27 May 2012

27 May 2012: Hertford to Nuthampstead

We met at the start in Hertford all adorning shorts and sun cream, the first time this year for me! The weather forecast was for sun all day; at last summer is here!
Sacombe Park
Yellow fields beyond Sacombe Church

We climbed out through Bengeo to Sacombe Park, Dane End, Westmill, Aspenden and on to Buntingford using Ermine Street/A10 for a short while before turning off to cycle quieter, shadier lanes (through another Dane End) and Reed End to the Silver Ball Café.
Silver Ball Cafe
Leaving Reed

This is always a popular spot for motor cyclists, although there were fewer than usual today.  Here one of our cyclists (Nixon) thought he recognised one of the motor cyclists and was amazed to find it was actually his father.  After a substantial 11s we set off to Nuthampstead, which as the crow flies is not far away, so we looped out via Newsells Farm to Barley and passed the superb windmill up to Great Chrishall, then Shaftenhoe End and Morrice Green. After climbing some steep hills on this leg we were ready for a cold drink in the Woodman Pub.
Horse riders passing windmill
Great Chishill windmill
This post mill is an interesting example of rural engineering, built in 1819 using timbers from an earlier mill of 1726 it was last restored in 1951.   © Copyright Andrew Pickess and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
Cyclists leaving garden
Hopleys Garden Centre

During lunch I realised I didn’t have the correct map for the next part of the ride! Jon kindly helped and pointed us in the right direction of Furneux Pelham.  All the rain and now sunshine had brought out the beautiful poppies and wild flowers in the hedgerows and verges along this pretty part of the route. We continued through the Hadhams to Hopleys Garden Centre. There we were spoilt for choice with yummy homemade cakes.

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20 May 2012

20 May 2012: Hatfield to Aspenden

OK, so its freezing cold and the weather forecast isn’t too good but it’s May so where is everybody?  Turning up at the start in Hatfield there were only two people there, well three if you include me. And it was the ladies putting the guys to shame, so top marks to Jackie and Tracey who were ready for the off. The plan was to go to the new café at Thundridge for elevenses, so we started off towards Essendon. We hadn’t gone more than 400 yards when Bill hove into view saying he had been headed for the start when he had had a puncture a little way back, had hastily pumped the tyre up but it was now flat again. Anyway we stood around offering helpful advice while Bill struggled to fit a new tube. Putting the wheel back on the bike there was a loud hiss and the tyre went down again, (oh the joys of cycling). Turned out the valve had torn out of the tube so Bill borrowed a spare from Tracey. 

By now we were properly cold and time was marching on. So I decided to cut out the fancy route I had planned and go straight to Hertford so Bill could buy a replacement tube for Tracey from Halfords. This done it was now well past 11am so we decided on another change of plan. This was to abandon pushing on to Thundridge, as we weren’t sure the new café there was open and as a compromise go to a nearer one in Ware. So we settled into this cosy café and warmed and fed ourselves. At this point Jackie and Bill said they were very sorry but that they had always intended to go home after elevenses. So Tracey and I deliberated on whether to take the easy option and give up, or press on showing a bit of British bulldog spirit (or something like that). So press on we did.

Lunch was to be at ‘The Fox’ in Aspenden which is a lovely little village just short of Buntingford. The route we took was a quiet one through the strangely named hamlet of ‘Cold Christmas’, on through Much Hadham, Standon and, strangely named again, the village of ‘Nasty’, which is actually very nice. So we got to ‘The Fox’, which is a lovely old place with a nice atmosphere, at about 1.30pm. It was surprisingly busy but despite that by 2pm we were ready to go. Original plan had been to go to Stevenage for a tea stop but in the circumstances we discarded that idea and headed straight back home via Dane End.

Part of the reason it had felt so cold all morning was the wind blowing from the north. But now of course we were headed south, so we flew back with the wind behind us, which made a pleasant change. Tracey turned off for her home in Welwyn Gdn City and I went back to the start. Overall I had done just over 50 miles, there had been nil sun but no rain so not a bad day all things considered.

13 May 2012

13 May 2012: St Albans to Whiteleaf

On a bright May morning, seven cyclists, including a defector from the Verulam CC, met at the St Albans start for the ride into the Chilterns on what promised to be the first dry Sunday ride I'd been on for some time.  
Peter at Apsley Marina
Green leaves in Dormonds Wood
We went to Chesham crossing the Grand Union canal on the fine curly bridge in the Apsley Marina, then climbed the rather long hill to Felden, where the new aristocracy can view the toiling masses of Hemel Hempstead, before cutting through Bovingdon Green and Ley Hill to the very reliable Poppins cafe.

Steve remarked he had seen a strange animal dead on the verge of the A4147 near to Bedmond Lane, but no one else had noticed it. 

After coffee we went through Pednor and Kings Ash where we had fine views of the valley which are scheduled to be ruined by the proposed HS2 railway line (not mentioned in the Queen’s speech) before dropping down to cross the main road near Great Missenden. I had promised several hills and the first arrow one was up to Dunsmore, then a double one down to Coombe Hill and Chequers.  We didn't see any sign of Sam and Dave, or even Rebekah Books, but saw the new 'rising bollards' at the front entrance to deter unwanted visitors, presumably not on bikes.

The pub at Whiteleaf looked quaint and we actually sat outside for our food. Slightly pricey and a rather frosty reception meant I would probably try and find a different pub next time.

After lunch we climbed the double-arrowed Whiteleaf Hill before a glorious downhill through Bryants Bottom, then through Holmer Green and Coleshill and the Chalfonts to reach Chenies Church for a good-value cup of tea and homemade cake, making an effort to keep bad language to a minimum.
Red Lion, Whiteleaf

Carol leading in Great Kingshill
Tea at Chenies

There had been an afternoon incident of note, when I spotted a brown furry tail flash through a garden just as I was descending to go under the railway bridge at Little Chalfont. "That was either a fox, or a cat with a very bushy tail” I said. The next second a blur of brown shot just in front of my wheel giving me quite a fright - certainly a lucky fox and a narrow escape for me.

On the way back from Chenies we stopped to inspect the dead animal and couldn't decide if it was a polecat or a ferret!  Altogether a lovely day out admiring the new green leaves on the Chiltern forests and covering just over 100 hilly kilometres.


6 May 2012

06 May 2012: Waltham Abbey to Greenwich

A change from the usual Hertfordshire lanes saw us venturing into London on traffic-free routes in an attempt not to get lost amongst the maze of routes along the Lea Valley.  Fortunately, I had done a recce ride a month before with Richard, but that didn't stop me taking a wrong turn over a lock soon after the start.  Perhaps the blimp sighted over Enfield or the Lynx helicopter patrolling the skies had distracted me?  Despite this we soon made it to the excellent cafe in Springfield House, near Stamford Hill for a bit of ethnic nosh and to warm up from the arctic chill outside.
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I was nervous about the next leg of our route along the Lea Valley, although Sustrans had assured me the security closures on this stretch of National Cycle Route 1 had now been delayed until early July.  So we were soon passing the Olympic Stadium, under The Greenway and onto Three Mills Island.  Here the Customs House, the Millers House, Clock Mill and House Mill, Britain's oldest standing mill, form the 18th century streetscape.  It is a water-powered tidal mill and milling has taken place on this site since the 11th century.  Gunpowder and corn were milled here in the 16thC, latterly grain for gin distilling.
Heading south again we used the new 'flyunder' at the Bow flyover, soon reaching Bow Locks (which Giles attempted to cycle over), the first (or last) locks on the Lea before the tidal Thames.  There were several groups of cyclists exploring the cycle routes around here and we were stopped by one group who seemed enjoy being completely lost.   Next we were 'cycling on water' along the floating towpath, with its colourful lighting, under the Blackwall Tunnel approach road and along the Limehouse Cut to Limehouse Basin.  Here we emerged onto Narrow Street, passing some ancient warehouses and joined the Thames Path to the Isle of Dogs.  

Thwarted by a sudden closure of the path, we gentlemen hauled our bikes up a tall flight of steps while Tracey used the lift, then we dodged through some back streets in the shadow of Canary Wharf to reach Mudchute Park (via the Asda car park) for lunch at Mudchute Kitchen.  Being a bank holiday weekend it was fairly busy, but I yielded to popular demand for an excursion to cross the Thames via the foot tunnel to Greenwich.  The Cutty Sark is truly impressive, now floating on a glass sea.  Not quite so impressive was HMS Ocean, where the helicopters were based for the Olympics.

Retracing to Narrow Street we now took the route through Mile End Park, with its gardens, water features and sculptures.  The Green Bridge links two halves of the park that are separated by the Mile End Road - we hardly noticed the road below as the bridge is planted with trees and shrubs.  Joining the Regents canal we emerged into Victoria Park, the oldest municipal park in the world.  This is where the cycle parking for the Olympics will be sited - it's a long walk from here.  Back on the canal and under some scary bridges we rejoined the Lea Valley, stopping to view some miniature bronze statues, then we followed NCR1 through Walthamstow Marshes, passing an equestrian centre where they were playing horse handball, to the cafe at Springfield Marina.  After this we were happy to retrace back to Waltham Abbey, where some had a good ride back to St Albans and others took the car home after an unusual, interesting and enjoyable ride.

Jon C