28 August 2011

28 Aug 2011: Hatfield to Gamlingay

August Bank holiday weekend and the weather forecast (typical bank holiday) was rather poor for the fairly long ride to Gamlingay. Arriving at the start in Hatfield there were 6 of us despite most people having other things to do on a bank holiday.  So off to Letchworth for our first stop. The route, keeping mostly to the lanes, was to the west of Stevenage. This included one very muddy stretch, where muck spreading after the harvest was in full swing.  As we rode into Letchworth, we went around what is claimed to be the first roundabout in the country (1909). This was about the time that Letchworth, the first garden city, was built.

Taking the direct route into Letchworth
Still looking good at 102

This approach was impressive and as we cycled down the wide straight road, ahead in the distance were fountains spurting skywards. Past them and into the pedestrian precinct there were more fountains and trendy water features.

Fountains in Letchworth

Then into the more prosaic elevenses stop of a Weatherspoon pub ‘The Three Magnets’, which served extraordinary good value breakfasts.  It is ironic that this pub’s name derives from the three magnets theory of Ebenezer Howard, who founded this once dry town, on the basis of combining the attractions of both town and country in a garden city.

Lunch was to be at Gamlingay, a village in Cambridgeshire. By the time we got to Ashwell, a very pretty old village, the wind was getting stronger. So a little further north, just before Steeple Morden, instead of heading off in a large anti-clockwise loop to approach Gamlingay from the east as planned, I decided to go directly north to lessen the headwind. In reality it still seemed pretty strong. After a bit of a struggle through the rolling countryside we were into Gamlingay and ‘The Cock Inn’.

Just as we were thinking of leaving, the heavens opened and the rain pelted down. So thankfully we sheltered at the pub until it passed over. Then we were off taking the large loop I had abandoned in the morning, but now in the opposite direction.

Route planning for the return
Gamlingay church

And it led through really nice remote countryside dotted with thatched cottages. We even went through a tiny place called Wendy, which is rather a strange name for a village. However, now it had decided to rain in an intermittent fashion. So it was on and off with the waterproofs all the way to Stevenage, the tea stop, going via Ashwell where we had been in the morning, but now taking a more easterly route.

An old bus spotted in Ashwell
Outside Ashwell Post Office

The tea stop was at Aston golf course where we seemed to slump into the chairs for a well earned cuppa and a rest. Then off again with the group breaking up as people went their own route homewards. I went back to the start at Hatfield having done about 75 miles, though some from further afield would do a lot more.

Peter 28/08/2011

21 August 2011

21 Aug 2011: St Albans to Cublington

Nine of us met on a lovely autumn morning, and after the usual morning chatter I quickly herded the group in the general direction of Dunstable.  I say general direction as many of this group have experienced my complete lack of understanding when it comes to left and right.

We headed off to the National Trust Centre on Dunstable Downs via Gaddesden Row and Kensworth; the only problem encountered on this leg of the route was at a junction where I confidently told people we were going right, then promptly stuck out my left arm, causing much confusion.  Carol leapt to the rescue and found to her surprise that I did know where we were going, and that the route I had chosen was in fact a good one.  As the morning wore on it got colder as the sun kept trying to do a vanishing act on us. At the N.T centre we were met by Adrian and Phillip, who instead of meeting us for a quick chat joined us for the rest of the day.

National Trust Centre
Dunstable Downs

On leaving the centre I gave a choice of routes to take, (1) straight down Whipsnade Road or (2) down the foot path that follows the edge of the downs.  I led the later and have to say for me this was the highlight of the day.  This footpath offers some of the best views of the downs and, as for cycling down it, well it’s just plain fun.  We all met up again at the roundabout at the bottom and Carol came to my rescue.  The road I had chosen was a very busy one, but using Carol’s knowledge a similar route to the one I had planned was soon put into place.  Throughout the later part of the morning we played a game of chase that blue bit of sky.  It so happened that we were on the edge of a weather front with it being either hot or cold, wet or dry. Soon we were accompanied by a small rain shower.  But we made lunch before we even had a chance to get wet.  Lunch was, well, a bit of a let-down.  The Unicorn no longer do sandwiches on a Sunday and instead do over-priced starters and snacks, but this is a lovely spot for a picnic.

The Unicorn at Cublington

As the afternoon progressed the weather brightened up considerably and almost became summer at some points.  The ride to Cholesbury was very pleasant and we tackled that hill called the Crong.  Looking up the meaning of this word I found that it is old English for Cringe, quite apt really when you think about it.  Afternoon tea was at Cholesbury village hall, where we were met by hoards of mad dog owners, I guess that had something to do with it being Chilterns dog rescue day. Tea and a round of sandwiches for 2 pound. That’s lunch and what a price!  It was lovely sitting on the green and basking in the late afternoon sun. But all good things come to an end and we headed off home, with parts of the group peeling off near to their abodes.

Cholesbury Village Hall

All in all a great day, with great company and thanks to Carol for her help and knowledge of maps and the area.

Neil 21/08/2011

14 August 2011

14 Aug 2011: St Albans to Prestwood

I was substitute leader for this Sunday's ride, and as the planned route went to new venues for both the morning and afternoon stops, and involved the use of 4 separate OS maps, and I did not know the area too well, the only question for me was ‘when would I get lost?’  Anyway, off we went from St Albans in what passed for reasonable weather for this summer. Crossing the Gade valley, through Flaunden, down Flaunden Bottom, we were soon struggling up the steep hill from the Chess valley towards the Chalfonts. A loop through the back roads soon brought us to Little Chalfont station and Ozzy's Cafe just beyond - a new stop for us.

Ozzy's Cafe in Little Chalfont
Leaving Little Chalfont

The place was full of people who looked as through they appreciated value for money and turned out to be one of those Italian (?) run cafes - cheap, good food, pleasant service. Highly recommended. So far, the route had been familiar. Now we headed down some quiet lanes to Chalfont St Giles. Here, turning right by the church, we climbed in the direction of Winchmore Hill. Crossing the A355 and teetering on the edge of two maps, we climbed a serious hill into Cole Hill. At the top I realised I had gone wrong.

Somewhere in The Chilterns

We needn't have done the climb, but lacking the nerve to say this and go back down, we carried on. This meant a spell on the busy A404, but we soon turned off into Penn Street and down to Penn Bottom, then on through Holmer Green and Great Kingshill to Prestwood. We had made good time, but it had been a 9.00 start. The Polecat is a popular eating pub, which we have used regularly. After meals and sandwiches, we set off for Hampden Bottom, with a nice flat run down into Great Missenden. Through the village and up past the church, we took the road to Hyde Heath, then through Chesham Bois. Descending into the Chess valley, we climbed the other side towards Ley Hill, then looping back down to Chenies. Our new tea stop was the church, right next to the manor house, and this turned out to be an excellent find.

Chenies Church
Tea in the churchyard

Home made cakes, beetroot and chocolate cake (!) a speciality, and free tea re-fills, and an impressive setting. After this, it only remained to get back to our respective homes, most heading towards St Albans, but with people peeling off on route.


7 August 2011

07 Aug 2011: Hatfield to Wimpole Hall

Eight of us met at Hatfield and we left promptly at 9.05am, as I had planned a long ride ahead.  We headed out through Hatfield Garden Village, Lemsford, Ayot St Peter and up to Codicote, where Stewart joined us.  We then meandered through to Preston and Gosmore.  At this point, Stuart offered to take the lead and he showed us an excellent route that by passed Hitchin town centre completely, via Pin Mill and various residential roads and on to the garden centre, where Carol and Steve met us for elevenses.

Path to Purwell Lane in Hitchin

After elevenses, we cycled through Letchworth and on to Baldock where we branched off to Bygrave, Ashwell, Guilden Morden, Shingay, Wendy and on to Wimpole.  This was a very pretty route made more enjoyable as the wind was behind us for a change.

Near Ashwell

We picnicked in the grounds of Wimpole Estate, grabbed a drink from the small cafe there and looked around the National Trust shop.
Picnic at Wimpole Hall
Leaving Wimpole Hall

We then cycled past the hall across the grand avenue, which stretches for two and a half miles.  This took us to a side exit, where we continued up to Croydon, then down to Abington Pigotts, Littlington, Steeple Morden and back to Ashwell.

Wimpole Hall
Wimpole Hall avenue

From here, we took the road to Slip End and over the A505 onto Rushden.  It was around this point I realised we had lost Carol, Steve, Judy and Jon!  After a short wait we decided to carry on to Cromer windmill and across to Ardeley farm for afternoon tea, where we were re-joined by Carol and Steve.

As the dark clouds we had been dodging all day were looming large, we decided to head home.  Most of us went to Walkern, Aston and Bragbury End where we went our separate ways.  At approx 5.30 pm, the heavens opened and my group peddled quickly on to Tewin Green, where we were surprised to find a dry Jon and Judy under the shelter!  They had lost touch with the group and sneaked into Ashwell looking for an early tea at the village hall.  No teas there, but instead they were invited to a closing-down party at the grade 1 listed vicarage, which was being sold as too costly to run, for wine, nibbles, coffee and cake!
Ashwell Vicarage

The rain did not seem to want to stop so we carried on home.

Tracey 07/08/2011