30 January 2011

30 Jan 2011: Hatfield to Halls Green

Peter says: In a way, winter rides start on the Saturday night with an anxious look at the weather forecast. Is it going to snow? Be a sheet of ice? Or be a beautiful, fine day?  In the event, Sunday morning, although around freezing, seemed ok for riding.  None of the 9 people who arrived at the start at Asda Hatfield had fallen off on the way there so that seemed a good omen.  First stop of the day was scheduled for a new café (for us) at Hitchin, which is a fair distance.  Now the obvious way to go would have meant using much of the route we had used on the previous weekend, so a different route was called for.  We went via main-ish roads through Old Welwyn and Codicote and then started down minor lanes taking us through Preston, Gosmore and into Hitchin.

Two of the party, Jon and Judy, anticipating being slower than the rest had set off on their own to take a fairly direct route.  Strangely, our routes seemed to intersect on occasions, as we would find ourselves coming up behind them, overtaking them and then after a lapse of time find ourselves behind them yet again.  It was really a tortoise and hare situation; with the former winning as, when we got to the café they were already there.  The ‘Hitchin Kitchen’ as the café is called, turned out to be a proper ‘caff’ - an excellent find with very reasonable prices.

Hitchin Kitchen
RSPCA sign

Next stop was ‘The Rising Sun’ at Halls Green, which is a small hamlet to the north east of Stevenage, probably no more than 4 or 5 miles away as the crow flies. Having fed well at the caff, and not being crows, a longer route to work up an appetite for lunch seemed appropriate.  This involved leaving Hitchin by a back route, which led into a lane proceeding to Willian.  I was amazed when Carol, who seems to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of Hertfordshire lanes, said that she had never been up this road before.  Then it was downhill into and through Baldock, a much nicer and quieter old town now it has been bypassed.  Out of Baldock to the east on the old Royston road, then over the new bypass and up and away across very open terrain to the village of Wallington.  We stopped there for some reason and on looking around found we were outside an old cottage bearing a plaque saying George Orwell had lived there.  After some erudite discussion about the Spanish Civil war, we went on.  Just as we were getting close to lunch Bill decided to have a puncture.  Now he can be forgiven for this as it was caused by a thorn.

In the centre of Wallington
George Orwell lived here
Bill collecting a thorn donated by a generous farmer

Thorns are a particular problem at this time of year as farmers obviously get bored about now and go out hedging and ditching. Unfortunately nowadays hedging involves lacerating the hedge with a sort of flail attached to a tractor, which seems to spread copious quantities of thorns all over the road.  These then lie there until some unsuspecting cyclist comes along, whereupon the thorns malevolently pierce the tyre, break off flush and are the very devil to get out.  After this interlude, we went on to ‘The Rising Sun’, which was a very pleasant pub with a nice wood fire.

Having spent an entertaining time watching Bill repair his puncture, now after lunch we were a little later than usual.  After some discussion, a fairly direct route back was agreed with those going to St. Albans turning off near Datchworth. Those of us who went back to the start at Hatfield found we had done about 50 miles in all that day.  Jon and Judy who had taken their own route back to Barnet after lunch must have done considerably more.  All in all not a bad day, it was cold with much talk of frozen feet but no rain or snow.


23 January 2011

23 Jan 2011: Two Saints Ride

Carol writes: Another cold and damp morning saw eight stalwarts set off from St Albans for what appeared to be a very short ride to St Pauls Walden via Codicote.  I’d planned this ride so we could cut and run quickly between the planned stops if the weather turned bad.

We wiggled out of St Albans via Marshalswick then climbed up to Woodcock Hill before dropping down towards Hatfield passing the enticing (to me!!) looking Osprey store.  Steve was glad it wasn’t open so I couldn’t go in and buy a £400 handbag.  Not many people know this thriving luxury goods company started life so close to St Albans.

Top of Woodcock Hill

John Bunyan's Chimney

We cut back to Coleman Green, passing the John Bunyan pub named after the adjacent chimney, then meandered through Ayot Green and Kimpton Mill before arriving at Wyvale garden centre café in Codicote covering about 15 miles from the start.   We haven’t used this café for a long time and were pleasantly surprised by the speed of service and quality of scones. Chris and Geoff joined us just as we were leaving.

Ayot St Peter

It’s only about three miles from Codicote to our lunch destination, but I’d planned a route along some lanes I hadn’t used for over ten years.  This ensured several more hills were climbed to work up an appetite for lunch. Via Whitwell, we climbed to Bendish, then looped round the back of Breachwood Green, crossed Lilley Bottom and up to Ley Green, then along to Preston and back to St Pauls Walden and The Strathmore Arms.

We had pre-ordered sandwiches by phoning ahead in the morning and the food was all ready for us when we arrived. Very pleasant old-fashioned country pub with good beer at a reasonable price.  We gave Neil a quick map reading lesson from an Ordnance Survey ‘Map reading made easy peasy’ guide aimed at a more junior audience. So he won’t get lost again on the edge of Stevenage another time.

Steve had a puncture just as we’d arrived at the pub so we left after the main group and tried a new way back to St Albans. Instead of the usual Whitwell, Kimpton, Wheathampstead way; we went through Bendish for the second time that day, then via Peters Green, East Hyde and the new cycle path into Harpenden then back to St Albans. I liked this route, as we only seemed to climb once up to Bendish, then I didn’t notice any more hills! 

Probably this was one of the shortest rides of the year, at only 38miles but enough on a very cold damp day in January (although Jon & Judy managed 60 miles back to Barnet).


16 January 2011

16 Jan 2011: St Albans to Essendon

The 16 Jan dawned mild and dry - what a welcome change from previous weeks, through there was a powerful southerly wind to contend with. Ten of us set off from St Albans heading for our morning stop at Shenley - quite close if we took a direct route, but as conditions were good, we didn't. Leaving St Albans by way of the King Harry roundabout and Ragged Hall Lane, we took Lye Lane to the tricky crossing of the busy A405. Here we met an old friend Eric, still getting his cycling legs back after his accident last year. He wasn't planning on going our way, but he was persuaded to come with us as far as the mid morning stop. Passing through the woods, we paused at the intriguing house rebuilt by the architect Frederick Wallen for himself circa 1890, for use as a holiday home for orphaned boys, with its outstanding plaster reliefs of sporting scenes.  More on The Bricket Picture House...

Bricket Wood
The 'Picture House'

Following the cycle route through north Watford for a while, we turned off it to double back on a bridle way passing under the M1 and then following a very pleasant route along the River Colne to Wall Hall, formerly part of the Uni of Hertfordshire, but now private apartments. Then on through the surprisingly rural villages of Aldenham, Round Bush and Letchmore Heath, then turning left, climbing to Radlett. At Radlett, I went up the steep hill to Shenley, as I didn't know the much easier climb that avoids it. Several people pointed out my error and I must learn the other way if I lead another ride this way. Coffee and refreshment now beckoned at the Orchard Cafe, a recommended, popular stop.

Shenley Park Cafe
The Candlestick, Essendon West End

Then leaving Shenley towards Borehamwood, we turned left on the bridle way through Crossoaks Farm. A nice track follows the ridge with fine views on both sides. In the farm, we were surprised to see a partridge that seemed to have lost its identity and was mixing in with a flock of chickens. Then down hill to the horse bridge crossing the A1 (Eric veered off here) and on to Dancers Hill. Turning left into Potters Bar, we turned right after the station to emerge on the road to Northaw. From here, the route would be significantly hilly. Between Northaw and Newgate Street it is a real switchback with two steep sided valleys to cross, though very pleasant through the woods if you have the strength to look round. The route on north from there to Little Berkhamsted is not so fierce but not flat either. Turning east there another valley crossing brought us to Essendon, not for nothing is this area known as the Hertfordshire Alps.

St Albans to Hatfield - taking in a few hills

Then turning left by the church, another descent and climb along West End Lane took us to our lunch stop at the Candlestick. The route had been unusually hilly, we deserved it. This pub has been very nicely refurbished since our last visit. The food was excellent and reasonably priced - all enjoyed a very pleasant lunch. Although we had covered a reasonable 30 miles from the start, it wasn't going to be far back home for most. Heading back in the general direction of St Albans, with the forecast rain just beginning, people peeled off on their own routes home.


9 January 2011

09 Jan 2011: Hatfield to Hailey

9th January dawned bright and ten of us gathered hopefully at the start in Hatfield.  A hoar frost had settled during the night, although it was sunny and just above freezing, so the lanes seemed passable with care.
 In Grubbs Lane
We were fine until the hill down from the Essendon Road, where we hit a frost hollow.  Jackie was near the back and her wheels slipped away on some ice near the side.   Not realising the extent of her injuries, she was keen to carry on, but slipped off again and it was then very obvious an ambulance was needed.

After a 50 minute wait (standing on one leg), one turned up and we were told they had come all the way from Canvey Island as the local service was inundated with other road accidents. They had also been flagged down on the way - it seems that even the main roads hadn’t been gritted.    We abandoned our planned ride while Jackie was hauled off to WGC casualty.  A broken femoral neck (hip bone) was found and has now been pinned.  We are all thinking of Jackie and wish her well for a complete recovery.

2 January 2011

02 Jan 2011: Hatfield to Wormley West End

The morning of 2nd January was not horribly wet (like the day before) or freezing or snowy, in fact it was slightly sunny.  This was already the second organised CTC ride of the year, following on from our New Year's Day ride to Berkhampstead the day before.  Eight of us set off from Hatfield heading for coffee at Crews Hill.  So, down through the uni. to Welham Green and passing the unique swallow holes at Water End to Potters Bar.  The swallow holes are the only ones in the country, I believe, where a river disappears underground without being on limestone.  At Potters Bar we turned left through the woods on Coopers Lane, then under the M25 to our coffee stop at Crews Hill, with its over the top selection of garden centres. 

Water End
Theobalds Park

From here, my original plan to take the bridleway north to Goffs Oak no longer seemed like a good idea - too muddy with the recent weather.  So Jon, who has an expert knowledge of how to avoid the dodgier parts of Enfield, took us through Theobalds Park (until recently the resting place of Temple Bar: now removed to the precincts of St Paul's) and onto a new cycle path and magnificent bridge over the A10. 

Connect2 Bridge over the A10
Getting our money's worth here

This is a recently opened Sustrans initiative, part of the £50M Lottery-funded Connect2 scheme, providing access to a new school for children living in Cheshunt.  However, completing the journey into the Lee Valley was hampered somewhat at the unmanned level crossing, which was extremely rickety with two very tight gates to negotiate, before we emerged onto Cheshunt Marsh and the Lee Valley Park.  A completely new route for me, and one to keep in mind for any future rides into Essex as it avoids the busy roads south of the M25. 

Dodgy level crossing south of Cheshunt
Pony & trap at The Woodman, Wormley West End

We continued north in the park for a while, then re-crossing the railway, we climbed out through Cheshunt, passing Cheshunt Park, to our lunch stop at Wormley West End.  Here we chatted for a while with the pony and trap riders gathered in the car park.  We had made good time, so a pleasant lunch lingered on a bit - why not?  We then went our different ways home.  Not a long ride, but a nice one for winter with some interesting new routes and a bit of reasonable weather for a change.

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