Sunday, 26 April 2009

26 April: Afternoon ride to Connington

Today was another warm and sunny day in the mini-heatwave we have been enjoying for a week or two (and which the forecasters tell us will end soon). So it was no surprise to see a good turnout at Brookside this afternoon: nine riders in all, including at least one (very welcome) new face.

Ian led us west out of Cambridge to Barton. The Barton Road cycle track seemed busier than usual, with quite a few family groups out (like us) for an afternoon ride. At Barton we took the road to Haslingfield and then turned right to Harlton.

We continued through Harlton to the Eversdens and Kingston, and then on to Bourn where we turned into Caxton End, a little lane famous for having no fewer then three fords along it. One ford was dry; the other two were wet but shallow and straightforward to cycle through.

We continued through Caxton to Great Gransden. There Ian contemplated his options and the amount of time available, and decided to take us on a lovely little loop via Waresley and Abbotsley before steering a course north towards Croxton and our ultimate destination.

After crossing the A428 at Croxton we continued north to Graveley in between huge open fields of bright yellow oilseed rape. Beyond Graveley we turned towards Hilton and Fenstanton, and the landscape changed slightly: the fields turned green again and the road became bordered by lines of trees that cast lovely shadows from the warm afternoon sun. We were all enjoying what was turning out to be a excellent afternoon's cycling, in almost perfect conditions.

Eventually, at 5pm exactly, we arrived at Connington and the White Swan where we met a handful of riders from the day ride, plus George and Peter who had come directly. We went inside and, as usual here, a splendid feast was waiting for us.

We filled our plates with as much food as they could carry and then returned back outside to eat it in the sunshine.

After tea we split into separate groups as usual. I led a group of four on a fairly direct, but partially off-road, route back to Cambridge. We cycled along the road to Boxworth where we turned off along a bridleway that took us to Lolworth. This was bumpy in places but dry and not too difficult enough to ride along, so long as you were prepared to go slowly. And of course riding across the middle of fields was delightfully peaceful.

At Lolworth we rode through the isolated little village and then went off-road once again, taking the footpath to Bar Hill. Signs explain that cycling along this public footpath is allowed by "local cyclists" only. Well, we're from Cambridge. That's local. The path is loose gravel and quite tricky to cycle along: you get the feeling that one mistake could bring you off.

It was a relief to arrive at Bar Hill. (That's not a sentence you'll read very often). We rode along the boundary road to the other side of the village where we went off-road yet again, taking the bridle path to Dry Drayton. This has a proper surface suitable for cycling, and a series of pinch stiles to discourage motor cycles was only a minor inconvenience.

After Dry Drayton it was back on the road to Madingley and then past the American Cemetery to Coton, where we joined to Coton path into Cambridge.

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(Compare this with our previous ride to Connington on 15th March)

I was back in Cambridge just before 7pm. It was still sunny and warm. And it's still only April. Total distance: 47 miles.

26 April: Day ride to Melbourn, Hinxworth and Connington

Mike Stapleton writes: I joined the day ride at Phillimore Garden Centre, Melbourn for coffee. The cafe has been revamped and is rather nice. The prices have gone up a tad but are still very competitive. The location is far better than the rival Royston Garden Centre nearby and the staff are really friendly. We sat outside in the sunshine. Adrian brought the ride in from Cambridge and John and Greta arrived independently.

Adrian had a job to get us moving again but finally we set off and went via Shepreth and Meldreth. We passed the stocks at Meldreth but fortunately no one was being pilloried. Then on using the usual route to Ashwell where we skirted round the back by the Mill. We went out on the little lane which leads past Bluegate Farm and on to Hinxworth where we turned left. We had lunch at Farrowby's Farm Centre which we haven't visited for some time. It was good with a selection of main courses at reasonable prices. The staff were a bit doubtfull about the riders who were only buying drinks but as their trade was poor they regarded us as worth having. The garden area is very pleasant on a lovely sunny day. We watched several small animals and birds in the cages at the side.

After lunch people started breaking away and heading home independently, which I think is a shame, as the afternoon part of the ride is usually the best part - when we get to ride in new places. It seems to be a reflection on the extemely busy lives people lead these days. Today we were in a very relaxed mood and enjoyed the scenery and the sunshine. There was very little wind and the temperature was just right. We went up the lane past the TV transmitter at Sandy and then followed the path to Everton. The bluebells are just coming out in the woods at the top of the hill. Inevitably we got tempted by the cafe at Waresley and had yet another cup fof tea in the sunshine.

After tea we carried on through Great Grandsden and Caxton. Passing Caxton I asked if we could try the cycleway from Caxton Gibbet to the Elsworth Road. It's a very pleasant cycleway, some distance from the road. It will be really nice in a few years time when the trees have grown up between it and the road. Passing Elsworth we realised we had timed it all to perfection and had just ten minutes to get to tea which we did easily.

Tea was at the Swan at Conington. By the time the afternoon ride and a couple of independent riders had arrived we had fourteen, which is a good turn out. Sarah, the Publican's wife, had done us a great spread of sandwiches and delicious home made cakes. We were able to use the tables outside in the sunshine. A truey glorious ending to a near perfect day. I was very happy to thank Sarah for her efforts. Many thanks to Adrian for a first class ride to lovely places. Mike Stapleton.

Photos by Gareth Rees. Licence: Creative Commons CC-BY-SA v2.0

Sunday, 19 April 2009

19 April: Afternoon ride to Litlington

Today was warm and sunny, so there was a good turnout at Brookside for today's afternoon ride. Today's leader was David S. He took the eight of us across Lammas Land to Newnham and then along the Barton Road cycle track out of Cambridge.

After two or three miles we arrived at Barton, where we rejoined the road and turned left to Haslingfield. At Haslingfield we turned towards Barrington and engaged low gear for the short but steep climb of Chapel Hill. Descending to Barrington on the other side I achieved a speed of 37mph, my first intimation of a northerly wind that would accompany us for the remainder of the afternoon.

From Barrington we continued to Shepreth. Here a small breakaway group, led by Jacob, separated from the main group to take another route. The main group continued to Meldreth where we took the road (above) to Malton and Orwell. Just before Orwell we passed a small monument by the side of the road marking the Greenwich Meridian and denoting our transition into the western hemisphere. A check of my GPS gadget showed a longitide of 0.0012 degrees.

We continued through Orwell to Wimpole Hall, where we rode through the estate and enjoyed fine views of the hall.

After leaving the Wimpole estate we crossed the A1198 and rode through the village of Croydon. At a junction beyond Croydon we stopped to review our progress. We were quite close to Litlington but it was only 3.50pm, giving us just over an hour until tea. We therefore decided to put in a loop and so turned up Croydon Hill to East Hatley and Hatley St George. A couple of miles beyond Hatley St George we turned left onto a bridleway track which took us into Cockayne Hatley Wood. Although unsurfaced and a bit rough in places this track was dry and easy to ride along and we had a beautiful ride (below) to the mysterious isolated hamlet of Cockayne Hatley where we were able to return to smooth tarmac.

From here it was a short and straightforward ride to Wrestlingworth, Guilden Morden and Steeple Morden, arriving for tea at The Crown, Litlington at about 4.55pm.

At tea we were reunited with Jacob's breakaway group and the remnants of the day ride. The food was excellent and abundant and I hungrily tucked in, eating rather too many almond slices than was perhaps wise.

After tea we returned directly to Cambridge via Bassingbourn, Kneesworth, Meldreth and the reverse of our route out. There was a steady headwind but we made good progress, arriving back in Cambridge at about 6.50pm.

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This was easily the warmest and sunniest afternoon's riding we have had this year. Total mileage: 45 miles.

19 April: Day ride to Reed, Bennington and Litlington

Mike Stapleton writes: The day dawned cloudy but bright, with quite a strong north-easterly breeze. Initially it was quite cold, but the day clearly had great promise. I started out from home south of Cambridge to catch the club at the Silver Ball Cafe at Reed. It was quite a climb up to Barkway and although I had done well up until the last hill I then found I was struggling. Then I discovered I was pushing the big ring so the legs are all right - just the head is a bit suspect.

We all met up at the cafe where there was also the usual crowd of motor cyclists. With tea and cakes this was a welcome break. Afterwards about half the riders went home.

Ian then led us down the little lane in the valley and up over the hills to Sandon. We noted a goose sunning itself in the lee of the phone box. Then up and over the ridge to Cromer where we had a great view of the windmill. Next stop was Walkern but Ian pulled a fast one on us and we went left up the hill to Bassus Green. Google has not found out about Bassus Green yet. Then along the farm track to Bennington.

We had our sandwiches by the village pond and watched a duck leading her family into a local garden. The location was just beautiful: what can be better than a quintessential English village scene in springtime? After eating we adjourned to the Bell for a drink. It is still a nice pub but does not seem to be doing very well. The food menu seemed a bit limited though the prices appeared to be about normal.

We lost another half of our riders at this point who all needed to get home early. So it was a much depleted band that headed south through woods carpeted with bluebells to Whepsted before heading north east through Nasty to Buntingford where we had a leisurely stop to fix a puncture.

Buntingford was quiet: the sunshine made it look inviting. We had to carry on and went back up into the hills to Sandon where we found the goose still sunning itself by the phone box. From here we headed over the A505 towards Ashwell. There are glorious views over Ashwell and the surrounding countryside just before you drop down into the village.

Then back to Litlington and the Crown pub which had a great tea waiting for us. The afternoon ride arrived right on time and we had a great gathering over tea.

After tea there was the usual rush to get off back to Cambridge. All in all a memorable day of spring with birds singing everywhere and flowers blooming along the side of the lanes. Mike Stapleton.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

12 April: Day ride to Great Saling and West Wratting

Mike Stapleton writes: We had a good turn out for today's day ride to Andrews Field at Great Saling, in spite of it being a rather dull morning. In fact by the time we got to Coploe Hill the mist was down to a couple of hundred feet at the top of the hill. A typical east coast "har", as the people in Hull call it. It kept the temperature down and reduced the view from the top of the hill. We carried on regardless and dropped down to Audley End where Lord Braybrook was getting the railway ready for visitors.

Then up and over the hill by the water tower, and on over the hills to the Debden turn where we went left up the hill to the Spar Shop at the Carver Barracks. John T told us about this. It is very good - a proper shop, open on Sundays, with a really good coffee machine and a place to sit down and drink it.

After coffee, several members set off for home but the majority headed off along the main road to Thaxted. In fact it wasn't too busy and as it's an easier route then the one through Debden we made very good progress. In fact I was told off for going too fast (well, there is a long downhill section...).

We continued through Thaxted and on to the little road leading south to Duton Hill. A sign warned us that it might be closed but as usual it wasn't. Then up through Duton Hill and through the lanes to Stebbing. Here I asked the group they wanted to continue via the road or the track but no one answered, so I took the road.

We arrived at Andrews Field at 1 pm where we were welcomed. It appears there was no flying due to the low cloud. Lunch in the cafe was as good as always and was very reasonably priced.

After lunch about half of the riders set off to return home while the remainder headed out into deepest Essex and Suffolk. We rode along some fantastic lanes on the way to Shalford and I even found us a shallow ford to ride through. We continued down towards Dunmow before turning east and north. I mistakenly carried on at Blackmore End but fortunately Joseph spotted my error and pointed out the right route at the Wethersfield Road.

We then headed through Stanbourne and over the hills to Wixhoe and Kedington. I was quite sure we had plenty of time but I was wrong. Those miles near home on familiar roads always seem to take longer. Anyway we made it in time for tea at West Wratting - but only just. At the Chestnut Tree we met the afternoon ride, and together there were 13 at tea. Tea was very good, as usual here.

After tea I had a relatively leisurely ride home and with a slight following wind it was quite easy. After a while I noticed that I was approaching the magic 100 miles, which really lifted my spirits for the final few miles.

Today was an excellent ride in the country on the day ride can reach. The afternoon section was particularly good as we all rode well together. Thanks to everyone for a great ride. Mike Stapleton.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

5 April: Day ride to Wicken, Prickwillow and Balsham

Bob Billingham writes: Despite it being a fine day there were only two other cyclists plus at Brookside for the all-day ride: Joseph and Mick C.

We set off over Parker's Piece and across Midsummer Common, following NCR 51 to Quy except for a diversion via Fen Ditton and High Ditch Lane. From Quy we took the road to Anglesey Abbey. Just beyond it we turned left into the village of Lode proper and out of it again at the other end. Then we took a right turn down a surfaced lane leading to a further right turn along a rough section of farm track where we met the start of a new route for cyclists and walkers, all nicely surfaced leading to a new bridge.

After riding over the bridge we picked up the drove road which meanders round to Upware. After going throuh the village we followed the main road to Wicken where we turned down the lane that leads to the fen.

At the cafe at the Visitors' Centre we met Adrian, Vic and John T. After some welcome refreshments we continued north along NCR 11, eventually reaching the pleasant riverside cycle path which took us to Ely.

At Ely, John left us to catch a train home from the nearby station. The rest of us crossed the A142 and took the road to Queen Adelaide where we turned right for Prickwillow. Here we had some more refreshments at the very interesting Drainage Engine Museum.

After lunch, we bought tickets and toured the museum, leaving at 2 pm for the long haul to Balsham. We took the route over Great Fen, which for a change was not very windy. We passed through Isleham and continued through Chippenham, Kentford, Moulton, Gazely, Ashley, Cheveley, Stetchworth and Dullingham, West Wratting arriving eventually at Balsham for tea at The Bell.

After tea I returned home to Cambridge. Total mileage: 69 miles. Bob Billingham

5th April: Afternoon ride to Balsham

Today was another warm and sunny spring afternoon, and so we had a good turnout for the start at Brookside: Simon, Mike Sl, Mike K, Alison, Gareth, Jacob and me.

I led the group across Parker's Piece, onto Midsummer Common (where we were joined by David S) and east out of Cambridge along the river to Fen Ditton and Quy. Just beyond Quy (below) we made a right turn onto the long straight road that leads to Little Wilbraham and Six Mile Bottom.

At Six Mile Bottom we turned left onto the main road for half a mile before tuning right once more onto an unsurfaced byway that leads to a manually-operated level crossing, with red and green lights telling road users when it is safe to cross.

At the crossing we stopped and waited for Jacob and Mike Sl , who had separated from the main group at Little Wilbraham to take an alternative off-road route, to rejoin us. Whilst we were waiting, Mike C from Burwell came past on his mountain bike.

After Jacob and Mike arrived we carried on. Beyond the railway crossing the track becomes a road again; a lovely, quiet road (below) which we followed all the way up to Westley Waterless.

At Westley Waterless we turned right to Brinkley through which we passed on the way to Carlton and Carlton Green. Somewhere along the way we met the a large group from what I think was the Veteran's Cycling Club. Amongst the passing riders we spotted Ian W.

At Carlton Green we were only a few miles from the tea stop, but with over an hour left we decided to take a big loop to the east. This took us along to Little Thurlow along another of the nicest narrow lanes in the area. Then we followed the main road for a short distance to Great Thurlow where we turned back to Withersfield and West Wickham.

From West Wickham (above) it was only a short descent followed by a final short climb to Balsham, where we stopped for tea at the Bell PH.

Waiting outside the pub we found George who had come on his own. After a few minutes we were joined by Bob, Adrian, Mick and Joseph from the day ride as well as Steve who had also ridden out separately.

After tea we had a short, fast and mostly downhill ride back to Cambridge.
Total distance: 40 miles.

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