29 August 2010

29 Aug 2010: St Albans to Great Missenden

Peter writes: Bank Holiday Sunday, cold with forecast of some rain, yet 7 of us turned up at the start in St. Albans.  First leg was to get to Chorleywood for elevenses.  Did this by going west via Abbots Langley and then west again keeping south of the M25 along very quiet lanes.  Wondered if all the drivers pelting along the motorway have any idea that, not far away, is another world of these tranquil rural lanes.  Chorley Wood is quite an upmarket sort of place with a surfeit of smart cafes.  So much so that on arrival we couldn’t decide which to frequent.  Issue solved by splitting into two sub groups, one going for the trendy ethically themed cafe and the other going for the cheaper more ordinary café option.

Thus refreshed we left Chorleywood by a steep hill heading for lunch at Great Missenden.  Now the latter is not that far away by direct A road, but of course that would be cheating and somewhat dangerous as it is a very busy road.  So instead we proceeded by a circuitous route through the Chilterns, which are renowned for their hills. Suitably exhausted we finally approached Gt. Missenden from the south going the length of its old and picturesque High St to reach the Black Horse pub which lies just outside the town to the north.  The pub also operates as a base for hot air balloon flights which, in a flight of fantasy, seemed a nice idea for an easy way back.

Reality intruded and we set off by bike back through the High Street.  Now Gt. Missenden was the place where the famous childrens’ author Roald Dahl used to live and there is an interesting looking café in town, themed upon some of his stories, which always seems to attract lots of families with children. 
Roald Dahl museum - photo credit: Kathy Bragg

Further on a lane climbs steeply up away from the town through the local churchyard and there is Dahl’s tomb, so we stopped briefly to take a look.  Going on it started to feel a little drizzly and looking back we could see wall of rain approaching.  In no time it was upon us with a real downpour. Undaunted we carried on regardless intent upon reaching the tea stop café in Chipperfield.  Quite soon the rain stopped but; woe and disaster, the café was closed. All was not lost however; as Steve remembered that the local garden centre might still be open if we were quick.  So, a sprint to the garden centre for the afternoon tea/coffee and cakes.

Then it was the final leg back to St Albans.  Near the end some turned off to finish by going through Gorhambury Park, whilst others sped back by the direct main road route.
Overall, we did just over 50 miles, a relatively short ride for summer, but it was pretty not to mention hilly.

22 August 2010

22 Aug 2010: Arkley to Woolwich

Bill writes: Hampton Court: That was the original objective but British Rail/TFL have decided to close the North London Line every weekend until 2012.  So we had to make do with a visit to the sewers of East London (more later).
Despite the horrible weather early on Sunday nine of us set off from Barnet - five from St Albans, two straight down the A1000 and two of us from Barnet - in the dry.  We hurtled down the old A1 to Highgate where we joined the old railway path, which has been considerably improved, to elevenses in Finsbury Park.
 Meeting point at Arkley, Barnet
Parkland Walk, Highgate

From there, we wiggled through the streets past the two Arsenal football grounds (one of which is now blocks of flats) to eventually join up with the path alongside the Regents Park Canal.  We left this at Victoria Park and were a little concerned to find a huge fence around the second part of the park.  This seemed to be for some sort of festival and, fortunately, they left a gap in the fence so that we could continue on our ride.  From here we joined the Greenway.  I had always thought this was a disused railway line, but it is in fact the main sewer taking all our effluent to Beckton for processing.  This is built above ground with a huge earth bank on top, which makes an ideal cycle path!
 Regents canal, Shoreditch
 Regents canal, Haggerston
First stop outside the Olympic Park: It is amazing to see how quickly the stadium, which was just a building site two years ago, has now been built.  It looks almost finished from the outside and many other buildings, including blocks of flats for the athletes' accommodation, can be seen in the background. 
 Greenway at Old Ford (Northern Outfall Sewer)
 Olympic hopefuls?
We then carried on past Bazelgette's northern sewage plant and follow the Greenway until we eventually joined a short section of road past the London City Airport and on to the Woolwich Ferry.  Only one ferry running, but we still made it across in good time to have lunch in Wetherspoon's in South Woolwich.
 Our first 'superhighway'

After this, the route along the South Bank becomes very tortuous but we carried on past the Thames Barrier, Greenwich Hospital and the Cutty Sark (of which there seems to be very little left).  

 Thames Barrier.

Erected in 1999 by the Millenium Dome, Quantum Cloud is Antony Gormley's tallest work standing at some 30 metres high and rising from a platform bedded in the Thames.

 Russia Dock 
 The Royal Naval College, Greenwich.  Site also of the birthplace of Henry V111. 
Further on whilst Carol and Steve were having a mechanical problem we realised we were near to the Brunel Museum.  Ever on the lookout for a new tea room, we left them to it! This Museum is just beside the shaft of the original first public tunnel under a navigable river. The tunnel still exists and now forms part of the London Overground line from Dalston to West Croydon.
 Tea stop at Brunel Museum
Suitably refreshed, and Steve and Carol back with us, we set out dodging the crowds along the South Bank until Blackfriars Bridge, from where we headed north passing several of Boris' new cycle hire stands and on to Euston, St Pancras or Kings Cross for our various journeys home - and we only lost two riders!
Boris' Bikes
Tower Bridge & HMS Belfast

15 August 2010

15 Aug 2010: Hatfield to Tawney Common

Peter writes: On the Saturday preceding the ride it had teemed with rain.  Mindful of this I decided that the ride should be fairly direct lest it teem again, and also try not to go off road in case we got bogged down.  So despite the earlier inauspicious weather, 10 of us turned up at Hatfield and we welcomed new rider James.  The first leg to Dobbs Weir involves going due east from Hatfield and no ride going this way should fail to go past the lions of Paradise Park.  These are real lions (in a rather cramped enclosure) at the aforesaid miniature zoo. 
 Lions at Paradise Park
Dobbs Weir Cafe

The lions seem to spend a lot of their time on a raised platform which means they can be seen easily from the nearby road.  The place is in a wooded area and it always seems slightly incongruous when just cycling along to elevenses, to come across lions in an English wood.  Suitably impressed we carried on to the café at Dobbs Weir.  This is on the river Lee or, more correctly, at this point on the canal.  The weir itself is a pretty place, but more importantly the café is a real gem.  A proper café, selling semi-greasy fry ups if that is what is required.

Thus refuelled the group set off for lunch at ‘The Moletrap’ a delightfully named pub at a place known as Tawney Common in Essex.  Again a fairly direct route meant skirting the southern environs of Harlow.  This is not as bad as you might expect as there is a cycle route which gives opportunities to appreciate the architectural merits of Harlow housing estates.  Leaving Harlow we were out in peaceful rolling Essex countryside.  At one point we went through a village called Toot Hill, an interesting name especially as there are other places with the same name.  Later research shows that it derives from the name for a look out point.  The pub was reached in good time and despite its fairly remote location it was quite busy. (mole was not on the menu). 
 Tawney Common
 The Mole Trap
Leaving the pub we headed for the tea stop at Upshire Church.  Now this is renowned for the quality and variety of its cakes.  It must have been the lure of this that induced me to take a fairly direct route with the result that we got there far too early.  A little extra loop of cycling seemed to be called for to while away some time.  The map showed a small lane which could loop round back to the starting point.  Off we went and round a corner a small herd of deer ran across in front of us.  Upshire is near to Epping so perhaps the deer were from there. 
 Tracks north of Upshire
 Upshire Church
At the point where we should have looped back on the road a discussion ensued as it was still early.  The map showed another smaller road/path going on and this we took.  This went through quite remote countryside with the odd farm here and there.  Almost idyllic, apart from the fact that we were now well off road going up and down tracks, which although muddy were not too bad given how much rain there had been recently.  Eventually we emerged into civilisation and cycled back to Upshire only to find that now there was an immense queue for teas at the church which had been open for some time.
 Cakes galore
 Tea at Upshire
Still we fuelled up on superb cakes and set off again.  We all headed down to Waltham Abbey where the group started to break up as people made their way home.  The group going back to Hatfield headed into the Lee Valley Park only to get lost as the signposting was conspicuous by its absence.  However we did eventually emerge from the park and wearily cycled back to Hatfield to complete 60 miles.

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8 August 2010

08 Aug 2010: St Albans to Frieth

Richard writes: Sunday, 8 August was planned to be another slightly longer, maybe a bit more challenging, ride out west into the lumpy, but lovely country of the Chilterns, with our destination south of the M40.  It was a smaller group than usual who set off from St Albans, but we were pleased to welcome a new rider, Caroline, who was going to do a charity ride and wanted to find out if she could manage that kind of distance.  We set off on a fairly direct route to Amersham through Bedmond, the steep drop and climb at Ley Hill, down into the Chess valley and then up to Chesham Bois.

The cafe in Amersham is a cyclists' favourite - cheap, er, good value, and welcoming.  We didn't linger though as it was a fair stretch to lunch.  So we climbed out of Amersham, along the man road for a couple of miles, then through Penn Street, Penn Bottom, through the woods - this was superb Chilterns country with steep wooded valleys and red kites.  Then on to a long descent down Cock Lane into High Wycombe.  High Wycombe is just in the way if you want to go in this direction, so no choice but to go straight through the middle of it for a few miles, aiming for a lane the other side which would bring us out.  Here we had a long climb out of the valley, over the M40, to Lane End.  Having left the urban squalor quickly behind we were back in the heart of the Chilterns again at Frieth.
The Prince Albert at Freith

The Prince Albert is a charming pub, completely traditional and with pleasant food which we enjoyed in the garden.  Red kites were circling high overhead.  Throughout the day the skies belonged to red kites and we saw several groups of them soaring above.

Neil had a close encounter with a bird of prey as we were going down one hill.  A bird launched itself out in front of him and he had to brake for fear of head butting it.  Not sure what it was, but it was very brightly colored.

This was going to be a banana shaped route - with lunch a fair distance out and the stops in between located fairly close together.  So, first to West Wycombe, (here Caroline had to stop to buy an emergency Mars Bar) past the Hellfire Caves and up the Hughenden Valley, passing Disraeli's house.  Then a long climb up to Cryers Hill, phew, how did it get its name?  This was soon followed by a nice descent into Little Missenden, and then on to Chesham Bois.  We followed the Chess valley to Flaunden and our very welcome tea stop in the church hall.  We had turned in 20 hilly miles since lunch.

Excellent tea stop with home made cakes and free tea re-fills.  All that remained was to get home from Flaunden.  It was quite a demanding trip of 65 miles, but really enjoyed by all.  Caroline had set her mind at rest as to whether she could manage the charity ride -  after this it would be a doddle.
Tea at Flaunden Church

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1 August 2010

01 Aug 2010: Hertford to Hatfield Broad Oak

Jon writes: We gave two new riders (William & Paul - both from Broxbourne) a very warm welcome.   Hertford was also a convenient start for Mary and the cooler weather had coaxed Judy out on her Trice so, together with Neil, Pete, Stuart and Vish, nine of us set off up the long hill to Brickendon.

The proximity of Hoddesdon to Hertford allowed for a more interesting route to morning coffee via Wormley and up the towpath beside the River Lea.  We crossed to the east bank towpath at the Old Nazeing Road.  Here the surface was poorer, with large corrugations and dips, although thankfully the muddy puddles that plague this section in winter were completely absent.  We re-grouped at Dobbs Weir, where we crossed back to the west bank and the surface was fine again through to Rye House.
 Crossing the Old Nazeing Road on the Lea
 Dobbs Weir

After a good value elevenses at the Rye Park Café, we headed for the cycle route through the middle of Harlow. This is a completely car free route through the Town Park and along the old Netteswell Road to Old Harlow.  You could almost imagine how nice it was before Harlow was plonked on the landscape.  We then followed quiet lanes through the Matchings and up Sparrow’s Lane to Hatfield Broad Oak. 
 Rye Road toll
 Harlow Town Park

We had paused at Churchgate Street to consider donning waterproofs because the sky looked threatening and a few drops of  rain were falling, but, despite these leaden skies lasting most of the day, we avoided any proper rain.  In fact the weather was perfect for our picnic in the large churchyard (accompanied by some hot parathas thanks to Vish), washed down with a cooling drink at the Cock pub (they do a huge roast beef if you want one); then we were off again across the cattle grids of Hatfield Forest.
 Tasty paratha anyone?
 William's roast dinner

All was well until the notorious Hadham ford claimed its next victim.  Being situated at a T junction makes for a tricky turn on the slimy wet concrete ramp leading out of the ford.  Pete thought he had made it until he touched his brakes as the group slowed and over he went.  Thankfully, his bike was alright and so was he.  Next time we’ll know it’s best to walk the footbridge even in summer, unless you’re on three wheels - I’ve now reported it to Herts Council hoping for some advisory signs to be erected.

Tea at Hopley’s Plants was idyllic.  A beautiful, tranquil setting outside the long barn amidst a 5 acre display garden, friendly service and Suzie’s home made cakes - we didn’t want to leave.  Nice to go somewhere that actively encourages cyclists.

After tea we paused on the Ware to Hertford cycle route to administer first aid to a young boy with a cut on his finger - revenge of the crayfish.
 Tea at Hopleys Plants
 Ware-Hertford cycle route

Strangely, our return to Hertford carried an outdoorsy rock music theme.  We had a stream of Harley Davidson bikers emerging from Moor Place accompanied by Buddy Holly records, a rock concert in the grounds of Hertford castle, and I even saw a group of ageing Mods on scooters near Potters Bar.  Maybe they were thinking about all the groups of cyclists they had seen?

Circuit of 51 miles.  01/08/2010