According to the Met Office a band of rain was due to pass over the region in the late morning, with the remainder of the day expected to be dry and bright but with wind all day. This was enough to put off quite a few of our regular riders and so there were only three of us waiting at Brookside for the 9am start, all carrying waterproofs: Joseph, Jacquie and me.
I led our small group south-west out of Cambridge along the Barton Road cycle track to Barton, where we turned off to Haslingfield. My route then took us over Chapel Hill to Barrington and then on to Shepreth and Fowlmere. It was dry, though puddles on the roads were evidence of overnight rain and the sky was ominous. Then the wind picked up which Joseph said meant that rain was imminent.
From Fowlmere we headed south-east to Chrishall Grange and then took the long climb up to Heydon. Somewhere along the way the rain started. Not especially heavy: but definitely a shower. From Heydon we continued to Great Chishill (above) and then down the hill to Shaftenhoe End and the left turn to Nuthampsted. These are lovely narrow lanes through wooded countryside (below), but since it was now raining steadily we were glad it was only a few miles further to the coffee stop.
After a short while we arrived at Barkway Golf Club. Here we met Mick, Adrian, Vic S and Doug who had arrived just before us. I ordered a hot chocolate and a Kit-Kat, and as we sat discussing our plans for the day it became clear that nobody else was planning to continue to lunch in Green Tye. We went back outside to find that the rain had stopped (never to return) and the sun had come out. Despite this, nobody would change their mind and so I alone cycled off to the south whilst others headed off either straight back to Cambridge or else for lunch at Clavering Lakes.
Although I was now riding on my own, this remained an official club ride and so I can write about it here. I had never been to Green Tye before. It is just west of Bishop's Stortford. I took a route via Anstey, Great Hormead and Little Hormead to Furneux Pelham, where I was amused by the inscription around the church clock.
From Furneux Pelham I continued south to Albury and Little Hadham and then, after crossing the A120, Much Hadham. This section of road forms an important north-south route for long distance cyclists (the London to Cambridge bike ride comes this way) and I passed a several oncoming cyclists, all of whom gave me a cheery greeting as we passed.
Doug had warned me that the pub at Green Tye wasn't anything special, so I decided to give it a miss and instead stopped at the shop in Much Hadham (open on Sundays) to buy sandwiches. Then I turned left to Perry Green and Green Tye, riding through an excellent ford on the way. At Perry Green I spotted a quiet churchyard with a bench and stopped there at about 1.20pm to eat my sandwiches.
After lunch I continued to Green Tye and passed the Prince of Wales Pub. As promised, it didn't look anything special and I didn't stop.
From Green Tye I continued east. I was south of Bishop's Stortford here, and this would be the most southerly part of my ride. I continued my loop round the south of Bishop's Stortford through Spellbrook and Great Hallingbury to Tilekiln Green, where I turned off the road and up a steep track to join the Flitch Way.
This is a former railway now converted into a path for cyclists, horseriders and walkers, and runs for most of the way from Bishop's Stortford to Braintree, with a gap at Great Dunmow. I only followed it for three miles to Takeley. The path is pleasant, almost totally enclosed in trees, especially when it passes the edge of Hatfield Forest to the south. You would hardly know there was a big road junction only a few jundred yards to the north, and a huge airport just beyond. However the surface is pretty poor and I was glad to return to asphalt at Takeley.
From here I turned north. A series of minor roads took me around the eastern edge of Stansted Airport, though the traffic levels were light and the airport almost completely invisible behind banks of woodland. At one point there was a gap in the trees and a side road led into the airport. Tempted, I followed it. Within about 20 yards I found myself on the big roundabout immediately south of the terminal building.
I was briefly tempted to visit the terminal and buy a coffee, but decided instead to take a quick photo of my bike and the return the way I had come. As I rode back through the gap in the trees, the airport disappeared as quickly as it had appeared.
I soon left the airport behind and was back on quiet rural roads. From Molehill Green I continued to Henham (apparently under threat of disappearing under a new town, according to local posters) and then passed under the motorway to Ugley, Ricking Green and Ricking.
I was on home ground now, thinking of tea. I continued through Wicken Bonhunt and Arkesden. From here the smart route would have been to drop down to Wendens Ambo and follow the Granta valley to Great Chesterford but instead I took a hillier route: the "transmitter road" over the hill to Littlebury Green and a further hill before dropping down to Littlebury and a final, fast burst along the main road (with the wind behind me at last) to Great Chesterford, where I found The Plough PH without difficulty, despite not having visited it with the club for several years, and arrived almost bang on time at 5pm.
At the pub I found quite a large group of riders from the club: eight from the afternoon ride and three who had come separately. Tea was served in a tiny room but was huge in quantity; we only ate about half the sandwiches and hardly any of the chicken drumsticks and sausages. Excellent value for £4.00.
After tea we returned to Cambridge. It was nice to be riding with a group once more, and with the evening sun now shining brightly and my companions setting a comfortable, sociable pace I had a very pleasant ride back through Ickleton, Hinxton (where we decided not to ride through the famously-slippery ford), Duxford and the familiar road through Whittlesford and the Shelfords. After taking the DNA path to Addenbrookes I was at home by 6.45pm, the sun still shining brightly.
Total mileage: 85 miles.