26 June 2016

26 Jun 2016: Norton Heath to Witham

My Essex spy (Rod) had warned me the day before about severe flooding in Chelmsford. Thunderstorms on Brexit Day had flooded the whole of the Chelmer Valley between Chelmsford and the sea at Maldon.  On a day when Essex had voted to cut itself off from the EU across the Channel the flood waters had cut one half of Essex off from the other half.  That rather messed up our plans for afternoon tea at Paper Mill Lock, a scenic spot next to the Chelmer navigation, as the teashop was surrounded by murky water. Some rapid re-planning was needed.

Outside cafe
However, the dry forecast on Sunday had brought eighteen of us to meet in Norton Heath, Essex - eight had driven from South Herts and ten were from Havering CTC or were local 40+CC members.  What were the chances of getting away without mishap in this strange waterlogged territory?  It hadn't started too well: Gordon had been left behind in Blackmore trying to fix a flat tyre, while the rest of us were enjoying mugs of tea in the cafe.  He and Alex arrived late and unsure that the cause had been found - always an unnerving feeling for any cyclist and they now faced another 25 miles without refuelling.

I reckoned the route to Witham should be flood free and we started to enjoy the day as we cruised though Willingale, with its twin churches, Good Easter and The Walthams.  The wind was behind us, the sun was coming out, Rod was doing a great job as back marker and there was happy chatting behind me.  But the storm had left some debris on the lanes: Steve had to stop near Terling to fix a flat.  My rear tyre was also feeling soft, but I preferred to keep pumping it so I could get the group to Witham.  It was much easier to fix it while relaxing with a pint in the pub garden.  We hadn’t used this particular Wetherspoons before, but it was excellent and had a pleasant courtyard garden at the back. The ‘Irish’ chilli (whatever that is) was especially good.

The route after lunch meant crossing The Chelmer somewhere between Chelmsford and the sea. There aren’t many bridges and most are on major A roads or tiny lanes like the one at Paper Mill Lock.  But I’d looked at Google Street View and found a wider lane at Hoe Mill, south of Ulting.  This was named The Causeway so was bound to be a good place to cross, or so I thought.  The lack of traffic as we approached Hoe Mill raised my suspicions.  We turned a corner and could see why: the road was completely flooded and we couldn’t see how far it extended around the bend. There was a very narrow footbridge at the side, but it was too narrow for Judy’s 3-wheeler and she had to turn around and find her own route back.  She’d gone when Tim appeared wading through the floods, testing the depth and offering to help carry her Trice across!  The transit van stuck in the field next to the road showed how bad the flooding had been.

Cyclists walking on path above flood
Cyclist holds bike over flood

Once across The Causeway, almost at sea level, we now had to climb to one of the highest points in SE Essex at Danbury.  Despite a few delays we were making good time and the democratic vote was not to stop here for tea at the café, but to press on and take our chances at finding somewhere later. Maybe representative democracy is a better system? 

It was a lovely ride across Danbury Common and down into Sandon.  I spotted some picnic tables set out in St Andrew’s churchyard and signs up about a village fete – could this be our lucky day?  I enquired and was slightly embarrassed to be told the low tables were for a teddy bears’ picnic for the local children.  But that was for later and they could do cups of tea and biscuits for the 17 of us. I was frankly amazed when several of our group eschewed this kind offer, fixated as they were on finding coffee and cake! So off we went as far as Great Baddow. No luck at The Glasshouse, nor at Bringy Pine, both closed on Sundays, so Rod led us straight into Chelmsford for the sure bet of a coffee there – trusty Wetherspoons to the rescue again, plus the local ice-cream van.

I had planned to avoid Chelmsford Park, which had been 2 feet deep in floods on Thursday, but the river looked back to normal so we risked following NCR 1 to Writtle and the cycle route was just above the waterline. The direct route into the wind to Blackmore got us back to Norton Heath just after 5 pm, where Judy had also just arrived having found a dry route back.  It had been a good 50 mile ride with our friends from Essex.

Jon 26/06/2016

18 June 2016

18 Jun 2016: Saturday Fun Ride to Emily's

Eight of us met at Jenny’s café on Saturday morning, the weather was looking promising but waterproofs were in view as the forecast was undecided.  Emergency response vehicles on the way there had overtaken some of us and the crews were on hand doing a great job attending to someone who had fallen down the steps leading to the balcony.

The route I had chosen was the opposite way around to the last time I led this ride. As we were setting off to leave we picked up another rider, Sue from Edgware, who had just made it on time and soon we were wending our way towards Lemsford. The traffic was quite busy especially on Marford Road, but we all made it across and enjoyed a lovely zip down into Lemsford. We ascended Digswell Hill without any problems to take the turn off for Ayot Green and performed a lovely wiggle through the lanes as we travelled along the Ayot St Peter road. We avoided the ford towards Codicote and trekked then along to Kimpton Mill, taking a sneaky right here and introducing everyone to a rather sharp ascent up to the Whitwell road. Soon we were making good progress towards Whitwell and Emily’s. Whitwell looked great all decked out in bunting for their village day and it really had that quintessential English feel to it.

7 cyclists at picnic table drinking tea

At the café it was pleasing to note that the only customers were cyclists and it was really pleasant sitting outside chatting the world away.

On the route back we took the road by the BIG white house, I have no idea what this road is called but it cuts very nicely through the countryside and leads directly to Kimpton without having to go up Horn Hill. Halfway along this road we had to navigate our bikes and a trike over a closed farm gate, but it was nothing we couldn’t handle.

lifting bikes over a barrier

It’s a nice climb up Ballslough hill that takes us to Lower Gustard Wood; we meandered our way to Wheathampstead, and enjoyed the long drop down into the ancient village. We made quick work of the lanes that surround this village and were soon on our way back to Hatfield. The last hill I had for them to climb was Tower Hill that led to a nice drop running down beside Symondshyde woods. Not long after we headed into the back of Hatfield and back to the start.
It was great mornings ride out enjoyed by all.

Our next Saturday ride in on 9th July - hope to see you then.

Neil 18/06/2016

12 June 2016

12 Jun 2016: Hertford to Wadesmill


This was the day for the Queen’s birthday picnic in the Mall, so of course it rained. However, five of us showing true British pluck (stupidity) left the start in Hertford bound for Bishops Stortford for elevenses and then on to Saffron Walden for lunch.

Apart from the rain it was a nice ride through quiet lanes via Wareside to end up in Bishops Stortford, the final approach to the cafe being down a road of lovely old houses near the centre. Here we reviewed the ride plan. Going on a further 15 or so miles in the rain to Saffron Walden only to have to come back that distance didn’t now seem quite so appealing. So we decided to dispense with that and instead put in a large loop initially going a little north and then swinging round to head south to Puckeridge for lunch, which would mean a shorter ride back.

3 people inspect a map in a bus shelter

In fairness the rain was now more intermittent and we plodded on stopping somewhere in a bus shelter to look at the map. Here we spoke to a lone cyclist going the other way who said he was going to York, so we wished him well, thankful that we only had to get back to Hertford. Reaching Puckeridge we found the pub was not to our liking as they only did expensive full lunches. So we decided to ignore the rain and press on down the old A10 to Wadesmill, where we remembered there was a pub we had used before. This was more to our taste as they did 2 lunches for the price of one.

After this it was back to Hertford, which made a ride of about 40 miles, rather than the 70 odd previously planned, although others had further to go back to St Albans. So, despite the fact it had been somewhat wet, a day’s ride in the country is better than staying indoors.

peteR 12/06/2016

5 June 2016

05 Jun 2016: St Albans to Naphill

Our select group felt distinctly under-dressed standing at the war memorial in St Albans.  At least the racing boys weren’t there to witness our wimpish shivering, as the café opposite had claimed the pavement with an array of outside tables and chairs where they usually gather.  Like us the café was expecting the promised warm, sunny day, but it was cold with low cloud as we set off down the hill towards the River Ver.

dog lazing in the sun outside pubOne advantage of letting Steve H lead a ride into the Chilterns is that hills are definitely on the menu and there would be no shortage today.  Very scenic they were too, although the need to concentrate hard on some of the steep narrow lanes didn’t leave much time for sight seeing.

The lanes were virtually deserted as we swept though Bedmond, Bovingdon and Belsize and we were thoroughly warmed up after the ascent of Stony Hill into Little Chalfont.  Ozzy’s Café was a welcome break with fast service, although a smattering of Polish might have been useful when trying to order lemon tea (as we discussed whether to Brexit or not to Brexit).

The sun finally broke through on the next leg and it was a lovely route in the sunshine as we climbed up and down through Winchmore Hill, Penn Street and Great Kingshill and suddenly we’d arrived at Naphill and the award winning Wheel pub with its over-friendly pub dog.

Inside Poppins Cafe Chesham

More hills followed after lunch as we crossed the grain of The Chilterns with beautiful scenery all the way to Chesham.  After tea at Poppins we split up with some heading for North London and others returning to St Albans.  It had been a marvellous route.

Jon 05/06/2016

4 June 2016

04 Jun 2016: Fun Ride to Shenley Park

A wonderful group of riders with happy, smiling faces met at Morrison’s for the second fun ride this month. Along with many new faces were some familiar returning riders, a lovely sign that things are being done right. We also welcomed Dominic, a disabled rider who had a specially adapted wheelchair bicycle. We also had a rider who had only just taken up the cycling life (3 weeks ago). 

Large group outside supermarket 
Cyclists inspecting a bike

We started with a gentle meander down the Alban Way, then through the estates, over Watling Street and up over to the Watford Road. It was here that the ride proved to be a little beyond Dominic’s reach and he had to bow out. He did an amazing job just getting to where we left him with his partner. The rest of us pootled up to Chiswell Green and made our way to Park Street.

We swung through Bricket Wood and had a lovely journey along Drop Lane.  I had a really relaxed and happy chatty bunch with me and this was making for a pleasant journey. We soon made Watling Street again and just as quickly left it at Harper lane. This is quite a busy part of the ride, but everyone did extremely well and we didn’t hold up any traffic. We opted out of going up Black Lion Hill and instead took the road around the estate, which to me seems just as challenging. Upon arriving at our break it became apparent that one of our number had to bow out due to a sprained wrist, a lift duly arrived for her and I popped her bike into the back of a VW.

Group at picnic table 
Group inside cafe

Soon we were back on our way again, we lost two of our number on the way home as we were very close to their homes. Working our way back to St Albans via London Colney and the lovely Rectory Lane. It was a great morning’s ride out. Some of the 5 miles to fabulous ladies joined us and we all had a great time.

Many thanks to Sue (Sunday regular) for being a very patient back marker.

Neil 04/06/2016