like it would be out of our reach. In fact when we arrived at our final planned stop, Hall Farm cafe at Stratford St Mary, we only had 45 minutes to do a cafe cycle review and ride the final 6.5 miles to Mainingtree station. It was clear that to have any chance of making it that Big George would need some cake to recharge his batteries, so we went ahead with the stop.
Outside Hall Farm cafe
Hall farm cafe did have an outside seating courtyard but due to the urgency of the situation we didn't have time to check it out and sat down by the door ready for a quick get away.

I checked out the cakes and there was a good selection so I awarded a good ECS score. I had already had Carrot and Victoria today so it was time for chocolate. Big George decided he would have a scone, jam and cream to properly fuel up.
Good cake selection
With time pressing it was just our luck that the cake and scone were enormous and the drinks scolding hot. Both normally a good thing but not in today's high pressure circumstances.
Enormous cake and scone plus scolding hot drinks
My drink was not only very hot but didn't really taste of chocolate at all. Big George thought his filter coffee was reasonably good but again too hot to drink quickly. The scone with jam and cream was a winner but I didn't have time to work my way through all the cake as it was a bit rich to eat really quickly. As time was now really pressing we left half the cakes and drinks before throwing some money for the bill at the waitress and rushing back to our bikes. I think the staff looked a little bemused by our formula one style super fast pit stop as judging by the rest of the customers they normally have more trouble getting people to stop nattering and leave rather than stay. I too would have liked to have spent more time at Hall farm cafe and sampled it's rather nice looking outdoor seating courtyard area and view over a relaxing afternoon tea but needs must.

It was now heads down and flat out pedalling as we dashed across Essex, or possibly Suffolk (no time to check the OODIP), towards Manningtree station. Fortunately there were only a couple of hills on this stretch so we could keep up our frantic pace, sadly there was no time to enjoy the final dramatic views.

As we passed the Mainingtree town signs we only had 5 minutes left so a final surge was required to the station. On arrival we cycled through the entrance and straight down the platform. We had made it with 2 minutes to spare. We started to relax and congratulate ourselves. Big George said that it didn't seem long ago we were standing in this very spot getting our bikes off the train. As he said it we both turned pale as we knew what this meant, we were on the wrong platform. There was only one thing to do, panic. We started to rush about aimlessly searching for the way across to the other platform. We eventually stumbled across an under pass and run under the track to the other side. When we got there it was now 5:13 but today the god's of cycling (and art) were on our side as we were informed the train was running two minutes late and we had made it. 
Bikes safely on 5:12 train from Mainingtree
The Painters trail had been an excellent ride and 3 new cafes had been added to my list. However I'm not surprised it is no longer a recognised route and that you can no longer get the OODIP as it has a number of busy roads to cross. However if you want to go on a hilly ride, enjoy some great scenery, visit some nice cafes and have a go at pycling then it is well worth a visit. You can down load the route at the bottom of the post.

Scores
Fountain House Tea Room
Hot Choc Quality
Guest Hot Drink Quality
Effective Cake Selection
Cake Quality
Ambiance and Atmosphere
Café Rating
6.5
6.5
6.5
8.0
7.0
6.90
Huffers of Sudbury
Hot Choc Quality
Guest Hot Drink Quality
Effective Cake Selection
Cake Quality
Ambiance and Atmosphere
Café Rating
7.0
7.0
5.5
5.5
6.5
6.30
Hall Farm
Hot Choc Quality
Guest Hot Drink Quality
Effective Cake Selection
Cake Quality
Ambiance and Atmosphere
Café Rating
4.0
6.0
7.5
7.5
6.0
6.20

Route

Click here to download 70 mile painters trail gpx file for your gps

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