30 October 2011

30 Oct 2011: St Albans to Shillington

Making the most of another mild autumn day and an extra hour in bed, ten of us gathered in St Albans for the last of our three-stop rides this year.  Our first destination was the excellent café at Lea Green Post Office, where Richard, Judy and Jon joined us, while Peter, Bill, Neil, Steve and Jackie left the party.
Lea Green Post Office
Inside the Post Office

Carol put in an extra loop up to Gravenhurst before we dropped back down to Shillington for lunch at The Crown.

Heading for tea at Whitwell, we skirted Hitchin and paused for ‘consultations’ at Charlton.  We decided on the steep, direct route to Preston rather than the longer, easier route via Gosmore.  This took us through woods resplendent in their autumnal colours.
Autumn near Charlton
Emily's Cafe, Whitwell

Leaving Emily’s café, some of us had a longish journey home and needed lights, but we were glad to have kept dry all day. 

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Jon 30/11/2011

23 October 2011

23 Oct 2011: Wheathampstead to Steeple Morden

I led this ride last year when we had dismal weather and only a handful of riders. A complete contrast this time: a dry bright morning and 15 riders (including 2 new ones)!

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After counting everyone we set off. As the distance to elevenses was fairly long,  I decided to do a direct route and to this end, we took the B651 through Gustard Wood, Kimpton, Whitwell and St Paul’s Walden. 

Cyclists at Stagenhoe
At Stagenhoe near St Paul's Walden

There was quite a bit of climbing to this point, but after this we had a long downhill to Little Almshoe where we turned right to Redcoats Green.  The riding was quite easy as we had a following wind, which we would come to loathe later in the day.  We continued north to Baldock and then Stotfold and Astwick.  Here we had to take our lives in our hands crossing the A1, but we all managed to get across and our elevenses stop was reached.

I had some concerns about whether this venue would cope with our number, but they did so admirably (fortunately there weren't many others there).  After eating and drinking, we set off for our lunch venue at Steeple Morden.  We headed towards Ashwell and then turned north again to Eyeworth up a very long straight narrow lane.  We still had our tailwind and were making good progress, so much so that I decided to stick an extra loop in at Eyeworth by turning left toward Sutton.  Here we headed towards Potton and then turned right to Wrestlingworth. It was here that we realised how strong the wind had been!

A small incline felt like going up the side of a mountain, and then we had to pedal downhill into Wrestlingworth. From here, it was just a short hop to Guilden Morden and then Steeple Morden. The Wagon and Horses pub was very quiet and the chef was off, but they rustled up some baguettes and I reckon they were glad of our custom.

  Farrowbury Farm
  Alpacas neat Steeple Morden
After lunch, we headed back into the wind to Ashwell where we took the steep hill out of the village to cross the A505 at Slip End.  The ride into the wind was tiring and the group was getting quite strung out.  We regrouped at Cumberlow Green and then continued to Luffenhall where we climbed again to Halls Green.  From here, it was a fairly level ride back to the north of Stevenage where I took my usual short cut through the St Nicholas area and then took the cycle track to Fairlands Valley Park, where the cafe did a good trade in ice cream and teas.  It was now nearly 4pm, which is quite late for our tea stops, but fortunately Costello’s stays open until 5pm.
  Steeple Morden
Costello's, Stevenage

We left here and I helped the group navigate the cycle tracks to the Roebuck Inn where I left them to continue back to Wheathampstead/St Albans.  I had 73 miles on the clock when I got home.  Many thanks to those who came on the ride and apologies to those who were worn out at the end of it!

  The Roebuck, Stevenage

Stuart 23/10/2011

16 October 2011

16 Oct 2011: Hatfield to Allens Green

What a freezing cold morning and foggy too!  The first day of the autumn/winter to give up shorts, start wearing warm gloves and put on the winter jacket and warm hat. I don't think, though, there had been a frost. Meeting up in Hatfield, it was good to see some new faces present and for once women outnumbering men. Leading the ride today was going to be a joint effort between Richard, Neil and Tracey. Jon, our planned leader was not able to be there, but he had suggested a route that we tried to stick to. We left Hatfield through the Uni, Welham Green, along Tyler's Causeway and descending through the woods into Broxbourne. The sun was beginning to burn off the mist. Here we wanted to approach the coffee stop from the south for a change, so we relied on Tracey's local knowledge to navigate through some back lanes and onto the towpath to bring us to the River's Edge Cafe at Dobb's Weir.
Relaxing in the sunshine at Dobbs Weir

This place has had a change of ownership and a re-vamp since I was last here, but still keeps its old atmosphere. Here one of our party decided to wrap her feet in silver foil against the cold. Not something I've seen before, but it seems to work. After refreshments, we carried on the Essex side of the River Lee towards Royston. Here we picked up the Stort towpath, following it to Harlow. A new route for me, but a real delight.
River Stort between Roydon and Harlow

The weather had changed, it was warming up fast and we were in bright sunshine. From Harlow heading north through quiet lanes we were soon skirting Sawbridgeworth and then arriving at Allen's Green. Excellent pub; a very pleasant stop; very cheap beer and ok with eating your own food on the premises if that's what you prefer. I believe it is a community run pub. Here Neil was presented with the Hargreaves Cup for having turned in the most miles on our Sunday rides in the 2010/11 season. He was far ahead of anyone else and this makes it the second year he has achieved this. Well done Neil, it is an achievement!
Allens Green
Neil receives the Hargreaves Trophy from Richard

Soon, heading back in a westerly direction we passed through Green Tye and Hadham Cross. Then continuing over Barwick Ford, we crossed the A10 to the Whitehill Golf Centre, where, although they seem to have strict dress codes for golfers, they are happy to let a motley collection of scruffily dressed cyclists in for tea. After taking tea overlooking the golf course, we headed off for Stoney Hills, where there was a general parting of the ways. Those returning to north London aiming south, others towards Welwyn, Hatfield and St Albans. A great day out in the end after a too-bracing start and thanks to Jon for his route.

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Richard 16/11/2011

13 October 2011

Algarve Tour 13-20 October 2011

We decided we'd like to try and catch some late sun in Portugal, which would help the country overcome its debt mountain, and for the first time ever we risked hiring bicycles to use on our tour. I had found a company called Cycling Rentals who would deliver and collect two 'suspension touring bikes’ to our base hotel in Faro town. The bikes looked suitable from the website pictures and were equipped with proper racks for panniers.

Estoi Pousada
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Day 1: Thursday 

We flew into Faro on a Thursday lunchtime flight from Gatwick to a wonderful 28ºC of sunshine. A 1.8€ bus ride took us to within walking distance of our hotel just outside of the old-town part of Faro. The bikes had been delivered the previous day so we just needed to turn the handlebars and put our pedals on. Steve changed his saddle, but I thought the saddle on the bike looked OK and ended up not bothering to change it to the Terry one I'd brought with me.

The only snag was that I'd been a bit mean by not paying 12€ to hire an Ortlieb bar bag and mount for my bike. I'd brought a basket and mounting bracket with me, but it would not fit on the oversized handlebar. I was resigned to using zip ties to fix the basket to the top of the rear rack in order to provide a way of carrying the stuff I'd normally put in a bar bag.

Day 2: Friday - day ride to Tavira via Estoi

We had booked two nights at the Hotel Alnacir at the beginning of the holiday and one night at the end.  This would give us a day ride to test the bikes and also allow us to leave some stuff at the hotel in the bike boxes. 
The plan was to cycle to Tavira and back via Estoi. In fact, we spent most of the morning visiting bike shops to try to find a cheap bar bag or basket for me. We struck lucky at a shop which had a lightweight basket with a big mount that fitted the large-diameter handlebars. So I have come back to the UK with two baskets now. 
We pedalled inland to Estoi up a gentle incline to just miss the Roman ruins as the attendant said there was not enough time to visit properly before lunch. With our cultural itinerary stymied, we instead visited the nearby Pousada hotel in a converted palace and on entry, were seduced by its opulence and surrendered to the siren call of gluttony by having a lunch on a beautiful terrace with a superb view over the gardens.

After lunch, we followed country roads through citrus groves & wild pomegranate trees to the coastal town of Tavira, which deserved more time than we could spend there. It was 5pm when we left and tried to follow an official cycle route called ‘Ecovia de litoral’ which was supposed to follow the coast back to Faro. However, we lost it after only a few km and as dusk was looming we cycled back along the N124 road. Which was not so bad as there was a hard shoulder to ride on most of the way. We covered 80k that day & the bikes with their (lockable) suspension forks were appreciated for cobbled roads in some of the towns.

Day 3: Saturday - Faro to Alte

Panniers packed, we left Faro to travel to Alte via Loule and Querenca. It was very hot again and uphill all the way. Loule was an old town but a bit spoiled on a Saturday by hordes of coach trippers who visit the market there. We carried on upwards on quite steep roads (by European standards) to visit a hilltop village of Querenca. A new road had been built up a slope that looked an intimidating 30%, so we carried on round the hill to find the original road, which was probably only 15% in places. The gears were not as low as on my regular bike but I just managed to stay pedalling.   Up and over more hills and eventually to our hotel described as 'above' the town of Alte - in fact 1km up yet another hill making a 60k total.

Day 4: Sunday  - Alte to Lagos

Cooler today at about 26ºC and strong winds in the middle of the day but largely down hill to sea level again. Followed the N124 (not busy) to Silves then around the lake to Porto de Lagos. Saw a good example of an old tiled advertisement for ‘Schweppes’. Followed a road on map that turned into a track, then managed to get over the motorway to the outskirts of Portimao. We ended up having our picnic outside a block of flats, as we couldn't find anything better. We were caught up in urban traffic and called in at Decathlon before deciding to just use the hard shoulder of the N-road to get to Lagos. There were too many railway lines and estuaries to cross to find a different route.  Later in the week, we worked out a better route for the return journey. 74 km today

Hotel Riomar was well situated in the old town with a balcony above the street. This had its downside when I realised there was a karaoke bar nearby and I heard 'YMCA' many times until 3am!!

Day 5: Monday - Day trip to Monchique and back

Hot again. I'd originally tried to plan a route that would have had an overnight stay in Monchique - a pretty town up in the Sierra de Monchique hills. I'm glad I couldn’t get the route planned as we climbed 460m over 48K and it took us three hours to get up there with no luggage. Very quiet route up with no cafe open until Casais. We bought a lunch today in a locals’ restaurant with an outside terrace overlooking gardens and the town swimming pool. We met an eccentric ex-pat woman gardener from Brighton. The pricing was weird in the restaurant 2.5€ for a half-litre of red wine, but 0.7€ for a butter pat!
We returned by a different route and researched our route for the next day to avoid the urban sprawl on the coast.  Lovely downhill to make it 84k for the day.

Day 6: Tuesday -  Lagos to Silves

24ºC and no wind today. Short day back to Slives was only 40k. Visited Roman ruins en route, then followed a road that we thought looked like a track but was really wide tarmac to join the main road. Bought picnic lunch in the Continente supermarket then checked into our hotel. Picnic on balcony with a view over castle, then a wander round the town. Hotel meal was good value - soup, pork chops or fish, ice cream, espresso and a bottle of wine for 15€ each, on the terrace with castle view.

Day 7: Wednesday  - Silves - Faro

Easy riding to Alcantarilha where we visited a chapel built with human bones. Followed the Ecovia de Litoral from Alcantarilha to Albuferia and along the coast to Val de Lobo and Quinta do Lago. Down on the coast, Albuferia and Vilamoura were rather built up and not very nice. We followed the cycle route along the coast then got lost up a track when the signs disappeared and needed to use loads of MBs of mobile data to find our way to a road. 74k and about 26ºC today. Back at the hotel, we packed the bikes up into their boxes ready for a courier to collect.   We recommend the hire company and will try and use them again for touring Spain or Portugal.

9 October 2011

09 Oct 2011: St Albans to Bryants Bottom

Looking blearily out of the window at 7.30 on Sunday morning I saw it was raining steadily.  Our ride today was to be out into the Chilterns, and the prospect of cycling in fairly hilly country in the rain began to pall.  However, setting off for the start in St Albans, only a few drops were still coming down and a gradual brightening up began - not another drop all day although the roads were pretty wet.  We headed off west, crossing the Gade valley, climbing up through Flaunden, down Flaunden Bottom and soon faced with the very 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 the other side.  We had been here for the first time a couple of months before and found it great value.  A very nice stop.
The lunch stop originally advertised had been to the Harte and Magpies pub at Coleshill, only about 6 miles further on, and looking at possible routes I couldn't work out a sensible loop to make a decent ride of it.  Therefore, I decided to change the lunch to a pub not used by us for some time.  Down quiet lanes to Chalfont St Giles, we turned right by the church to Coleshill, soon passing the original venue.  Along Penn Bottom, through Holmer Green and Great Kingshill, we took the steep lane down to Bryants Bottom and The Gate.  The pub was excellent; good range of beers and reasonably priced food for all tastes.  Must go again when the weather picks up.  A flock of ride kites (7) were spotted circling the pub. 

As we were a fair way west, a fairly straightforward route back seemed called for, so we headed for Great Missenden, passing the church and along Ballinger Bottom we were quite soon in Chesham, where a tea stop seemed appropriate.  Refreshed we headed back to St Albans along the Chess Valley and back over the two lumps that lie in between.

2 October 2011

02 Oct 2011: Hatfield to Brent Pelham

The hottest October day on record at 29.6 Celsius: that was the Saturday preceding the ride. So, what was Sunday going to be like for the 10 of us who turned out at Hatfield?  This was also to be the first of our monthly shorter option rides, where people could just ride out to elevenses and then be sure someone would accompany them back to the start.  Well there were no totally new faces but Jackie (much recovered from her cycling accident earlier in the year) and Carol a friend of Giles’ both turned up, sure that a shorter ride was just what they needed.   We set off for Whitehill Golf Club near Dane End, which was to be the elevenses stop.

I had planned this section of the ride to have as flat a route as possible for the benefit of any newish cyclists.  So, we looped round via Essendon, skirted Hertford and then took one unavoidable steep hill up through the backstreets to Bengeo. Whilst it was hot it was not unbearably so and the bright sunlight and the heat made it seem more like cycling in France than England.  So cycling onward through Sacombe Park past the mansion there was quite idyllic.  From there, it was just a short way to the golf clubhouse for elevenses. 
Group at Whitehill Golf Club
Our group at Whitehill Golf Club
Couple at Whitehill
...and two more.
Airship overhead
Three Alpacas

As we arrived, we spotted an airship approaching, quite strange, like something out of a 1930’s movie as it flew overhead.  After, we sat outside under a sunshade admiring the distant rural views with the airship disappearing into a dot on the horizon.  It seemed a shame to have to break the spell and start cycling again.

Anyway having done about 20 miles those who wanted to return did so led by Richard.  The remaining 5 of us started out for the wide-open country around Brent Pelham via Buntingford, doing about 12 miles by the time we reached the Black Horse pub.  There we sat in the garden shaded from the hot sun by trees busy losing their autumnal leaves; quite strange.
Stone Cross
Brent Pelham stone cross
Black Horse pub
The Black Horse

The next stop was to have been tea at the garden centre in Much Hadham, but not wishing to put any extra distance in because of the heat, we got there rather early at about 2.30pm.  So, it was decided to press on to Ware using small country lanes.  In Ware, we stopped at a café for a round of cold drinks instead of the usual tea.  Then back to the start via Hertford and Welwyn Garden City using quiet roads as much as possible, apart from a short stretch getting through Hertford itself.

For those of us who did the whole trip it was about 62 miles in all on an idyllic autumn day.  Apart that is from the headwind that got up for the last bit, but then that is a familiar cycling hazard and it did help keep us cool.

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