31 March 2013

31 Mar 2013: St Albans to Lower Stondon

Easter Sunday and British Summer Time had finally arrived.  Despite still being **** cold it was forecast to be sunny later, making a change from the recent ice and snow, so I was hoping for a reasonable ride.

There were just seven of us at the start in St. Albans, but it was the day after the clocks went forward so possibly some forgot and were still in bed.  We split into moderate and easy ride groups and headed off for Dunstable.   It was nice to see Simon was able to join us again after a long absence, and it made quite a change to see him suffering a bit for lack of fitness.  

I led the moderates on a slightly roundabout route going via Redbourn and Gaddesden Row, then up and over the Dunstable Downs with fabulous views out over the Aylesbury plain.  Then it’s a fast descent down into Dunstable, navigate the suburbs and into Café Latte on the High Street.  This sounds pretentious but is actually a reasonable café.  
The easy group met us, but they hadn’t had a particularly easy journey, as the shorter route went via some lanes still filled in places with deep snow blown off the neighbouring fields.

From here we headed for Lower Stondon to the northeast.  Pleasingly, we managed to avoid labouring out through boring suburbs, as just up the road from the café was the start of an attractive off-road cycle route (NCR6) carving its way north eastwards, just the way we wanted to go.  But look out for crazy youngsters crashing into you on toy bikes – these cycle tracks can be dangerous!  We crossed the new Busway linking Luton and Dunstable, thinking it would make a great cycle route if you could get onto it.  

Then it was out on some fast roads through Sundon and on to Streatley.  Here we turned left down Sharpenhoe Clappers (a beautiful chalk escarpment AONB) for what is a pretty steep hill, where a couple of hang-gliders swooped above our heads.  Superb if you are going down, as we were, but tough if you are going up as we sometimes have to. 

Then we were pushing into quite a strong headwind through Barton-le-Clay and along the rather open and exposed road to Shillington.  Here, as I had foretold, I managed to get slightly lost in the village, but that was soon rectified and another couple of miles further brought us to Stondon.  Lunch was at the golf course clubhouse. This turned out to be an impressive modern building.   So impressive I was worried lunch would be expensive, but in the event it was very reasonable.  It seemed to be a popular restaurant with the locals.  We bumped into a couple of our friends from the North Herts 40 Plus, who had just visited the impressive local motor museum.  
Cafe Latte in Dunstable
The new Luton-Dunstable Busway
As this was the first ‘summer time’ ride after the clocks went forward we were due to treat ourselves to an afternoon tea stop.  So we retraced our route to Shillington and then turned south and, as is so often the case, the wind had decided to turn too so it was now against us again (a great day to stick in a bunch).  Having avoided climbing back up “Sharpenhoe”, instead we now had to scale the heights of Hexton Hill. 

Once this was out of the way it was a relatively easy run down Lilley Bottom to Whitwell and Emily’s tearoom, a well known refuge for cyclists seeking tea and cakes.
After that it was simply a matter of cycling back to the start at St. Albans.  So to sum up: a windy Easter ride of 58 miles with some really stunning views. 


3 March 2013

03 Mar 2013: St Albans to Chipperfield

This morning we were a good size group and were soon off south out of St Albans, along the lanes through Potters Crouch, Bricket Wood and the fringes of north Watford.  It was a cold and frosty morning, but with bright sunshine and clear skies, there was every prospect of things warming up quickly.
Waiting for the train to pass on the Alban Way
Horses being unloaded at Patchett's

Turning east we crossed the M1 arriving at the equestrian centre at Patchetts Green. 'Equestrian centre', not 'riding stables' - this is an upmarket establishment (the toilets are luxuriously appointed), but they do seem to let cyclists into the cafe and it is reasonably priced.
Exercising in the paddock
Inmate at the stables

Refreshments over, we set off again through bits of Watford, dodging over the busy roundabout with the A41, but then down quiet side streets to pick up the Ebury Way cycle path. After 6 or 7 miles we left the path at Rickmansworth. 

Climbing the narrow lane to Chorleywood we passed Penn Farm, an historic building which was a puritan centre during the Civil War and in which William Penn was married before leaving for America. Crossing the steep valley at Chorleywood soon brought us to the much steeper Chess valley. A stiff climb brought us into Sarratt and soon on through the pleasant lanes to our lunch stop in Chipperfield. This went on a bit, as there was quite a delay in getting our sandwiches served. 

Still, no serious complaints, and after a relaxing lunch break it was time to make our way back to our various haunts.

Only 36.7 miles, but a great day out.

3 Mar 2013