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.