Britain abounds in a peculiar type of shallow ‘ford’ that stretches the definition to great lengths – lengths such as 100m or more. Unlike a conventional ford, in this sort you go along, not across, the watercourse. It’s an uneasy jobshare between road and stream, with small fish temporarily accompanying you on your journey. Thanks to the shallowness, the worst that can happen is that you get wet feet, and perhaps turn your bike unintentionally into a site of special scientific interest, thanks to the accumulated pondweed. But do it on a warm day and it’s great fun. And most of them are either banned to cars or useless to them, so you’ll have the water-skimming experience to yourself.
The best candidate for the longest ford in the entire country – at least, the longest sensibly cyclable one, thanks to its unremitting shallowness – is in Debenham, one of Suffolk’s many postcardy, pastel-pleasant villages. It’s somewhere east of Stowmarket, in gently undulating farmland webbed by tracks, backlanes and the odd fast road.
The lane in question is The Butts, which runs west from the north-west corner of the village; on OS Explorer 211 it’s marked as ‘Stony Lane’. (Don’t confuse it with another smaller, part-time, ford signposted immediately off the eastern side of the main street.)
It starts as an innocuous lane heading out of the village, but after a couple of hundred metres, it ducks off to the right of a private house. From here on, the road serves as the stream bed, and the next kilometre is the surprisingly relaxing experience of cycling along a mostly smoothish surface covered in a steady few centimetres of water.
There’s not much you can do at the other end, when the stream eventually goes its own way; you could carry on along tracks to rejoin some minor roads of your choice, though you may well prefer to reengage with England’s longest puddle and head back to the village, perhaps to enjoy lunch and a beer at one of the three pubs.