22 April 2012

22 Apr 2012: Hertford to Essex

As I made my way to the start of our ride at Hertford, it was cold again, but bright and sunny, though another of the regular doses of heavy rain/hail/wind was forecast for later in the day.  What a weird spell of spring weather we've been having.  Amid some gloomy muttering about the likely weather conditions coming up, we set off from the centre of Hertford heading for our coffee stop at Clavering Lakes.  This would be the longest leg of our planned day's ride.  Passing through Ware and along a bit of the old A10, we were soon bowling along the lane to Cold Christmas with its pleasing views across the Rib valley.  Not a car to be seen - a favourite route.  Continuing through the lanes we arrived in Much Hadham, surely one of the most handsome villages in Herts. 
Finding the way to Clavering Lakes
Ominous clouds

Here we turned north along the Ash valley.  A long straight route brought us to Stocking Pelham, with its burned down pub (a former venue of ours) still undeveloped.  This is not the only local pub to have been burned down in recent years - is the beer that bad?  A left in the village took us into Essex and the small hamlet of Starling's Green.  This was a very quiet back lane.  Then climbing past the two windmills, we soon descended to the cafe and fishing centre at Clavering Lakes, a highly recommended place to stop.
Overlooking Clavering Lakes
Elevenses on the veranda

Sitting by the lakes for refreshments, the clouds were building ominously, and the mood of the meeting was that we should head for home sooner rather than later.  So instead of going to the planned lunch at Sawbridgeworth (a very nice welcoming pub, which we must try and get to later), we headed back down the upper part of the Stort, then turning through Farnham, we rejoined our outward route through Little Hadham.  By now lunchtime was calling and passing the Old Crown in Much Hadham, we answered the call.  This is a friendly and obliging pub, with reasonably priced sarneys for those who want them.  
Lunch at Much Hadham
Curtailed route

A pleasant interlude, but the weather really was looking as though it was about to do something horrible, so from here we headed for our various homes, or for me where I had left my car.  A very pleasant ride, if not as originally planned, and it didn't throw it down 'till after we got back.


15 April 2012

15 Apr 2012: St Albans to Leighton Buzzard

The frost glittered in the bright April sunshine; what had happened to global warming?  13 bizarrely clad figures gathered at the war memorial with not a bare knee in sight.  The fluorescent yellows and oranges formed into a column and set off down Catherine Street and following the path of the Roman Legions sped along Watling Street, nowadays known as the A5183, towards Redbourn.  
13 cyclists at St Albans
Start: St Albans
Market Cross close up
Destination: Leighton Buzzard

Carefully avoiding passing the former Punchbowl pub, we turned off towards the scene of the Buncefield fire of 2006, where nothing much has changed since, and wiggled through the housing estates of Hemel Hempstead down to Piccotts End and the main A4146.  Riding along this for a mile, we endured the results of the maintenance regime of Herts Highways (due to be no more at the end of September, hurrah) before a steepish ascent to Frithsden and Ashridge Forest.  As the college came into view we took a sharp left down an allegedly concrete path, but really a muddy track.  A herd of deer stared at us inquisitively, as well they might, but we just stared back.  We saw other bunches heading for Ivinghoe Beacon, while we descended Tom's Hill and passed the once-notorious Stocks House, sadly no longer a training camp for playboy bunnies.  
More bizarrely clad figures inside Stocks House
A bunch prepares to descend past Ivinghoe Beacon

On arrival at the cafe at Pitstone Wharf we had trouble parking our bikes due to the prior arrival of the Verulam Club, who were also occupying most of the inside seats.  However, there was just enough room for us to squeeze in, and while we consumed refreshments we admired the obviously very stretchy material from which the blue-and-yellow club jerseys were made.  Back on the road we wended our way through the rather flat countryside crossing the new Leighton Buzzard bypass to arrive in the town centre and the Swan Hotel, now a J D Wetherspoon establishment. Three of our number were planning to ride the Dunwich Dynamo (a night-time ride from London to the Suffolk coast) this year and a determined training session ensued. This might have been regretted, as our route from lunch involved carrying bikes across the canal lock gates where a steady footing and sense of balance were in demand.  
An awkward crossing at Grove Lock
The Grand Union canal

However, there were no mis-haps, and we cycled south, skirting Tring to join what had been the A41.  Here the precipitation started, but we just made it to the cafe without the necessity for rain-jackets.  When we came out (of the cafe, there were no revelations) the rain had stopped so it was the usual route through Hemel Hempstead, up Bunkers Lane and back along the A4147.


8 April 2012

08 Apr 2012: Hatfield to Allens Green

The Easter Sunday ride; well it’s a bank holiday, it’s the UK, so of course it’s damp and cold, why would one expect otherwise?  So it was that seven of us set off from Asda Hatfield for Church Farm in Ardley, which is a little hamlet well to the north.  As it’s a reasonable distance we took a fairly direct route via Tewin, Aston, and Walkern getting to the farm at about eleven.  Now this farm is a very trendy place with its organic credentials, same day retail food delivery service and of course an appropriately trendy café. Indeed the whole place has as its signage: “the agrarian revolution”, so there you are.  Furthermore, when it opened a little while ago, I remember hearing part of a radio programme about it on BBC Radio 4 and what can be trendier than that?  In fact its very prices also attest to its upmarket credentials.

So duly fortified, and less two of our party who had to head back, off we went to Allens Green. From Ardley this means heading southeast through a number of very pretty, quite remote hamlets, Wood End, Haultwick, before crossing the ford at Barwick.  The countryside seemed particularly still and quiet, we decided the damp mist was actually muffling what little sound there was.  From there it was through Hadham Cross and another ford and on via Green Tye to the ‘Queens Head’ at Allens Green for lunch.  
Cyclists look at bike stuck in fence
How to get a bike stuck in a picket fence
Bike now freed from fence
Bike extricated 

Jon and Judy, who (delayed by a puncture) had gone there via a stop to ‘research’ the Country Bumpkin café in Tewin, met us.  There had been a beer festival at the pub and the remaining barrels were racked up so one could draw one’s own pint (after a few free tasters).  Whilst we lunched in the newly opened glass-roofed extension, the damp weather gave way to proper rain, which was convenient, as by the time we left it had blown over.
Who's ready to go yet?

Now we were heading to Hertford for tea, on the way passing though Perry Green, the village where the sculptor Henry Moore used to live and where the open-air museum/gallery of his pieces is sited. From there we went to Wareside and then by the back route of Babbs Green to Ware.  On this route we passed a relatively newly planted vineyard, a harbinger of a warmer climate to come?  From Ware it was along the canal side path and into Hertford. There into the inviting (cheap) Rose café for tea and cake.

Then there was just the trip back to the start for some of us.  In all we did about 55 miles, and whilst damp and slightly drizzly we never got very wet and once or twice the sun shone through the clouds. So not a bad Easter Sunday after all.


1 April 2012

01 Apr 2012: Hatfield to Much Hadham

April 1, and there really was a sharp frost as I cycled to the start of our ride at Hatfield. Our numbers were down on previous weeks rides, but more were due to meet up at the morning coffee stop.  We were very pleased to welcome a new rider, Emma, who had driven out from Highgate.  I had planned a slightly longer route to coffee, but in the event it turned out to be a fair bit longer than I had estimated.  Setting off south we were soon skirting the fringes of Potters Bar, and then the lumpy route to Goff’s Oak. Down and up Bread & Cheese Lane, then passing through the very pleasant woods to Hoddesdon.  From here it gets a bit more urban through Rye Park, St Margarets and eventually Ware.  

3 cyclists at start
Starting outside Asda in Hatfield
Outside Truly Scrumptious in Ware
Truly Scrumptious Cafe in Ware
Our coffee venue (Truly Scrumptious) was a new one for us - and very good it was - to be recommended for a future occasion.  We had turned in 25 miles from the start and were late.  The riders who had gone straight there were peering anxiously out of the cafe window, thinking they were the subjects of an April fool.  Emma, who had come for the first part of the ride, now set off back with Tracey.  For the rest of us, a modified route now seemed called for.  So instead of looping south along the Stort, we went north, returning along the Rib valley, across Barwick ford and on to Much Hadham.  

Colliers End village scene
Colliers End on the old A10
Pub garden
The Old Crown in Much Hadham 

Again the lunch stop pub - The Old Crown - was a new venue for me, and very reasonable it turned out to be.  Much used by cyclists, there was quite a crowd there.  The food was good value - another venue to use again.  After refreshments, we headed north again on a nice route in the sunny warm weather, which had by then developed, circling round to Standon and Puckeridge, then across to Dane End and the golf centre cafe at White Hill.  It was hard to drag ourselves away from the relaxing seats overlooking the golf course, but soon we were off heading home via Stony Hills, Bramfield and the fringes of Welwyn.  A great day out in what turned out to be perfect bright weather.

2 cyclists examine a map
Planning the next leg

Richard 01/04/2012