Sunday, 20 April 2014

19 Apr: "Double Dutch" 200 km audax

Gareth writes: Martin Malins has been organizing the “Double Dutch” 200 km audax for four years now. I rode the first edition back in 2011, when we had the most amazing luck with the weather, and I was looking forward to riding it again. The route is a tour of the Fens: starting at Huntingdon, you head north-east via Ramsey, March, and Nordelph, then north up the River Great Ouse to Kings Lynn for the fourth control and lunch. Then you cross the Ouse and head northwest to an info at Holbeach St Matthew close to The Wash, southwest to the sixth control at the Springfields shopping centre in Spalding, Lincolnshire, and back to Huntingdon for the finish.

I set my alarm for 06:00 but woke at 05:58, turned it off, quickly downed a cup of tea and some breakfast, and crept out of the house as quietly as I could at 06:20. On the guided busway, near the Fen Drayton lakes I was passed by Nick Jackson. I jumped on his wheel, but he was doing a steady 35 km/h and in less than a mile he had shaken me off and ridden away into the distance! No matter: I had plenty of time in hand, and took the Thicket Path from St Ives to Houghton, and then the quiet road through Wyton, arriving at the railway station in Huntingdon at about 07:30. Time to get a coffee from the station café and rest up before the start of the ride proper. There were a lot of riders, perhaps as many as fifty.

River Nene (old course) near Benwick. 29 km.

The ride starts with a tour of Huntingdon’s dreadful one-way gyratory system, and then there’s a little climb, barely worthy of the name, out of town and up to the A141/B1090 roundabout. But because I climb better than average, I found myself close to the front of the field through Kings Ripton and Wistow, hanging on to wheels for dear life as the north-easterly headwind began to take its toll, and so group by group I dropped back through the field. Something similar happened last time, I seem to recall.

Binnimoor Fen, east of March. 44 km.

Headwinds are my nemesis: at least when climbing hills one eventually gets to the top, but in a headwind the fatigue just builds and builds until I have no more power to give. I put my head right down and hung on as long as I could and when I couldn't hang on any more I dropped off the group and stopped for something to eat. These enforced rest stops provided good opportunities to try out the panorama feature on my phone, and see if I could capture something of the relentless bleakness and flatness of the fens. (Click through for larger versions of these panoramas.)

Upwell Fen near Christchurch. 54 km.

With the relentless wind in my face, and struggling to do more than about 16 or 17 km/h, it was difficult to keep up my morale. Even though the sun had come out, there was too much wind chill to take off my jacket. I started to contemplate abandoning the ride: there's a tempting train home to Cambridge from King's Lynn. But then at Nordelph I ate a banana, and on Barroway Drove shortly afterwards I met a couple of riders who were going just slowly enough for me to keep up and with a generous wheel to follow I gradually began to recover my spirits and even do a turn on the front. Thank you!

Narrowboat on Popham’s Eau at Nordelph. 62 km.

I do like the run-in to Kings Lynn from Stowbridge. The high bank of the Great Ouse provides some protection from the wind, and as you cycle along you can contemplate the fact that the road runs more or less along the zero contour, and many square kilometres of farmland in Marshland Fen to the west are below sea level.

At Wiggenhall St Germans, the route crosses the Great Ouse, and I stopped to take photos. The river was flat-flowing, muddy and turbid.

River Great Ouse at Wiggenhall St Germans. 77 km.

Wiggenhall St Germans. 77 km.

A couple of kilometres later the road crosses the parallel flood relief channel, which was built after the great flood of 1953. In combination with the Ouse cut-off channel, it takes waters from the Rivers Wissey, Lark and Little Ouse, preventing the Great Ouse from bursting its banks between Downham Market and King’s Lynn.

On the waters of the relief channel, there was a pair of great crested grebes doing their courtship dance, each one bobbing its head in turn.

Great Ouse relief channel, near Saddle Bow. 79 km.

At King’s Lynn Power Station, memorably described on the route sheet as a “large Chernobyl type building,” we turned left onto National Cycle Route 1, which runs along the bank of the relief channel to its confluence with the Great Ouse, and then along the riverbank, under the A17, across the outflows of the Rivers Nar and Gaywood, and into the historic centre of King’s Lynn. This is a much nicer place to control than in 2011, when we were directed to a Tesco superstore over on the east side of the city. Possibly the reason for this diversion was to make up a little extra distance: with Google Maps in “walking” mode, this year’s route comes in under distance at about 195 km by the shortest route. (Someone who actually rode the shortest route—making use of the A17, the A151, the A16—would have a miserable time and miss out on the best bits of the ride.)

River Great Ouse, approaching Kings Lynn. 82 km.

In King’s Lynn, there were some tempting cafés, but I could see that the next stage on the route was the ferry across the Great Ouse, and since the ferry runs every twenty minutes, I could save time by getting a take-away and eating it on the quay. In fact, it was only about five minutes before we could hear the ferry start its engines and begin to cross the river to us.

Waiting for the ferry to West Lynn. 85 km.

So strong was the flow of the river that the ferry had to come across crab-wise, with its bows pointed almost directly upriver, with a slight angle to ensure some sideways progress. There were six cyclists in the queue, and with some careful organization we managed to stow all six bicycles safely about the tiny ferry for the crossing.

Looking back at Kings Lynn. 85 km.

I looked at the time as I set out again from the ferry car park in West Lynn: it was 13:00, so I had averaged only 17 km/hour for the first five hours of the ride! But from here on, I didn’t have any trouble: my morale improved and even though there were a few more slow sections into the wind, I never doubted that I’d be able to finish.

Lighthouse at Guys Head, north of Sutton Bridge on the Nene Outfall Cut. 105 km.

From West Lynn the route ran west, parallel to the A17 on the old course of the road (now a decent cycle track), and crossed the Nene Outfall Cut on the old swing bridge at Sutton Bridge. Then it turned north and climbs onto the west embankment of the Nene: up here there was some difficult riding with the wind blowing straight off the North Sea. It was a huge relief to reach Holbeach St Matthew, turn to the southwest, and put the wind behind me for most of the rest of the ride. Now at last I could get into the big chainring and make some progress: there’s nothing better for morale than seeing the countryside going past at 35 km/h!

I stopped for a quick meal at Spalding and then set out on the best section of the ride, the cycle path that runs along the top of the dike on west bank of the River Welland. Here I was passed, for about the fourth time that day, by one of the riders who had towed me from Nordelph to Wiggenhall St Germans, and we chatted for a bit, but then I stopped at the bridge Crowland to take a last panorama, and he sped off towards Thorney.

The long B1040 from Crowland to Thorney to Ramsey St Mary’s was a bit of a drag as usual, but with the wind in the northeast it was not nearly so soul-destroying as it usually is. Nonetheless it was a relief to get off it and into the hills north of Huntingdon at Upwood. I say “hills” but the high point is at just 44 m near Sapley: nonetheless this seemed quite exciting after spending 150 km below the 10 m contour line!

River Welland near Crowland. 154 km.

I got to the finish at the George Hotel at 18:50. The hotel was also hosting a wedding reception—I wonder what they made of the stream of tired and dirty cyclists coming through the courtyard? I ordered a bowl of chips and chatted to a couple of audaxers who had come down from Sutton Coldfield, and then it was back on the busway to Cambridge. Along the way I surprised an unwary heron, and saw a barn owl sweeping low over the meadows. Home at 20:45, having cycled 265 km (165 miles).

Thursday, 17 April 2014

17 Apr: Thursday ride to Nuthampstead and Benington

Edward writes: When we gathered at Haslingfield Green it was under a clear blue sky with a slight breeze from the west and, at this hour, still a bit cool. The forecast, however, was for this to be a cloudy day and later on this proved to be the case. In the event twenty two arrived for the start of our trip out to Benington, which is close to Stevenage, with a coffee stop to Nuthampstead; today we welcomed Gregg who was making his debut as a Thursday rider.

Haslingfield

Averil was our leader for the day and she led us away in two groups out to Harston where we crossed the A10 and went over the hill into Newton. This lead us down the B1368 to the turning into Thriplow, scene of the recent daffodil weekend, and on to Fowlmere.

Newton

We crossed the A505 and came to Chrishall Grange which heralded the start of the day’s climbs as we approached Elmdon and the higher points of the county.

Great Chishill

As we passed through Great Chishill Sue came across a friend and decided to spend the day cycling with her whilst the rest of us now joined the undulating and very attractive ride to Shaftenhoe End. It was here that we passed bluebells growing in the woods which was in sharp contrast to the scene half a mile earlier where we passed a huge fly tip, which is a really dispiriting sight.

Bluebells, Shaftenhoe End

More hills and climbs with seas of the yellow oil seed rape either side of us brought us to The Woodman in Nuthampstead for our first break of the day. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, we could see no sign of the rhea which is on the loose in these parts and making a name for itself in the national media.

Nuthampstead

We were joined by a few more at Nuthampstead, including Myrtle and it was good to see her riding again. It was still sunny so most people sat outside and others who stayed inside took the opportunity to look at the fascinating photographs of the time the American Air Force flew form here during World War II. We left the pub and went via Anstey, but unfortunately missed a turning which meant we had to do half mile or so on the B1368 before regaining the road to Wyddial which soon took us to Buntingford.

Wyddial

Once through Buntingford we were back into the country again and passing through Aspenden, Westmill and Nasty on our way to Dane End. We were now travelling more or less in a southerly direction, and with the many hedgerows, the wind was not a real presence. With the turning to Whempstead we were now at our most southerly point and now we started to head in a more northerly direction with the prospect of the wind helping us home after lunch. The next couple of miles brought us to Benington and The Lordship Arms where we arrived at exactly 1 pm such was the precision of our leader’s planning!

Benington

When we arrived it was still fairly sunny which encouraged many to sit outside but during lunch the wind got up and the sun disappeared so we went back into the pub for a coffee or a beer. At 2pm we left Benington and made our way towards Walkern where Averil led us on an unmade road through the grounds of Walkern Hall before bringing us back on to the road which took us through Cromer, Rushden and Redhill, not quite as large as their namesakes. All this is delightfully rural and at was not long before we crossed the A505 for the last of the hills before entering Ashwell.

Ashwell

Here one or two succumbed to the prospect of a cream bun at the bakery and these were left to enjoy the fare as the rest pressed on to home. From Ashwell to Cambridge is a familiar track and we passed through Steeple Morden, Litlington, Bassingbourn, Meldreth, Shepreth and Barrington, for the really last climb of the day, over Chapel Hill and into Haslingfield and the ride’s end. Our thanks to Averil for a splendid ride which covered some roads not often visited; all this and 59 miles - a good day. Edward Elmer


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Wednesday, 16 April 2014

16 Apr: Evening ride to Newton

Nigel writes: A cool but bright and sunny evening brought out eight riders for this evening's ride: John, Paul, Gareth, Jim, Chris, Ian, Phil and me. We set off south from Brookside, following our usual route along the busway and the DNA path to Great Shelford. As ever, Gareth was in the mood for a fast ride so he was soon disappearing into the distance on his own. A short while later he was followed by Chris, also speeding into the distance.

Brookside

The rest of us continued south through Little Shelford, Whittlesford and Duxford. By the time I reached Ickleton we had divided once more, with Paul and John taking a short-cut, Jim stopping for a puncture, Conrad riding back to keep him company, and Phil, Ian and me pressing on over Coploe Hill for a loop round Catmere End and Littlebury Green.

The sun had set by the time we reached Elmdon and it was beginning to get quite cold. There we met John, Paul and Conrad, and a short while later we caught up with Chris and then Gareth. The final descent to Chrishall Grange and then along the flat to Fowlmere and Thriplow were conducted at a rapid pace.

We reached Newton at about 8.25pm, where we stopped for a drink at The Queen's Head. Jim was already there, so our group was now fully reunited once more.

After a mug of brown soup and a pleasant half hour in the pub we all returned home, most of us heading back to Cambridge via Little Shelford and Great Shelford. The temperature had fallen further and I put on my jacket. I arrived home at 9.30pm, having cycled 34 miles.


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Monday, 14 April 2014

West Wratting, Sunday 13th April 2014: After an afternoon tea of sandwiches and cake, the combined all-day and afternoon rides prepare to set off for home.