29 December 2013

29 Dec 2013: St Albans to Rye Park

A very frosty morning with a fair amount of ice meant that Peter modified the route he had carefully planned and had to abandon the country lanes for the early part of the day. Six people turned up at the St Albans start including new rider John, who had ridden up from Well End near Borehamwood prior to the actual ride. We went along Coopers Green Lane, then through Lemsford before heading straight up the old Great North Road all the way to Stevenage and a welcome warm stop at Costello's cafe in the park.

After a break we used the Stevenage cycle paths to Bragbury End, then made a direct route via Datchworth and Bramfield to Hertford.  We rode through the new Balls Park estate then pressed the button for the gates to open to allow us to exit onto the road to Hertford Heath and avoid the busy road up the hill from Hertford.


The gates were not in place on this picture I found
 - but you can use your imagination!

Downhill to Hoddesdon then to the Rye House Tavern by the river Lea. The pub was so quiet that at first we thought it was shut, however it wasn't and we all enjoyed good value food served quickly. After lunch we took the usual route back through Broxbourne woods,Welham Green and Colney Heath to get back to St Albans well before dark. The sun shone all day and once we'd warmed up it was a great day ride and the only ice we cam across was at the entrance to the morning cafe.

I managed to use  track logging on my new phone for the last section of the ride so I have loaded a route map and built the first two legs manually. That's why the line colour is different! 

Carol 29/12/2013

22 December 2013

22 Dec 2013: Hatfield to Hoddesdon

A lot of horrible weather recently and a dire forecast for the run up to Christmas - it didn't seem encouraging for Sunday's ride. But in fact Sunday morning brought watery sunshine. What with Christmas round the corner and an iffy forecast, it was only a select band who set off from Hatfield, heading first to Bramfield. We crossed the valley and took the track through Sacombe Park; always nice and the sun was by now doing its best. There was a bit of muddy going and a lot of flooding on the roads. Descending to Barwick ford the river was going full tilt; no takers to do the ford crossing this time. Through Much Hadham we soon came to the golf centre's cafe. There didn't seem to be any golfers around, so we had the place to ourselves, and very reasonable it was. We were a bit late, so a fairly direct route to lunch seemed best. Through Hunsdon and Stanstead Abbotts, we were into the suburban bits leading to Hoddesdon. Hoddesdon is looking up these days as these non-cycling pictures show.

The foodless White Swan
Renovated clock tower

Arriving in our pub stop (The White Swan), we were shocked to see instead of a welcoming menu, a notice saying they had given up doing food (too much local competition). Oh dear, this was a favourite haunt for some. There is a huge new Morrison's nearby with a cafe, so we gave that a try. It was ok, but busy and we had a wait, I don't think I'd go there again. So, back through the woods and up the hills towards Hatfield and then dispersing to our various homes. I had turned in 55 miles when I got back and, amazingly, it didn't rain once.

Words by Richard, loaded by Carol hence no map!

Carol 22/12/2013

15 December 2013

15 Dec 2013: St Albans to New Barnet

For our Christmas lunch this year Carol booked us into The Railway Bell in New Barnet.  We stopped off at The Courtyard Cafe in Forty Hall amidst lakes and cedar trees, then followed part of the new Greenway route, which will soon be completed as a cycle route from one side of Enfield Borough to the other.  The stretch we used crossed from Forty Hall into Hilly Fields, then we went through Trent Park and into Barnet.

inside cafe
Courtyard Cafe in Forty Hall
Georgian Hall
Forty Hall
Avenue of trees
Trent Park
man in Father Christmas costume
Billy Christmas

Twelve of us enjoyed a good meal and great service at this newly refurbished Wetherspoons.  Then it was time to get back home for most (except for Bill who had a second Christmas lunch to go to!).

8 December 2013

08 Dec 2013: St Albans to Chesham

The ride started from St Albans, going via the grey suburban wastelands of Kings Langley, erstwhile home of Ovaltine.  I was never an Ovaltiney myself, more of a hot choccy man, but I did enjoy going to the country & western club there on a Sunday night.  We continued on and up and the route was a tauntingly hilly, winding affair of pleasant autumnal lanes, with a hint of the winter before us.   Reaching Little Chalfont we repaired to Ozzy’s café for a much needed cuppa after climbing the steep hill out of Latimer.  Richard appeared for his breakfast, having risen late, to join us for the best bit of the ride.

group in woods
Hodgemoor Woods
narrow lane
No wonder cars don't come down here
fixing a puncture
I wouldn't do it that way.
green dragon
Flaunden dragon

Revitalised, with the sun shining brightly, we ascended the first of many jolly little hills out of Chalfont St Giles up to Hodgemoor Woods, and then on through Penn Street and down the gated lane to Little Missenden.  This was a fantastic little lane that would’ve sent some of our other riders into fits (don't you love GPS gadgets?).  Muddy, slippery, leaf strewn with a huge chunk of rock that Neil discovered on the descent.  Then in glorious sunshine, all of us were dancing gaily on our pedals up and down the hills to Chartridge.  Here, Richard, clearly upset that there were no more hills to climb, decided to have a puncture, before the downhill cruise to Chesham and a picnic lunch inside the pleasant Pheasant.  This is lovely local pub for local people and mad cyclists who like to have a winter's picnic.  Yes, this pub doesn’t do food but they don’t mind if you bring your own - in fact they make you feel very welcome.  Carol joined us for lunch as she was off the bike due to an injury to her hand, hope she gets better soon.

From here it was back up to Flaunden, where the Green Dragon was having a good laugh at our hill climbing efforts, before finishing our 50-mile circuit in St Albans as the sun was going down.

Steve H  8/12/2013

1 December 2013

01 Dec 2013: St Albans to Caddington

December arrived with a crisp, sunny day attracting thirteen of us to take to our bikes.  Even Rebecca found time to descend from her climbing wall at the Sports Centre and give her new rear wheel an outing. 

group photo
Wrapping up after lunch at Caddington
Jon & Judy were making their own way to Berko and, approaching Hemel, the unmistakeable sight of a Trice flag was spotted in the distance.  But there is more than one way through Hemel and while they took the cycle route to the Sainsbury’s bridge, the main group crossed the Grand Union via the curved bridge at Apsley Lock. 

Approaching Berko, some fancied a few more hills and took to Featherbed Lane, doubled back under the A41 and climbed up the other side to Little Heath before finally dropping down to the valley.  That was a good excuse for a Wetherspoons’ breakfast for some as we were all reunited in The Crown.

While a few opted for a slightly easier route to lunch, the main group wanted (or were served even if they didn’t) even more hills.  We climbed up to Potten End, down to Nettleden, up to Great Gaddesden, down to the Gade Valley, up to Gaddesden Row, down to Markyate (where we all met up again by chance), and finally up to Caddington.

The pub was crowded (as all good pubs should be), but we were well looked after and fitted in somehow, then it was quite a short ride back to St Albans in the light after a good day out. 

24 November 2013

24 Nov 2013: Panshanger to Green Tye

‘Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride.’  John F. Kennedy.  Nine of us met at Panshanger for our jaunt out to The Prince of Wales in Green Tye.  The day had already started off by ignoring what the weatherman said and treating us to a steady and constant drizzle.
cyclists having breakfast
Breakfast at Buntingford
cyclists by their bikes
Green Tye
Lots of cyclists in pub garden
Green Tye

We made our way up through Tewin (where Judy and Jon took an alternative route) to skirt around the wood at Bramfield, looking great in all its wintry yellows and golds.  We made our way over to Vicarage Lane, which is quite a climb up to Stonyhills.  From here it was a quick blast through Sacombe Park then down the hill by the Golf Course. Soon we were heading through Nasty, Cherry Green and Aspenden to find ourselves at the tea stop in Buntingford.  Café Town is a really nice little place that catered for everybody.  It looked like we might not get any seating because the place was packed, but we needn’t have worried and happily we squeezed in where we could.  Stuart, who had ridden out from Stevenage, joined us here.  It was great to see him and it gave us an excuse to linger in the warmth. 
From the café we proceeded to Hare Street and, after a little fiddling about, we found Little Hornmead, Little Hadham and that nutty little crossroads at the A120.  You know, the one that is timed to favour the main road.  It seemed to take forever to get over this, but wait we did then realised the car we were waiting behind was parked. (Doh!)
Soon we were heading our way down to Much Hadham and then up to Green Tye.  The Prince of Wales is what you might call a traditional pub, with a very friendly atmosphere, beer brewed on the premises and great standard pub grub.  Being the biggest group in the pub we were all served with equal efficiency and it seemed that the lass behind the bar was doing everything, so hats off to her.  

After a well-deserved break, we headed our separate ways home with the majority going towards Bengeo and back the way we had come.  It wasn’t until I had got home that I discovered our table had been reserved by Jon and Judy, who had somehow had beaten us to lunch.  It was a great ride and a lovely day out.

Neil 24/11/2013

17 November 2013

17 Nov 2013: St Albans to Mangrove Green

Intrigued by the prospect of finding a more interesting way through Luton, or maybe just out for a ride, I was pleased to see nine people (including four women) on today’s jaunt, as it was a rather grey, drizzly November day.  After a quick dash up the main road to Redbourn, our route to Dunstable followed quiet lanes along Gaddesden Row then a lumpy bit through Kensworth and Beech Road into Dunstable.  The last time we came along Beech Road was last winter, when it was covered in snow and ice, but today it was a pleasant ride. 

Café Latte was soon dishing up refreshments, with some of us opting for the full English (I wish I had), while others saved their appetites for the pub stop (which I never reached).  

Leaving here, we joined NCR 6 briefly, then crossed Grove House Gardens and rode past Central Bedfordshire College to join the new Busway on College Drive.  Those with broad shoulders, and bikes with straight handlebars, got through the narrow barriers with a bit of a struggle and we were off.
Cycle barrier
Tight squeeze
Bus on busway
Way to travel
Built over 3 years at a cost of £91m, the Busway carries standard buses fitted with two small guide-wheels.  The cycle track alongside provides a traffic-free route from Dunstable to the other side of Luton.  However, in contrast to the beautifully smooth, tarmac cycleway on the Cambridge Busway, this one looks like an afterthought and has some coarse gravel stretches, while other parts are smoother crushed limestone.  The argument that smooth blacktop would not be in keeping with the ‘County Wildlife Site’ it passes through is not that convincing when you see the effect of the concrete Busway strips. 

Busway sculpture
Steel sculpture
Eric Morecambe
Steel sculpture
Capability Brown
Steel sculpture
Sea Scout
I can’t tell you much about the rest of the ride (see footnote), but the others reached Mangrove Green at 1:30 pm for a good pub lunch.

Following Sustrans Route 6 and on the first hill out of Luton, overlooking Luton Hoo estate, we found a portrait bench with a group of three characters cut out of thick steel plate.  These are the comedian, Eric Morecambe who became a keen supporter of Luton Town FC when he moved to Harpenden; Capability Brown, who designed the Luton Hoo gardens and a female sea scout from the Luton Sea Scouts, who practice on Luton Hoo lake.

Having mended one Trice rear wheel puncture, caused by a thorn, on the way to the start, it picked up some glass on the Busway and went down again.  This time, the tyre bead had stretched and would not stay on the rim except a very low pressure, so Judy & I had to leave the group, miss lunch and limp home via Route 6.  Just as well as both front wheels picked up flints at the same time in Harpenden – sometimes three spare tubes are not enough! 

Jon 17/11/2013

10 November 2013

10 Nov 2013: St Albans to Tyttenhanger Green

Let’s just go for a ride.

Ducks in road
Ducks in road
Camel and donkey
Nativity scene at Emily's in Whitwell
This report starts on the Saturday beforehand as I thought it might be a good idea to check out the lanes we would be using.  Some were waterlogged but quite passable and the amount of debris about was minimal.  The ducks were really enjoying themselves, no knowing which was their pond and which was a big puddle on the road.  Then I got to Ley Green, our scheduled tea stop, and discovered our chosen watering hole would be closed on the morning of our ride.  No problem, after a quick call Wetherspoons in Stevenage was suggested.  I pootled back home, made another quick call and an e-mail was fired around the members.

Sunday morning arrived with a warning that it was Remembrance Sunday and Stevenage would be very busy; again Whitwell or Codicote would suffice just as well.  In fact I chose Whitwell.  Nine of us met at the War Memorial in St Albans.  It’s good to see Mike becoming a regular rider having only joined the CTC three weeks prior.  My route was a familiar mix of lanes that we had all been down.

We set off towards Wheathampstead via Sandridgebury.  This little area was flooded and we all had to share the road as horses, cyclists and motorists navigated around a HUGE puddle with not an angry word between us.  Just goes to show what can what can be achieved with a polite smile and spot of patience.

Soon we were sploshing our way down towards Nomansland Common, and over to Leasey Bridge Lane.  I have to say that happily some of the rather larger puddles I encountered the previous day had shrunk.  From this point we made our way up and over to Shaw’s Corner, a lovely little spot in the Ayots.  Kimpton Mill, Codicote road, Three Houses Lane, Bullock’s Hill and the B651 all fell victim to the relentless turning of our wheels.

The countryside had out done itself in the array of colours it was presenting to us to view, picturesque doesn’t seem to be a fair description of the scenery, and soon we made it to Emily’s Tea Shop in Whitwell.  As we arrived though it was plain to see they were already swamped with cyclists from Herts Wheelers, so after a brief discussion we made our way to the garden centre in Codicote (not Vanstone’s I hasten to add).

After a welcome break we took a rather linear route to lunch, via Ayot St Peter, Lemsford, Coopers Green Lane and up through Oakland’s College.  From here it was an easy wobble along Colney Heath lane to Tyttenhanger Green and the Plough.  Lunch was a rather nice affair in a cozy village pub.

Along the way we had lost Jon and Judy, due to two punctures: one each respectively.  It was a short ride, as we had to be at the AGM for 2 o’clock.  But I have to say a very enjoyable morning’s ride.

Neil 10/11/2013

3 November 2013

03 Nov 2013: Hatfield to Puckeridge

We have had some rough weather recently featuring strong winds and plenty of rain.  A couple of recent Sundays have been washed out because of heavy rain.  Today it was just windy, blowing from the SW, so all right for our route today going out, but probably a struggle coming home.  A good-sized group set off from Hatfield heading for Stanstead Abbotts in the Lee Valley.  We did a southerly loop through Brookmans Park passing the station (surprisingly for a pretty ordinary suburban station, the scene of an historic meeting in 1942 between Vyacheslav Molotov, the Soviet foreign minister, and Anthony Eden following the German invasion of the Soviet Union).  Then on to Cuffley and Goff's Oak - this part of Hertfordshire is far from flat! 
Group stopped at top of hill
Re-grouping at the top of Bread and Cheese Lane

After the suburban bits there were some rural hills through the woods to Hoddesdon.  Here Jon lead us through the back streets to St Margaret's and so to our morning stop at the Village Cafe.  This is my kind of place - good value and doing a brisk trade.  Some headed back for home from here, but for the rest of us it was a route north through Much Hadham to Furneux Pelham.  I had been thinking of heading a bit further north from here and going though Little Hornmead, but we were a bit late, so we headed directly to Braughing.  

The Golden Fleece pub was a new stop for us, but when we arrived there was a long wait for food and no seating, so we decided to find somewhere else in the homeward direction.  Fortunately the first pub we came to in Puckeridge, The White Hart, were only too pleased to serve the quick sandwiches most people wanted.  From lunch the route back to St Albans or Hatfield took us through Dane End and Datchworth. A great day out and it didn't rain once!

(55 miles)

Richard  3/11/2013

27 October 2013

27 Oct 2013: St Albans to Cow Roast

On a gutsy, gusty and blustery Sunday morning six of us met at the war memorial for a trek out to Pages Park and Cow Roast.  The ride got underway briskly as we were well aware of the forecast for the day.

We headed out to Redbourn and then onto Markyate and up past Whipsnade zoo to fly down Bison Hill, which funnily enough is where the Bison for the zoo are kept.  They knew something we didn’t, as it’s not often that they stay in their enclosure.  From here we made a beeline for Leighton Buzzard.  Now the ride had been quite blustery and we were thankful to reach Pages Park.  Once inside we all ordered something to keep us warm on the next leg of the ride, some of the braver souls ordering beans on toast (as if it wasn’t windy enough already).  A great treat was the presence of Stuart Hammond who had ridden out from Stevenage to join us for the tea stop.

Richard at petrol station
Richard in the wrong place for refueling
autumn colours
Autumn colours

As tea was over and we decided to push on quickly to Cow Roast (yes, that is the name of the place), we discovered that the wind had other plans for us as it had decided to pick up and generally make things a little challenging.  As we went through Mentmore some rather boisterous gusts made life a little nervous for some, to be honest I hate the wind and I don’t like the prospect of being blown off my bike.  So after being battered about a bit we ended up at the lunch stop, a pub called Cow Roast Inn in Cow Roast.  It was quite a pleasant affair although the food did take its time coming out, but this allowed us plenty of time to warm up and get used to the idea of not cycling.

bending over bike
Wet roads and guess what?

As soon as lunch was over we all headed back out into the elements for the last leg back to St Albans.  This journey was along a familiar route of Berkhamsted to Hemel then up Bunkers lane to St Albans.
Surprisingly enough we beat all the naff weather and couldn’t have timed the end of the ride more perfectly as the skies were soon to open as a prelude to Monday’s gales.

It was a good ride led by Carol.

Neil 27/10/2013

6 October 2013

06 Oct 2013: Hatfield to Allens Green

Twelve of us gathered in Hatfield and we welcomed Mike from London Colney on his first club ride.  As I can only count up to ten, Neil volunteered to be back-marker, as I didn’t want to lose anyone.  
the bunch
Regrouping near Babbs Green
the whole bunch
Spot the difference

Hertford is only eight miles by the shortest route, so we started by heading west for a change and through Lemsford and Ayot Green.  Crossing the A1 we saw a bunch of the Lantern Rouge appearing from the dead-end road down to The Waggoners.  Maybe they had found a way through from Brocket Hall? 

We zoomed down to Old Welwyn and along the quiet B road then up to Tewin and Bramfield and came into Hertford through the park by the River Beane.  I slowed on the narrow exit path for a dog-walker, but the bitch decided to squat for a pee right in front of me (the dog, not its owner) and I managed to knee it in the head trying to put my foot down.  I hope the dog doesn’t develop psychological problems.

A very busy Rose Café coped admirably with our demands.  Richard joined us (after another lie-in) and a few left us, but most decided to carry on to lunch on what could be the last warm, sunny Sunday ride this year.

The route was now up to Cold Christmas and down to the ford at Much Hadham, then up to Green Tye and our destination in Allens Green.  No beer festival this week, but great value at the pub and a sunny break in the garden.
Three wheel recumbent riding through ford
Judy in Hadham Ford
Lea Valley
Tea stop in the Lee Valley

We then followed some deserted lanes to Gilston and through Harlow Town Park, passing the children’s zoo, and followed the cycle route to Roydon and the Lee Valley.  The café at Broxbourne Old Mill is hidden away on a side turn off the Lea Navigation and provided a welcome mug of tea.  I needed that for the long climb up White Stubbs Lane at the end of our 55-mile circuit.

Jon  06/10/2013

29 September 2013

29 Sep 2013: Hatfield to Nuthampstead with Havering CTC

It seems I’m a popular leader when there’s a strong head wind and the seven who joined me in Hatfield soon formed a neat line astern as we headed straight into it on the first leg to Ware.  We were due to meet a contingent from Havering CTC, on a return visit following our ride with them in Essex earlier in the year.  We had picked a morning stop near Ware railway station, but it was only Stephen who chose to arrive by train.  Three others from Havering (Alex, Gordon & Chan) impressed us by cycling the 30 miles – perhaps we should have chosen somewhere a bit further south.

cycling next to river
River Path to Ware
group leaving cafe
With Havering CTC in Ware
We headed north on some narrow lanes through Barwick Ford, Puckeridge and Furneaux (pronounced Furnix) Pelham, Great Hornmead and Anstey.  I was keen to show the ‘Essex Boys’ a scenic route, but it turned out to be quite hilly and there was some muttering in the ranks.  Evidently the only hills in Essex were a few humpback bridges.

We arrived at the pub at 1 pm and Judy had let us go on, but I was a bit concerned when she hadn’t arrived 30 minutes later.  Admittedly, the left turn in Great Hornmead is easily missed and she had put in an extra loop to Brent Pelham and stopped there for refuelling.  Meanwhile we were enjoying beer from the barrel and some excellent sandwiches in the sunny garden.

group leaving pub
Leaving Nuthampstead
The ride to tea was sublime.  The sun was out and the wind behind us as we coasted through Wyddial, Buntingford and Nasty.  The Havering bunch left us to catch the 4:30 train back and we enjoyed tea on the golf club patio.  Then it was an easy ride home to finish off a great day out in good company.

Jon 29/09/2013

22 September 2013

22 Sep 2013: St Albans to Flitwick

This ride was planned to visit a new coffee stop and a new pub for the South Herts group. The first leg to coffee was quite a long stretch of 25 miles, and six riders were at the start – Craig, Richard, Roger and Diane together with leaders Carol and Steve.  We took a direct route along the A5183 through Redbourn, then along the old A5 to Markyate, before going up the long haul to the edge of the Chiltern ridge by Whipsnade Zoo.  After passing through Eaton Bray and the edge of Leighton Buzzard, we found the entrance to Rushmere Country Park and climbed up a fairly long tarmaced driveway to find a spanking brand-new cafe.  It has a terrace and beautiful views over the canopy of trees, hence the name ‘Treetops cafe’. 

But it was not cheap.  We all gasped at the extra £1 for jam with a scone, to be told it had ‘strawberry and champagne’ in the ingredients.  It transpired that I incorrectly assumed the Stockgrove Park cafe had been re-badged.  I was unaware this was a new business run by the ‘Greensand Trust’ and Stockgrove Park still exists with its (presumably) cheaper cafe. Anyway the view was worth paying for, but we decided not to pay the £3 charge to ride on their paths.  I looked on the website afterwards and they dress it up as a ‘health and safety’ liability issue.

group arriving at junction
On the way to Whitwell
Trice on busway
Judy takes a wrong turn up the LD Busway
Leaving the park we followed cycling signs for the ‘Greensand Cycle Route’, via Brickhills, Woburn Forest and Aspley Guise, to cross the M1 near Steppingley before arriving at the Blackbirds pub to find Jon and Judy.  They had taken a direct route via NCR 6 and Luton to check out the new Luton-Dunstable Busway – which currently has a poorly surfaced afterthought of a cycle track next to the ultra-smooth bus track.  The pub was cheap and rather down-market by our refined Hertfordshire standards; it was full of men with stratospheric BMI indices watching football on televisions in the “Sport Bar”.

We are not used to sitting in a garden (we were the only occupants) looking at a man bellowing at the kitchen staff through a wall ventilator!  There was even a television in the garden, fortunately not turned on.

Diane and Roger caught the train back home, avoiding our interesting verbal exchange with a member of the lower orders with a limited vocabulary, who overtook us with only microns to spare.  The rest of us climbed the ridge at Sundon before following a well-ridden route home via Whitwell, getting back to St Albans after 72 miles.

Carol 22/09/2013

8 September 2013

Club Tour to the Cotswolds - Sept 2013

A CTC/Forty Plus trip to the Cotswolds from St Albans, 8 - 11 Sept 2013

For the last couple of years our group tours have been into East Anglia.  This year, for a change, we headed west to the Cotswolds.  We were a mixed group of 11 CTC and Forty Plus members.  Setting out from St Albans on Sunday morning, we also had the company of the regular Sunday South Herts CTC group who were due to turn back after lunch and just make a day of it.  We were planning a four-day tour with three nights away, and trying to do it reasonably economically, so it would be Travelodges and YHA for us.

View photo album

There was a mob of 24 of us when we got our first stop on Wendover Woods, with various people leaving and others joining up in a baffling fashion.  Continuing past the RAF base at Halton, we crossed the River Thame, then through the Rothschild estates to Waddesdon and on to the attractive village of Quainton.  The ever friendly George and Dragon had sandwiches ready and waiting.  After a relaxing lunch, the day-trippers headed back, and soon we were off on a loop around the villages towards Bicester.  The afternoon was wearing on so time to seek a quick refreshment in the town.  Bicester turned out to have a pleasant old heart beating once you got past the ring road and fringe of industrial estates.  It wasn’t that far from here to our Travelodge night’s stop, so picking a quieter but longer road it wasn’t long before we sighted the Travelodge – miles from anywhere and on a motorway junction.  Sighted it, yes, through the surrounding hedge, but no sign of a way in from the bridleway we were on.  Maybe the normal way in isn’t supposed to be by pushing your way through the bushes as we did.  The Travelodge was OK standard fare.  An evening walk to the nearby village of Ardley provided an excellent value meal at the Fox and Hounds.

The weather forecast had been a bit iffy, and it was raining heavily at breakfast with no sign of a break.  Oh dear.  We set off, passing Upper Heyford airfield (once the front line in the cold war) with a great view into the valley, nearly visible in the gloom.  Next Woodstock; there’s no problem finding a teashop there as the place is packed with them.  We shed water in an embarrassing way in the polite establishment we chose.  A few miles down the road we paused to visit Churchill’s grave in Bladon, touching in its modesty.  Blenheim Park is quite an obstacle to get round, so a bit of main road, and next we had a complicated network of lanes to navigate; tricky to keep checking the map when it’s raining hard.  We approached our lunch stop in Burford through several picturesque villages and the architecture and landscape was beginning to look like the Cotswolds.

Burford has a handsome broad main street and a sandwich shop here was a nice break.  The weather was picking up: it had stopped raining.  Then continuing down a superb single-track lane following the River Windrush, we passed through a string of delightful villages (Barrington, Windrush, Sherborne).  The original plan had been to continue in this direction to Northleach, but we were behind so it seemed sensible to cut a few miles off and head north to Bourton.  It was starting to be hilly.  Descending into Bourton on the Water, we had a quick break and a look round the village.  Then through Lower and Upper Slaughter and a big long climb into Stow on the Wold.  It’s not called ‘on the wold’ for nothing and is 800’ above sea level.  We settled ourselves into the hostel, pleasantly situated right in the middle of the town.  Refreshments in the local washed down an OK evening meal in the hostel.  I thought a few pints would help me sleep.  Communal sleeping may be a bit of a laugh in your youth, but for the older person, the repose it supplies is fitful, very.

A bleary eyed breakfast though was pretty good and soon we were off descending to the River Evenlode and the charming riverside village of Bledington, then on through Churchill to Chipping Norton.  What a handsome town.  We didn’t see any of the famous celebrity inhabitants; they must have all been in a different pie shop to the one we went into.  Next a long climb to visit the Rollright Stones - an impressive megalithic monument – then looping round through the hills to Hook Norton.  The brewery was belching out (is that the right verb?) a vast cloud of hoppy fumes.  A quick look around the museum and we were into the Pear Tree pub next door.  What a great pub it was and with a real live pear tree by the front door with ripe fruit on it.

After lunch we were heading back east towards Buckingham with not much prospect of a further stop ‘till we got there.  Avoiding main roads we took the lanes that brought us in the end to Stowe park and down into the town down a grand park avenue.  The Travelodge here was within walking distance of the town centre, so after settling in, it was into the town for the evening meal.
The following day we were on the home straight and the general feeling was that we would sooner get back reasonably early.  We were soon back in familiar country passing through the villages to Tring. A quick refreshment stop and we were off back to St Albans.

A very enjoyable trip in good company.  There was one spell of heavy rain and personally I preferred the Travelodge accommodation for getting a decent night’s sleep, pleasant though the hostel was.

Route Map

08 Sep 2013: St Albans to Quainton

The Sunday riders joined forces with our Cotswolds tourists and added up to what must be record numbers for a Sunday ride.  Getting in a taster for the Cotswold Hills, Richard led 11 of the tourists and another 8 Sunday riders up and down the Chilterns Hills to Wendover Woods, where an extra tourist and 4 more Sunday riders joined the party.  It was great to welcome Steve and Jackie back with us following Steve’s nasty collision earlier in the year.  They and a few others returned home from Wendover, including Steve & Carol who were off to Amersham to see the steam train on the Metropolitan Line, and we carried on to Quainton for lunch.

Groups at two outside tables
At the cafe in Wendover Woods
Riding through country park
Riding through the Waddesdon Estate
Richard’s route now took us through the vast Waddesdon Estate, where Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild built his country retreat in the style of a Loire chateau in 1877.  This is a lovely, direct traffic-free route climbing gently up from the Thame valley.

Some isolated showers blew over while we were in the pub, heralding the arrival of autumn – at least for a day or two.  Undaunted, we waved the tour party off as they left the pub and headed for the hills, while we Sunday riders headed for Tring.  Then five minutes later Richard surprised us as his group merged in again at the next junction, so they had to be careful to follow the right leader when we finally split up.

We carried on through some brief showers to Cublington, where a marvellous rainbow formed to our left and some very black clouds hovered over the Chilterns.  Too late for tea at Tring, we carried on to Berko and into the reliable Crown for a coffee (or beer!) break.  We escaped with our lives and it was now an easy ride back to St Albans.  Easy for all except Rebecca, whose back wheel had developed an interesting wobble due to several broken spokes.  There’s nothing like brakes rubbing to get in a bit of extra resistance training on a hilly 74 mile ride!

Jon 8/9/2013

1 September 2013

01 Sep 2013: Hatfield to Arrington

The day started with quite a surprise as Jon pulled out from the back of his car his own recumberment (sic), with which he joined our ride into the wilds of Bedfordshire & Cambridgeshire.
Country house estate
Cycling through Wimpole Hall Estate
unloading bikes
Unloading recumbents
Country house
Wimpole Hall
pub garden
Hardwicke Arms garden
We set off on a slightly familiar route to the Café Plus in Baldock, taking in Bull’s Green, Datchworth, Watton-at-Stone, Walkern and Weston.   Actually this is a great little route featuring the little ups and downs Hertfordshire countryside has to offer and some wonderful views before dropping down to Baldock.  This part of the ride was quite brisk and we made some good time, we dropped the two recumbents at some point, but they were catching us on the downhills and never too far away.

Soon we pulled into the first stop and were greeted by Richard, this swelled our number by 1 to a wonderful 7 brave souls.  It was here I had my first shock as I realised I didn’t have a map for the last stop, but Richard did and kindly lent it to me.  But first we had to get to Arrington, this was a straightforward route I had planned and it worked very well although it was windy and we seemed to be riding into it most of the time.  The countryside was particularly flat and very open; there were some great views on both sides of the road that we were traveling along.

Soon we came to Croydon and I showed everyone where we were supposed to be having lunch then headed down into Arrington; the Hardwicke Arms was our preferred destination.  True to the reports about the place it did look as if it was closed, but on inspection it was very much open and doing some great business.  The prices were reasonable and the food looked good.

From lunch we made our way from the Hardwicke Arms straight into the Lord Hardwickes’ estate of Wimpole Hall.  This is the greatest country house in Cambridgeshire and begs to be visited often, and from the crowds that we encountered it looks like it will remain a well visited place for many years to come.  We pushed on to Orwell then out through Meldreth and flipped round towards Royston.  At this point Richard Stubbs proved to be invaluable.  We had to take in a small part of a busy A505 dual carriageway up onto the roundabout and go around it.  Sounds simple, but it seemed so frickin busy to me and I did flounder.  Richard did the business; jumped in front said “let’s go” and we were off: quick, decisive action - thank you Mr Stubbs (why no cycle route here?).

And once past that it was up a blooming great hill into Therfield to Reed End and the Silver Ball Café that closed at 1.45 pm, oooppps now what to do?  Jon had the right idea and we made our way into Braughing for tea and cakes at the Church.  There was no stopping Judy once cakes were mentioned and off she shot through Barkway leaving us all struggling to keep up over ideal recumbent terrain.  The ride was very quick and added load of miles to the ride and boy was I shattered.  Then after tea it was back to Panshanger taking in Bengeo, Chapmore End and the B1000 and by the time we got back to the start 78 miles later I was flagging to say the least, but I had a great day and I hope everybody else did too.

Thanks to Mr Richard Stubbs, Jon & Judy for helping out.


25 August 2013

25 Aug 2013: Hatfield to Maulden

August Bank holiday weekend and today’s ride was to a new lunch stop for us in Bedfordshire, The Dog & Badger.  True to form, it’s a bit drizzly and damp, still, quite undaunted eight of us turned up keen to support any persecuted badgers we might come across.  First stage was to Hitchin taking our usual route via the Ayots and various quiet back lanes, some of them officially designated "Quiet Lanes".  Having said that, and not wanting the climb up to Preston, the last bit was down the ‘B’ road into Hitchin which thankfully was very quiet.  The café of choice was the ‘Hitchin Kitchen’ or rather caff because it has all the virtues of the latter.  We were served excellent food at very cheap prices in a proper caff atmosphere, which is interesting, because it is run by east Europeans.  Arriving there we were met by Jon and Judy, who had led their own ‘easy ride’ from the start and arrived before us.

Judy and Jon
Judy and Jon at Hatfield

Group on quiet lane
Quiet Please!

Three cycling past
Leaving Ayot St Peter

At this point three of the group turned back (and had to miss the best part of the ride) and the rest of us headed off for the lunch stop at Maulden, in what is now known as central Bedfordshire.  I made a point of leaving Hitchin via Tilehouse Street, which is lined with interesting old buildings.  Being a Sunday morning there were no cars and it was as if cycling up a street in a time warp of a couple of centuries ago.

From there it was out of Hitchin up the B road towards Barton (if it was drier we could have tried the cycle route instead) and to Pirton and then up a 14% hill into Pulloxhill, which made up for the hill we had avoided earlier at Preston.  After going through Flitton we realised we were running early, so instead of going straight to the pub we made a diversion via Ampthill.  Now, not knowing this place, I had always wrongly assumed it was a somewhat nondescript sort of town; but how wrong can one be.  I was very impressed by the town centre with lots of very interesting and attractive Georgian buildings.  Then it was on through Maulden as our lunch pub ‘The Dog and Badger’ is well out of the village to the east.  By now the sun was out so we had lunch outside what was a very pleasant establishment.

The original plan had been to go to Caddington for tea, but to get there means cycling through the suburbs of Dunstable and Luton, not an inspiring prospect, although it might be easier once the new Busway is open.  So following discussion we headed off through Silsoe and Hexton, followed by the long climb up before we could enjoy the run down Lilley Bottom with the wind behind us to Whitwell and tea at Emily’s tearoom.

From there we dispersed and those going back to the start found, when they got there, they had done just over 60 miles, which is a respectable distance for us.


18 August 2013

18 Aug 2013: Elstree to Hampton Court

Looking forward to a different type of Sunday outing, three of us met for the feeder ride from St Albans to meet Bill at the main start in Elstree.  Richard had a nice straightforward route for us to follow: straight down Watling Street we flew, quiet on a Sunday morning, as we went through Radlett (one of many places I had never been to), and very soon arrived at the meeting point in Elstree.  Soon after then, Carol and Steve turned up (having opted for the train).
From 2013 Weekend Rides
Click photo to view slideshow

As we waited for Bill we had an eerie feeling we were being watched, then we noticed a giraffe was peering over the hedge.  You do see some strange things when you’ve just woken up; Bill soon turned up and we were on our way.  Taking a plethora of back streets and parks Bill led us on a meandering and quiet ride around our capital.  An amazing bit was when we shot down an alleyway only to emerge opposite the truly impressive Neasden Hindu Temple (Shri Swaminarayan Mandir).  This place was stunning and the first Mandir in Europe to be built from stone using traditional methods.

Our first stop was the world famous Ace Café on the North Circular: home of bikers from all over and every kind imaginable was there.  It has to be said that it was the noisiest stop of the year.  We had the fortune of bumping into some bikers from Germany; they were touring to the Isle of Man on classic BMW’s, with one of the machines supposedly dating from 1949.  Great to see two motorcycling cultures brought together in this historic cafe.  Also at the café was a commemorative plaque for David (Screaming Lord) Sutch, head of the onetime Monster Raving Loony Party.

After leaving such a place behind, we made our mad way over to Hampton Court.  More back alleys and quiet roads greeted us and we passed the Brompton bicycle factory.  Then Bill took us through Gunnersbury Park and Sion Park, which has some great off-road parts to it.  Fortunately there were no dogs around to chase us today.

Hampton Court itself is a stunning building and well worth a visit; there is some wonderful architecture on display.  We had a lovely picnic lunch down by the Thames and waved at the punters on the steamboat (that had no steam).

After lunch we made our way over to Kew Gardens to catch the over ground train home.  Not the longest ride going but one of the most interesting and a great day out thanks to Bill.

Neil 18/08/2013

17 August 2013

Exmouth Exodus 2013

Having done the Dunwich Dynamo, two of our intrepid Wednesday Evening Riders, Graham Figg & Mark Keeley, took part in a follow up night-ride of 110 miles from Bristol to Exmouth.  Here is a brief account of their exploits on the eighth Exmouth Exodus:

Getting there.  

Graham - ready for the mountains
We cycled to Malmesbury in Wiltshire on the Friday, about 105-110 miles. Took it easy and didn’t arrive until 8 pm.  It was raining until about 3 pm., but turned out to be a nice, sunny afternoon/evening.  We then rode 30 miles into Bristol on Saturday morning/afternoon, via a pub lunch in Tormarton, the rain still refusing to go away.  Had a look round the SS Great Britain, which got us out of the rain.  After a meal in Pizza Express we went up to Channing’s hotel in Clifton where the event starts.  Here we met sometime Sunday rider Giles Fordham and we decided to ride together.

Over the magic bridge 

Set off about 9pm over the Clifton suspension bridge, then due west, turning south (although Mark had a puncture around here) to hit the Mendips and the first big climb up the gorge of Burrington Combe.  Halfway up here it started raining heavily.  A few miles later, zooming down Cheddar Gorge and nearing the bottom (by which time you can easily top 30 mph before braking for the hairpins), some youths doing handbrake turns in their 10-year-old Vauxhall Corsas added to the excitement.  Then the first feed stop at which Mark noticed his tyre was flat again, at which point the repair team there offered to repair it.

On the level

Giles crouches with Graham
Then it was a good 20 miles across the Somerset levels.  At some point during all this, or possibly after the next feed stop Giles had a puncture, which was repaired with a C02 canister - well the second one after the first sprayed out all over the road. After a long climb we then reached the middle feed station, clearly being last on the road at this point.  We picked up, although not in the biblical sense, a waif and stray semi-lost bloke Tristan here, who rode with us the rest of the way.

The only way is up!

Next, after miles of skirting Taunton, was the climb of Blagdon Hill, steeply out of Pitminster village and then 2 long hairpins, before the endless road into Devon and the last tea stop at Ewins Ash.

To the sea

Then the interminable navigation to get to the last climb of Lympstone Common, via an abortive climb where we had to retrace, but hey, sh1t happenzzz!  After this a fast downhill into Exmouth and an artery clogging blow-out in the beach café, which after leaving we discovered I had a puncture to complete the set.

Getting back

We got a train to Exeter, where Mark and I stayed with his sister (riding down to Dawlish and back on Monday) and Giles got another train back to Bristol.  We only narrowly caught the train back to Waterloo, crossed London (overtaking a trendy cycling couple I just about heard the words “Wow! Old school streeters” (whatever that means) and I discussed with the considerably-more-attractive-than-her-bike female what we had been doing) and arrived safely back in St. Albans by about 8pm.

So in Summary: loadsa miles (approx. 290), punctures, rain, beers, great company and sense of achievement….

Route map