Summer Wednesday Exploration Ride to Thorpe Camp. 3rd July 2019
Cycling UK members Barry Jordan, Chris Owen, Rob Cook and Tim Newbery assembled at the Meridian Centre Louth on a fine sunny Wednesday morning for the latest in the series of Summer Exploration Rides. Rob had missed out on the ride on Sunday so we welcomed his guest appearance whilst Barry had been looking forward to a visit of Thorpe Camp for some time, and latterly found that he did indeed have a free day. Chris Owen would cycle with us to Horncastle but would sadly have to return home following refreshments.
For once a northerly breeze and that would encourage club members on the climb out of Raithby Cum Maltby to the junction with the Bluestone Heath Road, an altitude of about 450 ft (150 m). Here we encountered the recently gritted road past Red Hill and onwards through Goulceby. Conditions luckily not so unfavourable as we had found on the Sunday.
Continuing through Hemingby and Furzehills, it wasn’t long before we arrived at Horncastle and enjoyed refreshments at the School House Coffee Bar. We were warmly welcomed and had a pleasant chat with an elderly lady who was a lifelong member (from the age of 16) of Cycling UK - Cyclists’ Touring Club. Happy memories of times spent at York Rally and the Birthday Rides.
Chris would now depart (although he encountered fresh ‘redressing’ at Goulceby) which left the remainder following a route through Thornton and Roughton, which lie adjacent to the old Horncastle Canal. Continuing onto Kirby on Bain and Tattershall Thorpe, the time was approaching 12.15 pm and as Thorpe Camp wouldn’t be open until 1 pm, we made use of the facilities at The Blue Bell Inn. Built in 1257, this pub is famous not only as the haunt of Hunters, Poachers and Royalist Fugitives, but also by the men and women of the RAF including 617 Dam Busters Squadron. There are many signatures on the ceiling.
Sandwiches, coffee’s and best bitter consumed it was time to make a visit of Thorpe Camp a few hundred metres away. The site was once part of No. 1 communal site, RAF Woodhall Spa and was built in 1940 with a planned life span of only 10 years! The site included the Officers’ and Sergeants’ Messes, Airmen’s dining Halls and the NAFFI amongst others. Now, only the Airmen’s dining Halls and NAFFI lie within the boundary of Thorpe Camp Visitors Centre, run by volunteers of Thorpe Camp Preservation Group. There’s an eclectic but interesting array of displays from a Bloodhound Missile, English Electric Lightning, history of Woodhall Spa and a memorial dedicated to those who flew from RAF Woodhall Spa and failed to return.
RAF Woodhall Spa was the home of 97, 617, 619 and 627 Squadrons.
97 Squadron transferred to Woodhall Spa on 1 March 1942 and was one of one of the earliest squadrons to be equipped with the Avro Lancaster. New Zealander Les Munro (who was the last surviving pilot who flew on 617 Squadron's Dambuster raid), served with 97 Squadron at Woodhall Spa before being posted to Scampton to join 617 in early 1943.
617 Squadron of course commonly known as the ‘Dambusters’, was the squadron that took part in Operation Chastise in May 1943. 617 Squadron was based at RAF Scampton, but often made use of RAF Woodhall Spa during exercises and missions.
We only had time to sample a little of what was on offer, including a fascinating account of flying operations in World War I, highlighting the battles with Zeppelin airships. It was interesting to learn of the German ‘total war’ and how inadequate the initial training was of the Royal Flying Corps. Before being sent into combat, pilots had an average 15 hours flying experience. 15,000 aircraft were lost in training.
A rewarding visit and it was good that Rob met up with a mechanic he knew that worked on the Lightning at RAF Binbrook at the same he was posted there. Certainly, worthy of a longer visit on another occasion and the café serves some tasty homemade cakes.
2.30 pm and the ride continued along largely quiet country lanes through Stixwold, Minting and Sotby, before crossing the River Bain beyond Market Stainton. A discussion took place as to whether a further refreshment stop was required at Donnington on Bain but club members opted on a direct ascent of Nob Hill to the Bluestone Heath Road (partly spurred on by the kind offer of a cup of tea at Rob’s on return to Louth).
Arriving back at 5.30 pm having covered 54 miles, Tim and Barry were rewarded with a welcome cup of tea as promised, thanks to Rob.