Though the cloudless skies had a deep blue hue reminiscent of southern France, there was a keen head wind cooling us as we headed up through Ayot St Lawrence, Whitwell and Preston. I usually approach Hitchin along the B656, but coming in this time from Gosmore allowed me to investigate the pedestrian bridge crossing the A602. It proved to be a useful short cut and Jackie commented that she hated the roundabout, which this bridge neatly avoids.
Hitchin Kitchen wasn’t as crowded as normal. We had been up at 6 am, but maybe breakfast time for most of regulars here is later than 10:30? Having discussed our own touring holiday plans for the next 12 months, we left at 11, said au revoir to Jackie, who was heading home, and the two of us continued north. Free to explore, we climbed to Meppershall and had extensive views over Bedfordshire (when we could see through the 8ft tall cow parsley) After Shefford we thought we would have a break abroad by hopping over the border into Ireland.
After lunch in the sunshine at Broom it was getting hot and we lost the head wind, so it was an easy ride until I decided to explore a possible off-road cycle route after Arlesey Station. I’d seen it marked as a bicycling route on Google Maps and it started off as tarmac, but we were soon bumping along a grass track and abandoned it at a footbridge, which took us back onto the road. An underpass (a feature of this area) took us under the A507 and onto a cycleway into Stotfold, but again we regretted using it. As is so often the case, the surface was very poor compared to the road – if only our Councils could spend as much on smooth cycle routes as those in Germany there would be far more people using them.
In Stotfold we turned south again with Letchworth on our left and Hitchin on our right. The heat gave us a good excuse to stop briefly at Thorne's Garden Nursery, Chicken Centre Café for a quick ice cream. The only snag on this direct route was the final kilometre, which was on a Restricted Byway passing the site of the Nine Springs Roman Villa (discovered by the amazing Quaker William Ransom). Quite cycleable today as the mud was hard baked, but it would be impassable in wet weather.
We made it to Vanstones near Codicote for our second afternoon break, hoping for some half-price cakes after 3 pm, but that offer was no more. Nevertheless we enjoyed our rest before heading for home. 85 enjoyable miles for us, although the round trip from Wheathampstead was only 55 miles.