23 February 2014

23 Feb 2014: Wheathampstead to Aston

The day dawned bleak and windy together with a grey featureless sky that was doing its best to warn off any cyclist intent on setting a wheel on the road.  Nevertheless a brave crew of cycling masochists gathered after being blown to Wheathampstead from the south for the start of the tour.  The weather was trying hard to spit and dampen us at times, but the strength of the wind meant it was blowing and changing quick enough to give no sufficient reason to put on waterproof clothing.  On the plus side the temperature was heading up to an incredible 10 degrees and if the sun had been peeping through we’d have needed sun tan lotion and shorts – well I exaggerate just a tad!  Remember it’s still winter and until Springwatch is aired on TV it’s not officially spring yet!  The countryside was bursting with life with woodpeckers to be heard drumming for mates and Skylarks trilling away.  All the seasonal flowers were well in bloom, including vast drifts of snowdrops seen on roadside banks and very advanced daffs, aconites and garlic seen in the woodland understorey.

Anyway, that’s enough description of the joys of the countryside.  We set off going north from Wheathampstead on minor roads with the wind pushing us nicely towards the first stop destination in Letchworth.  The route, which was planned and checked a fortnight ago, was delightfully free of flooding and gravel banks formed from washout of fields, so we made excellent progress in a lazy “S” shape heading towards Codicote, switching back towards Whitwell and taking a nice, easy route following the River Mimram.  Then we headed uphill to go through Preston, over the top and down to the lovely sounding named village of St Ippollites.  From there we made a beeline towards our destination via Willian to a well timed stop at the JD Wetherspoons in Letchworth for refreshments.  Here we met up with two more hardy souls who came from the south via a less circuitous route.

Town centre with fountain
Steve washes his bottom bracket in Letchworth
lane over hills
The old road out of Baldock

After a well-watered break we set off in earnest towards the planned lunch stop located at Aston on the southeast side of Stevenage.  As the tour leader I did caution the tour members that the easy stuff was over and we’d start to head across and back against the wind as we reached our most northerly part of our tour and headed back south.  It was a nice way of doing it as we gently started to run into the wind as we crossed town via the little known NCR 12 to get into Baldock.  Going through and around the back of Baldock we headed towards another little known and less used crossing of the A505 just after Clothill Common, which was the original road to Wallington now converted to a cycle track.  After rejoining the road we headed due south passing the house where the author George Orwell penned the allegorical story “Animal Farm” during World War II.  We passed through Rushden and Walkern and thus to the lunch stop at Aston and we all agreed it was a welcome break after struggling against the strong winds.  The Rose and Crown was a very obliging and comfortable pub as we all had good and well-presented food at excellent prices without crowds or noisy kids to distract us.  One more had travelled there to swell our ranks so we now had eleven riders gathering at this point.

cycle barrier
Cycle route over A505
Thatched cottage
George Orwell's cottage in Wallington

After a luxurious lunch time stop and a good natter the weather decided to stay dry for the remainder of the return trip and we set off on dry roads to complete a last stage against the unrelenting wind on a planned route via Watton and Stapleford and towards Welwyn, thus allowing people to exit for their home destinations as was convenient.  

In summary, it was a nice day out with weather kind enough that we never needed waterproofs and a wind that just made it better exercise than usual.  We put another 50 miles in the bag at a time of the year when we could be struggling against snow and much more hostile conditions.  Congratulations to those who came out and enjoyed the new routes up and around Letchworth and Baldock. A special thanks go to Carol for pointing out the local history and Jon for suggesting there was a route around the north east of Baldock which was correct and a useful alternative.   

Paul Sheridan

16 February 2014

16 Feb 2014: Hatfield to Wadesmill

Eleven of us gathered on a crisp, sunny morning in Hatfield and we were pleased to welcome two new riders, Edward & Jamie, from Hatfield Uni.  

Cyclists in sunshine
Re-grouping at Grubbs Lane
Good news! The Jetstream has moved and weather is back to normal – for a week at least.  Even so, I had to plot a route carefully to avoid possibly flooded lanes as well as icy patches in shady dips.  But after a frosty start the sun was soon warming our backs as we tackled a few hills on the route to Hoddesdon.  Once again, we had an 'A' ride, which I led, and a 'B' ride - needless to say the 'B' ride arrived at Hoddesdon before us.

On the way our students enlightened us on the wonders of studying visual effects (for the film industry) and sports science. 

After a quick coffee break we held our noses as we pedaled past the sewage works at Rye Meads.  We looped around through Hunsdon and Widford then past last-week’s pub at Wareside.  I was expecting some floods at Babbs Green but it wasn’t too bad and we were soon spinning through Cold Christmas and down the hill to The Anchor at Wadesmill.

Group photo
Group at Wadesmill
I don’t think we have been to this pub before.  It was a bit of a warren inside with small rooms on different levels – we found ourselves in a hot, sunken room with no outside windows.  The food and drink on offer was good value though.  

The pub is right by the river Rib and you could see the high tide mark in the pub garden, so we were grateful that the pub hadn’t been flooded out.
Most people were heading back to Hatfield – I left them at Stonyhills and hope the floods at Stapleford had gone down.

Jon  16/02/2014

9 February 2014

09 Feb 2014: Hatfield to Wareside

The forecast for the day was for some really windy expectations and so it was that a small band of the brave (mad) few met at Asda in Hatfield for this intriguing ride.  Soon and with the help of the wind we were zipping off to WGC and Panshanger to pick up another rider.  It was on our way to Tewin that we found our first bit fun.  It looked like the Mimram riverbed had come to stay on the road for a while; everybody got through this superbly and we were back on our way.  Bombing down the Hertford Road from Tewin proved to be a challenge, as the area seemed to have had a mini landslide.  Here we stopped to let a car get past. In fact this politeness permeated through all road users all day long.

Cycling thro park
Cycling through Sacombe Park
It was rather odd as parts I expected to be trouble were relatively OK and bits that should’ve been fine just weren’t.  Anyway soon we were making our way over to Sacombe Park and White Hill Golf Club.  The route I had chosen wasn’t far from anywhere as I thought it would be covered in snow and ice, has anybody seen any of that elusive stuff?  Near here I found that I had suffered a puncture, we were so close to the club I decided to ride on and do the fix at the club.  It was a small piece of gravel that got stuck in the tyre, a hazard of riding in these conditions.

After a refreshing break we were soon heading towards Levens Green and past the posh kidz school. The A10 and Puckeridge flew past as we swept through on our way to Much Hadham.  But reports of it being underwater had reached my consciousness and I was curious to see what it was like.  Getting to the larger of the Hadhams was actually rather OK, the biggest hazard being stones all over the road rather than water as we approached the High Street. It was like someone had dumped a riverbed on the place.  As we went through, Judy suffered the second mishap of the day, but valiantly waved us on, so we could get lunch.  One of the large stones washed down from the banks had cut a tyre sidewall.  At least we avoided cycling along Malting Lane where the River Ash was over the footbridge.

Flooded footbridge
The River Ash at Much Hadham Ford
Flooded park
Flooded path ahead in Hertford

At Wareside it’s great ‘cus they do brill sausage sarnies.  We made our way back to Hatfield via the high and very windy road to Ware, then we headed along the tow path to the newly, formed lake in Hertford.  Yes a football pitch had decided to change vocation and become a pond.  Jon, Judy and Paul rode through it. I retreated to the towpath further back and lost everybody, that’s right I lost everybody.  Then met with Jon and Judy, they went their way and I went home via the biggest puddle to be seen at the underpass on the Cole Green Way; it had totally filled up with water. The choice was go down the A414 in a terrible wind or get wet.  I swear you could hear me squelch as I rode into Hatfield.
 44 miles

Neil 9/2/2014

2 February 2014

02 Feb 2014: St Albans to Wilstone (Stately Homes Tour)

A healthy turnout of 13 turned up to the St Albans start, probably encouraged by the good dry-weather forecast. We were a bit late starting as Steve had a puncture to repair at home first. We divided the group into ‘A’ and ‘B’ rides.  As it had been raining heavily the ‘A’ group decided to avoid possible floods and go towards Leverstock Green before dropping down to Apsley and passing through Boxmoor before climbing to Potten End.  We made good progress until we came upon complete traffic chaos on the tiny back road between Boxmoor and Bourne End. It’s incredible how many huge cars try and park on a single-track road in order to drop a small child off to play rugby. There was often no room for a bicycle to slip between the cars so we were delayed somewhat. Must remember never to use that route again in the morning.

On the climb up to Potten End Steve had another puncture (different wheel) so we left him to fix it and carried on via the Ashridge Estate, where we caught up with the ‘B’ ride, who had followed a more direct route.  One final climb to Ivinghoe beacon and we just made it to the cafĂ© in Pitstone before a group from Aylesbury CTC arrived.  

Cycling through woods
A gentle climb through the Ashridge Estate
Ashridge House
Cyclists emerging from park
Emerging from the estate in Little Gaddesden
Cyclists outside cafe in sunshine
Warm February sunshine at the cafe

Due to the slowness of service we decided to abandon the planned destination and go to Wilstone instead. The original pub only did ‘late breakfast’ until 1pm so we would only have had time for a short, direct ride. The new destination allowed us to take in two more stately homes: Mentmore Towers, which was actually visible today due to the lack of foliage on trees and Ascott House near Wing, which was not visible due to evergreen hedging, but you can see what it looked like. Both properties were built by the Rothschild banking family and have interesting histories.  Mentmore Towers featured as Wayne Manor in the film Batman Begins. The wind was really strengthening for the post-coffee stretch and we were pleased to get to the Half Moon just as a large table was vacated. After a pleasant break, most people went home via the Berkhamsted valley route and the two Steves and Carol took the slightly hillier route via Hastoe Hill and Ashley Green back to St Albans.

stately home
Mentmore Towers near Gotham City
house and gardens
Ascott House and gardens

Audax fan Paul put in a lengthy loop north of Luton back to Letchworth adding up to about 90 miles. I still don’t have a computer on my bike, but guessed our round trip to be about 50 miles.

A ride (mauve) 58 miles.  B ride (blue) 51 miles.   

Carol 2/2/2014