30 June 2013

30 Jun 2013: Wheathampstead to Great Barford

Twelve enjoyed a warm, sunny ride to Great Barford for a picnic.  The route went into Bedfordshire and was relatively flat between 11's and tea, covering 68 miles in all.  Here are a few photos and the route:

Leader reads map
Carol checks the route
Close up of a rider in bright red shirt
Steve not trying to be noticed
line of cyclists
Newcomers Tom & Jackie
Prone cyclist
Flaked out in the sun at Great Barford

23 June 2013

23 Jun 2013: St Albans to Wilstone

Start at St Albans and a reasonably good weather forecast (it did in fact remain dry all day, although it had rained a lot yesterday), it’s Bike Week but there are only four people there.  Perhaps thinking the weather in this country could ever be the same two days running has put people off.  Anyway off we went to Berkhamsted for the first stop.  Going straight there is not very far so headed down through Verulamium Park and put in a big loop to the south and west ending up going through Bovingdon and finally dropping down into Berkhamsted from the west.  Then it was into ‘The Crown’, a wonderful old pub now run by Wetherspoons, which should mean good value elevenses.  Now although there were only four at the start all that was about to change.  Inside we found Judy who had already got there on her recumbent trike. Then as we were about to order some grub Richard arrived having come straight from St. Albans.  Shortly after a new couple arrived, (Kerrie and Richard) also straight from St. Albans having missed us thinking the start was 9.30 am when actually it was 9.

Four cycling along
Five cycling in a row

So now there were eight of us, a far more respectable number.  Lunch was to be at Wilstone a small village north of Tring.  Now a short flat ride could just go north up the valley on the old A41 which would be far too easy.  So instead we took the masochistic option of going back westwards, climbing up out of the valley and then heading into the undulating (hilly) countryside of the Chilterns through Cholesbury until we ended up at the top of Wendover Woods.  Then as some recompense for all the climbing we had a long downhill swoop towards Aston Clinton down on the plain.  From there a relatively easy flat ride took us across to Wilstone passing the reservoirs, which are to the north of Tring.

Then it was into the ‘Half Moon’ pub, which was surprisingly busy.  But as luck would have it we found there was another room that everyone else had ignored so we ended up with a room to ourselves.  After some very good food it was off again following some serious discussion as to the best route back avoiding too many hills.  The consensus was that hills couldn’t be avoided so we set off to Aldbury.

Now Aldbury is a very pretty village, often used for filming, but it’s other claim to fame is that it lies at the bottom of Tom’s Hill, which for a cyclist is a steep climb up into the Ashridge Estate, parts of which are National Trust.  It’s all very attractive and whilst recovering at the top of the hill some deer crossed over the road near us.  From there it was through Great Gaddesden down to Water End and then the last climb back up again to Briden’s Camp and Gaddesden Row. Then a lovely long sweeping ride down to Redbourn our tea stop.  But first we stopped at Redbourn Common where there was a village ‘show’ going on which seemed to have a cycling theme.  After a brief pause it was on to ‘The Hub’ the new cyclist’s orientated café in the High Street, where we learnt there was even going to be a cycle race around the common later in the evening.

Finally it was back to St Albans with an overall distance of around 50 miles, a shortish ride for summer but quite hilly.


22 June 2013

22 Jun 2013: Another Saturday Saunter

It's 10:00 a.m. and we’re sitting in the Inn on the Park alongside scores of sweaty, steaming runners.  Jon, new rider James, and I wait patiently as millions of heavy droplets of rain throw themselves onto the planet.  We were contemplating starting the ride when a rather sodden Richard Stubbs walks in, he is very wet and just has to have a coffee; so we do our duty and wait patiently for him instead of going out into the pouring rain.  Actually it was good to catch up with him as he had just come back from a cycling trip to France, which from the sounds of it, featured rain as well. 
Group outside cafe
Leaving Inn on the Park
Group with ruined house behind
Sir Richard Bacon's house
Repairing flat tyre
Fixing the first one
Eventually the ride got underway and we headed out to the Gorhambury estate.  By this time the raindrops had ceased their energetic activities and we started a pleasant ride through the estate. James was from Potters Bar and hadn’t cycled much recently; he was enjoying the different views of St Albans.  Up around here are the ruins of Sir Nicholas Bacon’s old house, built in Elizabethan times, apparently one of the first houses to have water on tap.  At the end of this route is a small bit of off road, not challenging but it can cause problems in the wet.

After the estate we headed towards Hemel and it was along here the problem reared its ugly head, a puncture, damn.  The victim was James.  Understandably he was hesitant and Jon really did a great job here.  Everything was fixed and ready to go in no time.  Soon we were heading to Blackwater Lane then down onto Bunkers Lane, which leads down to Nash Mills.

From here I took a left and James took another puncture, a snakebite this time so quick use of the puncture repair kit was called for to repair the first tube and we were soon on our way again.  It was just a short stretch to Harthall lane, which is a lovely little country road that leads up to the Bedmond Road, and once there we took a right up to the tin church and made our way down a rather grotty St Albans Lane until we reached the Holly Bush pub.  Here we followed Ragged Hall Lane into St Albans where the ride ended.  Jon and James headed south to Radlett and Potters Bar for a well-earned lunch, while Richard & I headed north. 

It was an enjoyable ride and we took some roads that we use regularly to leave St Albans, but in the other direction, thus giving rise to some great new views.   James reckoned he enjoyed the ride, despite the rain, and we hope to see him out again soon.

Neil 22/06/2013

16 June 2013

16 Jun 2013: Whiteleaf. Bike Week Chilterns Challenge

This was the third of our Bike Week rides and it was great to meet two new riders with us: Peter and Spencer; both were casual riders looking to expand their horizons, and expand them they certainly did.
Rider approaching
Spencer & Roger
Side view of woman on bike
Carol was our leader for the day, so we had a fun filled adventure to look forward to and this started with Steve being late, but soon enough we were on our way taking a familiar route to Chesham, which featured the delights of Bedmond, Kings Langley, Chipperfield, Flaunden and the wonderfully named Hogpits Bottom.  On this leg it became clear our new riders were having no problem and were thoroughly enjoying themselves.  We had climbed some minor hills and had come whizzing down them as well.  Peter noted this with “that’s the fastest I’ve ever been”.

At tea stop Roger returned home and two of our regulars Jon and Judy met us.  After the break we headed out to Whiteleaf, taking in some great countryside around Great Missenden, and in amongst the hills that Carol threw at us were some rather nice bits of light off road.  ‘Yellow’ lanes on the OS Landranger, but little more than bridleways due to lack of maintenance.  It was a great route, a bit of everything, but one of the hills did get to one of us as he made the mistake of looking at it just carrying on upwards.  It just did him in.  But, funnily enough at the next hill, which was longer, he did fine, proving that it really was all down to psychology.

Side view of man on bike
Cyclists shedding layers
Getting hot
Painted wooden figurehead of admiral
Somewhere around here we took a detour to view a ship’s figurehead perched in a garden.  It was very amusing and reminded me of a constipated admiral (not that I’ve met many of those).

Lunch was at a pub on the side of the steep slope of the Chilterns: a nice pub and a pretty spot for lunch.  It was whilst in there that the promised rain arrived and we didn’t get soaked.  Yippeee!
After lunch we had a change of scene as we bounded around the lower edge of the hills towards our next stop Berkhamsted.  Yes, the last stop had changed as we fancied a flatter route and we were soon heading for tea at Simmonds Bakery, only just making it as it closed at 4 pm.   From Berko we took a familiar route back home.  It was a great day out and quite a challenge for our new friends as well as our regulars.

Neil 16/06/2013

15 June 2013

15 Jun 2013: Saturday Saunter…..Bike Week ride

Bike week got off to a flying start in St Albans with a well attended Five Mile to Fabulous ride and our Saturday Saunter both setting off on Saturday morning.  Our Saturday Saunter ride started off as a blustery affair; first off we welcomed Liz (from West Hampstead), then made a quick exit from Morrisons via the sheltered Alban way and headed out towards Oaklands College.  The college grounds have a feeling of tranquility as you cycle through, wobbling past the goat, sheep and pig fields.   
Two cyclists on disused railway

Neil and Liz on the Alban Way

Two people sitting on platform seat
Waiting for the ghost train
Platform with track and rail wagon
Wagon chassis ready for re-building
Puncture being fixed
Neil gets another p******e

It was a great morning’s ride led by Jon, who well deserved the fish and chips he was scoffing as I left him.  I hope he stayed in the café for a while 'cus I got drenched going home. 

Neil 15/06/2013

Then we dropped down to Coopers Green Lane and up through Symondshyde Great Wood.  With the wind blasting us from all directions I think the weather really didn’t know what it was doing.  Sun, rain or hurricane: who knows what was in store?  But what I can say is it was very pleasant zipping down Tower Hill to meet Beech Hyde lane.

We dropped down into Wheathampstead and made our way over to the Codicote road via Sheepcote Lane, a small bit of off road crossing the Ayot Greenway.  Then we made an extra loop around Shaw’s Corner to glimpse George Bernard’s house and the ruined church and back into Wheathampstead.  Here Jon showed us the newly restored and hidden station, which would make a really nice picnic spot.

From here we made our way back into St Albans via Devils Dyke past the Wicked Lady and took some back roads into Sandridge.  From here we took the Jersey Lane cycle route over to Marshalswick where I copped a puncture, trust my luck (or was it my bald tyre).  But all was fixed quickly and then we made the last push to Morrisons.

18 mile circuit

9 June 2013

09 Jun 2013: Norton Heath to Gt Bardfield

The plan for our car-assisted ride today was to break our routine of local rides and to meet with some old friends and some new people in Essex.  We crammed 5 of us and our bikes inside two vehicles for the short drive from Hatfield to Norton Heath and arrived in good time for a second breakfast, boosting our energy reserves for the ride into a NE wind coming off the North Sea.  Liam and Elizabeth of the Essex 40 Plus joined us at the cafe. We were all joining the 'Blue Egg' ride, organised by Havering CTC, and the bonus for me as our 'ride leader' was that I was just going to follow Gordon and party around their route.  It wasn't quite that easy, as I ended up leading our contingent while the Havering bunch were delayed by a p***ture (it happens to the best of us).

Bikes loaded in car
Loading up in Hatfield
Charity cycling jersey
Tracy's London-Paris jersey
Large group of cyclists outside cafe
Leaving Norton Heath
Five cycling towards camera
Quiet Essex Lane
The Essex countryside can be bleak and windswept in winter, but now it was lush and windswept and the low cloud kept the temperature right down.  At least it didn't rain all day, as happened on last year's ride to Maldon on the Queen's Jubilee.  We were soon warming up and just amazed at how many other cyclists we saw, all coming towards us and going like the clappers.  Then we figured out it must be a sportive or a charity ride and it turned out to be an Orchid ride (which included a 100 mile sportive) with about 500 participants - wow!

We soon reached Felsted and, while some stopped briefly at the Post Office for a break, my curiosity drew me to a medieval house bearing the inscription "George Boote built this house 1596" and a most peculiar bracket carving of the 'Hag of Felsted'.  

Group outside Post Office
Corner of old building with carved female figure and inscription
The Felsted Hag
Group having lunch on cafe patio
The Blue Egg
Cycling along fenced lane
Hartford End

Still heading north, we passed Andrewsfield airstrip.  Blink and you would miss it, but it was a massive construction by the American airforce in 1942 and opened as their first bomber base in 1943.  We arrived at The Blue Egg, where we found Stuart inside waiting to meet us.  It was quite busy, so being a hardy lot we took our lunch on the patio.  Portions were large, which is just what we needed on a cool day.

I had suggested a more easterly route back, but we decided to retrace to Felsted as it was such a lovely route on quiet lanes.  Turning left at the Hag of Felsted, we had the wind behind us and bowled along to the outskirts of Chelmsford, where we joined NCR 1 taking us to Writtle Agricultural College and The Lordship Tearooms.  Here we relaxed for a while as the courtyard was quite warm and sheltered, before taking our leave of the Havering CTC and returning via NCR 1 to Norton Heath.  Bill asked me whether we were heading north or south on the NCR (it's our North Sea route and links Dover and Harwich to the Shetland Islands).  I said we were heading west, but we were actually heading south towards Dover.

Group having tea outside cafe
Side view close up of cyclist
Bill on NCR 1

It was great to meet the Havering CTC and we hope they can join one of our rides soon.

View map full screen
Jon 09/06/2013

2 June 2013

02 Jun 2013: Hertford to Gamlingay

Our ride today met up at Hertford and it was good to see some familiar faces not seen for a while.  

Four at courtyard table
The courtyard at Pembroke Farm
Three at a table

Two lovebirds in a cage
Topiary bushes
Permbroke Farm gardens
Our first stop was to be a new venue for us, and a stretch of 20 plus miles, so a direct route seemed sensible.  Heading for Bramfield we were soon halted by mechanical problems and in the end Neil was forced to turn back (due to a broken tube valve).  Sorry to have lost you, Neil, because you missed a good one for lack of a spare 26 in tube which none of us carried.

We continued through Bragbury End, then following the long climb through Cromer and the other villages, we eventually passed over the watershed, descending to cross the A505.  Our first stop was Pembroke Farm, somewhere new for us and it turned out to be a real delight.  It was a tea shop attached to exceptional gardens.  We took our refreshments in the courtyard.  Alright, it was a bit pricey, but well worth it - one to try again. 

Some seemed reluctant to leave, but soon we were climbing up to Ashwell then through the flat Cambridgeshire countryside and small villages - much more open country here, almost a taste of the fens.  At a junction some of our more headstrong members shot ahead missing the right turn.  Would we see them again?  Judging them to be old enough to look after themselves (polite version), we carried on, soon finding ourselves at The Cock Inn in Gamlingay.  Here we met up with some other old friends, and it wasn't long before the separated brethren arrived too.  We enjoyed a pleasant lunch stop in the garden.  

Cyclists approaching junction
Cycling through pretty village

Our homeward leg took us back through Shingay-cum-Wendy and the lanes towards the A505 near Royston.  A slight navigational wobble (definitely not my fault) added a few miles, but fortunately we arrived in Bassingbourn just as Jon & Judy arrived from a different direction and they soon put us straight.  Back on track there was a long climb up the chalk escarpment to Therfield Heath (550') with its bronze age barrows and, for anyone interested in gardening or horticulture, home of the largest native colony of the rare pasque flower in Europe (10,000 were in bloom there recently).  Through Kelshall and Sandon, then passing Cromer windmill we eventually got to the always-pleasing Ardley Church Farm (except Jon & Judy who visited Rushden Nurseries - open 10-4 on Sundays and another possible cafe for us).  

Two cyclists lying on grass
Flaked out

A certain weariness now seemed to call for the quickest way back - Hertford for most, where cars were waiting, but some peeling off to other places.  It had been a great day out, if a little tiring in the morning with its climbs and nagging head wind.

Richard 02/06/2013