24 June 2012

24 Jun 2012: Wheathampstead to Whitwell

It was supposed to be the Herts hilly 100k today.  I had done my homework, organised the stops and had the written directions from the 40+, I had the application forms, and I had the map and a Google map print out of the 2010 route (which we were going to do).  Sunday morning arrived and the skies were crying, I knew there was to have been a lot of water overnight, but it looked like it was stretching into the morning.  Wheathampstead was wet and I took shelter in the doorway of the Bull pub.
Tumble down brick walls inside castle
Someries Castle
The only person to turn up was Richard and he had to be back by lunchtime, this suited me and we decided to do a short ride instead of the event, so the ride was cut short, very short indeed.  We headed off toward Lamerswood and then turned left to wards Kimpton Bottom; from here we were making our way to Darley Hall.  It has to be noted that there was a huge amount of water on the roads with several sections flooded.  The whole of the countryside looked as if it had had a damn good soak.

On our way to Darley Hall we passed a sign for a castle, I scoffed at this and Richard said no, there really is a ruin.  So without further ado we went to have a look.

Someries Castle: The castle is a brick building built by Sir John Wenlock in the 15th century. What remains is in ruins but will allow you to imagine how it must have looked in its prime. The remaining brick building is the gatehouse to the actual manor house.  All that remains of the manor house is the clearly visible earthworks that outline the plot where once the house would have stood. The bricks from the manor house were used to build the nearby farmhouses in the 17th century.

Safe from our brush with culture we decide that tea at Emily’s in Whitwell would be great, but on our way there I did a delightful controlled skid into the hedges opposite me.  A car came up in front of us as we were on a descent, I touched my brakes lightly and off I skidded into a neighbouring hedgerow.  With a mouth full of stinging nettles I waved the car on then humbly picked myself up, dusted down, straightened my forks and headed off to Emily’s.

Tea, ah! it’s nice, and the café was full of cyclists.  At this point I noticed the stingers were becoming uncomfortable, especially in the ear (not recommended).  From here we made a beeline back to the start.  All in all a good mornings ride and I felt better for doing it, but I’m quietly happy that nobody else turned up.

Neil 24/06/2012

23 June 2012

Saturday Morning Rides

As a bit of an experiment, we held two Saturday morning rides on successive Saturdays in Bike Week.  These two rides were very successful and illustrated the potential demand for easy Saturday rides maybe once a month.

On this particular morning (23 June) we had chosen to meet at the Inn on the Park coffee shop in Verulamium Park and at 10am there were six people waiting to be taken on a wander around the countryside.  One of that number was a returnee from last week (success, even if it is only one person) and one was a regular on our Five Miles to Fabulous rides, trying to get even more fab!  The previous Saturday there had been seven people out with us.

Richard, our leader, took us on a very pleasant route through Gorhambury, the little hamlet of Childwickbury and then we made our way to Sandridge.  From there we skirted Wheathampstead and meandered through to the Ayots, going past George Bernard Shaw’s house and back into Sandridge.   Richard showed us a nice short cut up to Marshalswick and then said his goodbyes.  Graham then took over the reins of leadership and navigated the streets of St Albans to get us back to the start.

As only one chain come off, throughout the ride, and no punctures, our bike maintenance skills were hardly challenged and this made for a very pleasant morning.  The group were all happy and calm cyclists of varying experience; both Graham and Ray had led rides in France (both CTC members) so it wasn’t just newcomers to cycle touring.  Both Graham and Ray were interested in the Wednesday evening rides (I think the interest started as I mentioned the word PUB).

Thoughts: - with a good turnout for both of the Saturday mornings, I am more than happy to try and organise this as a once a month ride, I think Richard may be interested as well.  

Neil 23/06/2012

17 June 2012

17 Jun 2012: Hertford to Matching Tye

The weather may have been iffy for ages, but nothing to complain of for today's ride.  We met in the centre of Hertford and set off up the Bengeo hill to Stoney Hills.  Passing through Sacombe Park, with its fine views over the valley below, we were soon crossing the A10 and then the ford at Barwick.  Only one cyclist braved the ford itself, but as she was on a trike, she could hardly fall off!  

Entering Sacombe Park
Barwick Ford
Then on to Much Hadham, where the signs of recent flooding were well in evidence - masses of gravel washed down the hill into the road.  Climbing to Perry Green, we took the main road into Bishops Stortford - there are not that many ways into the town from the west.  Our coffee stop was the good value Bridge Cafe in the town centre.  It was going to be a fair way to lunch, so most stocked up on nourishment while the going was good.  We continued through the town, heading south.  Then passing round Hatfield Forest, we zigzagged through the surrounding lanes, to reach Hatfield Broad Oak.  A left turn here took us through more traffic free lanes to Matching Green and then our lunch stop at Matching Tye.  

Hadham Ford
Matching Green

The Fox is a pleasant pub with a nice garden to sit and chew your sandwiches. After lunch we still needed to head south to reach tea in Epping Forest.  Passing through Magdalen Laver, my knowledge of the local geography began to run out.  Jon suggested a more traffic free route than the one I planned, and, keeping to small lanes were soon crossed the M25/M11 junction to reach Theydon Bois.  Then it was a very long climb up through the forest to cross the main road, then a side road to the church.  

High Beach churchyard
Entering the Lea Valley Park from Mott Street
High Beach church is a new tea stop for us - would the teas be as good as the exceptional neighbouring Upshire Church?  Not quite, although the recital in the church added a bit of culture to our day.  Then, descending to the Lea Valley Park, we split into smaller groups heading for different homes - still a fair way for most.  A really enjoyable day out into the quiet countryside of rural Essex.

Richard 17/06/2012

10 June 2012

Club Tour to East Anglia - June 2012

Sunshine, warmth, the wind at our backs

What a start it was for our four-day tour.  A cycle touring club really should do some touring as a club and coasting down to Buntingford I was thinking it’s a shame we don’t do more of this together.  With unpredictable weather you have to take the rough with the smooth, but more on that subject later.  So, with Jan joining us at elevenses we were up to 10 keen riders for this tour with another three out for the day.  Numbers were limited to 12 anyway to suit Stour Valley YHA’s new block-booking policy.
View photo album

Café Town in Buntingford was new to me and good value, as were most of the cafés and pubs we used.  Perhaps it’s the recession or maybe just getting far enough away from London that brings the prices down.  In fact the whole holiday was great value as we booked Travelodge rooms well in advance and with two sharing per room they worked out cheaper than the youth hostel.

After lunch at Phillimore Garden Centre in Shepreth, where the three Sunday riders left us, we passed through Barrington, which boasts the longest village green in England, before testing our climbing powers on Chapel Hill.  Then it was time for some tricky off-road, with a tyre’s width track to follow on the Barton-Grantchester cycle route, which brought us out by the Rupert Brook pub.  The cycle route through Grantchester Meadows into Cambridge was a pleasant route into the city and not too crowded, then we picked up NCR 11 across Coe Fen behind Peterhouse College to emerge at the mill pond, where we resisted the temptation to spend the afternoon punting on the Cam.

Lingering briefly amongst the other tourists on King’s Parade, we were fascinated more by the busker playing inside a rubbish bin (could it be Charlie?) than by King’s College Gatehouse, with its bulbous cupola and pinnacles, or indeed by the gothic architecture of King’s Chapel, with the world’s largest fan-vault ceiling.

We followed NCR 11 to Jesus Lock, where the Soham Comrades brass band were performing, then through the back streets and out to Impington.  Soon we were in the fens on the aptly named Grunty Fen Road and arrived at Ely Travelodge at 5 pm.  We couldn’t have had a more friendly welcome (the receptionist was a cyclist) and we were positively encouraged to take our bikes into the rooms.  A relaxing evening followed, with a walk into Ely, a meal at The Lamb Hotel (an old coaching inn) and a look at the cathedral and the quayside; we finished off with a drink at the Prince Albert.

A battle with the elements.

Monday dawned with heavy rain and a strong head wind and, despite big breakfasts at the Little Chef, energy levels were sapping as we finally reached Downham Market for a rather late elevenses at Knights Catering, where a friendly welcome awaited us.  This turned into lunch after seeing what was on the menu and on display in the bakery!

So we cut out going to Swaffham and looped around to Oxborough Hall, where I stopped outside the rear gates for a quick photo.  Not content with this view, some of the more unruly members of our party decided to pedal off down the drive rather than going to the main entrance.   An eagle-eyed National Trust manager spied them and leaped out of her car to lock the gates, much to the amusement of the better behaved members of our group.  We all escaped eventually and made it to Brandon via bits of Thetford Forest as the weather started to improve.

Windswept trees typical of Breckland scenery lined the horizon as we approached Lakenheath and Mildenhall.  Roads were busy as we hit chucking-out time for the workers and getting over the A11 roundabout to our Travelodge at Barton Mills wasn’t pleasant.  However, reception was welcoming and we soon settled in with our bikes to dry them and ourselves out.  It was a short walk to the Half Moon for an evening meal: busier than normal as the first England football game in Euro 2012 had just finished.

An easy day

It was only 45 miles to Brantham according to Google, although we noticed the recorded mileage on our trips was often 10% more than predicted. With a favourable wind we soon reached Bury St Edmunds, delayed only briefly by giving Jan a lesson on fixing punctures.  This time it was NCR 51 that took us in on a traffic-free route to the centre.  It was a bit cold for exploring the historic abbey, so we soon found ourselves in the Street Level Café, where the ladies were overcome at the sight of our lycra clad legs while we appreciated their Newmarket sausages (as recommended by the Queen no less).

Lush fields and pleasant Suffolk scenery lined our route into Lavenham, where a visit to the ancient Guildhall was a highlight of one of the most extensive medieval Suffolk villages.  We lunched at The Cock opposite the impressive church.

Another short leg brought us Kersey, with a steep climb up Church Hill, an on to tea in Hadleigh.  Here I took the old railway path out of the town and over to Capel St Mary then to the YHA at Brantham.

Caroline gave us another warm welcome and four of us headed off to the village shop to load panniers with enough food for dinner and breakfast.  It was fascinating to watch our experienced chefs Tracey & Neil working so expertly together in the well equipped hostel kitchen – no trace of a swear word between them.   They had soon served up a superb spag-bol followed by apple crumble for everyone and facilitated a great evening in.

Last legs

A bright sunny day and we were off at 8:30 on the longest and last leg of our tour.  This time our route took us a bit further north than usual and Jan was planning on a train from Bures.  Knowing there were few places to cross the Stour after Nayland, we passed a ‘road closed’ sign (we can usually get through on bikes) as we headed for Bures.  Nothing was seen for miles, but then we rounded a corner and found the lane completely blocked by a tarmacing vehicle.  There was no easy option, so we hauled our bikes up the bank and through a narrow gate into a hay meadow to get around the blockage.  Unfortunately, this meadow had no gate at the other end, but point-man Neil found a way through to the next field and a gate to get us back on the lane.  We were soon in Bures and dropping Jan at the station for a fond farewell.

Rather a twisty route followed through some very narrow lanes to Colne Engaine and we found a café in Halstead, then pressed on to Andrewsfield for lunch overlooking the airstrip.  Just as we were enjoying the warmth outside, a pilot started his engine and the draught from the propeller blew over a bike and drove us inside the clubhouse.

Back in more familiar territory, we made good progress to Ware for tea just before the Esem cafe closed.  Then along the path to Hertford and the Cole Green Way back to Welwyn GC and Hatfield.  An enjoyable round trip of some 250 miles.

Jon - June 2012

10 Jun 2012: Hatfield to Shepreth

Jon leading through Barkway
This ride coincided with the start of the club tour to East Anglia.  Three riders returned home after lunch, while ten of us headed off to spend the first night in Ely.   

3 June 2012

03 Jun 2012: Norton Heath to Maldon

I like rides with an element of challenge and adventure and today’s ride filled the bill nicely.  The idea behind our car-assisted ride this year was to venture into unfamiliar territory and get to the east coast, or at least the tidal waters of the Blackwater estuary at Maldon.  
Setting off from Norton Heath Cafe
The cycle route through Chelmsford

Maybe it was this prospect that attracted 12 cyclists to defy the weather and gather at Norton Heath (nothing to do with my pestering them about it the previous week!).  I was glad to see so many eager participants, including some friends from the Essex B Forty Plus – were those genuine smiles or grimaces as we started off in the rain?

The route demanded some careful pre-planning, although with so much online mapping and Google Streetview available there’s a danger of spending more time ‘flying’ the route on screen than actually riding it on the day.  Surely following NCR1 all the way to Maldon must be easy-peasey?  On a dry day I would have used the official route, but I decided to avoid some muddy off-road sections after Chelmsford.

However, our first hazard came soon after I missed the correct crossing of the River Can just after High Bridge Road (those tiny blue signs are easy to miss when specs are misted up).  I took the next bridge instead and luckily spotted the wet sleepers in time, so we slipped and slided across that one on foot fairly safely.  But the next bridge, a hump-back masterpiece, nearly had me off as I missed seeing the ‘Cyclists Dismount’ sign – it was bad enough walking down the slope in cycling shoes as everyone else did.

Slippery hump back bridge
Stanford Mill footbridge- Just wide enough for the Trice

The footbridge at Stanford Mill demanded some skillful Trice steering by Judy to avoid plunging over the edge – I felt my popularity waning a bit at this point.

My next trick was to avoid the muddy Graces Walk and take Hurrells Lane just to the north instead.  The river was 1 foot deep at the ford here, so it was another narrow footbridge for the Trice.  As we crossed someone noticed the Footpath Closed signs had washed into the river.  Several planks were missing at the end of the bridge.  Carefully we handed the three-wheeler, plus all the other bikes, over the gap with the river running below.


Hurrells Lane ford.  A favourite spot for gathering firewood?

After this it was a steep climb to the highest point of the ride at Little Baddow; then downhill and we knew the sea wasn’t far away as we reached Cut-A-Thwart lane (cut across?).

Cycling through Maldon it looked quite deserted, surely everyone wasn’t at the Jubilee picnic in Maldon Park?  No, most seemed to be in the harbour front pub we had chosen.  So, after a quick look at the sailing barges, we headed back to town and found the cosy Crystal Café, where we watched the rain-soaked crowds at the Queen’s Thames Pageant catching hypothermia as we tucked into a cooked lunch.

Jean on Cut-A-Thwart Lane
Arriving at Maldon Harbour
Sailing barges lined up##
The Thames Pageant showing in the cafe

The rain had finally eased as we did the short hop to the BHN garden centre for a mid afternoon cuppa, but it came on again as we passed a full Hanningfield Reservoir, so I missed out the off-road short-cut of Metsons Lane.  My cunning plan to avoid all rough stuff didn’t quite pay off as, with just half a mile to go to Norton Heath, Neil was unlucky enough to get the only puncture of the day and walked back to the cars.  Must do this ride again on a summer’s day.

Queen and Prince scarecrows taking shelter in Purleigh
Loading up Giles' van