21 June 2015

21 Jun 2015: St Albans to Whiteleaf

On the day of the Women's Tour visiting The Chilterns, Carol led us around the same area on a longer  and possibly hillier route than they managed.  In all we covered 60 miles and climbed 3,450 feet (if you can believe Google Earth).

Group of seven cyclists

Here we are escaping from the A413 and about to climb the heights of Cobblershill Lane near Little Hampden.  

Ship's Figurehead

We paused while passing 'Pipers' in The Lee to admire this ship's figurehead of Admiral Lord Howe, taken from the Navy's last wooden warship, HMS Impregnable. The Lee has an interesting history, thanks largely to the influence of Arthur Liberty, who founded Liberty's store in Regent Street.  .  

At the pub

Here we are at our lunchtime destination, The Red Lion at Whiteleaf near Princes Risborough.  After lunch the cycling was much easier, as once we had climbed out of the valley it was down hill with a tail wind to Great Missenden.  Following our usual route through the churchyard, someone had the bright idea of following the cycle route signs through an underpass.  We soon encountered an incredibly steep climb up a narrow path, which got everyone off and walking.  Carol put us back on the road to Chesham and to Chenies Church for a well-earned tea and cake.  Here we glimpsed the Bedford Chapel, burial place of the Dukes of Bedford. Not normally open to the public, though visible through the glazed screen in the church, the Bedford Chapel, contains what the architectural historian Pevsner described as, "as rich a store of funeral monuments as any parish church of England".  Suitable cheered we headed home via Flaunden.


14 June 2015

14 Jun 2015: Norton Heath to North Fambridge

Three groups got together for a mass ride to the coast – well there were at least 25 disparate riders from South Herts CTC, Havering CTC and some locals from Essex.  After a quick cuppa and a longer queue for the only loo at Norton Heath we were off into the cool, grey morning.

Group outside cafe
Gathering at Norton Heath

Rod is prone to exaggeration

bike on plank
Steve unloading the amphibious bike - but will it float?

We started off on a familiar route, following NCR1 into Chelmsford along some leafy Essex lanes.  My back-markers were equipped with a route sheet, but maybe my instructions weren't too clever. They only doubled back to take the left turn to Newney Green after they saw me waving frantically.  

Group on the road
On the road to Chelmsford

The cycle tracks along the Chelmsford Riviera were a pleasant alternative to the main roads and we were soon heading out into Chelmer Village, although that seems to be a bit of a misnomer. The traffic heading for the retail park there had worn out the road, so the boys from the black stuff were blocking our way, which called (officially) for a walk along half a mile of pavement.  Despite this we still found our way to the narrow bridge over the Chelmer at Sandford Mill.

narrow bridge
Judy's nervous crossing - just wide enough

I lost touch with the tail-enders here and they showed no signs of showing up when we reached the Maldon Road.  They had been delayed by a ‘minor mechanical’, then gone off left on NCR1 heading under the A12 before consulting GPS and route sheet to see they had gone wrong. I was beginning to feel a bit like a sheepdog going back and forth to round up stragglers.  Reunited, we made good progress into the Dengie peninsular, with the wind behind us, to reach North Fambridge on the River Crouch.

The Ferryboat Inn

Not surprisingly, this place is geared more towards people arriving by yacht than by bike: there is a well-appointed yacht haven with a clubhouse, café and bar.  But we found our way to the pleasant Ferryboat Inn, known, not surprisingly, for its seafood. It’s also now a misnomer as there was not much evidence of any ferry to South Fambridge


North Fambridge jetty

There wasn’t too much to see around here, except for an old barge by the slipway and some impressive salt flats. In better weather it would be a worth a visit to the neighbouring Blue House Farm Nature Reserve, run by Essex Wildlife Trust.

The route to Cold Norton was busy, but improved as we carried on through Cock Clarks to Bicknacre (where I temporarily failed to follow my own route instructions), then we crossed over our outward route before the long drag up to reservoir level at South Hanningfield.  

I was heading for the Hanningfield Reservoir Visitor Centre (also run by the Essex Wildlife Trust) for tea, but someone reckoned there were only hot drinks from a machine there, so we stopped earlier at The Café on the Water instead and enjoyed waitress service. No one had told the Brent Geese, who seemed to prefer this location to the Wildlife Trust one.

Brent Geese at Hanningfield Reservoir

After tea it made sense to split into three groups.  We bade farewell to Havering CTC as they headed towards Upminster.  That left a faster and a slower group completing the circuit back to Norton Heath via Stock and Margaretting, although most of the Essex locals peeled off to cycle home. I was thankful that it had stayed dry, we had a patient group and I hadn’t lost anyone for too long.

View full screen map     Jon C 14/06/2015

7 June 2015

07 Jun 2015: Wheathampstead to Broom

The first week of summer is a popular time to go on cycle touring holidays. Most of our regular members had headed north for our club tour in Staffordshire, while others had gone south on another CTC/40+ tour in France. Judy & I were worried no-one else would be out on the Sunday ride, but were relieved to see Jackie waiting for us at Wheathampstead: she had been waiting 20 minutes having been blown there from Knebworth.
Ireland sign
Welcome to Ireland
recumbent rider on a track
Restricted Byway

Though the cloudless skies had a deep blue hue reminiscent of southern France, there was a keen head wind cooling us as we headed up through Ayot St Lawrence, Whitwell and Preston. I usually approach Hitchin along the B656, but coming in this time from Gosmore allowed me to investigate the pedestrian bridge crossing the A602. It proved to be a useful short cut and Jackie commented that she hated the roundabout, which this bridge neatly avoids.

Hitchin Kitchen wasn’t as crowded as normal. We had been up at 6 am, but maybe breakfast time for most of regulars here is later than 10:30?  Having discussed our own touring holiday plans for the next 12 months, we left at 11, said au revoir to Jackie, who was heading home, and the two of us continued north. Free to explore, we climbed to Meppershall and had extensive views over Bedfordshire (when we could see through the 8ft tall cow parsley) After Shefford we thought we would have a break abroad by hopping over the border into Ireland.

After lunch in the sunshine at Broom it was getting hot and we lost the head wind, so it was an easy ride until I decided to explore a possible off-road cycle route after Arlesey Station. I’d seen it marked as a bicycling route on Google Maps and it started off as tarmac, but we were soon bumping along a grass track and abandoned it at a footbridge, which took us back onto the road. An underpass (a feature of this area) took us under the A507 and onto a cycleway into Stotfold, but again we regretted using it. As is so often the case, the surface was very poor compared to the road – if only our Councils could spend as much on smooth cycle routes as those in Germany there would be far more people using them.

In Stotfold we turned south again with Letchworth on our left and Hitchin on our right.  The heat gave us a good excuse to stop briefly at Thorne's Garden Nursery, Chicken Centre Café for a quick ice cream. The only snag on this direct route was the final kilometre, which was on a Restricted Byway passing the site of the Nine Springs Roman Villa (discovered by the amazing Quaker William Ransom). Quite cycleable today as the mud was hard baked, but it would be impassable in wet weather.

We made it to Vanstones near Codicote for our second afternoon break, hoping for some half-price cakes after 3 pm, but that offer was no more. Nevertheless we enjoyed our rest before heading for home. 85 enjoyable miles for us, although the round trip from Wheathampstead was only 55 miles.

Jon 07/06/2015

6 June 2015

Club Tour 2015 - Burton upon Trent

South Herts CTC fixed-base long weekend was based in Burton upon Trent: June 6th-9th.

View photo album

Eight people met at the Burton Central Travelodge on Friday evening and enjoyed a pleasant meal in the local JD Wetherspoon pub whilst discussing the planned rides for the next few days. The weather forecast was for dry but cold weather with some significant wind.

Saturday morning saw us leave Burton via a traffic-free cycle route over a Victorian causeway before heading south east to a cafe stop in the grounds of the Staunton Harold estate, then through some fairly urban countryside to Markfield, before heading into the wind NW to Melbourne, where unfortunately the Visitor centre cafe on the reservoir was closed this season. It was a real fight in the headwind back to base.

Sunday saw slightly less wind and offered a more pleasant ride through the undulating countryside to Uttoxeter before heading north to Alton (near the “Towers”) then south again to a tea stop at a pleasant NT cafe at Sudbury Hall. This ride was much hillier and we all knew the gradients had been quite severe. We used a pleasant off road cycle path from Alton village, which started just under an old castle that looked like it had been lifted from Bavaria and planted in North Staffs. The hills allowed us to see good panoramic views of the local countryside.

Tracey left us on Sunday evening so seven stalwarts headed north on Monday morning to Brailsford where the cafe had a hand written note saying ‘closed today’ so again we were thwarted for sustenance. After cycling north through beautiful quiet lanes we had lunch at Carsington Water visitor centre then took a hilly route, both up and down to a lovely garden centre cafe near Kedleston Hall before getting back to the hotel base.

Tuesday saw us using another traffic free tarmaced cycle route from Burton to head west to Rugeley before climbing up and through Cannock Chase on a track. We then went east to Fradley Junction for lunch where the Coventry and Mersey/Trent canals meet. None of us had realised what a large forest Cannock Chase is until we cycled through it. After lunch Steve H departed and the rest of us went back via the National Memorial Arboretum where we were moved by the scale and splendour of the memorials to the people who gave their lives in service for the country.

A well-signed NCR route 54 took us back to Burton from where we departed by car after a pleasant long weekend with no rain in surprisingly pretty countryside.