31 August 2014

31 Aug 2014: Hatfield to Maulden

Several months ago after years of riding with South Herts CTC, mostly on Wednesday rides which I’ve led on numerous occasions, I finally stepped up to the plate and volunteered to lead a Sunday ride on the last day of August to the north of Hertfordshire and “Central Bedfordshire”, as the numerous signs inform us. The first leg was to Hitchin. I decided to depart from Hatfield via the Garden Village and Lemsford. Quite soon we were crossing the A1M at Ayot Green, passing the site of the old Ayot station on the branch to Leighton Buzzard. This is the station that George Bernard Shaw used when travelling up to London to see his publisher. It was burned down in 1948 and formally closed the following year, well before the building of the A1M in 1971 severed the stump of the branch to Blackbridge dump. Soon we were passing through Whitwell and further “railway” interest at “Cressman’s Corner”, before turning right to pass through Preston and Gosmore and arriving at Hitchin.

group leaves cafe
Leaving Hitchin Kitchen
sign board
Colourful sign near Hitchin
recumbent on grassy track
Judy on Oughton Head Lane
thatched cottages
Thatched cottages in Ampthill
Lots of establishments would do well to heed the price structure of some of our elevenses cafes - Hitchin Kitchen et al seem to be able to offer substantial amounts of food at low cost and remain a thriving and enduring business. The Hertfordshire traffic police “refuelling” in the corner certainly seemed to agree with me, at least on this matter. We’d arrived quite early at Hitchin, although Jon and Judy were already there, so I decided to add a bit of distance to the following leg to the pub. In retrospect this may have been a mistake. I’d researched the exit from Hitchin extensively so we had a smooth progression to Arlesey and Clifton, a village that sadly no longer has the “Byercycles” shop, Richard Byers having retired. We then proceeded up the B658 until a left turn past the Shuttleworth Collection and Old Warden. Richard Ormonde Shuttleworth founded the Shuttleworth Collection in 1928, the avowed, and visionary intention being to preserve historic machinery as far as possible in working condition. This has been achieved, with a Bleriot XI being the world’s oldest airworthy aeroplane, and a Blackburn Type D being the oldest airworthy British aeroplane, as well as many other aircraft, cars and bicycles.  Richard Shuttleworth was killed in 1940 in an air training crash, and his mother formed a remembrance trust to teach “the science and practice of aviation, afforestation and agriculture”. The Shuttleworth mansion was frequently in view as well as the fields that constitute the classroom of the agricultural college.

Passing through Old Warden village I took an incorrect left turn, but not too much trouble ensued; we were soon passing Ireland as intended and crossing the A600. Joining up again at Haynes Church End, we descended Great Lane to Clophill, and then crossed the A6 (near Deadman’s Hill, the site of the infamous 1960 A6 murder) before coming into Maulden and The Dog and Badger, where we re-joined Jon and Judy in the pub garden. It was now 13:10 and we’d ridden about 42 miles in 3.5 hours of cycling since 09:05 - exactly 12mph as advertised on the club’s website. However, after lunch there was a considerable thinning in the ranks of the peloton, with only 4 of us continuing to Dunstable while several others opted for a direct route back via Whitwell.

View map full screen (The blue route was used by most; mauve is Graham's route after lunch and brown is Jon & Judy's short cut to lunch).

On leaving the pub, fortified by a beef sandwich and 2 pints of “waggle-dance”, I continued to Ampthill, and then to Steppingley, turning left just before the M1 and then through Harlington, upper and lower Sundon, up a steep hill over the end of the Chilterns and into Dunstable via Houghton Regis. Café Latte was again excellent value and served us even though we were just past their formal last orders time. Having crossed the Luton-Dunstable guided busway (the other end of the former Hatfield-Leighton Buzzard branch encountered earlier) on the cycle path to the café, we decided to use the cycle path alongside this piece of novel infrastructure to get to Luton, despite the gates to prevent motorcyclists using it being almost too narrow to squeeze a bicycle through. I can’t say I’m a big fan of this form of public transport. Road vehicles running on bits of concrete seems a bit of reverse evolution from steel rails and wheels to me. The similar busway in Cambridgeshire undisputedly cost more to construct than just reinstating the railway it replaced (although it has a fantastically smooth, fast cycle route), and once a bus leaves the busway, which is not available for any other motor vehicle to use, it just gets snarled up in all the town centre traffic as before. As such they combine the worst aspects of both rail and bus travel - surely a tram system would be better?

From Luton we stayed on the old railway path into Harpenden, losing a further rider at Luton station. By the time I got home at 18:00 after 9 hours out of the house, 7 cycling I’d ridden 82 miles, an average speed of less than 12mph in perfect weather and through beautiful countryside.

Graham 31/08/2014

24 August 2014

24 Aug 2014: St Albans to Winslow

Richard led a super ride of nearly 74 relatively flat miles. It was a bright but chilly start from St Albans, with frosts reported from parts of the UK - and still August too!
traction engine
Steam tractor on the Redbourn Road
steam train
Steam train in Leighton Buzzard
straw man
Straw man in Drayton Parslow
group at pub
The Bell in Winslow
group leaving
Leaving Winslow

It was going to be one of our longer rides, so we took the main road to Redbourn to get some distance covered quickly, and then along Gaddesden Row to Studham. Descending to Dagnall we climbed the edge of the beacon and then on to Slapton.  The roads were quiet on this Bank Holiday Sunday, except when disturbed by the rumbling of the odd steam driven tractor.

We soon came to the station on the Leighton Buzzard Light Railway, where steam was up in the tourist trains and that was our handy and cheap coffee stop. Leighton Buzzard seems to be bursting at the seams with new developments, but we managed to head off on a cycle route through some industrial estates and suburbs to get to Soulbury and nice quiet lanes taking us towards Winslow; the pleasing rural scene only spoilt by distant views of Milton Keynes.

A convenient cycle path took us to the centre of the town and a lunch stop at The Bell in the market square, an excellent venue with nice and reasonably priced food - what cracking sandwiches - highly recommended. I had forgotten what a charming place Winslow is.

After enjoying a relaxing lunch we needed to navigate towards more familiar country, but fairly soon we were back to villages visited before and soon through Tring and then a final stop in the ever popular Wetherspoons in Berko. The flattest and easiest route from here was called for as a certain weariness had set in. A great day out, if slightly longer than usual. I clocked up 75 miles by the time I got home, thankful that all that rain had held off until the Monday.

Richard 24/08/2014

17 August 2014

17 Aug 2014: Ride to Heybridge Basin

I think we had about 18 out on Sunday's ride from Norton Heath to the Essex Coast at Heybridge Basin, although cyclists rarely stay still long enough to be counted, so I might have missed a few.  I hadn't expected quite so many so it was a pleasant surprise, although we were still outnumbered by the leather clad m/c club riders at the cafe.  It was a joint ride with Havering CTC and some local CTC members joined in too, so well worth the 30 mile drive over from Hatfield or North London for us.
Click photo to view slideshow
Route navigation was quite easy as I followed NCR 1 to and through the middle of Chelmsford.  Emerging at Sandford Mill we crossed the river on a narrow footbridge with no edges - just wide enough for Judy's Trice, but too scary for her to ride it and quite tricky to carry it across.  We then took the concrete track under the A12 to Rumbold's Farm.  We then left NCR 1, which follows Grace's Walk on it's way to Little Baddow, as that can be muddy.  I also avoided the next turning, as last time the footbridge over the ford had lots of planks missing, so we turned up Church Road and Colam Lane to climb over the 100 metre high hill near Danbury.  At the top we rejoined NCR 1 following some lovely lanes, including Cut a Thwart Lane, to Maldon.  The heavens opened, so we sheltered briefly under trees next to the cop shop, hoping the rain would go away before we had to head back into the strong westerly wind.
Stony lane
Cut-a-Thwart Lane hasn't changed
 much in 30 years.  Photo: Rod Scott

We carried on down Market Hill, then turned off behind Tesco's onto a tarmac cycle path to Heybridge.  We were following the left bank of the Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation, but from here the path was a bit overgrown so a few took to the road while most followed the well surfaced path all the way. With such a large group, inevitably there were a few delays along the way, but we still managed to reach the lunch destination at 1:15 pm.

The Chelmer and the lower reaches of the Blackwater were canalised in 1797, with the canal reaching inland as far as Chelmsford. Maldon opposed the building of the canal, presumably because it would lose trade to Chelmsford, but it was bypassed, leading to the development of Heybridge Basin where the canal meets the sea at Collier's Reach.  Unfortunately, the sea lock is only operated around high tide, so we missed seeing that.  Instead, a vast expanse of mud met our eyes.  Withies sticking out of the mud marked the navigation channel out to sea where a Thames Barge could be seen in the channel between us and Northey Island.  The mud looked disgusting. Hard to think it can produce the highly regarded Maldon oysters and it must be quite a challenge for the competitors in the annual Maldon Mud Race, which takes place late May Bank Holiday weekend.  Most of us stuck to our sandwiches and a coffee from Wilkin's Cafe, although there were also two pubs available and they weren't as crowded as the seafront pubs in Maldon.

Luckily the rain had stopped, and we pressed on anxious to get to our tea stop before closing time.  We followed roads into town then rejoined NCR1 heading east along the Maldon docks and waterfront, passing the Marine Lake and the paddling pool, then along a tree-lined path and out of Maldon.  It was now a tough ride against the wind and up a few unexpected hills to reach Bicknacre.  It was now 3:45 pm and I was racing to get to BHN Pot Plants, knowing we probably wouldn't make it and I would have a bunch of disgruntled cyclists to appease.  Much to my relief our luck was in as we passed another garden centre in Bicknacre and it had a good coffee shop.  That worked well as the Havering crew peeled off soon after this and I could take a more direct route back to Norton Heath.

Jon 17/08/2014

10 August 2014

10 Aug 2014: Big Bertha

Mike was most disappointed to cancel our picnic ride as no-one else turned up.  However, some we know were doing the 86 mile version of the Surrey 100 as the remnants of hurricane Bertha came through.

Wet cyclists
A wet ride on the Surrey 100 86 at Abinger Hammer

3 August 2014

03 Aug 2014: St Albans to Flitwick

group standing by side of road
Amazing, another warm sunny day is forecast during a British summer. At the start in St Albans there are eight of us ready to go with another two heading directly to the lunch stop.
three heads
Heads up Peter, Will & Mike
empty benches
Closed tea place at Grover's Cafe in Stockgrove Park
lush woods
View from Rushmere Park Cafe
tike passing sign saying KEEP GOING
Keep Going sign on the hill from Hexton
group at tea table
Emily's Tearooms at Whitwell
It’s quite a long way to elevenses at the strangely named ‘Heath and Reach’ a village to the north of Leighton Buzzard. So opting for a flat and quick start we head off to Redbourn then Markyate before turning off onto a lane that leads up towards the Dunstable Downs. Reaching the top near the National Trust tearooms we stop to admire the view out across the Bedfordshire plain before plunging downhill towards Dunstable. Then it’s off across the plain (which isn’t quite as flat as it appeared). The plan is to avoid Leighton Buzzard by skirting around it to the east on minor roads and lanes. Getting nearer we go down a lane so minor it is starting to turn into more of a bridle path but it has a lovely remote feel to it. Our actual destination is Stockgrove Country Park which has a café there. So up another lane and finally we turn into the Country Park only to be told by a group of emerging cyclists that the café was closed. This is a bit of a blow as we have already done about 23 miles and want a rest. They tell us they think there is another café at Rushmere Country Park just a few miles away, so off we go again.  We find the other park and it is a steep ride through trees up to the café at the top of a hill. A very impressive location with a balcony overlooking the woods, a lovely place to stop, rest and eat and we have now done 25 miles to get there.

Leaving here three of the group headed back as they only wanted to be out for the morning (dodging about looking for the cafe added quite a lot of miles and they must have done 50 by the time they got back). 

Meanwhile the rest of us went on heading for lunch at Flitwick via Woburn. Just as we left the cafe we saw Stuart arriving.  He had made the trip direct from his home in Stevenage, and he caught up with us again at lunch.  The route was a mixture of lanes and minor roads through woods as far as the town of Woburn. The High Street has some fine Georgian buildings but we had to press on through Woburn Park (no sign of any interesting animals, not even any deer) across the M1 and then in a couple of miles into Flitwick to ‘The Bumble Bee’ pub. This sounds like a charming olde world hostelry but it fact it is a rather charmless modern place but with the redeeming feature of being cheap.  At least the numerous TV screen were showing the Commonwealth Games road race rather than football!

So having been well fortified it was time to start the route back. One of us decided to take the train (which shows how flexible our rides/routes can be) whilst the rest headed off through Pulloxhill and on to Hexton. From here it’s a long arduous climb up to the crossing with the ancient Icknield Way footpath.  We appreciated the sign left on the hill by a charity ride which encouraged us to 'KEEP GOING'. Then on to Lilley and a mad dash down Lilley Bottom to Whitwell and the cyclist’s favourite teatime haunt of Emily’s Tearoom. Tea and cake consumed, people went their various ways. Those of us who went back to the start found we had done a total of about 66 miles on a day that weatherwise was perfect for cycling; dry, sunny but not too hot.

peteR 3/8/2014