25 July 2010

25 Jul 2010: Hatfield to Therfield

Jon writes: Some frantic waving helped John home-in on the starting point for his first ride from Hatfield, just as his GPS was sending him round in circles near Asda car park.   Nine of us set out for Church Farm at Ardeley following a direct route via WGC and Digswell, then taking Harmer Green Lane through to Burnham Green.   At Datchworth Green cross roads, we picked up Stuart, who had gambled correctly that our route would pass through there.  We dropped down the beautiful Raffin Green Lane and soon picked up Walkern Road taking us directly north, reaching our coffee stop at 10:30.
 Church Farm Ardeley
Getting hungry
Ardeley Church Farm was packed and it took nearly an hour to be served, despite three chefs going flat out in the kitchen.  A great place if you’re not in a hurry, but my absolute deadline for leaving was 11:45 and we only just made it.  Glad we didn’t all simply walk out, as the food was great quality when it arrived (although Richard had to leave early and missed his organic beans on toast).  Precisely 0.5 mm of rain had fallen whilst at Ardeley, but by now it was getting hot, as well as humid, and we took the direct route to Therfield, joined now by Chris and Geoff.
Therfield village green
Stuart's new Paganini
Two earlier phone calls to the pub had persuaded them to provide baguettes (no thanks, we didn’t really want roast dinners in the middle of summer), but we were told to arrive early, to avoid clashing with a party of 40 fans of the ‘traditional’ roast.  All worked out well for us, and the baguettes were excellent, although we saw no sign of any large parties arriving.  With more and more pubs providing lunch wanting to morph into restaurants providing drinks, arranging a light lunch can seem more tricky than planning and leading the ride itself.   Before leaving, I had a quick ride on Stuart’s brand new carbon framed Paganini - a virtuoso performance.

Then it was off on a loop via deserted lanes east of the A10, arriving hot, sweaty and covered in thrips for a welcome tea and cake with Jeanette the vicar at Braughing.
Friendly service at Braughing

The Old Boys School dated 1574 

I stayed to cool off and have a better look around Braughing, while Peter led through Bramfield & Panshanger, then Tracey took the group through the woods to WGC. 
Leaving Braughing village hall

Total distance 66.6 miles.  25/07/2010

24 July 2010

Dunwich Dynamo 2010

As I write this on 30th November 2010, the temperature is struggling to reach a balmy 0 degrees. Therefore, now is a good time to look back at the halcyon days of summer cycling.
Mark, Peter and bikes at the start in London Fields

Photo album

The Dunwich Dynamo is the progenitor of a number of all-night cycle-rides, (such as the Exmouth Exodus) which grace the cycling calendar in the UK. Starting in the early 1990’s, a group of hardened cycle couriers decided to end their days’ work in the East End relaxing over a few beers. One year, possibly after some other substances had been consumed, they decided to ride overnight to the Suffolk coast. Thus was born the legendary “Dun Run”. This is my story of the 2010 edition.
So this was it. At Hatfield station, with only a couple of hours to get to London Fields for an all night ride, and after painstakingly checking my machine, there was my one front light source, a supposed high quality dynamo lamp lying limply face down on the front mudguard. I scrambled around in my tools for the right Allen keys to attempt to repair it, curiously watched by taxi drivers and people dressed up for a night out in London, but it was soon clear that the plastic of the body was cracked. There was no time to dwell on this disaster however, because shortly both Peter (Monahan) and Mark (Keeley) arrived, we quickly purchased our tickets and just managed to board the same train. On the 20 minute journey to Finsbury Park I rationalised the situation; I would do a temporary repair by buying sellotape (or is it “sticky-backed plastic”?), if it still broke off I could borrow a back-up light from Mark, by the time it was dark we would be out of London and lights almost superfluous, and hey! A good drama needs a bit of jeopardy.

An hour or so later, after our annual episode of getting lost yet again in the one-way systems of North London, we were enjoying a nerve settling pint in London Fields, (the barmaid in “The Pub on the Park” had assumed all the “carbo-loading” going on was a celebration at the end of a ride!) waiting for the ill-defined start time.  All cycling life was here, lycra clad roadies, recumbent riders who you thought might fall asleep on a long downhill, dayglo-coloured fixies, a lone front brake lever mounted on incredibly narrow handlebars and casual looking but “hard-through-inexperience” normal people with bicycles. I was riding my self-built Orbit Harrier (with tape decoration), Peter on one of his Moultons, and Mark on a Cube road-bike. Then the route sheets were handed out, for which a £1 donation is customary. The route is basically the same, but differs subtly, usually in the last 20 miles, although there are no checkpoints or bureaucracy. Around 9 pm and we were off, under the London Fields railway bridge and wiggling through Hackney to the Lea Bridge Road. Concentration is vital here. There are loads of parked cars, pedestrians, traffic and variously experienced cyclists around you and the possibility of getting lost in the bandit country of Hackney. Shortly however, after what seem miles of gentle climbing, you reach the finger of greenery, Epping Forest, which creeps into North East London. Soon the convoy is cruising through Chingford, populated by bevvied up Essex boys and girls drinking in the streets outside the various pubs. Some even offer up friendly cheers and applause. At the north end of Epping High Street, we turn right for North Weald. At this point it is virtually dark, the ride is thinning out and the event proper begins as far as I’m concerned.

Our next target to aim for is Great Dunmow. Via the village of Moreton, we pick up the B184 and on this reasonable road, turn up the revs. It is still before bedtime for normal people, so several in the know have set up deckchairs and a few crates of beer in their gardens to watch the cavalcade go by. Then suddenly we see some cyclists coming back towards us. We hadn’t really been paying much attention to the navigation, just assuming that the large group we were in had a collective sense of direction. A rucksack wearing hybrid-rider shows me a mobile device. It shows a road going diagonally from corner to corner of the screen and nothing else-not much help. However, this is my 4th Dunwich, and I feel we are on the course. We carry on counting down the signpost distances to Dunmow. Reassuringly, in the distance we see several hundred red LED’s blinking, confirming our judgement.

In Dunmow, it is about midnight, the last customers are making their way home from various pubs. We stop outside the Saracen’s Head hotel-cum-restaurant-pub, consuming some of our rations. It’s obvious now that I don’t have enough food, despite consuming a large amount of pasta before I left home. There aren’t many 24-hour supermarkets in the depths of rural Suffolk. Only Mark seems to have got his refuelling strategy right. It’s also still quite warm and even 2 large water bottles don’t seem enough.  My concerns are leavened by the arrival of a fellow rider, who has brought his pet dog, accommodated in a large box over the front wheel which he assures us allows the animal to sleep. And then we’re off again, through the pretty village of Finchingfield. We cross the bridge and pass the windmill, both immortalised in millions of photographs but now just a route sheet instruction to be ticked off, and head for Wethersfield and Sible Hedingham. This is where we make a bad mistake. Compared to previous years, the fabled feed station has been moved back along the route, from Great Waldingfield to Sible Hedingham, but it’s not directly on the route. Missing what we later discovered was a tiny sign, Peter has to go without the anticipated cup of tea and I a good nosh-up of beans and pasta. Soon however, we’re enjoying the exhilaration of the descent into Sudbury. Judging by previous year’s efforts, we seem to be slightly earlier; it’s about 0130 hrs.There are still people wandering around who seem incredulous at our exploits as we ask them where to find the hill to Great Waldingfield.

Reaching Great Waldingfield we stop on the village green to eat some more food. For me, all that is left now is cashew nuts, but there is only 50 miles to go. Various determined groups, and types of machines flow past, imaginatively lit-up. The desire and impulse to sleep has to be fought off now; it is still several hours until daylight. I’m finding it quite hard as we start again to keep the power going, but as we skirt round the south of Lavenham, I get into the swing again. Unlike previous years, no jam-jar lanterns have been left to confirm the route. Peter has been hurtling along, seemingly descending into dark avenues of trees where you can’t see what’s ahead and I’ve found it hard to keep up. At one point, we passed a minor accident. A rather bloodied cyclist was sitting in the road with an ambulance in attendance. Neither he nor his machine looked seriously damaged.  In Bildeston we ration the water out. I feel much better once I’ve taken a large drink, and we climb up the road to Needham Market, my machine subtly lighter.

By 0400-0500 hrs you begin to ache for the sun to start coming up. Surprisingly, as it’s now 25th July, about a month after the longest day of the year, this seems to start about 0430; we’ve just crossed the A14 and are on the last quarter of the route sheet. Spirits rise with the sun, and we stop at an enterprising, although rather expensive feed stop in a front garden for a euphemistically named “bacon roll”.  The wildlife is now turning up the volume, and a few local humans can be spotted opening the village newsagents and garages. We pass through Framlingham and its incongruous industrial structures for agricultural processing, and approach the A12. It is at this point, with 7 miles to go that you reach the first sight of the magic word “Dunwich” on a signpost. The final leg across to Dunwich beach via Westleton seems endless. It’s 0700 on Sunday 25th July, almost 24 hours since I was last in bed. Remembering what day it is takes some thought. However, it is light and most of the effort and danger is over. Suddenly, the road becomes beach and we run out of country. While most people have been sleeping, we’ve ridden 116 miles and my tape bodged light repair has held!!

For Dunwich riders, there are a number of options at this point. The rather unofficial organisation behind the ride (it is after all a turn up and go affair) organise a coach, which takes you back to Smithfield Market. There is an excellent beach café at Dunwich, which opens early especially. In 2009 it was raining at the finish and desperate for sleep cyclists littered every possible dry perch, even the floor in the toilets, completely tolerated by customers and staff. After your fry-up blow out, if you haven’t slumped into a bacon rinded and greasy plate, you can sleep on the beach, which is just 2 miles up the coast from the PWR nuclear power station at Sizewell. In 2004 I was met by my wife and son who took me a few miles to where they were camping and I had a good sleep on Sunday morning. In 2007 I cycled another 10 miles to the Youth Hostel at Blaxhall and then home to Hertfordshire on the Monday. In 2009 and 2010, myself, Peter and Mark have ridden to Peter’s brothers in Leiston, eaten him out of cakes and coffee, and then ridden about another 25 miles (via another massive pub meal) to a B&B in Forward Green near Stowmarket. This makes the ride back to Hertfordshire on Monday shorter and easier, and the next village has an excellent pub serving good value meals (yes folks, you have to cycle 4-5 miles for your meal on Sunday evening!!). 

When I have time, I will conflate the trips of 2009 and 2010 back from Dunwich, which are a story in themselves, on the Sunday and Monday into another article.


18 July 2010

18 Jul 2010: St Albans to Quainton

Richard writes: This was an earlier than usual start, as the ride was going to be a bit longer than normal, involving a complete circuit of Aylesbury.  So a fairly direct route to coffee seemed a good idea. 
 Neil, Vish, Simon, Judy, tracey, Carol, Stuart, Pete and Richard at St Albans

Eleven of us set off from St Albans up the A5 to Redbourn, then up and down, via Gaddesden Row, Water End, Little Gaddesden, Ringshall and the National Trust woods, into Aldbury.  Here Carol's tyre went off with a bang. Fortunately Steve had a folding tyre as a replacement.  Just shows you how handy these are.  Not very often needed, but on the odd occasion essential.  There was a strong wind which seemed to have been with us for several days and looked like lasting all day.  It was making cycling difficult in places and amazingly easy in others.  There was some drifting rain around too, but nothing serious.  From Aldbury we went north along an annoyingly bouncy piece of road; it seemed to be constructed of concrete slabs, so you got a vigorous jolt every 10 yards as you hit a joint.  Just as with some of our cyclists, the passage of time seems to make these oddities worse. 
 College Lake
 Lapwings fly through the cafe
But soon we arrived at our coffee stop - the visitors’ centre cafe at College Lake Wildlife Centre, complete with its mammoth tusk.  This is a really attractive, modern building with a spectacular view of the old chalk pits, now a set of lakes for wildlife, although the only birds in evidence were hanging from the café ceiling.  Conscious of the distance to lunch, we did not linger and headed off north through the villages in the Vale of Aylesbury - Long Marston, Wingrave, Aston Abbots and along the main road through Whitchurch.  Here that dreaded hissing sound occurred again, but Steve soon found the cause to be a broken valve.  Jon & Carol helped him replace it, while the group went on, although mild panic ensued until a suitable long valve 26in tube was found in the depths of Steve’s pannier.  The route continued up and down Pitchott hill, with wonderful views across the Vale to the scarp slope of the Chilterns, to arrive at Quainton and the George and Dragon.  

 Quainton Mill
The pub had an ancient Wurlitzer juke box, but the landlady wouldn't let us play it as the volume was excessive for a Sunday lunchtime.
Most people had sandwiches, so we sat on the village green, a delightful spot with its windmill and old houses. Vish had brought delicious snacks made by his wife, which livened up our sandwiches no end.  The pub was friendly, with a good selection of beers, and charged reasonable, i.e. cheap, prices, too.   We did a brief circuit of the village just to see the church and almshouses, then on to Waddesdon village, up Waddesdon Hill, then through the very pleasant (and downhill) off-road route through Eythrope Park, crossing the River Thame and on to Bishopstone. 
 Eythrope Park
 River Thame

Passing the Chiltern Brewery, at Halton we picked up the overgrown towpath of the Wendover link to the Grand Union canal, following this almost to Tring. 
 Wendover canal path

By this time (4.00 pm) it was hot and we were gasping for a nice cup of tea, but to our horror the tea rooms were closed at tea time.  Unpleasant remarks were made about the leader not planning for this, but the nearby vegetarian ‘green house restaurant’ came to the rescue - a very tasty cake and tea (some jibbed at the cost).   By now we were keen to get back by a direct route, so we followed the old A41 through Berkhamsted, then down by the canal through Hemel and climbed the hill to Pimlico.  And so back to St Albans: it was quite a long ride (I had done 78 miles), and we were a bit later getting back, but really enjoyable for a longer summer ride and a pleasure to try new venues for stops.

11 July 2010

11 Jul 2010: Hatfield to Brent Pelham

Neil writes: Big day for me - I finally get to lead the ride that was washed out on 2nd May.  We all met at ASDA Hatfield at 9 o'clockish.  When I got there we welcomed two new arrivals who were waiting for us (Jane and Andy).  The weather was a bit odd as it was hot and muggy; I was expecting it to pour down with rain any minute and dressed accordingly.  BIG mistake.

We got off to a nice and leisurely start heading out to Welwyn and made our way towards Panshanger.  At this point I handed over the leading to Tracey and she led us through Panshanger and into a small wood that skirts the airfield there.  In this wood we found several dog walkers and lots of very young puppies.  One poor pup had to keep up with his owner who was on a bike (bless 'em).
From the airfield we took a left and raced down the hill and then up the next hill to join the road that took us to Bramfield.  This part of the ride was very scenic and with lovely clear skies the views were very impressive.  Just a little after Bramfield I took a wrong turn and led us very nearly into Bengeo.  Thankfully help was at hand and we found our way up a fairly busy road to Sacombe Park.  Once through the park we made our way to Dane End and the golf course.

The two new riders were doing very well and had no problem with riding in our group. After elevenses we made our way to Buntingford via Little Munden, Great Munden and Nasty.  At Buntingford we went up the high street and took a right that led to a small quiet road that took us all the way to Brent Pelham.

The Black Horse is a lovely little pub with a nice garden up to the side of it.  There we met a group of riders from Southgate (one of them seemed a little worse for the beer). It was at this stop that I displayed my astounding lack of map folding skills and what I thought were roads turned out to be creases!  Then I found that I had the wrong map; I had everywhere else apart from Stevenage.  But with help from Peter we planned out a route to Old Stevenage.

As we were cycling this route it became clear that I had been on these roads before and near enough knew my way.  It was also on this leg of the day that we encountered swarms of suicidal thrips (thunderbugs or stormflies), they were blooming well everywhere and we got covered in them.  I mean it: head to foot, they were horrible, then we went through a swarm of something else.  These were bigger with big wings and I don't know what they were.

On the way to Stevenage we met Stuart who joined us for the ride to the Standing Order for a cuppa.
This seemed a quick little part of the day and we were very pleased to get to the pub as the sun had decided to bake us. That’s when the fatigue set in and at around 4pm everything got very hot and dry, people started flagging and I for one felt for them as I ran out of water.

Stuart led us through Stevenage (this was interesting as he knew all the cycle paths and made sense of it all, the last time I was there I got hopelessly lost). We made our way back to Hatfield via Knebworth and skirted Tewin. All in all a fantastic day and I thank everybody for coming out, their patience and their help.

Neil 11/07/2010

4 July 2010

04 Jul 2010: Picnic ride to Marlow

Carol writes: Holiday season had started so there were only five people at the St Albans start for Steve and Carol’s annual ride to Marlow. Good to see Craig and Vish out again joining stalwart Neil.  We skirted Bricket Wood and aimed for Chandlers Cross where we picked up new rider Julie who is based in Watford.  We took a route to Chalfont St Peter using an off-road section of Old Shire Lane between Chorleywood and Chalfont Common. It was OK on a dry summer day in the direction we went with a long downhill on the roughest part.  The combination of a strong headwind and the different route meant a late arrival at Crumb’s café. 

Even though we were late we decided to detour through Burnham Beeches and use the car-free roads. This diversion from the normal way caused Craig to comment along the lines of ‘I knew we’d done some extra miles but this is ridiculous’ as we passed a village called ‘Egypt’!
 Burnham Beeches

When we got to Marlow and had bought food it was about 1.40, the latest we’d ever arrived at a lunch stop. It was busy next to the river, but we managed to bag a seat eventually. 
 Out with the picnic hampers
 The Thames at Marlow

The route back via Bourne End, Hedgerley and Gerrards Cross took us up the private road ‘Over the Misbourne’ where Neil managed to get a shock by touching an unmarked electric fence, then we all got a shock at the end as there is now a new locked gate to prevent cyclists and walkers reaching the bridleway road in Upper Denham. We had to lift our bikes over this new obstacle.

Yet another newly found bridleway allowed us to shortcut alongside the railway line towards Denham Airfield.  By the time we got to Maple Cross it was so late (5pm) we thought the Aquadrome café might be closed so we used the BP Wild Bean café where Craig bought mini brownies for us and Neil continued to flaunt his new England 2010 cycling shirt. 
 Fuel stop at Maple Cross

We made our way back via the Ebury Way dropping Julie off at the Grand Union canal junction and eventually made it home at about 6.45 after a very enjoyable 75 miles using some new roads and paths.