Sunday, 29 May 2016

28 May: Sunday ride to Meesden, Much Hadham and Ickleton: A Day of Firsts

Greg writes: So, the day dawned dull – very dull. I switched out of shorts into longs and set off for Brookside in the early morning gloom and murk. The glories of May were ending and it was a Bank Holiday and the start of Half Term – of course the weather would disappoint!

On arrival at Brookside Greg looked eagerly around – where was the welcoming committee, the fanfare? Surely he was to be anointed with water from the Sacred Bidon? Would there be some ceremony or recognition for this being his First Ride As Leader? His wife had promised him sausages for tea so that was reason enough to be excited about the day!

There were some eight fellow riders – Rupert, Sheila, Mike CC, Sue, Peter, Eva, Ray and Li – but his arrival was met by warm greetings but no fanfare. Oh, well – let’s be off!

Ready for the off

We had gone but a few hundred yards when our ranks were swelled by Yasmin who swept up magisterially on her brand new bike – which was on its first big outing – both rider and machine seemed most happy!

Yasmin and her new bike

We turned down Barrow Road – how much had the house prices increased since last we passed this way, one wondered? The DNA path swept us past the Dubai of the Fens – the pace of development here being like that of the desert kingdom! Addenbrookes seemed much changed again with the progress on various major schemes continuing apace – a Crane Spotters dream!

At Shelford we opted for the second level crossing – and we managed to split the party at the crossing as the Stansted Express thundered through. It gave Mike CC an opportunity to explain something:

Mike CC explains

We soon resumed the trip – through the Shelfords and clipping Harston before ascending the first of many hills and we crested Newton Hill. A brief mechanical moment as Li had some gear change issues but Rupert pronounced ‘All Would Be Well’ and we resumed our way.

Through Fowlmere we swept and on to the A505. The traffic was heavier than usual for a Sunday morning – early arrivals for the airshow presumably (of which more later….) but we managed a safe passage over – all duly impressed at the ridiculously aggressive antics of a 4x4 driver alongside us who roared off – followed by our disdain!

We then headed South – hauling ourselves up the long drag towards the top of the ridgeway – some 2 miles of mainly uphill slog. This split the group somewhat. Those left back in the group may have assumed that Rupert’s impressive speed as he roared ahead was driven by an extra Weetabix for breakfast. It was proven false because on arrival at the layby at the top it was determined that the power pressing him on was liquid in nature – his bike was there but Rupert was not - though he soon emerged from his hedge...

Leader’s Treat: Sausage Traybake (see below)

6 sausages
4oz of Chorizo roughly chopped and spread around
2 onions
1x red pepper
Half an average butternut squash
12 French beans – topped and tailed
6 mushrooms
3 x tomatoes
2 x garlic cloves – crushed

Peel and roughly chop the veg.

Chop tomatoes into quarters

Chuck sausages on top

Put everything into a roasting tray. Drizzle with olive oil and mix coat all the elements.

Turn oven to 195C and cook on high for 30 minutes – turning everything once half way

Turn down to 170C for a further 30 minutes whilst you drink beer and reflect on what a fine thing a cycle ride is.

Eat with smiles as you look back at photos taken during the day

The group reformed and we had a chance to bemoan the weather further – some fiddling with layers since many had now warmed and Mike CC showed some impressive folding skills as he stowed one layer in his capacious pannier.

On then towards Heydon – the Road Closed signs were ignored since the route had been recce’d and the water main works would not impede cyclists. Work in the broadest sense of the word since none appears to have occurred in the last 10 days or so….

Straight on at Great Chishill and we were now really getting into the Hertfordshire countryside – evidenced not simply by the undulating nature of the lanes but more specifically by the marked improvement in the standard of the road surface. It comes as something when you can determine which county you are in by a simple pothole and surface analysis of a ten yard stretch of road….

We then turned left again and began the ascent of Nuthamstead Hill. Mike CC complained that this was an 11% hill and his legs were now only rated up to 9%....whilst Yasmin helpfully wondered "Hill, What Hill?" – clearly Mike CC needs one of those new bikes!

A few people now put more clothes on – another First for people to be adding layers at the top of the hill since the weather was gloomy and dull. Greg insisted that he had spoken to the weather gods and the sun would be appearing at 12.15. Much doubt ensued. He had, however, successfully liaised with Conrad who now swept up to join the group – another First since this was the leader of the afternoon ride coming out to greet the morning ride before returning to Cambridge for his pm stint.

Greg had hinted earlier at some sort of flying display he was organising (?) and we were greeted to the strange sight (another First?) of a buzzard being mobbed by a smaller but far more aggressive crow. The buzzard retired from the scene of battle whilst we all looked on as we cycled past – not a bad flying display but Greg insisted that better was planned…

On we went – the gloomy weather failing to dampen the mood as we wound our way through various villages towards the coffee stop at Meesden – arriving a couple of minutes after 11am to see Ed, Adrian, Ian, Joseph and co. already ensconced.

Chaos at coffee

Rupert, not satisfied with just three Weetabix (see earlier) had taken the precaution of not only arranging for the village hall committee to open the café for us but had also pre-booked bacon sandwiches and chocolate brownies. He declared both to be most satisfactory!

Adrian made his exit quietly and after various shenanigans we managed to reform the main group that was destined for lunch and waved off some returners – Mike CC and Sue setting off together to be replaced in the main group by Dave W and Susan who had just arrived. Ian and Joseph now also joined the larger group and we all headed towards lunch.

The wind had picked up somewhat and the gloom remained – were things getting worse? Greg insisted that both sunshine and wind shift had been pre-booked and although we had the benefit of the wind now it would not be a major problem for the return leg after lunch. Cynicism abounded – especially when he also claimed that in recognition of the importance of CTC he had also organised a Red Arrows flypast at 5pm. Ah, the much promised flypast. Cynicism in the group grew….

Most ignored these ridiculous claims and simply enjoyed a glorious stage of cycling though many lovely villages and even one Nasty one!

A pretty nasty cottage

The route wound through the lanes, down through Buntingford and on past the Catholic Public School before plunging down the gravelly by-road that took us to the ford in Standon. The bridge was used by all – Yasmin ensuring her bike remained pristine throughout. Greg leapt off his bike to take a photo – and Sheila announced she was satisfied since she was concerned that there would be no photos of the day….she clearly wanted some kind of pictorial record that she had been on the trip!

Standon ford

We then headed uphill (again!) as we made the final 3 miles to Much Hadham. This was a glorious stretch of cycling and thanks go to Rupert for plotting such a good route.

Just before Much Hadham we passed through Gravesend and then Bromley. Ed wondered if we had gone to Kent by mistake? It appeared not, though Greg helped cheer people up by shouting "Sun" loudly; some were confused, but the shadows supported his assertion that, although circa 40 minutes after when he had booked it, it had arrived – fashionably late, one might say.

Lunch was at Hopley’s in Much Hadham. We arrived to find Adrian (or was it his twin? How does he do it?) already there and polishing off a bowl of soup.

Adrian again

Rupert gave close attention to the quality of the soup and then analysed the menu before placing his order with young Tom, the waiter, who was apologising that because of the sudden rush indoors the food might be up to 45 minutes in coming out.

Rupert is always well-prepared for a potential crisis such as this, and notwithstanding his previous efforts at coffee, he went and found his "emergency contingency sandwich": a monster doorstep of a baguette. This was enough to tide him over until his actual lunch arrived.

Taking Rupert's order

Rupert after two lunches

We passed a pleasant hour or so chatting at lunch. Adrian disappeared somewhere during this phase whilst Li set off to peruse the attractive gardens. Most enjoyed the sunshine and the dropping wind (yes, it was getting quite pleasant) and Eva decreed that this was just the sort of weather that called for a glass of wine. She was right!

Sheila getting ready for her photo

We set off after lunch to make the Northerly trip back towards Cambridge – with the sun shining and spirits raised. The wind, whilst there, seemed not to be the bother that some had feared – wind shift and reduction delivered as promised...

Leaving lunch

Onwards we went – Little Hadham and the Pelhams were ahead and after a brief delay when Greg faffed around with sheets of paper and maps he then came to the conclusion that it was a left to Brent Pelham after all….
We sped along happily enjoying the sight of multiple kites and spring in all its glory as we headed towards the last two hills of the day – into Elmdon and then the final ascent back out the other side….
We hauled ourselves up into Elmdon – legs now feeling the effects of the accumulated effort of hills and wind – apart from Yasmin who bounded along still!
In Elmdon we once again met Conrad – this time with his crew of four – the afternoon ride.

Conrad reappears

Such planning and minute perfect scheduling! Was it another first to have been met twice when out on the route by the same person?
We headed out of Elmdon on the long leisurely glide down – and the knowledgeable knew that another vicious little kick-up awaited – which we all successfully crested before sweeping down towards Ickleton.

At the bottom of the hill there was some re-jigging. Rupert headed back to Cambridge – an early dinner awaited, no doubt…..whilst Yasmin and some others were also homeward bound. The remainder headed towards the Ickleton Riverside Café where Adrian was sitting awaiting our arrival. How does he do it??

Perhaps Adrian – or his twin – needs a white cat to be upon his lap being stroked for these moments – where we all arrive and he pronounces ‘Ah, CTC, I have been expecting you!’

We had a very pleasant 30 minutes or so – Sheila insisting on more photos – before we then set off towards home. The sun was out, the spirits were up – and yet there remained doubts from some over the much vaunted fly past….

Sheila smiles

After some discussion Ray headed off to lead the route through the pretty village of Hinxton and over the ford there, after which we crossed the A505 for a second time (this time with no delay) before continuing on our way home through Whittlesford. Greg and Dave W departed at the junction just after this, leaving the remainder of the group to be led by back to Cambridge by Conrad.

Almost as soon as Greg and Dave W had turned away from the main group the heavens were rent asunder by the sound of a low flying jet roaring overhead, smoke streaming astern. The Red Arrows had arrived on cue and they swooped and circled over Duxford – it was another first to have a CTC flypast to help celebrate what had been a glorious late spring ride.

CTC flypast, as seen from my bike

Those taking the full route back to Cambridge would have done 75 miles, with over 2000 foot of climbing, a great effort and an enjoyable day. Greg celebrated his own personal first, the leadership of a CTC ride, with sausages for dinner. Rupert (and others) may want the recipe, so I've provided it above!Greg Tucker

Download GPS track (GPX).

Thursday, 26 May 2016

26 May: Thursday ride to Ashwell and Ardeley

Edward writes: Our last Thursday ride in this glorious month of May brought us to Haslingfield and Brookside in a coolish morning but the promise of an improvement as the day went along. In fact this is how it turned out as by coffee time the clouds had started to disperse, the sun came out and the temperature went up all with the added bonus of very little wind.

In Haslingfield we started with thirteen riders, whilst over at Brookside with Sarah leading they had ten. With the staggered start we would be unlikely to overwhelm Days Bakers at Ashwell with twenty-five or more arriving for coffee. Nevertheless we took the precaution of telling them to expect us.


From Haslingfield we got the blood flowing by climbing up Chapel Hill and down into Barrington for a brief stop to reassemble. We took a direct route out through Shepreth and Meldreth and then the climb up to Kneesworth for the run into Bassingbourn.


We took the much more attractive road via Abington Piggots to reach Litlington and the climb up to Steeple Morden.

Abington Pigotts

By this time the sun was beginning to make its appearance as the clouds dispersed, and so we came into Ashwell more or less under blue skies at 10.45am, ahead of the Brookside contingent who arrived a few minutes later.


Ashwell is a lovely village and we took our drinks and cakes under the new tree which was planted a few years ago to replace the old ash tree in the same spot. Also, on the other side of the road, is a lovely cottage garden where quite a few sat with their coffees.



After coffee it seemed that we would have about sixteen or seventeen for the trip down to Ardley Farm which is about ten miles further on. We successfully split into two groups and set off out of Ashwell with the climb into open, rolling countryside and down to the A505.

Approaching the A505 from Ashwell

For almost the entire journey down to Ardley Farm we would be travelling due south as we passed through the villages (town names elsewhere) of Redhill, Rushden and Cromer. At Cromer, the lead group at least, turned to take the road past Cromer Windmill and shortly after we came to Ardley Farm, arriving at 12.30pm. This allowed us a long pleasant lunch break with the usual arrangement of sandwiches outside and light meals ordered from the menu.

Lunch at Ardeley Farm

By now it was quite hot and Mike CC took advantage with a quick nap to prepare himself for the journey home...


By 1.40pm we left Ardley Farm, again in two groups and they were never to see each other again so hopefully they both went the same way! We in the second group went first to a tiny hamlet called Hare Street (yes, another one) and then to Cottered where we joined the A507 for two or three miles to take us into Buntingford. Once we had negotiated the small country town we were on the climb up to Wyddial travelling through beautiful countryside where the hedgerows were full of gorgeous blossom as in fact they had been all day.


We crossed the B1368 and went on more narrow lanes to Anstey, Nuthamstead, Shaftenhoe End and Great Chishill. This left us to finish the ride via Heydon and the descent to Chrishall Grange, Fowlmere, Thriplow and Newton where David W, Mike CC, Sheila and Mia left us. By the time they reached Haslingfield they would have completed 53 miles with the ride finishing at 4pm

This was great way to finish off May with a lovely ride in near-perfect weather and thanks to Sarah for leading the Brookside ride and best wishes to Belinda who was unwell and unable to lead from Haslingfield. Edward Elmer

Download GPS track (GPX).

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

25 May: Evening ride to Quy

Nigel writes: It was unusually cold this evening - about 10C, cold enough for me to wear the winter jacket and longs that I had not expected to use again until the autumn. However, despite the chilly temperature and the dull, overcast sky, the weather was dry with virtually no wind. Only one other rider joined me at Brookside, Neil, though I also received a message from Conrad telling us he'd join us along the way.

So Neil and I set off from Brookside and made our way down Hills Road to Addenbrooke's and over the Gogs to Fulbourn, where we were joined by Conrad. From there we continued through the Wilbrahams to Six Mile Bottom.

We last came this way on an evening ride to Quy a month ago. On that occasion our route from Six Mile Bottom involved turning south and climbing Chilly Hill to Lark Hall before turning back north to Dullingham. However that route had got us to the pub slightly late, so today I skipped that loop and we took the shorter route, directly up Brinkley Hill as far as the Woodland Cemetery and then left towards Dullingham.

Conrad and Neil at Cemetery Crossroads

This shorter route meant we had no need to rush and we could cycle at a moderate pace, chatting as we rode along. From Dullingham we continued our anticlockwise loop through Swaffham Bulbeck and Bottisham, arriving at The White Swan in Quy slightly early at 8.20pm.

After a typically pleasant and sociable three-quarters of an hour in the pub, enjoying food, drink, and tales of Conrad's experience in the military, we set off back to Cambridge. I arrived home at 9.50pm, having cycled 30 miles. Nigel Deakin

Download GPS track (GPX).

Sunday, 22 May 2016

22 May: Cambridge Suffolk Eye-full 200 Perm Audax

Nigel writes: I'm continuing to work my way through the excellent series of local Audax routes designed by Nick Wilkinson and described on the Cambridge Audax website. Today I rode the Cambridge Suffolk Eye-full 200 Perm. A group of other CTC Cambridge members rode this in February (in distinctly challenging winter conditions). Alex's report of that eventful ride is here.

I had originally planned to do this ride on Monday 23rd and had arranged with three other members to do that. However, following a poor weather forecast, and a late-night panic by me on Saturday, I decided to ride a day early. This meant that John and David couldn't make it (which makes me feel slightly guilty), but Camille was able to change her plans at the last minute to join me.

For a general explanation of what a "permanent Audax" is, please read the first few paragraphs of this ride report. But all that really matters is that we were heading east on a 215km (133 mile) circular route from Cambridge, riding deep into Suffolk for a lunch stop in Eye before returning back home by a more southerly route. Nick has written an evocative description of the route on his page for the Cambridge Suffolk Eye-full 200 Perm.

Cambridge City Centre was deserted at 7am on a Sunday morning

I've found that an early start works best for such a long ride, and so it was 7am when Camille and I met by the NatWest Bank in St Andrew's Street for the start of our ride. After a brief discussion about the route, and likely eating places, we took turns to use the ATM to get receipts, and then set off on our way.

The weather forecast for this weekend had been changing constantly; on the days approaching the ride I visited the BBC weather page for Cambridge many times, and seeing a totally different forecast every time. Last night's forecast had predicted a few showers at the start followed by a dry but dull day, but in the event the weather we much better than that, a pleasantly warm, dry day, frequent sunny intervals interrupting the cloud cover, and a very light, 5mph westerly wind.

The first stage of today's ride was a 29 mile run east to Glemsford, along what for me was a familar route. With high spirits, almost empty roads and a very slight tailwind we took this at a fairly fast lick: Camille is used to quick, short rides with a local triathlon club and would probably have gone even faster if she had not been with me.

We reached Glemsford just after 9am and paid a visit to the Post Office and Store to make a purchase and obtain receipts. I started to explain to the friendly shopkeeper why we needed receipts but she was familar with the phenomenon, remarking that a larger group had passed through recently doing the same thing.

Second control at Glemsford

We didn't stop in Glemsford for long, because I knew that a further 8 miles along the route would be a much better place to stop for our first extended break. So we carried on, retracing our route back out of Glemsford before turning north-east towards Boxted, Hartest and Hawstead.

So far the ride had been delightful and I found myself beaming with pleasure. And why not? We had perfect weather, lovely countryside, and I was speeding along smooth, empty roads on my superb new bike.

Between Hartest and Hawstead

Today's ride was also offering me an additional pleasure: the previous day I had spent an hour changing my saddle. Gone was the super-light Bonotrager plastic saddle which had made me ache after 80 miles on previous rides, replaced by the much-loved Brooks B17 leather saddle that I had been using with my Airnimal for the past few years.

Hawstead is the location of the celebrated Maglia Rosso cycle shop and cafe, and since our route went right past we stopped here for breakfast. This was my first visit. It opens at 9am every day of the week, and at 9.30am we seemed to be the first customers there. I ordered beans on toast, Camille ordered scrambled eggs on toast, and we spent a very pleasant half hour or so relaxing in the sunshine.

Breakfast at Maglia Rosso, Hawstead

Maglia Rosso, Hawstead

Although I had not been here before, this cafe is an established summer lunch stop for CTC Cambridge, and we will be visiting there very soon, on Sunday 12th June.

As we ate our breakfast more cyclists arrived, but it was time for us to leave and after a brief visit to their surprisingly large cycle shop we set off once again. We rode through the middle of Hawstead, and my attention was caught by a striking set of Almshouses. The Philip Metcalfe who erected them, and whose name is proclaimed on the front of the building, was no doubt from the same family that gave its name to the Metcalfe Arms, the former pub which is now Maglia Rosso.

Almshouses in Hawstead

Hawstead is on the periphery of the range of normal CTC Cambridge rides, so from now on I had the additional pleasure of riding on completely unfamilar roads. The scenery flattened out, with both of us still riding strongly as we continued north-east for another couple of hours towards Eye.

We reached Eye at about 11.50am. This was our third control, and we visited Barclays Bank to obtain ATM receipts. Eye is a small place, and on a Sunday almost everywhere was closed, but directly opposite Barclays Bank was another bank which had been converted into a small arts centre and cafe. This was called, appropriately, The Bank. I went in to investigate. It did indeed feel like a traditional banking interior with most of the fittings removed. I had been a bit concerned about leaving the bikes outside, so when I spotted a couple of bikes in the corner I asked the waitress whether we could bring ours in too, and she readily agreed. So we wheeled our bikes inside, parked them behind a screen where, no doubt, bank staff once sat, and sat down to order our lunch.

Cycle parking in The Bank, Eye

The menu looked just fine for touring cyclists, with lots of light options, but neither of us were particular hungry and ordered omelettes and salad. This took rather a long time to arrive, and the waitress apologised repeatedly for the delay, but when our meals were eventually served they were very nice. However the extended wait meant that it was not until 1pm that we were ready to continue with our ride.

It was now time to turn back towards Cambridge. We were now riding into the wind, but it was very light and as the afternoon progressed its speed dropped until it became unnoticeable. We agreed that we still had a long way to go and we should moderate our pace and conserve our strength. However, although my legs were happy for a rest, Camille was clearly still full of beans and took the lead for long periods, inadvertently setting a slightly faster pace than I would have chosen but allowing me to draft along behind.

After about two hours we reached Lavenham. I had earmarked this for another cafe stop, and we parked our bikes in the Market Place and went into the National Trust tea shop at the Guildhall. However neither of us was actually hungry; I picked my way through a slice of carrot cake and Camille had nothing. Next time I would probably skip the cafe and just sit in the Market Place.

Market Place, Lavenham, with Guildhall Tea Rooms behind

We reached the final control of the ride (apart from the one at the end) about an hour later. This was Great Yeldham, and we visited the nearer of its two small shops to make token purchases and obtain receipts. Camille was feeling slightly unwell and we sat down to rest at a bench nearby.

The final stage from Great Yeldham back to Cambridge was 28 miles and for me was on fairly familar roads. My legs were beginning to recover, and after having plodded a little earlier I was now riding more strongly again. However Camille was beginning to suffer the beginnings of a cold and I found myself in front for most of the way home.

We followed Nick's route back through Stambrook and the Bumpsteads, climbing up to about 120m at Castle Camps before dropping back down to 60m at Bartlow. Here we turned north and climbed back up to Balsham before our final descent to Fulbourn and Cambridge.

Today's ride had been flatter than I had expected, with (perhaps surprisingly) the biggest climbs of the day being quite close to Cambridge: the climb from Six Mile Bottom to Brinkley at the beginning, and this climb to Balsham right near the end.

After a reasonably fast descent from Balsham to Fulbourn we completed the final five miles into Cambridge via Fulbourn Old Drift, The Tins and Mill Road rather than by the busier (but easier to describe) route on the route sheet. We arrived back at NatWest in St Andrew's Street at 6.30pm. Our official time for the ride, including all stops, was 11 hours 34 minutes.

Hero of the ride: my well-broken-in Brooks B17 saddle. Absolutely no discomfort, but a bit squeaky

After parting company from Camille I rode the final mile home, arriving a few minutes later and having cycled a total of 135 miles.

Today had been yet another superb ride. The route had been delightful, with pleasant countryside and remarkably empty roads almost all the way round. The weather had been warm and sunny, with plenty of cloud to prevent the sun becoming a burden. And a fast and amiable cycling companion. Today was Camille's first Audax, and today's 130 miles was more than twice the length of her previous longest ride. Well done, and welcome to our small band of CTC Cambridge audaxers! Nigel Deakin

This is Nigel's GPS track. GPS and TCX files for this route can be downloaded from the CamAudax site here