The day ride today was led by Mike Stapleton, whose vast knowledge of the lanes of the region meant that we were sure of a well-led and interesting ride on this warm and sunny summer Sunday.
There were six of us at Brookside, and Mike led the group south out of Cambridge through Trumpington to Great Shelford, where we turned right for Little Shelford and the road to Whittlesford. Just before we entered the village we took another right turn to skirt the western edge of the village and bring us to the A505 by the Hunts Road roundabout.
After crossing the A505 we continued to Duxford where we turned west onto Grange Road, which like its Cambridge namesake is long and straight, and along the southern side of Duxford airfield. From there it was a long but gentle climb up to Heydon and Great Chishill. After having gained all that height we lost it almost immediately, sweeping down the hill to Shaftenhoe End. After a pleasant meander through Nuthampsted we arrived at Barkway Golf Club. As we arrived a large contingent of riders from another club were leaving. Clearly the attractions of their 90p coffee are well-known to local cyclists.
After coffee Jim and Val headed home leaving four of us to continue to tea. Mike took us through Anstey and Brent Pelham to Stocking Pelham, where we met a large and sociable contingent from Lea Valley CTC who were heading for the same lunch stop as us. Together we rode on towards our lunch stop, chatting amiably. It wasn't far: south through Little Hadham (where we waited at the only traffic signal I know which bears a sign warning of a long wait for a green) to Much Hadham. Here Mike turned left and along a lovely wooded lane (which even some of the Lea Valley locals didn't know) and through a small ford to Perry Green. This was the home of the sculptor Henry Moore; we stopped to observe his grave in the churchyard where he is buried next to his wife Irina. In the photo, these are the graves nearest the camera.
From Perry Green it was only a few more minutes until we arrived at the Prince of Wales in Green Tye. Apparently this is a popular stop for local club cyclists (and the beer selection looked very tempting) but at the time we visited our two groups were just about the only people in the entire pub.
After a very satisfactory and cheap lunch we said goodbye to the Lea Valley riders and headed directly through the middle of Bishops Stortford to the little village of Birchanger, where Mike had a little research project planned for us.
According to our research, there was a cycle route from here to Stansted Airport though it was not shown on any of our maps. Our task was to try it out.
We found it easily: it was signposted as a bridleway (so legal to cycle on) but with nothing to say it was a cycle route, or to say where it led. We followed it anyway: it was pretty rough, with a loose surface. Just a bridleway, really. However it was perfectly cycleable and we followed it to a bridge over the M11.
After crossing the M11 the path divided. The main group waited whilst I headed south and explored a route which led under two slip roads and over the A120 to end on the B1256 Dunmow Road, the "old" A120. After returning to the main group we turned north and followed the other option. This soon turned into a proper cycle route with a tarmac surface and lots of blue signs and took us easily down to a small roundabout on the edge of the airport. From here another section of surfaced cycleway led towards the terminal but we didn't take it, instead heading north-west around the perimiter of the airport to Elsenham.
So: was this route much use as a route to the airport? Probably not. Was it useful as a route for other local journeys, avoiding the main roads and junctions in the area? Possibly so, but the surface is really not acceptable to the moment. These routes are shown on the map below.
View this GPS track in a larger map
From Elsenham the route became simple again, and Mike took us north and east through Widdington, Debden, Wimbish and Radwinter until we eventually arrived at Ashdon just after 4.30pm. Here we met the afternoon ride and a couple of other members who had ridden there directly, and we had a jolly time sitting in the sunshine drinking tea and enjoying home-made cakes.
After tea we returned to Cambridge as a single group. Nobody was feeling like going fast, so the whole group stayed together all the way back to Cambridge, riding at a gentle and sociable pace. The route we took was via Bartlow and Linton and the back road to Abington, where we crossed the A11 using the footbridge and a short section of rough track to Babraham.
Our final few miles back to Cambridge took us through Sawston and Stapleford and the DNA path back to Addenbrookes. I arrived home just before 7pm after spending this warm August day in the best way possible: cycling 82 miles.
View this GPS track on a larger map