30 July 2017

30 Jul 2017: Wheathampstead to Great Barford

The forecast was for a mainly dry day with a chance of a heavy shower so we pessimistically took our rain jackets with us for the planned picnic ride to Barford. We met up with Richard, Steve and Jackie at the start then took a well used route via Gustard Wood and Lilley Bottom via Hexton to reach Lower Stondon Golf Club at 10.45. En-route we had to negotiate several flooded roads which had not drained after the overnight rain.

Adrian and Geoff joined us at coffee and we then followed a westerly route via Cardington where we saw the giant airship tethered outside the hangars.

Airship at Cardington
Fortunately it was still dry as we reached our picnic spot on the banks of the Great Ouse river outside the Anchor pub. Amazingly we spotted a couple of heads in the river apparently pulling coloured balloons which turned out to be two lady wild-water swimmers who walked out of the river at the canoe launch slipway just clothed in swimming costumes - no wetsuits! I think they drag their valuables along in dry bags.

Wild-water swimmers
Stuart from Stevenage joined us as we left the picnic stop for the picturesque ride back via Northill and Southill to our Stotfold mill tea room afternoon break.
Great Barford

After going back via Letchworth and Stevenage we had covered about 75 miles and only got rained on once - indeed by the time we got the rain jackets on the rain stopped.


22 July 2017

22 July 2017: St Albans to Redbourn

One of the pleasant things about doing these rides is the returning riders from a few months ago, it sort of proves that you’re doing the right thing and it’s even better when they come back with a new bike and full of go.

Emma's new bike

The route I had chosen had to be changed quickly to accommodate a recumbent, so we took a lovely route through Childwickbury and past Stanley Kubrick’s old abode. It really is a quaint, sedate estate that is not too far off the beaten track and it leads down to the Redbourn Road; this can be a very busy road but thankfully the traffic was at a minimum. We took on Hogg End Lane then diverted to Old Jerome’s, avoiding the industrial estate at the end of the lane. We were soon onto Cherry Trees Lane then heading down the winding lane that is Holtsmere End, which leads to Gadsden Lane and then Redbourn. As we were just edging on to North Common a few spots of the wet stuff were felt and, as we came to the Hub, the clouds let go of their dribbley cargo. The hub (a usually quite sedentary place) became a hive of activity due to this and there was standing room only for dripping cyclists at one point.

Sheltering inside The Hub

The rain persisted and we decided to shorten the ride.  Jon and Judy beat a hasty retreat back home whilst we decided to shoot down the Redbourn Road and cut across past the mill. As we did this the rain eased off, but never really left us. The route back was a mixture of Ayres End, Nomansland Common and the lanes through to Sandridge and Jersey farm. We headed through to Oaklands College and as we did this rain got heavier, so we made our soggy way back via the Alban Way.

Despite the rain it was a very enjoyable morning’s ride.
Neil 22/07/2017

16 July 2017

16 July 2017: Hatfield to Allens Green

With several of our regulars away in France scorching themselves on cycling holidays, five gathered in Hatfield for another cool adventure into Essex.

Big Boy Breakfast
We welcomed new rider, James from Welham Green, keen to improve his endurance ready for his first Ride London 100 mile bash in two week’s time. Our leader, Graham, soon arrived looking remarkably fresh, considering he had completed a 300 Km Audax from Great Dunmow only the day before, including riding to and from the start. This ride would put his mileage above 300 for the weekend.

Rather than spend a day recovering, as most humans would be doing, he was keen not to let his knees stiffen up through lack of use. We were left wondering if he did his office job sitting on an exercise bike. Fortunately Graham is a very considerate leader and quite happy to go at a pace to suit whoever is riding.

By the time we reached Old Harlow, after a pleasant route through Broxbourne Woods and Roydon, we had done more than usual and sustenance was called for. This was adequately rendered at Cross Keys café, where Graham took up the challenge of tackling a Big Boy Breakfast, immediately undoing all the good weight-reducing work of the day before.

Ryes Lanes Gatehouse

Bracket fungus on Ryes Lane
From here we headed for Hatfield Heath, then took the private road, Ryes Lane, escaping from the holiday traffic on the B road. After crossing cattle grids in Hatfield Forest, our only hold-up was at the level crossing in Spellbrook, where we started looking forward to our lunch break at Allens Green.

We arrived at The Queens Head to find the landlord mowing the grass for us. It was soon clear that here the pace of life was very relaxed and we took advantage of the mini beer festival to have a longer break than usual.

Back on our bikes, Graham took us on an interesting alternative route after Perry Green. Here we turned left onto Nether Street, a reasonably surfaced off-road track giving a level route into Widford. That just left a direct route through Ware and Hertford back to Hatfield, completing a fine circuit of 56 miles.

9 July 2017

09 July 2017: Hertford to Stondon Massey

As I write this, drops of water are hurling towards the earth in a way that I haven’t seen for quite a while. It didn’t do this last Sunday, as a keen group of riders met at the Hart War memorial in Hertford. The aim of the day was to cycle about and have copious amounts of fun and this was achieved in various degrees. First break was Harlow Garden Centre. I took a really familiar route to the destination, via Hoddesdon and Dobb’s Weir up through Roydon Hamlet (there is a really cheeky hill here; it catches most people unawares) over to Latton Common then on past Harlow Common to a dodgy turning in Hastingwood. The garden centre is situated just the other side of the A414, which is usually very crossable, but boy was it busy today with all the traffic coming from Chelmsford and it wasn’t giving an inch until one nice driver held it up for us.

After break the going home bug decimated our numbers, but four of us bravely fought this virus and pushed on towards lunch. Leaving the garden centre was just as tricky as before. Maybe everyone had come to their senses and realised that the only way may not be Essex, but it was the only way for us as we pootled about the quiet back lanes on our way to Stondon. I must say the land around looked really dry and the aforementioned rain would be very welcome over there. Near Willingale, Jon treated us to an off road route over a disused airfield that cut off Willingale and led directly to the Norton Heath road.
Off road near Willingale
It was a pleasant and bumpy departure that I’ll be using again, although maybe not the best for Bob on his skinny tyres (practicing for Ride London). Lunch was a lovely affair, the pub had run out of what I had ordered and had run out of tomatoes, but offered great replacements and there was a fish stall to partake in if wanted. We often advise taking a map with you and Richard was spied making a great alternative use of his for swotting bees away from his sandwiches.

It was after this break that another of our select number succumbed to the going home early bug and we bade farewell to Bob, who wanted some high-speed practice. So it was left to 3 sturdy riders to complete the day’s activity. Pootling along the quiet Essex lanes chat turned to the upkeep of the roads and we noted that Hertfordshire needs to up its game significantly. We headed to High Beach via Toot Hill (the alleged home of the beast of Ongar) and Hobbs Cross.  Theydon Bois was rammed and most of the large common was covered with parked cars, the explanation being the annual donkey derby.

Then we were in for a steep climb as we took on Sixteen String Jack Hill, this is a long winding affair and the heat seemed to ramp up too as we climbed it. The crest of the hill took us into the Essex uplands and after navigating a busy roundabout we made our way through the cool of the forest to the Church of the Holy Innocents, where refreshments and cake were to be had, all for £1.50 no matter what you had. In the grounds the crowds were being distracted from guzzling cake by some storytellers, but it didn't affect our appetites as we couldn't hear much from our seat near the church.
Storytelling at High Beach
After a quick trip to Gunpowder Park we followed the Lea Valley to conclude the day’s ride.

2 July 2017

02 July 2017: St Albans to Hughenden Valley

After last Sunday's excursion to the Essex coast, it was the opposite direction this time and into the Chiltern Hills. Not a whelk stall to be seen. It was a perfect day for cycling, bright, sunny, and not too hot.

We made our way across the Grand Union Canal and then to the lively descent and climb at Ley Hill - arrows both down and up. Dare you get enough speed up on the downhill bit to carry you up to the top of the climb? In my case - not likely.

Taking the narrow lane past Blackwells Farm we arrived in Chesham by the valley road. Poppins Café is a nice stop for a break - the place has been well refurbished. Here a group of riders decided that just a morning's ride suited them best, so they headed off for home. So it was a select band that continued.

We conferred (dithered) - the planned lunch stop seemed dauntingly far away and also up a hill - how about somewhere nearer? What about going to Missenden and then see? It wasn't very far, so we went further and tried the pub at Bryants Bottom. They were not doing any sandwiches. The Harrow at Hughenden Valley was though, so that was OK.

The Harrow at Hughenden Valley

Our return leg was past Great Missenden church, Little Pednor and a stop at the Mediterranean Garden Centre on the way. A great day's cycling in perfect conditions.

Richard 02/07/2017