22 March 2015

22 Mar 2015: Wheathampstead to Bragbury End

A cold but fine day saw five of us at the start at Wheathampstead car park. First destination was Baldock quite a way to the north. I decided to keep to a fairly rural route going through quiet countryside via Kimpton, Preston, Great Wymondley, skirting around Hitchin and approaching Baldock from the west, then down the impressive wide high street with its fine old buildings to the Café Plus’. This is another café operated by efficient east Europeans who seem to have well adapted themselves to producing typical English café food at very cheap prices. There we met Jon and Judy who had come straight to there from home.
Open country above Baldock

From here we had intended to go to Puckeridge for lunch, which would have been a pleasant route out to the east but quite a long way back to the start. Given that some in the party were expressing reservations about this, after some consultations we decided to go south instead, heading for lunch at Tewin to shorten the onward journey.

Often the way we leave Baldock is up a very steep hill, but to avoid this we went a slightly different way via Clothall and its rolling open countryside.  But then an unexpected excitement: up above us were two small acrobatic planes twisting and turning, ‘looping the loop’ and doing other advanced aeronautical manoeuvres. It was very impressive watching this going on in the clear skies over our heads. Then one of the planes landed in the flying field operated by the North London Model Flying Club, right next to where we were. So we had a pretty good free air show.  

Then it was on to Weston, Walkern and Benington. This all took a little longer than anticipated; so changing plans again as we were now close to Aston, we would stop there for lunch. Unfortunately we found the Rose & Crown pub we had used before had now closed down (although there was a glass of beer on a table outside!) so we went to the other pub in the village which turned out not to do food.  So our pub-crawl continued to try The Chequers at Bragbury End. Problem here was they didn’t do sandwiches on a Sunday, however we got some pricey food to keep us going while discussions ensued on forthcoming group cycling holidays in Majorca and Staffordshire. Then we headed back to the start via Knebworth and Codicote to Wheathampstead.

Overall we had done about 41 miles in all, not a lot but enough.

peteR 22/03/2015

15 March 2015

15 Mar 2015: St Albans to Chesham

A quick exit from St Albans was called for, as was obvious from the synchronised shuffling from one foot to another exhibited by some riders gathered at the start.  A cold tail wind had blown the London contingent there early and left them hanging around for 20 minutes getting cold. The skill of having clothing for the varying temperatures and levels of exercise during the day is not an easy one to acquire, but surely our ‘wimps in lycra’ would have more layers after last week’s slating? No such problems for the two locals who caught up just as we were leaving the city, looking as if they had just got out of a warm bed.
group standing
At the start
group riding towards dog walker
Ebury Way
group riding
Craig leading
Hanging monkey

Craig’s route was a surprise for a winter ride.  Instead of the lumpy lanes via Kings Langley, we headed through Verulamium Park to pick up Route 61 in Chiswell Green and followed it all the way through Bricket Wood, Garston, Bushey and Ricky to Maple Cross.  So after climbing past the remnants of the Roman wall it was virtually downhill all the way.

This was a really pleasant route and any worries about mud on the off-road Ebury Way and Grand Union towpath were unfounded.  In fact the off road bits were smoother than the tarmac through Bricket Wood, but that’s not so unusual.  We paused when Neil noticed a monkey hanging from the girders of a derelict canal-side building.  I’d never spotted it before, although judging by its coating of mildew it had been there a long time.

The climb out of the Colne Valley at Maple Cross wasn’t pretty, with more opportunities for Steve to report dumped rubbish ahead of Community Clear Up Day (Saturday 21 March). If only a fraction of the £850M a year spent on clearing up litter could be used to repair potholes instead we would be very happy.   It wasn’t a hard climb and we were soon relaxing and placing our orders in The Madeira Café, which was busy but had plenty of room. 

Leaving Chalfont St Peter, rather than a direct route of about 9 miles to Chesham, Craig took us across to Beaconsfield before heading north towards Winchmore Hill and down to Amersham.  Here we picked up The Milton cycle route, which included a short and very steep climb, to Amersham-on-the Hill and Chesham Bois, then down to The Pheasant in Chesham.  We had chosen this pub as it was Mother’s Day and they don’t serve food on Sundays, so we found a large table we could all get around and ate our sandwiches in the warm.

The route back was an easy bash along the Chess Valley, followed by a stiff climb to Flaunden, where we paused outside the Green Dragon, aka “Von Ribbentrop Arms”. Then we were on autopilot back home completing 50 miles and 3,500 ft of climbing on the bikes.

Jon 15/03/2015

8 March 2015

08 Mar 2015: St Albans to Wilstone

The riders stood at the War Memorial discussing the merits of the previous evening’s performance by the local Camerata Orchestra in which one of the regular midweek riders had been playing. This elevated level of conversation would set the tone for the day’s ride as we sped down Bedmond Lane decrying the usual piles of dumped rubbish, including half a bath under the motorway bridge. We then descended Hyde Lane to crawl along Lower Road turning left at the traffic lights to cross the old A41 ready for a steep ascent up the quaintly named Featherbed Lane, crossing the new A41 and then immediately losing the height gained to arrive at a quintuple junction where we took the rightish fork, Longcroft Lane, for a change. Skirting the edge of Bovingdon we then followed the well-ridden route via Ley Hill, where two adjacent pubs can be observed disapprovingly from a Methodist chapel, to Botley and the step descent of White Hill into Chesham arriving at about 11 a.m. 

Lane through garden
Steve leads through Little Pednor
At Poppin’s Café three other riders joined us and it was great to see Jean from Essex who had come on last year’s tour of the Home Counties around London. Many enjoyed a grease-laden breakfast, which grossly violated every diet plan that had ever been devised. The leaden sky had prompted a discussion about the probability of precipitation, and as a result 3 willies (wimps in lycra) slunk out of the café to return home, their faces shielded from the gaze and hoots of derision of those who were made of sterner stuff.  It was fitting that three men departed and two women took over on International Women’s Day. 

So the remaining harder riders left Chesham through the old town passing the Chiltern Brewery Shop, scene of much merriment yesterday and the excuse for a Cycle Chilterns brewery ride. The Chiltern scenery was marvellous as we progressed through the medieval hamlet of Little Pednor, through Lee Common and Swan Bottom where we noted prolific clumps of snowdrops, and an ascent to St Leonards. It was wonderful to observe the spring colours in the verges: reds (Coca-Cola & Costa), blues (Pepsi & Fosters) and golds (Lucozade & Sainbury’s) set against a backdrop of bright greens (mainly Heineken & Carlsberg with some Tuborg). We then descended Aston Hill, crossing the B4009, just avoiding Aston Clinton to arrive at the Half Moon at Wilstone. After locking our bikes and treading gingerly past an outside table occupied by human beagles we found just enough stools for the leisurely consumption of beer and sandwiches, while notes were made to report the rubbish on Fix-My-Street and potholes on Fill-My-Hole (or was it Fill-That-Hole?).

We left at 2:05 p.m. with only a slight dampness in the air, but it was then every man (& woman) for themselves as I had an urgent appointment at Luton airport, the missing of which would likely result in a divorce. I got back at 3:40 p.m. on dry roads all the way, having covered just over 50 miles, so the humiliation of the willies was total; would they dare show their faces again?

Steve 08/03/2015

1 March 2015

01 Mar 2015: Hatfield to Great Offley

A Windy Day

The weather was predicted to be windy with a late afternoon shower. A group of nine set off from Asda in Hatfield headed for Hitchin and to avoid the main road into WGC we took Green Lane to Lemsford Village and then Valley Road into Welwyn. There was little traffic as we sped down the long straight hill to Digswell and crawled up the other side of the Mimram valley to Harmer Green, Burnham Green and Datchworth Green.

Top of the hill in Harmer Green
Billy Smart's Circus
Heading north along Bury Lane there are pleasant views across the rolling Hertfordshire countryside. Another long descent to Bragbury End took us onto the cycle path through Stevenage, following the A602 into Stevenage town centre then along Six Hills Way, Gunnels Wood Road and Clovelly Way to head out of town.  It’s great that you can cycle right through Stevenage on a flat route without mixing with traffic at all and the glimpse of Billy Smart’s circus as we emerged from one of the underpasses was a distraction from the bumpy nature of these elderly cycle paths. After that it was nice to get back onto country lanes through Little Wymondley to the Hitchin Kitchen Cafe for Elevenses. This is a always a busy cafe on Sunday mornings and two more riders joined us here.

The wind had been blowing more or less on the left shoulder most of the morning and I knew we were in for some hard work on the next stage. We headed north to Ickleford and along the A600. Then turning west through Holwell the strong westerly wind made very hard work for the next few miles. The slog continued through Pirton and along the Shillington Road. Then we headed south again to Pegsdon with wind on the right shoulder now trying to blow our bikes into the ditch, but those who had taken the No 6 breakfast on board earlier had plenty of ballast to stabilise themselves. Taking the Hexton Road towards Lilley we seem to have got a bit of shelter from the wind so the climb was not too bad. Through Lilley, across the A505 and left turn along Luton White Hill the wind was behind us now so we were blown up the hill into Great Offley for lunch at the Red Lion. When the waitress delivered three pavlovas covered in cream to nearby customers the puddings tempted us all, especially Steve C who had just joined us having already ridden 80 miles via Reed to lunch without any food.

Mindful of the predicted showers we headed back along the familiar Lilley Bottom Road through Whitwell to Codicote. Riders made their own way home from here. The wind seemed to have switched to a more southerly direction so it was quite hard work again.  By all accounts every one got back suitably knackered before the heavy rain arrived around 5 pm.

Mike 1/3/2015