31 July 2016

31 Jul 2016: Hatfield to Tawney Common

It was a perfect day for escaping the urban scene, by heading off to the tranquil settings for our three stops for today. The first of these was the café next to the marina at Roydon.  It was a warm, sunny day, so I opted for the shade provided on the disused railway line that is the Cole Green Way. The only hazard along there was the guy running ahead of us wearing headphones, and no amount of shouting seemed to be getting through to his ears. Safely past him, we made for Hartham Common and the cycle path along the River Lea – the top dressing in the central section, either side of the A10 flyover, is now completely eroded away and it’s really only fit for mountain bikes.  

6 cyclists on disused railway
A stop on the Cole Green Way

We are a pretty tolerant lot generally, but we were being shaken to bits and this cycle path is getting beyond a joke.  Cycling UK is pushing the Space for Cycling campaign, so you can help by writing to Councillor David Andrews, Ware North at Hertfordshire County Council and asking if he can assist in any way.

After a rather scary slope down from the Ware road bridge, the towpath was actually quite smooth and we followed this as far as Stanstead Abbotts. It was now a short stretch on tarmac to the secluded marina, tucked away near the village of Roydon.  Neil and Tracey loved the relaxed atmosphere so much they didn’t want to leave, so we left them there.  We cycled off, passing Ray Winstone’s favourite pub, and found a quiet route through Harlow on NCR 1 and out to the Essex lanes.  

What a pleasant county Essex is for cycling.  Many lanes had been resurfaced recently and looking back I don’t recall seeing a single pothole between Harlow and Epping Forest. It just shows that by contrast Hertfordshire really needs to get its act together.

At the isolated pub in Tawney Common we saw the usual veteran motorcycles had arrived, including a pre-war BSA in fine condition and a wartime despatch bike. 

It wasn’t far to tea at Upshire Church.  This time I arrived in time to grab a piece of their fantastic homemade strawberry gateau. That was worth cycling up Sixteen String Jack hill for. Reluctantly, we headed for home to complete the 62-mile circuit.

Jon 31/07/2016

24 July 2016

24 Jul 2016: St Albans to Silsoe

Large crowds watch Chris Froome as he wins the Tour de France again.  It was the first weekend of the school holidays and no doubt some of us Brits heading for Paris were still stuck on the M2 at the whim of the French customs official vetting their entry. Meanwhile, we met up in St Albans for a lovely ride to Wrest Park in Bedfordshire. 
3 sitting on curved bench
2 approaching on bikes
Away we went along Gaddesden Row and via Studham up onto Dunstable Downs. At the top soaring along the ridge, as well as the unmanned kites, were seven brightly coloured paragliders, almost as acrobatic as the usual birds seen around here and an amazing and a very pretty sight. Then it was a fast descent down into Dunstable itself and the Cafe Latte for elevenses. Just as we were scoffing Jackie arrived to join us. Now we were five.
paragliders  kites
From there we headed northwest towards Sundon. We got a bit snarled up where our route crossed the M1 and the railway. Roads were closed, as they appear to be building a new link road from the A5 onto the M1. From there it was on to Sharpenhoe and down the 'Clappers', a lovely downhill leading into Barton le Clay where Steve joined us making us six.
Cafe Latte 

Steve and Jackie
We went in a large loop approaching Silsoe from the east via an initially rough track that led into and through Wrest Park. Some of us had sandwiches and others went into the Star and Garter for a pub lunch. Whilst there Adrian joined us and now there were seven heading for the tea stop at Whitwell by going to the east of Luton. This involved the steep climb from Hexton up Gravel Hill followed by a quick dash along Lilley Bottom to arrive at Emily's for the traditional tea and cakes. 
Wrest Park
outside at Emily's
From here the group started to split up as people headed towards their homes. When I got back to St Albans I had done about 60 miles and although it had been hot it hadn't been too bad. In summary a nice ride on a warm day.

Peter 24/07/2016

23 July 2016

23 Jul 2016: Fun Ride to Potters Bar

It was a great morning as 6 of us met at Jenny’s café in Hatfield; we welcomed new riders Jane and Tony. After a quick cuppa we got down to the business of tackling the lanes to Potters Bar. I took the group out past a quiet University of Hertfordshire, through Bullen’s Green, up Tollgate Road and on to Waterend. There was some huffing and puffing as we tackled the rises in the route, but everyone coped really well and we kept a nice steady pace. From Waterend I chose to use the footpath beside the old A1 to get up to South Mimms, this path proved to be very overgrown and bit of an obstacle course for Judy our recumbent trike rider. On approaching South Mimms Judy had made the decision to head home (due to heat). It’s known that recumbent riders have trouble with thermoregulation as they expose about 3 times more of their surface area to the sun’s radiation, as opposed to upright riders.  They also suffer from the harsher micro-climate at ground level, which is known to gently fry their brains.

3 riders

But in South Mymms we passed Judy coming in the other direction, at this point she had changed her mind and decided to re-join us down to Trotters Bottom. It was a beautifully sunny summer’s morning and it was actually getting to be very hot. As we passed through the lanes around the Ridge, we lost Jon and Judy. I asked the group to stop at the top of a hill so I could back track and see if I could find them but to no avail, so after sweating like Tony Blair reading the Chilcot report, I made my way back up the hill to join the rest of the group.  I heard later that Judy & Jon had stopped to fix a flat tyre back in Ridge, no doubt caused on the overgrown cycle path as trikes can’t avoid the brambles at the edge of the path.

We made short work of heading down to the tri-bridge (for horses, walkers and cyclists) that spans the A1; once over that it’s a small matter of passing through Trotters Bottom, not as painful as it sounds. It’s a lovely lane that skirts Dyrham Park, then it was up Dancer’s Hill to access Baker Street and into Potters Bar. Now this place has a plethora of cafes to choose from, but I chose an establishment that had just been refurbished as N’s Kitchen and very smart it was, but it’s really not a suitable place as they had slight trouble with us and didn’t split the bill as requested. While we were here I got the text from Jon informing me that they had suffered a puncture and had headed home.

Soon after we made our way back to Hatfield in midday sun. Our route led us through the back of the town, up Billy Lowes lane. Then I took a familiar and very short way back via Hawkshead lane, down past the Royal Veterinary College, another visit to Waterend and then through Welham Green. It was a really pleasant morning’s ride.

Neil 23/07/2016

17 July 2016

17 Jul 2016: Le Welwyn Garden Petit Tour Festival

Crowds flocked to see a day of cycle racing and to browse the stalls in the centre of the Garden City.  Last year was a wash out, but this year couldn't have been better as it got hotter and hotter during the day.

Smoothie Machine
More photos.

We were glad we had our new gazebo to keep the sun off and it was ideal weather for making your own smoothie at the stall next to ours using pedal power on the smoothie bike. There is quite a technique to this as the wheel keeps spinning even if you don't.

Wwe had a lot of interest in our rides this year.  Despite the competitive nature of the cycle racing there were plenty of people interested in our non-competitive ways of enjoying local cycling opportunities.  We were at the opposite end to Race HQ and there were a couple of other cycling related stalls in our little enclave, including Breeze & WelHat, but strangely for a cycling festival there seemed to be far more food and drink vendors than us.  Lets hope more cycling related stall come next year.

It was a long day starting at 8 a.m. and our Sunday ride finished at the Festival at lunchtime, after a ride up to Baldock, so it was great to have some help in the afternoon.

17/07/2016 Jon and Neil

10 July 2016

10 Jul 2016: Hertford to Kelvedon Hatch

TOWIE: 9 eager riders met at the memorial in Hertford, the forecast was cloudy, sunny with a chance of a shower, pants to that it was very mizzly throughout the morning.

The route I took to HGC (posh for Harlow Garden Centre) was a familiar one and held no real surprises, but it meant that the group could chat, catch up with each other and generally enjoy themselves without having to worry too much. As we passed Dobb’s Weir the group stopped for a timely “comfort break”.  We were soon heading into Roydon Hamlet and up the hill there, just as the temperature decided to rise, I nearly stopped to take off my jacket, it really was quite muggy and as we headed closer to the break the heavens seemed to open. We all thought it was going to be a little shower but this stuff, although not heavy was here to stay for a while.

5 cyclists in town 
cyclists entering public toilets

In a dribbley fashion we made break, and low and behold we met Eleezabeth (note the French pronunciation) who was collecting for charity, from the Essex 40+.

After break and donning coats and relevant gear we said cheerio to two of our number as we headed out for the flat lands of Essex, and it proved to be a very pleasant meander through the wiggly lanes and small villages of the county. I took the group to Norton Heath and then over to Blackmore, but on our way there we passed through Willingale and spied a house with a few interesting plaques adorning it (see photos).

cyclists look at a house 

Sign showing toll charges

Lunch was at a lovely pub called the Eagle in Kelvedon Hatch, the staff were very accommodating, organised and helpful.

On towards Upshire, the route I chose took us past Kelvedon Common and along Shonks Mill Road leading to the A113, it was a quick skip along here and then we were heading towards the magnificently named Toot Hill, and it really is on a hill. After that we had the rolling and undulating road that sweeps past Tawney Common and brings us down onto the road that goes past The Merry Fiddlers and onto the ascent aptly named Ivy Chimneys. This is quite a climb and just as we got into a rhythm a huge black car decided to bully its way past and jam itself in with oncoming traffic, bringing everyone to a halt. It’s such a downer re-starting on a hill but hey that’s life.

Tea stop was just around the corner after a quick blast down the Epping road, I so enjoy that little bit. The church in Upshire seemed very quiet, with tennis fans away watching Wimbledon, so there were plenty of awesome cakes to scoff, I was a pig and had 2 helpings.
We said our goodbyes after tea and made our own ways home, 4 of us opted for a jaunt up the Lea Valley towpath, while 3 had a short ride back to North London.  Another great day out.

Neil 10/07/2016 

9 July 2016

09 Jul 2016: Fun ride to Stanborough Lakes

Stanborough Lakes7 eager riders met at the start in Fleetville, St Albans and with two returning riders and two new riders we had a nice little group. Today’s ride was a gentle meander down the leafier sections of the Alban Way. When we did this last year the sun was giving it all it had to give, this year is a different story though. The weather really cannot make up its mind on what to do and that makes clothing choices rather difficult.

row of happy cyclists

The sky overhead was looking overcast as we set off and there were some spots of rain in the air. You can tell we’ve had a wet time of it lately as the greenery along the route looked lush and very healthy as opposed to the dryness the vegetation can take on at this time of year. The Alban Way is a lovely route that takes us right through to the other side of Hatfield.

At Mill Green there’s a great little dirt track that leads straight onto the lakes, as always the café by the lakes was doing a brisk trade, it’s nice here (you can almost close your eyes and image you’re elsewhere). 

After a quick break we headed to WGC town centre to access Sherrardspark Woods, as we were preparing to navigate the large gyratory that dominates the road way, Matt (a new rider) very decently showed me a little cut through to the back of the campus car park. A handy little bit of knowledge.  It will be lively here next weekend when WGC centre is closed for 8 hours of cycle racing.  South Herts CTC will be in attendance.

By this time the sun was doing its stuff, all jackets had come off and we had a nice little bundle through the woods. It’s great in here, so woody and lovely and dry. We came out of the woods just down from the Ayots, which we made a beeline for, then it’s up onto the Ayot Greenway, quick stop for a group photo, then we were enjoying the delights of Dr Beeching’s legacy.

It’s rather odd to think that this gentleman’s cuts to our train lines 50 years ago has now givens us access to some really nice off road countryside routes, the Alban Way and the Ayot Greenway being just two.

We skirted around Wheathampstead and made our way through the lanes to Sandridge and then into Oaklands College; it was a small job of retracing some of our steps and we were back at the start after a great morning ride out.

Neil taing a photo
Neil 09/07/2016

3 July 2016

03 Jul 2016: St Albans to Longwick

Unusual weather conditions were promised for the day - no rain at all. The destination was across the Chilterns and down the steep part on the other side to Longwick. It promised to be a longish way and hilly. But close to home was hilly enough as we cycled up from the Grand Union Canal and down and up Ley Hill. The way down the narrow lane to the Chess valley was gravelly and potholed and an encounter with a white van zooming up it was a nasty moment. Twisty, narrow lanes with gravel in the middle call for some anticipation, although the amount of traffic seemed quite low today.

Group in town

Passing through Great Missenden - too early for a cream tea

Another climb up to Amersham soon got us to the excellent Masterchef Cafe on Sycamore Road. From here we picked a fairly direct route to Great Missenden and then followed the very pleasant and quiet route along the valley, and after some miles a turning took us through the wooded hills to Askett. Soon we were down into the Vale of Aylesbury and into The Red Lion at Longwick.

After the lunch break the official route was to be back by way of Chesham, but we decided to wimp out of the climbing this would involve and went for a flatter detour by way of Stoke Mandeville and Tring. The cafe in the Natural History Museum made a very convenient cup of tea before we headed off for home earlier than I was expecting. It had been an enjoyable 60-mile ride in the ever-delightful Chilterns. 

Richard 03/07/2016