26 December 2010

26 Dec 2010: Hatfield to Wild Hill

The hill from the Essenden Road down to Wild Hill village was a sheet of smooth ice.
Richard at the Woodman in Wild Hill
Richard writes: Our Boxing Day ride to Hertford, followed by Wild Hill for lunch, was planned to have close stops so the ride could be kept short if the conditions were bad.  And the conditions on Sunday were helping to make this December the coldest for 100 years.  Thick snow and below freezing temperatures had been around for days. 

However, encouraging texts from others persuaded me to brave it to the start in Hatfield and the road surfaces on fairly main roads were in fact reasonable, though it was bitterly cold and well below freezing.  I wasn't expecting a great turnout in view of the weather and the holiday, in the event it was just me and Tracey, but others had sent messages that they intended to go to the pub.  It made sense to pick a short route to the Wetherspoons in Hertford and, if it avoided traffic, so much the better.  So off we set for the Cole Green Way.  The surface on the old railway was thick compacted snow with a rougher bit down the middle; we were doubtful about how rideable it would be, but both had off road bikes and decided to give it a go.  The crumbly snow was ok, but a bit of walking was needed on slopes and icy patches.  The view of the smaller lanes, where the track crossed them on bridges, showed they were completely unrideable. 

Arriving at the Six Templars gasping for hot drinks, we found that their equipment was out of order - cold drinks only were to be had.  Thank goodness the food was in order.  Then, once more a mainish direct route to lunch was the only choice, so along the lower Hertford Road to Essendon. Tracey turned off here - she wasn't chicken - she had not intended to go to lunch.  I now planned a quick visit to the Woodman to see who had made it and then home.  It was still early, so there was time for a slight detour down West End Lane and the surface at first seemed ok.  But this is a hilly, damp lane and it wasn't long before I was walking and that with difficulty.

In the end I walked the whole thing, passing five abandoned cars stuck in the lane.  Arriving at the Woodman, I found Jon snugly set up in the back bar.  Judy's brakes had frozen up and she had needed to go home.  So, a record for the smallest participation on a ride yet, but very character strengthening for those who made it.

19 December 2010

19 Dec 2010 - Snowed in

In view of the heavy fall of snow, Peter cancelled his ride. Our next ride is after Christmas now, so have a superb Christmas and let's hope we can work off some of those extra pounds soon afterwards.

12 December 2010

12 Dec 2010: Hatfield to Ley Green (or Weston)

Neil writes: The day started off wonderfully with Simon, Jon, Judy, Tracey, Jackie and new comer Steve and I meeting at ASDA at 9.15.  It was a bright chilly morning and we had a warning of ice out by Ascot's Lane.  So off we set out of Hatfield to Welwyn, then down towards Tewin as a few spots of rain made their presence felt, but this didn't last too long at all.  Along the B1000 a bunch of healthy buggers passed us, which included Jacki's husband Steve.  They motored on ahead while we took the more scenic route to Tewin.

From here it was a nice ride over to Bull's Green then Datchworth, where we made a right and cruised down to Watton-at-Stone.  We pottered along the high street and made our way up Walkern road where I spied a sign for Aston.  Judy and Jon had decided to make their own way to the café, so we took this left, which turned out to be very nice.  The countryside looks lovely covered in frost, and there were several small iced-over streams.  The road led us to Frogmore Hill, from there to Aston, then Aston End and the wilds of Stevenage.  The frozen lake in Fairlands Park made a picturesque scene while we refuelled at Costello’s. 

Fairlands Park, Stevenage
Costello's Cafe

Jackie decided to wait for Steve to join her and go home, and Jon and Judy decided to make their own way to lunch via the Stevenage cycle tracks.  I think that was a cunning plan and they knew what was going to happen.  I decided to avoid Stevenage as I thought the hardest part of the ride would be going through it; how wrong could I get?  Yep, you guessed it, we got lost and I led the team into the wilds.  In fact, Stevenage was easy as we kept to the cycle paths.  Just outside Stevenage, Simon found a road that led into Graveley with relative ease.  From here on in, I was relying heavily on the map and checked it as much as I could.  The plan was to go to Great Wymondley, but I took the road in the opposite direction leading to Weston instead.  Once we had realised the mistake (when we were at Weston) a decision had to be made - do we carry on or stop for lunch?  Steve got a puncture so the decision was made for us and we were soon having lunch in the Red Lion, a lovely pub with nice food, an open log fire and a lot of friendly people.

After some chat we decided to go back via Preston, so we headed to Great Wymondley.  Here we should have turned left on Arch Road down into St Ippollitts, but that didn't happen because I stuck to my guns and dutifully read the map wrong, going full steam ahead into Hitchin!  This wasn't such a great disaster as it seemed, because we were just around the corner from the London Road, which leads right into Old Welwyn.  At the B651 Simon left us and made his way to Hemel via Kimpton, while myself, Tracey and Steve motored into Old Welwyn then WGC, where Tracey left us, then we made it back to Hatfield.  A great days ride - really good fun that tested my map reading skills, but showed me that I should be more confident and take a little more notice of my surroundings.  As was pointed out to me, where I was reading there were no houses and we had just gone through an estate. 

Jon adds: I just kept the sun on our left through Stevenage (brown route on map) and ended up on cycle paths passing Aldi (where we did a bit of xmas shopping).  We found the road out via Redcoats, where we found Richard lurking about, then reached the pub in good time.  As per my txt back to Tracey, they were lucky in stopping at Weston as the Plough in Ley Green had beer, but no food (the freezer had broken down).   It’s worth phoning ahead next time to check.   Carol & Steve joined us at the pub, having explored an off-road part of the Chiltern Cycleway near Hitchin, so we were not alone and starving (just starving).

Chiltern Cycleway near Hitchin

Their bikes had been covered in mud, but as were leaving, the pub dog was kindly doing its best to wash the mud off Steve’s front wheel, panda fashion! 
The Plough, Ley Hill
Ley Hill Post Office (cafe)

Carol noticed the Post Office in the Ley Green had a sign up and, on the way out, we asked the owner, who confirmed they were opening on Sunday mornings for coffee and cake (new cafe for the map).  We pressed on to Whitwell, where Steve and Carol stopped for a meal at Emily’s cafe.  It was getting late so Judy & I carried on and I picked up a snack in Wheathampstead to fuel up for the journey home to London.  It all made for a varied and interesting ride.


5 December 2010

05 Dec 2010: St Albans to Asheridge

Would a ride on 5 December be possible? The whole of the previous week had seen cold, ice and snow, traffic chaos, schools closed, etc. The week ahead was due to be just as bad. I was fully expecting to cancel because of the weather, but decided to go to the start, see what the conditions were like, who turned up and take it from there. In the event the morning was much warmer - foggy, but with the feeling that the sun could break through. A gap in the arctic conditions and seven non-wimps were there ready to go.

Although there was not much ice around in St Albans, we would have to climb up into the Chilterns where conditions could be worse, so it did seem a good idea to cut the planned route a bit shorter. Instead of heading for the wildlife centre at College Lakes, we aimed for a coffee stop at Berkhamsted. So straight up the A5 to Redbourn, then Gaddesden Row and Water End. Then to get at bit of a loop in, we climbed to Little Gaddesden, doubling back through the Ashridge Estate. It was misty with the sun breaking through - spectacular scenery through the woods. 

Then down into Berkhamsted to a new venue for us - the Olive Tree Cafe in the High Street. After refreshments, Steve, Jacki and Judy headed off back home. I had originally planned to climb out of the valley by way of Dancers End and the Crong from Tring, but we were now too far down the valley for this to be a good route. Getting out of Berko to the southwest is going to be a climb, so we headed off towards Wigginton. After a couple of miles, my narrative of the route comes to an end; for me Tommy the ride is over. A regular noise from my back wheel - have I lost a spoke? No, worse, the rim is bulging and possibly about to go off bang. I had known the rims were well worn and had bought new wheels ready as replacements some while back, but had not quite got round to putting them on. I let the tyre inflation down to just rideable, said goodbye to the others and headed off home.

I wondered if there would be a bang any minute and I would be walking. But there wasn't and I cycled back fairly normally. I have now put my new wheels on. Rim wear in winter conditions is a serious problem and a major design fault. Why are rims made of an extremely soft metal - aluminium? If I buy a new bike for winter use, it will certainly have disc brakes. However, it could have been worse and I believe the others got to the Blue Ball at Asheridge and enjoyed the rest of the trip.

47 miles

28 November 2010

28 Nov 2010: Hatfield to Rye House

I don’t normally venture out on icy roads and a good ride leader knows how to delegate.  It was minus 4 degrees overnight, but Judy was happy to take her three-wheeler up to Hatfield to collect the five stalwarts gathered there, while I went straight to Trent Park (all of 10 minutes from home)!  

It was a slowish ride from Hatfield to Trent Park following NCR 12 - caution being needed where icy surfaces were suspected.  You can’t always rely on pushing hard to keep warm and there’s no substitute for wearing plenty of layers on a prolonged ride.  Exposure to the cold had also caused brake and gear cables on the Trice to ice up, so a quick phone call led to me bringing a flask of boiling water to free them.
Arriving at the cafe in Trent Park
Trent Park Animal Centre
Taxidermy display
Good tracks in Trent Park

There are two cafes in Trent Park and we prefer the less-crowded Animal Centre in the middle of the park, with its taxidermy displays in the café.  The sun was providing some warmth as we followed good tracks through the park to Hadley Road.  Then it was a direct route across the northern edge of Enfield, past Forty Hall and along Turkey Street to Enfield Island Village.  Here we turned north to follow NCR 1 into the Lea Valley Country Park and through Fishers Green - no risk of ice on these well-surfaced tracks.  The biggest risk was from the low flying Canada Geese. 
Leaving Fishers Green


Emerging on St Leonards Road there was a minor rebellion against doing any more off-road (as it meant a climb over Clayton Hill) and time was pressing, so we followed roads to Dobbs Weir.  Here we took to a deserted towpath, tranquillity briefly interrupted by a noisy race on the karting raceway, before reaching the Rye House Tavern. 
Partly frozen River Lea Navigation
Towpath near Rye House

Right opposite is a moated gatehouse, which is all that remains of a once extensive manor house, built in 1443.  Rye House became notorious in 1683 when it was the centre of a plot to assassinate Charles II.
Rye House Tavern
The ancient Rye House Gatehouse

We were reluctant to leave the warmth of the tavern, where we enjoyed the good value meals and friendly service, but the sun was still shining as we made our various ways home after an enjoyable winter ride of just over 40 miles.

21 November 2010

21 Nov 2010: St Albans to Great Offley

Another ride heading north found a good turnout of eleven people in St Albans. The route to coffee at Markyate could have been very short, so I planned a bit of a detour via Sandridge and Nomansland Common then passing through the edge of Batford to pick up the new cycle path from Harpenden towards Luton. A very good quality tarmac path allows cyclists to avoid the busy Lower Luton Road.
Where's the leader?
The Chiltern Cycleway at Harpenden

We then looped back to Kinsbourne Green (funny, I think I was here last week…) before descending to Markyate to use the Village Café.  Very good value and the bacon rolls went down a treat after 16 miles.  Harry joined us for coffee again; this time brandy less.

Leaving Markyate
Someries Castle

After coffee we headed up to Wood End, then crossed the M1 on a footbridge to enter Stockwood Park on the southern edge of Luton. After crossing the park we whizzed down a suburban road before using a clever new cycle route skirting Luton Parkway station to pick up the other end of the Luton to Harpenden path, this time heading back towards Harpenden.  Great views over to the Luton Hoo estate made this an enjoyable car-free section.  We then circumnavigated Luton airport, by the derelict Someries Castle, before climbing up to Great Offley. The Red Lion saw us proud as they were busy, but managed to supply our baguettes in a timely manner. A cosy warm pub - just right for a winter ride.

Fortunately the rain held off as we all took a direct ride home. We ended up clocking up about 47 miles round trip when we got back to St Albans.  Another interesting day showing we can still find some new roads to use after all the years we’ve been pedalling locally.

21/11/2010 Carol.

14 November 2010

14 Nov 2010: St Albans to Flamstead

Remembrance Sunday saw seven cyclists meeting appropriately at the war memorial in St Albans for a short circular ride taking in a new coffee stop in Dunstable before skirting the downs to climb back to Flamstead.  We went up the main road to Redbourn, then cut across to Kinsbourne Green, pausing to view my favourite alpacas who wouldn’t be enticed closer for my photograph.

After passing through Pepperstock and Caddington we swept down the hill then turned right into a school road, to use a newly discovered underpass, avoiding a short section of the A5. Onwards into Dunstable passing the remembrance parade to reach our coffee stop at the Gary Cooper pub

The Gary Cooper

Not many people know the famous ‘High Noon’ film actor lived in the town during his early years and there is a blue plaque on the high street above a shop.

Gary Cooper in High Noon

Harry joined us at the Gary Cooper and it felt quite continental as he had a brandy with his coffee at 11am!! He insisted he'd been cycling around for hours so it was for medicinal reasons to warm him up. 

After bargain breakfasts we weaved through the back streets to go via Totternoe, Dagnall, Gaddesdon Row and Cheverells Green to Flamstead. 

Richard joined us after a morning cleaning out drains. 

A very welcoming pub with good beer and very reasonably priced food enticed us to stay a bit too long as, when we left, it was heavy rain so we all bee-lined back home.  Quite a short ride at about 38 miles - but appropriate for the weather.

Autumn colour at Gaddesden Row

7 November 2010

07 Nov 2010: Hatfield to Braughing

A bright, sunny but cold morning (4 degrees C - brrrh) saw 10 of us outside Asda in Hatfield ready to start out for a café in Ware. There is no direct route so we meandered in a southerly loop going through the Broxbourne Woods, which were ablaze with autumn colour. The other beauty of this route is a chance to see the local fauna. Not your usual squirrels, pigs or suchlike but real large-as-life lions. Not many cycle groups around the country can lay claim to lion spotting on a normal country ride. But at Paradise Park, a small local zoo has a pride of lions in an enclosure close to the road. Here the lions often rest upon an elevated platform so they can have a good view of us in our bright cycling clothing, which seems to interest them. It crossed my mind whether a fit cyclist, if pursued by a hungry lion could, pedalling furiously escape it. (All the foregoing is without prejudice to the moral issue of whether it is right to keep such animals encaged in zoos).
A fit cyclist
Anyway, leaving the lions, the next animal we came upon was a saddled horse, sans rider, trotting up the road through the woods. A bit of deft manoeuvring by Bill and the horse was persuaded to enter a nearby garden where it started eating the lawn. Shortly thereafter, a young lad accompanied by a large dog came panting up the road asking if we’d seen a horse. So we reunited them. Carrying on we next came upon a posse of women running up the road, they were enquiring about both the lad and the horse. So we reassured them that all appeared well. After all this excitement, it was a relief after another few miles to finally reach the café in Ware.

Ware is a fascinating place with wonderful old buildings. For example just sitting in the café and looking across the road I noticed that the building opposite had embossed into its plasterwork façade the date 1512, and that is pretty old.

Duly rested we left Ware climbing up through its modern eastern suburbs en route for Braughing for lunch. Again, we took a roundabout route out to the east using little lanes and passing through Perry Green, the home of Henry Moore the sculptor. There is a large exhibition of his interesting works here but (unlike the lions) they can’t be seen for free from the road.
A Henry Moore sculpture at Perry Green

We crossed a ford at the back of Much Hadham and carried on up back lanes at the rear of the village, where there seemed to be an awful lot of traffic for such an out of the way place.  Then it was down into Standon - another very pretty village, Puckeridge and into Braughing heading for the “Brown Bear” pub.
Picnic spot...
...overlooking Braughing ford.
The pub, which has a good reputation, is in a very old and attractive building . Yet strangely, despite a welcoming open log fire and excellent food, it was virtually empty apart from us.  Even the dog seemed desperate to escape from the pub - perhaps he smelled a rat?
Dead rat
Then it was time to head straight back without a tea stop, as we dispense with these in winter, in order to try and get back before it gets dark. Straight back is a bit of a misnomer as it involves wiggling around with a fair bit of up and down as well. As usual, some of the group turned off en-route to head directly for their homes. In the end just three of us went all the way back to the start clocking up about 53 miles in all.

31 October 2010

31 Oct 2010: St Albans to Tring

Richard writes: It was Halloween - and the first ride of the autumn after the clocks had gone back, so there would be no tea stop on this trip.  The ride was not especially long overall, but the first leg to coffee was a bit over 20 miles, so a direct route was called for via Redbourn and Gaddesden Row.  Nine of us set off from St Albans heading for Dobbers cafe in Leighton Buzzard. 
Clements End Road, near Studham
Dobbers in 1930

At Whipsnade, we took the old road running beside the zoo enclosures (none of the fiercer types of animal were in evidence, though I spotted a surly wallaby), and then down Bison Hill and onto the Vale of Aylesbury. The sharp hill at Billington is a nasty shock - one of those sudden steep hills that are scattered over the otherwise flat countryside of the vale. When we got there, the light railway was doing extra business for Halloween and, judging by their appearance, the staff in Dobbers cafe seemed to be taking the date seriously - it must be the first time my food has been served up by someone with a green and blue face.
Pages Park Station

We were served by a giant green woman and a witch in Dobbers cafe.

Apart from that, a pleasant stop. Here some stoked up with a decent breakfast, probably their second breakfast of the day. We then skirted through the fringes of Leighton Buzzard, marred by recently extended industrial estates, but one must take the rough with the smooth.  Then we were out again on quiet lanes and on to Ledburn.  The pub here used to be a fairly regular venue but I think it went up market and unwelcoming.  Continuing to Mentmore cross roads, the rain, which had been threatening for a while, started up a bit more seriously and a stop for waterproofs was called for. Then left to Mentmore, another of those sudden steep hills, then Cheddington. We crossed over the Grand Union Canal at Cook's Wharf, passing the Duke of Wellington pub, also a former venue, but recently closed.
Bill in Mentmore
One of 12 support rollers for a 38 ton kiln operating at 1700 degrees C
 and used at the cement works in Pitstone Green.

Turning left here, we continued past the Pitstone Green Museum and on to Tring itself. The lunch stop, the Kings Arms, was completely new to me, but came with a strong recommendation. It is well tucked away in the side streets of old Tring, but turned out to be an excellent stop, a CAMRA favourite and with good food too. I'd rate it one of the best pubs we have visited this year, certainly one to go on our next list.
A cold, wet sandwich outside...
...or a hot, wet sandwich inside.
Stylish headgear

After a hearty feed for most, it was time to ponder the trip back. My group went for the more vigorous ride across to Aldbury, Ashridge and Bridens Camp. The woods at Ashridge were looking at their autumn best, but by now it was raining and we didn't hang around. I had turned in 60 miles by the time I got back.   Others favoured an easier route down the valley. 
The Grand Union canal at Northchurch
Well surfaced towpath
Rod, pole or perch?

This was equally scenic, with autumnal views along the towpath and a pause to negotiate passage past fishermen, who were engrossed in a competition that appeared to be more about who had the longest carbon fibre pole.

View map full screen

24 October 2010

24 Oct 2010: Hatfield to Wareside

Tracey writes: At the start in Hatfield there was a great turn out, 14 of us!  It was a nippy but bright morning and we headed off briskly to Welwyn Garden City and on to Tewin Green then Bramfield.  From there we turned down to Waterford and up a very stoney lane to Stoney Hills.  Crossing the main road, we cut through the picturesque Sacombe Park and over to Whitehill golf course above Dane End.  There some of us tucked into a very large breakfast!
Sacombe Park

Golfer's Breakfast

Thus fortified, we cycled to Great Munden and turned right to Puckeridge, then on to Standon and Barwick Ford.  Graham, Michael and Judy enjoyed splashing through the water; the rest of us took the bridge. 
Barwick Ford

We then took the winding roads to Bakers End and Babbs Green then into Wareside to the Chequers Pub.  Here we took over the Snug room and were joined by Carol and Steve, making 16 of us!  We sampled some very good beers and baguettes in one of my favourite pubs.  As there were a large number of us (and I had already lost a few people on route earlier!), I explained to everyone the loop I had planned for our afternoon ride into Hertford, (just as well)!

From Wareside we cycled to Ware, at this point when I turned round I had managed to loose half the ride!  Quite an achievement even for me!  We decided to carry on to Stanstead Abbotts and then turned into St Margarets Road and up to Haileybury.  We carried on to Hoddesdon and up Lord Street towards Goose Green and on to Hertford.  There everyone else had already arrived at the Rose Café (not following the leader’s explanations, they had taken Holly Cross Road from Ware to St Margarets).  We timed this stop to perfection, as there was a 10-minute down pour of rain (the only rain of the day) while we had our tea!  On the way home we saw a rainbow.
Haileybury College