31 May 2015

31 May 2015: St Albans to Hedgerley

It was wet, which might explain why there were only four of us at the start in St Albans. And, considering the forecast for the rest of the day, it was amazing that the four of us had turned out at all.

However, undaunted we set of for Amersham, which was to be our elevenses stop. Basically our route was via Flaunden and on into the hilly Chilterns. Now there are actually two Amershams, but of course being masochists we had opted for ‘Amersham on the Hill’. This necessitated a steep climb up after Latimer to get onto the ridge, along which we went to the aforesaid Amersham.  Here we went to the Masterchef Café, a very clean and pleasant establishment. After a little drying out and fortifying with food and drink we left, heading for Hedgerley, which seems even deeper into the Chilterns.
beer barrels
Ready-made cycle parking facility
Peter in need of a pint
So up and down we went, and on through dripping woods and the occasional flooded road. But despite all this in reality it is a beautiful area. Well that is until we came to the M40 and its attendant main roads, all of which had to be traversed. Still, we found a traffic free footbridge over the motorway that led us eventually into a maelstrom of traffic at a motorway service centre. After negotiating this it was onto a secluded road running directly to the tucked-away village of Hedgerley. Here the ‘White Horse’ pub was our destination. Looking for somewhere to lock our bikes we found the most enormous pile of empty beer barrels. Still what better deterrent to a bike thief than to find the bike locked securely to a barrel? It appears that the pub had had a beer festival the previous week and this was the evidence. Whilst eating lunch up rolled Graham who had cycled directly to the pub, no doubt particularly peeved to have missed the opportunity to help empty some of those barrels.

After this off went the five of us in a gentle drizzle towards St Michael’s Church in Chenies. So we contended with more ups and downs, but somehow managed to get to the church before they had opened for their afternoon session serving tea and cakes to raise funds. After a short wait outside in we went and sat in the pews at the back of the church whilst waiting for the tea-urn to come to the boil. So with tea and cake consumed and church funds assisted, off we went again heading back to the start via Chipperfield and Potters Crouch.

In all we had done about 50 miles, and whilst wet it had never been a real downpour. In fact the sun had come out weakly a few times on the way back, so all considered not a bad day.

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24 May 2015

24 May 2015: Hertford to Puckeridge

Our ride this week, for a change, started from the war memorial in Hertford and we were pleased to welcome new riders Paul and Miles from north London to the group. They were in training for a 100-mile charity ride and our regular Sunday rides fitted the bill. A brisk climb out of the town to Bengeo soon took us through Stoney Hills and then, via that nasty bit of the A602, along past Dane End to Haultwick (locally Artik). We noticed that the Rest and Welcome - where the landlord was recently found dead - has now been sold off by McMullens. Will it re-open as a pub or as some up market country villa? 

Having a breather in  Hall's Green
Shaking off gloomy imaginings we continued through the quiet lanes to Ardeley and Weston and then down the big hill and into Baldock. Our planned cafe stop was overflowing, so we went to sandwich bar along the road that had just about room to accommodate the ten of us. Some then peeled off for home here, but the rest of us were soon heading through the very open country along the lane to Wallington. We didn't linger at George Orwell's cottage and shop, where he wrote several of his best known books (Manor Farm in the village was also the model for Animal Farm) but continued to Sandon and then down a quiet lane to cross the A10 to Buntingford. 

Then by way of Nasty we were at our lunch stop in Puckeridge. The pub, despite having checked a couple of days ago, turned out not to be doing our kind of bar meals after all, but there's plenty of choice in the villages round there, so again we went to another pub just down the road.  Here some went for the fish and chips, but were a bit miffed when they found the price didn’t actually include any chips. 

From there our planned afternoon stop was to have been home-made cakes in the church in Great Amwell, but as they had not got their summer opening for teas going yet (and the forecast rain was starting) we went to Ware instead by way of Barwick Ford. It had been a very nice ride of less than 50 miles, but the first one I can remember where we did not go to a single one of the advertised stops.

Richard 24/05/2015

17 May 2015

17 May 2015: Hatfield to Allens Green

Another beautiful day for cycling and equal numbers of female and male cyclists joined me for the trek into Essex.  Having left home at 8 am in the chill of the morning I had already stuffed two layers into my pack, which I now regretted having to carry all day.  I wish I had opted for Tracey’s approach.  She arrived on her new lightweight steed and barely had time to dismount before it was receiving the customary weighing in ceremony, which it passed with flying colours in the “I can lift this with my little finger” category. I was tempted to swap bikes as everyone else was looking livelier than me and I was still knackered after a 100 mile plus ride to Cambridge during the week.  

Cucumber Lane
It was a pleasant ride through the woods to Paradise Wildlife Park, where we just had to stop to admire the pride of white lions that were basking on top of the platform, but still eyeing us up over the fence as potential tasty morsels.  No, we really didn’t want to participate in the ‘feed a white lion’ experience in that way.

We dodged around Hoddesdon and through the sewage works (not literally) where we saw four cyclists approaching from the Stansted Abbotts direction.  Soon the bleary-eyed features of Steve and Carol (who had missed the start) appeared, closely followed by Stuart and his mate from Stevenage.  By chance or design we had all converged at the same point.
Just a light breakfast
The morning break in Old Harlow was cheap and cheerful. Graham was in training for a towpath trip from Bristol to London, which would require many calories and much fluid intake, but he did resist the ‘big boy breakfast’.  After all, the UK is already in a leading position in the obesity scales

The quiet lanes around Essex were a pleasure to cycle, making the route through Matching Green and Hatfield Forest very enjoyable.  Due to my brilliant planning, we arrived at the pub a week early for the beer festival, but it was relatively quiet and we spent a relaxing hour in the garden.  Just after leaving, Carol spotted her first great spotted woodpecker, a striking black-and-white bird with a flash of red tail feathers, as it bounced through the air in front of us.
On the way to tea Carol & Steve left at Thundridge to go back to their car and I managed to lose Neil and Tracey who followed them (I can see from Neil’s route they went via Ware and skipped tea). The Rose Café closes early at 4 pm, but we made it with half an hour to spare (although some seemed quite keen on the fallback of JDW in Hertford). Then Sue led us up the lovely Essendon hill and back home to north London.

17/05/2015  Jon

10 May 2015

10 May 2015: Baldock to St Neots

The ride start was outside Baldock train station making it suitable for riders arriving by train, car, or even bike. Eleven of us set off at 9:30 northish in warm sunshine and were soon passing through the village of Ashwell, now famous for its muted church bells following complaints of residents (mainly clientele of the local pubs) about their hangovers on weekend mornings being aggravated by the peals.

Near Hinxworth

bridge by ford
The ford in Sutton

On reaching Sandy, where our scheduled stop was at the Subway concession inside Budgen’s supermarket, we noticed a new cafe, Mama’s, and made an impromptu decision to try it out. Agreeable though it was, the two softly spoken young girls serving did not know how to deal efficiently with a sudden influx of eleven customers, although after what seemed like aeons, coffee did eventually appear on the tables.

Four of the riders had recently returned from a week’s cycling in Majorca, staying at an hotel popular with other, mainly British cyclists. After they had regaled us with tales about their alcoholic and highly calorific experiences, we inferred that their evening’s entertainment included observing the lady triathletes returning from long training rides. Another long-standing CTC rider who now lives in Bedfordshire, who had fortunately noticed our parked bikes, which were not outside the listed coffee stop, then joined us.
outside cafe
Mama's Cafe in Sandy
On departure, two of our number headed back to Baldock while the remaining ten pressed on, crossing the A1 motorway by using the cycle path on the old railway line to Blunham. We then headed due north to Bushmeads before turning east to again cross the A1 and reach the St Neots lunch stop at 1pm. We soon found the previously unvisited Weeping Ash pub efficiently run by the JD Wetherpoon company where the manager kindly opened some side gates to allow us to park our bikes round the back.

We usually eat sandwiches or light lunches but here the temptation of the high calories-to-price ratio for half chickens with all the trimmings led to outrageous scenes of gluttony, not seen since the fall of the Roman Empire, and involving over half of the riders. Lunchtime discussion about the result of the general election concluded that the late intervention of Russell Brand had been decisive and with the consequence of some riders abandoning plans to subdivide their houses now that the threat of a mansion tax had been lifted.

On track
On NCR 51 near Blunham

The Weeping Ash in St Neots
red tractor
 'International' tractor
Old tractors near Toseland

Leaving at 2 p.m. and now with a head wind we headed southeast towards Papworth Everard where we soon came up behind a convoy of over 20 gleaming veteran tractors, which temporarily slowed our pace. The sight of these caused me to take a sharp intake of breath, as I have been known to sometimes behave like an ex-tractor fan.

Normally garden centres are a bit of a problem for tea stops as they close at 4 p.m. but the one that had been chosen was Waresley garden centre, which stays open to 4:30. We arrived there coincident with a contingent from Cambridge CTC and sat at an outside table in the warm sunshine until being thrown out at closing time. The last section of the ride back was into a strong headwind and seemed to take a long time, as we didn’t get back to the train station until 6 p.m. after passing the NIMBY boards placed by the enemies of progress on the outskirts of Baldock. It had been a windy ride of 66 miles.
Steve 10/05/2015 - how could anyone think Carol had written this report with its bad jokes and puns!

3 May 2015

03 May 2015: Hatfield to Nuthampstead

A few hardy souls were waiting at Hatfield for the club ride to Nuthampstead. The forecast was for the rain to clear up by the afternoon so, undeterred by the light rain (was everyone else frightened they might shrink?), we set off for our first planned stop - Much Hadham. When we reached the village we were greeted by a drinks stall at the roadside manned by people cheering us on. Had Carol arranged this reception?  
Furneaux Pelham Church
A little further on we found that Hopleys, our planned elevenses stop, was not open until lunch time, so we continued on to the golf course just outside the village. The man at the café was welcoming, coming out to take our orders for tea or coffee while we were securing our bikes. I could not find my wallet, so Jon paid our bill. As we left the wallet turned up – in Craig's pocket. Fortunately he hadn’t opened it to pay for his bacon sandwich or to place a bet on the outcome of the indoor putting practice, where a weighted golf ball added a degree of unpredictability worthy of the forthcoming election.

After our break, the weather started to clear up and we made our way through the Hertfordshire and Essex lanes, avoiding attempts to be sent in the direction of the charity ride taking place that day. We arrived at the Woodman in Nuthampstead in good time and a blazing fire awaited us to dry our socks.

After lunch, the weather was perfect so we decided to try some lanes to the north, which we do not often ride along. These provided some scenic views over the rolling countryside. Unfortunately my e-trike was playing up and the switch finally gave up the ghost. We paused to note the exhortation written on the church clock “Time Flies. Mind Your Business”, so when we got to the long climb from Furneaux Pelham to Braughing, my business was to send the others on ahead to miss the oncoming thunderstorm. Today was the first day of opening for Braughing church hall teas and there was the usual excellent spread of cakes – though we did notice the prices had gone up somewhat. We found Richard waiting for us at Braughing and we rode back managing to dodge any more showers.

Judy 03/05/2015