27 February 2011

27 Feb 2011: St Albans to Gaddesdon Row

A bright, dry but chilly morning at The War Memorial at St. Albans saw 10 of us ready to go. First leg was to Chipperfield, which is not that far to the southeast. So we took the usual route to begin with up past Verulanium and on through the lanes to Bedmond and then Kings Langley. The first excitement of the day was when a youth on a mountain bike decided to turn right in front of me without looking at all, just as I was leading the ride to go past him. My initial thought was that I was going to crash but a mad swerve saw me just manage to turn right inside him. He did have the decency to say sorry and I pointed out that was all very well but, as he hadn’t looked, if I had been a lorry he would have been squashed and dead.

Then it was on to Hunton Bridge and Chandlers Cross. Here by way of diversion we turned south and went down through Whippendell Woods, very pretty with sunshine through the trees. At the end of the woods, we turned right up a lane, at the back of Croxley Green, which rapidly deteriorated from what once must have been a lane into a very potholed muddy path. Despite this, it was an interesting route and the general consensus was that we had never been that way before. Eventually it emerged onto a proper road and we headed for Sarrat, which has a large village green. As a vintage vehicle enthusiast, I nearly decided to abandon the ride immediately as numbers of vintage cars and lorries were assembling on the green for a show. However, dutifully I went on, arriving at Blackwell’s café in Chipperfield on time at eleven o'clock. This café has a nice ambience with a continental feel to it with a bar and croissants, yet also full English breakfasts for the hungry traditionalist. It also has an interesting history being more than just a café. Apparently, the ‘lords of the manor’ at Chipperfield were the Blackwells of ‘Cross and Blackwell’ (think baked beans) and in the First World War two of their sons were killed in France. As a memorial, the family gave the village a hall/club. Later in 2006, the great grandson of the original donor reopened the revamped hall in its current format. This as I say is a very stylish café, which helps to raise funds to maintain it as a club/venue for the village.

Blackwell's Cafe, Chipperfield

Training for the Marathon

After this break, two of our party (with great prescience as it turned out) decided to head for home whilst the rest of us started out for Kensworth some way to the northeast. Through the lanes towards Hemel Hempstead, but skirting it and then starting to climb towards Potten End. Here it started to rain and we began to see runners coming the other way, lots and lots of runners. The stewards for the runners told us it was people training for a marathon, over 500 of them. Those at the front seemed ok but as we went on, those further back (many miles back) seemed to be more and more exhausted and more like they were training in how to kill themselves. By now it was raining quite hard, two more of our party had turned for home and we finally reached the heights of Gaddesden Row. Decision time. The original plan was to turn north here for about 5 miles to the lunch pub at Kensworth. This would mean 5 miles in the rain going north only to be followed after lunch by a similar distance in the rain coming back. So a democratic vote was taken to abandon this silly idea and repair forthwith to a nearby pub, ‘The Chequers’. Despite being very full, we managed to find a couple of free tables. Like an increasing number of pubs, this does not do sandwiches on Sundays, but as we couldn’t face going out in the rain to find a different one we settled for having ‘starters’ from the menu instead.
So after a break and duly fortified we set off again in the rain to get back as quickly as possible via Redbourn to St Albans. Here some had to go on to Hatfield and Welwyn whilst those of us who finished at the start as it were, found we had done about 37 miles in total.

So in summary a lovely morning to begin with, shame about the rain later but oh what joy and relief that at least one was cycling and not near to death running in the rain.



20 February 2011

20 Feb 2011: Hatfield to Bennington

A happy little gang met at Asda, Hatfield.  The weather was a bit on the temperamental side: overcast, misty, cold and humid at the same time.  Steve and Carol had already texted earlier that they would meet us at Bennington, so off we set towards Panshanger via Welwyn.  This is a well trodden route for us as there don't really seem to be many ways out of Hatfield in the direction that we were going.  After 20 mins or so, I made a left onto the B1000 (whenever I get to this point I'm always tempted to see if you can go through Tewinbury farm), then took our first right onto Churchfield road which led us into Tewin. 

As the morning progressed, so did the mist and some threatening spots of rain; in light of this the countryside was oddly quiet and had a smoky atmosphere to it.  I took a short cut via Tewin Hill then followed the Winding Shott into Bramfield, and from there it was a straight push on towards our break.  This was at The Rose Café, Railway Street, Hertford, a fab cafe frequented by walkers, cyclists and adventurers of all creeds.  As with every popular place, this one is as cheap as chips and the service is GOOD.  Here Tracey joined us, with stories of spending the previous week basking on a Cornish beach!

The Rose Cafe, Hertford
Sacombe Park

From there we made our way up Port Hill and joined the Sacombe Road, which leads through Stony Hills then into Sacombe Park.  This place was shrouded in mist, and the beasts in the distance revealed themselves to be horses.  Now at this point Judy decided to display a hidden and rare talent as horse scarer extraordinaire.  Her plan was simple; she rode behind some of us (in a vain attempt to conceal her flag waving recumbent) and, as we came upon two horses, she did nothing.  But they panicked like hell, we had to stop riding so that they could pass, and after all that excitement she then decided to do it again with very similar results, but this time there was one rider leading another horse and one of them made a bolt for it.  It has to be said that the rider displayed a considerable amount of rodeo skill as he kept hold of both horses and brought them back under control.

From this point we made our way around Whitehill Golf Club, through Dane End, Whempstead and Burns Green (if you have bad eyesight it looks like Bum's Green on the map), then onto Bennington.
Carol's Mozzarella Toastie

The pub we had chosen was the Bell and it was very nice.  Here we were joined by Steve and Carol and we all had snacky things and drink, Richard and Carol opted for the uber stringy Mozzarella-filled toasted sandwich.  The pub was filling up fast as it was snowdrop weekend at Bennington Lordship.
Bennington Lordship
Snowdops at Bennington

Then it was off to Aston, Datchworth, Tewin and back home.  I DIDN'T GET LOST ONCE

I was very happy with the ride, it was shortish for us, but as leader that made it manageable for me.
Neil: 20/02/2011

13 February 2011

13 Feb 2011: St Albans to Studham

Neil writes: Richard explained that he had two routes in mind but he kept us guessing on his choice of route.  It was on an overcast, cloudy and damp Sunday morning when we left St Albans. The forecast was for worse weather to come and our numbers were well down on previous weeks.   As we set off for Ayot St Peter via Sandridge it soon became apparent that today's ride would be rather challenging, with the gusty wind and rain doing their best to become our new best friends.
One of the great things about having Richard as a leader is his knowledge of the local roads.  There was never really a time in the whole ride where I was completely clueless as to where we were, but at times he would go up a road that we would normally ride in the other direction, giving us a whole new view to feast our eyes on. As the morning wore on the weather became more dramatic at times.  It's fairly safe to say that we did not have one completely dry minute. Tea break was at Jake’s Cafe at Woodside. It was here that Peter bade us farewell, as he wanted to grab a bargain in the shops. This in the light of things to come was a bad move IMHO.
Pete & Neil in Jake's Cafe.

After break, Richard and I made for the outskirts of Dunstable. By this time the wind had really got up and had decided to use us as play things. After Dunstable we made our way up the Whipsnade road. This was a climb and a half and about a quarter of the way up, Richard pointed out a cycle path that we could use, so we did. The path was gravely and wet and with the wind head on, it made for quite a challenging climb. I do remember thinking I'm glad I'm going up this path as the gravel would have made for a slippery descent. Near the top was a little gate and a gentleman ambling towards it in the same direction as us.  On approaching I dutifully rang my bell and he dutifully leapt out of his skin.
What met my gaze at the top was nothing short of astounding.  We were now at the highest point in Bedfordshire at 797 ft and overlooking The London Gliding Club.  The whole of the Dunstable Downs and the vale of Aylesbury was spread out before us; the rolling hills, deep greens of the fields and deep browns of the wintry trees gave this sight some real character.  This site was used in Neolithic and Bronze ages for burials, then for mass executions of Saxon raiders and in recent times, for scenes in The Prisoner.
The Five Knolls on Dunstable Downs

We then, by the power of wind alone, made our way to the Five Knolls (there are actually seven of these burial mounds); we were being blown along by the wind at 10 mph, not bad for no pedalling.  We were fully exposed to the wind as we made our way along the ridge of the downs up to the National Trust Centre.  This was hard work as I had a battle of wits with the wind, one gust and I could've been down to the bottom of the valley.  As we neared the centre, it seemed that the wind got stronger and at one point I swear that I was riding at an angle to it. Someone said ‘wonderful, now we will have the wind behind us’ then he did a right turn straight into it.  From there it was a quick dash down into Studham for lunch.  It was here we were joined by Jon and Judy; it was a nice place and did a very welcome sandwich. 
Leaving The Bell, Studham
Judy shows Neil the right way to get ready.

From lunch the ride was much the same as the morning, with similar weather problems all round.
I have to say I wouldn't swap a challenging day like this for all the tea in China, FANTASTIC.


6 February 2011

06 Feb 2011: St Albans to Chesham

For today's ride, Carol led us to the popular 'indoor picnic pub' in Chesham and it attracted our highest number of riders (13) so far this year. 
Swans on the river Chess in the garden of
 The Pheasant in Chesham

The route was quite tortuous.  After lunch we actually split into three groups and I'm sure we saw Carol & Steve going in the opposite direction through Radlett.

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