Sunday, 16 May 2010

16 May: Day ride to St Ives, Glatton and Hemingford Abbots

Tim Holmes writes: My first day ride started with a dash down to Brookside in order to make the starting time of 9am. I was greeted by several cyclists whom I assumed were all seasoned day riders. Only having so far been on afternoon rides I wasn't quite sure what to expect. The way it works is this - the day is basically split into three main rides, Before Coffee, Before Lunch then Before Tea. Each leg is designed to carry with it some form of food or drink based reward. That works for me.

The BC leg took us out of Cambridge along the Coton cycle path. On reaching Coton we made our way through Madingley and then Dry Drayton. The weather was cloudy, alternating with spells of warm sunshine and cold wind with occasional spots of rain. At this point the group headed south towards Hardwick, turning west once over the A428 then turning south again at Childerley Gate adding a loop through Highfields and Caldecote before turning north again at Bourn and heading back across the A428 towards Knapwell.

The road that once made up the A428 are now very quiet and great for cycling. Also good for teaching one's children to drive as well BTW. The narrow, country road continued north through Conington before taking us through the underpass beneath the A14 bringing us out by Fenstanton clock tower, it's main bus stop. From here we took the back road to St Ives, taking us past Jones' Boatyard before we crossed the (busy) roundabout over the A1096. A couple of hundred yards more and we arrived at our Coffee Stop.

Ian's cake and coffee were great and I suspect we probably stopped longer than we ought. As a result we were more or less forced to take a direct route to our Lunch stop. Traveling west from St Ives, we crossed the River Great Ouse at Houghton Mill. The lock was being filled as we crossed, bringing with it several spectators as a single narrowboat was traversing upstream from Huntingdon. Once over the river we made our way through the village of Houghton, which is much quieter since the A1123 bypass was completed a few years ago - it was once the main thoroughfare for traffic between Huntingdon and St Ives.

We exited Houghton along its easterly exit, crossed the A1123 and made our way up the long hill towards RAF Wyton. This section was quiet busy, with one or two moronic drivers taking umbrage at our group cycling two abreast. Most however were fine, and we even came across another cyclist group coming the other way - one would like to think it was the local CTC off to visit Cambridge...

Just after Abbots Ripton the road runs parallel with the Great Northern rail line for a short while, before bearing westwards then forking with the righthand branch taking us on to Sawtry.

The road became much quieter after this turning, and the views were quite something, it was a clear day and it was possible to see across to Yaxley and Peterborough to the north. We crossed the A1(M) and after Ian consulted his map we were soon on our way to Sawtry, and then on to Glatton were we stopped for lunch.

For those who've been on an Sunday afternoon ride, Lunch is not like Tea. For one thing, I was still pretty full of cake from Ian's house, and I also hadn't come prepared. Four of the other riders had packed their own lunch. I opted for ginger beer in the sun, and hoped I'd be able to last out until tea.

This second leg (BL) had taken us about 15 miles, so on resumption we were all raring to go. Ian selected a route down towards Grafham Water, and this section proved to be the quietest.

After neatly avoiding the B660 we came across a beautiful Kite, with it's triangular tail in clear view. It followed us for a while before a steep descent sped us away from its territory. We then caught a brief glance of some wild animals as well passed Hamerton Wildlife centre,

As we made our way south we missed out turn to Barham and ended up at Leighton. As we didn't really want to be cycling along the A14 we thought for a moment that we'd have to retrace our steps, until we consulted the map and realised that we could take an off road track to get us back onto a more cycle friendly way of crossing the A14.

We were soon looking down a hill across the A14 at the village of Spaldwick, with it's attractive church spire. It is also home to The George - perhaps a lunch stop for some other time? After Spaldwick there was another long, steepish climb to the village of Stow Longa. We took the road down to Kimbolton, turning off down a short off road section down to Grafham Water. We followed the waterside track for a short while, with it's views across the water - we could see across to the watersports centre, where a couple of medium sized yachts were sailing - good to see someone enjoying the wind!

Once we reached the car park at Hill Farm we were able to join the road up to Grafham village, where we said goodbye to three of our number as they made their separate ways home to Cambridge via Paxton.

There were now three of us who made our way past the ancient Brampton Wood, over the A1 and through the village of Brampton to Huntingdon. We passed through Hinchinbrooke (the hospital at which my youngest was born some 18 years ago) before passing under the A14 and Huntingdon Rail Station. We crossed the road to join the cyclepath that took us over the stone bridge the separates Huntingdon from Godmanchester (you can apparently still see the scratches in the bridge made by Cromwell's soldier's as they sharpened their swords). We were quickly through Godmanchester, which being a Roman Settlement predates it's bigger neighbour Huntingdon by several hundred years.

We passed back under the A14 for yet another time - at this point the A14 takes the route of the old Huntingdon to Cambridge railway. Godmanchester used to have it's own railway station with the line running through to St Ives, however only the section after this point forms the guided busway. It is possible though to walk the route of the line, and we came close to it as we followed the 51 cycleway across the fields between Godmanchester fishing lakes and Hemingford Abbots. We were soon at the Axe and Compass, and enjoying one of the best teas I've experienced so far. The Hemingfords are two lovely villages that are well worth exploring, as is the town of St Ives. The other pub I'd recommend is The Cock, where on Monday evenings they have live folk music.

At tea we were joined by the afternoon riders, and separated into three groups with different routes back to Cambridge. I elected to follow the Guided Busway all the way from St Ives to Histon - by this point I'd cycled about 70 miles and decided a direct, simple route home would be best. By the time I returned home to Girton I'd clocked up 83 miles. Tim Holmes


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